View Full Version : Fukuro Shinai Construction and Usage

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Sy Labthavikul
01-14-2008, 03:43 PM

After reviewing pictures of fukuro shinai and posts by E-budo forum members like Sven Buelke and others who previously constructed fukuro shinai utilizing traditional methods, I built several prototype Yagyu Shinkage ryu-style fukuro shinai for my aikido dojo.

I'm still perfecting their construction, and am waiting to get several questions answered from some knowledgeable people, but I had some questions about their usage in aikido. I am guessing ASU people will be the most able to answer these questions.

In your dojo, does one strike with the lacing end out to represent the edge/ha? Done this way, there is an obvious visual aid in hasuji, but I would imagine this would wear our the lacing and fukuro faster. Also, this way, the overlapping part of the tsuka wrapping ends up aligned with one's fingers, and that feels kind of odd, though it does make it fairly easy to align the edge.

The other way I tried is to have the lacing represent the mune, so that the other blank face of the fukuro shinai strikes: this seems to reduce wear on the lace, and also the overlapping tsuka "bulge" nestles comfortably in the palms of your hands, in the V made by your thumb and forefinger, which also aids in aligning the edge. I personally like this way better, but I ask to see how people are using them in their dojo.

Thanks in advance!
-Sy Labthavikul

01-14-2008, 04:15 PM
The lacing should always represent the mune/back of the blade. this lets the practitioner see where the edge is (opposite of the lacing) and will put a safer side into contact with your partner. Hitting with the lacing side will tear people's skin pretty badly and isn't very safe.

Sy Labthavikul
01-14-2008, 04:31 PM
Thanks for the quick reply! I didn't even think about that, but it makes sense: those stitches could probably do some painful damage to bare skin, especially if one properly cuts as opposed to just hits with the thing.

George S. Ledyard
01-14-2008, 04:46 PM
Thanks for the quick reply! I didn't even think about that, but it makes sense: those stitches could probably do some painful damage to bare skin, especially if one properly cuts as opposed to just hits with the thing.

Chris is undoubtedly correct but we always did the opposite, which I guess makes us incorrect...

I was taught to glue the flap on the lacing side down with hide glue. We also forced some glue into the folds of the tip to ensure that the knotted end didn't turn inside out, which happens some times if you don't. Although the leather on our shinai is rough out, we use shellac to smooth it out. I use spray shellac, giving it multiple coatings. Letting each dry and sanding it smoother each time before the next coat. Eventually it gets very smooth. use will polish it even further. This process makes the flap / lacing side virtually flat so the issue of it being more abrasive to the partner is moot at that point.

Sy Labthavikul
01-14-2008, 04:56 PM
An exponent of Yagyu Shinkage ryu just responded to me in the E-budo forums and states that they historically use the seam side to represent the edge/ha. Interesting.

I can see that, coupled with enough lacquering to smooth out and polish the rough seam, it wouldn't matter what side one was hit with in regards to safety.

Edit: While using glue would definitely work (I was forced to resort to using it, haha, as a result of my shoddy lacing job in attaching the tsuka strap), it'd be interesting to know how the things were historically constructed. As for the knot in the tip turning inside out and the seams showing, it was pointed it out to me that the leather I was using (some cheap 2 or 3 oz scrap upholstery leather, not very thick (1.1 mm or so) or durable) was very supple and that if I had used stiffer leather, it'd be harder for the tip seam to fold out and reveal my stitching. Since the lace I used was also made of the same supple leather, it also has the tendency to stretch, so I'm going to try a thicker, 5 oz or so leather next time.

01-14-2008, 05:33 PM
Chris is undoubtedly correct but we always did the opposite, which I guess makes us incorrect...

eh, whatever works. We don't lacquer ours (which makes us incorrect, as you are supposed to do that). Personally I prefer the mune-seam, it seems to form smaller welts.

George S. Ledyard
01-14-2008, 06:37 PM
eh, whatever works. We don't lacquer ours (which makes us incorrect, as you are supposed to do that). Personally I prefer the mune-seam, it seems to form smaller welts.
My personal experience is that I simply get a large contusion and the exact placement of the "cutting edge" is unclear amidst all the purple, blue and green... I hadn't noticed that the placement of the seam made much of a difference on the headache that followed missing my move either...

Josh Reyer
01-14-2008, 06:44 PM
Chris, am I right in assuming you are using the fukuro shinai for free sparring as part of the TNBBC? If that's the case I can certainly understand a desire to go with seam-as-mune! OTOH, I think seam-as-edge adds a nice, slight sense of edge-fear to keep practice alive when doing kata-geiko. I don't know if that's why Shinkage-ryu and others do it that way, but I do know I try to avoid getting hit with that seam! :)

01-14-2008, 07:23 PM
No, we use them for some freestyle drills/exercises in my sword line. I know some ryu-ha use them to make kata/kumitachi a bit safer (meaning that as speeds increase, getting hit occasionally happens) but in our exercises there is the guarantee that you will be making contact since they aren't used within the context of a pre arranged form and we don't wear any bogu. The impacts are deterrent enough for me. :freaky:

George S. Ledyard
01-15-2008, 12:51 AM
No, we use them for some freestyle drills/exercises in my sword line. I know some ryu-ha use them to make kata/kumitachi a bit safer (meaning that as speeds increase, getting hit occasionally happens) but in our exercises there is the guarantee that you will be making contact since they aren't used within the context of a pre arranged form and we don't wear any bogu. The impacts are deterrent enough for me. :freaky:

We use the shinai in various ways. First, we use them in taking the practice of our sword kata up a notch. The use of the shinai allows us to cross into an area in which the form is a bit more competitive in that if you miss your move, the partner will really hit you. We don't use any protective gear for this.

We also use the shinai as part of what I call "intention" training. For this we use gloves and helmets (we use a helmet originally designed by Grandmaster Canete of the Doces Pares Escrima style for full contact stick fighting. They are better padded than kendo helmets.) I took some basic exercises directly from the Maniwa Nen Ryu. Basically one person attacks full speed and power with continuous shomen attacks while the partner responds with any one of several responses. If your attack is better than the partner's response he gets hit. If the partner's shomen is better than your response, you get hit. It's not free sparring so there is better control of the form it takes but it does have the aspect that both partners are trying to strike the other. It's a tremendous exercise.

Sometimes we also put on the gear to test the individual moves within a form. if there is a tsuki attack, we put on the helmets, which have some neck protection, and try to really do that thrust attack. The partner will attempt to do whatever the response was in the form. You get to see if your tsuki attack is really capable of striking someone who isn't cooperating. People develop much greater speed by practicing this way.

Finally, we find that shinai are a valuable aid in developing solid irimi skills for weapons taking. With the bokken there is almost always a bit of energy held back since no one really wants to injure his partner. But with the shinai, your partner knows he won't injure you if he strikes you and is therefore more than happy to strike with full commitment. You find out pretty quickly if you can do an irimi or not.

Alex Megann
01-15-2008, 02:51 AM
This is an interesting and timely thread for me, as I have been thinking of trying to get some fukuro shinai for our dojo.

My teacher, Kanetsuka Sensei, used to to teach a lot of swordwork, strongly inspired by the kesa giri of the Kashima Shinryu tradition, and we used heavy straight bokken with a wooden shinai for partner work. These days he hardly ever teaches weapon practice beyond simple suburi, but often demonstrates with a fukuro shinai when he is teaching. Although he feels that bokken are good for suburi, he likes to use shinai, though he insists that conventional bare bamboo shinai are dangerous because of the possibility of splinters.

Is there anything close to a "construction manual" on the Web for fukuro shinai? I would like to see such a thing, if only to decide whether my limited skills would be up to the job.


Sy Labthavikul
01-15-2008, 12:13 PM
I did some searching on the web for a sort of construction manual, but found none per se. Instead, on the E-budo forums I found a bunch of threads by a German man named Sven Buelke who made his own very very nice fukuro shinai after contacting people like Dave Lowry (of Yagyu Shinkage ryu) and Dr. Karl Friday (of Kashima Shinto ryu) for the traditional method of making them. The information that Mr. Buelke presented was probably the best source for constructing them. Basically all the information I got came from Mr. Buelke's research and helpful posts.

You can head over to the e-budo.com forum, make an account, and search for "fukuro shinai" and you should find a ton of information on their construction. I'll present my own experience now.

Making them is not hard at all, it just takes (like many things) practice to make them look good. The most important things are the quality of the materials (you need durable, strong leather and sturdy bamboo that is not dry or cracked) and attention to detail while building the thing.


You'll need some basic tools, such as razor blades, scissors, a yard stick for cutting straight and measuring, stuff like that. Since cutting leather with a razor blade tends to pull the material, you can use one of those rotary blades that seamsters and tailors use if you want to spend the money: me, I just use the razor blade and cut slow and careful.

For your first couple prototype shinai, I suggest getting some cheap scraps of upholstery leather from a furniture store or off of e-bay (I got 10 lbs of leather scraps for 10 bucks plus 15 bucks shipping and handling - there's enough leather here to make about 15 fukuro!). This leather is thin and easy to work with to get the hang of making the fukuro, but later on, for more durable fukuro shinai, you should get thicker leather from a leather vendor.

A note on leather sizing: its thickness is measured in "ounces", which is the weight of a square foot of the stuff. Basically, every ounce is approx. 1/64th of an inch or 0.4mm in thickness. That upholstery leather is rather thin at only 2 or 3 ounces: for good durable fukuro shinai, Sven Buelke suggests cowhide or deerhide that is at least 1.5 mm thick or around 4 or 5 ounces. Deerhide is more abrasion resistant and durable than cowhide, but is more expensive. He suggests not using suede because suede is split leather, and therefore thinner and less durable, though it is less expensive. But IMO suede could work fine too, considering these things are just training tools meant to be replaced.

If you're crazy (and don't mind the ethics involved of kangaroo culling) you can get kangaroo leather, which is pretty much the toughest "normal" leather you can get, barring exotic stuff like stingray or elephant. (A stingray fukuro shinai would be kinda cool though, dontcha think? Hard to find a piece of stingray leather large enough though, and hides cost like 100 bucks for large ones). I personally stick with the cowhide: its durable enough, relatively cheap, and you can strengthen it later with shellac, polyurethane, or lacquer.

For a standard 40" long shinai, you'll need a piece of leather about 32" long (30" of blade length plus a few inches that'll get used up in lacing the tip/kissaki) by X inches wide, where X is the circumference of the WIDEST part of your bamboo (say 1.25" inch diameter yields a circum of approx 4") plus an extra inch for the overlapping region where you'll lace the thing. Bigger is generally safer, as it will accommodate more sizes of bamboo, and the fukuro doesn't have to be tight anyway. I generally get a piece of about 32" by 5.5" or even 6".

For the lacing, I cut my own lace out of the leather using two razor blades attached to either end of a chopstick, which gives me a lace of around the width of a quarter inch. This was Mr. Buelke's genius idea; there's a picture of his setup at the E-budo forums. You don't have to cut straight to make the lace either: you can cut it circles or whatever and the lace will be for all purposes straight because it is so flexible. If you're careful, you can cut out yards of lace from a piece of leather only 5" square. You can also just use sharp scissors and cut in a spiral pattern if you're careful in keeping the width the same. You'll need a lot of lace, at least 40" worth. Believe me, it sucks if you run out of lace early and haven't finished lacing up the fukuro. :sorry:

For the handle wrap, I use a piece of leather around 3/4" to 1" wide by 42" long.

For actually constructing the thing, image google fukuro shinai and see how the things look. It'll give you insight on how the things are constructed. Without going into exhaustive detail, take your 32" by 5" piece of leather and cut slits for your lace down each long side, about a quarter of an inch of the edge. Basically cut slits just a little bigger than the width of your lace, parallel to the shorter side of the piece of leather. If you want to make a lot of work for yourself but make a better quality fukuro, place the slits every half an inch or so or even closer (lacing this thing up will take hours though). I'm a little lazy and placed them every inch. Be careful to make sure the corresponding slits on opposite sides are at the right spacing and will overlap perfectly: if you don't, the fukuro seam will twist all screwy once you lace it up. Also place slits on the top of the fukuro to make the tip, though I'm still working out how to place them so the tip doesn't look crappy.

Then fold the leather in half lengthwise so that the outside of the fukuro is on the inside, and start lacing up the top. Any hints on making lacing the tip would be appreciated :-). Mine still have visible stitches. At some point you'll turn the thing inside out and continue lacing on the outside: just look at pictures and you'll understand how to lace the fukuro. Have patience! It takes some time. If the tip of your leather lace is too soft and you find it hard to push it through the slots, I like to spread some Loctite or super glue on about half an inch of the end: when it hardens, it acts like a needle tip.

After you're done, you can attach the handle lace, though I'm still waiting for an answer on how it is traditionally attached. Either use hide glue as was suggested before, or cut slits in the end and lace it to the end seam using the fukuro lace.

At this point your fukuro is done and can be finished using coats of lacquer. I haven't done this yet myself, so any hints? Should one use shellac, wood finish, polyurethane, water soluble? Is there even a lacquer specific for leather?


Making the shinai is ridiculously easy compared to the fukuro, but you want to spend the time in finding good bamboo. Check out garden centers, nurseries, local bamboo suppliers, cut some green bamboo from a neighbor who gives you permission and let it dry, anything: you want a pole that you can cut out a 40" length that isn't dry or cracked, and has walls that are around 1/8 of an inch thick to a quarter inch. Too thin and the thing'll break: too thick and the thing'll hurt. Also, try to avoid poles that have bulging nodes: getting hit by one of those focuses the impact and can hurt.

To split the bamboo, take a medium sized kitchen knife you don't care about anymore and a rubber mallet. Bamboo WANTS to split longitudinally, so its very easy. Just lay the middle of the knife edge on the tip, bisecting it, and hammer it in carefully. It should go in with no real effort. Then you can continue to hammer the knife tip that is sticking out the other side and guide the handle down, and the split should continue easily. At the nodes, you'll have to hammer a little harder to break through, but it shouldn't be a problem. Just split slowly and carefully to prevent the crack spreading too far.

I like to split the bamboo into 4 pieces for 30" (3/4 of the length), then resplit those pieces into 8 pieces, but only halfway (20"), then resplit those pieces again into 16 pieces (being careful when hammering to not snap the pieces) to about 15". I haven't tried splitting again into 32 pieces because by that time the pieces were so thin I was afraid I'd snap them.

And thats basically it. I like to tie up the bamboo at the halfway point with dental floss to prevent the splits from spreading, but its unnecessary since the bamboo is replaceable. You can also sand the edges of the pieces and treat it with oil, like a kendo shinai, but since I can easily replace the bamboo when they break at almost no cost, I don't bother. One of the beauties of these things. :-)

At this point, just slide the fukuro over the shinai (hopefully you sized it so it'd fit!), then take the handle lace and tie it TIGHTLY to the handle, whiplash style. Take a look at pictures and you can figure out how to tie it on: basically wrap the lace around the handle, then tuck it under the lace and pull tight, and repeat.

And there you go. That's how I've been making my fukuro shinai: anybody else been constructing their own have hints or tips? i'm still trying to perfect them.

Josh Reyer
01-15-2008, 09:52 PM
In Shinkage Ryu, most folks split to eight slats somewhere between 1/3rd and 1/2 of the way down. You can certainly split to 16 slats if you have the time, dexterity, and inclination, but it's not strictly necessary.

You should always sand the knobs down, even if they don't stick out too much. There's one tool, I'm totally blanking on the name for it, but it's a block of wood with a straight blade across it, at about a 30-45 degree angle. These are very good for smoothing out the knobs, as well as rounding off the ends (both the tip and the "tsuka-gashira" should be rounded off). Also, use an exact-o-knife or other small, thin blade, and round off the inner edges.

After splitting the bamboo, take your knife (I use a tiny saw for this), and cut away the inner remnants at the knob. Then use your knife (or a piece of glass) and smooth out all the sharp edges you can, on the inside and outside of the slats. Round of the tips, too, if you can. I also like to give the slats a once-over with a file to get them nice and smooth. Edges on the slats will destroy the fukuro you spent so much time making, so rounding them off is very important. If you can get a rounded trapezoid shape, that's the best.

After that it's complete. Treat the slats with oil or wax. I use a candle. And it's ready to go. The better you hit with it (energy coming out at the kissaki, striking/defending only with the mono-no-uchi), the longer it will last. With frequent use the take will start to curve, so rotate it in the fukuro. The slats will also start to twist. One person I know uses round wooden washers to keep the slats in line when the shinai is in storage. Once you round off the edges, the slats won't fit together like when you first split the bamboo.

Sy Labthavikul
01-15-2008, 11:40 PM
I knew that there was more to preparing the bamboo than I thought! Thanks a ton, Josh, this was extremely informative. I never even considered that the bamboo would wear away the inside of the fukuro.

Do you know how the tsuka strap is attached to the fukuro? Also, how does your friend use that wooden washer to keep the slats aligned?

Josh Reyer
01-16-2008, 03:04 AM
Do you know how the tsuka strap is attached to the fukuro? Also, how does your friend use that wooden washer to keep the slats aligned?
The strap on mine appears to be a tab that was woven into the seam. I can't speak to much about fukuro construction. The Yagyu-kai used to get them handmade from a fellow in Nara, but it appears he's been getting on in years and is all but retired, so now everyone gets theirs from a variety of different sources, with slightly different designs.

Due to the natural tension in the bamboo, once the slats are cut and rounded off they naturally snap toward each other. The fellow I know simply sticks the wooden washer between the slats. The natural tension keeps the washer in place, and the circular shape keeps the slats aligned. He uses it when the shinai are out of the fukuro.

Regarding fukuro-shinai maintenance: they don't require much. After use inspect the shinai for cracks or breaks in the slats. They can be repaired using vinyl tape. When the splits in the bamboo start to reach further down, loosely wrap vinyl tape from just where the fukuro begins to roughly halfway up. It took me a while to figure out just what "loosely" meant, but it means that there's a lot of give in the tape. When you put the fukuro back on, the tape will fold in places. I'm not sure of the exact physics, but as I understand it this will help reinforce the bamboo without putting too much stress on it. Wrapping the tape too tightly will make slat more likely to break in that area.

Repeated use will cause cracks and wrinkles in the fukuro, so it should be re-lacquered every few months (longer or shorter depending on how much you use it). If you take it off the shinai and it "wilts", it probably needs another lacquer coat. (The color of choice among Shinkage Ryu practitioners is Kamakura red, but this can be faked by mixing red and brown.) This is an important safety tip, because if the fukuro is weak, and there's a lot of strength put in the hands when cutting, the shinai can bend right around a blocking shinai and hit the other person. Along those same lines, fukuro shinai are of course flexible, but if you see it wagging up and down when doing suburi, you're using too much hands and not enough hara.

01-12-2016, 01:57 PM
Great post! I recently made a few fukuro-shinai using a combination of methods from our sensei (Heart-reflection style kenjutsu) and Master Google. (including your hints and experience as well as Mr. Buelke.) In response to your question about attaching the handle leather, I found that if I extended a small-width section of the fukuro leather into an elongated tab around 30 inches or so, and tapered it up into the fukuro so that there wasn't a right-angle where the tab and the fukuro jointed, I was able to successfully transition the leather from fukuro to handle-wrap. When I lacquered the fukuro, I stopped at this tab transition so that the handle wrap was still 'raw'.

I also found that by ensuring the slits for lacing the fukuro were at right angles to the edge, and ensuring that the fukuro-leather overlapped, I had no trouble keeping the 'stitching' from pulling/stretching to expose the underside. I was using a 4-4.5 oz. deer hide leather however, so that could be why too.

One further addition I made was to insert a short, rounded block in the end of the shinai bamboo long enough to butt onto the end-most inside node and extend just beyond the end of the bamboo. This does two things for me; it helps to protect the inside of the fukuro from damage by the split ends of bamboo, and it also helps to keep the split ends 'in shape' during use so that the ends don't separate and overlap inside the fukuro and splinter out.

The last thing I did that was different from what I've seen is to wrap the bamboo slats at two points, near the tip and about mid-way on the shinai with a cord made from horse hair. This apparently was the traditional method that my kenjutsu instructor told me about. In addition to holding the slats together, it also provided a little padding between the shinai and the fukuro. To make the cord, I found some instructions on making a horse hair fly-fishing line online. (I have a PDF available for anyone who is interested.) This was probably the most time-consuming portion of the whole exercise, apart from the lacquering. I tried to stay pretty 'traditional' in my materials and methods, although I wasn't able to get any real Japanese Urushi lacquer (this requires some complicated methods to cure correctly, and because the plant that the stuff comes from is related to poison oak it shares the interesting feature of creating a severe rash in its uncured state if not handled correctly!) so I used some off-the-shelf clear liquid lacquer from Home Depot that I brushed on 7-8 layers, sanding between each layer.