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What Is Kenjutsu and How Does It Differ From Kendo?

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Practicing Kenjutsu Stances

Practicing Kenjutsu Stances

Learn About Kenjutsu Training and Techniques

Kenjutsu is yet another of the popular martial arts that originated in Japan. It first appeared in the 15th century as a means of military training for the Samurai class but was soon incorporated into the Ninja culture.

However, the term Kenjutsu has expanded to include a variety of sword-based training, and there is some confusion as to what the difference is between Kenjutsu and Kendo.

This article aims to clear up some of this confusion and shed some light on this fascinating Japanese martial art.

Table of Contents

  • What Are the Basics of Kenjutsu?
  • How Can I Learn Kenjutsu?
  • How Kendo Compares to Kenjutsu
  • About the Swords Used in Kenjutsu
Kenjutsu Swordsman

Kenjutsu Swordsman

What Are the Basics of Kenjutsu?

Originating with the Samurai class of Japan, Kenjutsu means "the method of" or "the technique of" the sword. It consists of actually battling with swords, and the main weapon used is the Katana, although wooden bokkens can be used to reduce the chances of serious injury. Some schools will train with a bamboo sword covered in leather (fukuro shinai), particularly in the case of a student being new to the art form and not as well versed in controlling a sword, which can lead to injuries on the part of the sparring partner.

Kenjutsu can be performed alone or with an opponent. Practicing Kenjutsu alone has become a way of self-improvement and physical development, as swinging a heavy sword around increases body strength and flexibility.

An expert in Kenjutsu is called a Kenjutsuka, and to rise to this level takes months, if not years, of dedicated training. This results in skills that can be applied to everyday life, including coordination and balance, discipline, and self-confidence.

Starting around 1868 the Meiji Restoration in Japan resulted in the dissolution of the Samurai warrior class, which led to the decline of Kenjutsu as an art form. However, in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Kenjutsu regained a lot of popularity as both a sport and a means of self-improvement and self-defense.

How Can I Learn Kenjutsu?

As with most martial arts, training with a qualified instructor in a dojo is your best bet. However, you may not be able to find a dojo that specializes in Kenjutsu in your area, and qualified instructors may not be available either.

In cases like this, there are a variety of videos and instructional books that can provide you with enough training to allow you to reach a certain level of competence. This is also an advantage to those who wish to train at their own pace and at their own convenience as far as scheduling workouts that fit into their daily routine.

As with any online training material you have to make sure that the material being taught is not substandard, and the best way to do this is to practice some due diligence by reading reviews, going to websites, and perusing Kenjutsu forums to get a better idea of what is involved. This will also help you to become a bit more familiar with the terms and language that are used in Kenjutsu circles.

How Kendo Compares to Kenjutsu

As mentioned earlier, Kenjutsu refers to "the technique or method" of the sword, whereas Kendo means "the way of the sword."

Kenjutsu is more along the lines of actual warfare using live swords, and Kendo usually consists of training with wooden swords with protective gear being worn by both participants.

The objective of Kenjutsu is to learn how to kill or harm an opponent using a sword, whereas Kendo is used more for personal development and discipline. Many times a student will start out learning Kendo basics, then move on to Kenjutsu.

Kendo is more amiable to practicing alone while Kenjutsu normally involves sparring with another partner, although Kenjutsu can be practiced alone and wooden or bamboo swords can be used as well. It is at this point that Kenjutsu starts to resemble Kendo in the desired results.

To use an analogy, Kendo is to skeet shooting as Kenjutsu is to hunting for live game. The techniques are similar, but the end results are not.

Kendo Practice With Training Swords

Kendo Practice With Training Swords

About the Swords Used in Kenjutsu

The primary sword used in Kenjutsu is the katana. This is also the sword used in several other Japanese martial arts, including Aikido.

Teito is the term used for the proper carrying of the sword, and there are definite rituals and etiquette involved. Teito is in place for both safety reasons and to cultivate reverence and respect for the sword and the art form itself.

As mentioned earlier, a bokken (bok = wooden, ken = sword) aka bokuto, can be used in initial training to help reduce the chances of serious injury. Be advised that a bokken is quite capable of breaking bones, and in fact was oftentimes the preferred weapon of the Ninja class, as they could be carried close to the body, and were not subject to rust due to the humidity that is found in the Japanese islands. Many a story is told of a Katana breaking due to weak points in the sword caused by rust which may be hard to see, especially around the area of the handle.

The Shinai is a leather-covered bamboo sword that is also used by both beginners and those who are practicing their sword handling techniques.

Kenjutsu is much more than wielding a sword; it is both a spiritual adventure and a way of honing one's physical and mental toughness.

© 2013 Hal Gall

Your Comments Are Appreciated!

steve on March 14, 2019:

what is the paralele between kenjutsu and spirituality ?

What is the true nature of the sword in relation to Enlightenement ?

TanoCalvenoa on June 16, 2014:

Love this info. I've been wanting to know this exact information. Thanks.

Gregory Moore from Louisville, KY on June 02, 2013:

Nice lens. I have always been fascinated by all the different forms of martial arts.