The Kendo Shinai

The art of Kendo developed as a practice form in the 18th century, reaching something very similar to its current form when the shinai or practice sword, and the bogu or armour were developed.

In most Kendo the practitioner is armed with a shinai, a bamboo practice sword that consists of four bamboo slats, a leather handgrip called the tsuka-gawa covering the tsuka (the hilt), a leather cup called the sakigawa on the tip (or kissaki), and a tsuba (the hilt, made of resin or leather) held in place by the tsuba-dome (a rubber disk). The whole is kept together under tension by a string (the tsuru) connecting the leather parts at each end, and by a leather binding around the shinai (the nakayui) marking out the datotsu-bu or mono uchi (the top part of the blade towards the tip) which is the kendo cutting area.

The shinai allows full strength cuts to be made, without the risk of killing or maiming your training partner the way that a live blade or a solid wooden dummy sword would. In Kendo the solid wooden sword, or boken, is still used in the Kendo Kata and more rarely in waza (technique) practice in order to gain a better understanding of how the technique works with a sword, however it is not for free-sparing. The steel Katana, or alloy iaito are used by high grades in Kata demonstrations and are the standard weapon used in Iaido

Shinai, Boken and Katana; the three weapons used in Kendo and Iaido

Assembled and ready for use a shinai looks like this...

A bamboo shinai requires constant maintenance, the slats must be checked for splintering the string joining the leather handgrip to the tip must be taut and the leather must be in good condition. In dry climates especially, the slats must be regularly oiled to keep them from splintering.

In addition to bamboo shinai there are now plastic/resin shinais available, which while more expensive are much longer lasting and require less maintenance. Failure to maintain the shinai, quite apart from showing disrespect for the symbolism regarding the sword that the shinai embodies, is a very dangerous thing, as a faulty shinai may break up and injure your fellow practitioner.

The minimum weight and maximum length of the shinai are regulated, varying depending on the age and sex of the kendoka, and on whether the kendoka is using one shinai or is using a normal length shinai in the left hand and a short shinai in the right (fighting in nito).

Shinai assembly is shown in the four images below.