An Overview of Kendo
Benjamin H. Hazard, Ph.D..
Professor of History-Emeritus (ret.)
San Jose State University Kendo Hanshi 7th Dan.
This article is the property of Dr. Benjamin H. Hazard and is being printed
by the AUSKF with permission by Dr. Hazard. This article may not be copied,
reprinted or transfered into other media without the express written
consent of the author.
When the Pacific War ended and Occupation of the Allied
Powers began, they took measures to eliminate Japan’s potential
to wage war. Among the institutions considered to be the roots of militarism
was the Dai Nippon Butokukai (Great Japan Martial Virtue Association).
This was the umbrella organization for kendo, judo, kyudo (Japanese archery)
and naginata (glaive, pole arm), and as such, was ordered to disband in
November 9, 1946. However, it had dissolved itself on October 31, 1945.
In 1948 the Allied Powers issued orders that kendo and
judo could be reinstated as physical training for Japanese police. Most
of the police at that time had served in the Japanese armed forces, and
had grown up with Butokukai kendo and during the war years, many had been
drilled in shin ken kendo (live sword kendo). Shin ken kendo prepared
one to use the sword in combat. The shinai (bamboo sword was 36 sun (Japanese
inches =109 cm) long; about the length of a gunto (army issue sword).
The practice was predominantly owaza (large motion techniques) with great
emphasis on tenouchi (within the hand), the movement of the fingers and
writs, while grasping the hilt when cutting. This was of the utmost importance
in controlling the blade when actually cutting in combat. Both men and
do cuts were followed by a slicing movement immediately after the shinai
made contact, with a concurrent lowering of the hips. In the police dojo
ashi-barai (foot sweeping), tai-atari (colliding with the opponent), were
routine; as well as the practice of grappling with the opponent and attempting
to remove his men (mask) when he dropped his shinai in practice.
The Tokyo police in attempting to control the disorder
that accompanied the Communist May Day demonstrations, May 1, 1949, used
the jo (staff) for crowd control. The GHQ provost Marshall (Beigun Soshireibu
Kempeitai-cho) had seen that some of the Communists had been able to seize
some of the staffs and were beating the police with them. The provost
marshall was able to have orders issued prohibiting kendo training for
all police. Kendo was reinstated later in that year, but when practice
resumed, those elements in kendo which were clearly associated with a
real sword, such as the slicing movement after the cut, were not allowed;
nor were blows delivered with as much strength as they had been prior
to the ban.
In this same time 1945-1950, occurred another development
having considerable influence on kendo - the introduction of foreign elements.
These emerged largely from two sources: fencing and sports athletics.
The Allied Powers permitted Japanese universities to have fencing classes.
The first university to conduct western fencing classes was Meiji University
in Tokyo, in 1945. On August of 1946, the Nippon Fuenshingu Kyokai (Japan
Fencing Association) was established. Students wished to engage in kendo
as a competitive sport. A sports kendo was created that would satisfy
al the objections of the Occupation. Authorities had to even drop the
word “kendo.' This sport kendo finally evolved into shinai kyogi
(pliant competition). “Shinai' for kendo was written with one character,
“shinau' (to be pliant) but its gerund form - which is “shinai.'
Obviously a deception for the Occupation, which had rejected “bamboo
This shinai was not a complete falsehood. Today’s shinai is essentially
a cylinder comprised of four pieces of bamboo. However, this early shinai
was a most unusual type originating in the Tokugawa Period. A cylinder
of eight pieces of bamboo split twice in thirds of its length to thirty-two
pieces at the tip and encased in a soft leather sheath, pliant enough
to be used without protective equipment, except for a European fencing
mask to protect the eyes.
March 5, 1950, the Zen Nippon Kyogi Renmei (All Japan
Kendo Federation) was established. Almost immediately the name was changed
to Zen Nippon Shinai Kyogi Renmei (All Japan Pliant Competition Federation).
In obtaining the initial permission to start practicing “shinai
kyogi” several items permitted under rules of prewar kendo were
specifically banned by the Occupation: ashi-barai, tai-atari, grappling
when the shinai was dropped, and kiai (loud shouts).
In 1950 with the war in Korea, the Occupation sought
ways to improve relations with the Japanese people. One approach was to
drop all objections to the martial arts.
The Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei (All Japan Kendo Federation)
was established October 14, 1952. It clearly set itself apart from the
old Dai Nippon Butokukai. It was a sports organization with strong interest
in spreading its kendo among youths and students, and as a sports organization,
it conducted its affairs in a democratic manner. In March 1954 the Zen
Nippon Kendo Renmei and Zen Nippon Shinai Kyogi Renmei merged under the
name Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei Shinai kyogi itself did not last for very
The merger of the Zen Nippon Shinai Kyogi Renmei with
the Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei would lead to a gradual influence of shinai
kyogi technique on the kendo mainstream. The course of kendo for the future
had been laid out at the time of the merger of the two federations. Essentially
kendo was to be developed as a physical training sport founded by modern
athletic sports guidelines as to match duration, court layout and judging
by three referees. Moreover to eliminate those t things related to the
feudal samurai tradition and actual use of the sword in combat. This led
to the division of kendo instructors into two camps. One that continued
support of kendo as it was done in the war, and those who had adopted
the athletics sports approach as in the post war era as shinai kyogi.
One of the first exchanges between Japan
and a foreign country was a group of seventeen kenshi from Southern California
Kendo Federation, led by Mori
Torao Sensei. They had three different tournaments
with Japanese university students; first, in the Kanto area; then in Kyoto
and Osaka in November of 1956. In July of the following year, 1957, a
group of thirteen university students from the Zen Nippon Gakusei Kendo
Renmei reciprocated with a visit to the Southern California Kendo Federation.
These were the beginning of a series of exchanges of kenshi between Japan
and the United States.
The First Kokusai Shakajin Kendo Sekai Taikai (International
World Kendo Grand Match) was held in Taipei, Republic of China November
21, 1960. Participating countries were Japan, Republic of China, United
States of America, and Okinawa. This was a major step in the direction
of international tournaments leading to changes in kendo techniques, the
physical layout of the match area, and the posting of results. All of
this would change substantially in the next thirty-five years. The third
and last of the Shakaijin Kendo Sekai tournaments was held in Osaka, on
October 8, 1967 with thirteen nations participating. These nations laid
the foundation for the creation of the Kokusai Kendo Renmei (International
Kendo Federation). It’s first Sekai Kendo Senshuken Taikai (International
Kendo Championships) team matches were held in Tokyo, April 5, 1970 (team
matches), and in Osaka on April 10 (individual matches), 1970.
Over the following thirty years, while there was relatively
little outward change in kendo dogu, the hakama and keikogi (except for
in some cases the substitution of synthetic for natural fiber textiles),
and much later the introduction of carbon graphite for bamboo in the shinai.
However, the bamboo shinai is still the dominant choice. The attitude
in the dojo has become increasingly relaxed, although individual dojo
may vary. Very recently a men with a clear plastic window has been introduced
on the metal grill at eye level. Few have been seen.
The 11th World Kendo Championships, March 24, 25, 26 2000, in Santa Clara,
California, U.S.A. provided an opportunity to compare the final team matches
between Japan and Korea, who had also met in the first team matches of
1970. The 2000 matches were a brilliant display of sports kendo techniques,
which could hardly be matched for speed and agility. It is doubtful that
even a bokken could be wielded in that fashion.
In 1970 those who participated in the matches had been
trained to make their blows with tenouchi (finger and wrist action) and
conclude the blow with shime as if the shinai were a sword, although directed
toward the cut, it led to greater accuracy in striking areas of the men.
This was still residual from pre-war kendo in preparing to use the sword.
Two separate groups that shaped the evolution of kendo
from the establishment of the Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei in 1952-2000. The
first was composed of traditionalists at the outset. Composed of instructors
of historical Kenjutsu schools such as that of Ono-ha Ittoryu, Dai Nippon
Buttokukai, Rikugun Toyama Gakko, and Tokyo Keishicho (Metropolitan Police
Headquarters). All had taught kendo as preparation to using the sword
in battle. This group has largely faded from the scene but their students
still have some impact and the police are still quite active. The second
group was a new element originating during the Occupation, comprised of
instructors from the athletic departments of colleges and universities.
They are responsible for the creation of shinai kyogi, a sanitized version
acceptable to the Occupation. A sport in which their team would win in
inter-collegiate competitions, which meant they search for ways to improve
their team's performance by experimenting with methods borrowed from other
sports and physical training.
There was considerable tension between the two groups
in the first twenty or so years over the innovations and the attitude
toward the role of kendo in building character.
While dogu and shinai remained essentially unchanged
to the present, other changes drifted in the direction of the sports faction.
In comparing the movement of the shinai in matches between the 1950' s
and today; there is increased speed in which the shinai is moved when
striking and defending, and a concurrent reduction in the strength of
the strike on contact with the target. In the conduct of tournament matches,
superficially, at first glance it resembles that of the early days. However,
streamlining has taken place in almost every aspect of matches. For example:
three hansoku was one point - now two hansoku is one point; the two line
judges and their red and white flags have been eliminated. Perhaps the
greatest, but most intangible difference is in the mental attitude of
the contestants today.
During the war I had been given an intensive course in the Japanese language
followed by six months of military Japanese. In the army, I served on
Saipan, where I was able to see what type of wounds the Japanese sword
could inflict, particularly after the gvokusai of July 7, 1944, and later
Leyte and Okinawa. I was discharged from the Army in 1946. In May of 1948
1 was assigned to the Central Interrogation Center, Allied Translator
and Interpreter Service (ATIS) in the Nippon Yusen Kaisha Building, under
G-2 (Intelligence) GHQ.
When I joined my section in Central Interrogation Center
I met Lieutenant Maki Hiroyuki Miyahara from Los Angeles, California,
Kendo 3-Dan. When he learned that I fenced foil at UCLA, he invited me
to meet Tanaya Masami Sensei, the instructor of kendo at Tsukiji Police
In the Tsukiji kendo dojo it seemed that all the policemen
had served in the Army I learned that Kuroshima Kazue Sensei, the kendo
instructor of the Nippon-bashi Police Station who frequently participated
in the practice and instruction at Tsukiji, had been an infantry sergeant
in Manchuria and North China Hoshino Kazuo, a policeman had been an infantry
captain in New Guinea. It was only three years after the end of the war
when I came to the dojo in uniform, a first lieutenant with a "GHQ"
shoulder patch. I felt a distinct coldness, if not hostility, among the
policemen practicing there. Since Tanaya Sensei had agreed to accept me
as a pupil out of his regard for Lieutenant Miyahara who had practiced
with him at the dojo for almost a year, the policemen treated me correctly,
but with no warmth.
Practice was Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. Fortunately
the Army of Occupation had Wednesday and Saturday afternoons off too.
The kendo was shin ken kendo (real sword technique). The length of the
shinai was much shorter than the minimum length of shinai that is now
required for adult males in tournaments. The shinai seemed to me to be
approximately the length of one (army sword) that I had seen on Saipan
in 1944. The suru (cord) of the shinai was oxen sinew which stretched
in damp weather. Tanaya Sensei kindly allowed me to use bogs (equipment)
from the Police station's ample stock, which was suspended from the ceiling
in an adjacent area.
Shikake waza was executed as if using a real sword -
ozawa (technique with small motions). There was constant and great emphasis
on tenouchi (literally "within the hand"), delivering the blows,
making the cuts, and the movement of the fingers and wrists, as the shinai
is about to strike the men (mask) or do (plastron). In shomen the wrists
were rotated even further inward and locked. There was shime (pressure
at the instant of impact) for both shomen and do, the strike was completed
with a slicing movement with both hands on the hilt, and the hips were
lowered. All strikes were made much more strongly than now. In matches
the shimpan in denying a men point, would say "Karui. tori-masen';
"light, won't take it". After about six months and as men who
had seen action, we were able to talk about ourselves, training in fencing.
I told them about practicing United States Army cavalry saber fencing
in my high school Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) classes under
our weapons instructor, a World War I cavalry sergeant, who had obtained
World War I war surplus masks, padded jackets, right hand padded mittens
with metal cuff up to the elbow, and reinforced metal screen masks with
very heavy shoulder padding which completely covered the entire head and
both shoulders. I also told them of training with Civil War cavalry sabers
in teaming the manual of the saber for parades and ceremonies in the University
of California (UCLA) ROTC, as well as foil fencing in physical education.
Tanaya Sensei and Kuroshima Sensei explained the tenouchi locking of the
wrists in cutting men and striking the curvature of the skull, so the
blade of a real sword would not twist in one's hands and slide off, but
penetrate into the brain. As our relationship continued to improve after
I was able to explain to them that my C.I.C. was not Counter Intelligence
Corps, but Central Interrogation Center whose mission was not directed
at Japan, but elsewhere on the Asian mainland.
Dojo reiai was very strict. Red included a ritsurei
(standing bow) toward the kami dana. In the zarei, seated in a row on
the floor bow, juniors in order began earlier and hold it longer than
the seniors. No one could remove their men until the senior sensei removed
theirs. No one could leave the floor for any reason, until dismissed.
No water, beverages or food would be allowed in the practice area. One
showed the utmost respect to the sensei and to all your sempai (those
senior to you).
During the May Day, 1949 demonstrations in Tokyo, the police as usual
used the jo (staff) for crowd control. The communists became unruly and
some of them were able to seize the police staffs and beat the police
with them. The Occupation’s Tokyo provost marshal witnessed this
and complained to General Macarthur that this was due to the influence
of kendo and suggested that kendo should be banned for all of the police.
The Japanese government was ordered to forbid kendo in all police stations
and Tanaya Sensei reluctantly told me that he could no longer teach me.
I made some inquiries in the Civil Affairs branch of GHQ’s and found
that it’s not an infraction of SCAP (Supreme Commander Allied Powers)
orders for private individuals to practice kendo privately in private
clubs and Tanaya Sensei could teach me, as long as he did it as a private
citizen, and not as a police officer.
Tanaya Sensei arranged with Okada Morihiro Sensei to use his dojo in
Shimo-Takaido on Saturday afternoons, which had been rented out as a ballet
studio by Okada Sensei who was a retired Keishicho (Tokyo Metropolitan
Police Headquarters) kendo and iai instructor. Okada Sensei had been an
instructor of iai to both Tanaya Sensei and Kuroshima Sensei when they
entered the Tokyo Police Force. Kuroshima Sensei eagerly joined us. They
were delighted to be able to continue to do what they loved under the
protection of my GHQ patch.
I had the privilege of having one on one instruction from these three
outstanding instructors for several months. Gradually the work spread
among the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Kendo instructors (who were now being
trained in police baton by the New York Police), that Tanaya Sensei and
Kuroshima Sensei were still practicing kendo under the protection of an
American lietenant and the MPs had not interfered. First one or two sensei
would drop in on Saturday afternoons. Each would practice with me, for
that was the reason the practice existed; and then they would practice
with Tanaya Sensei and Kuroshima
Sensei. This gave me an excellent opportunity to experience a variety
of kendo styles and techniques. Needless to say, my kendo improved considerably.
By the end of 1949 it was sensed the GHQ had eased up to some degree
on kendo; the number of instructors who came to Okada’s dojo on
Saturdays had increased to about forty, although rarely that many at one
time. Indeed it seemed that instructing me was no longer needed as an
excuse for the practice. They came to do what they wanted the most; engage
in kendo with their peers. Among those with whom I practiced regularly:
Saimura Goro, Hanshi (later 10-dan), Ono, Jusei, Kyoshi (later Hanshi
9-dan), Horiguchi Kiyoshi, Kyoshi (later Hanshi 9-dan); these three Sensei
were all from distinguished families of samurai fencing masters. Iida
Masataka Kyoshi, Nakano Yasoji, Kyoshi (later Hanshi 9-dan), Takada Masanobu
Kyoshi, and Abe Yasuji Renshi. These last two had been among the first
to make friendly overtures to me at Tsukiji.
With the introduction of the police baton/night stick, kendo dogu was
brought back. Gradually the training began to reflect the features of
May 5, 1950 although there was no regional or national organization,
the Keishicho (Tokyo Metropolitan Police) awarded me the menjo (certificate)
for kendo 2-dan with the name and personal seals of thirteen Keishicho
kendo instructors headed by Shibata Mansaku (Hanshi), the Keishicho Kendo
Soshihan (head instructor) in a private gathering in a restaurant near
the Tsukiji Police Station.
After the North Korean attack on the Republic of Korea, June 24, 1950
GHQ viewed Japan as a logistical base in supporting UN operations in Korea
and decided to develop more favorable relations with the Japanese people.
One of the decisions was to lift the ban on kendo.
Essentially Kendo seems to be taking the same path as the cavalry saber
in Europe, some fifty years earlier. On the eve of World War I, most advanced
nations had cavalry regiments with saber and firearms. By 1915 the machine
gun had driven the cavalry from the fields. The cavalrymen had been taught
to fence with equipment like that of kendo. They used an oak sword of
the same shape, but with metal bellguard, a very heavy mask covered the
entire head and shoulders, a chest covering very much like that of a baseball
catcher, and a padded mitten for the right hand similar to a kote but
with metal cuff to the elbow. Saber fencing after World War I adopted
equipment from foil fencing; a light mask, light canvas clothing and light
leather glove for the right hand. The weapon still had a bell shaped guard,
but that is where the resemblance to the original saber ends. The oak
wood saber was replaced with a light steel blade about the same length
as that of a foil, triangular in cross-section, and all three surfaces
of the blade were grooved about two-thirds of its length from the hilt
to render it rigid. It was so light that it could be whipped around as
no cavalry saber could. The modern Olympic fencing saber has little resemblance,
other than the name, to the cavalry saber.