Posts Tagged ‘Kendo Armour’


Kawato san at work

Kawato san at work

My Osaka bogu craftsman friend Shinji Kawato told me many years ago that one of his ambitions was to find Mussolini’s armour. Apparently back in the time when Il Duce still enjoyed popularity and power, he was presented with a set of bogu, which apparently epitomized the bogu maker’s art. We do not have any evidence as to whether he ever used it, or indeed tried it on, but Kawato san believes that it was as good as bogu got and his aim still is to find it, reverse engineer it and make bogu of the same quality.

I shared this story some time ago with Dany Delepierre, President of the Belgian Kendo Federation . Whenever we meet our conversation turns to the likely whereabouts of the bogu. The most recent theory is that it is in use in a Neapolitan pizzeria with the tare worn as a baker’ s apron and the kote as pizza oven gloves, we could not come up with a logical use for the dou, but the men would make a good salad strainer.

Joking aside, it is interesting to reflect on whether it is possible for today’s bogu craftsmen to make equipment of the same quality as that produced by earlier generations of bogu makers.  There are new materials and manufacturing techniques available that give today’s kenshi a wide choice of bogu styles at reasonable prices, but high quality kendo armour continues to be made by hand, sometimes in Japan and sometimes in other Asian countries and assembled in Japan. In the case of the totally home-made product, buyers can expect to pay a hefty bill and to wait a considerable amount of time for their kit.

There are numerous stories about the length of time people had to wait for their bogu to be manufactured.  A friend in Osaka was treated to a new set by his father in congratulation on his passing 5th dan.  Unfortunately he got the call to say that it was ready 3 years after it was ordered and six months after his dad died, so he paid for his own present.

Bogu is certainly subject to fashion. There is a retro move away from the tight 1bu stitching of the 70s and 80s back to the softer thicker style with more widely spaced stitches common before the war. I have a feeling that if Mussolini’s is found it would make an ideal template. Let’s just hope that it is not covered in tomato paste.


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Hotaru Bogu

Hotaru bogu

Hotaru bogu

An old kendo friend, Tashiro sensei, is currently in the UK on a business visit. Tashiro sensei is one of the few non-professional kendoka to have passed 8th dan at the first attempt. He runs a bogu business in Saga-ken called Tenpudo and is in Europe to introduce a new range of bogu called Hotaru “Firefly”.

Similar to Chiba Bogu’s Mine range, Hotaru is machine made bogu that embodies the suppleness and absorbency of 2 bu hand stitched equipment. It is particularly light and easy to wear and incorpoarates various options, such as extra padding on the right kote and porous kote palms.

A lot of thought has gone into the design, and features such as shorter men flaps and diagonal stitching ensure that the bogu allows freedom of movement for the user. It comes in three different quality and price ranges with a choice of titanium or duralumin mengane. There are four standard sizes and a made to measure service.

Dou are not included in the Hotaru set, but Tenpudo can add these to the package. They feature some extremely good same dou lookalikes. Their web site is at http://ww4.et.tiki.ne.jp/~tenpudo7. The site is currently in Japanese, but an Enlish version will follow soon.

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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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