Note that this bogu set is now no longer in production. To see more bogu like this please visit the All Japan Budogu website directly.
I very rarely do reviews of equipment on this site… and, in fact, this is actually the first bogu review I’ve ever done. The reason why I’m doing one now is pretty simple: my friend Andy* asked me!! Since Andy has come to Japan I’ve helped support his forays into the kendo equipment business (through posting a link here and there as well as banner placement on this site and an odd advert in my publications), and he has reciprocated by giving me equipment now and then. Last December Andy asked me to write a review for it a new bogu (actually, a re-working of an older model) here on kenshi 24/7, and at the end of February it arrived.
Although Andy is a good friend of mine it’s important to me that information on this site is presented as accurately as possible… and that extends to reviews like this. What you are reading here is my honest opinion.
Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let’s move on.
* Andy is the boss of the international sales division of All Japan Budogu
What I look for in a bogu set
I’m a simple guy and not into colourful set’s of armour with flash designs or with diamond encrusting. I’m not interested in sticking out. I believe that bogu is a tool and has a job, and as such my basic needs are these:
1. Does it fit me?
2. Will it deal with the daily wear and tear of hard keiko?
3. Do I look like a serious kendo practitioner?
Other things I pay attention to (but are secondary to the above) are:
4. Is it worth the money?
5. Is it overly heavy?
Thats basically it. As you can see, I am more concerned with the utility of bogu rather than the specifics of the materials used, and I prefer a subdued look rather than a flash design. Bearing these things in mind, let me discuss the bogu.
All Japan Pitch® – GUARDIAN (2014 version)
So the armour I received was the renewed version of the All Japan Pitch® – GUARDIAN bogu set. The link above has the full product description from which the following sections caught my attention:
“as well as featuring all of the same lightweight, quick-drying and comfortable features of our All Japan Pitch series, GUARDIAN has been especially designed to given an extra element of protection… we have increased the padding in the areas that are frequently stricken with the Shinai, which gives the Bogu set an added appeal to those who often act as Motodachi…”
“In addition… GUARDIAN is light, flexible and comfortable, making it perfect not only for daily practice, but well suited to travel… Designed with keeping a traditional, dignified appearance in mind…”
So, lightweight and flexible yet protective with a dignified appearance? Sounds good. I’ve used the set for over a month now in a few different settings – the following is a quick discussion of the individual parts followed by a summary at the end.
First of all, the men that I received fitted perfectly – having someone take your specifications and hand you a men to those exact standards is 1/2 of the battle.
As the description states, the men is extremely light and dries very quickly (I put outside in direct sunlight). The men is so light, in fact, that before I wore it I worried whether it would stand up to sessions where I was mostly motodachi. After going through a few keiko’s of this type, however, I’m happy to say that it did a good job – better, in fact, than my old expensive men with a thick padded insert in the top.
I have to mention the lightness again: there have been times during keiko I’ve almost forgot I was wearing it. Compared to my other men (I have 4 or 5 others) it’s a different beast – in a good way.
My only concern was an aesthetic one: the mendare are a little shorter than I prefer. However, a shorter style is common nowadays in Japan – and some other men have even shorter mendare – so it could just me being an old man!
Bonus: the subdued menchichigawa are excellent! I didn’t specify anything particular for the menchigawa, Andy just stuck something in that was my style… and I like them.
The kote, like the men, are light and dry quickly. They are flexible yet protective. When I first tried them on I immediately thought that they were too big, but after only 10 minutes of keiko they seemed to mould to my hands. No complaints here – I’d easily spend my own money for another pair of these (in fact, I will).
Again, I have a minor – easily solved – aesthetic concern: my name tag on the kote is massive!!! I don’t mind the “All Japan” branding on the kote at all, but a giant “MCCALL” is a little bit distracting. Next time I get some of these kote I will either a) get my name embroidered in more subdued colour, b) simply get my initials embroidered; or c) have no embroidery on the kote at all. Well, at least no one will steal them!!
The dou is a standard Yamato dou and I don’t think is particular to this set. I almost always get my dou in ISHIME or pebble-dash style because it’s less shiny and doesn’t stick out so much.
Again, like the men and kote, the tare is soft, flexible, fast drying, and protective. Looks good, fits well, and does its job = happy George.
Basically, the set does what it states in the description: its very light, flexible, and it offers good protection; it dries fast, and looks subdued. Thats 1, 2, 3, and 5 of my list right there.
Number 4, is it worth the money? The set retails for $695, which is about 70,000 yen – would I pay that for this set of armour? Yeah, I would. The most expensive bogu set I have bought thus far was 250,000 – over 3 times as much – but I think that this Guardian set does the same job and, in fact, is better in many ways.
This summer I am returning home to the UK to see family and friends. Of course, I’m planning to do kendo as well. I usually borrow armour when I go home because its too much hassle to lug heavy equipment from Japan 1/2 way across the world – this time, however, because the bogu is so light, I am taking it with me. Instead of struggling uncomfortably in another persons bad-fitting armour I’ll at last be able to do my normal kendo at home.
The only dissenting thing I can say about the set are the minor aesthetic points I raised above (these are just my personal preferences). However, neither of these will stop me from using the set nor recommending it for others.
Lastly, I’ve added in a couple of pictures of yours truly in action wearing the set so that you can get a better ‘feel’ for it. The pic at the top of the page and the 2 below are from a large godogeiko session at Osaka university during March. I don’t particularly like posting pictures of myself, but this time it can’t be helped!