Two kendoka pose wearing old style bogu (uniform) and hold early versions of bamboo shinai, photo circa 1800's

By David Aguero
endo literally translated means “the way of the sword.” Kendo is the sword art of the samurai or bushi. Kendo has been a part of Japanese culture for a large part of its history and continues today as a sport in Japan and throughout the world. The story of kendo is the story of the Japanese sword, its technical development and its cultural meaning in a sport that continues to use it as a means for character development.

Kendo today is practiced using bamboo swords called “shinai.” To practice kendo “bogu” or protective armor must be worn to prevent injury. To score a point in kendo is to strike your opponent with a perfectly timed strike using your entire mind and body unified at the moment of contact finishing by following through to a ready position. On the surface we see that kendo involves striking an opponent with a bamboo sword to score a point, but it takes a lifetime to master everything you need to master in kendo both physically and mentally. Kendo practice begins and ends with courtesy, manners and strict Japanese etiquette. The entire practice session is intense and physically demanding, a hallmark of traditional samurai training that is still used in kendo today. Kendo requires complete awareness, concentration and split second reflexes. Much of kendo training is about doing repetitive strikes hundreds of times during each training session.

“The concept of kendo is to discipline the human character
through the application of the principles of the katana.

The purpose of practicing kendo 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 treat others with sincerity,
And to forever pursue the cultivation of oneself.
Thus, one will be able
To love his country and society,
To contribute to the development of culture,
And to promote peace and prosperity among all people”

From the All-Japan Kendo Federation



People do not carry swords around so why practice kendo? There are so many reasons why people still practice kendo. For most people it is love at first sight, just wanting to be part of kendo and its traditions and sport. Some want to become a kendo champion. Some want to experience what samurai training might have been like. Some want to become physically fit and disciplined. Others want to experience their Japanese cultural roots. Not surprisingly kendo has been a part of Japanese police training and a part of Japanese physical education in schools. Kendo is without question a passion that starts one year at a time eventually to become a life long activity.



Chinese introduced straight metal swords to Japan around 589-907 AD Chinese Sui or Tang dynasties

HEIAN Era - 794-1184 AD

The first domestically forged swords with the original Japanese design of slightly arched blades and raised ridges were called Shinogi. The first documented use of the curved Japanese swords used in battle was by a samurai clan, known to attack whil on horse back in the south of Japan.

KAMAKURA Era - 1200-1299 AD

The samurai sword continued to rapidly improve in sword making production. Battle tested sword techniques improve dramatically.

MUROMACHI Era - 1392-1573 AD

100 year period of civil war and anarchy accelerates the number of Kenjutsu (sword techniques) schools (ryu) opening across Japan and refining the dissemination of advanced sword-handling and sword smithing techniques.
A new sword casting method called “Tatarafuki” using high grade iron sand from riverbeds was developed.
Lightly armored samurai became favored over being heavily armored in battle.

EDO Era - 1603-1867 AD
Relative peace in Japan.

Major writings about the kendo were published:
“The Book of Five Rings” by Miyamoto Musashi
“The Unfettered Mind” by the Priest Takuan
“Sword and Zen” written for the Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu
“The Life-giving Sword” by Yagyu Munenori

The goal of kendo changed from of “destroying the enemy” to a goal of character development, moral and social justice.
First early types of kendo bogu emerges improving the level of competition, training and reducing injuries.

MEJI Era - 1868-1911 AD

Samurai Class dissolved sending a whole class of society searching for a means to make a living as farmers, merchants, civil servants or what ever they could find.

TAISHO Era - 1912-1926 AD

Compilation of the best sword techniques used to create the Nippon Kendo Kata.
The term Kendo “way of the sword” officially adapted to be used instead of Kenjustu (sword techniques) The shinai (bamboo sword) accepted as the alternative to the Japanese sword.

Kendo outlawed after the second world war, despite this setback it later become adapted as part of the Japanese Phys. Ed. school curriculum, and part of Japanese police training.
All Japan Kendo Federation (IKF) established and the First World Kendo Championships (WKC) in 1970.

Controversy over the origins of Kumdo the Korean equivalent of Kendo. It is worth mentioning that Japan once invaded and occupied Korea encouraging Japanese culture over the Korean culture. This dark history between the two countries has made national pride more important than actual historical events. Kumdo is here to stay and has evolved to become uniquely Korean, producing formidable tournament competitors. What has yet to be decided is how the exponents of Kumdo and Kendo will resolve this issue over origins of Kendo and yet we are brothers in a sport we both love.

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