Bokken Swords

A bokken, is a wooden Japanese sword used for training, usually the size and shape of a katana, but sometimes shaped like other swords. Other common shapes are wakizashi and tanto. They are also known as bokuto, which is also the usual term in Japan. These should not be confused with shinai, the bamboo sword used in kendo.

A bokken is used as a relatively safe and inexpensive substitute for a real blade in training for several martial arts. They are used in the early stages of training in iaido, when a practitioner has not yet reached the level where use of an iaito would be safe. An exception occurs when a certain kata involving two people is performed. Then the veteran teacher, or iaidoka, will use a bokken for safety. There are also specially designed bokken made for sword drawing. These are, for the most part, supplied with a plastic or wooden saya and are generally slimmer than a normal bokken and not suited for regular sword techniques.

Kenjutsu makes heavy use of the regular bokken in various drills, as does the Bujinkan and other Ninjutsu systems.

Bokken are used for the practice of kendo; to learn to make proper strokes and get accustomed to the curvature of the blade, as well as to practice the kata, forms. More than a few kata take advantage of the curvature of the blade and the presence of the tsuba, or hand guard, to block the opponent’s sword. This is not possible with the straight blade of the shinai.

Many Aikido techniques are derived from use of the Japanese sword, although Aikido is primarily an empty-handed art. The focus of the bokken in some aikido dojo is not that of a weapon, but that of a tool to enhance focus. These wooden swords often have a smooth transition between handle and blade and are not used with a tsuba. Other bokken are made to accept a tsuba and have a clearly defined transition between the handle and the blade. Aikidoka practice a form of sword work known as Aiki-Ken that is slightly different from other Japanese arts. The bokken is used in Aiki-Ken to learn proper body placement and distance maai from the attacker, in an attempt to be in the safest and most powerful position. Philosophically, Aiki-Ken stresses the importance of moving into the safest killing position, allowing the Aikidoka the option not to perform the killing blow.

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