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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 aikido, kendo, iaido 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 nearby. 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 kendo practitioners up to Nidan ranking, 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 solo forms. 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 Hiroyuki Takei's manga and anime series 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 the 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, Gin Tama, the protagonist, Sakata Gintoki, uses a bokken as his main weapon. His skills with it are powerful enough to overpower even real swords.
- In the anime and manga, Rurouni Kenshin, Kamiya Kaoru uses a bokken as her main choice of weapon in combat.
- Ratti, Oscar; Westbrook, Adele (1991). Secrets of the Samurai; A Survey of the Martial Arts of Feudal Japan (1st pbk. ed.). Rutland, Vt.: C.E. Tuttle Co. p. 272. ISBN 978-0-8048-1684-7.
- Wilson, William Scott (2004). The Lone Samurai: The Life of Miyamoto Musashi (1st ed.). Tokyo: Kodansha International. p. 19. ISBN 9784770029423.
- "全日本剣道連盟オンライン・ショップ：剣道書籍". Zenkenren-shop.com. Retrieved 2015-11-12.
- "LAPD Equipment - Los Angeles Police Department". Lapdonline.org. Retrieved 2015-11-12.
- Edwards, Holly (August 6, 2000). "Mounted Patrols Train for Handling Unrest at Convention". Los Angeles Daily News. p. N3.
- "AJKF Online-shop : English version". Zenkenren-shop.com. Retrieved 2015-11-12.
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