Fukuro Shinai – Use or Misuse
I thought I would take a few minutes to write this to provide a few pointers on how to properly use fukuro shinai – and by extension training tools in general.
(Don’t worry this is not a treatise on the correct hand position and grip employed in using or drawing a katana).
Use of a fukuro shinai:
• against another fukuro shinai
• on a person or persons
• in mutōdori practice
Misuse of a fukuro shinai:
• against a bokken/bokutō, shinai or metal weapon
• to strike hard or rough surfaces, scrape along the ground and so on
• drawing a fukuro shinai from the obi (belt) – this goes for shinai too – they are overly large (round) for this purpose and the leather will stretch and ‘cling’ to the belt and body when it is drawn, slowing the movement down
The reasons for this are simple, firstly that is what they are intended for and secondly the construction lends itself to these purposes.
The fukuro shinai in essence is a bundle of ‘loose’ bamboo shafts held together firmly at the handle, or tsuka, with the ‘blade’ portion being covered by a leather ‘bag’ (fukuro is bag or pouch in Japanese). This differs from the typical kendō shinai where the blade portion is still bound reasonably tightly. The looseness of the fukuro shinai blade allows it more flexibility to be used to strike another fukuro shinai or person and disperse/dissipate the energy of the strike.
Fukuro shinai are also more gracile (thinner and shorter) than your typical kendō shiani. (And here I am talking about the ones I make and similar, as opposed to the white or red Yagyu Shinkage type and so on). The bamboo core has to allow for the handle binding and tsuba over the top – if I were to use a full size shinai as a base then you would have a monster of a club by the end, not to mention the tsuba not fitting.
Quite simply the leather covering is pliable on the fukuro shinai as opposed to the solid nature of the other weapons. Striking a fukuro shinai with a bokken you are going to increase the wear on the leather through abrasion – this is also the case with other hard surfaces mentioned.
I remember my father when I was young being rather… umm… irate when he saw I was using a mallet to bash in nails.
The lesson remains the same – use like on like – so use fukuro shinai against fukuro shinai. In the same vein you should pair the same training weapons (or materials) – use bokken against bokken, shinai against shinai, rubber training knife against rubber training knife, wooden yari, bō or nagainata against each other or a bokken.
The density and form of different materials or training weapons is an important consideration, as well as a reminder that you should understand the ‘tools’ you use. For example – a Japanese white oak bokutō is a single piece of reasonably dense wood with a good grain, a cheap mass produced martial arts bokken is often lighter, less dense, drier and may have a poor grain and knots giving it numerous weaknesses, a shinai is flexible being composed of four separate bamboo sections secured together by different means at different points, an iaitō is essentially two parts, a metal (often alloy) blade attached to the handle part made up of numerous pieces and materials.
Aside from the abrasion to the leather of a fukuro shinai you should bear in mind that a good quality Japanese bokutō can crack or snap bamboo and makes short work of a cheap bokken, reducing it to splinters. It all comes down to choosing the right tool for the right purpose or the appropriate purpose. That’s not to say that cheap bokken don’t have a purpose, they are great for when you first start out and don’t want to spend a fortune or if you need to equip a marital arts dojo for numerous people to use – that said if you continue to train for some time then you realise that quality equipment is worth it and will spend ¥16,000 on a single bokutō…
Using weapons of different materials in practice (and sport) is Misuse, matching the materials of weapons is proper Use.
However out of practice using weapons of different materials to ‘win’ (or to achieve your purpose) is to use superior weapons (and your knowledge of them) to be victorious. Nagato sensei told a story of being invited/challenged to a contest by some kendōka (this was some time into his training under Hatsumi sensei), he says he put lead fishing weights into a pipe down the centre of his shinai thus allowing him to damage their shinai and apparently dent some of the kendōka’s bōgu (training armour). This is using weapons (and by extension tools) to your advantage by knowing their qualities. The flip-side to this thinking, the ura of misuse opposed to the omote of use, would thereby be the Togakure-ryū or shinobi adaptability of using an inappropriate tool or using a weapon in an unorthodox method to achieve a desired purpose, thus changing misuse to use… kyojitsu…
* Note – I tend to use bokutō when talking about it’s use in Japan, and bokken when talking about the weapon in English, as these are the most readily understood terms.
Well that was a little more than I intended to write, but hopefully helpful.
I now have more leather, including some black, to carry on making more fukuro shinai – as always please look at the heading to the right for full details and how to contact me/order.
Thank you all for your continued support.