It was realized during the Edo period by most sword teachers that students needed a practice weapon that was less dangerous than the bokken (wooden sword), if they were to practice without restraints on their technique. It seems likely that several different traditions all hit on similar ways of solving this problem at roughly the same time.
The earliest form of the bamboo shinai may have been developed by Hikida Bungoro (approx. 1537-1606) of Hikida Ryu (Hikida-Kage Ryu). This weapon was almost like a bokuto in its weight and stiffness.
Kamiizumi Ise no Kami (1508-78) founder of the Shin-Kage Ryu and Yamada Heizaemon (d 1578) founder of Jikishin-Kage Ryu also both used a form of shinai in their training. And even at this early date Yamada was experimenting with head and arm protectors.
The shinai was also used in the Maniwa Nen Ryu and in the Yagyu Shinkage Ryu.
In the early eighteenth century the Jikishin-Kage ryu was regularly using shinai-geiko to supplement the kata practice associated with bokken training.
What is clear is that KENJUTSU was dangerous. It was not unusual during training or KATA for the participants, masters and pupils alike to be seriously wounded, maimed or even killed. So it was necessary in the spirit of nurturing the arts to adapt the weapons used and to develop protective equipment.
Early armours and practice swords were the work of several masters of the EDO ERA (1603-1867). The armour was inspired by that worn by great generals and included a helmet (KABUTO) to protect the head and shoulders, chest/waist protectors and fencing gloves.
ONO TADAAKI of the ITTO RYU developed or adopted for his school an artificial sword made of bamboo strips. A pupil of ONO CHUICHI, NAKANISHI CHUTA added to and improved his teacheräó»s efforts. His practice weapon was made of bamboo reeds, 16 to 32 strips, covered with cloth and was roughly the same weight as a live sword. It was known as a FUKURO SHINAI and was the forerunner of the YOTSUWARA SHINAI (Four Section) used in KENDO today.
By about the middle of the eighteenth century CHUTA had developed the sword glove or KOTE and remodelled the artificial sword into a supple but strong version made of four strips of bamboo. In the period 1765-1770 Nakanishi developed a “DO” chest/waist protector.
NAKANISHI CHUTA was a very gifted fencer and founder of the Nakanishi Ha Itto Ryu, a new tradition.
The various branches of the ITTO RYU in which pupils were compelled to wear armour and use a SHINAI gained in popularity. The great advantage was that the pupil could be confident of striking without wounding. He could concentrate his efforts on the force and rapidity of his blows, so making considerable progress in a short time. Eventually, in spite of some reservations and a great deal of debate most of the other RYU in Japan in turn adopted the SHINAI and protective equipment, although these would have varied greatly in design.
By 1760, swordsmen could choose between; Wooden Swords (BOKKEN), the SHINAI or the more traditional KATANA
Later developments in protection were the separation of the TARE from the chest protector. There were also many changes and refinements to the MEN (Head/throat protector).
In the 1800s there were hundreds of ryu practicing “shinai-geiko” as the art became more and more popular with the non-samurai classes.
At this time there were no regulations governing the length or weight of shinai, or the design of BOGU. Some people used very long shinai. Such as one owned by the British museum that is perhaps 2 metres long. Very long shinai were mainly used for thrusting at the opponent from long distances and probably used techniques borrowed from SOJUTSU (Spear art).
The shinai from the Muto ryu (Yamaoka Tesshuäó»s school) are very short but heavy. The shinai is used mainly for cutting at close range. Using such a short weapon develops spirit.
Different lengths and weights of shinai obviously led to a huge variety of techniques and methods. This in turn led to variations in protective equipment.
Three Dojos gained great popularity towards the end of this era of development. They became known as the äóìThree Great Dojos of Edo.äó They were: Genbukan led by Chiba Shusaku Sensei, Renpeikan led by Saito Yakuro Sensei and Shigakkan led by Momoi Shunzo Sensei.
There were of course many other successful dojos at this time but due to location or the austerity of the training regime they did not draw such large numbers of followers.
Chiba sensei attempted to systematize the Waza (techniques) of bamboo sword training by establishing the äóìSixty-eight Techniques of Kenjutsuäó which were classified in accordance with striking points. Techniques such as Suriage-men were named by Chiba Sensei and are still used today.
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