Kendo, the Japanese art of sword fighting, grew out of the ancient tradition
of samurai and kenjutsu (ken means sword, and jutsu means technique or art).
Some debate exists over the actual founder of the art, but Kunimatsu no
Mahito's style is generally considered to be the beginning of swordsmanship
for the warriors of early Japan. The bokken, a sword made of hard wood and
meant to replicate the feel of a true sword, is estimated to have come into
use around 400 A.D. This was followed by the development of the art of tachikaki,
or the study of the form of drawing the sword form the scabbard. Various
masters developed individual styles out of these components, and attached
their names to their techniques.
In the middle part of the 7th century, the Japanese found themselves under the rule of an organized government. Local lords were appointed and all land was owned by the state. Under this stable social system, the art of swordfighting progressed slowly. Not until the 1300's did kendo come back into vogue, as schools, or dojos, were established to help strengthen the warrior class. As in Europe in the Middle Ages, these samurai were integral to the social structure, and came to develop their own class consciousness (bushido) and code of ethics. This code includes a love of beauty and a sense of realism that is still ingrained in the consciousness of the Japanese.
In the mid-1700's, the shinai, a new type of dummy sword used in practice, was invented by Chuta Nakanishi. This represented the first major change in equipment in about 400 years, and allowed the samurai to practice with their full strength without fear of harming an opponent. The art of Kendo continued to flourish, and was made compulsory in all schools in 1871. However, soon after this, the government instituted a ban on the wearing of swords in public, in response to several bushido uprisings. The samurai class began to fade away, and Kendo began to be taught strictly as a sport.
Today, Kendo, as a sport, has spread to other countries, but continues to teach the principles of mental control known by the bushido as well as the physical skills of good swordsmanship.