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Customer Review of the Bokken
On Sale: $11.95

The use of bokken

Matthew from Karate Depot was generous enough to send me a set of red oak and white oak bokken to do a compare and contrast between the two. That has been a topic of discussion amongst bokken users for probably forever. Typically what you see are red oak “economy” models, with the white oak models ranging from anywhere as low as $40 dollars and as much as $300, depending on who is selling it to you and how it is made. In the past, I considered red oak models as “beaters” to thrash until they shatter, and an inexpensive option for beginning students to use until they decided to pull the trigger and go white oak.

I'm not going to go into the history and construction of bokken. I will however, detail my own use of the bokken, and the role that I think red oak and white oak models come into play. Later, I will detail my user review of the products I received from Karate Depot. At my dojo, we use the bokken to practice Aiki Ken, the kenjutsu art and primary expression of Aiki Budo, or Aikido. Aiki Ken works on several attributes: distance, angle and position, timing, extension, focus, and striking to vital areas. In even the most rigorous partner practice, there is very little contact with the bokken. This is because Aiki Ken expresses the taijutsu, or empty hand art of Aikido. In Aikido, we cannot clash directly with the power of an opponent. We have to move in a manner that either blends with the attack, redirects it, or forestalls the attack from the beginning. We don't block an attack, whether it be from a weapon or empty hand strike. So, we don't move directly against the opponent's sword. This is both ineffective and unrealistic. It is not effective since a real attack with a weapon is very fast, and you do not know how your enemy will attack you. If you wait and try to block, you will simply be a tempo behind in the encounter. Your opponent will already control the encounter. It is not realistic because in an actual encounter, you should not be blocking anything, but cutting an opponent. O'Sensei said “Seeing me before him, the enemy attacks, but by that time I am already standing safely behind him.” This means that you have already moved and cut him down from a safe position without blocking the strike.

This leads to me to concern about such comments as “...after a few sparring sessions, the bokken cracked.” I feel this sort of practice, banging bokken against bokken, can only be viewed as dubious play of young children, and not the serious sword practice of any classical Bujutsu or Budo. In one account, the famous Miyamoto Musashi defeated Muso Gonnosuke with a slender branch. The quality of body movement should be practiced to not be struck by a weapon or fist, not standing in one place and clashing against the force of another. Any tool, improperly used, will break. The shinken, or live blade, was never used in this manner. Parries were always deflecting and glancing motions. Really, this movements were attempts to cut at an enemy's vital points, and they appear to be parries due to variances in the timing of the enemy's response. No effort should be made in blocking any attack. Cutting the enemy down strongly is the what the sword is for. The Art of War states that shields are for enduring a hard time; weapons are for attaining victory. Musashi expounds on this when he says that anytime that you touch an opponent, it should be to kill them. He said that defensive moves like blocking are like putting swords in the ground around you to make a fence, and then standing behind them, believing yourself to be fortified. He says that the real essence of combat should be that were you standing near a wooden fence, you should pull a fence post from the ground and kill the enemy with it. So nowhere in these ideas does the idea of blocking an attack occur. With this in mind, red oak or white oak is not the issue, where as training to be able to cut down an enemy at will is the true concern.

I am going to give the bokken a full workout this week and tell you all about it. So far I am very happy with the product.  
by: Autrelle Holland
3/20/2011 1:11:06 PM
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