Kenjutsu is the collective term for all Japanese swordsmanship schools, from the olden times up to today’s modern world. Kenjutsu was used by Japanese swordsmen in the early 11th century, which makes it one of the oldest sports known in Japanese culture.
This sport descends from Japanese samurai warriors. Kenjutsu integrates the techniques, teachings and strategies of using a sword in battle. From this sport sprung modern-day swordsmanship sports like Kendo and Iaido.
Kenjutsu: A Brief History
Kenjutsu, also known as the “art of the sword”, can be traced back to the early 1190s (during the Kamakura period). There were circumstances at that time which led to Japanese military skills and swordsmanship training.
It was during this period when the Japanese were involved in a series of civil wars. The practice of Kenjutsu served as the country’s defense against the violent attacks of their enemies. Because of the constant turmoil experienced by the Japanese military force, they decided to formally teach martial arts so as to produce a throng of warriors that can protect the interest of their country.
When these wars died down in Japan, Kenjutsu remained as a sport for noblemen. According to the narratives of many warriors, this sport didn’t just strengthen their physical abilities, but also their minds and spirits. As the sport continued to develop, more strategies and techniques were added.
There have been significant additions to the basic strategies that were taught by the first teachers. This is to adapt to the changing characters and traits of potential enemies. This sport has become a founding principle for most martial art techniques taught today. The philosophies used in Kenjutsu are not only applicable in battle, but also in other aspects of life.
Weapons Used in Kenjutsu
Practicing Kenjutsu may be done alone or with a sparring partner. The most commonly used weapon in Kenjutsu is a wooden sword, which is more popularly known as Bokken or Bokuto. Although there is a standard size for the Bokken used in practicing this sport, various schools can craft customized wooden swords for each student. In rare occasions, a real bladed sword is used, which is also known as a Katana.
There is also another weapon that was used by warriors during this period. Shinai is a sword made up of bamboo covered with cloth. This is usually used by beginners, or those who have less experience in using a sword. The bamboo sword is wrapped in cloth or leather for safety purposes. Students who have less experience in handling a sword tend to have difficulties in controlling the sword, which may lead to harming the sparring partner.
Kenjutsu & Its Significance to Miyamoto Musashi’s Book of Five Rings
Miyamoto Musashi is among the noblemen who practiced Kenjutsu. He was greatly inspired by the sport, which led him to write a book about it. He then associated this style of martial arts to the five elements of nature.
Miyamoto descends from a family of warriors that helped the Japanese community to develop the Kenjutsu style of training. Here are some key points mentioned in Miyamoto’s “The Book of Five Rings”, which are very much related to Kenjutsu:
- This specific chapter discusses about the general principles and fundamentals involved in martial arts. It talks about the basic strategies that a warrior must know before training. The good thing about Miyamoto’s Earth Book is that he relayed the most important principles to his students and readers in the simplest way possible, which is by comparing it to constructing a house.
- Miyamoto often emphasized that if you want to learn the Way of strategy, then you must first know the plan of the battle. You need to know your enemy, how you’ll deal with certain situations during battle and your techniques for these conditions.
- This is the second chapter of the book, which continues to discuss different strategies and some fundamentals of martial arts. In this chapter, Miyamoto clearly stated that if you want to win the battle against the enemies, then you have to compose yourself, no matter how many storms come through. This book emphasizes the importance of self-composure before, during and even after battle. Miyamoto advises not to meet a waging war with tenseness because this might hinder you from correctly using the Way of strategy you have learned through constant training. You must remain calm yet strong-minded when facing ordeals.
- This chapter discusses about the heat of the battle, which means the core components of your strategies, techniques and tactics to attack and defend yourself against your enemies. Miyamoto emphasized on the importance of examining the battlefield before going into war. This way, you will know when to attack and what techniques to use based on the actual environment and all relevant conditions.
- This particular chapter is dedicated to comparing the various ways of teaching in different schools. With the presence of numerous martial arts schools in Japan, you can’t really expect to have the same strategy taught to all students. Some schools use short sword techniques, while other schools teach about wielding long swords. It’s important to know the different ways taught by various schools for you to grasp the whole concept of martial arts. You cannot master this sport with just a single technique.
- This is the last chapter in this book, which summarizes everything discussed in previous chapters. Miyamoto believes in the power of the Void, being beyond what the human mind can comprehend. This chapter suggests that you first need to know the things and objects that exist, in order for you to be able to determine what doesn’t.