As a beginner you get a wooden sword (bokken) pressed into your hand and can work out your first sore muscles. If you want more you need your own piece of wood, of course, but which one is optimal? Bokken, wooden sword replicas of a Japanese katana, are as many as trees in the forest 😉
Make it simple
The simplest Bokken for less than 20 euros is okay at first. The important thing is the material. Don’t buy plastic, it’s dead stuff, buy something made of wood. The range on offer ranges from red / white oak to walnut. The ›red oak‹ or ›white oak‹ offered is mostly not made of oak. It is almost always wood of some Mahogany type from the jungle.
All right »I’ll buy some tropical wood for a good cause« you could calm your conscience. I would take whatever wood pleases. The main thing is that it is straight (the sword shape is naturally curved like a ›real‹ sword). The grain, if present in the primeval forest, should be finely grained and run lengthways. Knots and ›interesting‹ cross grains should be avoided; there are potential weak points.
Take a look at your local budo dealer and grab a nice copy from the collection bin. Before doing this, take a look along the length to see whether the good piece is warped, then it’s not okay. Swing gently a few times – there are noticeable differences in weight which then take effect.
Special features when buying
You can treat yourself to extras. For the Tsuba, the sword sheat (mostly made of plastic, horn is expensive), which is usually included, you can get a plastic sword scabbard (Saya) in a ›bundle‹ with a bokken. This simulates the drawing process (Nukitsuke) of an iaito. The plastic makes a scratching scraping sound when pulled – well. There are also bokken with a milled ›blood channel‹, that is, the grooves on the real sword. I think that’s a visual improvement and the Bokken is a bit narrower. You have to make a little more effort to properly use the sword.
I’ve already talked about types of wood: there is a wide range. I have no experience with the precious woods (for example Ebony, from 150 Euros upwards), but if you do partner exercises and ›knock‹ on the other partner’s wood, dents will appear on the precious piece. So buy something cheap. You can of course also say: »It’s just wear and tear« and still use the piece of precious wood in every training situation.
Usable types of wood
Oh, here are some remarks about the different types of wood:
Some more things
Real (German) oak whether white or red, is to be rejected: the wood is very hard but tends to splinter. In my opinion all types of wood that are used in bow making are basically suitable because they swing easily. That is pleasant to lead. Real swordsmen naturally build the Bokken of their choice themselves (Build your Bokken). The tightened shape of a bokken with almost twice the size, length and weight is called Suborito. It only serves to strengthen the muscles.
You now have the joy of choosing.