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Benjamin H. Hazard, Ph.D., Professor of History-Emeritus (ret.), San Jose State University, Kendo Hanshi 7th Dan.

An Overview of Kendo History 1945-2000

From AUSKF Kendo Archives

When the Pacific War ended and Occupation of the Allied Powers began, they took measures to eliminate Japan’s potential to wage war. Among the institutions considered to be the roots of militarism was the Dai Nippon Butokukai (Great Japan Martial Virtue Association). This was the umbrella organization for kendo, judo, kyudo (Japanese archery) and naginata (glaive, pole arm), and as such, was ordered to disband in November 9, 1946. However, it had dissolved itself on October 31, 1945.

In 1948 the Allied Powers issued orders that kendo and judo could be reinstated as physical training for Japanese police. Most of the police at that time had served in the Japanese armed forces, and had grown up with Butokukai kendo and during the war years, many had been drilled in shin ken kendo (live sword kendo). Shin ken kendo prepared one to use the sword in combat. The shinai (bamboo sword was 36 sun (Japanese inches =109 cm) long; about the length of a gunto (army issue sword). The practice was predominantly owaza (large motion techniques) with great emphasis on tenouchi (within the hand), the movement of the fingers and writs, while grasping the hilt when cutting. This was of the utmost importance in controlling the blade when actually cutting in combat. Both men and do cuts were followed by a slicing movement immediately after the shinai made contact, with a concurrent lowering of the hips. In the police dojo ashi-barai (foot sweeping), tai-atari (colliding with the opponent), were routine; as well as the practice of grappling with the opponent and attempting to remove his men (mask) when he dropped his shinai in practice.

The Tokyo police in attempting to control the disorder that accompanied the Communist May Day demonstrations, May 1, 1949, used the jo (staff) for crowd control. The GHQ provost Marshall (Beigun Soshireibu Kempeitai-cho) had seen that some of the Communists had been able to seize some of the staffs and were beating the police with them. The provost marshall was able to have orders issued prohibiting kendo training for all police. Kendo was reinstated later in that year, but when practice resumed, those elements in kendo which were clearly associated with a real sword, such as the slicing movement after the cut, were not allowed; nor were blows delivered with as much strength as they had been prior to the ban.

In this same time 1945-1950, occurred another development having considerable influence on kendo – the introduction of foreign elements. These emerged largely from two sources: fencing and sports athletics. The Allied Powers permitted Japanese universities to have fencing classes. The first university to conduct western fencing classes was Meiji University in Tokyo, in 1945. On August of 1946, the Nippon Fuenshingu Kyokai (Japan Fencing Association) was established. Students wished to engage in kendo as a competitive sport. A sports kendo was created that would satisfy al the objections of the Occupation. Authorities had to even drop the word “kendo.‘ This sport kendo finally evolved into shinai kyogi (pliant competition). “Shinai‘ for kendo was written with one character, “shinau‘ (to be pliant) but its gerund form – which is “shinai.‘ Obviously a deception for the Occupation, which had rejected “bamboo sword.‘

This shinai was not a complete falsehood. Today’s shinai is essentially a cylinder comprised of four pieces of bamboo. However, this early shinai was a most unusual type originating in the Tokugawa Period. A cylinder of eight pieces of bamboo split twice in thirds of its length to thirty-two pieces at the tip and encased in a soft leather sheath, pliant enough to be used without protective equipment, except for a European fencing mask to protect the eyes.

March 5, 1950, the Zen Nippon Kyogi Renmei (All Japan Kendo Federation) was established. Almost immediately the name was changed to Zen Nippon Shinai Kyogi Renmei (All Japan Pliant Competition Federation). In obtaining the initial permission to start practicing “shinai kyogi” several items permitted under rules of prewar kendo were specifically banned by the Occupation: ashi-barai, tai-atari, grappling when the shinai was dropped, and kiai (loud shouts).

In 1950 with the war in Korea, the Occupation sought ways to improve relations with the Japanese people. One approach was to drop all objections to the martial arts.

The Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei (All Japan Kendo Federation) was established October 14, 1952. It clearly set itself apart from the old Dai Nippon Butokukai. It was a sports organization with strong interest in spreading its kendo among youths and students, and as a sports organization, it conducted its affairs in a democratic manner. In March 1954 the Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei and Zen Nippon Shinai Kyogi Renmei merged under the name Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei Shinai kyogi itself did not last for very long thereafter.

The merger of the Zen Nippon Shinai Kyogi Renmei with the Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei would lead to a gradual influence of shinai kyogi technique on the kendo mainstream. The course of kendo for the future had been laid out at the time of the merger of the two federations. Essentially kendo was to be developed as a physical training sport founded by modern athletic sports guidelines as to match duration, court layout and judging by three referees. Moreover to eliminate those t things related to the feudal samurai tradition and actual use of the sword in combat. This led to the division of kendo instructors into two camps. One that continued support of kendo as it was done in the war, and those who had adopted the athletics sports approach as in the post war era as shinai kyogi.

One of the first exchanges between Japan and a foreign country was a group of seventeen kenshi from Southern California Kendo Federation, led by Mori Torao Sensei. They had three different tournaments with Japanese university students; first, in the Kanto area; then in Kyoto and Osaka in November of 1956. In July of the following year, 1957, a group of thirteen university students from the Zen Nippon Gakusei Kendo Renmei reciprocated with a visit to the Southern California Kendo Federation. These were the beginning of a series of exchanges of kenshi between Japan and the United States.

The First Kokusai Shakajin Kendo Sekai Taikai (International World Kendo Grand Match) was held in Taipei, Republic of China November 21, 1960. Participating countries were Japan, Republic of China, United States of America, and Okinawa. This was a major step in the direction of international tournaments leading to changes in kendo techniques, the physical layout of the match area, and the posting of results. All of this would change substantially in the next thirty-five years. The third and last of the Shakaijin Kendo Sekai tournaments was held in Osaka, on October 8, 1967 with thirteen nations participating. These nations laid the foundation for the creation of the Kokusai Kendo Renmei (International Kendo Federation). It’s first Sekai Kendo Senshuken Taikai (International Kendo Championships) team matches were held in Tokyo, April 5, 1970 (team matches), and in Osaka on April 10 (individual matches), 1970.

Over the following thirty years, while there was relatively little outward change in kendo dogu, the hakama and keikogi (except for in some cases the substitution of synthetic for natural fiber textiles), and much later the introduction of carbon graphite for bamboo in the shinai. However, the bamboo shinai is still the dominant choice. The attitude in the dojo has become increasingly relaxed, although individual dojo may vary. Very recently a men with a clear plastic window has been introduced on the metal grill at eye level. Few have been seen.

The 11th World Kendo Championships, March 24, 25, 26 2000, in Santa Clara, California, U.S.A. provided an opportunity to compare the final team matches between Japan and Korea, who had also met in the first team matches of 1970. The 2000 matches were a brilliant display of sports kendo techniques, which could hardly be matched for speed and agility. It is doubtful that even a bokken could be wielded in that fashion.

In 1970 those who participated in the matches had been trained to make their blows with tenouchi (finger and wrist action) and conclude the blow with shime as if the shinai were a sword, although directed toward the cut, it led to greater accuracy in striking areas of the men. This was still residual from pre-war kendo in preparing to use the sword.

Two separate groups that shaped the evolution of kendo from the establishment of the Zen Nippon Kendo Renmei in 1952-2000. The first was composed of traditionalists at the outset. Composed of instructors of historical Kenjutsu schools such as that of Ono-ha Ittoryu, Dai Nippon Buttokukai, Rikugun Toyama Gakko, and Tokyo Keishicho (Metropolitan Police Headquarters). All had taught kendo as preparation to using the sword in battle. This group has largely faded from the scene but their students still have some impact and the police are still quite active. The second group was a new element originating during the Occupation, comprised of instructors from the athletic departments of colleges and universities. They are responsible for the creation of shinai kyogi, a sanitized version acceptable to the Occupation. A sport in which their team would win in inter-collegiate competitions, which meant they search for ways to improve their team’s performance by experimenting with methods borrowed from other sports and physical training.

There was considerable tension between the two groups in the first twenty or so years over the innovations and the attitude toward the role of kendo in building character.

While dogu and shinai remained essentially unchanged to the present, other changes drifted in the direction of the sports faction. In comparing the movement of the shinai in matches between the 1950′ s and today; there is increased speed in which the shinai is moved when striking and defending, and a concurrent reduction in the strength of the strike on contact with the target. In the conduct of tournament matches, superficially, at first glance it resembles that of the early days. However, streamlining has taken place in almost every aspect of matches. For example: three hansoku was one point – now two hansoku is one point; the two line judges and their red and white flags have been eliminated. Perhaps the greatest, but most intangible difference is in the mental attitude of the contestants today.


During the war I had been given an intensive course in the Japanese language followed by six months of military Japanese. In the army, I served on Saipan, where I was able to see what type of wounds the Japanese sword could inflict, particularly after the gvokusai of July 7, 1944, and later Leyte and Okinawa. I was discharged from the Army in 1946. In May of 1948 1 was assigned to the Central Interrogation Center, Allied Translator and Interpreter Service (ATIS) in the Nippon Yusen Kaisha Building, under G-2 (Intelligence) GHQ.

When I joined my section in Central Interrogation Center I met Lieutenant Maki Hiroyuki Miyahara from Los Angeles, California, Kendo 3-Dan. When he learned that I fenced foil at UCLA, he invited me to meet Tanaya Masami Sensei, the instructor of kendo at Tsukiji Police Station.

In the Tsukiji kendo dojo it seemed that all the policemen had served in the Army I learned that Kuroshima Kazue Sensei, the kendo instructor of the Nippon-bashi Police Station who frequently participated in the practice and instruction at Tsukiji, had been an infantry sergeant in Manchuria and North China Hoshino Kazuo, a policeman had been an infantry captain in New Guinea. It was only three years after the end of the war when I came to the dojo in uniform, a first lieutenant with a „GHQ“ shoulder patch. I felt a distinct coldness, if not hostility, among the policemen practicing there. Since Tanaya Sensei had agreed to accept me as a pupil out of his regard for Lieutenant Miyahara who had practiced with him at the dojo for almost a year, the policemen treated me correctly, but with no warmth.

Practice was Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. Fortunately the Army of Occupation had Wednesday and Saturday afternoons off too. The kendo was shin ken kendo (real sword technique). The length of the shinai was much shorter than the minimum length of shinai that is now required for adult males in tournaments. The shinai seemed to me to be approximately the length of one (army sword) that I had seen on Saipan in 1944. The suru (cord) of the shinai was oxen sinew which stretched in damp weather. Tanaya Sensei kindly allowed me to use bogs (equipment) from the Police station’s ample stock, which was suspended from the ceiling in an adjacent area.

Shikake waza was executed as if using a real sword – ozawa (technique with small motions). There was constant and great emphasis on tenouchi (literally „within the hand“), delivering the blows, making the cuts, and the movement of the fingers and wrists, as the shinai is about to strike the men (mask) or do (plastron). In shomen the wrists were rotated even further inward and locked. There was shime (pressure at the instant of impact) for both shomen and do, the strike was completed with a slicing movement with both hands on the hilt, and the hips were lowered. All strikes were made much more strongly than now. In matches the shimpan in denying a men point, would say „Karui. tori-masen‘; „light, won’t take it“. After about six months and as men who had seen action, we were able to talk about ourselves, training in fencing. I told them about practicing United States Army cavalry saber fencing in my high school Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) classes under our weapons instructor, a World War I cavalry sergeant, who had obtained World War I war surplus masks, padded jackets, right hand padded mittens with metal cuff up to the elbow, and reinforced metal screen masks with very heavy shoulder padding which completely covered the entire head and both shoulders. I also told them of training with Civil War cavalry sabers in teaming the manual of the saber for parades and ceremonies in the University of California (UCLA) ROTC, as well as foil fencing in physical education. Tanaya Sensei and Kuroshima Sensei explained the tenouchi locking of the wrists in cutting men and striking the curvature of the skull, so the blade of a real sword would not twist in one’s hands and slide off, but penetrate into the brain. As our relationship continued to improve after I was able to explain to them that my C.I.C. was not Counter Intelligence Corps, but Central Interrogation Center whose mission was not directed at Japan, but elsewhere on the Asian mainland.

Dojo reiai was very strict. Red included a ritsurei (standing bow) toward the kami dana. In the zarei, seated in a row on the floor bow, juniors in order began earlier and hold it longer than the seniors. No one could remove their men until the senior sensei removed theirs. No one could leave the floor for any reason, until dismissed. No water, beverages or food would be allowed in the practice area. One showed the utmost respect to the sensei and to all your sempai (those senior to you).

During the May Day, 1949 demonstrations in Tokyo, the police as usual used the jo (staff) for crowd control. The communists became unruly and some of them were able to seize the police staffs and beat the police with them. The Occupation’s Tokyo provost marshal witnessed this and complained to General Macarthur that this was due to the influence of kendo and suggested that kendo should be banned for all of the police. The Japanese government was ordered to forbid kendo in all police stations and Tanaya Sensei reluctantly told me that he could no longer teach me. I made some inquiries in the Civil Affairs branch of GHQ’s and found that it’s not an infraction of SCAP (Supreme Commander Allied Powers) orders for private individuals to practice kendo privately in private clubs and Tanaya Sensei could teach me, as long as he did it as a private citizen, and not as a police officer.

Tanaya Sensei arranged with Okada Morihiro Sensei to use his dojo in Shimo-Takaido on Saturday afternoons, which had been rented out as a ballet studio by Okada Sensei who was a retired Keishicho (Tokyo Metropolitan Police Headquarters) kendo and iai instructor. Okada Sensei had been an instructor of iai to both Tanaya Sensei and Kuroshima Sensei when they entered the Tokyo Police Force. Kuroshima Sensei eagerly joined us. They were delighted to be able to continue to do what they loved under the protection of my GHQ patch.

I had the privilege of having one on one instruction from these three outstanding instructors for several months. Gradually the work spread among the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Kendo instructors (who were now being trained in police baton by the New York Police), that Tanaya Sensei and Kuroshima Sensei were still practicing kendo under the protection of an American lietenant and the MPs had not interfered. First one or two sensei would drop in on Saturday afternoons. Each would practice with me, for that was the reason the practice existed; and then they would practice with Tanaya Sensei and Kuroshima Sensei. This gave me an excellent opportunity to experience a variety of kendo styles and techniques. Needless to say, my kendo improved considerably.

By the end of 1949 it was sensed the GHQ had eased up to some degree on kendo; the number of instructors who came to Okada’s dojo on Saturdays had increased to about forty, although rarely that many at one time. Indeed it seemed that instructing me was no longer needed as an excuse for the practice. They came to do what they wanted the most; engage in kendo with their peers. Among those with whom I practiced regularly: Saimura Goro, Hanshi (later 10-dan), Ono, Jusei, Kyoshi (later Hanshi 9-dan), Horiguchi Kiyoshi, Kyoshi (later Hanshi 9-dan); these three Sensei were all from distinguished families of samurai fencing masters. Iida Masataka Kyoshi, Nakano Yasoji, Kyoshi (later Hanshi 9-dan), Takada Masanobu Kyoshi, and Abe Yasuji Renshi. These last two had been among the first to make friendly overtures to me at Tsukiji.

With the introduction of the police baton/night stick, kendo dogu was brought back. Gradually the training began to reflect the features of kendo.

May 5, 1950 although there was no regional or national organization, the Keishicho (Tokyo Metropolitan Police) awarded me the menjo (certificate) for kendo 2-dan with the name and personal seals of thirteen Keishicho kendo instructors headed by Shibata Mansaku (Hanshi), the Keishicho Kendo Soshihan (head instructor) in a private gathering in a restaurant near the Tsukiji Police Station.

After the North Korean attack on the Republic of Korea, June 24, 1950 GHQ viewed Japan as a logistical base in supporting UN operations in Korea and decided to develop more favorable relations with the Japanese people. One of the decisions was to lift the ban on kendo.

Appendix 2

Essentially Kendo seems to be taking the same path as the cavalry saber in Europe, some fifty years earlier. On the eve of World War I, most advanced nations had cavalry regiments with saber and firearms. By 1915 the machine gun had driven the cavalry from the fields. The cavalrymen had been taught to fence with equipment like that of kendo. They used an oak sword of the same shape, but with metal bellguard, a very heavy mask covered the entire head and shoulders, a chest covering very much like that of a baseball catcher, and a padded mitten for the right hand similar to a kote but with metal cuff to the elbow. Saber fencing after World War I adopted equipment from foil fencing; a light mask, light canvas clothing and light leather glove for the right hand. The weapon still had a bell shaped guard, but that is where the resemblance to the original saber ends. The oak wood saber was replaced with a light steel blade about the same length as that of a foil, triangular in cross-section, and all three surfaces of the blade were grooved about two-thirds of its length from the hilt to render it rigid. It was so light that it could be whipped around as no cavalry saber could. The modern Olympic fencing saber has little resemblance, other than the name, to the cavalry saber.

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