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Shinai (??, ????) is a weapon used for practice and competiton in kendo and are meant to represent a Japanese sword. Shinai are also used in other martial arts, but may be styled differently from kendo shinai, and represented with different characters.
The word “shinai” is derived from the verb shinau (??, ????), meaning “to bend, to flex”, and was originally short for shinai-take (flexible bamboo). Shinai is written with the kanji ??, meaning “bamboo sword”, and is an irregular kanji reading.
In kendo, the majority of students use one shinai. This kendo style has its roots in the tradition of the itto (??, ?????), or one-sword school. However, some kendoka choose to use two shinai, called ni-to (??, ????), a style that has its roots in the two-sword schools of swordsmanship. A ni-to combatant uses a long shinai called the daito (??, ?????), which usually held in the left hand, and a shorter shinai, called the shoto (??, ??????), which is usually held in the right hand.
The origin of the shinai can be found in the Edo period. The shinai was developed when a group of swordsmen, in an effort to reduce the number of practitioners being seriously injured during practice, undertook to create a practice weapon that was less dangerous than bokuto (??, ?????), the hard wooden swords they were previously using. This is also the motivation behind the development of bogu (??, ????), the armour that protects the kendoka.
Sizes and style of shinai vary. For example, an adult man may be able to use a shinai that is too heavy for a woman or a younger person, so shinai with different sizes and characteristics are made. Shinai are available in many styles and balances. A shinai should not be confused with a bokuto, which has a much more similar shape and length to a Japanese sword and is made from a single piece of wood. However, both shinai and bokken are used in kendo.
The slats of a shinai are usually made from dried bamboo. Some may also be treated by smoking them, or soaking them in resin. Shinai slats are also made with out of carbon fibre, reinforced resin, or other approved alternative materials.
The shinai is made of four slats ?? (??, take), which are held together by three leather fittings: a hilt fitting ???? (???, tsuka-gawa), a point fitting ???? (???, saki-gawa), and a leather strip ???? (???, nakayui). All are secured with a string ?? (??, tsuru).
The nakayui is tied about one-third of the length of the exposed bamboo from the tip . This holds the slats together and also marks the proper kendo striking portion of the shinai, or datotsu-bu (???, ?????).
Inserted between the ends of the slats, under the saki-gawa, is a plastic plug ???? (????, saki-gomu), and under the tsuka-gawa there is a small square of metal (????, chigiri), that holds the slats in place.
A plastic hand-guard ?? (??, tsuba) is then fitted at the point where the tsuka-gawa ends and the bamboo slats begin. This is held in place by a rubber ring ???? (????, tsuba-dome).
A shinai must be properly taken care of or it can pose a danger to both the user and the people around it. Shinai should be inspected for splinters and breaks before and after use, and maintained in a manner considered most appropriate by one’s style, dojo, or sensei.
Many people believe that oiling and sanding a shinai prior to its first use, and then periodically during use, can greatly extend its life. However, some disagreement exists on what is considered proper shinai care.
To properly inspect a shinai, one first examines the area around the datotsu-bu, inspecting all sides of the shinai for splinters. This is very important, as bamboo splinters can easily cause infection. The saki-gawa should be intact and the tsuru should be tight so that the saki-gawa does not slip off the end of the shinai’ while the shinai’ is in use. In addition, the nakayui should be tight enough as not to rotate easily.