Bokken, also called bokuto (wooden swords) have existed for centuries. Traditionally, they were used to help train warriors who wished to learn how to use an actual weapon. This practice of using a bokken in place of a real sword when someone wants to learn kendo or Aikido continues up to today, of course.
Practitioners of Aikido (Aikidoka) learn empty-handed techniques, but those who learn how to wield weapons use bokken to help them learn the importance of both distance and timing, to develop their confidence in the use of a weapon, and to learn how to move more efficiently. In fact, most of the bokken Aikido techniques and drills in this martial art represent how a sword is supposed to cut, in one form or another.
So what safety tips should you know before learning how to use a bokken?
Choose the Right Bokken for Your Studies
A standard bokken is suitable enough for most practitioners who are just starting out. This standardisation is important so that each student knows just how far apart to stand while practising each form. Also, it’s sturdy enough and can work for both full-contact and no-contact training.
However, if you’ve progressed far enough that you want to work on different aspects of your practice, it’s best to use a different type of bokken. Using a bokken that best suits your training focus and your chosen dojo’s methods is important because, if you don’t do so, you or your fellow students could get hurt.
For working on speed and precision, for instance, it’s better to use a light or thin bokken. Lighter than the standard weapon, this will force you to focus on how precise your movements are, and they won’t do much harm if they accidentally go flying mid-practice.
On the other hand, if you want to develop your strength further, especially in your hips and arms, a heavy bokken is ideal. As the name implies, they’re the heaviest type of bokken, so you’ll have more of an incentive to maintain a strong grip.
Aikido teaches its students to move with intention; even stepping backward or to the side is done because the practitioner intends to move that way and knows what to do next. However, this instinctive movement takes time to achieve. You need to have the patience to keep practicing. One of your goals, after all, should be to master the techniques instead of just memorising them.
This is especially true when learning to wield weapons. If you try to rush the learning period, you could end up injuring yourself, usually from over-training.
In Aikido, as with many other martial arts, students seek to master themselves as much as they master the techniques and drills. When practicing bokken techniques, violence will serve neither you nor your training partner.
This is true even if you and your partner are wearing protective armour for full-contact training. Whether you’re the one performing the techniques or receiving them, being rigid and aggressive can only lead to injury for either party, and also create an imbalanced practice.