Book of Five Rings > Translator's Introduction > Kendo


Traditionally, the fencing halls of Japan, called Dojo, were associated with shrines and temples, but during Musashi's lifetime numerous schools sprang up in the new castle towns. Each daimyo (lord) sponsored a Kendo school, where his retainers could be trained and his sons educated. The hope of every ronin was that he could defeat the students and master of a Dojo in combat, thus increasing his fame and bringing his name to the ears of one who might employ him.

The samurai wore two swords thrust through the belt with the cutting edge uppermost. The longer sword was carried out of doors only, the shorter sword was worn at all times. For training, wooden swords and bamboo swords were often used. Duelling and other tests of arms were common, with both real and practice swords. These took place in fencing halls and before shrines, in the streets and within castle walls. Duels were often fought to the death or until one of the contestants was disabled, but a few generations after Musashi's time the "shinai", a pliable bamboo sword, and later padded fencing armour, came to be widely used, so the chances of injury were greatly reduced. The samurai studied with all kinds of weapons: halberds, sticks, swords, chain and sickle, and others. Many schools using such weapons survive in traditional form in Japan today.

To train in Kendo one must subjugate the self, bear the pain of gruelling practise, and cultivate a level mind in the face of peril. But the Way of the sword means not only fencing training but also living by the code of honour of the samurai elite. Warfare was the spirit of the samurai's everyday life, and he could face death as if it were a domestic routine. The meaning of life and death by the sword was mirrored in the everyday conduct of the feudal Japanese, and he wo realised the resolute acceptance of death at any moment in his everyday life was a master of the sword. It is in order to attain sucn an understanding that later men have followed the ancient tradition of the sword-fencing styles, and even today give up their lives for Kendo practise.

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