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A daisho set of bokuto

A bokken (木剣, bok(u), "wood", and ken, "sword"), is a Japanese wooden sword used for training, usually the size and shape of a katana, but sometimes shaped like other swords, such as the wakizashi and tantō. Bokken (木剣) is a term synonymous with bokutō in Japan, but is more widely used in the west. Traditionally, the character Ken (剣) is used at the beginning of a word, for terms having to do with the sword, for example in Kendō (剣道 "way of the sword") and Kenjutsu (剣術 "art of the sword"). In contrast, (刀) is used primarily as a suffix, for example, in shōtō (小刀, short sword) and daitō (大刀, long sword). Thus, in Japan, the word bokutō (木刀, "wood sword") is more commonly used.[1]

Bokutō should not be confused with shinai, a sword made of bamboo that is used for practice in kendo.



The bokken is used as an inexpensive and safe substitute for a real sword in several martial arts such as kendo, aikido and kenjutsu.

In 2003, the All Japan Kendo Federation (AJKF) introduced a type of practice using bokken. Bokuto Ni Yoru Kendo Kihon-waza Keiko-ho is a set of basic exercises using a bokuto. This form of practice, is intended primarily for kendoka up to ni-dan (2), but is very useful for all kendo students.[2]

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 have to develop both strength and technique. Their weight makes them unsuitable for paired practice or kata.


Historically, bokken are as old as Japanese swords, and were used for the training of warriors. The bokken is a wooden training tool for those martial artists interested in learning the use of a sword. In Japan, the sword and the art of its use goes back before the times of written history. There are legends that tell of the mythical period of the gods concerning their use of swords.

During the earliest times, Japanese swords were copied from those used in China but as the Japanese arts changed, so did their swords. The Chinese swords were mainly long and straight, perfect for thrusting into an opponent.

In Japan, swords began to be shorter with a curve to the blade as well as a longer, two-handed hilt. As Japanese warfare had turned to the use of cavalry, these types of swords were perfect for swinging in wide slashes from atop a horse.

It was during the Muromachi Period 1336-1600 A.D. that the use of the bokken became popular. It was during this time the warriors began learning the art of dueling against a single opponent instead of fighting in a battlefield situation. It was from this single fighting man concept that the “Ryu” specialty styles came into being. This concept also gave birth to the highly skilled and regarded, samurai.

As the Ryu dojos began teaching their students the art of swordsmanship, it became obvious a replacement for the expensive steel swords was needed, as well as a safety measure for the students. The Japanese “katana” (long sword) blade is a work of art unto itself. The cutting edge of the blade is brittle but extremely sharp. The katana’s spine (non cutting edge of blade) is made to absorb the force used during striking, thrusting and blocking. While deadly, the katana could be broken or its blade nicked if it came into contact with another hard object or blade. The mishandling by inexperienced users could also injure it.

Over the centuries literally hundreds of different ryu that specialized in the art of using the sword “kenjutsu”, of which virtually all of them used the bokken to train. While the students became masters of the sword by using the bokken, they also became dangerous with the training tool itself.

There are many Japanese legends that tell of warriors for one reason or another using the bokken against a steel blade-carrying opponent. There are just as many legends of these same warriors defeating their opponents. Sometimes these victories were because of the skill of the warrior with using the bokken, other times it was due to the fragility of the katana.

The bokken is made from a single piece of wood whereas the katana has its blade attached to the handle by two metal pins. During a fight, there can be great stress placed on any part of the katana and the blades or pins can break, the pins may suffer rust even with the best of care and the handle was made of wood, which could rot. Japan is an island and the effects of dampness could reach any sword, armor or other type of weapon and lay unseen until the crucial moment of a battle. The wood of the bokken on the other hand could be seen and attended to at all times.

In 1867 the Tokugawa Dynasty fell in Japan and feudalism was abolished. With it, there was a drastic decline in the art of swordsmanship. For those that did practice the sword, other training tools such as the “shinai” took the place of the bokken. The shinai is a training weapon that is made of bamboo lengths tied together. It lighter in weight than the bokken and more flexible. Another advantage is that whenever the shinai strikes something, it makes a clacking type of noise so there is no doubt as to whether contact has been made whereas the bokken will make noise when hit against something hard but not against flesh. While these are advantages over the bokken, there are drawbacks as well.[3]

The shinai lacks the balance, feel, curvature and weight of the bokken, which is of course more like an actual sword. Where the shinai can be wielded with a greater amount of speed, it doesn’t teach the carry through like the bokken does, to allow for cutting nor does it provide a true stepping stone towards the proper and effective use of a sword.

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.

Types of bokken

The following list is the basic styles of bokken made:

  1. daitō or tachi (katana-sized), long sword;
  2. shoto or kodachi or wakizashi bo, short sword, (wakizashi-sized);
  3. tanto bo (tantō-sized); and
  4. suburito can be made in daito and shoto sizes but are meant for solo training. They are much heavier and harder to use, developing greater muscles, increasing skills with 'normal' sized bokken. One famous user of the suburi-sized bokken is Miyamoto Musashi who used one in his duel against Sasaki Kojiro.

Bokken can be made in any style of weapon required such as nagamaki, no-dachi, yari, naginata, kama, etc. The examples above are the most widely-used.

The All Japan Kendo Federation specify the dimensions of bokken for use in kendo kata.[4]

  • Tachi: Total length, approx. 102 cm; tsuka (handle) approx. 24 cm.
  • Kodachi: Total length, approx. 55 cm; tsuka (handle) approx. 14 cm.

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.


The quality of the bokken depends on several factors. The type and quality of the wood and skill of the craftsman are all critical factors in the manufacture of a good quality bokken. Almost all mass produced bokken are made from porous, loose-grained southeast Asian wood.[citation needed] These bokken may be easily broken when used in even light to medium contact drills and are best left for non contact work, such as in kata.[citation needed] Furthermore, the wood is often so porous, that if the varnish is stripped off the inexpensive bokken, one can see the use of wood fillers to fill the holes[citation needed].

The bokken that can be purchased today has changed little from those used centuries ago in feudal Japan. Although there are some made in various parts of the world, the most popular ones come from Japan and are made of Japanese red or white oak. These woods make the Japanese made bokkens popular because of their close grain that makes for a beautifully smooth finish. Some experts feel the white oak is superior to the red because it doesn’t warp as much or have as many knots, and is sturdier. Needless to say, the white one is usually a little pricier than the red. It is also harder to acquire outside of Japan itself.

While most species of North American red oak are unsuitable for construction of bokken, there are some Asian species of red oak that have a significantly tighter grain and will be able to withstand repeated impacts.[citation needed]

Superior woods, such as American white oak, also known as Kashi (not to be confused with Japanese white oak, known as Shiro Kashi, which is an evergreen species and lacks the weaker spring growth rings of the American oaks), has been a proven staple, having a tighter grain than red oak wood. Another choice, hickory wood, seems to have a very good blend of hardness and impact resistance, while still having a relatively low cost. American made bokkens can also be had often handmade by practicing budoka (student of the bokka). A few of the hardwoods that are used in American bokkens are the walnut, hickory, persimmon, oak and ironwood.

The use of exotic hardwoods is not unusual when constructing more expensive bokken. Bokken have been made from Brazilian cherrywood (Jatoba), others from purpleheart, and even from lignum vitae. Tropical woods are often quite heavy, a feature often desirable in a bokken despite the brittleness of these heavy and hard woods. Many exotic woods are suitable for suburi (solo practice), but not for paired practice where they would come into contact with other bokken.

Some online retailers offer bokken constructed from polypropylene plastics. The exact applications and benefits of such a weapon vary depending upon the user, as one such model has been demonstrated by its manufacturer to be capable of destroying concrete blocks and loading pallets.

If you are interested in purchasing in either type of bokken, they can be found online at hundreds of martial arts sites, in magazines and most local martial arts supply stores. The average price of a bokken will depend upon where you live but normally will range from $40 - $70. While this may seem high to some, it must be remembered the average bokken is good for a great number of years of actual usage.

Bokken in fiction

In Hiroyuki Takei's manga Shaman King, Ryu possesses a wooden sword and uses it as his main weapon, and for that reason he is also known as Bokuto no Ryu.

In Hideaki Sorachi's comedic manga series Gin Tama, the main character Gintoki Sakata wields a bokuto bearing the kanji characters for Lake Toya on the hilt. Throughout the series, Gintoki maintains he was given the bokuto by a hermit while on a school trip to Lake Toya, but it is later revealed he purchased it on a home shopping channel. The sword is made of an alien wood, giving it superior strength, with it being able to break through wood, metal and other materials a regular bokuto would shatter against. In chapter 150 of the manga, it is revealed that the bokuto has a sword spirit much like Soul Reaper's in the manga series Bleach. Gintoki's sword spirit is a direct parody of Zangetsu, Ichigo Kurosaki's sword spirit.

In the anime Bleach, Ikkaku Madarame carries a bokken when in his gigai form as he wasn't allowed to carry a real sword in public.

Myōjin Yahiko switched from a shinai to a bokken at some time during the five year jump at the end of the Rurouni Kenshin manga series. Kaoru Kamiya also uses a bokken during a few fights, though during practice she prefers shinai.

In the science fiction series Stargate Atlantis, Ronon Dex and other Atlantis expedition members use bokken for practice and sparring. However, the form practiced is not Japanese. Instead, the style employed by Ronon Dex and others is somewhat free-form, possibly based on a martial arts form in the fictional Pegasus galaxy. The bokken is more often held with one hand rather than two.

In the anime Outlaw Star, the character "Twilight" Suzuka always used a bokken as her primary weapon.

In the anime Ranma ½, the character Tatewaki "Blue Thunder/Blue Blunder" Kuno is captain of the kendo club and wields a bokken.

In the anime Toradora, the character Taiga "Palmtop tiger" Aisaka uses a brown bokken as her weapon

In the anime Sadamitsu the Destroyer Sadamitsu uses a bokken as his weapon of choice as he doesn't wish to kill, he is later given another version created by Junk to capture aliens .

In the book Night World 2, the story The Chosen a vampire hunter uses a bokken to slay the vampires.

In the anime Burst Angel, the young police officer/bike gang leader Takane Katsu often used a bokken.

In the manga Asu no Yoichi!, the protagonist Yoichi regularly wears his wooden sword out in the open. Both he and one of his housemates, Ibuki Ikaruga, use this as their primary weapon of choice.

In the film The Last Samurai the protagonist and several others are seen training with bokken.

See also


  1. ^ Japanese Wiki Page, Bokutō
  2. ^ Bokuto Ni Yoru Kendo Kihon-waza Keiko-ho 1 June 2003, All Japan Kendo Federation, Tokyo, Japan.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Japanese-English Dictionary of Kendo. 1 February 2000, All Japan Kendo Federation, Tokyo, Japan.

Translation of the intro on the Japanese Wiki about Bokutō: Bokutō is an imitation Japanese sword, made of wood. It is made for practicing form (形 "Kata") in Japanese martial art (Kenjutsu "剣術") and it's also used for Kendō and Aikidō to practice repetitive, individual, cutting exercises (素振り "Suburi") and form. In Japan, Bokutō is called Bokken occasionally. There are ornamental Bokutō decorated with mother-of-pearl work and carving and also for sale.


External links

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