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Old 08-20-2010, 02:10 PM   #1
Jim Sorrentino
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Review: Kingfisher Woodworks Enhanced Appalachian Hickory Bokken

For the past several months, I've been practicing with an Enhanced Appalachian Hickory Bokken I received for evaluation from Kingfisher Woodworks of Wilder, Vermont. I've used it for both paired practice and suburi, in aikido classes and seminars, as well as at home. I am pleased to report that Kingfisher has produced an excellent weapon, as durable as it is elegant.

Brad Goedkoop, Kingfisher's proprietor, has been making wooden weapons for almost 25 years. Mr. Goedkoop, whose martial arts background includes aikido and traditional Japanese sword arts, acquired his woodworking expertise through the practice of fine carpentry. He came to realize that making traditional Japanese training weapons is different from other woodwork. As Mr. Goedkoop states on the Kingfisher website (http://kingfisherwoodworks.com/), "Unlike most creations in wood, the success of [these products] depends on their actual feeling when held."

Kingfisher crafts bokken, shoto, and tanto inspired by the line and balance of live blades, while retaining the sturdiness required for intense daily practice. (I acquired a complete set of Kingfisher weapons in July 1991 which I still use regularly.) As Mr. Goedkoop's website states, "The history of the Japanese sword spans about a thousand years. Over that time, the essential features of Japanese blades are remarkably uniform but we see differences, mainly nuances, in their shape. Some are longer by a few inches, some shorter, some with more pronounced curvatures, some heavy and others light in weight. Many bokken reflect these differences but we also see wooden swords that are not direct imitations of live blades. In fact, Japanese wooden swords are not generally intended to mimic the shape, weight or feel of a live samurai sword but instead intended to develop specific skills and facilitate specific movements." Kingfisher also makes a jo -- a weapon in its own right -- that handles in a lively and responsive way.

Over the years, Mr. Goedkoop has used various exotic and domestic hardwoods, as well as manufactured materials such as laminated rosewood composite (also known as LRC, a forerunner of DymondWood®), in the manufacture of Kingfisher weapons. He eventually settled on air-dried Appalachian hickory, which he offers in different grades, depending on density, specific gravity, and appearance. According to Kingfisher, Appalachian hickory compares favorably with Japanese white oak (shiro kashi) for shock strength (it is hard but not brittle) and dent resistance -- and it is available from well-managed domestic sources.

In his efforts to improve Kingfisher weapons further, Mr. Goedkoop drew on his experience manufacturing skylights for the construction industry in the Denver, Colorado area from 1978 to 1986. His company was one of the largest local users of acrylic sheeting, and he came to appreciate the material's dependability, durability, and strength. Acrylic's successful 70-year track record, its lack of toxicity and its resistance to weathering were additional advantages.

To produce an "enhanced" weapon, the wood is infused with liquid acrylic (methyl methacrylate) using a vacuum-pressure cycle. The wood is placed in a heavy steel containment vessel, and a vacuum is pulled on to remove the air entrapped within the wood's pore structure. Liquid acrylic enters the container, which is then pressurized. This forces the liquid acrylic into the pore structure of the wood. The liquid acrylic solution contains both a cross-linking agent and a catalyst. The treated wood is heated to a temperature where the catalyst becomes active and polymerization occurs. The polymer is located in the cell lumen and cell wall. In other words, it's completely through the wood. The final wood/acrylic composite is much harder than the untreated wood.

Of course, like any other wooden weapon, the enhanced bokken is not indestructible. Any wood is subject to denting, splintering and breaking. Kingfisher provides a guide to breaking in and maintaining its weapons at http://kingfisherwoodworks.com/warr.maint.html. One interesting effect of the acrylic on the hickory is that small dents appear to "heal" partially over a period of weeks as if the cells of the wood were attempting to return to their original shape.

The bokken I received for evaluation is 42 inches long, and weighs 29 ounces. The tsuka is 11.75 inches long, with a clear transition to the blade. The tsuka is elliptically cross-sectioned; the major axis is 1.6 inches, and the minor axis is 1.1 inches. The balance point is 18.75 inches from the kashira. The maximum depth of curvature is .375 inches. The mune is well-defined. The kissaki is the complex chisel-style of the aikiken and Katori bokken. The wood has a tight, straight, smooth grain with a warm golden color.

The bokken handles quite well. Because the acrylic has added to its density, it is heavier than one would expect, yet it does not feel club-like. The gentle curvature and the refined line produce a blade-like feel in the hands. Although it is not tip-heavy, Fred Little made the interesting observation that the bokken "feels longer than it is," which I attribute to its superior balance. The finish of the bokken is superior. It is smooth but not slippery, eminently "grippable", but not sticky. The kashira has a slight bevel which is pleasing in the left hand, while the transition at the front of the tsuka provides immediate tactile and visual signals of proper right hand placement to those who do not use a tsuba.

The Kingfisher enhanced hickory bokken is ideal for the serious aikido practitioner. Seriousness is not a function of the length of time of one's practice, but the intensity and quality of that time as one devotes a significant portion of one's life to the pursuit of proficiency in the art. High-quality tools are no substitute for proficiency; however, the use of such tools makes the pursuit of proficiency easier and far more enjoyable! The Kingfisher enhanced hickory bokken may not be your first bokken, but it could be your last. I strongly recommend it.

Not having anything around to read is dangerous: you have to content yourself with life itself, and that can lead you to take risks. - M. Houellebecq, Platform
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Old 08-21-2010, 12:07 PM   #2
aikishrine
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Re: Review: Kingfisher Woodworks Enhanced Appalachian Hickory Bokken

I have just received my second Aikiken bokken from Brad, and it is beautiful. Great balance, terrific feel, and a look that is more of a furniture piece than anything. I am going to use it for practice but it looks go great i am almost afraid to.

IMHO everyone should use Kingfisher products.
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Old 08-21-2010, 12:22 PM   #3
Adam Huss
 
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Re: Review: Kingfisher Woodworks Enhanced Appalachian Hickory Bokken

Thanks for the review. A few of us at the dojo I train have been discussing putting an order in. I thought they were out of Canada though? Regardless, any updates please let us all know. The handling/care document is really nice and informative as well. Did you get inscription on your buki?

Ichi Go, Ichi Ei!
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Old 08-21-2010, 11:19 PM   #4
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Re: Review: Kingfisher Woodworks Enhanced Appalachian Hickory Bokken

Thanks for the review. I've been waiting for a review on these new weapons from them.

~Look into the eyes of your opponent & steal his spirit.
~To be a good martial artist is to be good thief; if you want my knowledge, you must take it from me.
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Old 08-22-2010, 08:19 AM   #5
Randy Sexton
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Re: Review: Kingfisher Woodworks Enhanced Appalachian Hickory Bokken

Three years ago I purchased the large Aikiken with an inscription in Kanji and ordered the best quality of hickory with the hand cut option. I also got a bamboo tsuba. Total cost including shipping was $259. I could have opted for a lesser quality of wood and got the less expensive machine cut with final hand finishing which helps reduce the cost since doing it by hand takes longer which costs you. But I liked the idea of having a hand cut best quality product that I hoped would last me for many years to come. Since then the Bokken has become better to the touch, warmer in color and everyone that has felt it loves its feeling of being alive.
Several others in our Dojo also have ordered from Kingfisher without any regrets. The rest ordered the regular Aikiken but I ordered the large simply because I am larger, have longer arms, and like the feel of a heavier "weapon" in my hand but it is a matter of taste and personal preference.
Not once have I regretted the purchase. It was a birthday present from my wife so I felt good about her spending the money for a cool birthday present. My wife joked with her friends that she got me a stick for my birthday !! Invariably someone always ask if she beats me with it and she just tells them "not yet" LOL
Doc Sexton

p.s. Brad will put your initials at the end of the Bokken as well as an option which my Sensei got but I did not know about. Alas, my only regret about the Bokken; but with the Kanji I can easily pick out my Bokken and no one confuses mine with their Bokken

Last edited by Randy Sexton : 08-22-2010 at 08:22 AM.

"Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will"
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Old 08-22-2010, 10:57 PM   #6
Jim Sorrentino
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Re: Review: Kingfisher Woodworks Enhanced Appalachian Hickory Bokken

Brian ---- go ahead and use it, you won't regret it.

Adam --- Kingfisher is in Vermont. Kim Taylor is in Canada (Sei Do Kai). There is a link to his piece, "Bokken Bashing", on the Kingfisher site. Yes, Brad inscribed the bokken. The translation is, "If you can read this, you're too close!"

Ashley --- you're welcome!

Doc --- good to see you on the forums, look forward to seeing you on the mat!

Jim

Not having anything around to read is dangerous: you have to content yourself with life itself, and that can lead you to take risks. - M. Houellebecq, Platform
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Old 09-03-2010, 06:11 PM   #7
SeaGrass
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Re: Review: Kingfisher Woodworks Enhanced Appalachian Hickory Bokken

They're too nice to practice with and also too good not to practice with so what am I to do?

Bought two sets..haha, one for suburi, one for contact. The Iwama style bokkens are super solid.
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Old 09-04-2010, 09:57 AM   #8
Randy Sexton
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Re: Review: Kingfisher Woodworks Enhanced Appalachian Hickory Bokken

Brian, I agree that you should use the Bokken. I also buy beautiful pocket knives which I carry different ones all the time. Some enjoy just having something beautiful but don't use them (it lessens the value) but as my wife says the greater joy is having a beautiful piece that you love using all the time. Yes, it will not be worth as much since it is used but she reminds me that someday my knives could end up in the hands of someone that is selling them in a yard sale and I lost the pleasure of using them. I love my bokken especially by having used it and it has become a good friend rather than a "art piece"

Doc Sexton

"Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will"
Gandhi
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Old 09-05-2010, 03:37 PM   #9
Rob Watson
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Re: Review: Kingfisher Woodworks Enhanced Appalachian Hickory Bokken

I wonder if they will perform this process on an existing used piece and how much weight it will add and at what price?

"In my opinion, the time of spreading aikido to the world is finished; now we have to focus on quality." Yamada Yoshimitsu

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Old 09-06-2010, 08:34 PM   #10
Jim Sorrentino
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Re: Review: Kingfisher Woodworks Enhanced Appalachian Hickory Bokken

Hello Rob,

Quote:
Robert M Watson Jr wrote: View Post
I wonder if they will perform this process on an existing used piece and how much weight it will add and at what price?
I can't speak for Brad on this question, but you have nothing to lose by contacting him through the Kingfisher website and asking.

I believe that the process increases the weight of the bokken by about 30 percent.

There are some interesting videos by a fellow who smashes various bokken (including a Kingfisher grade 7 hickory, NOT enhanced) into a tree in his yard. You can see the results at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ceQPBmSc_x0.

Jim

Not having anything around to read is dangerous: you have to content yourself with life itself, and that can lead you to take risks. - M. Houellebecq, Platform
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Old 11-20-2010, 09:50 AM   #11
BokkenReview
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Re: Review: Kingfisher Woodworks Enhanced Appalachian Hickory Bokken

Jim, that would be me in those videos.

I appreciate you referencing them, and I hope others take a look. I know that some may not like what I'm doing, but those videos are more of a personal experiment based off of a personal question... I just post them in case others have the same question.

As for the KWW bokken... let's just say it is still the only one standing after these many tests. I am only about 1/3 to 1/2 of the way through my tests. I have a list of bokken I plan on testing, and currently have a Brazilian Ironwood up next, followed by a Wenge bokken and Lignum Vitae bokken that should both be here next week.

I plan on getting one of KWW's enhanced bokken soon, though it feels like it may be overkill! I would be happy to answer others' questions on this and other types of bokken. Frankly, I am eager to hear others' experiences.
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Old 11-20-2010, 10:26 PM   #12
gregstec
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Re: Review: Kingfisher Woodworks Enhanced Appalachian Hickory Bokken

Quote:
Travis Hill wrote: View Post
Jim, that would be me in those videos.

I appreciate you referencing them, and I hope others take a look. I know that some may not like what I'm doing, but those videos are more of a personal experiment based off of a personal question... I just post them in case others have the same question.

As for the KWW boken... let's just say it is still the only one standing after these many tests. I am only about 1/3 to 1/2 of the way through my tests. I have a list of bokken I plan on testing, and currently have a Brazilian Ironwood up next, followed by a Wenge bokken and Lignum Vitae bokken that should both be here next week.

I plan on getting one of KWW's enhanced bokken soon, though it feels like it may be overkill! I would be happy to answer others' questions on this and other types of bokken. Frankly, I am eager to hear others' experiences.
I have KWW Grade 7 bokken and jo and they are great - although they feel lightweight, they are extremely strong and hold up very well - I also have a Dymondwood set from Bujin - very heavy and very strong and the KWW hickory holds up very well against the Dymondwood in paired practice - my first choice in training is the KWW though.

Greg
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Old 01-21-2011, 11:46 AM   #13
JO
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Re: Review: Kingfisher Woodworks Enhanced Appalachian Hickory Bokken

I just ordered an enhanced hickory jo and large aikiken from KWW. I'll add a review here after I have received them. So far the service has been good. He even found a replacement for the bokken I wanted , from wood from the same tree, after someone else beat me to it (internet order made the same day).

Hopefully these will last much longer than the now broken laminated hickory weapons I had from Bujin.

Jonathan Olson
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Old 02-13-2011, 08:42 PM   #14
JO
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Re: Review: Kingfisher Woodworks Enhanced Appalachian Hickory Bokken

I've had my new enhanced hickory weapons for a little over a week now. I've been using them for suburi in my living room. If you go to kingfisher's specials page:
http://kingfisherwoodworks.com/specials3.htm
I have Enhanced jo 0583 and the sister bokken to Enhanced Aikiken large 0659.

I will start by saying I got very good service from kingfisher, wouldn't hesitate to di business with them again.

First the bokken. With the dense enhaced hickory and the thick aikiken large shape, it is by far the heaviest bokken I've had. However the balance is quite good and I'm getting used to it. My wife's grade 5 hickory aikiken medium is feather light by comparison. The feel of the enhaced hickory finish is nice and "dry", but not as much of an advantage as on the jo. As far as looks go, he wasn't kidding in the description. With all the odd dark blotches, it isn't a display piece. But that wasn't what I was looking for. I was looking for a sturdy bokken that would survive the training against the various tropical woods others in my dojo use, and the discount for the looks made this one I could just afford.

Now the jo. I'm happy with the bokken, but the jo is really great. The denser, heavier material gives it a nice heft and deciciveness but without it feeling excessively heavy. The finish is the best part though. It feels completely dry. It slides perfectly during transitions but stops as soon as you add a bit of pressure to you grip. Really enjoying the overall feel.

I will put the jo to its first paired practice tomorrow. I'll write in again after putting the weapons through some contact practice.

Jonathan Olson
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Old 02-16-2011, 08:29 PM   #15
JO
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Re: Review: Kingfisher Woodworks Enhanced Appalachian Hickory Bokken

My jo had its first paired practice this Monday. Only one slightly visible surface dent despite some hard impacts. It faired better than my partner's jo, which lost a chip off one end. Still very happy with it. Great balance and feel, though my dojo mates give quite the reactions when they hear how much it cost. My sensei said with such a piece of art, he couldn't train with it, he'd have to put it up on a wall

Jonathan Olson
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