Kendo means "way of the sword" and is the traditional martial art of Japanese fencing. Kendo players fence with flexible bamboo practise swords (shinai) using both the edge and point of the sword to hit targets on their opponent's armour. The four main targets are the top of the head, the throat, the abdomen and the wrist.
In budo, Japanese martial arts, "do" refers to a path or way to self-improvement through martial training. Kendo teaches not only physical fencing techniques but also a philosophy which is inherent to budo. Kendo develops strong spirit, positive attitude and respect for others.
Around 900 AD, Japanese smiths developed the curved samurai sword by improving on earlier Chinese and Korean designs. This was the start of the Japanese style of fencing, as the shape and size of a sword influence the techniques used to wield it. The finest swords were made around 1300 AD and fencing schools exist today which date back to that period. The main influence of modern kendo, Itto-ryu, dates to the 15th century.
Fencing was originally practised with a steel or wooden swords, often resulting in serious injury to the fencers. Around 1750, Chuto Nakanishi devised a bamboo practise sword and light practise armour. With the new equipment, fencing could be practised at full speed with only the danger of bruises. By 1780 the equipment had been refined to looked very much as it does today. However the focus of the practice was still more on battlefield technique than philosphy and sport; kenjutsu rather than kendo.
During the Meiji restoration, when samurai were forbidden from wearing swords in public, and after World War II when all military activities were banned, swordsmanship declined in Japan. In both cases the battlefield training was evolved into an activity more suitable for peacetime, and so modern kendo with its emphasis on sport and spiritual growth was born.