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Posts Tagged ‘Carbon fibre shinai’

477-mennaris-2tFriends from a nearby dojo have developed an addiction to doing suburi with a device that looks like a bicycle pump. When recently asked for my opinion of such a thing, I took the view that if the ZNKR had thought it a good idea, they would have issued a book on “kendo kihon practise with a bicycle pump” or “jitensha no kūki-ire ni yoru kendo keikoho”.

Apparently the device in question is supposed to slide open if you make a correct swing and stay closed if you don’t. I think it might be improved if it rang a bell or made a honking noise for each successful yuko datotsu. It may be that my view is coloured by the intransigence of old age, or the fact that on the one occasion I tried one out, it stubbornly refused to slide open for me, but the use of this piece of paraphernalia smacks of what my less charitable golfing or skiing friends would refer to as “all the gear and no idea”.

To be fair, I am not totally against new developments in kendo, but this joins the carbon fibre shinai and the men with a Perspex face panel in my list of unloved kit, particularly as the aforementioned men had a tsukidare which was fixed solidly to the mengane. In the event of the wearer receiving a tsuki the whole men tilted forward, either pushing the men towel over his or her eyes or falling off completely. I am also not a lover of cameras mounted on the men or shinai, that is unless you are trying to make a kendo equivalent of The Blair Witch Project.

More traditional items also go on my list. I have never understood the value of suburi with heavy suburi bokken. These invariably cause the user to engage too much arm and shoulder power to avoid cutting down too far, in effect making tenouchi before striking the men.

The ideal suburi aid should help us closely replicate the action of striking the men sharply and firmly in an “up, down” timing of one. It should allow us to focus on hitting the top of the men whilst cutting through to the opponent’s chin level. It should encourage us to use shoulders elbows and wrists on a relaxed and flexible way to transmit the power from our core. I know of the ideal tool to use for this. It is called a shinai.

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Everlasting shinai

I am down to my last two shinai. One is a beautiful handmade Japanese madake koto shinai, that thanks to the ever rising yen is worth an average European weekly wage and the other an interesting piece of kit with Japanese madake written in kanji on the tsuka, and made in China inscribed in English on the take. This unfortunately is now bent like a banana and now of little use for anything other than hitting around corners.

I did acquire a standby from the dojo cupboard, but this has a koban handle and somehow seems like half a shinai, in that it only works in one direction. Within two minutes of removing the string rings, it collapsed inwards after receiving its first kirikaeshi, so I do not think that it is going to provide a permanent solution to my shinai needs.

I have two of Chiba sensei’s shinai stashed in the spare room against his future visits and the devil on one shoulder keeps telling me that it would not hurt to borrow them. The angel on the other shoulder however, reminds me that it would be wrong to do so, and that my using such a meijin’s shinai would approximate giving a Stradivarius violin to a chimpanzee.

In the middle of this quandary the manager of the Linkedin kendo group asked about the pros and cons of using carbon fibre shinai.

Clearly carbon fibre is hard wearing and long lasting, but I still have an aversion to shinai made of this material. Their feel and the sound they make when striking a target is very different to that of their bamboo counterparts and when I used one briefly in the past, I sustained elbow injuries.  This is not an uncommon experience, and there are numerous reports of golfers elbow sustained through their use. I have also heard of cases of damage caused to bogu and impact injuries to people hit with them, but these reports may or may not be urban myths. I was given a carbon fibre many years ago, and its use moved rapidly from keiko, to receiving uchikomi and I then gave it away.

There are numerous fans of carbon fibre shinai. Many German kendoka use them as their weapon of choice. This may be because of the influence of the late Ando sensei who used them and other products made by their manufacturer. Nevertheless my own preference is for bamboo, so when I make my trip to Japan next week, I will be taking an empty shinai bag and a pile of yen.

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