Tools of the Trade – Nov 12, 2013, Kim Taylor, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph, Nanadan

The Japanese Budo have a set of equipment that, like most other things from that culture are pretty standardized. Lets face it, the Tokugawa were fiends for standards.

Uniforms tend to be pretty boring, white, black or blue. Hakama or pants and a belt pretty much does it. Tops can be heavy for gripping in arts like Judo or Aikido, or heavy for protection as in Kendo (not all strikes land on the armour) and Jodo. Tops can also be lighter for arts like Karate or Iaido. Then there are the fancy outfits like the montsuki used in kyudo or by some iaidoka, and the robe and belt of the shorinji kempo folks.

Not a lot of room for originality but people do find it, for instance the obi used for iaido can get pretty fancy if the higher-ups don’t keep an eye on those students. Me, I got sick of black and white many years ago and started wearing a grey top which of course led to my students making fish-patterned tops and maroon tops and the occasional tie-died or lime green hakama. Mostly though, folks stick with sedate monocolour if they are feeling not-blackorwhite around here.

The weapons tend to get a bit more adventurous. While very few people end up with separate iaito or shinken for different arts, that may be largely due to a small amount of mixing of iaido schools. We’ve got Muso Jikiden Eishin ryu iaido and Muso Shinden ryu iaido in this area and they are close enough not to tempt any joint students. If they did I suppose folks might end up with two lengths of sword since Shinden blades are on the average, longer than jikiden blades for the same sized student. Any other schools that are practiced around the area are rare enough that folks just use the same blade.

Of course some students have both an iaito and a shinken, and if you hang around long enough you do tend to collect them. The personalized variation comes in the length of course, but the real style is expressed in the fittings (not seen from a distance) and the saya plus sageo (some of whose fluorescent colours can be seen from miles away). I use a very light shinken for iaido, have used it for tameshigiri but if I did a lot of cutting I’d use one of my heavier ones. I know some instructors use both an iaito (to demonstrate mistakes while teaching without cutting themselves) and a shinken (for their own practice).

So yes, depending on what arts you do you might end up with two different iaito or shinken but I suspect that would mostly be your own choice. For instance I don’t dictate the length of blade for my students, beyond recommending that they might need something longer or shorter if it’s interfering with their technique, so if they practiced some other art that demanded a specific blade, and it was within reason for my art, they’d only need one blade.

Bokuto, iaito and shinken are tools to be used when practicing an art, as such you’ll use the tool you need. If you need, for instance, a finishing hammer and a framing hammer, you’ll have two hammers in the bag.

Now, since we’ve mentioned bokuto, and since there are several kenjutsu variants around here, you’d think there were a lot of different bokuto floating around. Surprisingly, that’s really not the case. I make the things and my own bag tends to be pretty sparsely populated. I use a Niten Ichiryu bokuto for Niten Ichiryu, a Shindo Musoryu bokuto or a Kendo no Kata bokuto for Jodo and Tanjo, and I use an Iwama bokuto for aikido. Three styles of sword and I’m done even if I practice five or six different partner arts.

Actually the way I practice I suppose I could use just one, the light Niten Ichiryu for choice, as it’s easiest on the shoulders. While some arts need a big heavy clanger (more akin to a baseball bat than a shinken in shape), I tend to practice arts that allow pretty light contact. I have had so many requests for a “full contact, unbreakable bokuto” over the years that I made a cedar bokuto and practice jodo with it. So far with the “full contact” hits of a shiro kashi jo it’s got nothing more than a few shallow dents even though I could break it over my knee. It isn’t a very satisfying tool I’m afraid, it goes thnnnn when hit, rather than a nice sharp crack so I don’t see it catching on except as a demonstration tool.

Remember, it ain’t the tool, it’s the tool using the tool… no wait, that’s not how it goes… ah

Remember, it’s a poor workman who blames his tools.

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