use of the Bokken in swordsmanship was an addition to the
art that did not come along until the Muromachi Period (1336-1600)
when the emphasis on the sword shifted from the battlefield
tactics to a more individualized dueling. This form of single
combat was a specialty of the ryu, the organized systems
of teaching martial arts, which sprung up during the period.
Previously, exponents of
the crafts of fencing had little in the way of instruction
available to them. Expertise was gained through experience;
those who were slow learners rarely were around long enough
to repeat their mistakes.
Under the auspices of the
ryu, methods were broken down and analyzed, evaluated as
to their effectiveness, and taught in an orderly, prescribed
manner according to a set curriculum. Each of the many ryu
had different ways of accomplishing this, but they all had
one need in common. All of them had to have some means by
which aspiring swordsman could practice the techniques of
fencing with a modicum of safety. The answer to their problem
was the Bokken. The Bokken offered several advantages over
a live blade in training at the ryu dojo. It was a good
way to preserve the edges of expensive steel swords. Frequently,
Katana (long sword) were nicked and even broken in combat.
Therefore, rather than risk flawing an expensive blade,
the use of the Bokken permitted the novice fencer to make
contact with an opponent's weapon in the training hall,
without serious damage to the sword.
By the middle of the 16th
Century, there were over 900 ryu in Japan devoted to Ken
jutsu, the art of the sword, and the Bokken was the central
training weapon of virtually all of them. It was only a
matter of time before some enterprising swordsman discovered
that the Bokken had not only an important place in training,
but a more practical value as well, as a formidable weapon
in its own right.
Historical tales of sword
slingers and their art, called Kenshi Kodan, are full of
examples of Master Kenshi who met opponents armed with live
steel weapons, with nothing but a Bokken in their hands.
Actually, for the master, the difference between the Bokken
and the Shinken (live blade) was minimal. In fact, some
fencers insisted that the wooden weapon was superior.
Perhaps the best-known
encounter involving a wooden sword was that of Myamoto Musashi's,
who met & defeated Sasaki Kojiro on a sandy islet in
the middle of the Kanmon Straits, in Southern Japan.
Musashi could not claim
to have trained in any classical styles of his day. Instead
his approach to swordsmanship was to learn by doing, and
considering the 70 some victories he is credited with during
his lifetime, his approach must have been a good one.
Tashi A. Kilani
Categories of Attacks
Training with Injuries
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