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Kendo, The Way of the Sword – History

Date Published: Last Update:2015/05/25 Traditional Culture , ,

Kendo, or the “way of the sword,” is similar to forms of fencing seen in other lands. Two contestants wearing armor to protect the face, chest, and arms confront each other with bamboo swords called shinai. Today, it is widely practiced within Japan and many other nations across the world.


Practitioners of kendo are called kendōka. (Photo by John Magas on Flickr)

Kendo Origins

There are two theories about the origins of present-day kendo. One has it that the roots of kendo lie in the traditional art of fencing, in which combatants faced off with actual swords. This art, it is said, was brought to Japan from China more than 1,000 years ago.

The other theory says that kendo developed from Japan’s own brand of fencing. The Japanese sword that emerged in the middle of the 11th Century (middle of the Heian Era〔794-1185〕 ) had a slightly arched blade with raised ridges (called Shinogi). Its original model was presumably handled by a tribe that specialized in cavalry battles in northern Japan during the 9th century. Since then, this sword was used by the Samurai and production technology advanced rapidly during the period of early Samurai-government reign (end of the Kamakura Era in the 13th Century). In this manner, it is not an exaggeration to say that both its wielding techniques using Shinogi which produced the expression of Shinogi-wo-kezuru, engaging in fierce competition and the Japanese sword were Japanese born products.

The introduction of bamboo practice swords (shinai) and armour (bōgu) to sword training is attributed to Naganuma Shirōzaemon Kunisato during the Shotoku Era (1711–1715). Naganuma developed the use of bōgu and established a training method using the shinai.

Banning of Kendo and Other Martial Arts

Kendo (along with other martial arts) was banned in Japan in 1946 by the occupying powers. This was part of “the removal and exclusion from public life of militaristic and ultra nationalistic persons” in response to the wartime militarisation of martial arts instruction in Japan. The All Japan Kendo Federation (AJKF or ZNKR) was founded in 1952, immediately after Japan’s independence was restored and the ban on martial arts in Japan was lifted. It was formed on the principle of kendo not as a martial art but as educational sport, and it has continued to be practiced as such to this day.

Samurai warriors practiced the art of fencing for a long time, and eventually practicing with swords became a part of the study of morals and Buddhism, especially Zen. Samurai eventually had to practice not only fencing but also spiritual training. Then at the end of the eighteenth century protective equipment and safe bamboo practice swords were introduced, and the present form of kendo took shape. Nowadays kendo is very popular in schools as a sport that provides both physical and mental training.


1. Kendo. Web-Japan.

2. History of Kendo. All Japan Kendo Federation.

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