As I may have mentioned before, I am a sucker for expensive shinai; preferably koto style with a medium sized grip. I used to go for fat handles but I have converted, believing that I get better mobility and tenouchi if my fingers are not overextended. My eyes immediately light up when I see madake on the shinai description. Colleagues argue that like Musashi, one should be able to use any shinai or bokken, boat oars included, and that we should follow his advice of “use a heavy sword lightly and a light sword heavily”. Unfortunately I am not Musashi, so I am stuck with my own prejudices and preferences. The one discovery that I have made is that no matter how high the price tag, shinai can break at any time.
There are the obvious accidents, which happen in slow motion like car crashes, as you watch the shinai bend like a banana and then snap as a heavyweight opponent comes charging onto the point. There are the less satisfying stealth breakages where you find a hairline crack when you examine your shinai after keiko. With these you always start optimistically imagining that it’s just a surface wound that can be rescued with sandpaper until you look at the inside of the take and realise that the skin wound is a terminal fracture. I have on several occasions seen a crack running through the centre of the bottom take above the nakayui. In this case it seems worth losing the shinai for this concrete confirmation that I am hitting with the datotsubu.
So there must be some preventative medicine for shinai. I have tried oiling them, soaking them, seasoning them, keeping them inside and outside and they still break when they decide to. I do none of these now and it has not changed the life expectancy of my shinai. If you however you are a fan of lubrication, please remember to wipe the shinai before keiko. I still have some waxy stripes on my nice new deerskin men and kote which could have been avoided.
Of course there is also the good old Frankenshinai option. Although experience tells me that on average these last for one practice, optimism has triumphed and I have just married the remains of two identical shinai and plan to use the result in my next keiko. I will let you know how I get on, but don’t hold your breath.