Kendo, the art of Japanese swordsmanship, has a long and rich history. Japanese swords were originally not the curved swords we see today but were flat straight swords of a very primitive construction used for thrusts and simple strikes.
The Japanese swords seen today appeared around the year 940, are single-edged, and have a slight curve. Until these two-handed swords were created, battles centered on mounted warriors protected by heavy armor wielding their swords in their right hands. Around the year 1600, the type of battles changed to foot soldiers wearing light armor and techniques using a sword held with both hands appeared.
This change dates back to the middle of the Heian period (around the year 940) when sophisticated techniques especially designed for the new Japanese sword, now made with a curve and a more complexly constructed blade, began to appear and were tested on the battlefield during a number of civil wars. This was the period when the techniques of Japanese swordsmanship as we know it today began to emerge.
During the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries somewhere around six hundred separate types and styles of swordsmanship were created. Many of these styles have been handed down to this day as classical Japanese martial arts. A logical theory to unify the techniques of each of these schools was created and developed as an important cultural facet of the educational training of the Samurai. This theory of technique, combined with formed bushido (the philosophy of how a Samurai should live and act).
Kendo, the art of Japanese swordsmanship, is a way of life designed to contribute to self-development through training in the guiding principles underlying the art of the sword.
Through rigorous training in Kendo, the student strengthens his or her body and mind, develops a strong spirit, learns to treat people properly, to value truth, to be sincere, to always strive for self-development, love society and country, and contribute to the peace and prosperity of humanity.
Since old-fashioned training with real steel swords and hardwood swords caused so many unnecessary injuries and deaths, harmless bamboo practice swords were created around 1710 developed by Japanese armors and Japanese sword masters. Around 1740, Japanese sword masters and Japanese armors improvised chest and head protectors as well as heavy gloves. As can be imagined, the original bamboo practice swords and protectors were quite primitive and of simple construction. Over the centuries, these were refined by Japanese armors into the attractive and practical Kendo equipment as seen today in Japan.
In modern kendo, there are two types of attacks: strikes and trusts. Strikes are usually allowed to only three points on the body, the top of the head, the right and left of side bodies, and the forearms. Thrusts are usually permitted only to the throat. Unlike western fencing where the two opponents show each other only their sides, in Kendo the opponents stand face to face and these four striking areas were chosen.
In competitive matches, it is not enough for you bamboo sword to just touch the opponent; points are awarded only when the attacks are done properly to the exact target with good control and a yell, or Kiai. The first person to win two points wins the match.
As of 2000, several million people practice Kendo in Japan, including about 1.2 million who have been awarded a rank-Dan in the art. Kendo enjoyed by about one million practitioners abroad.
Kendo is an important part of Japanese school physical education. There are some extracurricular clubs at the elementary school level. At the junior high school and high school levels, Kendo is practiced as a regular physical education class activity and is an optional extracurricular club activity. Kendo is also a regular physical education course elective at the university level and almost every university in Japan has a Kendo club or team which interested students may choose to join as an extracurricular activity. Recent statistics show an increasing number of women who practice Kendo.
Popular abroad, International Kendo Federation (IKF) has members in 41 countries as of 2000.
The international championships are being held once every three years since 1970.