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Posts Tagged ‘Tsukagawa’

gin_tsukagawaI bought two new shinai during my recent trip to Tokyo. Those of you, who are used to buying shinai in bogu shops in Japan, know that you typically choose the naked bamboo take and then ask for the fittings to be put on (shikunde).  As well as being asked about the quality of the tsukagawa (gin or toko), most bogu shops will enquire about the required length 38 or 39 (san ku or san pachi).

Whilst conventional wisdom states that 39 is the standard length for shinai used by adult males, many Japanese kendoka prefer 38 because it allows a more natural grip. Having had this ingrained in me by my sempai and sensei during my time in Japan, I have always gone for the 38 option.

Most of you also know that the way to measure the correct position of your shinai grip is to place the butt of the shinai in the crook of your right arm and extend your hand to a natural position along the shinai. The position of the forefinger of your loosely closed hand should touch or be just below the tsuba.

Rather than make my usual request for a 38 tsukagawa I took the time to measure the grip position and realised that I needed a 39 for both shinai. What I had not taken into accounts is whilst I am no taller than most of my Japanese contemporaries, my arms are positively ape-like by comparison. When I lived in Japan, I had to have long-sleeve shirts either made to measure or imported.  It can be argued that once the tsukagawa stretches, a 39 can become too long, but to be frank, I invariably break the shinai before it gets to that stage.

I also bought some new men himo and asked for short ones, meaning the 7 shaku variety as opposed to 8 shaku kansai himo. To my surprise the lady behind the counter produced some 6 shaku himo. This was a revelation! Normal bottom tying 7 shaku himo are just a bit longer than the required maximum 40cm of descending loops and ends demanded by ZNKR shiai regulations. Although very few people bother, you actually need to cut and re-tie their ends. 6 shaku himo come within the regulation length and eventually stretch to a perfect 30cm drop.

I felt that overall this was a pretty successful shopping trip, until got to the BA check-in at Narita Airport. I felt lucky so as per the recent post on shipping shinai, took my brightly coloured shinai bag to the desk and asked nonchalantly if it was OK to take as hand luggage. After the agent checked with her supervisor’s supervisor, I was told no and asked for an excess baggage charge of 14,300 Yen. Just 1000 Yen more than it cost to buy the shinai in the first place. The good news however was that I got to include my Y200 convenience store umbrella for free.

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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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