These practice shinai or bamboo swords match an old Kendo training device developed to give martial students a taste of real combat without risk of serious injury. Combined with cloth armor and protective headgear, the shinai take swordplay to a non-lethal but very competitive level.
The two 42-inch long “swords” are actually bundles of split bamboo slats bound tightly together with leather fittings. The bamboo flexes when a strike lands, and if the bundles are kept in good condition, there’s no sharp edge to do damage. Bamboo Shinai should always be carefully checked before use since the slats may splinter under a hard blow, creating spikes and shards of sharp bamboo fiber. Some recommend oiling before first use as a way to lessen the chances of splintering a slat. Following the advice of your kendo instructor is the best idea.
Shinai were developed in Japan by master swordsmen who sought a way to prevent training injuries to their students. Another type of practice weapon, the bokken, matched the samurai’s katana in shape and form and proved dangerous even when carved from hardwood. Bamboo bundles were chosen to simulate the action and weight of real swords without doing the real damage. Without the appropriate protective gear, it’s still a dangerous sport. Shinai come in many sizes and should be fitted to the individual — this 42-inch length is appropriate for students 12 to 15 years old.
For another type of traditional Japanese practice sword, try the Japanese Hardwood Bokken — just remember it’s not a toy sword.