Choosing a Bokken or Jo;
with a bit on Shinai and kali sticks in there too
“Before I learned an art,a punch was just a punch and a kick was just a kick.
After I learned the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick, no longer a kick.
Now that I understand the art, a punch is just a punch and a kick is just a kick.”
My Kali instructor has a habit of always using this quote after teaching us something complicated. Which is infuriating and calming at the same time. He will show us, say for example a punch. Then several ways of doing that punch, applications of that punch, combinations of that punch and on and on until saying that quote. Essentially saying Ive just showed you 50 things about this punch but after all that, once you understand its still just a punch. Meaning dont get stressed, enjoy the journey, understanding will come.
Which is exactly what Im going to do with this article. I could write a 200 page article that no one will ever read, going on about weight , curvature, length,design comparison, timbers, etc or just start by saying. “A stick is just a Stick”.
Its much easier just saying what Ive done and the reasons why and doing an introduction to the research below that goes into great depth and readers can then pick and choose what parts interests them.
First lesson. Enjoy. The other day I shaved my arm and wrote from one to ten in Japanese. The instructor and senior student probably thought I was nuts but I was determined to count to ten through the suburi (solo strikes). Indonesian,Spanish and German I can do although very rusty but Japanese Ive always found hard. It didnt matter I was there to learn and to have fun.
Below are the research materials that I was going to use which list the different styles used, weights, curvature, teacher preferences, parts of a bokken, timbers, break tests, maintenance, inscriptions, etc.
If your a beginner its all crap and if your in Australia you have only a few options. If your an instructor you buy Red Oak, because if you have to buy 10 for a class to use its cheaper. If you become more interested and want to own your own Bokken or Jo then choose White Oak its a little denser and will last longer. Ive been to too many classes where the Red Oak has cracks already developing.This is all the local martial arts shops will sell.
If you decide weapons training is something you really like and want to continue with then read the research material below and it will blow your mind and then remember the heading of this article. Its a stick, dont get stressed. Being in Australia there is one consideration over all the other reading material. Cost of shipping. Double check this before ordering anything overseas. You can find the most beautiful bokken ever made for $50 and then find out it will cost $300 to send it through the mail.Thats in $USD.
I collect and train with live blades and wooden weapons, so I go a little overboard when it comes to learning about them, the types of steel, designs, materials etc. So Ive done the hard work for you and have all the links below and you can take it to which ever level you desire.
There are a couple of things. One – will a heavy Bokken overcome a lighter weight bokken? (Heavy vs Light bokkens). I read somewhere that a heavy bokken will over come a light bokken, but if Im learning right then the weight shouldnt matter it should be the technique of absorbing and defectling and the speed of a lighter bokken should have better recovery and be faster than a heavy one!
1.Get off the line of attack and blend with the momentum of the attack;
2.Take the balance of your opponent; and
3.Redirect the attacking energy and momentum
“A heavy bokken is stronger and will be harder to break. But it is slower. It will have more momentum but since the power should be mainly from the hips and body movement, the weight of the bokken itself is not so important. If you train if you are fighting with sticks, the weight is maybe more important. If you train as if you’re fighting with real sharp swords. The weight becomes less important because only a light touch is enough to do serious harm.”
While on the subject Ill mention weight. Iwama bokkens is very heavy, the only time you buy Iwama is if you train in an Aikido club that teaches Iwama style or your trying to use a heavy weight Bokken for strength training. I own a Kamagong Bokken that weighs 920grams, Iwama weigh 950grams. I can manage to use this for around 20 minutes and thats it. Too heavy and I need to swap to a lighter style before my back plays up. I use this for a 10 minute warm up when training solo and then swap to a mid weight. This allows me to train for an hour without causing injury. If you have shoulder or back injurys pay attention to the weight of the bokken.The reason I start off with a heavy weight is for two reasons, one to build up my strength and the second to make myself more mindfull of what Im doing.
Timber materials; I like Hickory. Its the only timber that Bokken Review, in links below could not break. I own two white oak bokken in a wakizashi style to match the two swamprat Rucki live blades I own for training in short double sword in kali. Other than that I own Hickory from Kingfisher Woodworks for Aikido. It will last me a lifetime, if I take care of them.
Styles; Kingfisher sell eight different sytles. Most of which I have never heard of. Other than Iwama, the most popular (listed Below) are the Kenjutsu for bujikan practicioners. Thats for America, everyone here I know that trains bujikan will use bokken from the local martial arts shop. The longer grip 14″ (tsuka) is meant for traps and holds. My Cold Steel Ko-katana 24 inch Chisa warrior has an 11 inch Tsuka (grip) and this seems huge to me.
Yagyu – This was my first good quality bokken. It weighs only 16 oz compared to the Iwama at 22oz and the others models between 18-24oz. Its very light and manouerable. I prefer something a little heavier to buld my strength when training but with shoulder and back injuries I can last an hour and a half training with it and the speed will be good for sparring.
Shinto – The all rounder, probably beter suited to iaido for drawing with a sharper tip and for (AJKF) All Japanese Kendo federation dimensions. Same weight and dimensions as the Aikido Bokken but can be customised to suit different sytles. Also good for Shiato Aikido where there is little striking.There is no Musubi, the stickyness between the two weapons when they meet in contact within this style.
Aikiken – Same weight and overall length as the shinto but has a rounder tip (Kissaski) and is much safer for styles of Aikido where actual striking is taught for kumitachi (partner practice).
I asked the question of my Sensei
When I first started looking into finding a school in jo staff and Bokken I didnt realise that they could be combined. I thought that Jo would be taught seperately to bokken and it never occured to me that they could be taught together! Which do you think would have the advantage the Bokken or the Jo? As I read the story posted below of Muso Gonnosuke and the Shinto Muso-ryu Jo.
“It depends on who is holding them. The jo has the advantage that it is longer and you can use both ends and the middle. Being longer, it may tend to be a little slower. The bokken is shorter, faster and has very direct, precise movements. It may also be made a heavier wood. But basically the main advantage of sword techniques is that there is a sharp edge. Theoretically, anything you can do with a broken, you could do with a jo. However, Miyamoto Musashi ( the sword master on the story below) was meant to be the greatest swords master of all time. He stop using a real sword because he was tired of killing people in duels’.
Kamagong – A little off topic is my second favorite timber kamagong. I train multi-discipline weaponry arts. Kali/ Escrima sticks are generally Rattan because its cheaper than hardwoods but when its hit enough instead of cracking and splintering into shards, it stays in one piece and is safer for partner training. Bahi wood is harder and can be used for partner drills, it will withstand impact against another piece of Bahi but will shatter eventually. Kamagong (Ironwood) is for breaking bones. I find it usefull for solo drills. Instead of a light piece of material being moved around the denser kamagong is heavier and it requires you to midfully place it into position. Much easier to learn a technqiue this way.
My kali teacher who is always good for a story told me this on my first day of training and was my introduction to ironwood which made me hooked. He had been given a set of kali sticks by Guru Dan Inansanto and was told about when the conquistadors invaded the Philipines and the kamagong belonging to the philipine moros had broken the conquistadors sabres. I became enamoured with kamagong and found a good source on FB (long since lost)and ended up buying a set of sticks for each of my teachers, as not many trainers would take me on at the time due to injuries, but I like sharing the story of the conquistadors. Its not written down in many places.
One other tip Ive picked up which isnt well known is using olive oil instead of tung oil or linseed oil for maintenance of the timber! It leaves no residue.My carpenter told me this when I was enqirying about using decking oil.
Parts of a Bokken
Tsuka – the handle
Ha – the edge
Kissaki – the tip
Monouchi – the cutting portion of the edge, the 1/3 closest to the kissaki
Mune – the back of the blade
Chu-o – the middle third of the blade
Tsuba moto – the third of the blade closest the handle
Tsuba – the guard, not present on most Aikido bokuto
Shinogi – the ridge between the mune and the edge
Shinogi-ji – the flat plane between the mune and the shinogi
Jigane – the flat plane between the shinogi and the temper line (edge)
Tsuka gashira – strictly the pommel fitting, butt end of the bokuto
1) Cocobolo (my all time favorite timber) 30mmx4.5 feet
Handmade by Sangaku Bujutsu Renmei Custom Weapons
2) Hickory 25mmx50inches (my armpit height)
made by kingisher woodworks
3) Ironwood 25mmx4.5 feet
purchased from Fujimae NZ
(A friend once asked why I train in jo when I cant carry one around with me. A 4.5 foot length I can use as a hiking stick. It is a little easier learning technques when around the 4 foot length)
1)kamagong 40 inches 920g
purchased from Fujimae NZ
2) Hickory Yagyu Style 10.5″ Tsuka, 40′ inch OA, minor axis 0.95″, major axis 1.3″, circumfriance 3.6″, weight 16oz
3) Hickory Aikiken medium style 11″Tsuka, 40″OA, minor axis 1″ ,major axis 1.5″,circumferance 4″ ,weight 19oz
made by kingfisher woodworks
4) Two white oak wakizashi cut to match live blades. Purchased locally. Although Im considering changing to two custom made shintos from kingfisher, with 15 inch short blades.
Kamagong round sticks 26″
Kamagong flat sticks 28″ garrote
multiple rattan sticks 24″-28″
(The length depends on the weight and thickness of material and what Im trying to work on. -speed, accuracy, strength, power, technique, style of art, etc.)
There are two types or should I say styles of Shinai; Dobari’ and ‘Chokuto’. One is used for training having a thicker tip section and the other for competitions where the weight is back further in the hand to increase speed. The thinner tips break faster and are only brought out for an advantage in a comp, while the thicker tips are used in partner practice. The lengths depend on age and sex, listed below in links due to the Kendo federation scoring system.
The grips are what gets to me. Im not a kendo student but do intend to start at some point or atleast a beginners course but I seem to get the same answers from the clubs Ive asked. “Its a personal choice”.
There are round/thin, round/thick, oblong and octagonal grips. My best opinion is; Thick grips for large hands, thin grips for small hands. Oblong for 3 reasons. 1) you cross train in other styles and want the grip to represent the squarer grips on live blades,2) many beginners have trouble keeping the cord to the top of the shinai and twist it in their hands. 3) you have problems keeping the shinai at a straight angle at the end of a cut, which with a live blade wont perform a cut through material and the oblong grip will help fix those problems.
Octagonal grips; Now in Amok and Kali you train over and over again till every strike is at the exact same angle, everytime. You actually make a point of grabbing beginners for two reasons. 1) On the street no one is trained so the strike angles are all over the place. So grab a beginner to simulate this. Itll relearn your brain from being accustomed to exact angles of attack and 2) It teaches the beginner to do exact angles of attack. Works both ways. So Im assuming by using an Octagonal grip you can tweek the angle of attack with precision and use it as a diversion in a competition and just come off the line of angle just enough so it confuses the mind of your opponent. Well thats my theory and Im sticking with it, till someone can tell me different. Once again in Australia and the chance of finding an octagonal grip to try is horrendous. Id like to know how comfortable the shape is in my hand.
Best article to describe features between bokken for used in Kendo, Iaido, Aikido
weight, finish, traditional timbers
Light, heavy , standard weights, curvature. teachers choices.
Curvature (Sori), Tip/Point (kassaki), Back of blade (mine),Tsukagashira(pommel/butt),Atsumi(thickness), Tsuba(handguard),Hi/Bohi(groove)
Everything Read First
Timbers – intense reading makes me want to seek out some local Gidgee and make my own.
Break tests Read Second also a youtube channel
Standard and Exotic woods
A good way to spend a week reading, great guy for advice.
more cane related
Good intro, read third but only Iwama style mentioned.
Care and Miantenance
Inscriptions collasal amount of information
wood grades for hickory
Measuring a jo
Bokken types in hickory
Hickory style specifications
Impact Strength PDF
What you learn from making your own
making your own bokken (PDFs need to be downloaded to read)
Check out youtube for hints on making your own
How to choose a Shinai
Shinai sizing guide
For the best Rattan Sticks Ive found in Australia talk to Cookie at Progressive Martial Arts.
Muso Gonnosuke and the Shinto Muso-ryu Jo
by Wayne Muromoto
If we can believe the legends–and there are more legends than facts concerning these two martial artists–the only person to beat Miyamoto Musashi in a duel was someone as outlandish and eccentric as he was. And to top it off, he did it with a wooden stick. In so doing, Muso Gonnosuke Katsuyoshi gave birth to a martial arts system that would elevate the humble wooden staff to one of the preeminent weapons of the bugei of Japan. We know very little that can be verified about the actual life of Muso Gonnosuke, and the little that we do know must be tempered with the knowledge that much of what has been written has been colored and embellished by later writers to make for exciting reading. Nishioka Tsuneo, head of the Seiryukai organization, cautions that many of the legends purporting Gonnosuke to be a colorful braggart originated long after his actual lifetime. “We just don’t know that much about him,” Nishioka says. In any case, records note that Gonnosuke’s original family name was Hirano, and that he went by the given name of Gonbei early in his life. He was supposed to be a distant descendant of Kiso Kanja No Taiyu Kakumei, a retainer of the famous general, Kiso Yoshinaka. Gonnosuke studied the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu under Sakurai Ohsumi No Kami Yoshikatsu, then he studied the Kashima Jikishinkage-ryu, learning its secret method called the “ichi no tachi”. According to legends, Gonnosuke thereupon engaged in various duels throughout Japan to test his skills, never losing any of them until he met Miyamoto Musashi. To be sure, there were wooden staff arts before Gonnosuke’s time. The Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu had bojutsu methods using the rokushaku bo (six-foot staff), as did the Sekiguchi-ryu, Bokuden-ryu and Takeuchi-ryu (or, as it is alternatively called, Take-no-uchi-ryu). If we follow the lineage line charted in the Bugei Ryuha Daijiten, then Gonnosuke was a student of a teacher of the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu, which is why his style, the Shinto Muso (or Shindo Muso) -ryu contains the appellation Shinto (Way of the Gods).
The Duel With Musashi and Mount Homan
The first duel with Musashi occurred in Keicho 10 (1605), just five years after the Battle of Sekigahara put an end to most internal civil wars and heralded the start of the two-centuries-long Tokugawa peace. The event was supposed to have taken place in Akashi, Harima province. There are different versions of the first duel. A rather silly but entertaining one is concocted by Yoshikawa Eiji in the novel Miyamoto Musashi. However, the first records of such a duel is found in the Kaijo Monogatari, written in 1629. The gist of its version was subsequently published in the Jodo Kyoshi. The following is a synopsis of that episode: There was a heihosha (martial artist) named Miyamoto Musashi. He engaged in duels from the age of 16 and was in about 60 matches. In the sixth month, in Akashi, Harima province, he met Muso Gonnosuke, who was a six foot tall strapping warrior. Gonnosuke was armed with an odachi (a long sword), a two layer overcoat with sleeves, and a haori with a large hi no maru (rising sun). On his lapels were written: “The best martial artist in the land” (heiho tenka ichi), and “Nihon Kaizan Muso Gonnosuke.”…Gonnosuke was surrounded by about six deshi followers who accompanied him on a journey to Kyushu. He boasted to Musashi that no one was his equal. In his travels, he had apparently encountered Musashi’s father, Shinmen Munisai, a master of the jutte (truncheon).”I have seen your father’s techniques, but I haven’t seen yours,” he said, goading Musashi. (Shinmen) Miyamoto Genshin Musashi was irritated. He was in the middle of carving a willow branch and replied, “If you saw my father’s techniques, I am no different.”Gonnosuke pressed the issue, badgering Musashi to show his martial arts off for the benefit of Gonnosuke’s students.”My heiho is not for display,” Musashi snapped. “No matter how you attack me, I’ll stop it. That’s all there is to my heiho. Do what you will, with any technique.”Gonnosuke pulled out a four-shaku (a shaku is roughly equivalent to an English foot) wooden sword from a brocade bag. (To draw a comparison, the usual practice sword is but a little longer than two shaku.) He attacked Musashi without any formalities. Musashi stood up from his crouch. With what seemed to be very little effort, he forced Gonnosuke back across the tatami mat room with his willow branch and, pressing him against a wall, struck him lightly between the eyebrows. Another slightly different version of that first duel appears in the Honcho Bugei Koden. The book was originally compiled in Shotoku 4 (1714). Watatani, in his edited and annotated version of the Honcho Bugei Koden, notes that the Nitenki, a compilation of Musashi’s exploits by his followers, places the event in Edo, but this appears to be a later corruption. The earliest record of this duel appeared in the Kaijo Monogatari, but 26 years after Musashi’s death, and it places the battle in Akashi. The description of the duel in the Honcho Bugei Koden is more or less the same as in the Kaijo Monogatari, with some minor differences. In this version, Musashi was carving the willow branch into a toy bow used for sideshow games. It was a thin piece of wood only two shaku or so in length. Musashi invited Gonnosuke into a seven and a half mat room. In actuality, it is probable that Musashi beat Gonnosuke by using his special two-swords technique (nito), trapping Gonnosuke’s weapon in an x-block, or juji dome, with his long and short swords. Musashi was able to trap an opponent’s weapon with the block, forcing the attacker to either give up or retreat and face an immediate counter-attack. Gonnosuke must have been a large, strapping warrior, if he wielded such a large bokken or bo. A wooden sword attributed to Gonnosuke at Chikuwa Shrine is over four shaku, nine sun and two bu (over four feet) long. Gonnosuke’s jo, if measured by the width of his outstretched hands held out to his sides, must have been a bit longer than the standard jo used nowadays. Whatever the case may be, Gonnosuke lost the first duel. Mortified, he withdrew to Homangu, part of the Kamado Shinto shrine atop Mount Homan, in Chikuzen province, (present-day Dazaifu, Fukuoka Prefecture) Kyushu. For 37 days he meditated and performed rites of austerity. On the last night night, while praying in front of an altar, he collapsed and had a divine vision. In one version, a heavenly child appeared and said, “Holding a round log, know the suigetsu (an attack point on the body).” The cryptic vision compelled Gonnosuke to whittle a short staff about four shaku, two sun and one bu in length (128 cm.). This was longer than the standard tachi long sword of that period, which was three shaku, two sun and one bu, but shorter than the long rokushaku bo. By taking advantage of the short staff’s ability to shift rapidly in the hands of a skilled artist, Gonnosuke was able to beat Musashi in a second duel. It is unclear how Gonnosuke did that, but the use of the jo in present-day Shinto Muso-ryu practice might give us a hint. If a jo is blocked by a juji-dome, it is an easy matter to quickly flip the jo out of the block and in the same motion strike a kyusho (weak point) on the swordsman’s body. Gonnosuke also created a system of five secret methods (hiden gyo-i) that incorporated all the techniques of his new jo style. Gonnosuke managed to defeat Musashi without causing him great harm. Gonnosuke became martial arts instructor to the Kuroda clan, located in northern Kyushu. Muso Gonnosuke, profoundly changed by his encounter with Musashi and by the divine vision atop Mount Homan, had created a preeminent staff art, the Shinto (or Shindo) Muso-ryu jojutsu. The Heavenly Way of Muso’s staff…
It was suggested that I write an afterwood when I started sending off this article to different instructors and busniesses to check my work. Im not a proffesional writer and my grammar pretty much sucks. I write because I enjoy it and became interested in writing during a long period of ill health. Ive never reached black belt in anything, pre-black in two martial arts if that counts for anything. Ive never been into gradings, always more interested in just learning.
I write for beginners not experts. Ive found when reasearching for myself , everyone automatically assumes you already know the difference between a tsuba and a tsuska without explaining it. So I write enough to make someone interested, explain enough so they learn and just leave out enough so they have to go looking for it themselves if they read inbetween the lines. That way its more fun and helps to learn.
Ive done 4 years of Taekwondo when I was in high school which led onto 7 years of Hapkido before becoming involved with security work. It was the old days then. Never used any martial arts, no high kicks. All street fighting. I became involved in training again after my last operation. I sent 4 months in hospital and three months after getting back home I started private lessons in Kali, classes in Amok and seminars in Systema. That was four years ago. Ive also done Kinetic fighting level 3 with Paul Cale which I recommend to crowd controllers as it teaches working in pairs and controlling the head which is needed in todays crowd control business. Ive also trainied in Birankai Aikido weapons work in Jo and Bokken for two years. I try to teach myself Keysi Fighting method, Panatukan with Daniel sullivan and Defendo by DVD. I do a little mufilindo silat which I need to do more of and aim to try Krav-Maga at some point. When my finess level is up to it I also join in with JKD and Kick Boxing after Kali.
Ive had 2 back operations, four crushed discs L4-S1, nerve damage in both legs, scar tissue in right groin from a 90 litre blood transfusion which cut through my tendons, broken sternum, nerve damage in upper back and chest from two double lung transplants. Spent almost 12 years of my life on an oxygen hose and still trying to do rehab on the damage left in my joints from so long in a wheel chair and on operating tables and had to learn how to walk again three times. The last time I weighed 50 kilo coming out of 58 days in ICU.
I was training four nights a week, up at 630am walking my staffy, gym twice a week doing full body work outs in a maintenance routine, bike 15 minutes per day for cardio and the rest of the time I pretty much spend on pain killers. I only write occasionally now. Mainly when injuries flair up and I cant train, although I still try to make it to training to watch or when the doctors have pumped up my steroids to help me breath and Im up all night as I am now at 430am writing the last of this article.
Ill quote one of my Kali instructors sayings again to keep in with the theme and to finish up with.”Martial arts is 10 percent physical and 90 percent mental”. When you start training in the arts for rehabilitation, for me its become more spiritual.
A Humble Student of the Arts