View Full Version : bokken comparison (long post)

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08-02-2005, 11:10 AM
Hi everybody,

So here's the story.
3 years ago I purchased a "deluxe" white oak Japanese bokken in a specialized shop. I thought I'd be happy with it, and I was for a few months.
Then it started to bend (flame like)
in the beginning of this year it really p..... me off so I decided to look for a really good bokken.
Apparently a renowned wood for weapons is the ironwood, I found a shop delivering weapons in that wood, I ordered a jo and a bokken.
What I received was surprisingly great! Really over my expectation, and it also surprised my master with it's energy, density, finish...
Really great sensations to practice with these weapons.

Unfortunately we had a cold winter, and one morning it was like -2 for the 20 mn to walk to the dojo
the bokken didn't survive that :dead:
it got an angle of approx. 20 in the middle, so we can say....it was bended! in the following weeks the bend came back a little only, I had it replaced.

The merchant replaced it instantly, unfortunately the replacement I received was not of the same size
so I sent it back, they sent a new one, that arrived bent

I lost trust in that merchant (aikidoka.fr), and decided to order in different places

I selected 3 new furnishers: one in the US, one in Philippines and one in Indonesia.

As the first one did send a new bokken, I had 5 pairs of weapons to compare!

here is a description of each with impressions:
- Japanese white oak (local shop)
weight: 520g bokken, 538g jo
40$ each approx
not very nicely polished but felt OK in the hand
wood felt...slack in comparison with all the other ones
both weapons clearly bent after a few months
not an investment...

- ironwood from Philippines (bought through aikidoka.fr)
weight: 578g bokken, 654g jo
64$ and 76$
nicely polished, probably sanding paper "240"
dark brown and large yellow stripes
same curve than the Japanese bokken
light and rigid, really pulled the energy forward. Very nice feeling.

- composite wood from US (from bujindesign.com)
weight: 904g bokken, 790g jo
very expensive: 174$ and 106$
acrylic finish, thin dark/light grey stripes
the bokken looked like nothing I had ever seen! curved and pointy tip, but so massive! sides of the blade flat, it really looked like a very basic shape out of a board of the correct thickness
dimensions really superior to the other ones

I re-shaped that one, to match the previous ones' dimensions
weight was down to 680g, much better!
removed the finish, polished with sanding paper (up to "600", I can see myself in it!)
only then it became usable
it still feels a bit heavy, and a bit "dead"
but the material is a non bending ever promise and that's nice especially if you travel a lot! Plus the color matches my striped hakama. Who said cocky? :p

- ebony from Indonesia (samurai.or.id)
weight: 810g bokken, 706g jo
100$ and 75$ approx
not exactly polished, like the Japanese one
bokken dimensions superior to the Japanese one's
dark brown with large dark red stripes
I had to re-shape that one too, weight was down to 604g, much better for my taste!
slightly more curved than the Japanese one
great impression of density, but much less accurate than...the next one!

and the best for the end:

- macassar ebony from Philippines (http://www.arthagallery.com)
weight: 742g bokken, 862g jo
75$ and 100$
best polish out of the box, certainly paper "400" or "600"
bokken dimensions slightly superior to the Japanese one's
very dark wood, black and very thin dark green stripes
a little less curved than the Japanese bokken
this one gave a really great impression of accuracy and power, great "inner energy"
I showed this one around at a training and had to arrange a group order! And so I did :D
The upcoming ones will be slightly lighter as I asked for the profile to be reviewed, I expect a lot from the result!

I can provide full details of all merchants to anybody who asks
In my opinion the best of all the weapons I tried is the last one described. Plus Steve is really open to changes, suggestions, and answers with care to all the questions.

One thing that was hard to get through in the web shopping was the different names given to the same wood in the different countries, or sometimes same name given to different woods...

from what I understood: ironwood = tetsuboku
sometimes it is called asian ebony but it is not ebony
there are several kinds of ebony in asia, the ones used for the weapons I have are:
the tiger ebony, has brown with large red or yellow stripes
the macassar ebony, is darker with dark green stripes (nearly black/black)

Hope this will help/ give ideas!
Waiting to read your reactions ;o)
I'll this reviewed by Steve anyway, to see if I'm correct about the woods and if he can tell more!


08-03-2005, 09:58 PM
I have an aikido set (bokken, jo, and tanto) in ebony from Artha Gallery. I love them. Nice feel and look great too.

Another great place to get bokken from is KINGFISHER WOODWORKS (http://www.kingfisherwoodworks.com/) here in the U.S.A. They have a different feel but it's one I very much like. They are not sanded at all so the grain is open, not polished. One of our students said that when you grip one of Kingfisher's weapons, it grips you back :) The hickory they use is nearly indestructible; don't use it in heavy contact with "lesser" woods or you'll break a lot of bokken ;)


08-12-2005, 08:31 AM
I have two bokkens (cocobolo and honduras rosewood) from AIKIWOOD.COM .Paid about $90 each for them and ive had them i guess for about 2 years. Theyre as good as the day i got them even after alot of contact. But i take care of them , at least once a month i lightly sand them to get the marks off (from other bokken and jo) and put a thin coat of tung oil finish on them ( some perfer pure tung oil) , I transport them in a weapons bag (to protect from drastic temp changes) ,never store thenm in a car, and i keep them on a weapons rack and not leaned up against a wall.
One thing about aikiwoods bokkens is that they are a little thicker and heavier than most bokkens , which i love for contact (and maybe helps it from warping), but if you have really small hands it might be a problem.But i placed an order for my god- daughter for a smaller thin bokken and it was perfect for her small hands, just had to request it

08-12-2005, 09:23 AM
Have to put my .02 in here. A guy at our dojo bought one of the Kingfisher bokken. Now they come in different wood grades, I'm not sure which one he purchased, but it looks like on of the high end ones. He brought it to class, and sensei proceeded to beat the snot out of it with a regular old white oak bokken (not on purpose mind you, just doing kata). The thing was badly dented up and splintering in some places. Dude was a little ticked after having paid 100+ bux for it. Oiling it up would have helped the splinters, but it didn't come anywhere close to breaking the plain old off the shelf bokken.

Having said that, the Kingfisher products are gorgeous and this is just one experience. It just seems the hickory is a little soft on that one at least.

08-12-2005, 12:03 PM
I have one of Kingfisher's impact-grade hickory bokken, and will testify to it's durability. I have never spintered it during training, and when I have dented it, they have slowly faded over time. It is a wonderful weapon to train with. It is heavier than most standard bokken made from kashi.

My hunch from MattRice's post is that his friend probably didn't actually have one of the high-end impact-grade bokken. If he had, the situation would likely have been reversed in terms of how each bokken fared.

My two cents.

08-12-2005, 12:25 PM
For what it's worth...

I like the sunuke bokken - a bit pricy but very durable, especially the early batches. On the heavier side with great balance and feel. Later batches tend to come from younger trees that then need a lot of drying and chemical treatment, etc. - such bokken are not always so durable at the end of such a process. We've had a couple of "younger" sunuke bokken come lighter and eventually splinter/break. For the older ones, dents are minimal to none and spinters are almost non-existent. No special treatment is needed, just a light topical oiling from time to time with an even lighter sanding even more rarely to keep any dents that might show up from getting worse (maybe once or twice a year - maybe a bit more depending on your skill). We do contact weapons work around four times a week - sometimes more - it's all no problem for this bokken. You can see our level of contact in this video so you can get a better idea of what kind of treatment this bokken recieves weekly. My partner in the video is using a one of Kim Taylor's hickory bokken.


All that said, two other elements remain:

- The better you are in your sword skills, the higher amount of contact you can make without risking great damage to your bokken.


- Bokken are really not meant to last a lifetime. They are tools meant to be abused (in some ways) and as a result, one should not really look to buying one bokken over one's lifetime but rather be prepared for buying several - as many as necessary.

Sure, you don't want one that's dangerous to use because its structural integrity is greatly lacking, but at the same time you can increase any "structural integrity" by cultivating greater skill AT THE SAME TIME that you realize that all bokken do damage and will have to be replaced eventually.

Just my experience,

08-12-2005, 01:04 PM
My hunch from MattRice's post is that his friend probably didn't actually have one of the high-end impact-grade bokken.
My two cents.

Probably right, it's the only one I've ever seen, and I was guessing based on the coloring of the wood and the pictures/descriptions I've see on their site.

Anyway, as an aside, I tried to make one the way they do (no sandpaper, draw knives, spoke shaves) and man do I stink. Back to jackplanes and and sandpaper for me.

Ron Tisdale
08-12-2005, 01:13 PM
I use a macascar ebony set at home for solo practice, and a hickory set from bear wood products in the dojo and for paired keiko. The hickory set lives in a bag in my car so I always have it for training, and in a couple of years with heat humidity and cold, they've never warped. Very few dents, even doing gatchiuchi (sp), and they stand up well to heavy buki, without shattering my partner's buki. Like em!


Keith Larman
08-12-2005, 02:28 PM
FWIW I have a couple bokken. My "fancy" bokken is a custom made bokken by Kim Taylor of Sei Do Kai up in Canada. He used Pao Ferro (I think another name is Brazilian ironwood). It is hard, dense and relatively heavy. Good for scaring the newbies.

I have a white oak bokken from e-bogu. Very nicely done and with a very audible tachikaze when properly used. Light and fast but I haven't done much whacking things with it.

I also have a white oak bokken I bought through Bugei Trading. It is actually the same brand that Kim Taylor is now distributing. They're making some very nice white oak weapons in various styles. One I have has a bo-hi (groove) and is *LOUD* when swung right. Fun piece.

If you want something custom, Kim Taylor is great as is Kingfisher. Just to add some agreement with others...

08-14-2005, 11:12 PM
Hi folks,

Thought I'd take a minute to encourage people to place their reviews on bokuto, jo, and other pieces of aikido equipment in the AikiWeb Equipment Reviews (http://www.aikiweb.com/reviews/index.php?cat=4) section. The section still lacks equipment entries, though, so please take a minute or two and use the "Add New Product" link at the top right of the section to add aikido equipment information. Doing so (as well as posting reviews) will help out the many thousands in the AikiWeb community.

Your help is greatly appreciated!

-- Jun

08-16-2005, 05:13 AM
I placed an order of 6 pairs of jo and bokken with Arthagallery, custom shaped.
I'll post a review in the appropriate section when I receive them ;o)

Erick Mead
08-23-2005, 02:30 PM
Many years before my father died, and before I became as invested(infested? addicted? -- you choose) with Aikido, he impressed upon me the outstanding qualities of lignum vita. He had a rectangular block of the stuff that was milled from a old healed-over broken limb that was milled almost smooth on two faces, with rough bark, and naturally debarked surface on the other two sides. Very symbolic, that piece, and fascinating to me.

Lignum vita is a fascinating wood on many counts. It is a highly resinous (but not sticky), with a tight cross-grained figure that ranges somewhere from greenish gold to rich brown and is very dense. It is the source of guaiacum gum, which was the original source for guaifeneisin syrup (an expectorant). (It is my "medicine stick" in every sense.) It was also used as thrust-bearing blocks to maintain alignment of the propeller shafts of early steam ships because of its resistance to impact cracking, and because it was essentally self-lubricating when friction-heated. Tough stuff. Unfortunately it grows as a middling-large shrub, so large, clean pieces are hard to find.

The main objection to lignum vita is that it is hard to find and tricky if not properly seasoned before it is shaped . If not properly seasoned (1-2 years) it will tend to check rather badly. Being enamored of the wood,(which also has a faint but pleasing aroma) about ten years ago I had a wood worker in San Diego (almost Del Mar actually) take a 2x 2 in. dimensional piece of well-seasoned lignum I had worked to obtain (dipped in wax to seal both ends while it cured) and had two mated bokken milled from a jig he had made for a catalog production run of bokken.

Ten years on, and many whacks later, they show no signs of wear , no checks and no cracks . About two years ago one of my good kumitachi partners and I were practicing. We were doing kiai practice with good strong shomenuchi strikes received with a jodan gaeshi. When my turn came she pushed her jodan gaeshi a little too far toward uke nagashi, and my strike simply snapped her oak bokken in half about midway down the blade or close to the one third mark from the tip.

Not that I was trying, it was just in the way. :D



Erick Mead