Budo World

The Origins of Kendō Technique

The Development and Systemisation of Shinai-kenjutsu Technique

The latter Edo period saw an intensification of research and systemisation of techniques for shinai kenjutsu. As I have already mentioned, the use of kendō-gu (bōgu) in keiko can be traced back to the mid-1600s; however these were extremely simplistic kinds of safety equipment, exclusive to various sword schools. In the latter half of the 1700s, warriors began to travel far and wide for the purpose of engaging in taryū-jiai. When the ban was lifted on taryū-jiai in the Tempō era (1830–44), this facilitated rapid progression of kendō-gu and the exchange of techniques and information.         

In the Tempō era, the text Shindō Munen-ryū kenjutsu kokoroe-sho by Mutō Shichinosuke, a rural samurai from Sukegawa (Hitachi city) and head kenjutsu instructor at a Mito domain’s school, gives a detailed description of the characteristic techniques and approaches of the Ittō-ryū (Nakanishi-ha), Jikishin Kage-ryū, Kyōshin Meichi-ryū, Ryūgō-ryū, (Higo) Shinkage-ryū, Yoshitsune-ryū, and Asayama Ichiden-ryū, from the perspective of the Shindō Munen-ryū. For instance, one trait of the Ittō-ryū is “to hold the shinai in the gedan position, thrust upwards to the chest and towards the men (tsuki),cut left or right kote, and at dō.” Therefore, he suggests, in response to this “one must launch an attack prior to the opponent, and from kote, strike men. One’s attack will thereby be faster than theopponent’s tsuki (thrust).” Another approach was also suggested. “When standing ready for the engagement (tachi-ai position), do not think about tsuki. Both thrusts and cuts are the same for everyone. If you think of tsuki, you will become unbalanced and you will lose.”   

Furthermore, concerning the traits of the Kyōshin Meichi-ryū he observed that the opponent “will put the left foot out in front and assume jōdan. From this position, either men or kote will be attacked. Attacks from this position of jōdan will be quick like lightning.” In response to these fast attacks from hidari-jōdan, he suggests that one should “Create a long distance from the opponent, so when he attacks the head target, it will be possible to stop the cut completely and attack the opponent’s lower left side.” Or, “When the opponent attacks the right kote, one should block and counter by striking from right kote up to the head. These strategies are still applicable in modern kendō, and it can be said that the roots of modern day kendō actually stem from this era. 

In the Shindō Munen-ryū kenjutsu kokoroe-sho, there is mention of the exclusive use of jōdan and the quick movements generated from the position of “uki-ashi” (standing on the balls of one’s feet) that was characteristic of the Jikishin Kage-ryū. According to the book Kenjutsu meijin-hō, it indicates that this is “becoming obsolete as the number of people who take jōdan is decreasing, and the gedanseigan stance of the Ittō-ryū is growing in popularity.” Therefore, in the Kōka and Kaei periods, one can see a decline in the differences between shinai-kenjutsu schools, and the beginning of a standardisation process of techniques based on shinai-uchi (strikes with the shinai). Further, with the ban on taryū-jiai liftedin the Tempō era, shūgyō and demonstration shiai increased in popularity, and greatly contributed to the exchange and dissemination of knowledge regarding techniques and armour.