If you're a beginner, the Japanese sword arts — with their bokken, shinai, shinken, iaito and so on — can be intimidating. This article provides a brief overview of the categories of weapons and the ways they're used in arts like kendo, kenjutsu, iaido and so on.

This article provides a brief overview of the categories of Japanese swords and the ways they're used in arts like kendo, kenjutsu, iaido and so on. That knowledge is important because before you can wield a weapon — whether it’s made of foam, hardwood, bamboo or steel — you need to understand what it was designed for. Wooden Sword The bokken, or bokutou, is the ultimate learning tool in the sword arts. Its lack of sharp edges and a point allows you to practice techniques and execute moves. Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate student or advanced practitioner, a bokken can teach you a great deal, including one- and two-handed gripping and cutting patterns. Many bokken have a tsuba, or hand guard, which makes partner practice even safer. Bamboo Sword The shinai is a piece of bamboo about 40 to 45 inches long that’s been split into four strips. Held together by leather, the strips form a weapon that’s less rigid than wood because it has a built-in shock absorber. Being lighter and less likely to injure, a shinai can be manipulated at full speed during sparring sessions. It’s used to teach students how to efficiently incorporate energy into their movements. All those qualities make the shinai the weapon of choice in kendo. Competitors focus on developing their timing, rhythm, speed and breath control, which are essential to success in the sport and help build a solid foundation for other forms of sword practice. Endorsed by Japan’s Department of Education, the shinai makes frequent appearances in the nation’s middle and high schools.


Learn how to use samurai swords safely in this FREE download! Samurai Weapons: Sword Master James Williams Shows You How to Start Training With Japanese Samurai Swords

Steel Sword Shinken and iaito are the Japanese terms for steel and metal-alloy swords. They’re functional and practical, often chosen to develop finesse in techniques that aren’t practiced with the bokken or shinai. Unlike the previously mentioned weapons, the shinken and iaito require a sheath, which enables the student to rehearse ceremonial sword movements. That also permits students to engage in iaido, the art of drawing the sword, executing a pattern of cuts and returning the blade to its sheath. Because it isn’t sharp, the iaito is used solely for drawing practice, cutting through the air and resheathing. The shinken is sharp, which means it’s reserved for more advanced students. Special Sword The next variation is called, for lack of a better name, a “special sword.” It carries as much value to its owner as a prized firearm does to a gun collector. Such cherished possessions are often displayed in cases and may never be used in practice. They’re periodically taken out, polished and admired, but that and the occasional “show and tell” are the extent of it. In other words, they're seldom used. Padded Sword The most recent development in the evolution of bladed weaponry is the padded sword. They’re perfect for beginners because they’re quite forgiving when contact is made. That characteristic makes them perfect for sword sparring because students are free to make contact without having to endure pain or injury. Some traditionalists have reacted negatively to the popularity of padded-sword practice, but historians have noted that the same reaction greeted the shinai two centuries ago when it was introduced into the martial arts. About the author: Dana Abbott is a kenjutsu practitioner and Black Belt’s 2004 Weapons Instructor of the Year. For more information, visit the Samurai Sports website. Resources Black Belt Hall of Fame member Masayuki Shimabukuro, along with senior disciple Carl E. Long, are responsible for three modern-day classics in the Japanese sword arts: Samurai Swordsmanship (3-DVD set), Advanced Samurai Swordsmanship (3-DVD set) and Samurai Swordsmanship: The Batto, Kenjutsu and Tameshigiri of Eishin-Ryu (book).
SUBSCRIBE TO BLACKBELT MAGAZINE TODAY!
Don't miss a single issue of the world largest magazine of martial arts.

To Master the Supreme Philosophy of Enshin Karate, Look to Musashi's Book of Five Rings for Guidance!

In the martial arts, we voluntarily subject ourselves to conflict in a training environment so we can transcend conflict in the real world. After all, we wouldn't knowingly train in a style that makes us weaker or worsens our position. The irony of all this is that we don't want to fight our opponent. We prefer to work with what an opponent gives us to turn the tide in our favor, to resolve the situation effectively and efficiently.The Japanese have a word for this: sabaki. It means to work with energy efficiently. When we train with the sabaki mindset, we receive our opponent's attack, almost as a gift. Doing so requires less physical effort and frees up our mental operating system so it can determine the most efficient solution to the conflict.In this essay, I will present a brief history of sabaki, as well as break down the sabaki method using Miyamoto Musashi's five elements

Keep Reading Show less

Enter our partner's current Sweepstakes. They are giving away a Grand Prize 'FKB Wardrobe'.

TAKE NOTICE!

FIVE KNUCKLE BULLET 'Wardrobe' Sweepstakes

Feeling Lucky? Enter our current Sweepstakes Now! We are giving away a Grand Prize 'FKB Wardrobe' which consists of our most popular sportswear items. Prize includes the following:

Keep Reading Show less

The Coronavirus Is Pummeling Our Community, But We Can Take a Punch — and We're Rallying for a Comeback!

As the world reels in response to COVID-19 and scrambles to take action to curb further spread of the coronavirus, it's never been more apparent that we live in dangerous times. Interestingly, if we look to ancient warrior wisdom, we can find some of the answers we need to battle the hidden enemy of today. One such key comes from a well-known Chinese principle that was famously repeated by Sun Tzu: "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of 100 battles."

Keep Reading Show less

By tactical defense and combatives expert Tony Blauer

For 43 years I have been studying violence, fear, and aggression.

My main business is training law enforcement, military, first-responders, combat athletes, and more. Over the course of 40 years, I've interviewed hundreds of victims of violence.

Keep Reading Show less
Free Bruce Lee Guide
Have you ever wondered how Bruce Lee’s boxing influenced his jeet kune do techniques? Read all about it in this free guide.
Don’t miss a thing Subscribe to Our Newsletter