By Nakamura Tamio
Translated by Alex Bennett
Original article in Kendo World Issue 1.1, 2001
Nakamura Tamio was born in 1950 in Nishio city, Aichi prefecture. In 1976, he graduated from the Physical Education Department postgraduate course at the Tokyo University of Education. He is now a professor in the Education Faculty of Fukushima University. His publications include A History of Modern Kendo, Kendo Dictionary- A Technical and Cultural History (Both published by Shimazu Shobo).
Currently, the official Japanese term used to refer to the protective armour used in kendo is not bōgu, but kendōgu. Nonetheless, bōgu is still the most commonly heard, and I will use it in this article. Before delving into the history of bōgu/kendōgu, I will first offer an explanation of these appelations and how they came to be utilised.
Origins of the Terms
There are no actual records indicating that the word bōgu ever existed during the Edo period (1600-1868). Other expressions were used to refer to protective armour donned for martial training such as dōgu, bugu, and take-gusoku. The first time that bōgu came into use was by the military during the Meiji period (1868-1912), when the Japanese army was remodeled on the French system.
In 1884, a French military advisor, Kiehl De Villaret, [further investigation shows this to be an amalgam of two members of a French military delegation to Japan from 1884-1889, Joseph Kiehl and Etienne de Villaret], was invited to instruct the art of French fencing and bayonet techniques to Japanese army officers. In 1889, after he had served his purpose and left the shores of Japan, significant reforms were made to army training, and the "Kenjutsu Textbook" (Kenjutsu Kyōhan) was compiled outlining the official Japanese military method of swordsmanship. This textbook was divided into sections covering kenjutsu, guntō-jutsu (saber), and jūken-jutsu (bayonet). In the text it stipulates that, “Jūken-jutsu equipment can be divided into two types; the weapon, and the bōgu”. Furthermore, “the bōgu consists of men, dō (with tare attached), shoulder pads, and kote”, thus making it the first known reference to the term bōgu. It appears that from the time Japanese soldiers began training in French-style kenjutsu and jūken-jutsu, the term bōgu was derived from 'bō-shin-yō-gu’ (body protection equipment).
The Kenjutsu Textbook was revised three times, and became more oriented to traditional Japanese equipment and techniques. After the third revision in 1915, the armour worn in the distinctive armed forces-style kenjutsu training utilized dō with tare attached, but it was still deemed permissible to use armour of the type used in conventional non-military kendo circles. Eventually, the term bōgu, which originally referred to armour used in military kenjutsu, was also applied to the equipment used in regular kendo. From the 1920’s, bōgu refers collectively to a set of kendo armour consisting of men, kote, dō, and tare. This continued into the immediate post-war period. Even though kendo was banned for a number of years after the Japanese defear, it was temporarliy replaced by a less aggressive ‘sportified’ hybrid form of fencing called shinai-kyōgi. The armour used in shinai-kyōgi was modified in form but was still referred to as bōgu.
The All Japan Kendo Federation was eventually formed in 1952 as the overseer of kendo dissemination. Consequently, the official All Japan Kendo Federation Competition Rules were formulated, and in the section concerning equipment it states, “Bōgu shall consist of men, kote, dō, and tare.” With this, the term was revived as official kendo terminology.
Nevertheless, a scan of many of the popular Japanese dictionaries and encyclopedias in the 1950’s and 60’s will rarely if ever find mention of the word, indicating that it was not used by the general population until after the middle of the 1960s, when major dictionaries such as the Kojien (Second edition) defined bōgu as “the protective equipment utilized in kendo consisting of men, kote, dō and tare”. This same term was also later applied to the equipment used in western fencing.
In 1979, the Kendo Shiai Regulations/ Kendo Shimpan Regulations were widely revised again, and Article 4 states concisely , “Kendō-gu will consist of men, dō, kote and tare”. Since this revision bōgu was officially replaced with the term kendō-gu. Incidentally, in the 1995 revisions of the same regulations, the term keiko-gi was modified to kendo-gi.
Thus, terminology for protective-armour used in kenjutsu evolved from dōgu to bōgu, and finally to kendōgu. From here I will investigate the evolution of the armour itself.