Since the earliest samurai government in Japan, during the Kamakura period (1185-1233), sword fencing, together with horse riding and archery, were the main martial pursuits of the military clans. In this period kendo developed under the strong influence of Zen Buddhism. The samurai could equate the disregard for his own life in the heat of battle, which was considered necessary for victory in individual combat, to the Buddhist concept of the illusory nature of the distinction between life and death. Those swordsmen established schools of kenjutsu (the ancestor of "kendo") which continued for centuries and which form the basis of kendo practice today. The names of the schools reflect the essence of the originator’s enlightenment. Thus the Itto-ryu (Single sword school) indicates the founder’s illumination that all possible cuts with the sword emanate from and are contained in one original essential cut.
The Muto (swordless school) expresses the comprehension of the originator Yamaoka Tesshu, that "There is no sword outside the mind". The 'Munen Muso-ryu (No intent, no preconception) similarly expresses the understanding that the essence of kenjutsu transcends the reflective thought process. The formal kendo exercises known as kata were developed several centuries ago as kenjutsu practice for warriors and are still studied today, albeit in a modified form. The introduction of bamboo practice swords (shinai) and armour (bogu) to "ken" training is attributed to Naganuma Sirozaemon Kunisato during the Shotoku Era (1711-1715). Naganuma developed the use of kendo-gu (bogu) (protective equipment) and established a training method using the shinai.
In addition, the inscription on the gravestone of Yamada Heizaemon Mitsunori's, (1638-1718) third son Naganuma Sirozaemon Kunisato (1688-1767), the 8th headmaster of the Kashima Shinden Jikishinkage-ryu Kenjutsu, states that his exploits included improving the bokuto and shinai, and refining the armour by adding a metal grill to the men and thick cotton protective coverings to the kote. Kunisato inherited the tradition from his father Heizaemon in 1708, and the two of them worked hard together to improve the bogu until Heizaemon's death.
This is believed to be the foundation of modern kendo. Kendo began to make its modern appearance during the late 18th century. Use of the shinai and armour (BOGU - View) made it possible to deliver strikes and thrusts with full force but without injuring one's opponent. These advances, along with the development of set practice formats, set the foundations of modern kendo. Concepts such as mushin , or "empty mind", are borrowed from Zen buddhism and are considered essential for the attainment of high-level kendo. Fudoshin , or "unmoving mind", is a conceptual attribute of the deity Fudo Myo-O, one of the five "Kings of Light" of Shingon Buddhism. Fudoshin, implies that the kendoka cannot be led astray by delusions of anger, doubt, fear, or surprise arising from the opponent’s actions. Thus today it is possible to embark on a similar quest for spiritual enlightenment as followed by the samurai of old. The Dai Nippon Butoku Kai was established in 1895 to solidify, promote, and standardise all martial disciplines and systems in Japan. The DNBK changed the name of Gekiken to kendo in 1920. Kendo (along with other martial arts) was banned in Japan in 1946 by the occupying powers. This was part of "the removal and exclusion from public life of militaristic and ultra nationalistic persons" in response to the wartime militarization of martial arts instruction in Japan. Kendo was allowed to return to the curriculum in 1950 (first as Shinai Kyougi "Shinai Competition" and then as Kendo from 1952).
The All Japan Kendo Federation (AJKF or ZNKR) was founded in 1952, immediately following the restoration of Japanese independence and the subsequent lift of the ban on martial arts in Japan. The International Kendo Federation (FIK) was founded in 1970, it is an international federation of national and regional kendo associations and the world governing body for kendo. The FIK is a non-governmental organisation, and its aim is to promote and popularise kendo, iaido and jodo. The World Kendo Championships are an FIK event and have been held every three years since 1970. Traditional Kendo or Classical Kendo, is the traditionally oriented form of Kendo. The literature describes that Traditional Kendo is still an important model for many kendo dojo (kendo groups) and is close in theory, method, and symbolic content to the classical martial ways of the premodern era (before 1867). Historically the Traditional Kendo was taught by the founder of Abe Ryu (Japanese fencing school) in the seventeenth century. Beside the classical Kendo this Ryu also practised Kenjutsu. In the early 1700s, several sword schools in Edo period began experimenting with protective gear to allow their students to spar with one another at full speed and power without injury.
Kamiizumi Ise-no-kami Hidetsuna is believed to have been the first famous swordsman to adopt the bamboo practice sword (fukuro-shinai or hikihada) in the late sixteenth century. Naganuma Shirozaemon Kunisato, of the Jikishin-kageryo, is usually credited with introducing head and wrist protection in the 1710s. Traditional Kendo base the practice on classical budo and try to understand its basic spirit and NOT to overvalue its by-product, technical skill, nor concentrate upon the individual's self-perfection as the end point of training. In this matter classical do form can not house a sport entity. The classical budo form is created by active people who sought to relate creative activities to the ideals of the past, the classical budo is therefore deeply rooted in the culture of feudal-age Japan. Within Traditional Kendo there is a concern with combative realism with the sword exercised in the form of kata training plus the philosophical aspects and training methods characteristic of traditional martial culture.
Traditional Kendo emphasises self-cultivation through training in combat readiness with the sword, as defined by the tenets and traditional practices of classical Japanese martial culture, some will call parts of this culture martial arts. Training is divided into a number of stage and types which represent a progreession of learning for the beginner as well as model to return to for the advanced practitioner. Reigi (etiquette) is very important within traditional Kendo, without reigi there is no tradition. This is the legacy of the bujutsu and budo past.