This section on Kendo Introduction is more a manual for students thana ‘Teach Yourself’ attempt. It
has been taken for granted that the reader is either a student already or considering starting. True
Kendo, in common with older Martial Arts, will lack clarity unless it is practised.
The writer studied Kendo under Master Kenshiro Abbe Sensei during the period 1955 to
1964 and wishes to thank him for all his help. He is well known as one of the leading Martial
Arts teachers – he was the youngest-ever All Japan Judo champion, and also studied Kendo,
Aikido and Juken Jutsu (the art of bayonet fighting derived from spearmanship).
Until the end of the Second World War, the Butokukai (Martial Arts Society) controlled
all gradings and teachings and Kenshiro Abbe Sensei was awarded a 6th Dan in Kendo from
them, in 1945.
The specific theory or system of Budo (Martial Arts) created by Kenshiro Abbe Sensei
is termed Kyu-shin-do and its application is particularly easy to understand through Kendo. Kyu
means a sphere, or circle. Shin means the heart, or nexus point and Do means the way or path.
There is little space here to deal adequately with this ancient Japanese philosophy but its three
fundamental precepts are:
a. Bambutsu Ruten – All things existent in the Universe turn in a constant state of flux.
b. Ritsudo – This motion is rhythmic and smooth.
c. Chowa – All things act in a perfect accord.
Kyu-shin-do is a Japanese equivalent of the Buddhist Karmic cycle especially as far as
its application to life is concerned. This is an old Japanese idea but the writer’s teacher was the
first to grasp its real significance in relation to Budo. To attain perfection in technique means to
attain to perfection as a human being and through our studies to become a better person and a
useful and positive factor in society.
Kyu-shin-do also states that the accumulation of effort is a steady motion about the radius
and centre of gravity and that all things resign to this basic cyclic pattern. The normal perception
and focus of awareness in the human being, flies along the outer periphery of existence, events
flash past too rapidly for the mind to grasp. By re-discovering the original centre of things,
events turn more slowly in perception and the general scheme is more easily viewed. All this
refers directly to the original Great Principle of Creation, under which the Universe was first
formed. By understanding and harmony with this Principle of God a better purpose of life is
brought about. Instead of hopeless repentance or regret for bad things, the human being should
strive for good actions.
This does not mean that every student must involve himself in complicated metaphysics
but these laws of Material Nature still exist and cannot but become clear during the course of
study. Kendo in itself is a vigorous and healthy activity, developing a strong physique and sharp
mind. There is no reason why it cannot be practised and enjoyed purely and simply as a sport,
or interesting game; even just for exercise. Kendo also has within itself the capacity to include
the deepest significance of life and the highest goal of human conception. The student should
concentrate firstly on the purely physical aspect of training, since interest in other aspects will
occur naturally as they become problems.
The student involved in the sheer physical problems of training will scarcely be aware of
his mind, but once the body is reasonably under control it will be seen that the mind is the real
bar to progress, for one reason or another. The human being consists of both a spiritual and
physical side. Too much concentration on one aspect will lead to an unbalanced life and the
student should attempt to develop both parts equally. The student who is too prone to think,
should train harder and with greater regularity whilst the student more sluggish of thought should
strive to improve his mind and increase his intelligence by thinking things out, and reading.
Once past the first initial stages Kendo is a battle with oneself to catch the mind and force
it to obey the will. Over the years the student will pass through periods of elation and depression,
keen enthusiasm and lack of interest. The main object is to overcome all difficulties and to press
forward with a firm mind and iron will. The student who misses classes because he cannot be
bothered to attend, feels tired or thinks that he is getting nowhere has defeated himself from the
very beginning. The senior grades and masters are merely those who have had the tenacity of
purpose to continue in the face of any difficulty.
It is not thought necessary to describe equipment here, since this will be seen clearly
enough once training is begun and the same applies to individual Dojo (training hall) regulations.
The widespread attitude of behaviour and etiquette in the Budo arts derives from Kendo since it
was foremost of such studies in former times. The only Budo are pre-dating Kendo is Kyudo
Philosophy and semi-religious attitudes, as a universal concept of swordsmanship, is
regarded as dating from the sixteenth century although the broad field of techniques and
movements can be traced to the ninth century and the introduction of the modern Japanese sword.
The term Kendo (Sword-Way) has only been in general usage since 1895 and prior to this many
terms were in use at various periods. Whilst Kendo derives directly from swordsmanship it must
be understood that the wearing of padded armour and of the bamboo Shinai or practice sword
changes many aspects, both physical and mental. Swords are still sometimes used in Kata or preset
‘Forms’ but the real appreciation of the ‘heart’ of Kendo is only gained in direct combat and
is thus very difficult to understand in modern times.
Kyu (Student) and Dan (Step) grades are awarded in Kendo for proficiency and are the
exact equivalent of other Budo art grades, except that no belt or distinguishing mark is worn. It
is easy to assess a student’s ability by the way he sits, stands or moves about the Dojo. Grading
is a relatively modern idea and as a general rule not much attention is paid to this. It is normal
fashion to ask the grade of a strange student prior to, or after, practice but a more common
question is merely how long he has been training.
As a very broad guide to progress the grade of Sankyo (3rd Kyu) normally means the
student has probably trained two or three evenings per week over about a year. The grade of
Shodan (1st Dan) may take anything from three to five years and progress through the Dan ranks
becomes progressively more difficult. The average European could expect to pass a number of
years equivalent to the next Dan rank taken. Mastery is generally accepted as being 6th Dan or
above and even in Japan may take from fifteen to twenty years unless the student is particularly
brilliant. Only three or four Judan or 10th Dan exist at any one period and these are elderly
gentlemen who display not only technical ability but possess very real human qualities as well.
It has not been uncommon to find Kendo Masters in their nineties who train five hours every day
retaining agility and skill.
Grade refers to a certain level of technical proficiency and is not necessarily relevant to
ability or the understanding of Kendo. Since we have competition without any direct physical
contact Kendo is predominantly psychological by necessity and since the full personality does
not develop until about the age of forty there is no noticeable drop in ability with advancing age.
In pre-war years, when a deeper study was made, the Champions were always at least in their
fifties and Kenshiro Abbe Sensei tells of his own teacher at the Busen College, who, at the age
of seventy-five, could not be touched on the body by any young students or even young teachers.