Differences in bokken shapes

Originally published in IAIDO-L: http://listserv.uoguelph.ca/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0104&L=iaido-l&D=0&T=0&P=2096

Date: Thu, 5 Apr 2001 11:54:22 +0200
Reply-To: Japanese Sword Art Mailing List
Sender: Japanese Sword Art Mailing List
From: Hellsten Pasi
Subject: Bokken
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I have a question about different models of bokken.

I have trained a little of Niten Ichi Ryu and also Ono-ha Itto ryu. These ryu use very different wooden sword. Niten bokken is very light and Itto Ryu’s is quite heavy and shorter if compared to “regular” bokken.

What is the reason for this? Is it only an evolution of different ryu or is there some relationship for the real sword used in these particular ryu? Or is it just depending the way of using bokken in partner practice?

I am pleased to hear your opinion or if you can give me some referencies where to find more information of this matter.

Best wishes

— Pasi Hellsten

Originally published in IAIDO-L: http://listserv.uoguelph.ca/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0104&L=iaido-l&T=0&F=&S=&P=2365

Date: Thu, 5 Apr 2001 09:27:31 -0400
Reply-To: Japanese Sword Art Mailing List
Sender: Japanese Sword Art Mailing List
From: Kim A Taylor
Subject: Re: Bokken
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There is quite a difference in bokuto between some schools, and I suspectmost of it is due to the way the schools use them in practice since I haven’t seen much difference in katana to speak of, although some are beefy, some light, some long and some short so perhaps there is more variation than I give them credit for.

From my observations on making bokuto over the years I’ve noticed that for those that are curved, the curve is roughly the same, if you take all my patterns for bokuto such as niten ichi-ryu, kendo no kata, shindo muso-ryu, iwama aiki-ken, and what have you, and put them together the curves actually lay over one another pretty closely.

The lengths vary by an inch or two but not all that much.

The Niten Ichi-ryu blades are 3/4 of an inch thick (1.8cm) rather than the usual 1 inch (2.5cm) and I think that’s mostly due to the way they’re used in practice, trying to hold a regular sized daisho out at arms length and shoulder height for a 2 hour practice would cripple most people.

Haven’t seen an Itto-ryu bokuto but the Kashima Shinryu bokuto is pretty beefy and straight, the blade is about 1 1/8 inch thick. I suspect it’s that way because the school has some exercises that, as done by a beginner, would snap a regular bokuto in half. The potential for full-on edge to edge “baseball” swings at full power is there for sure.

The Shindo Muso-ryu bokuto tends to be a bit thinner at the tip than someother designs which would make it a little easier on the jo as it comes over to strike down the bokuto in hiki otoshi uchi, not as much chance of meeting the tip dead on and gouging out a chunk of the jo or splitting the tip of the bokuto. The SMR bokuto also tends to be a little bit (not alot) more straight than say, the kendo no kata bokuto, which encourages the bokuto holder to tilt the wrists up a bit more to take the kamae. This puts the tsuba into a better position to protect the wrist should the jo come sliding down too far. The thinner tip also makes it easier to move aside with the jo.

The kendo no kata bokuto often has a more rounded “tsuka kashira” than other styles which may feel a bit more natural in a kendoka’s hands than the oval shape of most other bokuto.

The Bugei catalog shows bokuto that have massive long hilts, and this is obviously to match the long hilts that the Yanagi-ryu use on their blades.

So I think that if you look at how a school practices their techniques, and you then look at the bokuto you’ll find a reason for the variations, and why not? Bokuto are “disposable” training tools and so should be made to fit the practice, whereas swords are a bit more standardized (maybe it’s easier to convince the local carpenter to do a different shape than it is to convince the famous smith?? ;-)).

— Kim A Taylor

Originally published in IAIDO-L: http://listserv.uoguelph.ca/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0104&L=iaido-l&D=0&T=0&P=2641

Date: Thu, 5 Apr 2001 11:12:34 -0400
Reply-To: kfriday@arches.uga.edu
Sender: Japanese Sword Art Mailing List
From: Karl Friday
Subject: Re: Bokken
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It’s purely a matter of ryuha preference. Different schools use different sorts of training tools, because each is after tools consistent with its own techniques, training practices and philosophies. Nitten Ichi-ryu does a lot of stuff with one hand or with two swords, so they use light bokuto to facilitate this. Itto-ryu is into power, so the heavier bokuto facilitates building muscle and strength. Kendo bokuto (which is probably what you’re thinking of when you say “regular” bokken) are curved and relatively light, because their main purpose in kendo training is to duplicate the feel of a real sword cutting (vs. the cylindrical shinai used for other kendo training). Kashima-Shinryu bokuto are medium weight, straight, and feature heavy wooden tsuba, because we bang them together at full power (and a curved bokuto would break), and because the system emphasizes quick change-up movements that would be compromised by a heavier stick.

There is sometimes some connection between the style of bokuto used by a ryuha and the style of sword preferred by its members, but it’s most likely the reverse of what you’re probably asking about. That is, ryuha didn’t develop bokuto to match the lighter or heavier swords preferred by their early proponents; people who train in a particular school naturally tend to prefer swords that feel more like the bokuto they’re used to.

— Karl Friday

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