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Posts Tagged ‘kendo bogu’

 

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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Courtesy of eBay

Courtesy of eBay

We have scheduled a kyu grading at my local dojo for this coming Thursday and we were discussing the format. My preference is that candidates who are taking their first kendo examination should be allowed to demonstrate basic technique without the pressure of fighting for opportunities against an opponent, or being constrained by wearing men and kote. The requirement would be for them to deliver kirikaeshi and a pre-arranged sequence of kihon attacks against an armoured motodachi.  Another option or possible addition is the inclusion of the “Bokuto ni yoru Kendo Kihon Keiko-ho” or Training Method for Fundamental Technique with Bokuto.

My rationale is that it is difficult enough to learn correct technique and footwork without the added complication of understanding an opponent’s timing, particularly if he or she is equally new to kendo. There is also a danger that when new kendoka are told to “fight” there is a temptation to block or move to avoid being hit, whereas if they are in the role of kakarite, they can concentrate on correct technique and posture.

Grading examinations really are the “tip of the iceberg”.  There is an often quoted urban myth that pre-war, adult beginners in some Japanese dojo were left to practice suburi in a quiet corner for at least a year and then admitted to the dan ranks. In the present day UK, it is more likely that you will get to wear bogu after your 6 or 8 week beginners’ course.

Wearing men and kote too can be more challenging than experienced kenshi realise. Of course using these essential pieces of kendo kit eventually becomes second nature, but I have seen several instances of beginners quitting because the feeling of being blinkered by a men or being hit on the head felt so unnatural. On the other hand some brave individuals, who start kendo with the image of the armoured samurai, ready to do battle from day one in mind, find it hard to be patient while they are learning the basics.

Buying bogu too early in your kendo career can be as punitive financially as it is in terms of technique development.  eBay and the kendo message boards regularly have used bogu for sale and I am sure that there is much more stashed in cupboards and attics against the slim chance of the owner starting again.

I am interested in your views on when we should start wearing bogu. Should we get the basics right first, or is it better to at least have a taste of keiko in armour during the early stages of our kendo careers?

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