Since the earliest samurai government in Japan, during the Kamakura period (1185–1333), sword fighting, together with horse riding and archery, were the main martial pursuits of the military clans. In this period kendo developed under the strong influence of Zen Buddhism. The samurai could equate the disregard for his own life in the heat of battle, which was considered necessary for victory in individual combat, to the Buddhist concept of the illusory nature of the distinction between life and death.
The names of the schools reflect the essence of the originator's enlightenment. Thus the Ittō-ryū (Single sword school) indicates the founder's illumination that all possible cuts with the sword emanate from and are contained in one original essential cut. The Mutō-ryu (swordless school) expresses the comprehension of the originator Yamaoka Tesshu, that "There is no sword outside the mind". The Munen Musō-ryū (No intent, no preconception) similarly expresses the understanding that the essence of kenjutsu transcends the reflective thought process. The formal kendo exercises known as kata were developed several centuries ago as kenjutsu practice for warriors and are still studied today, albeit in a modified form.
The introduction of bamboo practice swords (shinai) and armour (bōgu) to sword training is attributed to Naganuma Shirōzaemon Kunisato during the Shotoku Era (1711–1715). Naganuma developed the use of bōgu and established a training method using the shinai.
In addition, the inscription on the gravestone of Yamada Heizaemon Mitsunori's (Ippūsai) (山田平左衛門光徳(一風斎)?, 1638–1718) third son Naganuma Shirōzaemon Kunisato (長沼 四郎左衛門 国郷?, 1688 - 1767), the 8th headmaster of the Kashima Shinden Jikishinkage-ryū Kenjutsu, states that his exploits included improving the bokuto and shinai, and refining the armour by adding a metal grille to the men (head piece) and thick cotton protective coverings to the kote (gauntlets). Kunisato inherited the tradition from his father Heizaemon in 1708, and the two of them worked hard together to improve the bogu until Heizaemon's death.
This is believed to be the foundation of modern kendo. Kendo began to make its appearance during the late 18th century. Use of the shinai and bōgu made it possible to deliver strikes and thrusts with full force but without injuring one's opponent. These advances, along with the development of set practice formats, set the foundations of kendo.
Concepts such as mushin (無心?), or "empty mind", are borrowed from Zen Buddhism and are considered essential for the attainment of high-level kendo. Fudōshin (不動心?), or "unmoving mind", is a conceptual attribute of the deity Fudo Myo-O, one of the five "Kings of Light" of Shingon Buddhism. Fudōshin, implies that the kendōka cannot be led astray by delusions of anger, doubt, fear, or surprise arising from the opponent’s actions, collectively called "the four kendo sicknesses" (四戒, shikai?, lit. four admonitions).
The Dai Nippon Butoku Kai (DNBK) was established in 1895 to solidify, promote the ideals of "bushido" and preserve traditional systems of "bujutsu". The DNBK changed the name of gekiken (Kyūjitai: 擊劍; Shinjitai: 撃剣, "hitting sword") to kendō in 1920.
Kendo (along with other martial arts) was banned in Japan in 1946 by the occupying powers. This was part of "the removal and exclusion from public life of militaristic and ultra nationalistic persons" in response to the wartime militarization of martial arts instruction in Japan. Kendo was allowed to return to the curriculum in 1950 (first as "shinai competition" (竹刀競技, shinai kyōgi?) and then as kendo from 1952).
The All Japan Kendo Federation (AJKF or ZNKR) was founded in 1952, immediately following the restoration of Japanese independence and the subsequent lift of the ban on martial arts in Japan. It was formed on the principle of kendo not as a martial art but as educational sport, and it has continued to be practiced as such to this day.
The International Kendo Federation (FIK) was founded in April 1970, it is an international federation of national and regional kendo federations and the world governing body for kendo. The FIK is a non-governmental organisation, and its aim is to promote and popularize kendo, iaido and jodo.
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