So, even relatively new kenshi 24/7 readers probably realise that I’m a bit old-fashioned when it comes to kendo/budo things, perhaps you could even call me a bit of an antiquarian (though kendo stuff isn’t really that ancient!). My passion for old kendo things falls mainly in four areas: books, equipment, dojo, and people. A fifth area – my classical swordsmanship background – I have yet to discuss in detail on kenshi 24/7. Maybe in the future.
Anyway, today’s post is an introduction/review of two pieces of kendo equipment that were 100% custom made for me with my penchant for the old-fashioned in mind.
Men (long mendare)
I’m not sure how many years ago it started – seven or eight maybe? – but mendare started to get shorter. Nowadays I see even highly experienced people having the mendare of their old men cut down… and it drives me crazy! Why do they do this? I think longer mendare look cool. I have a couple of newer men that have super short mendare and, sure, while they may be easier to use, I’m really not a fan. Although the men themselves might be fine, the short mendare bother me!
With this in mind I ordered a fully custom KAISEI men from KendoStar with the “Old school: EXTRA long” mendare (24cm) and look at the beautiful object that arrived:
The final picture shows a comparison between the new men (at the front) with the practise bogu set I got from KendoStar last year with the shorter mendare. The length difference is quite noticeable – don’t you think longer mendare look better?
Note that the practise set is absolutely fine for keiko (I use it regularly), I just prefer the aesthetic of the new one.
I’ve been using the men daily now for about two weeks (for basics and jigeiko) and, although it took a keiko or so to sit right on my head, I am now using it without any problems whatsoever. Not only does it look cool, but it’s light, durable, and – especially important for me as a kendo teacher – protective. A visiting sensei from another school said the men had a “subtle design” and looked “dignified” which I thought was a great complement.
BTW, because they are light and flexible, the longer mendare do not interfere with my keiko at all, even when I do jodan.
After two weeks of heavy usage at work I have now taken the men home and will use it as my main men for special occasions, the first of which will be a special Kyoto-Osaka keikokai tomorrow in the Butokuden, and the next my tachiai at this years Kyoto Taikai.
Kote (old style navy and white)
Before reading anything, feast your eyes on these beauties:
This is a 100% fully custom design of KendoStar’s Ousei model. This is the second kote I’ve had custom made, the first was this pair:
Looking at both sets of kote you are probably thinking I have some desire to stick out or be different from the people around me, but this is far from the truth. In Japan I often find myself as the only non-Japanese person in the dojo – in fact it’s been this way for over a decade; and as the only non-Japanese high school teacher in Japan, I am routinely in a position where I noticeably stick out… which, honestly speaking, I don’t care for. The rationale for having both designs of kote made was inspired simply by my passion for kendo history. If you look back a few decades in kendo’s history you’d see that both of these styles used to be normal.
I bought these kote primarilly for use in my work dojo, so although the colour/design of the kote provided inspiration, they still have to be useable in my daily hard keiko sessions. This meant they had to survive being repetitively struck firmly on a day-to-day basis as well as allow a good range of motion to execute a variety of attacks. The result after two full weeks of usage: Awesome.
Official pictures of my kote from KendoStar:
I originally planned this post to be a discussion on bogu style, but somehow it’s become a bogu review piece! Anyway, to summarise…
The primary job of bogu is simple: protection. It’s secondary job is to allow freedom of movement. Only once these two are balanced out does the style element come into play. A lot of newer bogu nowadays seem to be designed in reverse order: looks -> flexibility/lightness -> protection. Over the last few years I’ve used some pretty terrible men, ones that were so light I basically couldn’t use them for kihon practise, and receiving uchikomi or kakarigeiko (a daily event for a school kendo teacher) was recipe for bruising at best and concussion at worst. Luckily neither of the bogu parts I introduced today has these problem: both pieces are protective, durable, and I foresee using them for years to come.
The style of the kote that I introduced here (like my prior beige ones) were completely normal for most of kendo’s history, and it’s a shame that you barely seem them anymore except for use by kids. I personally think they are cool. The only downside is that they will inevitably get smudged, but that’s cool too!
The men shown here isn’t particularly “old-style” I think, mainly because I’m not yet brave enough to get a lighter coloured stripe around the front of the men (like you can see in the Takano Sasaburo picture at the top of the article). The only thing it does really is buck the short mendare trend. Next time you buy a men, get a long mendare please, I promise you that you will look cooler!!
KendoStar discount for kenshi 24/7 readers!!
After telling Andy at KendoStar that I wrote this post he kindly gave a discount code for kenshi 24/7 readers to use, which is nice for you guys because I payed full price for the custom men and kote!
Discount code: KENSHI247
Update: the above discount code can now be used for anything KendoStar product!
Please visit KendoStar.com to see the separate parts as well as the other products they have on sale.