Culture Society

The Perfect Guide to Kendo (Part 1) : The History of Kendo and “Rei”

One of the most famous aspects of Japanese culture is that of the “Samurai”. In one of our previous articles, we introduced Japanese history. That article referred to Samurai, in particular during the Heian Era up until the Edo era.

Of course, nowadays, one will very rarely see Samurai holding a Katana with a “Chonmage”. However, there are many aspects of the Samurai that are reflected in the Japanese culture of today.

One of the key remnants of Samurai culture is “Kendo”. In our previous article, we introduced Japanese martial arts briefly, but part 1 of this article will delve deeper into the history of Kendo as well as the importance of “Rei” or “etiquette”. In part 2, we will look further into the details of the fighting moves in Kendo as well as the rules that make up the sport.

The history of Kendo

Kendo as it is recognised today has its origins from the Edo period (1603-1868). In this era, it was not only known as a form of fighting but also as a way to discipline the mind. This is known as “Bunburiryoudou” (文武両道: the two roads of the mind and of the hand). In order to become a distinguished individual, it was common to learn Kendo along with academic studies. In fact “Shinai” (竹刀: bamboo swords) were often used for Kendo sporting events.

In the Meiji period (1869 – 1912) the hierarchical warrior system faded, and it became forbidden to carry swords in the street. However Kendo was still used as a method of training police forces, and taught in schools as a form of physical education.

However, from the Showa period (1926 - 1989) where Japan lost to the Pacific War in 1946, Japan's martial arts were prohibited entirely, which included kendo. For a time, the practice of Kendo ceased, but underwent a revival from 1953 after the San Francisco peace treaty. In the same year, the All Japan Kendo Federation was established, and was established as a sport, as it is known today. Nowadays, Kendo tournaments are held worldwide, and Kendo is recognized not only in Japan but also as an aspect of world culture.

The importance of “Rei (礼: Bowing)"

It is said that “Samurai warriors are interdependent”.

A true Samurai is said to be one that helps and cooperates with others, in particular other Samurai of a similar ranking. A Samurai should be an individual that treats others with kindness and consideration, and develop compassion more than fighting abilities. Those that learn the long history of Kendo highly valued the strict training of the heart and mind.

One will often see the practice of bowing in the Dojo as a demonstration of the learned manners in Samurai training. One will often see this in the Dojo with teachers, seniors and other partners with which one practices, as the Dojo is considered a sacred place.

The practice of “Rei” (bowing) one often has the image of it being an act of bowing ones head as a form of greeting. However in the practice of martial arts, it is used as a mark of respect, and this feeling is included within the term “Rei” which refers to this action of respectful bowing.

About “Rei” in Kendo

In Kendo, it is said that “One starts and ends with a (rei) bow”.

The concept of Rei expresses a sense of value and respect in others, in objects and in oneself. This practice marks a sense of respect in one’s fellow warrior colleagues, in the tools used, and in the practice of martial arts itself, and is a universal mark of respect that is important in all forms of martial arts.

This mentality is also applicable in the everyday life of anyone practicing martial arts, in order to calm the spirit, to pray for strength from God to overcome challenges, and to express gratitude towards teachers and others around them.

In the practice of martial arts, a victory can be removed from somebody who overtly shows off or shows poor sportsmanship. While it is seen as understandable to show delight in victory and is not necessarily inherently bad, martial arts holds the sense of “rei” or appropriate manners and conduct in high importance. It is seen as very important to show respect even to the opponent that one battles.

We hope you found this article interesting.

Part 1 of this article introduced the history and background of Kendo as well as the importance of manners and respect within martial arts. Part 2 of this article will go into further detail on the aspects of techniques and rules used in Kendo.

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Koki Miyashita

Author & Editor