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Kendo: How It All Began

Updated: Aug 9, 2020

The origins of Kendo could date back to the wide-spread adoption of the sword in Japan around the 11th century. However, the Tokugawa period is more commonly used as the reference point for Kendo's beginnings. This was a time of peace, compared to previous warring eras, which meant the samurai class had less need for swords in battle. The battle-void landscape led to the transformation of their centuries-honed swordsmanship down a path of self development and more seamless techniques. During the 250 odd years of peace, the predecessor of modern day Kendo and other martial arts grew as popular disciplines, with many schools springing up across Japan.

Notably during this period, the early precursors of the armour, or Bogu, were developed alongside the incorporation of the bamboo sword, or Shinai, in training. Striking points like the Oikomi-men and Suriage-men were also established during this period, creating the foundations of today's Kendo training structure.

Things changed with the docking of Commodore Perry's ships in Japan, setting up a chain of events which revolutionised the way martial strength was prioritised. This led to the removal of military focus from martial arts, leaning towards the more practical and destructive firepower of artillery. In Japan's bid to emulate the firepower of the Western forces, martial arts took a backseat, viewed as nothing more than a relic from the feudal past.

Steps were taken to reduce the influence martial arts had on society, with this culminating in banning people from carrying the sword, also called the katana.

Sakakibara Kenkichi (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Credited with saving the demise of Kendo was Sakakibara Kenkichi. Determined to reintroduce martial arts to the general public, he organised a series of public demonstrations, which welcomed anyone who wished to view it for a fee. These demonstrations provided many of the struggling bujutsu masters with not just income, but a way for them to pass on their skills and peak the interest of future generations. If this pivotal point had not happened and history had turned out differently, it could have easily spelled the end of modern day Kendo.

A significant connection developed at this stage, that being between the police and Kendo. Initial concerns over the influence of the bujutsu experts, led to the police banning these demonstrations. However this opinion changed with time and swordsmanship reclaimed an element of its old values of discipline and self betterment, which resulted in the police developing a preference of hiring accomplished Kenjutsu individuals. This established the still on-going relationship between Kendo and the police force.

In the 1930s, Kendo was added to the Japanese school curriculum, as a result of its patriotic affiliations. The end of WWII saw all Japanese martial arts, including Kendo, banned by Occupation Forces, due to it's nationalistic association. This ban stayed in effect for a few years until a Fencing and Kendo demonstration was held in 1948 in Tokyo, which set the stage for Kendo's revival. A year later, the Tokyo Collegiate Kendo Federation alumni conceived a post-war version of Kendo, removing the pre-war links and reestablishing the martial art as a sport.

Years later we would see the formation of the All Japan Kendo Federation, the incumbent governing body of Kendo. Kendo received it's first big international push when a Kendo demonstration was held at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, which resulted in the creation of the International Kendo Federation six years later.

Now Kendo is practiced worldwide, including in Malaysia. Hamachidori Dojo would love to show you more about this ancient martial art – Please drop us a message, we're here to help!


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