Shinkendo

Shinkendo is a martial art that teaches the way of armed samurai combat. Shin can be translated as serious, ken as sword, and do as way, validating Shinkendo’s traditional English translation as “Way of the Serious Sword.” The primary focus is on use of the katana.

Study of Japanese Swordsmanship has become very popular in the twenty-first century, but qualified schools and instructors are rare. Many people do not know where to look, or even what to look for, when considering instruction in Japanese Swordsmanship. This page is intended to provide basic information about the history of this great art, and how it can best be studied today through Shinkendo, the Way of the Real Sword.

The history of the hei (army) is very long, but the history of the Samurai or Bushi started 1000 years ago. The schools (Ryuha) that the Samurai trained in have a history of 600 years. As the Japanese society became more peaceful, many people started to pursue a profession of teaching Budo, and many Ryuha were created by incorporating ideas from the battlefields. Different instructors had different training methods, ideas, and different styles of fighting. This eventually led to the split of different styles, leaving categories of styles such as Kenjutsu, Iaijutsu, Battojutsu. In the recent 150 years, these styles have subdivided even further.

Each Ryuha has its own history. The people that teach the style have a duty of not changing techniques, training methods, and ideals. To change an ideal or technique while under the name of a Ryuha is disrespectful and disloyal to the original founder and Ryuha. Therefore, the different Ryuha cannot merge and combine as one, and it is important to “protect” each style and preserve its original form by keeping them separate.

The real way of the sword, however, is one that must combine the important aspects of every style. Shinkendo is a modern art, and as such it is able to break down the walls between the different Ryuha and reincorporate their teachings into one comprehensive form. This is the way Japanese swordsmanship was originally studied.

Shinkendo teaches how to draw the sword combatively, and re-sheath it safely. This training is called Battoho. Students begin practice with a wooden sword and learn to draw effectively in many directions. Advanced students later use an Iaito, or non-sharpened practice sword, and later use a Shinken, or real sword.

Techniques done from a sitting position (Suwari Iai) are very common in other schools, but are not used in Shinkendo. These techniques are impractical and unsafe. Instead, Shinkendo draws are done from the traditional Fudo (standing) or Tachiaigoshi (crouch, or ready stance) positions.

Suburi means sword swinging practice. In Shinkendo this term is used to define basic sword movements, correct footwork, and body movement practices. These fundamentals are crucial to proper training, and must never be neglected.

Tameshigiri is the practice of using real swords and target material to test the swordsman’s accuracy and form. This requires a great deal of concentration and skill, and is usually done only by well-trained students under direct supervision.

Test-cutting is only one aspect of swordsmanship training, and should not be viewed as the sole purpose of training, or done for entertainment or sport. The practice of cutting inappropriate materials such as fruit, water bottles or other ‘circus acts’ should be strongly discouraged. Japanese Swordsmanship should always be approached with dignity and sincerity.

There are many types of schools where one can study one aspect or another of Japanese Swordsmanship. Only Shinkendo involves study of each of these important aspects of swordsmanship. True, deep study of Japanese Swordsmanship must involve many interlocking concepts. In Shinkendo, these five aspects of swordsmanship, Suburi, Battoho, Tanrengata, Tachiuchi, and Tameshigiri are like five interlocking rings. All five aspects have some relation to the other rings. This is the foundation of a comprehensive study of swordsmanship. It allows for one to view the techniques from a larger perspective and pursue them deeply.

Toshishiro Obata is both founder and head instructor of the Kokusai Shinkendo Renmei (International Shinkendo Federation). Shinkendo is non-competitive and is learned through the Goho Gorin Gogyo (five fold way):

  • Suburi (Swinging exercises)
  • Battoho (Drawing techniques)
  • Tanrengata (Solo forms) also referred to as kata
  • Tachiuchi (Sparring) also referred to as Kumite
  • Tameshigiri (Test cutting with real swords)

After many years of study and mastery of many different schools in his native Japan, Obata Sensei came to America to distill all of the different aspects of Japanese Swordsmanship into one complete and comprehensive art. Obata Kaiso has dedicated over thirty years to teaching and researching the almost lost art of true Japanese Swordsmanship as it was practiced by the Samurai of Japan’s feudal era.

While Shinkendo requires rigorous physical training, depth of coordination, and intense focus, one of the most important aspects of Shinkendo is the emphasis on spiritual forging, which inspires “Bushi Damashii” (the samurai/ warrior spirit), a quality that Shinkendo practitioners feel is as relevant now as it was hundreds of years ago. Proper practice of Shinkendo should provide one with not only a strong body and mind, but also a calm, clear and focused spirit.

Training revolves around our structure of “Gorin Goho Gogyo” (five equally balanced interweaving rings that symbolize the five major methods of technical study). This includes: Suburi (sword swinging drills), Tanrengata (solo forms), Battoho (combative drawing methods including Toyama-ryu Iaido), Tachiuchi (pre-arranged sparring) and Tameshigiri/Shizan (cutting straw and bamboo targets). Students typically train using a bokuto (wooden sword), and later advance to training with iaito (or mogito, non-sharpened sword) and finally with shinken, or ‘live blade’.