Kenjutsu (剣術, Art of the Sword) is the umbrella term for all five hundred schools of Japanese swordsmanship. As opposed to Kendo, which means "Way of the Sword", kenjutsu trains swordsmen (or kenshi) in the use of actual sword techniques for combat rather than as a meditative discipline.
Though Japanese swordsmanship has roots in the 4th century, kenjutsu in its recognized form began in the Muromachi period, the end of which is known as the Sengoku Jidai or "Warring States period". The schools of kenjutsu which survived the Sengoku Jidai proliferated for decades until finally reaching over five hundred styles during the Edo period and resulting in advancements to training techniques and equipment, such as the shinai (bamboo practice sword), which allowed for safer, more effective training sessions as opposed to the old method of using bokken (wooden katana) or live blades.
However, with the start of the Meiji Restoration and the dissolution of the samurai class in 1868, kenjutsu fell into decline as a painful reminder of the centuries of military rule as well as the bloody Bakumatsu.
In all styles and schools of kenjutsu, there are nine categories of strikes. Every single move, offensive or defensive fits into one of these.
- Karatake (Kirioroshi) - Down on the top of the head
- Kesagiri - Angled down at the left shoulder
- Sakagesa - Angled down at right shoulder
- Miginagi (Dō) - Laterally at the right side
- Hidarinagi (Gyakudō) - Laterally at the left side
- Migikiriage - Angled up at the right side
- Hidarikiriage - Angled up at the left side at an angle
- Sakakaze (Kiriage) - Up from the ground
- Tsuki - A forward strike, piercing at the shortest distance
Zone - In kenjutsu, an important concept is that of the range or zone. The zone is the distance in which a swordsman can attack using only one movement and depends on many factors such as the reach of his weapon, the reach of his opponent's weapon and each swordsman's level of mobility. While a longer weapon might grant greater reach, it also leaves more blind spots and openings in defense
Zantetsu - The act of cutting steel, which certain particularly skilled swordsmen were said to have mastered.
Shirahadori - A defensive move in which the user grasps of catches an enemy's blade with his bare hands, shirahadori is a difficult and acquired skill, but is also the only move shared between all five hundred schools of kenjutsu.