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Is There Difference Between Kenjutsu and Kendo?

Martial Arts Culture and History

Yes, there is a difference between Kenjutsu and Kendo, both of which are Japanese martial arts focusing on swordsmanship but with distinct approaches and purposes.

Explanation of the Difference

Kenjutsu is the older of the two and refers to the traditional art of the sword. It encompasses a wide range of sword techniques and styles that were developed and used by samurai in feudal Japan. Kenjutsu is primarily concerned with combat effectiveness and the practical application of sword techniques in actual battle. Training in Kenjutsu often involves the use of real swords (katana) or wooden swords (bokken) and can include one-on-one sparring without protective gear, focusing on the art and technique of the sword.

Kendo, on the other hand, evolved from Kenjutsu and is a modern martial art that emerged in the late 19th to early 20th century as Kenjutsu schools transformed into a sportive discipline. Kendo means "The Way of the Sword" and is practiced wearing protective armor (bogu) and using bamboo swords (shinai). Kendo is more sport-oriented, with a strong emphasis on discipline, physical fitness, and mental training. It has standardized rules for competition and is practiced as a way to develop character, self-discipline, and a respectful attitude.

In summary, while Kenjutsu is focused on the historical and practical aspects of sword fighting as it was practiced by samurai, Kendo is more about the sport and spiritual discipline derived from these ancient swordsmanship practices.


Kenjutsu is a compound of (ken, “sword”) +‎ (jutsu, “technique”).

Kendō, “the way of the sword”, is a compound of (ken, “sword”) + (do, “way”).

Martial arts with "do" and "jutsu" in their names often signify different philosophies or approaches within the same discipline. "Do" (道) means "way" or "path" in Japanese, indicating a journey or lifestyle that emphasizes personal development and spiritual growth. "Jutsu" (術) means "technique" or "art," focusing more on practical methods and combat effectiveness. Here are examples of martial arts with these suffixes:

With "Do"

  • Judo (柔道): Translates to "the gentle way," Judo is a modern martial art and Olympic sport that emphasizes throws, takedowns, and ground techniques. It was derived from Jujutsu and focuses on using an opponent's force against them.
  • Aikido (合気道): Meaning "the way of harmony with spirit," Aikido is a modern martial art that focuses on fluid motion and the redirection of an attacker's energy to neutralize threats without causing serious injury.
  • Karatedo (空手道): Often referred to simply as Karate, "the way of the empty hand" focuses on striking, kicking, and defensive blocking with various parts of the body. It evolved from earlier forms of martial arts like Okinawan Te and Chinese martial arts.

With "Jutsu"

  • Jujutsu (柔術): The "art of softness" or "gentle art" is a traditional Japanese martial art that uses joint locks, throws, and strikes. It emphasizes using an opponent's energy against them, rather than direct force.
  • Ninjutsu (忍術): The "art of stealth," practiced by ninjas, focuses on espionage, deception, and surprise attacks, with a wide range of skills including stealth movements, escape tactics, and weaponry.
  • Iaijutsu (居合術): A martial art that emphasizes the quick-draw and precise cutting with a Japanese sword, typically a katana. Iaijutsu focuses on the smooth, controlled movements of drawing the sword from its scabbard, striking or cutting an opponent, removing blood from the blade, and then replacing the sword in the scabbard. It is related to Iaido, which often places more emphasis on the spiritual and meditative aspects of drawing the sword.

Several martial arts have both a "do" and "jutsu" version, reflecting the evolution from traditional combat techniques to more modern, philosophical, or sport-oriented practices. Here are some examples:

From Jutsu to Do in Martial Arts

  1. Judo and Jujutsu: Jujutsu is the ancient martial art focusing on grappling, throwing, and joint locks. Judo was derived from Jujutsu by Jigoro Kano in the late 19th century and emphasizes the sport and physical education aspect, with a strong philosophical component of self-improvement.
  2. Karatedo and Karatejutsu: Karate originally developed in Okinawa as Karatejutsu, focusing on self-defense and combat efficiency. It evolved into Karatedo, often shortened to Karate, emphasizing the spiritual, ethical, and moral aspects along with the physical training.
  3. Aikido and Aikijutsu: Aikijutsu focuses on self-defense, utilizing joint locks, throws, and strikes. Aikido, developed by Morihei Ueshiba, is a derivative that places more emphasis on the spiritual and philosophical development, promoting peace and harmony.
  4. Iaido and Iaijutsu: Iaijutsu is the combat-oriented practice of drawing the sword and responding to sudden attacks. Iaido, while maintaining many of the physical aspects of Iaijutsu, places more emphasis on the smooth, controlled, and precise movements, with a greater focus on the meditative and spiritual aspects of sword drawing.

These martial arts illustrate the shift from jutsu (technique or art) to do (way or path), indicating a move from purely combative techniques to a broader philosophical approach that includes personal development and ethical or moral teachings.

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