Bokken

Summary

Bokken is a wooden sword used in training of Japanese martial arts. Although primarily designed as a safer alternative to real swords and used in practice, the bokken attained an independent status as a weapon for itself and is often used by martial artists even today(1). Usually the bokken is made in the shape and size of a katana, although it can also resemble other types of swords, including tantou and wakizashi. This weapon is used as a relatively safe and inexpensive substitute for real swords in a wide range of martial arts, including kenjutsu, kendo
and aikido. It is relatively low-maintenance and carries less risk in training compared to the traditional katana. Still, bokken can be dangerous when used and often carry a mortal risk. Therefore, training with a bokken should always be done with care and under the supervision.

HISTORY

Bokken have a long history as a practice weapon – during the feudal period in Japan, they were used during the training of samurai warriors. Although primarily designed for practice purposes, they soon became lethal weapons in their own form. A popular legend states that a famous kenjutsu master, Musashi Miyamoto, could fight and defeat fully armed enemies using bokken only. It is said that he defeated Kojiro Sasaki only with a bokken he had previously carved from an oar while travelling to the duel location. Special techniques of crafting bokken were developed through history, and while some bokken were made to resemble and mimic the shape of original katana swords, other were often designed to facilitate specific movements and help developing special skills.

Types

As they are made to resemble various types of weapons, numerous types of bokken exist. Various martial arts have their own distinctive designs of bokken which often differ in length, tip shapes and existence of a hand guard. The most used styles include the long sword – in the size of katana (called tachi or daito) and the short sword – in the size of wakizashi (called kodachi or shoto). Other often used styles include the tantou sized bokken and suburito – used for solo cutting exercises. Suburito are heavier and thicker in comparison to normal bokken and are not suitable for paired practice or kata practice(2).

Components

The classic length of a bokken is between 40 and 42 inches, featuring a hilt of medium thickness. It is important to note that bokken vary greatly in terms of dimensions and components depending on the martial art and particular school in which the weapon is used. The point can be styled in three different ways – as a blunt point, as a chisel point or as a sword point. Furthermore, some traditional schools also use the hand guard (called tsuba in Japanese), while other do not. Some bokken feature a smooth transition from hilt to the blade, while others have a clear transition which determines the end of hilt. There are only a few suitable wood types from which bokken can be made. These include the Japanese white oak and American Appalachian hickory.

REFERENCES

(1) http://kingfisherwoodworks.com/
(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bokken

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