Kendo, when translated from Japanese to English literally means the way of the sword. Kendo is much like fencing in Europe, the teaching and study of using specific bladed weapons of Japan. It was developed by the Japanese Bushi (warlords) and taught to their respective Samurai in the attempt to gain military superiority. After the warlords were consolidated and then eliminated, Kendo began to phase from a military art to a sport and hobby of the privileged members of Japanese society. From the development to defeat opponents on the battlefield, came a specialized sport that concentrates on physical development and physical movement of the sword as well as the mental honing that is needed to draw parallels to life beyond Kendo.

Origins of Kendo

Kendo was first created when the sword was introduced to Japan during the 2 BC timeframe. Interestingly, the first use of the sword was not war, but ceremony. The heads of clans used the sword to symbolize power and authority, so in essence the first Kendo teachings were how to move the sword to appease the gods. However, men eventually discovered that the sword could be used to combat the bow and arrow that dominated warfare during those times. By the 7th century AD Japan was creating the sword domestically. These swords were direct copies from the imported swords, and looked nothing like the current sword that is identified with Japan, the katana. Once the Bushi were created in the 9th century AD, the katana appeared and became the premiere sword of Japanese warfare.

With the Bushi in complete control of Japanese society, war became a constant threat and common occurrence. With each tract of land controlled by Bushi were many different schools that taught Kenjutsu, the art of the sword. Each school had its own master who had his own special technique to distinguish themselves from each other. Once the Bushi were consolidated and eliminated, the masters turned their focus from the physical destruction of enemies to the mental development of students. It is during this time in the 18th century that the first protective equipment and sporting events of Kendo came into existence.

Kendo as a Sport

"The Concept of Kendo" was established by All Japan Kendo Federation in 1975. The purpose of practicing Kendo according to the organization is:

  • To mold the mind and body,
  • To cultivate a vigorous spirit,
  • And through correct and rigid training,
  • To strive for improvement in the art of Kendo,
  • To hold in esteem human courtesy and honor,
  • To associate with others with sincerity,
  • And to forever pursue the cultivation of oneself.
  • This will make one be able:
  • To love his/her country and society,
  • To contribute to the development of culture
  • And to promote peace and prosperity among all peoples.

The center of Kendo is the Shinai (the bamboo sword). This weapon was developed for use by students first learning kenjutsu so they did not injure themselves. The Bogu is the protective equipment worn by the participants, and prevent injury from all but the strongest and best placed blows. This consists of MEN (headgear), KOTE (gloves), DO (body), TARE (waist protector), KEIKOGI (jacket), and HAKAMA (skirt).

The actual competition takes place between two participants a rectangle with sides between 9 and 11 meters. The center of the rectangle is an "X" 30 cm by 30 cm. Outside the boundary line is a space of at least of 1.5 meters. The edges of the rectangle are defined by strips 5 to 10 cm wide the entire length of the rectangle. Modern competitive surfaces are usually made from foam mats with the markings consisting of white tape. Traditional surfaces are packed dirt, with rope forming the outer boundaries and either rope or sticks forming the inner "X."

The winner is decided by the competitor that reaches two points within the allotted time. This time is generally 5 minutes. Points are given by the referees for touches that follow the overall points of posture and manner prescribed to complete the move, the skill at which the move was demonstrated and if any fouls occurred during the move. Should neither opponent score a point, the Chief Referee may declare a draw or allow for a continuation of time for a competitor to score a point and take the round.

When competing the combatants use a style of movement that can only be described as Kendo walking. In this walking the feet stay as close to, if not on, the ground at all times. This allows the combatant to switch their balance quickly and prevent them from becoming vulnerable to certain attacks. While maintaining the Kendo walking style is not required for winning or competing, to not use the technique opens up large targets for opponents and loss of points by judges as the correct techniques are not being used.

Other than the competitors, a large part of Kendo is actually the judges and the staff of the competition. The Shinpancho is the head judge, and has final authority over all that takes place during the match. Shinpan-in are court referees, and work in a team, one Shu-shin (chief referee) and two Fuku-shin (subreferees). These people have the same power in deciding decisions, and resolve discrepancies through vote or deference to the Shinpancho. Kakari (court staff) consists of Tokei Gakari (timekeeper), Keiji Gakari (score board recorder), Kiroku Gakari (score recorder), and the Senshu Gakari (court announcer). Each position has a hierarchy when many tournaments are in play, with senior score keepers and senior announcers that control the game as it progresses to the higher bouts.

Beyond the Combat

The sport of Kendo is practiced around the world by hundreds of thousands. It has been an intricate part of Japanese life and culture since its first development as rules for ceremonies to pay respect to the gods. Now this way of the sword is used by many as a mental support and guidance as well as a form of self-defense, self-protection and self-perfection.

The masters of Kendo today are constantly teaching their students that the lessons learned about the sword can be used in all aspects of life. The balance one must learn with the sword becomes the balance one must have when dealing with life. The preparing of one's mind for battle becomes the preparing of the mind for outside the dojo. As in all Martial Arts, Kendo strives to teach the student a balance between all things, a balance to that peace and prosperity can be achieved in the Kendo no kamae stances.

Kendo is also the alleged basis for the Lightsabercombat in Star Wars by George Lucas. The concentration of the Jedi characters to the use of the weapon and the different styles in which the weapon are used can be compared to the Kendo sport and the different styles within the sport. While George Lucas has never given an explanation of his basis, there is a definite Kendo influence in the Jedi combat sequences. As the movies have progressed through the years the acrobatics involved have increased as well. As the acrobatics increase, the influence of other sword combat forms has begun to enter into the Lightsaber combat. Darth Maul shows an Asia style of fighting with a bo (staff) while Count Dooku shows European fencing techniques in the style of the hilt and handle as well as the actual handling of his weapon.

From origins of worship and guidance, to methods of death and destruction, Kendo comes full circle.


other postings (now consolidated into this node and thus deleted) by Everything users: tenkei, HamsterMan, QuestionMarkPlatypus, Belial42, moroboshi

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