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Posts Tagged ‘Kendo Equipment’

Summerlin interestingly commented on my last post that shinai tsuka have changed over time and that this may have an effect on the way that we learn tenouchi. This could certainly be a contributing factor. I am a firm believer that kendo is subject to fashion and change. In the eighties and early 90s we saw bogu with brightly coloured kazari; the rule now is the plainer the better. Equally, over time there have been various changes to tsuka and tsukagawa. I am not thinking of the recent snazzy additions of coloured trim or dragonflies on the nigiri, but  of physical changes to size and shape.

Whilst the overall dimensions of shinai have not changed since the mid 1800’s, there seems to have been considerably variation on the length of tsukagawa and the percentage of the shinai that it covers. IKF regulations are stringent about the length and weight of shinai. There are also strict specifications for the diameter and length of sakigawa, but to the best of my knowledge no rules apply for the length and diameter of the tsuka. The only limiting factor being that the tsuba must rest on the bottom edge and not leave a gap between the tsuba and the bottom of the tsukagawa.

Looking at videos of pre-war kendo, tsuka appeared to be longer than those used now. I have also seen shinai from the 1970s where tsukagawa had obviously more length than their modern counterparts. In the 90s we went into a period when shorter was better. Most of my kendo friends in Japan were specifying 38 tsukagawa on 39 shinai. More recently we have seen a trend for shinai to be made with much bigger diameter handles, many of these coming from Chinese manufacturers for export to the west.

Whilst I see the logic in buying shinai that fit your grip in much the same way as would a tennis racquet or golf club, some have reached a point where it is impossible to close an average sized hand around them. In my view this is overkill; you should have sufficient space to manoeuvre the shinai within your hand to correctly execute technique.

What has not changed is the guideline for measuring suitable tsuka to fit your own needs. You should place the tskuka of the shinai so that the tsukagashira rests in the crook of your right arm. You should then grip the upper end of the tsuka loosely with your right hand and your first finger should fit just below the tsuba.

If you are buying a new shinai and you have the luxury of choosing a tsukagawa to fit, you should have no problems. On the other hand if you have used a tsukagawa for a while it may have stretched. In this case you have to shorten it. There are two kinds of tsukagawa – toko and gin (gintoki). Toko is the cheaper kind and can normally be shortened by folding back the leather at the open end and making new holes for the leather thong that attaches to the tsuru. Gin tsukagawa are normally threaded at the tsuba end with a leather thong so they need to be cut at the closed tsukagashira end, and be sewn in a circle whilst turned inside out.

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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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