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A bokken (木剣, bok(u), "wood", and ken, "sword") (or a bokutō 木刀, as they are instead called in Japan) is a Japanese wooden sword used for training. It is usually the size and shape of a katana, but is sometimes shaped like other swords, such as the wakizashi and tantō. Some ornamental bokken are decorated with mother-of-pearl work and elaborate carvings.
Bokken should not be confused with shinai, practice swords made of flexible bamboo.
Bokken were designed to lessen the damage caused by fighting with real swords and were used for the training of samurai warriors in feudal Japan. Bokken eventually became lethal weapons themselves in the hands of trained experts.
Miyamoto Musashi, a kenjutsu master, was renowned for fighting fully armed foes with only one or two bokken. In a famous legend, he defeated Sasaki Kojiro with a bokken he had carved from an oar while traveling on a boat to the predetermined island for the duel. 
The bokken is used as an inexpensive and relatively safe substitute for a real sword in several martial arts such as kendo, aikido and kenjutsu. Its simple wooden construction demands less care and maintenance than a katana. In addition, training with a bokken does not carry the same mortal risk associated with that of a sharp metal sword, both for the user and other practitioners near by. While its use has several advantages over use of a live edged weapon, it can still be deadly, and any training with a bokken should be done with due care. Injuries occurring from bokken are very similar to those caused by clubs and similar battering weapons and include compound fractures, ruptured organs, and other such blunt force injuries. In some ways, a bokken can be more dangerous as the injuries caused are often unseen and inexperienced practitioners may underestimate the risk of harm. It is not a sparring weapon, but is intended to be used in kata and to acclimate the student to the feel of a real sword. For sparring, a bamboo shinai is typically used instead for obvious safety reasons.
In 2003, the All Japan Kendo Federation (AJKF) introduced a set of basic exercises using a bokuto called Bokuto Ni Yoru Kendo Kihon-waza Keiko-ho. This form of practice is intended primarily for kendoka up to Nidan, but can be beneficial for all kendo students.
Suburito are bokken designed for use in suburi. Suburi, literally "bare swinging," are solo cutting exercises. Suburito are thicker and heavier than normal bokken and users of suburito must therefore develop both strength and technique. Their weight makes them unsuitable for paired practice and kata. One famous user of the suburi-sized bokken is Miyamoto Musashi who used one in his duel against Sasaki Kojiro.
Types of bokken
- daitō or tachi (katana-sized), long sword
- shoto or kodachi or wakizashi bo, short sword, (wakizashi-sized)
- tantō bo (tantō-sized)
- suburito can be made in daitō and shoto sizes
Additionally, various koryu (traditional Japanese martial arts) have their own distinct styles of bokken which can vary slightly in length, tip shape, or in whether or not a tsuba (hilt guard) is added.
- Tachi: Total length, approx. 102 cm; tsuka (handle) approx. 24 cm.
- Kodachi: Total length, approx. 55 cm; tsuka (handle) approx. 14 cm.
Bokken in fiction
Bokken are depicted in film, manga / anime, and comic books.
- In the film The Last Samurai, the Bokken is seen in multiple instances. In one scene children are playing/sparring with them. In others Tom Cruise goes through Samurai training with them.
- In manga and Anime Series, Hiroyuki Takei's Shaman King, Umemiya Ryunosuke possesses a wooden sword and uses it as his main weapon, and for that reason he is also known as "Wooden Sword" Ryu.
- In anime "Outlaw Star" one of the main cast females, Twilight Suzuka, utilizes a Bokken with immense skill and is able to use it more efficiently than an actual sword.
- In the Wolverine limited series (1982) by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller, Wolverine is nearly killed by Shingen Yashida, using a bokken to deliver nerve strikes.
- In the anime and the manga made by Hideaki Sorachi "Gin Tama", the main protagonist, Sakata Gintoki, uses the bokken as his main weapon
- Secrets of the samurai: a survey of the martial arts of feudal Japan, Authors Oscar Ratti, Adele Westbrook, Contributor Adele, Westbrook Edition reprint, illustrated, Publisher Tuttle Publishing, 1991, ISBN 0-8048-1684-0, ISBN 978-0-8048-1684-7 P.272
- The Lone Samurai: The Life Of Miyamoto Musashi, Publisher Kodansha International, 2004, ISBN 4-7700-2942-X, 9784770029423 P.19
- Bokuto Ni Yoru Kendo Kihon-waza Keiko-ho, 1 June 2003, All Japan Kendo Federation, Tokyo, Japan (no ISBN).
- Edwards, Holly (August 6, 2000). "Mounted Patrols Train for Handling Unrest at Convention". Los Angeles Daily News. p. N3.
- Japanese-English Dictionary of Kendo, All Japan Kendo Federation, Tokyo, Japan (no ISBN).
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bokken (bokuto).|
- A discussion of different woods with regard to bokken design, focusing particularly on durability
- Information about making or selecting a bokken