The arts of the sword as we know them today probably began with Iizasa Choisai the founder of the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu. This school included the use of many weapons from sword and stick to spear and throwing knives. One part of its curriculum was the fast draw and instant use of the sword, either in self-defence or as a pre-emptive strike. This section of their study is called Iai Jutsu. Hayashizaki Jinsuke Shigenobu (1542-1621) like Iizasa Choisai is reputed to have received a divine inspiration which led to the development of his art called Muso Shinden Jushin Ryu Batto Jutsu. Here Batto means simply to draw a sword.
The significant factor common to both of these schools as with many other sword schools which concerned themselves predominantly with the drawing of the sword, was that the art was practised purely as kata. How then can a martial art be fully effective when it it is practised only as solo kata against an imaginary opponent? This is a much more difficult question than it at first seems, the problem begins when trying to define ‘fully effective’, and consider what ‘effect’ is required. Of course, in kata there is no repeated opportunity to prove your technique in combat as there is in fencing kendo, and in the repeated patterns of kata there seems to be no opportunity to modify your movements in response to those of your opponent. As a fighting art of the modern world it is all too easy to see the sword arts superficially and criticise them as inappropriate, simply because we do not walk along the street carrying a sword.The way of the martial artist should be to avoid conflict. This was explained thousands of years ago by Sun Tsu in The Art of War and later by masters of strategy. The martial artist who trains fully and correctly, directed by a sensei, will develop an ability to recognise difficult situations and avoid them before they become a problem, or will engage the conflict before it has grown to become a significant matter, or will maintain a state of mind and body that will not offer opportunities for an aggressor. This is the meaning of Iaido.
The kanji (character) ‘I’ can also be read as ‘ite’ and ai’ as ‘awasu’ in the phrase ‘Tsune ni ite kyu ni awasu’ which means: wherever you are and whatever you are doing, always be prepared. Prepared means not only to have an aware state of mind, but also to have trained rigorously so that if necessary a decisive technique can be used to end a conflict. With a sword of course the cut is deadly, there are no hold-downs or restraining techniques, but this is not the whole point. In business you must be prepared and act decisively when required, do you have the confidence? When a friend lets you down can you deal appropriately, fully understanding the implications and effects of your actions? When crossing a road and a car appears ‘from nowhere’, or something falls on you as you walk along the street, is your body sufficiently balanced and your mind sufficiently clear to deal with these situations and be safe? All of these are examples of self-defence, and all as important as the superficial interpretation of self-defence equals fighting. Kata is a very difficult study.
Jodo originally called Jojutsu, the name changed to Jodo the way of the staffin 1940. This way of using the staff was devised by one master swordsman, Gonnosuke Katsukichi, specifically to defeat another in the early 1600. There were wooden staff arts before Gonnosukes time, such as the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu Bojutsu techniques using the rokushaku bo (six foot staff), as well as the Sekiguchi Ryu, Bokuden Ryu and the Takeuchi Ryu. Gonnosuke studied the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu school of Iaido under Sakurai Ohsumi No Kami Yoshikatsu, then he studied the Kashima Jikishinkage Ryu, like other Samurai of his time he engaged in various duels throughout Japan to test his skills, until he faced Miyamoto Musashi (the author of the book of five rings). Musashi beat him with a technique using two swords called Jujidome. Unusually for those days, Musashi did not kill his opponent.
From that time, Gonnosuke went on to travel to many places to study martial arts and he became completely absorbed in how to break Musashi’s Juji-dome. After several years he reached Chikuzen no Kuni (modern day Dazaifushi, Fukuoka-ken), and went onto the Daizufu Tenmangu Shrine close to a sacred mountain and settled at the Kamado Shrine on Mount Homan where he indulged in a 37-day session of meditation. On the final night in a dream or vision, a child appeared who conferred onto Gonnosuke the teaching of “maruki o motte, suigetsu o shire” (“holding a round stick know the suigetsu”). Keeping this oracle in mind, he reconsidered the design of some original weapons; To lengthen the 3 shaku 2 sun sword by one shaku; to make a staff of 4 shaku 2 sun and 1 bu in length and 8 bu in diameter; and to finally combine the three martial arts of the yari (spear), naginata (halberd) and tachi (sword) to synthesise one martial art, Jodo. With this accomplished, it is said that he went on to break Musashi’s Juji-dome technique.
After this Gonnosuke was summoned to the Kuroda clan (Fukuoka) where he became revered as a teacher. Out of his students, more than ten went on to become teachers of his art although the style was never taught outside of the clan. The founder of Shinto Muso Ryu Jodo became known as Muso Gonnosuke Katsuyoshi.
Kendo, 'The Way of The Sword', embodies the essence of the Japanese fighting arts. Since the earliest samurai government in Japan, during the Kamakura period (1185-1233), sword fencing, together with horse-riding and archery, were the main martial pursuits of the military clans. In this period Kendo developed under the strong influence of Zen Buddhism. The samurai could equate the disregard for his own life in the heat of battle, which was considered necessary for victory in individual combat, to the Buddhist concept of the illusory nature of the distinction between life and death.
Since that time many warriors have become enlightened through Kendo practice. Those swordsmen established schools of Kendo training which continued for centuries, and which form the basis of Kendo practice today. The names of the schools reflect the essence of the originator’s enlightenment. Thus the Itto-ryu (Single sword school) indicates the founder’s illumination that all possible cuts with the sword emanate from, and are contained in, one original essential cut. The Muto (swordless school) expresses the comprehension of the originator Yamaoka Tesshu, that "There is no sword outside the mind". The 'Munen Muso Ryu' (No Intent, No preconception) similarly expresses the understanding that the essence of Kendo transcends the reflective thought process.
The formal Kendo exercises, set down sometimes several centuries ago, are studied today using wooden swords in set forms, or 'kata' and uninhibited sword fencing using bamboo practice swords and substantial armour both by formal exercises and free fencing. Thus today it is possible to embark on the quest for spiritual enlightenment followed by the samurai of old. Concepts such as 'Mushin', or 'empty mind' as professed by exponents of Zen are an essential attainment for high level Kendo. Fudo-Shin, or 'Unmoving Mind', a conceptual attribute of the deity Fudo Myo-O, one of the five 'Kings of Light' of Shingon Buddhism, implies that the fencer cannot be led astray by delusions of anger, doubt, fear, or surprise arising from his opponent’s actions.
Many of these concepts are relevant to other arts, like Judo, calligraphy, and the Tea Ceremony, but they are more readily comprehended in Kendo because the formal 'kata' exercises which were designed to express them can be performed in free practice at all levels from beginner to master swordsman. Other advantages of Kendo are that it can be practised by both young and old irrespective of natural ability. Physical fitness may be an advantage, but it is not essential. Thus young children and beginners can practice constructively and enjoyably with skilful people of advanced age. There are many formidable Kendo exponents of advanced age, even as old as eighty or ninety years, who can beat young champions a fraction of their age.
Kendo teaches methods of breathing to produce reserves of energy although you may be thoroughly tired. 'Ki-ai' shouting during fencing aids the circulation, and imparts vigour to the mind and body. Since the armour is fully protective, Kendo study should not be painful so you can overcome fear of aggression, and learn to remain calm in face of adversity through ordinary practice. Above all Kendo is enjoyable, and you will be welcome in any club in any country in which Kendo is practised. Teaching in Kendo is mutual, and the Kendo adherent will always find someone who will help him freely and willingly throughout his life, until he reaches the highest level of all as an enlightened swordsmen. However there are few such persons. Since Kendo depends on mutual help, it is not run in order to make a financial profit. In U.K. the instructors are proud of their amateur status, and you will never be expected to pay more than a share of running costs.