Updated: to read my opinion about how the kote performed six months after writing this article please see the updated comments after the gallery below.
A couple of months ago, completely out of the blue, I was contacted by a representative of Bushizo, a relatively new online kendo equipment reseller based in Tokyo, and asked whether I would like to review their own brand of kote, called ARM. I had seen the press release about the kote before, and had looked at their website, but it didn’t look like something that was suitable for me or the type of keiko I do. I said I’d accept a set (disclaimer: it was a freebie) if they were happy with me writing an honest review, which they were. So, after using the kote daily for a few weeks now, here are my honest thoughts.
Let me break down todays review in to about six areas in order of importance: fit, build, protection, service, cost, and style, before finishing with a conclusion.
I gave them the normal measurements I give to bogu shops when I order kote but when these kote arrived they were a little bit tight around the fingers and thumb area. After using for a while they started to stretch out a bit, but I still find them a little bit tight. I am sure this could probably be adjusted were I to send them back, but I’d rather use them and let them stretch themselves. I’ll update this section after a few months with a report on how they stretched (or didn’t).
First impression of the kote is that they are super light. This is due to the materials used throughout, the lack of any thickness in and around the kobushi (kote-gashira), and the “jersey” factor (more on that below).
The kote-buton (the area you are struck on) is solid enough and I have no complaints about it.
The wrist area (tsutsu) between the buton and the kobushi is super flexible and soft, allowing a lot of free movement, which is good.
The kote palms are suede and are quite soft. Only time can tell how long they will last, but at the moment the palms seem quite durable.
It is the kobushi where these kote deviate quite drastically from other kote that I have – they basically seem to be made out of super light material with little stuffing inside. The look like other kote I have, but they are not the same.
Because these are “jersey” kote, they are washable. I haven’t washed mine yet, and I am not sure I will until they get quite smelly. As I have never owned a set like this before, I am not sure how the washability of the kote will affect its long-term durability.
As mentioned above, the kote-buton are fine, which is great, but it is the kobushi that are quite a worry. A random hit on them has the potential to be quite painful. I tried a few ai-men out on them with students and if the timing was not quite right, I ended getting hit on the fingers, which wasn’t comfortable. And as I mentioned in my last post, I am doing quite a bit of jodan recently. The lack of protection in the kobushi is a killer if you try to do jodan – kihon practise is fine, but when it came to oji-waza or jigeiko, I switched to another set of kote.
The (English speaking) representative who contacted me was polite and friendly. She answered my questions quickly and everything ran smoothly. Nothing but good things to say on this front.
At 21,000 JPY the kote are very reasonable. Of course, I didn’t pay for my set, but would I pay this much for them? Since I need a thicker, more protective set (especially around the kobushi), I would probably be patient, save up a little more, and buy a set for around 40,000 JPY. This of course, is based on my particular needs (see below).
Overall the kote look good. They have a distinctive “Z” (I think that’s what it is) in the wrist area and a couple of white stripes on the kobushi. It might be difficult to tell in the pictures, but they are a lighter-navy colour than you see in kote usually. This is due to the “jersey” material I believe.
Although I have a couple of fashion–kote, those kote were designed based on traditional styling. These ARM kote have their own branding. Personally I wouldn’t have chosen something this myself, but I was pleasently surprised – they are actually quite cool.
For the majority of people doing kendo, these kote will do the job fine. They look distinctive, are very flexible, and are well-made enough. They re also relatively inexpensive considering what you get. Washability is, for me, a non-factor, but to some people this might be important.
In recent years there have been a lot of lighter kote come out that have little protection on the kote-buton or the kobushi. These are basically for use in shiai, for kids, or for the casual kendoka. For me personally, as a kendo instructor who does kendo almost everyday, who must receive repetitive strikes from powerful young adults, who practises jodan as well as chudan, and who doesn’t do any shiai – I don’t want to sacrifice protectiveness for lightness. I will continue to use these kote, but I will do so only when practising basic strikes (no oji-waza) and, perhaps, as a degeiko/godogeiko set where I know I will only do some light jigeiko (in chudan).
To sum up, as I mentioned in the introduction above, these kote are probably not aimed at someone like me, which is why this review seems like a mixed bag (and why I was surprised to be contacted). However, I’m sure they will be fine for many people out there. Kendo equipment, including kote, are “tools” to be used. Be sure to know and pick the right tool for the job.
You can shop for these ARM kote on the Bushizo website here.
Update: six months after writing this review I am still using the kote, almost on a daily basis. As noted above, I use them only for kihon, and also sometimes uchikomi, but never for oji-waza or jigeiko. I have yet to attempt to machine wash them.
The kote are soft, flexible, and comfortable and, as a daily-training pair, they are pretty good… as long as you are not in a position where your fist/fingers can be struck.