Kenjutsu (剣術, kenjutsu) (Lit. Trans: "Sword Methods") is a form of mutual partnered practice that is almost exclusively exercised through kata. Kenjutsu in conjunction to kata is the core means by which Koryu (Old Schools) Bujutsu (Martial Methods) train their student to employ the Japanese swords against a variety of classical weapons, while indoctrinating the student in the ryu's approach to combat. Kenjutsu is not a system in itself nor is it an art like origami or aikido, instead kenjutsu is the name given to partnered exercises were one or both participants use a a sword or bokken. Therefore kenjutsu can be seen to form an integral aspect of many Koryu's curriculum, in conjunction with other combative disciplines of the ryu, such as iaijutsu amongst others.
Kenjutsu should not be confused with iaido or iaijutsu, were both are arts with a different focus on aesthetics and the speed of the draw as well as a distinct yet complimentary practice to Kenjutsu. The role of iaijutsu is as solo practice of the sword performed against an imagined opponent who is usually seen to be armed with a sword that allows the practitioner of the ryu to perfect the execution of techniques which he/she will later employ in his/her kenjutsu without the stresses of a partnered practice.
Another general distinction between iaijutsu and kenjutsu was the condition of the sword at the start of the kata - in iaijutsu, the sword begins sheathed and the emphasis is on a few initial cuts, while in kenjutsu, the sword begins unsheathed, and the emphasis is on both attack and defense. This distinction is however not consistent as some kenjutsu kata's start with the sword sheathed. This distinction based on sheathing has lead some people to falsely assume that iaijutsu is a practice aimed at the self defense of a Samurai. Based on the hypothesized that through the practice of iai a Samurai would be able to quickly draw his sword in response to a surprise attack. This is however a modern construct as any combatant taken by a surprise attack would stand little chance of surviving an attack. In addition there is also little to no focus on the speed of draw in any Koryu nor is their any record of such fast draw practices having ever existed in the makimono (the hereditary scrolls containing information about the ryu which are passed down from generation to generation starting with the founder) of any Koryu Bujutsu style.
Today many Koryu schools that employ kenjutsu a part of their curriculum are intact and some are even thriving on a relatively small scale, such as Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu, Kashima Shinto-ryu, Kashima Shin-ryu, Hyoho Niten Ichi-ryu, Yagyu Shinkage-ryu. Some schools trace their lineage to the early years of the Tokugawa shogunate. Many other ryu can legitimately trace their history from the originators dating back to the 13th century, such as Maniwa Nen-ryu (Date founded: 1368) or Tatsumi-ryu (Date founded: Eisho period 1504-1520) or Kashima Shinryu (Date founded: ca. 1450 ).
The equipment employed in kenjutsu exercises has changed little in almost 500 year with most schools employing a ryu specific bokken or bokoto that while being made out of wood allows the student to gain an understanding of mechanics of a sword without the cost of damaged blades or danger that a real sword will entail. Some schools employ a fukuro shinai (a mock bamboo sword covered with leather or cloth) under circumstances were the student lacks the ability to safety control a bokken at full speed. The practice of using a fukuro shinai was however not adopted from Kendo as the invention of the fukuro shinai dates back to the 15th century. Most ryu also practice kenjutsu at advance levels with unsharpened steel swords.
A distinguishing feature of many kenjutsu schools is the use of a paired odachi and kodachi/shoto commonly refereed to Nitojutsu or two sword methods. The most famous exponent of Nitojutsu was Miyamoto Musashi Fujiwara Genshin, (1584-1645) the founder of Hyoho Niten Ichi-ryu. Nitojutsu is not however unique to Hyoho Niten Ichi-ryu nor was Nitojutsu the creation of Miyamoto Musashi. Both Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu founded early Muromachi period (ca. 1447) and Tatsumi-ryu founded Eisho period (1504-1520) contain extensive Nitojutsu Kenjutsu curriculums while also preceding the establishment of Miyamoto Musashi's - Hyoho Niten Ichi-ryu.
- A version of the same article on English Wikipedia, citing references
- Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan 3-volume set by Diane Skoss (Koryu Books). Further Details Classical Warrior Traditions of Japan