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Posts Tagged ‘bogu’

BogumountainWe are redecorating one of our bedrooms and in the process we have had to remove an enormous amount of clutter before we could start. My wife was quick to point out that most of the junk that we had to shift was kendo related.

Unfortunately my kendo stash is not just limited to the one room. I have bogu, dogi and kendo memorabilia evenly distributed throughout the house. Bogu takes up a lot of space, but the biggest space invaders are shinai. I have dozens dotted around the place, including those that I am looking after for sensei who would prefer not to bring them every time they visit. Naturally I also have a collection of left over take which I keep just-in-case I ever get round to building Frankenshinai.

I have donated old and unused bogu to various dojo, but still have a tendency to hang on to things “just in case”. I have three pairs of kote that I use and another 4 sets that are not good enough to give to anyone, but still seem too good to throw away. Along with the men I wear regularly, I keep a lovely old 2 bu hand-stitched men that I had made about 20 years ago. There is nothing wrong with it, but I don’t use it because it doesn’t fit. It is enormous. If the elephant man ever takes up kendo, this is the men for him.

My preference is for take-dou, but I have a yamato dou to save weight on flights. I invariably forget to take it and use one of my old favourites instead. At the same time I keep an old take-dou that has obviously become broken inside. I can never work out how it can wobble as much as it does without the laquer cracking. Perhaps that’s the reason that I can’t bear to part with it.

I am to kendo equipment what Imelda Marcos was to shoes. Although I have enough kit to last for the rest of my kendo career, I am still irresistibly drawn to bogu catalogues and start to drool over new breakthroughs in bogu stitching.

A re-occurring nightmare is that when they eventually ship me off to Sunny-view Retirement home, there won’t be enough room for me and my kit. Still I suppose I could always try hiding it under the bed.

 

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Kendo Bogu

Kawato san at work

I have written about bogu before in this blog, but I was prompted to think about it again after getting involved in a thread on the “Kendo Business Professionals” forum on Linkedin. A kendoka started the debate by asking for advice on inserting hard protection into kote to limit injury. Some people including me, made the point that it might be due to problems with his or his opponents technique and then the discussion went on to the protective qualities of various types of kote.

As often happens in these forums, the thread then became wider ranging, covering the respective merits of Japanese, Korean and Chinese made bogu and I felt that there is considerable confusion about what we spend our money on.

As I do regularly when I am in the Kansai area, I took time in May, to visit an old friend, Kawato Shinji, owner of Kawato Budoguten. Kawato-san is of the old school of apprentice-served bogu craftsmen.  He has made much of my bogu over the last twenty years and always offers knowledgeable, honest advice on products and their viability for repair.

His view, correlated by other sources, is that most of the bogu sold these days is Chinese made, even up to and including middling expensive hand-made sets selling at $3,000 to $5,000. The confusion comes from the fact that whilst cheaper armour is made and assembled in China, with more expensive products, the components are made in China and the finished articles assembled and finished in Japan and Korea. In effect the difference between sourcing mid range bogu from China and Japan, is that for the latter, you are paying for Chinese product with Japanese quality control. Some of the bigger Japanese makers have their own staff members based in the factories in China to monitor the quality of output.

There is also confusion about the term “hand-stitched”. Modern sewing machines make it possible to produce futon that exactly match traditional hand-stitched patterns which are by and large, indistinguishable from the real thing.

In the old days “and still, in the case of the most expensive bogu” it took a craftsman a month, working 7-12, to manufacture a bogu from raw materials. Even then the dou dai (plate) and the mune were bought in from other craftsmen. The raw material for futon is typically 7 or 8 layers of cotton that starts as a thick pile of up to 3 cm which is painstakingly compressed stitch by stitch till it reaches a thickness of 2-3 mm for 1-bu stitching or 5-6 mm for 2-bu.

Traditional dou dai manufacture is equally detailed, with bamboo slats hand shaped and tied, cowhide laminated on top and then coat after coat of lacquer applied over weeks and left to dry. Specs of dust are removed with the finest of brushes in between.

 I bought my first good dou, when I lived in Japan and had the fun of visiting several times over 3 months to see it as a “work in progress”. In reality because work has to be multitasked and scheduled, you can expect to wait 1 to 2 years to take delivery of the highest quality handmade bogu.

Top quality bogu sells for prices in the region of 1.2 million yen (around $14,500), or the price of a car. I imagine that the maker enjoys less profit per sale than does Toyota.  Whilst all good kendo retailers and e-sellers try to give value for money, it is unreasonable to expect to buy a year of a master craftsman’s life for your 200 bucks.

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Fancy Dou

I have always been fascinated by the variety of doudai available and have spent hours in Japanese bogu shops staring at the selection. For some reason the more outlandish models are kept on the top shelf, (rather like magazines in the newspaper shop). I have seen dou covered in deerskin, wild boar skin and even bear skin –all of these with the hair on.  I can clearly see the advantage of these in shiai. If your opponent hits dou, the shinpan would not be able to hear it. However in the forty plus years that I have been doing and watching kendo, I have never seen anyone wear one.

Only slightly more common, are the dou with lacquered designs, showing scenes and animals in glorious colour. One of the few people I have seen wear one was a gentleman who regularly turned up at shiai during my time in Kansai wearing a glorious confection of gold tigers and dragons chasing around on a vermillion background. After making a startling first impression with this piece of kit, he invariably got beaten two nil, packed his dou and returned on the next occasion to display it again.

More recently there has been a trend back to the old style take-dou where the original bamboo slats are visible in their naked form. Then you have the new style car paint shop and iridescent moulded finishes and the choice goes on.

I have had two non plain black versions during my longish kendo career. One had a slightly cracked baka-urushi finish and a blue suede mune. The other was a vermillion dou, now faded to a tasteful brown, which I received as a present from my sensei. Both have mysteriously become too small for me, so I passed them on to Alan Thompson and Max Davies, both British Squad members. It was actually quite a buzz to see two medal winners at the recent Mumeishi taikai wearing my old bogu.

There really seems to be no rule about which colours can be worn at which grade and it remains a matter of personal taste and confidence as to what can be worn. I notice however at occasions like the Kyoto Taikai, the majority of Kodansha (6th 7th and 8th dans) go for a plain black dou dai. It was once explained to me by a teacher who had begun his career pre-war, that black was the senior colour as in black belt, (yes!  I know there are belt colours above for kodansha). In his view black had been borrowed by folk lower down the grade scale until it became the norm.

Personally, I have always fancied a ray skin same dou, but not having the impudence to outshine the  hanshi or a spare 500,000+ Yen, I think I will stick to black.

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Chakuso

How not to

How not to

Chakuso is the term used for the way we wear our hakama and keikogi and tie our bogu for kendo. It is an important part of kendo etiquette. This is one of the few pictures I could find on the internet to illustrate bad chakuso. It also does a great job in illustrating bad kendo, but that is another story. The tape bound shinai and the creative approach to fastening men himo are particularly worth a second look.

Thanks to online bogu shops, and the broad availability of kendo equipment, most kendoka have the ability to look neat and tidy for their kendo practice. Still I cannot stress how important it is to dress correctly for kendo. Many years ago I attended a kata seminar in Osaka taught by the late Ikeda sensei. He started the session by lecturing everyone that during the 2nd World War few Japanese new how to use buttons, but now (30 years ago), no one knows how to tie knots and bows. This is even more true today.

There are two ways to think about chakuso. The ritual of putting on the keikogi and hakama and bogu correctly and thinking about the meaning as we get ready for keiko and the actual image we present when we are dressed. Normally we should put the keikogi and hakama on left side first and take our time as we think about the meaning of the hakama’s pleats, the tare and dou should be put on in seiza and of course, when we put on kote and men the left kote is always the first on.

However my point in writing this post is to talk about the image we should project in our keiko and particularly in grading examinations, where the grading panel quickly gain their first impression from the way we are dressed. I actually know of instances when marginal grading candidates, failed because of poor chakuso.

This is not to say that the rich kids with the best bogu are going to do better thab their peers, but hakama and keikogi should be clean and pressed and if you are wearing blue, it should retain its original dark indigo colour. The way to do this is simple. Always wash it in cold water, without soap. Bogu does not need to be new, but it should be safe and in good repair. If your kote has no palm you are in danger of injury. If your kote himo are trailing you could possibly inflict injury on your opponent with them. So let us look at the key points.

• The keikogi should fit correctly, be smooth and unwrinkled at the back. The collar should make contact with the back of your neck and not be open at the throat.
• The top of the hakama should be level with your navel and the obi crossed under the tanden. The long cords at the front should be tied in a bow at the back and the koshiita tied over the top. The back cords then tie as a knot in front with the remaining lengths pushed down inside the front cords. The bottom of the hakama should slant downwards from back to front, just clearing the top of the instep.
• The tare shoud be tied so that the top is in line with the navel and the obi is below the koshiita at the back. The obi should be tied in a neat bow, which should be pushed up under the front flap.
• Dou himo should be tied so that the bows at the top both face inwards. The bow at the back should alway be horizontal and never stand vertically.
• Men himo once tied should not exceed 40cm and should be tied centrally.
• Kote himo should not dangle. If men or kote himo are too long, cut them.

So now we look the part. All we have to do is make sure our kendo matches our appearance.

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Kawato sanI often get asked for advice on the best choice of equipment and find it difficult to give a simple answer. Thanks to the proliferation of e-commerce sites trading in budo equipment, you now have a choice, wherever you live. This is good news and a vast improvement on the days when everything had to be personally imported. Choice however can lead to confusion.

Bogu ranges from inexpensive machine stitched with 6mm stitching to hand stitched 1 bu equipment. What’s right for you depends on your budget, your frequency of practice and the level of likelihood that you will keep training long enough to get a return on an expensive bogu investment. Even if you decide on hand made bogu the level of choice is frightening. You can buy hand stitched bogu which is stitched and assembled in Japan or Korea. You can buy bogu that is stitched and assembled in China. Cushions can be stitched in China and assembled in Japan or Korea. You can even buy machine, hand stitched armour, (sewn by machine to look like hand-stiching). Then you have the choice of bamboo or composite dou, iron, titanium or duralumin mengane. It all gets a bit complicated.

Believe it or not, there is also an element of fashion in hakama, keikogi and kendogu. Kanji on hakama alternates through yellow, white and blue and on bogu, dou mune patterns have become plainer. There is also a move away from denser, stiffer 1bu stitching to lighter more flexible 2 bu equipment, so it pays to know what you want and exactly what you are getting. I even heard a well known supplier being accused of selling foreigners styles that where no longer in demand by domestic customers.

Keikogi come in varying grades – single, double, natural or synthetic dye and machine and hand made. I finally invested in my first hand made keikogi this year and although it feels great to wear, a friend made the observation that it is “like having a fight in an Armani suit”.

I assume that if you read this for advice, then I have confused you even more. The only thing I can tell you is do not buy just on price. I have seen bogu that has been made with insufficient padding that has caused painful injuries. If you are a newbie take advice from seniors or sensei and get referred to recommended outlets. Bricks and mortar or online, any good bogu supplier will take the time to understand what you need and to suggest equipment that is right for you. The longer they know you the better their understanding of your needs become.

I have been buying bogu from the same maker in Osaka, Kawato Budogu, for longer than I care to remeber. Kawato san tells me what I need rather than vice versa and he will always repair old favourite equipment. Which reminds me, he still has my kote for repair, I ought to give him a call.

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