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Kendo, The Way of The Sword – Sword Masters

Kendo has a very long and rich history of development in Japan. Some of the legendary sword masters of ancient Japan left writings to explain their philosophy and methods. Even though they are not really practitioners of the modern kendo, nevertheless, their philosophies and methods became a part of it.

Sword Masters That Influenced Kendo

Miyamoto Musashi (宮本 武蔵, 1584 – 1645)

Musashi, as he was often simply known, also known as Shinmen Takezō, Miyamoto Bennosuke or, by his Buddhist name, Niten Dōraku, was an expert Japanese swordsman and rōnin (a masterless Samurai). He became renowned through stories of his excellent swordsmanship in numerous duels, even from a very young age. He was the founder of Hyōhō Niten Ichi-ryū or Niten-ryū style of swordsmanship and the author of The Book of Five Rings (五輪の書 Go Rin No Sho), a book on strategy, tactics, and philosophy that is still studied today.

In Musashi’s last book, The Book of Five Rings (五輪書 Go Rin no Sho), Musashi seems to take a very philosophical approach to looking at the “craft of war”; “There are five ways in which men pass through life: as gentlemen, warriors, farmers, artisans and merchants.

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Miyamoto Musashi as depicted on a drawing in Suntory Museum, Osaka. (Photo by akaitori on Flickr)

Throughout the book, Go Rin No Sho, the idea which Musashi pushes is that the “way of the strategist” (Heihō 兵法) is similar to how a carpenter and his tools are mutually inclusive, e.g. — a carpenter can do nothing without his tools, and vice versa. This too, he compares to skill, and tactical ability in the field of battle.

Initially, Musashi notes that throughout China and Japan, there are many “sword fencers” who walk around claiming they are strategists, but are, in fact, not — this may be because Musashi had defeated some such strategists, such as Arima Kihei.

The idea is that by reading his writings, one can become a true strategist from ability and tactical skill that Musashi had learned in his lifetime. He argues that strategy and virtue are something which can be earned by knowing the ways of life, the professions that are around, to perhaps learn the skills and knowledge of people and the skills of their particular professions.

Yagyu Munenori (柳生 宗矩, 1571-1646)

Yagyū Munenori was a Japanese swordsman, founder of the Edo branch of Yagyū Shinkage-ryū, which he learned from his father Yagyū “Sekishusai” Muneyoshi. This was one of two official sword styles patronized by the Tokugawa Shogunate (the other one being Ittō-ryū). Munenori began his career in the Tokugawa administration as a hatamoto, a direct retainer of the Tokugawa house, and later had his income raised to 10,000 koku, making him a minor fudai daimyo (vassal lord serving the Tokugawa), with landholdings around his ancestral village of Yagyū-zato. He also received the title of Tajima no Kami (但馬守).

Munenori was a long time sword instructor for the first two Tokugawa shoguns and at the age of forty five became the sword instructor for the future shogun Iemitsu. Munenori became very close to Iemitsu, advising him in many matters other than swordsmanship. Munenori was one of the few masters that advocated the use of an early form of bamboo shinai and an early form of kendo armor for use while practicing swordsmanship.

References:

1. Kendo. Wikipedia.

2. Sword Masters of Ancient Japan. Best Kendo.

3. Featured Image from Kai Pan on Flickr

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