A bokken ( bok(u), “wood”, and ken, “sword”) (or a bokutō , as they are instead called in Japan) is a Japanese wooden sword used for training. It is usually the size and shape of a katana, but is sometimes shaped like other swords, such as the wakizashi and tantō. Some ornamental bokken are decorated with mother-of-pearl work and elaborate carvings. Sometimes it is spelled “boken” in English. Bokken should not be confused with shinai, practice swords made of flexible bamboo.
Bokken were designed to lessen the damage caused by fighting with real swords and were used for the training of samurai warriors in feudal Japan. Bokken eventually became lethal weapons themselves in the hands of trained experts.
Miyamoto Musashi, a kenjutsu master, was renowned for fighting fully armed foes with only one or two bokken. In a famous legend, he defeated Sasaki Kojiro with a bokken he had carved from an oar while traveling on a boat to the predetermined island for the duel.
Although it is hard to determine precisely when the first Bokken appeared due to the nature of secrecy in ancient martial arts training, the oldest Bokken known to have been used as training tools date from the Edo period. Before the Meiji era, Bokken very likely manufactured by woodworkers not specialized in Bokken manufacture. It is at the beginning of the 20th century that Bokken manufacture started, mainly in Miyakonojo (Kyushu region). Today, the last four workshops of Japan are still located in Miyakonojo.
The “standard Bokken”, mostly used in Kendo and Aikido was created by master Aramaki in collaboration with the All Japan Kendo Federation in the 50’s and was the first standardized Bokken ever created