One of the most feared, ruthless killers of the Bakumatsu, he learned early on to shut off his emotions when he fought, which, along with his skills and odd colouring, caused him to be labelled a ‘demon’. Despite this Kenshin is often gentle and kind when in the right circumstances, enjoying playing with the children at Otsu and feeling content to be simply an herbalist, not a swordsman.
Kenshin’s driving force in life – the reason he joined the revolution in the first place - is his desire to protect. As early as seven years old he attempted to defend the three sisters in the caravan he was travelling in when they were attacked by bandits, despite the fact that he could barely even lift the sword he was attempting to protect them with. His failure, and their sacrifice, affected him deeply, resulting in the increase of what was already a strong protective instinct, and, whilst he is generally very laidback and slow to anger, seeing someone being oppressed or hurt is a sure fire way to infuriate him, and when he does get angry, his anger is cold, and generally channelled into beating the living daylights out of whatever poor soul managed to infuriate him.
An extremely notable portion of Kenshin’s personality is his determination – once he sets his mind to something (generally the protection of another person) he will drive himself to succeed no matter what, despite physical or emotional pain, as seen when he makes his way through the ‘Forest of Barriers’, where one by one his senses were stolen from him.
Some other notable traits of his are his gentleness and kindness. Because he is in a new, dangerous environment, and separated from all he knows and loves, Kenshin will most likely fall back into the habits of wartime, being subdued and closed off, however his core personality will shine through, especially in the right company – Kenshin is by nature a gentle man, one that prefers to smile rather then frown, and enjoys the many small happiness’s that he has discovered in Otsu.
The traits above of kindness and gentleness are hardly the ones you would expect to find in an assassin, and in his first time of service as an assassin his gentle nature couldn't cope with the weight of his crimes and his mind was quickly shutting down into an empty mechanical state. If not for Tomoe, he most likely would have gone insane. However, he DID meet Tomoe, and realised killing is not the answer.
When he returned, after learning that no child had come to the village, Hiko returned to the place of slaughter, expecting to find just one more body to bury - only to discover that Shinta had already buried all the bodies – sisters, slavers and bandits, answering to Hiko’s query of why he had done it that it didn’t matter what had happened when they were alive, once they were dead they were just bodies. Hiko, impressed, poured sake on the stones that marked the graves of the sisters ,and took Shinta as his pupil, changing his name to ‘Kenshin’.
Hiko raises Kenshin and teaches him the art of Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu. At age 14, however, Kenshin gets involved with the revolutionary movement, and joins the Kiheitai, against Hiko’s wishes, leading to a break between them. In the Kiheitai, his prodigious skills with the sword catch the attention of the Ishin Shishi’s commander Katsura Kogorou, leading to him going to Kyoto to become the Ishin Shishi’s main Hitokiri. As a Hitokiri, Kenshin was ruthless, cold and utterly lethal, and his mastery of all forms of Battoujutsu led to him being given the name “Hitokiri Battousai’. However, behind the cold mask of a hitokiri, there was still a young, idealistic boy, who was slowly going mad from the bloodshed – until he met Yukishiro Tomoe.
After saving her from some ruffians in a pub, he leaves, only to get into a fight with a shogunate assassin. Eventually he wins, cutting the man in half from head to toe, causing the blood to splatter on Tomoe, who had followed him to thank him, and leading to the immortal line – ‘you are the one who makes it rain blood’. After she faints, Kenshin carries her back to the inn that is the Ishin Shishi headquarters.
The next morning, he wakes up to discover that she has left, and races down to find her – only to face plant on the floor at the sight of her calmly doing chores. The tone of their relationship is set.
Tomoe treats him like a human being, gently teasing him, and asking him questions that make him think beyond his stubborn insistence of the rightness of what he was doing, which eventually leads to a time when Tomoe walks in on him sleeping in their room, and goes to put her shawl around him, causing him to wake up and attack her on instinct, barely stopping himself from killing her. This, instead of scaring her off, causes her to say that he needs a ‘sheath for his madness’, and she offers to stay with him, leading to him swearing that he will not kill her, no matter what – never her.
However, during this time, the Ishin Shishi is virtually split in two when the decision to light Kyoto ablaze causes a famous conflict with the deadly "Wolves of Mibu", the Shinsengumi, and after the crisis suffered by the Chōshū clan in the Ikedaya incident, Katsura orders Kenshin and Tomoe to abandon Kyoto and flee to a remote village. He also orders them to put on the facade of a pair of pharmacists, as husband and wife, however, Kenshin doesn't like the idea of pretending, and proposes for real – and Tomoe accepts.
As husband and wife, they live happily in Otsu together, causing Kenshin to finally realise what real happiness is, as he plays with the neighbourhood children, uses plants and herbs to help people’s sickness and injuries, and comes home every night to his wife.
However, Tomoe's younger brother, Yukishiro Enishi, manages to find what was supposed to be their hidden location. This seems to spur Tomoe towards sharing her past with him for the first time, telling him of her murdered fiancee, who left because he couldn’t tell that she loved him, and wanted to become a warrior of repute in order to impress her. Kenshin embraces her and allows her to cry on him, before telling her of his own past, leading to a mental and emotional consummation that hadn’t been there before.
Kenshin then tells her that he will continue to be an assassin until the Revolution is over, but will find a way to repay those whose lives he destroyed, and he tells her that he wishes to protect her happiness which Tomoe returns with a yes and a genuine (and her first) smile.
That night, Kenshin sleeps the night through in the same bed as Tomoe for the first time.
The next morning, Tomoe meets with the leader of the Yaminobu, a pro-Shogunate covert network of ninjas that had formulated a plan to assassinate Kenshin. She had originally joined them to get revenge on Kenshin for killing her fiancé, but had eventually fallen in love with him, and decided to try to call it off – however, despite her lying about his weakness, the leader of the Yaminobu reveals that all along they had actually used her to create Kenshin's weakness.
Meanwhile, Kenshin receives a ransom note, and goes off to find his wife, but is ambushed by Yaminobu ninjas and is severely wounded. He manages to defeat them and eventually finds the leader of the Yaminobu. Meanwhile Tomoe, having woken from being knocked out by the leader and realised what was happening, had made a last ditch attempt to save Kenshin by jumping in between the two warriors to both stab the Yaminobu leader with her tanto, and also protect Kenshin from any more harm. At the same time, Kenshin, his senses badly damaged, had put his all into a last strike – and ends up killing both Tomoe and the Yaminobu leader. As she falls, Tomoe's knife flies into the air and coincidentally slashes Kenshin's already scarred cheek, creating the famous X-shaped scar across his left cheek. Later, Kenshin reads Tomoe’s diary, and finds out the truth – that he was the one to kill her fiancé. This is when he makes his vow never to kill again.
Following the death of Tomoe, Shishio Makoto replaces Kenshin in his role as assassin, and Kenshin is reassigned as a guerrilla swordsman protecting the Imperialists. After the end of the Bakumatsu, after the battle of Toba Fushimi, Kenshin leaves Kyoto, being met on his way by the swordmaker Arai Shakku, who gives Kenshin the sakabatou, the reverse-edged sword.
Ryūtsuisen (龍槌閃, Dragon Hammer Strike) From a position higher than one's opponent (usually initiated by a powerful jump), one uses the momentum of the fall to strengthen a two-handed sword swing that brings the blade down on the opponent's head or shoulder.
Ryūtsuisen ● Zan (龍槌閃・惨, Dragon Hammer ● Tragedy) Beginning in the same way as Ryūtsuisen, the user positions the sword as to initiate a downward stab to the head instead of a downward swing.
Ryūkansen (龍巻閃, Dragon Spiral Strike) Most often used as a counterattack against a thrust or charge, one sidesteps a forward-moving opponent and moves past them. In doing so, one spins in a full circle, adding momentum and centrifugal force to the strength of the sword swing, which is then aimed at either the opponent's back or the back of the neck.
Ryūkansen ● Tsumuji (龍巻閃・旋, Dragon Spiral Strike: Whirl)One of the variations of Ryūkansen, Ryūkansen Tsumuji is a direct attack rather than a counter.
Ryūkansen ● Kogarashi (龍巻閃・凩, Dragon Spiral: Wintry Wind). An alternate version is
Ryūkansen ● Arashi (龍巻閃・嵐, Dragon Spiral Strike ● Storm)A variation of the normal Ryūkansen, this technique places the swordsman is in a full somersault while attacking.
Ryūshōsen (龍翔閃, Soaring Dragon Strike) The opposite of Ryūtsuisen, Ryūshōsen is a rising attack meant to strike the jaw from below. For additional power, one uses one's free arm to apply force to the back of the blade and utilizes a powerful upward jump during the attack.
Ryūtsuishōsen (龍槌翔閃, Dragon Hammer-Flight Strike), a combination of Ryūtsuisen and Ryūshōsen, Ryūtsuishōsen begins with the powerful jump and supported upswing of Ryūshōsen, giving the leap enough power to pass one's opponent in mid-air, and on the returning drop, Ryūtsuisen is performed. it is unknown if this move can be performed effectively without using a sakabatō, as the initial Ryūshōsen would already be fatal if landed correctly with a normal katana.
Ryūsōsen (龍巣閃, Dragon's Nest Strike) A massive flurry of strikes delivered to the opponent. The sheer speed of the slashes makes this technique difficult to counter. There is an alternate version called
Ryūsōsen ● Garami (龍巣閃・咬, Dragon's Nest Strike ● Strangle), which targets the foe's head.
Doryūsen (土龍閃, Earth Dragon Strike) A ranges attack, Doryūsen strikes an opponent outside of the user's range by striking the ground and sending earthen debris at said opponent with knockout force.
Sōryūsen (双龍閃, Twin Dragon Spark) Seemingly a simple Battōjutsu strike, Sōryūsen is the first of Hiten Mitsurugi-ryū's two-step Battōjutsu moves. After the first strike with the quickened sword, the user wields the empty sheath along the same path as a blunt weapon. After the sword strike lands, the sheath strike delivers a pulverizing blow capable of crushing bone and shattering wood, but if the sword strike misses, the sheath strike acts as powerful insurance, preventing an opponent's attack and delivering a crushing blow when it's least expected.
Sōryūsen ● Ikazuchi (双龍閃・雷, Twin Dragon ● Lightning) An alternate form of Sōryūsen wherein the sword is wielded while still inside the sheath. The first strike is made with the sheathed sword and, once it makes contact, the sword is drawn using Battōjutsu for a second strike. While the original Sōryūsen is designed to make two strikes, Sōryūsen Ikazuchi appears designed with the assumption that the first strike will be blocked.
Hiryūsen (飛龍閃, Flying Dragon Strike) After assuming a Battōjutsu stance, one rotates one's body rapidly and then stops, aiming the sheath at one's target. The force shoots the sword out of the sheath like an arrow, allowing one to strike a target outside of one's zone. As a Battōjutsu move, it can be assumed that the sheath can then be used as a melee weapon in a second strike, but this is not seen.
Ryūmeisen (龍鳴閃, Dragon Howl Strike) An unusual technique in which one uses the godspeed of Battōjutsu to sheathe the sword rather than to draw it in a practice known as Shinsoku Nōtōjutsu. The speed and force creates a miniature sonic boom that can be used to temporarily stun opponents with particularly sensitive or acute hearing by affecting their auditory nerves.
The most skilled swordsmen using the best of blades were supposedly able to slice an object in two and rejoin the halves together, as if it were never cut at all.
The most skilled swordsmen were purportedly able to use their swords to cut through steel. Kenshin states he can use it anywhere except underwater.