I picked up my first nama-kiji dou in 2015, as a sort of present to myself. Up until that time – unbelievably – I’d never had a bamboo dou. There were a couple of reasons why I didn’t get one: the main one being economic, and the second that I thought that (somehow) a bamboo dou would be really heavy (not necessarily true).
With these reasons in mind I never really thought about buying one until one day I walked into my local kendo shop and – boom – there was a beautiful bamboo dou-dai sitting on top of the counter. Within about 3 minutes I said “I’ll take it!” It was pure impulse buy.
It took a month-or-so to make the mune, and the final dou looked like this:
A very classic, nama-kiji dou look.
Being rather expensive, I decided that a few extra yen wasn’t going to change things, so I asked that some calligraphy was put on the reverse of the (non-lacquered) dou-dai:
It reads (from right-to-left) “Cho-tan-seki-ren” which literally translates into something like “forge yourself in the morning, and refine yourself in the evening.” If we were to translate the meaning, however, we’d end up with “constantly train yourself through hard discipline” (i.e. “kenshi 24/7”).
These are words I like to strive towards.
A year-ago or so I was attending a renshu-jiai in the oldest high school in Osaka prefecture. Whenever I go to a new dojo I always inspect the venue itself and – if it is old – ask about the history of the place. This dojo (it was divided between kendo and judo) had a lot of calligraphy on the walls so, of course, I went around photographing and inspecting. Although there was an original piece by Kano Jigoro himself (worth millions of yen), what interested me most was one in the kendo part of the hall:
It reads (from right-to-left) “moku-moku shugyo” which translates to “silent discipline” or, if you like, “shut up and train.” This immediately struck me. The process of shugyo is, I believe, the very point of kendo (and budo) training.
With this in mind, when I spotted and fell in love with another dou-dai this June (again, another nama-kiji-dou) I ensured that I had it written on the back.
Japanese/Chinese readers will notice that the character for “silence” is written one way on the dojo calligraphy (黙) and one way in the dou’s calligraphy (a version of 默). This is just for poetic purposes – they both mean the same thing.
Here are some pictures of the finished dou:
It does’t have quite the same classic look as the dou above it has but, I think, it has a certain quality to it. Restraint perhaps?
For equipment freaks, the dou is a 60-piece kon nama-kiji (bamboo) dou with an orizashi mune (made with the same fabric as keikogi). A normal nama-kiji dou is yellow in colour due to placing the raw cow-hide over the yellow bamboo (like the first dou picture above), but this is a “kon” nama-kiji dou, meaning that some navy-dyed canvas is placed in-between the raw-hide and the bamboo, which gives the dou it’s unique colour and patina. There was, of course, no lacquer used on the dou.
I’m almost certain people will ask “how much?” and “where did you buy it?” so I’ll spill the beans here: I picked it up at Mikatsuki Budogu, and it cost about 900 USD (if you use the “KENSHI247” discount code you’ll get 10% off).
How are dou’s made anyway?
This is not a kiji-dou, and the video quality isn’t the best, but you can still get a good feel for how dou’s are put together:
Also, don’t forget this kenshi 24/7 guest post from NYC-based Eric Aerts in 2011, who – unbelievably – made his own dou!!! Remember, he didn’t have the video above to refer to ….
Legacy / inheritance
Both dou may seem like an extravagance and, I admit, they are in a way, but I do have a long-term game plan for both. I will, hopefully, use both dou for the next 30 years-or-so, or until I unable to physically practise kendo. At that time my plan is – and maybe it’s a silly idea – to pass both dou on to deserved kendo students. The nature of these type of dou’s mean that they will change colour and have scar marks, and that’s great. That will teach the receivers to understand that being cut is not something to fear. The kanji written on the back – “Cho-tan-seki-ren” and “moku-moku-shugyo” – also contain what I personally think are important teachings about how to approach kendo training.
Of course, this could all just be vanity!