history kendo

Budo in schools in the early Meiji period – pros and cons

About two weeks back I was looking through a friends small book collection and noticed a budo book in English that I hadn’t heard nor see of before: “Jigoro Kano and the Kodokan – An innovative response to modernisation” (produced by the Kodokan and translated by Alex Bennet). Not being a judo/jujutsu person, I must confess to not knowing too much of the early history of judo. I have, however, always been aware that Kano’s influence was very wide, and that his personal philosophy (of budo et al) impacted many a kendoka back in the day (not in the least, Takano Sasaburo). So I borrowed the book from my friend and had a good read.

Obviously the book is judo-centric, with not much explicitly said about kendo, but for people interested in the era (also a new one for kendo), it makes for a informative read. One thing that did catch my eye – something that directly involved kendo – was the very early lobbying to include more Japanese arts into the physical education system, i.e. kendo and judo specifically.


  • in 1878 a government backed physical education institute was charged with researching into the pros and cons of teaching kenjutsu and jujutsu (i.e. the modern kendo and judo) in schools.

  • the kenjutsu schools that were examined were Shinkage-ryu, Tenshinden Muteki-ryu, Hokushin Itto-ryu, and Tamiya-ryu.

  • The results of the research were sent to the Ministry of Education in 1894.

Results of the 1883 investigation

The merits of the study of martial arts was cited as follows:

  1. Contributes to children’s growth.
  2. Enhances physical endurance.
  3. Augments enthusiasm and mental health.
  4. Encourages valour and expunge cowardly behaviour.
  5. Provides a basis for self-defence in the case of unexpected danger.

But they concluded that the demerits outweighed the positive aspects:

1. It might adversely affect the body during the child’s growth period.
2. Injuries may occur during training.
3. It is difficult to determine the appropriate level of training for children of different physical strength.
4. Children may become easily excited and develop violent tendencies.
5. Students may become overly competitive and persist in their efforts to win at all costs.
6. Children with an overly competitive spirit may become involved in improper competitions and fights.
7. It would be difficult for one teacher to supervise a large number of students at once.
8. Ample space is required.
9. Jujutsu practise only requires training clothes, but kenjutsu needs more equipment, which is expensive and difficult to keep hygienic.

(excerpt from ‘Jigoro Kano and the Kodokan’)

The cons outweighed the pros and so neither kenjutsu nor jujutsu were introduced into the mandatory school curriculum. However, many schools started their own independent kendo and judo clubs anyway, and eventually both were accepted into the official school curriculum in 1911 (resulting in the need for a standardised kendo kata to be created).

Reading it now – almost 120 years later – it struck me that many of the merits and demerits of budo (kendo) practise remain the same. Demerit number 5 in particular is something that is continually echoed in kendo circles, specifically about high school and university kendo. It may be possible to add that not a few adult kendo clubs outside of Japan seem to practise for the sake of competition as well.

One of the major differences between the evolution of kendo and judo over the past 120 years is the fact that Kano pushed the internationalisation of judo from the very start. Judo practitioners were soon found abroad in droves, whereas kendo tended to be restricted to Japanese people who emigrated and their descendants. This is probably one of the greatest factors in the speed of change in the judo community over the time we are talking about. Due to kendo remaining Japan(ese)-centric, I’d posit, it has managed to keep its roots better, and hasn’t descended into a purely sportive activity… yet. I hope that non-Japanese kendoka continue to look to the roots of kendo and resist the urge to do kendo as purely a point-getting activity (judo seems to have lost both to a certain degree).

For people who are who find this topic interesting, I’d suggest having a read of the book quoted above to discover Kano’s original philosophy and, considering this, have another look at how judo is currently practised and portrayed. After this its time to reflect on kendo.


Jigoro Kano and the Kodokan: an innovative response to modernisation. Kodokan Judo Institute. March 2009.

By George

George is the founder and chief editor of
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2 replies on “Budo in schools in the early Meiji period – pros and cons”

As a kendoka who currently tutors a class, I make it a point to bring up history and tradition in almost ever class I do, especially in regards to Iaido kata and “borrowed” subtleties from actual sword practice. This was because all of my sensei and sempai did the same. It was never about fighting, though the fights are fun, but it was about really good form, strong appreciation for the art, and a fellowship of practitioners who never strive to be better or worse than others, but who step up and help those who need it. I’m so incredibly blessed to have had the opportunities I’ve had and the people I’ve met due to kendo. If it was all about competition, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

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