Bokken as a training weapon

The Bokken (木剣 = wooden sword) is a replica of the Japanese sword (日本刀 Nihontō). It is used for practice in Aikidō, Jōdō, Iaidō and Kenjutsu. In Japan the name Bokutō (木刀 = wooden katana) is more common. The Bokken was mainly developed to reduce the risk of injury during training. In addition, the metal sword is expensive and more delicate and can be easily damaged while practicing. The Bokken can also be used as a real weapon. While a real sword (真剣 Shinken) in real combat leads to cuts that can be quickly fatal, the bokken causes blunt injuries or broken bones that are usually less lethal.

Bokken fight

Scenes from the film Zatoichi 2003
A ronin who only fights with Bokken - he has probably already had to sell his real sword - challenges a sword school. The sequence shows the application of the bokken as a weapon.
The ronin is big and strong and uses Bokken ruthlessly. The wood can withstand the mechanical laod. The samurai of the sword school are clearly inferior in the Bokken fight. The question remains, of course, whether scenes like the one shown in this film really happened.

Forms of Bokken

There are many different forms of Bokken that differ in size and weight. Each sword school has developed its own Bokken for its needs. There has been created a so-called standard Bokken in 1950. It was developed by the All Japan Kendō Federation together with the master craftsman Aramaki. This form is mainly used in Kendō, Iaidō and Aikidō. The old schools (Koryū 古流) of Kenjutsu, which existed before the Meiji Restoration, continue to use their special forms.


Types of wood

The wood for the Bokken traditionally comes from Japanese oak. Akagashi is the red oak and Shirakashi is the white oak. This wood guarantees the necessary mechanical stability even with full contact and is recommended for Aikidoka. Because of the aesthetics, also other woods are used today, which then differ in weight and stability and can be significantly more expensive. On the other hand, bulk goods made of cheap wood are coated with clear varnish so that the humidity level does not change, which would lead to deformation. Unsuitable wood splinters and breaks easily.

Hölzer für Bokken

Bokken in standard form: A - Akagashi, B - Shirakashi, C - Iso no ki. Further types of wood on the right


The Bokken-exercises in Aikido are often called Aikiken.
They were developed by Morihei Ueshiba in his dojo in Iwama from 1942. It is said that he was inspired by the Kashima Shinto Ryu.
Morihiro Saito took over the management of the Iwama Dojo after the death of Morihei Ueshiba. He divided the teaching program for Aikiken into three levels. First, Suburi, these are basic cutting movements (no Kata), second, Awase, these are harmonization exercises with a partner who is also armed, and third, Kumitachi.
Other branches of Aikido have also incorporated sword techniques into their teaching, but under the influence of other Kenjutsu schools.

Bokken Misogi

In the Aikikai Hombu Dojo under Kisshomaru Ueshiba, however, the Bokken was little used. Kisshomaru had been taught by his father at a time when Morihei was against practicing with weapons and instructed his students to practice only 'with bare hands'.
Therefore a discussion arose whether Aikiken - like Aikijo - should be an essential part of Aikido.
There are photos of Morihei with Kisshomaru, in which Bokken and Jo are used. However, these are supposed to be misogi exercises.

Bokken Practise


In Ki Aikido, exercises with the Bokken in the forms Hitoriwaza and Kumiwaza are an integral part of the training and the examination program. They were originally developed by/under Koichi Tohei and codified in four Taigi (alternative names in brackets).

  • Taigi 25: Ken-gi 1 (Bokken 1)
  • Taigi 26: Ken-gi 2 (Bokken 2)
  • Taigi 29: Tachi-uchi (Kumitachi)
  • Taigi 30: Shinken
Only Taigi 29 is with a partner (Kumiwaza, more precisely Kumitachi), the other three are executed as Hitoriwaza. There is also Taigi 22 Tachi-dori (Bokkendori), in which Uke leads the Bokken and Nage works 'with empty hands'. Older videos of these Taigi can be found here .

Doshu Yoshigasaki has completely revised and developed these exercises and techniques. The basic exercises teach you how to do the Bokken correctly with your hands and contain the basic punches and stitches. These exercises are included in the examination program for the 2nd and the 1st Kyu, as well as the old Bokken 1 as Hitoriwaza under the name Happo Giri.

  • Tsuzukiwaza 27: Bokken 1 (Happogiri mit Partner)
  • Tsuzukiwaza 28: Bokken 2 mit Partner
  • Tsuzukiwaza 29: Kumitachi (Kumitachi 1)
  • Tsuzukiwaza 30: Shinken mit Partner (Kumitachi 2)
These forms are now all redesigned to be Kumiwaza. Tsuzukiwaza 23 Bokkendori has also been expanded. In all of these exercises the bokken is used as a substitute for the metal sword and not as a wooden weapon as in Bokkenjutsu and in the video clip at the beginning of this page.
Bokken is also used in misogi (Hitoriwaza). It supports coordination, breathing and passion there.

Zatoichi - the blind Samurai 2003

Beginning of the films
In 19th century Japan, the blind wandering masseur Zatōichi comes to a mountain village. Behind his harmless appearance hides a precise and merciless swordsman. The village is ruled by a criminal clan. Zatōichi takes the side of the oppressed. The young, strong Rōnin Hattori, who works as a killer for the clan to care for his sick wife, is put on him and a decisive battle ensues.
Zatōichi (Japanese 座頭市) is a literary figure of the Japanese writer Kan Shimozawa (1892-1968) with many TV series and some movies. This film by Takeshi Kitano is well worth seeing. "A samurai film, full of struggle and tough, at the same time full of fun and games that ironically break the thematic proximity to classics of the genre." (FILM-DIENST)