From Katate Guntō-jutsu to Tanken-jutsu

Originally published in Kendo World magazine vol. 8.3, 2016..


In Kendo World journal issue 7.3 we explained how a plague of silkworm diseases in the second half of the 19th century led France to sign the Treaty of Amity and Commerce in October 1858, which marked the official beginning of Franco-Japanese relationships, and how this event indirectly precipitated the agreement on the first French military mission to Japan in June 1866.Through the successive French military missions, the newly formed Imperial Army was introduced to European fencing, especially sabre (guntō-jutsu) and bayonet (jūken-jutsu).Japan’s Army Ministry published a military fencing textbook called Kenjutsu Kyōhan in 1889 with numerous revisions thereafter. Its first edition was based on translations of French military teaching materials and thus detailed French fencing concepts and techniques. However, from the 2nd edition, Japan moved towards a hybrid system that still used Western concepts (one-handed sword style) but blended with gekken (traditional Japanese fencing) methodology: this new system advocated the use of shinai and bōgu and reverted to a more Japanese style of etiquette (reigi).

After the Russo-Japanese War (1905), army authorities judged that guntō-jutsu was not effective enough. Another revision of the Kenjutsu Kyōhan was thus published in 1907, and a new category of guntō-jutsu was introduced: bajō guntō-jutsu or guntō-jutsu on horseback. From 1915, the Japanese army decided to discard the one-handed sabre system and to promote instead two-handed morote guntō-jutsu, a modified version of kendo for military use. The old guntō-jutsu was then renamed katate guntō-jutsu, and practised only by cavalry officers.

From 1919, the Japanese army worked on the elaboration of a new one-handed close quarter combat system called tanken-jutsu, based on detached bayonet fighting and Japanese kodachi techniques. As a result, katate guntō-jutsu slowly disappeared as bayonet and detached bayonet techniques became the main curricula before and during World War II.

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