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Bokken The Art of The Wooden Sword

Updated on May 7, 2008

Bokken Katas Forms and Information

Bokkens or Bokuto usually look very similar to a live sword (Iaito). However, there are some differences between the two weapons, such as the noticeable difference in weight and the width of the wooden swords’ handle (Tsuka). Bokkens, in actual fact, handle rather differently than a live Katana, where much more force and strength is required to stop or control cuts.

Bokkens were, and still are, used in the early stages of a Martial Artist’s training within their sword school. When the student reaches an efficient and safe level of training they move onto a live blade (Iaito). As practitioners of Aikido, we use Bokkens as with Morihiro Saito to gain an understanding of timing, to develop confidence, an understanding of distance, and, fundamentally, an understanding of movement. You will find most of the techniques, katas, motions and drills in Aikido represent the cut of a sword in one form or other.

For example, within the Yoshinkan schools’ (founded by Gozo Shioda)

Kihon Dosa, a combined sequence of movements which makes up the basic foundations of an Aikidoka’s arsenal of techniques, one can clearly see the cuts and thrusts of a sword; the initial hip movement of Tai No Henko Ichi, where the aikidoka brings their feet together before veering off at a 45 degree angle, hands held one at head height, the other at chest height, palms facing upwards, becomes replicated in the thrust of a sword to the neck or head area of their imaginary opponent. Similarly, the 180 degree turn in Shumatsu Dosa Ni becomes a cut at a foe standing behind or to the side of the Martial Artist.

The Kihon Dosa is frequently performed with a Bokken by higher grade Yoshinkan students, and the understanding of distance forced by wielding a long sword really has helped my students identify the circular motions within the art. The founders of the various schools of Aikido were typically trained in several forms of Martial Arts, Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of modern day Aikido, was a renowned master of many weapon styles, including spears and swords. Naturally he took knowledge learnt from many disciplines to create his own style.

Happo Giri with the Bokken

Happo giri is one of the major forms of bokken training

The Happo Giri (cutting style of eight directions) is used to understand spatial awareness and to learn to use the Bokken to defend yourself from all angles. Whilst practicing the Happo Giri the student learns the correct breathing techniques and good posture.

As you raise the sword you breathe in, as you make the strike you breathe out. This is sometimes considered a meditational exercise, as well as a form of connection with the Bokkens.

Although the sequence is often practiced at a slow but steady pace, it can take quite a lot of mental and physical effort, so do not underestimate its' importance.

Bokken training on YouTube vids - Here you will find how to perfom your bokken katas

Bokkens Make sure you follow the safety code

Always place your Bokken back in the rack

Bokken and jo racks are an important part of the Dojo, you must always follow the code of your dojo for the safety and the etiquette, which must always be adhered to.

you must never take a bokken from the rack unless instructed to do so, you would then bow to the shrine or Kamiza with the bokken as a sign of respect.

You would then hold the bokken by your right side until you are again instructed to start your training.


Advanced partner drills begin with repeat contact with a pair of Bokkens

When you begin making contact with Bokken on Bokken techniques, remember that you do not have to try to break the Bokkens on contact, use common sense as to how much force is required when you make with the blows. This is especially important should you be making contact with your partner's body as well as their Bokken. The impact should be enough to feel the power of the Bokken and to understand the way the weapon handles and moves at speed, but not enough to danger your training partner by sustaining injuries or breaking their Bokken - though of course, this is sometimes unavoidable.

Try using the first contact also to gain trust in how strong the Bokken is. Build upon that trust and confidence of the Bokken. Should it splinter or make hollow noises upon impact, you know that it will not withstand continual hard training.

With repetition, you'll find that your confidence will grow, both when making the strikes and receiving them, as will your confidence in performing combination techniques and your knowledge of timing and distance.

Bokkens Forms and Katas - Do you use a bokken tsuba

What Would you want out of your Bokken training

Q Do you use a tsuba or not?

Q Have you had any contact bokken training yet?

Q Have you had a bokken break on you?

What are your thoughts on bokken training?

Please leave some feed back here if you wish!



The Bokken Diarys - So you can pass on your bokken tips to others

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    • Swiftwalker LM profile imageAUTHOR

      Swiftwalker LM 

      6 years ago

      @anonymous: Hi John, thank you for correcting me about the Iato blade!

      As I mainly teach bokkens in Aikido, I Have never trained in iado, as there are no classes near where i live, but would love to give it a try,

      Bokkens are my main practice....

      Thank you once again.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      An iato is not a live blade! It is a sword with a dull edge used specifically for safe drawing in iado, battojutsu, shinkendo or other sword arts. It is often made out of aluminum. A "live blade" or shinken, is a katana. It has a sharp edge and is extremely dangerous to draw, even for experts. Into can be of very high quality costing thousands of dollars. Katana can be priceless.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Excellent Lens. I like the quality insight you have provided here about Bokken The Art of The Wooden Sword. Keep up the good work.

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    • profile image


      10 years ago

      hi, i would like you to join my group

      Ancient and Hitorical Weapons


    • profile image


      11 years ago

      the emphasis on the breathing pattern is somewhat universal to other form of martial arts. Breath in before you strike and breath out after...

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