This is a brief discussion of the sword arts as they evolved in Japan with especial emphasis on the classical arts of Kenjutsu and Iaijutsu and their relationship to the arts of Kendo and Iaido.

The first step should be to define the parameters that make these arts similar and those that make them different.

Kenjutsu may be thought of as the techniques by which a combative encounter may be conducted when the sword is already drawn. Iaijutsu may be thought of as the techniques necessary to counter an attack initiated by someone first. Here I paraphrase Katsuo Yamaguchi, ‘iaijutsu an offshoot of kenjutsu was developed in the 15th and 16th centuries as a defensive technique for surprise attack’. So Kenjutsu are techniques of offensive combat and Iaijutsu are more defensive although no less deadly.

Kendo and Iaido are basically non-combative derivatives of Kenjutsu and Iaijutsu. At the end of the 19th century and early 20th century many martial arts were preserved by adapting them to the modern world by focusing on the sport applications to which these arts could be transformed, as well as the uses to which the police and military could use these modified forms. The emphasis is to maintain the physical body, develop the mind and spirit. That is not to say the martial spirit is divorced from these arts. Quite the contrary, it has only been directed in a different direction.


                                                                    CHAPTER ONE

The abolishment of universal conscription in Japan (Taiho system, in 792) and the adoption of the Chinese model of using district magistrates and their sons as the backbone of the military (Strong Fellows) was probably the greatest cause of the development of the Samurai. At this time horsemanship and bowmanship were the most valuable assets of the new fighting forces. They were basically mounted and armoured archers. With the addition of the curved sword that had evolved from the warabite-to (fiddlehead hilted swords), by the 9PthP century the classical Samurai existed.

It was during times of turmoil, revolution and war, the Rokuhara era, Kamakura, Ashikaga and Momoyama periods that the combative arts (Bujutsu, Bugei) reached their highest levels of sophistication. What had been learned on the battlefield was noted and transmitted to fellows within the group or clan. The true measure of success lay in the fact that the inventor of the technique survived to disseminate it. For the most part these Kenjutsu techniques were kept within the family or clan (O tome bujutsu {inside the clan martial art} or O shiki uchi {practice in the room}). After all one could be fighting another clan at any time and it would help if one’s methods were not already known. During the Muromachi period the sword changed from one that had hung edge down on hangers to one thrust through the obi edge up. Though ashigaru were known to have worn swords in this way during the Kamakura period it was not until the uchigatana and eventually the katana were developed that it became standard for the buke. It was also during this period that refined battojutsu techniques were added to the repertoire within the ryuha. The necessity for this was that the strategy of warfare had changed from organized engagements to surprise attacks. Previously swords would have been drawn as the enemy was engaged, this had changed to attack at any time and the sword had to be brought to bear at a moments notice. Strategy was no less a part of training than the actual weapons techniques. Kenjutsu and the techniques of battojutsu would have been taught simultaneously; they were complimentary skills and the efficient swordsman had to have proficiency in both. Some ryu that started in the 14th and 15th centuries are Nen ryu (Yoshimoto Sanashiro), Aizu-Kage ryu (Aisu Iso 1452-1538) who taught the Yagyu clan, Itto ryu, Koto-eiri ryu among others.

                                                                    CHAPTER TWO

With the coming of the extended peace of the Tokugawa bakufu and the unemployment of many Samurai these heretofore clandestine techniques were up for sale to the sons of officials and rich privileged merchants. It was also during the Edo period that Iaijutsu became an art in its’ own right. It was particularly suited to armed conflict in an urban setting rather than open battlefield combat. Although a reasonable response to an attack where the sword was about to be drawn or in process of, it was at times in conflict with principles of bushido and though being perhaps ignoble was the norm during this period.

As time went by the number of schools grew and the repertoire of techniques within each school increased. These schools would vie for patronage by trying to show their techniques were superior to others which lead to duels and internecine strife between schools and their students. The appearance of superiority was a great advertisement for more paying students and important patrons. These were still the fighting arts with the intention to kill as the goal. This is not to say spiritual development was ignored but it was still dangerous times. In fact legislation was enacted to reduce bloodshed by restricting training to using live blades on makiwara or for regulated kata. The bokuto (bokken) became a common practice tool, though it could maim or kill. It must be noted that most Koryu existing now were developed after 1600. Early ryu (15PthP- 16PthP Cent.) such as Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu (Izasu Ienao), Tatsumi Ryu and Takenouchi Ryu developed into more spiritually orientated ryu such as the Shimmei Muso Ryu (Jinsuke Shigenobu) a hundred years later. It was at this same time that Takuan influenced the spiritual aspect in many ryu.



                                                                  CHAPTER THREE

So, during the Edo period Kenjutsu and Iaijutsu started to become arts with personal achievement becoming the primary goal, while the arts themselves became more conducive to this goal. After the law forbidding wearing of swords in 1876 these military arts had almost disappeared though they had periods of revival. It was politically incorrect to practice or study bujutsu of any kind, since it was a study with personal gain and not for the benefit of the Emperor plus sentiment was anti-Tokugawa at this time. Certain people during this period managed to preserve these arts by designing them to be sports oriented and today many still exist and are practiced.

Kano Jigoro (1860-1938) was one of the men that preserved Jujutsu by formulating Judo and opening the kodokan in 1882, as well as Ueshiba Morihei (1883-1969) by formulating Aikido. Kendo was originally developed by Chuzo Nakanishi (Edo) in the early 18PthP century but it was the new found martial spirit of the early 20PthP century and its spread amongst the military and police as a training regimen and ultimately a sport that assured its growth. Iaido owes much of its popularity to Nakayama Hakudo. It is the non-combative nature and the emphasis on spiritual growth through perfection of technique that distinguishes these arts from the battlefield techniques of early ryu. It is now that the arts exist separate from one another since it is the contemplation of perfect execution of technique that is the driving force and not defending ones life. In fact both of these arts promote a spiritual way of life both in and out of the dojo that is based on respect of life rather than its ending.




John Stuart                                                                          Edited

April26/06                                                                           December 01/06