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Bokken: What Is It & How Do You Use One?


When you first start out learning how to fight with a katana, wakizashi or tanto, you will not start with the real things but a wooden sword that is shaped similarly to your weapon of choice. This is a bokken and is fairly common to see in martial arts studios, as well as having a predominant appearance in many pop culture books and anime. This blog is going to explore the history of the bokken as well as how people use it, the different types of bokken, and its place in the fictional world.


The Interesting History Of The Bokken

Many believe that the bokken is fashioned after a similar wooden sword from China, which many used for training warriors. It came to Japan in the Muromachi period, which is often considered the starting era of the samurai. This era is around 1336 to 1600 A.D. The bokken became popular with training samurai because it helped them practice their one on one combat moves without causing significant injury or death to their samurai training opponents. However, the bokken became very dangerous weapons when they were in the hands of highly trained and skilled individuals. Because of this samurai were taught discipline with utilizing a bokken in training sessions.


It became a weapon that was used on the battlefield because it could easily bludgeon someone and cause significant injury, head trauma, and internal bleeding. It was also a battlefield weapon not just for its ability to hurt people significantly, but also because it was much sturdier than its sword companions such as the katana and tachi. In fact, the bokken was even lighter than a katana and would not rust and snap if the weather became rainy. It was also easy to spot any damage done to the bokken quickly before a battle, which could help the samurai know if he needed to get it replaced or repaired before battle. Many warriors carried both katana and bokken into battle, along with their wakizashi.


This weapon is also used in martial arts to help train individuals with discipline and improve other elements of the art. The martial art Jujitsu also uses this weapon for training. It helped to train things like footwork, the warrior’s focus, coordination, and the warrior’s control. Many warriors were able to overcome their opponents just as easily with a bokken or traditional samurai swords, and many kept a bokken in their bedchambers to ward off intruders, defending themselves and their families, and to not spill blood in the bedchamber. This was considered bad luck, which is why many wanted to have a bokken nearby instead of a bladed sword.


What Is The Bokken Made Of?

A bokken is a single piece of wood, such as red oak or white. The majority of modern bokken will also be sealed or have a type of varnish on them. Many people believe that the older bokken may have had something similar as it was carried during rainy battles, but it is not clear as to what type of protection samurai used for the bokken.


All bokken, whether modern or not, will look just like a katana, wakizashi or tanto, allowing people to train with those swords before ever using the real thing. When purchasing a bokken, it is important that you check to see if it is smooth and free of any nicks or knots in the wood. If there is any damage or knots, the wielder might experience a bokken that breaks quickly or that gives him or her splinters. Because of the bokken’s simplistic wooden design, it does not need as much care as a katana or sword needs.


How Do People Use The Bokken?

As stated, this is used predominately for training, but many teachers say to remember that the bokken can cause significant injury of used incorrectly and without discipline. Jujitsu is not the only martial art to use this weapon. Many other martial arts including kendo, aikido, and kenjutsu use it, as well. It is more appreciated as a training weapon as it does not pose the same risks of a bladed weapon used in combat. Regardless of this fact, people still need to be careful when using this. As stated in the history section of this article, the bokken was also used on the battlefield to cause injury to opponents when the katana failed the warriors.


Injuries done by a bokken are quite similar to those done by blunt wooden instruments such as clubs, staffs, and other wooden objects used for bludgeoning opponents. In addition, one of the dangerous elements of the bokken is that the many injuries it can often cause go unseen by people. It can cause significant internal injuries that even the most experienced individual might not notice, hence why people should always utilize caution and discipline when fighting with bokken. If one hits you, it might be wise to go to the doctor to make sure the injuries are not significant.


The bokken is a training weapon in suburi, and many call it a suburito, instead of a bokken. They are used to practice swinging and cutting moves, but only as a solo practice. However, a suburito is much heavier than a typical bokken and is also used for strengthening and perfecting technique, but are not good to use when it comes to pairing up with an opponent to spar.


Different Types Of Bokken

There are several different types of bokken that range to best fit the type of sword you are training to use. The different bokken are as follows:


·       Daito or tachi: This is the bokken that is the shape and size of a katana or long sword. This is best to use when you want to learn how to use the katana in combat before using an actual katana.

·       Kodachi, shoto, or wakizashi: This is the size of a wakizashi and helps people learn how to utilize this weapon. It is also considered to be a short sword. This can also be paired with the daito or tachi (katana bokken).

·       Tanto: This bokken is the size and shape of a tanto blade.

·       Suburito: The suburito is discussed earlier in the article. It is used for the martial art suburi and is much heavier than a traditional bokken.


The bokken can also differ depending on which martial art you want to learn because different arts will require different weights, sizes, or other elements that a regular bokken might not have. It is always best to find a martial art studio you plan to practice at and learn which art you want to practice before purchasing a bokken. You can also ask the teachers at the studio which bokken style they would suggest for you to start with.


How Can You Safely Use A Bokken?

It is wise to seek professional aid when learning to use a bokken before learning on your own. If you want to learn the basics before going to the studio, make sure you practice safely and with proper armor or protection. Some of the ways in which to use a bokken safely are:


·       Always wear padding and protection before starting to spar, especially if you are not with a teacher or in the studio. Make sure your opponent and you agree to the rules of the sparring match and follow them closely.

·       Consider bringing in someone who is skilled with bokken sparring to ensure you and your opponent are following safe methods or find a local studio to help.

·       Make sure to hold the weapon firmly with both hands like you would a sword or katana, or, if you have not held a sword, hold the bokken like you would a baseball bat.

·       Keep your knees bent and your body ready to strike and counterstrike. Always keep one foot facing your opponent.

·       Use the weapon to counter blows that your opponent starts throwing your way to keep yourself safe from being hit.

·       Keep practicing various forms of sword combat to grow and become more fluid. When you find a tactic that works for you, improve it, but do not use it frequently. The more you use one tactic, the more likely your opponent will be to change his or her tactics to improve his or her defense and attack.


Bokken And Its Place In Fiction

The bokken is often in different manga and anime features. Some of the more common stories with this weapon used are Shaman King, Bleach, Samurai Warriors, and is also in a limited Wolverine feature where a character uses a bokken to beat Wolverine in a fight. The bokken is also in many martial arts films and television shows due to its usage as a training weapon. Keep an eye out as you watch martial arts films, various anime, or read manga to see if you can spot the bokken being used.


In Closing

This is a great way to learn how to use a sword by sparring with a wooden instrument that is not as heavy or dangerous as a regular sword. It can also help accentuate any samurai sword collection you may have. Take a look at a few bokken to add to your collection and become an expert swordsman or woman.