The purpose of practising Kendo
Kendo, the art of Japanese swordsmanship, has a long and rich history. Japanese arms and armour have long been influenced by China.
Japanese swords were originally not the curved sword we see today but were flat straight swords of very primitive construction used for simple 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 centred on mounted warriors protected by heavy armour wielding their swords in their right hands.
Around the year 1600, the type of battle changed to foot soldiers wearing light armour and techniques using swords 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 techniques of Japanese swordsmanship as we know it 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 classic 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 techniques, combined with Confucianism, 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, 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.
Around 1740, inspired by Japanese armour, sword masters improved 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 into the attractive and practical kendo equipment seen today.
In modern Kendo there are two types of attacks: strikes and thrusts. Strikes are allowed to only three points on the body - the top of the head, the right and left sides, 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 because they are the most difficult. In competitive matches, it is not enough for your bamboo sword to just touch your 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 1989, some seven million people practice Kendo in Japan, including about 1,3 million who have been awarded a rank in the art. Kendo is enjoyed by 213 000 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 practised as a regular physical education class activity and is an optional extracurricular club activity education course elective at the university level, and almost every university throughout the country has a Kendo club or team which interested students may choose to join as an extracurricular activity Recent statistics show that an increasing number of women are earning rank in the sport.
In Kendo you are trained to see things with your eyes, react instantly to happenings and make momentary judgements with your mind. In a Kendo match you watch your opponent with your eyes, react quickly to his moves and grab chances for attack, as seen through your mind. The mind's eye is opened only by and through hard and long training, as in case on the Zen practice of austerities.
Some of the essential elements in the Kendo matches are introduced below for you to realise the depth of philosophy aimed to uncover in the traditional Way of Bushi warriors.
Whatever posture you may take against your opponent, none of them would guard you, unless backed by your determined spirit. A Kendo match is ultimately decided by the difference in mental power between you and the opponent.
In Kendo, to be full of Kiai means to be full of spirit from the crown of the head down to the tip of the toes. It is not to strain the abdomen but to have your whole strength naturally concentrated in the abdomen. It is not to yell at your opponent without effect but to have your strength and mind in complete harmony and unison.
All theories of Kendo are of little value unless accompanied by the art of the sword. Though it is important to be well informed on the theoretical elements of Kendo, it is more essential to master Kendo tricks to win matches.
Literally meaning "distance-between" , Ma-Ai in Kendo is referred to distance and timing. It is to catch the opponent off guard and out of alertness. Or it is to take advantage of the weakness of the human mind, as may be momentarily exposed by the opponent. Again "Ma-Ai" is to seek for timely gaps in the actions of you and the opponents. An old saying in Kendo has that your opponent may cut you on the skin but you should not lose that very moment to cut him to the bone.
A complete harmony and coordination of physical movements and mental reactions in Kendo is obtained only through hard training. Any offensive move must be accompanied by defensive measures in momentary readiness and a defensive posture must be ready to turn offensive at an instant call. It is indeed a decision to make at a split second to advance or withdraw.
More often beginners are found off guard in mind, in posture or in action in a Kendo match.
It is an important objective in the practice of Kendo never to be off guard mentally in a Kendo match or whatever the circumstances one may be placed in. To be off guard in posture or in action means the lack of training. It may also well be traced to an incomplete training in keeping the mind always alert.
An intended strike very often comes out without aimed effects, requiring a next step to be taken immediately.
A kendo match is a series of actions, offensive or defensive, requiring uninterrupted concentration of the mind.
It does not mean, however, to attack the opponent half way to reserve your strength. On the contrary each attempt must be made with all training of the mind and is hardly possible to learn words. The philosophy of Kendo is attained only by and through the body. It is a life long course of training, often extending into the 70's and even 80's in age, as actually practised by many.