Kendo & the Samurai

History of the Samurai

History is the link between past and present, but it is also the key to future. The earliest roots of the Japanese Samurai warriors date back to 600 BC, where they were known as ‘Mononofu’. Back then, the Samurai were perfectionists and it still reflects in the Japanese culture and their disciplines today. At the beginning of the 12th Century, the warrior class achieved political power and became the Military Service of Japan. Beside combat and martial arts, they made up a set of regulations which were to be obeyed at all times, known as ‘The Code of Bushido’.

The Code of Bushido

Bushido (literally meaning: Way of the Warrior) was the code of etiquette which the Samurai used to follow. The code of Bushido has seven virtues: Rectitude, Courage, Benevolence, Respect, Honesty, Honour and Loyalty. Bushido teaches us to seek out what is good and to face and fight evil. Despite its teachings relate to survival on the battlefield, it goes beyond; it is an art of self-improvement. The essences of these teachings are also found in the martial arts which the Samurai founded and mastered, in order to survive.


Martial arts are systems of codified practices and traditions of training for combat. The Samurai formalized and developed their Bu-Jutsu (martial arts) and Hyoho (strategies). They believed that: “Even during peaceful times, it is dangerous to forget about war”. Even in Bu-Jutsu, they strove for perfection. They created eighteen divisions of training in the fighting arts including: Kyu-Jutsu (Archery), Ken-Jutsu (Sword fighting) and So-Jutsu (Spear fighting). They later developed an unarmed combat system based on weaponry motions which became known as Yawara (or Ju-Jutsu).


One of the most important concepts taken into account in Kendo is the elegance concept, which dates back to many years ago when it was applied by the Samurai. These warlords used to bathe, put lotion in their hair and clean their nails. They were also used to clean and shine their armor and swords.  Besides elegance, the Kendoka seek to learn how to keep a good posture at all times, so that it would be easier for the individual to commit good clean cuts. A good posture would help someone to move and react quickly, and also establish: Kihin (elegance in presence), Fu-Kaku (nobility in presence) and Kigurai (pride in attitude). This is also applied in our everyday life. Someone would definitely not go for a job interview with an untidy shirt or un-set hair, because it would leave an impression as if the candidate is someone careless. Morihei Ueshiba (1883 – 1969) once said: “A good stance and posture reflects a proper state of mind”.

Gendai Budo

During the Meiji Restoration Era in Japan (1868 – when Japan was becoming a westernized Nation), the Koryu (old-school) and battlefield techniques were losing their popularity according to the different ways of live. That’s why lots of Bu-Jutsu masters in the fighting arts of the Samurai took the initiative to preserve and codify the techniques while adapting them to the 20th Century life.

These styles became known as ‘Gendai Budo’ (Modern martial arts). Koryu teachers passed the essence, philosophy and teachings through modern styles including Kyudo, Kendo, Aikido, Judo and Karate-Do. Such styles are not just disciplines and arts; they are also martial sciences where the practitioner seeks to unify mind, body and spirit in harmony.

Kendo Today

Kendo today is practiced by more than ten million people worldwide. Current syllabus and regulations were set up in 1997 by the All-Japan Kendo Federation and the International Kendo Federation so that all nations would keep up with the same standard. Kendo is divided in two main parts: Bokuto (wooden sword) practice and shinai (bamboo sword) practice with bogu (armor); where the latter allows safe full-contact practice. In Kendo, generally there are no coloured belt systems. All students tend to dress up in a navy blue uniform and hence the idea of equality occurs. The grades in Kendo start from 7th Kyu and the student advances to the first official grading known as Ikkyu (1st Kyu). After that comes the Shodan grade (equivalent to a 1st Dan Black Belt). The highest grade in Kendo is Hachidan (8th Dan) with a pass rate of 0.8% each year. Very few of these 8th Dans might later receive the honorary title of Hanshi (Grandmaster), such as Masatake Sumi Sensei (in the photo below).

The Concept of Kendo

The Zen-Ni-Ken-Ryu (ZNKR – All Japan Kendo Federation) is the governing body for International Kendo practice. The following is an extract of the ZNKR which highlights the true purpose of Kendo and its application in our everyday live:

▪   To mould the mind and body

▪   To cultivate a vigorous spirit

Through correct and rigid training:

▪   To strive an improvement in the art of Kendo

▪   To hold in esteem human courtesy and honour

▪   To associate with others with sincerity

▪   To pursue forever the cultivation of oneself

Thus, you will be able:

▪   To love your country and society

▪   To contribute to the development of culture

▪   To promote peace and prosperity among all peoples



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