Kenjutsu is the general term to describe the martial art of traditional Japanese swordsmanship. The name "Kenjutsu translates to "technique or method of the sword". This must not be confused with Kendo, which means "way of the sword".
Although the recognizable curved Japanese sword was developed during the Heian period, there is known Kenjutsu lineage that survived from this period. The oldest schools that are still in existence today are those that were founded in the Muromachi period (1336-1573). It is from these three schools that the other styles branched out:
- Kage-ryū (Aizu) (Aisukage ryū)
- Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū
The peak and popularity of Kenjutsu was during the Edo period. There were more than five hundred schools that continuously developed and enhanced training techniques, discipline and equipment. During the 19th century, sparring was done using either live blades or solid wooden swords known as bokken. This proved to be risky, which limited practice to some extent. In order to be able to practice without causing harm to the sparring partner, the bamboo sword, shinai and the protective armore, bogu was developed and allowed students to practice techniques with speed.
It was during the Meiji Restoration where the modernization of Japan took place in 1868 did Kenjutsu declined along with the disappearance of the samurai class. With guns and other military advancement being introduced, Japan saw no more need for swords or Kenjutsu and slowly became just a part of history.
Some twenty years after, the Japanese Police and the military studied the discipline and the art of various kenjutsu school to come up with a standard martial art training. In 1895, the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai ("Greater Japan Martial Virtue Society") was established and in 1912, they introduced a standard core teaching curriculum that other Kenjutsu schools would have to incorporate into their techniques. The aim was for Kenjutsu to have a unified teaching method and core. This core curriculum would later becom the modern martial art of Kendo.