The bokken or bokuto is known as the Japanese wooden sword utilized for training. This usually features the same shape and size of the katana but it can also be shaped just like other weapons such as the tanto or the wakizashi. There are some decorative bokken that are fashioned with the mother of pearls or elaborate carvings;

Usage of the Bokken Sword

The wooden bokken is utilized as a safe and rather inexpensive alternative for a real sword, and these are commonly used in a couple of martial arts such as kenjutsu, aikido, jodo, iaido, and kendo. Since it features a simple yet sturdy wooden construction, this type of practice weapon requires less maintenance and care compared to the katana. Additionally, training with the bokken does not carry that much mortal risk for both the wielder and other practitioners which is usually associated with sharp, metallic swords.

The wooden bokken indeed has a lot of safety advantages over a sharpened weapon but despite this, it can still be a deadly piece; so any form of training done with a bokken should still be done with utmost care. Various injuries can still occur from using the bokken and these are usually analogous to injuries made by clubs and other identical battering weapons. Such injuries include ruptured organs, compound fractures, plus other types of injuries due to blunt force. In some instances, the bokken can even be deadlier compared to a sharpened weapon since the injuries that it can cause are usually concealed, so inexperienced individuals may belittle the risk of harm that it may cause. Remember that this piece is not a sparring weapon but is intended to be utilized during kata; it is also used to acclimate the practitioner to have a feel of the real sword before engaging in training of the martial arts.

For sparring, making use of the bamboo shinai is common for apparent safety reasons yet there is also the presence of a suburito which is also a type of wooden bokken that is specifically fashioned for use in suburi. Suburi – which literally translates to bare swinging – is known as individual cutting exercises. This type of wooden practice sword usually appears heavier and thicker compared to the regular bokken, so the users of the suburito are required to develop adequate technique and strength to actually utilize the weapon; due to the weight of these pieces, it is quite improper to utilize these weapons for solo forms or paired practice. One of the most popular and notable users of the suburi-sized bokken is the legendary samurai, Miyamoto Musashi – the man who won a bout against Sasaki Kojiro while utilizing a bokken. In this day and age, as late as the year 2015, the bokken was issued to the LAPMU or Los Angeles Police Mounted Unit to be utilized as batons.

The History of the Bokken

These weapons were specifically designed to decrease the damages caused by fighting or dueling using real swords, which is why samurai warriors utilized these for training during the period of feudal Japan. Eventually, the bokken turned into a lethal weapon especially when wielded by well-trained professionals or experts. Miyamoto Musashi, known as a kenjutsu master, was famous for battling against fully armored opponents with just a single or two bokken; and in one famous legend, it is claimed that the kenjutsu master was able to defeat Sasaki Kojiro with just a bokken sword that Musashi had carved from an oar while on a boat to the prearranged island for the battle.

The Different Types of Bokken

The bokken can be created to symbolize different styles of weapons that are required just like the nodachi, nagamaki, kama, yari, naginata, and a lot more; however, the most common and widely utilized styles include the following:

  • Tachi or daito; a katana-sized long sword
  • The kodachi, shoto, or wakizashi bo, short sword – these are wakizashi-sized
  • The tanto bo
  • Suburito which can be created into the shoto and daito sizes

Additionally, a variety of koryu – known as the classic martial arts of the Japanese – feature their own unique styles of bokken which slightly varies when it comes to its tip shape, length, or whether or not a tsuba is present or not. The AJKF or All Japan Kendo Federation determines the proper dimensions of a bokken for the right utilization of the weapon during the Nippon Kendo Kata.

Proper Maintenance of the Practice Swords

It is vital to keep the wooden practice sword smooth, clean, and straight; one of the reasons for regularly caring for the wooden bokken is to decrease the exchange of moisture in the atmosphere. For its existing oiled finish, it can readily be improved by consistent handling of the piece and periodically reapplying suitable oil for the weapon. Avoid utilizing any form of wax or surface treatment such as varathane, varnish, and the like; teak oil is very much preferred over these items. Other common choices for oiling include Linseed oil, tung oil, or commercially pre-made mixtures. Also remember to buff out the wooden bokken by utilizing a clean cloth, plus, always remember to avoid training with a soiled or slippery bokken sword.

Moreover, always remember to lessen the practice swords’ exposure to humidity. Avoid leaving the weapons underneath hot sun and avoid storing the practice bokken close to hot areas such as wood stoves or inside the car. Keep in mind that all wooden pieces are subject to consistent cyclical exchange of moisture from the atmosphere which usually tends to contract and expand fibers. This form of exchange is responsible for movement and can readily cause the weapon to warm which is usually a permanent occurrence in hard wood.

The Bokken in Popular Media

The bokken sword has appeared in numerous manga, film, anime, books, and even comic books and just like in the movie “The Last Samurai”, the bokken appeared a couple of times; one scene features children who were sparring or playing with the swords. In the manga and animated series by Hiroyuki Takei, Shaman King, the character named Umemiya Ryunosuke wields a wooden sword and utilizes this as his primary weapon; because of this, he is known as the “Wooden Sword Ryu”. Another anime called Demon City Shinjuku features the hero, Kyoya Izayoi, who carried a bokken which he can easily infuse with spiritual energy.

In one of the Wolverine Limited Series that was released in the year 1982, Wolverine is almost killed by Shingen Yashida who utilized a bokken to deliver deadly nerve attacks. Another hit anime and manga series named Gintama features the protagonist, Sakata Gintoki, who wields the bokken as his primary weapon. Another one of the very popular anime and manga series, Rurouni Kenshin, features one of the main characters – Kamiya Kaoru – who wields a bokken as her choice of weapon even in combat.