Kendo, meaning "Way of the Sword", is a modern Japanese martial art of sword-fighting based on traditional Japanese swordsmanship, or Kenjutsu. It is a physically and mentally challenging activity that combines strong martial arts values with sport-like physical elements.
Since the earliest samurai government in Japan, during the Kamakura period (1185-1233), sword fencing, together with horse riding and archery, were the main martial pursuits of the military clans. In this period kendo developed under the strong influence of Zen Buddhism.
Those swordsmen established schools of kenjutsu (the ancestor of "kendo") which continued for centuries and which form the basis of kendo practice today. The names of the schools reflect the essence of the originator’s enlightenment. Thus the Itt?-ry? (Single sword school) indicates the founder’s illumination that all possible cuts with the sword emanate from and are contained in one original essential cut. The Mut? (swordless school) expresses the comprehension of the originator Yamaoka Tesshu, that "There is no sword outside the mind". The 'Munen Mus?-ry?’ (No intent, no preconception) similarly expresses the understanding that the essence of kenjutsu transcends the reflective thought process.
The formal kendo exercises known as kata were developed several centuries ago as kenjutsu practice for warriors and are still studied today, albeit in a modified form.
The introduction of bamboo practice swords (shinai) and armour (b?gu) to "ken" training is attributed to Naganuma Sir?zaemon Kunisato during the Shotoku Era (1711-1715). Naganuma developed the use of kendo-gu (bogu - protective equipment) and established a training method using the shinai.
In addition, the inscription on the gravestone of Yamada Heizaemon Mitsunori's (1638 – 1718) third son Naganuma Sir?zaemon Kunisato (1688–1767), states that his exploits included improving the bokuto and shinai, and refining the armour by adding a metal grill to the men and thick cotton protective coverings to the kote. Kunisato inherited the tradition from his father Heizaemon in 1708, and the two of them worked hard together to improve the bogu until Heizaemon's death.
This is believed to be the foundation of modern kendo. Kendo began to make its modern appearance during the late 18th century. Use of the shinai and armour made it possible to deliver strikes and thrusts with full force but without injuring one's opponent. These advances, along with the development of set practice formats, set the foundations of modern kendo.
Concepts such as mushin, or "empty mind" are borrowed from Zen buddhism, are are considered essential for the attainment of high-level kendo. Fud?shin or "unmoving mind", is a conceptual attribute of the deity Fudo Myo-O, one of the five "Kings of Light" of Shingon Buddhism. Fud?shin, implies that the kendoka cannot be led astray by delusions of anger, doubt, fear, or surprise arising from the opponent’s actions. Thus today it is possible to embark on a similar quest for spiritual enlightenment as followed by the samurai of old.
The Dai Nippon Butoku Kai was established in 1895 to solidify, promote, and standardise all martial disciplines and systems in Japan. The DNBK changed the name of Gekiken to kendo in 1920.
Kendo (along with other martial arts) was banned in Japan in 1946 after the war by the occupying powers.
Kendo was allowed to return to the curriculum in 1950 (first as Shinai Kyougi "Shinai Competition" and then as Kendo from 1952).
There are estimates that about six million people world-wide practice Kendo, with approximately four million in Japan, one million in Korea, and more in Europe and the United States. The "Kodansha Meibo" (a register of dan graded members of the All Japan Kendo Federation) shows that as of January 2003, there were 1.3 million registered dan graded kendoka in Japan. The number of kendoka not yet graded to a dan level is not included: those kendoka would outnumber considerably the dan graded players.