The art of sword fighting, more specifically Japanese Sword fighting is very elaborate and intricate. Precise movements, subtle hand placements, and haste are all components of any Japanese sword fighting technique. Training to master a specific technique will take countless hours, but will certainly be worth the exhaustive effort. Mastering the art of Japanese sword fighting, like any task in life, requires immaculate attention to detail and concentration.
The Japanese are very proud of their sword fighting. The Japanese art has survived and evolved our several hundred years to what it is today. Few techniques existed when the discipline was first documented. Now, several different variations of Japanese sword fighting exist all over the world. However, there are only a handful which have a widespread following.
Japanese sword fighting techniques vary based on your interest. The two distinct traditional techniques that are most widely used are Kenjutsu and Kendo. The differences are subtle. Your local Japanese Dojo most likely emphasizes one technique or the other. Or, perhaps, they wish for you to become proficient in both techniques and teach both.
Kenjutsu dates back to the times of the samurai in Japanese culture. The original practice was dominated with wooden sword practice and occasionally real katanas would be used for training. The very definition of the word Kenjutsu is “the technique of” the sword. The peak of the samurai was the peak of Kenjutsu. As the samurai faded during the 19th century, so did the teachings of Kenjutsu.
A master of Kenjutsu is called a Kenjutsuka, and to attain this prestigious title takes years and years of practice. Just like mastering any skill, the Japanese believe that a Kenjutsuka will develop core disciplines outside of Kenjutsu. For instance, the amount of time it takes to become a Kenjutsuka creates discipline that applies to all aspects of life.
Traditional Kenjutsu is not practiced much outside of Japan. The Japanese consider Kenjutsu a secret “art of war” training technique. Modern Kenjutsu is growing in popularity with those involved in Japanese martial arts. Modern Kenjutsu is most widely used today with a bokken, or a wooden sword.
Customary techniques for Kenjutsu are jabbing, thrusting, and cutting, all with an emphasis on footwork and balance. These techniques are often sequentially choreographed, giving a free-flow look and feel for those witnessing. Practice techniques rarely involve physical striking of opponents; rather, the training consists of attacking and counterattacking each other’s weapon.
Learning Kenjutsu may just be a trip to your local dojo away. However, Kenjutsu instructors are diminishing and it may be quite difficult to find a qualified instructor; it may take some willingness on your part to travel. Researching potential dojos, instructors and proximity is recommended so that you set yourself up for success. If you are serious about the practice, commit to a time and place so that you can regularly attend.
The art of Kendo places a high importance on etiquette. Kendo is an evolution of Kenjutsu, the modern Japanese take on the sword fighting technique. Kendo’s meaning is just a slight variation to that of Kenjutsu, meaning “the way of the sword.” Today, the modern Japanese sword fighting technique is practiced all throughout Japan and many other countries around the world. It is believed that modern Kendo is has many forms, which vary by country, instructor and previous learnings.
Kendoists, or those who practice the art of Kendo, are ranked in accordance with their experience and abilities. Similar to belt colors in karate, a ranking system exists for those who participate in Kendo. The rank of tenth dan is the highest achievable rank for Kendoists.
The greatest difference between Kenjutsu and Kendo is the physical aspect of the two sword-fighting techniques. Kendo involves much physical contact; in fact, it is encouraged. However, there are distinct striking points for this technique. Additionally, full-body protective gear is worn during Kendo sparring and training. Similar to Kenjutsu, training equipment involves wooden swords until proficiency is developed.
Techniques with Kendo include both striking and thrusting. Strikes are used to hit designated locations on the body. These locations include the head and body, which are covered with protective equipment. Often, a strike occurs concurrently with a stomp of the foot. Kendo’s roots strongly resemble Kenjutsu. Thrusts are movements only allowed to the throat of the opponent. Yet, the eloquence and nuance of the traditional style Kenjutsu’s practice is much less widespread than that of its counterpart, Kendo. The purpose of Kendo is to shape the body in mind—spiritually and physically. The same beliefs apply to Kendo as Kenjutsu—that the persistent hard work, focus and determination used in training will translate to other disciplines in life. The art of Kendo requires much patience, as does any skill that you wish to master.
Kendo competitions around the world are increasingly emerging. They range anywhere from the World Kendo Championships (international competitions) to local/regional competitions throughout the United States, Japan and many other countries. Competitions often resemble the martial arts style of fencing. Full competition gear is required and is judged by three referees.
There is more likely a Kendo instructor located nearby than Kenjutsu. This is due to the fact that Kendo is more widespread than Kenjutsu, and is widely practiced outside of Japan. Do some research; if there are competing instructors go and talk to some students. Find out the pros and cons of each instructor and make a well-informed decision on who to begin your Kendo training with.
These specific forms of Japanese sword fighting are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to accessibility; it is extremely difficult to find traditional Kenjutsu instructors, while it is quite common to find Kendo instructors. The precision and discipline necessary to learn either technique will be critical to one’s success. Practicing often and finding an instructor with thorough knowledge and competency will aid in your continuation of either Kendo or Kenjutsu.