Any decent Aikidoka will own at least one bokken, 木剣. Or two; or more.
I have two, and each has its own story, well, perhaps the later one.
The one at the bottom was my very first one, made in Taiwan, bought in Liang Seng. Anyone who is a decent martial artist fanatic in Singapore, will know about this martial arts shop, still located at Marina Square. It was a casual purchase, and since everyone who is ‘on’ enough in Aikido, will get one of these training weapons.
Choosing a Bokken
There is no special way in choosing a bokken. really, nothing special. Wood is wood. Of course, these wood are carved, very often by a machine to take the shape of a practice sword. And other than checking for surface crack, there is really no way to ensure that the one you have is going to be the one that last.
So it is very much an economic purchase, which comes with a need. I needed a bokken for practice, which is why I got the ‘Made in Taiwan’ type. What is the difference anyway?
My Second Bokken
The darker coloured one was my second and a very expensive carved, curved wooden stick. but it reaffirmed the way I looked at a bokken, because it felt like a very different bokken.
I bought it when I went to Japan in 2000, for the 8th IAF congress, some kind of once-every-four-years pilgrimage most devoted Aikidoka will go, at least once in their life. I was out with my fellow Aikido friends, and we walked into…a martial arts shop in Tokyo!
We were just browsing and didn’t really thought of buying anything. Sunny, my friend and I went up to the weapons rack and ‘toyed’ with some of their bokken and jo. They have some big-ass bokken for some really heavy-duty training. But it was this brown looking one, that I serendipitously picked up; that caught my attention.
The bokken feels solid, and balanced in my hand. It got me excited, and I let Sunny held it, he nodded his head, agree in assessment that the bokken was balanced and felt good. It gives a kind of assurance and confidence when you held it, very skillfully crafted.
I was in Tokyo, on kind of a shoestring.
I didn’t plan to buy anything from that martial arts shop, maybe a good set of Japanese Gi, hakama, perhaps, certainly not a bokken.
I bought that bokken.
It was a happy purchase and it felt right in my hands. And to affirm my happy purchase, Sunny said he’d have bought it, had I not buy it first.
When I brought it back home, and excitedly pit it against my first Taiwanese made bokken, it really felt different. The Japanese one really does have a certain balance when you swing it.
It is a very precious purchase, and of course, I’d bring the Taiwanese one out for training, I wouldn’t want to damage my ‘silver bullet’!, but that was my mindset back then.
Although that Japanese piece of wood has been with me for the past 18 years, and I liked it fondly, I’m not so attached to it so much as to not want to use it. In fact nowadays, for combined training, where the school says bring your bokken/ jo for weapons class, I have the tendency to use those already in the dojo.
It is not that I won’t like to scratch or damage, or worse, break my precious Japanese one, it is a matter of pragmatics. I have to train myself to be able to use any weapon, not just my own personal one. so my mindest these days is to use any bokken available, never mind if it is made in Taiwan, old, banged-up, I’d use it, I’d train with it, being less selective, is to be less judgmental. It is just a bokken, why get so attached to it?
On the other hand, I’m also lazy to carry 2 wooden sticks out, especially when the place of training will provide for those who didn’t have it, or didn’t bring it.
The Japanese bokken
It is a valuable training tool, having the proper one, because it does help correct my swing, and balance, and you know it when you got it right, the sound of the quiet ‘whoop’ as the bokken cuts through the air. The Taiwanese one, or any bokken for that matter, will make the same sound, if you swing hard enough.
The difference is, the Japanese bokken, you don’t really have to swing it that hard, you just have to swing it correctly, and when you hear that sound, you know you are corrected.
(I have a blue band around both bokken, as it is a universally accepted colour, especially in the military to represent dummy, training, inert equipment. Besides, it is quite signature, and provide me with easy identification, in a mass training classes, with too many bokken and jo mixed together.)