History Edit Bokken were designed to lessen the damage caused by fighting with real swords and were used for the training of samurai warriors in feudal Japan. Bokken eventually became lethal weapons themselves in the hands of trained experts. In a famous legend, he defeated Sasaki Kojiro with a bokken he had carved from an oar while traveling on a boat to the predetermined island for the duel. Before the Meiji era, Bokken were very likely manufactured by woodworkers not specialized in Bokken manufacture. It is at the beginning of the 20th century that Bokken manufacture started, mainly in Miyakonojo Kyushu region.
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Beware, weights vary widely depending on the wood being used and the time of the year. We then tend to classify those weapons into 4 categories: thin, standard, thick and extra-thick. Curvature, amplitude and position The curvature has a strong influence on the balance and handling of a Bokken. In the case of a Katana, it also gives a better cutting angle, making slicing easier.
Curvature has little impact here. However, many models have very little curvature and a few of them have very wide ones. A light curvature makes strikes and movements more precise and more direct overall. It is actually the reason why many schools offering Kata Bokken vs Jo or Bokken vs Naginata adopt lighter and less curved perhaps even mostly straight weapons, in order to compensate for the gap between weapon length with speed and precision.
Inversely, some schools such as the Kashima Shin Ryu tend to focus on power and will offer heavy and straight swords in order to push the balance toward the Kissaki tip as much as possible. Doing so, they tend to feel like a Katana. A "common" sori of about 25mm allows a good middle ground between handling, balance and impact resistance, making it the obvious choice for a "standard" Bokken. The curvature position, koshi sori close to the tsuka , Kyo sori centered or saki sori at the tip will influence two characteristics: power and cutting angle.
With a sori that is close to the tip, the monouchi the upper third of the weapon used for cutting is shorter and cutting will require more precision. Balance is also slightly changed. The closer the sori is to the tip, the more the balance will shift toward it.
Hiramine : classic. Kenmine : classic, but with a little more weight added to the blade. Marumine : more weight on the upper part of the blade, but the blade is overall thinner and balance is shifted toward the kissaki. Sho kissaki : classic balance. Dai kissaki : shifts balance toward the tsuka change is non-existant as generally, daikissaki weapons are designed with a kenmine finish that adds a slight overweight to the weapon. Unokubi : identical to Shokissaki in terms of balance.
Kendogata : beveled on the blade side, straight on the mine side. This allows to significantly lighten the Kissaki and switch the balance to the tsuka.
Iwama ryu straight cut : in contrast to the previous cuts, this one adds a significant weight to the tip, and switches balance toward the kissaki. You now understand why a standard Bokken with Hiramine finish has a smaller Kissaki, while a deluxe Bokken with Kemine finish has a longer one.
One compensate the other, and balance on a standard Bokken is mostly identical to a said deluxe Bokken. It makes the weapon a lot lighter, and moves balance a lot closer to the tsuka. Some schools of course offer other kinds of studies in order to steer toward cutting at a later stage. And finally, in which wood species? Next up: a wood that is solid, resilient, and gets etched without shattering In short, Japanese oak, white or red. Oak also has the huge advantage of showing signs of weakness before shattering, it wears down progressively which allows the detection of possible problems and discarding a potentially dangerous weapon.
Which allows for a satisfying weight, not too heavy and with good long term behavior. And more importantly, relatively long and flexible fibers so that the Bokken would shatter along its length in a safe way in case it would break. Camellia, Buna or Isu no Ki come next with significantly worse characteristics when it comes to strength to impact and consistency over time.
Camellia makes for beautiful weapons, for a gift or for practice of contact-less Kata. Buna and Isu no Ki are good wood species, very light, for Kata also. Murasaki Kokutan purple ebony , Sunuke, Asian ebony and African ebony in order of density weight are heavy, massive, beautiful and ideals for Suburi, but very poor when it comes to impact resistance. Their density makes them feel very sturdy at first, but when their resistance levels are tested, unlike oak that tends to bend and keep absorbing impacts before "progressively" breaking, massive woods explode in a relatively dangerous fashion.
On the other hand, they stay consistent over time and can keep their integrity for decades. And finally, please note that we highly advise against contact use between Bokken made of woods that widely differ in density. Indeed, a Bokken in Sunuke, even on light impact, will immediately and deeply damage an oak Bokken, and doing so destroy some fibers. This will destabilize the impacted area of the wood in the medium-term future accelerated aging. A Bokken made of African ebony could even completely destroy a white oak Bokken in only a few strikes What about me?
What should I get? What is important to understand is that a Bokken is a specific tool for a specific job. Long story short, if your school, like the near-majority of Kenjutsu schools, offers a specific weapon, then get yourself the model your school recommends!
If you practice Iaido, you then have two choices. Either a classic Bokken, with or without groove. For beginners, a regular Bokken is enough, though it could quickly get heavy and hard to handle.
It is then generally better to go for a Bokken with a groove, with which you will be more accurate and get less tired. Then pick a relatively light and not too brittle Bokken in case of an accident , for example in red Oak. If you are more on the frail side physically and you know for sure there will be no full-contact practice in your dojo, you can even consider a weapon made of Isu no Ki.
But whatever your choice, start with a classic model! You have been practicing for a few years already: look at what your more experienced fellow dojo members are using. Or a more static work, more focused on power?
In the first case, a lighter Bokken would be the best choice. In the latter, a heavier Bokken but not too heavy, as weight should be raised gradually, in order to avoid traumas, most notably tendinitis.
You have been practicing for 10 or even 20 years? You then most likely know already what you are expecting of your practice, what are your research angles All the above points should help you choose the most suited weapon for your needs. And in any case if you have doubts, do not hesitate to contact us, via comments or through email, and we will help you make the right choice to the best of our ability.
Frequently asked questions: Would it be possible to make a sword with balance and weight similar to a Katana? To put it simply: no. A sword has a steel blade, much more dense and heavier than wood. Considering that its tsuka is made of wood, a sword has to be balanced at the tip.
Furthermore, what sword? With or without groove? With which curvature? What balance? Shinken, the cutting swords, are tailored-made to each user, such that there is nothing specific to "imitate". Which Bokken is the sturdiest for full-contact practice?
A red or white oak Bokken will be the strongest. But the question is worrisome A Bokken is a tool for martial art practice. Each art teaches a specific usage and, in most cases, the weapons used are fitted to the type of practice on offer.
What warranties are your weapons covered by? None other than they are straight. Do you know of any store or any brand that would offer warranty coverage on a product intended to break eventually? Bokken are made of wood. Some are sturdier than others, but wood is an organic material. Even without visible defect, it can have structural ones, invisible and impossible to detect. And wood ages. It dries up, and progressively loses its mechanical features even more if badly maintained.
This can take a few years for a poor quality Bokken, but 10 to 20 years for a more consistent wood. Of course, a good "Made in Japan" Bokken has a lot less chance to show defects or break than a substandard one made in China or Taiwan The Author Jordy Delage French aikido practitioner and founder of Seido, Jordy has a a formal education in Japanese culture, history and religion.
Settled in Japan since , he has been practicing Aikido for almost 2 decades and has experiences in Kendo and Judo.
BOKKEN KATA PDF
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Bokken - Holzschwerter der Samurai
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