I read an anecdote many years ago (when, where, and by who by I can’t remember*) that has stuck with me over time. In it a kenshi tells the story about how they would often go to the Nippon Budokan for keiko, walking up a sloped path from the nearest station, Kudanshita. En-route sometimes they would spot Mochida Moriji sensei heading to the Budokan as well. What struck the teller of the anecdote was that Mochida sensei, who would have been at least 79/80 years old at the time (Mochida sensei continued to wear bogu until he was 84), shouldered his own kendo bag and carried his own shinai. As you know, Mochida sensei was one of only five kenshi ever to have been awarded judan and, as such, could have probably had someone meet him at the station and carry his gear for him (or even had a taxi arranged and payed for)… but that wasn’t how Mochida sensei did things. A humble man who was greatly admired for his gracious manner, he was known to have refused help from people to fold his dogi, pack away his gear, stow away his bogu, etc. The person telling the anecdote – seeing Mochida sensei walking in front of them carrying his own gear – resolved to carry their heavy bag up the slope to the Budokan without complaint.
* (I can’t remember the details clearly, it may have been walking to Noma dojo in the 30s rather than to the Nippon Budokan.)
Reading the anecdote many moons ago, I made a decision:
1: never let anyone fold my dogi, stow away my bogu, etc. (it is common for students to do this for kendo teachers here in Japan); 2: always carry my own bogu back, no matter how old I get or tired I am.
With regards to point 1 above, I also never make my kendo students tidy away things for other people (a job commonly forced on students by overbearing teachers) – this applies even to visitors to my dojo who may expect (or think they deserve) it.
For #2, I hate and *never use bogu bags with wheels on them. I also ban my students from using them, though some will try and use them sneakily!
* (The only time I relax this is when I am travelling abroad, when I try to stuff one big bag with kendo stuff as well as clothes etc; once I reach my destination I will switch to a normal kendo bag if possible.)
Over all these years, then, I’ve stuck to bog-standard kendo bags, even when the majority of my kendo friends have switched over to wheeled bags. Over beers I have chided my friends:
After changing and re-packing my bag after keiko, it often feels a lot heavier than it did just earlier, and arriving home I usually have at least one sore shoulder, and sometimes backache. Being stubborn, there is no chance I was going to ever by a wheelie-bag, so when bogu backpacks started to make an appearance recently (maybe only three years ago?) I took an interest. I hummed and hawed for a bit, but eventually – last January, on the assumption that 2020 would be a normal kendo-packed year – I decided to try out KendoStar’s original Busho backpack.
Normally, in non-pandemic times, I do quite a bit of degeiko, going here or there for adult sessions, or heading out for some work-related renshujiai / godogeiko and what have you, so I actually haven’t managed to use the bag as much as I expected to (yet!). Still, as part of todays article I’d like to give a mini review of the backpack.
Busho backpack super mini review
First of, it is quite large, considerably larger than the bags I have used to date because it has a lot more storage space: a separate dogi space at the bottom, a large inside space for the bogu itself, water bottle (or beer!) storage space on the outside, and a zip pouch on the top. It resembles an Uber Eats back.
Weight-wise, when empty it is very light. Since your dogu itself is quite heavy, that feeling of lightness will disappear, but at least the bag itself contributes little to the overall weight. Luckily, since you will be carrying this on your back – and due to the nice padded shoulder straps – it feels less heavier than it would if you were to carry it on a single shoulder.
Like I stated above, I have been unable to do a lot of degeiko this year, but – with all the talk of vaccines and what have you – there looks like light actually may be at the end of the tunnel after all. What I can say for sure is that despite only using the bag a small handful of times, I definitely won’t be going back to the older one-shoulder style bags. This is now my go to kendo bag for the foreseeable future.
Note that it is important to mention that I don’t have a car and get around by foot, bike, and public transport only. In other-words, I spend a lot of time (in non-pandemic times) carrying my kendo equipment.
To sum up this mini-review:
Pros: - loads of space - easily accessible pockets - separate space for dogi - waterproof - the bag itself is very light - well made / good quality - shoulder straps are soft and comfy on the back Cons: - quite large - too big to balance on the back of my bike
Degeiko: what’s in my bag?
So, with my new bag I manage to ram-pack a lot in there:
Dogi: keikogi, hakama, obi, and a juban in cold weather. Bogu: the usual kote, men, dou, tare, and tenugui. I usually keep an extra zekken and a couple of extra tenugui as well. Essential items: I now never leave home without a plastic mouth guard, a kendo mask, and a heel protector. En-route I generally add to that a bottle of water and an emergency chocolate or protein bar! I keep a string pouch - called a kinchaku - for miscellaneous bits and pieces, including plasters, taping, on-the-go shinai maintenance tools, and two or three extra tsuba and tsuba-dome. I also pack a backup plastic mouth guard and kendo-mask just to be safe. Now I have plenty of space I can fit in a camera/lens insert for my expensive photography equipment. Before I used to have to carry an extra bag. I also take a water spray thingamabob with me to wet my tenugui and kote palms before keiko as well as clean the inside of my men and kote after. A good kendo book of some sort. Of course, the serious kenshi doesn't waste their time staring at their phone on the way to keiko!
Yeah, so I probably tend to over prepare when I go out for keiko. Nowadays, however, most of my deigeiko sessions are with my students, so extra stuff like tenugui, plasters, tsuba, and what have you, are good to have on hand. Even when I am by myself, I don’t want to get caught out without something like a tenugui or a zekken.
BTW, I always double-check that I have one left and one right kote as well, because I have actually gone to a godogeiko session with two left kote’s before … which was quite embarrassing!