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History of Kendo

Photo from an early Taiseidokai practice

Ito Ittosai is commonly credited with developing the style that has evolved into modern day Kendo. Originally students were taught using bokuto (wooded sword) in a method that is still used today in Kenjutsu. The disadvantage of this method is the lack of free sparring without considerable danger. It took more than 200 years before any serious thought was given to protecting the students.

During the Shotoku Era (1711-1715) Naganuma Shirozaemon-Kunisato of the Jiki Shinkage Ryu developed the first Kendo Bogu (protective equipment) which could be used with a bamboo sword (Shinai) in relative safety.

Then, during the Horeki Era (1751-1764), Nakanishi Chuzo-kotake of Itto Ryu started training his students using an iron Men (headgear) and Bogu made of bamboo, a method which quickly became commonplace among many schools.

The end of the Edo Period (early 19th century) saw advances in both Shinai and Bogu and the rise of the “Three Great Dojos of Edo.” These were: Genbukan led by Chiba Shusaku; Renpeikan led by Saito Yakuro; and Shigakkan led by Momoi Shunzo. Chiba made an attempt to systemize the techniques (waza) of bamboo sword fighting and some of his definitions are still used today (e.g. suriage-men).

After the Mejii restoration of 1868 the Class of Samurai was abolished and the swords arts went into decline until the Dai-Nippon Butoku-Kai was established in 1895.

After WW2 Kendo was banned as a martial activity during the allied occupation until 1952 (a 7 year hiatus). It is important to note that Kendo was still practiced by a few during these lapses, providing direct continuity to the past.

In 1952 the Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei (ZNKR) was formed as the governing body for Kendo (also know as the All Japan Kendo Federation) and as interest grew worldwide the International Kendo Federation (IKF) was established in 1970 and the first World Kendo Championships (WKC) was held in the Nippon Budokan in the same year.

The Governing Body for Kendo in the UK is the British Kendo Association (BKA).