A few months ago I started to realise that the tare I usually used for my daily work practice was reaching the end of its life. Well, the body of the tare itself was fine, but the obi – the belt – was frayed to the point that it could rip apart at any moment. I considered getting the obi repaired, but since the tare itself was quite cheap (and cheap-looking at that), I thought I might as well get a new one. I contacted my friend Stephen who works at Tozando and asked did he have anything decent lying around that wasn’t too pricey. As is normally the case for kendo people (or maybe it’s just Scottish/Osaka people?), we don’t like paying a lot for the least glamorous bogu part!
Stephen looked around the stock to see if there was anything lying about that was discontinued or otherwise unsold in my size and offered me three options. I took the mid-priced option and was super happy with what arrived. Wearing it at a keiko session a couple of weeks later, a kendo friend came up to me after keiko and said that he was after a better tare and where did I get mine. I think this might have been the only time in my kendo career when someone asked me about my tare!
The nearest style to the one that I recieved that they currently sell is the Kurama model.
Maybe a week-or-so after this I asked Stephen and another two kendo shops for a quote to re-palm two old and worn kote I had. Both sets are pretty old and, to tell you the truth, they weren’t my best fitting kote. Still, I thought it a waste to leave them unused. The quotes I got, however, were not cheap. I guess thats to be expected considering the time and effort needed for the work. For some of my other pairs I wouldn’t hesitate, but for these two I wasn’t sure.
Stephen suggested that it might be better just to buy new kote and sent me links to a couple of pairs. Now, I don’t neeeeed any new kote at all, but the picture on the links he sent were quite tempting and, for no real reason really, I found myself ordering the 6mm nanamezashi GUDO set that was suggested to me! Oops.
The kote are quite small compared to my other kote, in overall size as well as length. At first I was quite surprised at just how short the buton (strike area) was, and was a little doubtful if I had made the right decision. They were also a little bit tight as well – Stephen had warned me that this set tended to have a tighter fit than usual, as does the link above. Hmmm.
The look/make of the kote is of course great. In the end the size doesn’t bother me at all, nor does the (still) tightness I feel in my hands. The only negative thing I can say about the kote is that after a hard practice with tough opponents, I found that my knuckles were a bit red and sore, which means they are not as protective as other kote (I didn’t feel anything during keiko, only after).
Overall, considering the price, I am happy to have bought this extra set for daily keiko.
Bogu was on my mind. I started mentioning to Stephen that my main work-men has been battered out of shape and is not as protective as it used to be, and perhaps I better get a new men as well. This time, however, (disclaimer) Tozando offered me a free practice men for review.
I had three men at work by this time – an expensive one I bought years ago which I use on-and-off (as I didn’t want to waste it), my daily (now) beat-up one (bought maybe 4 years ago), and one that I was given a long time back but that I never use because it is too light for daily kihon keiko. So when Stephen offered me something, I took it.
What he gave me was a basic, inexpensive yet practical men: “ISG Bishamon – 8MM Orizashi Men.” The link to the product on the website reads:
Our ISG 8mm Orizashi Men is designed for tough keiko where your partners hit hard and use a variety of techniques. This is a practical and straightforward men focused around protecting you.
Immedietly I told Stephen that I didn’t need the ISG tsuki-protector thing… but the deal was that they would like me to give my honest take on it, so I said I was willing to give it a try. Why not?
I’ve been using the men now for something like a month. The fit is great, I don’t feel heavy men strikes at all, it looks nice, and the protector is not in the way at all. The only negative thing I could say about it is that it doesn’t have the usual black lacquer around the outside of the men (seemingly a decision made to cut costs). While this isn’t a deal breaker, it was rather surprising to the “damage” (to look rather than protection) done in such a short time. Of course, I practice far more than most, so perhaps this result was accelerated.
But what about the tsuki-protector? Well, it doesn’t interfere with your kendo at all. You can’t feel it, and it doesn’t look bad or stick out. For the vast majority of kendo practitioners I can see no demerit to wearing one. If you are a jodan person, in particular, and do kendo with people that are enthusiastic about tsuki but perhaps not so skilful at it, it will definitely make your life more comfortable.
However, a couple of things I did notice that were possible problems were (1) when receiving a tsuki the feeling is “dampened” or “blunted” so I wasn’t sure if I actually had been tsuki-ed accurately (of course, this dampening is the point of the protector). I knew I was hit, but I couldn’t judge whether it was “on” or “off.” I guess this is not a problem if you aren’t teaching kendo (unlike me). Another problem (2) I can foresee is for those learning to tsuki. If you never learn what it feels like to be tsuki-ed then how can you ever learn how to tsuki? Whether these are important or not depends on what type of kendo you are doing. YMMV.
btw, one curious thing is that in the men I have the protector is buttoned into the men itself (other models are clip or snap-on seemingly). You can remove it easily enough but you can’t take the buttons away. While it’s not a big deal, it does look a wee bit weird.
I had no plan or intention to procure the pieces of basically a whole kendo set from Tozando, it just so happened that one thing led to another and here I am. Tozando didn’t ask me to write anything about the tare or kote, just some sort of review/comment of the men. The men and kote are not expensive items by any means (the tare was) but they are both practical and suit my needs. The tare is better than expected. Stephen, being a friend, was of course awesome.
To sum up, I think the men is great, and use of the tsuki-protector has no negative impact for the vast majority of people. But, more than that, I think with Tozando you have a company with good products and – if you are lucky enough to deal with Stephen – helpful and knowledgeable custom support.