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A shinai made of bamboo

Shinai (竹刀?) is a weapon used for practice and competition in kendo representing 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 earliest use of a bamboo weapon to train with instead of a sword is credited to Kamiizumi Nobutsuna (1508-1572?) of the Shinkage-ryū. The modern shinai, with four slats of bamboo, is generally credited to Nakanishi Chuzo Tsugutate (died 1801) of Nakanishi-ha Ittō-ryū.[1][2] The shinai was developed in an effort to reduce the number of practitioners being seriously injured during practice, making a practice weapon that was less dangerous than bokutō (木刀?), the hard wooden swords they were previously using. This is also the motivation behind the development of bōgu (防具?), the armour that protects the kendoka.


The word "shinai" is derived from the verb shinau (撓う?), meaning "to bend, to flex", and was originally short for shinai-take (flexible bamboo). Shinai is written with the kanji 竹刀, meaning "bamboo sword", and is an irregular kanji reading. In kendo, it is most common to use a single shinai, sometimes called itto style. Some kendoka choose to use two shinai. This kendo style is usually called ni-tō (二刀?), a style that has its roots in the two-sword schools of swordsmanship such as Hyōhō Niten Ichi-ryū. A ni-to combatant uses a long shinai called the daitō (大刀?), which is usually held in the left hand, and a shorter shinai, called the shōtō (小刀?), which is usually held in the right hand. The daitō may be slightly shorter and lighter than a shinai used in the itto style of kendo. Specifications for shinai used in kendo competitions that follow the International Kendo Federation (FIK) rules, are below.


The shinai components

Sizes and style of shinai vary. For example, an adult may be able to use a shinai that is too heavy for 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 bokutō, 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 of carbon fibre, reinforced resin, or other approved alternative materials.

The shinai comprises four slats known as take (?), which are held together by three leather fittings: a hilt, or handle fitting (tsuka-gawa (柄皮?)); a fitting at the tip (saki-gawa (先皮?)) and a leather strip (naka-yui (中結?)) that binds the four slats. The parts are all 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 (打突部?).

Inserted between the ends of the slats, under the saki-gawa, is a plastic plug saki-gomu (先ゴム?), and under the tsuka-gawa there is a small square of metal chigiri (ちぎり?), that holds the slats in place.

A 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 (鍔止め?).


Far from dangerous, a shinai is used as a practice sword in order to simulate the weight of a katana or a bokken without injuring the user or the target. The four slats tied together are specifically designed to reduce the force of impact of a blow. Upon hitting the target, the four staves flex and compact together, spreading the force of the blow over a longer period of time. This significantly reduces the harm it can impart on a target, leaving only a bruise even when wielded by the strongest users.

Care of shinai[]

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, dōjō, 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 injury. 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 during use. In addition, the nakayui should be tight enough as not to rotate easily.

When not in use, shinai used in kendo practice, should be either laid on the floor, or leant vertically against a wall, with the (kashira) base of the (tsuka) handle on the floor and the (kissaki) tip leaning against the wall. This is because in kendo, the shinai is treated as a substitute for a real sword and should be treated as if real. When a shinai is placed on the floor, it is considered very poor etiquette to step over it.


In kendo competitions that follow the FIK rules, there are regulated weights and lengths for the use of shinai.[3]

Table A. FIK Specifications for competition use of one Shinai (Itto).
Specification Gender Junior High School (12–15 yrs) Senior High School (15–18 yrs) University students and Adults (18yrs+)
Maximum length Male & female 114 cm 117 cm 120 cm
Minimum weight Male 440g 480g 510g
Female 400g 420g 440g
Minimum diameter of sakigawa Male 25mm 26mm 26mm
Female 24mm 25mm 25mm
Minimum length of sakigawa Male and Female 50mm 50mm 50mm

Shinai are weighed complete with leather fittings, but without tsuba or tsuba-dome. The full length is measured. Maximum diameter of the tsuba is 9 cm.

Table B. FIK Specifications for competition use of two Shinai (Nito).
Specification Gender Daito (long shinai) Shoto (short shinai)
Maximum length Male & female 114 cm 62 cm
Weight Male 440g minimum 280–300g maximum
Female 400g minimum 250–280g maximum
Minimum diameter of sakigawa Male 25mm 24mm
Female 24mm 24mm

Shinai are weighed complete with leather fittings, but without tsuba or tsuba-dome. The full length is measured. Maximum diameter of the tsuba is 9 cm.

Commercial Shinai Sizing
Size Length Size Length
28 36" 92 cm 36 44" 112 cm
30 38" 97 cm 37 45" 114 cm
32 40" 102 cm 38 46" 117 cm
34 42" 107 cm 39 47" 120 cm


The ancestor of the modern kendo shinai is the fukuro-shinai (袋竹刀?), which is still in use in koryū kenjutsu. This is a length of bamboo, split multiple times on one end, and covered by a leather sleeve. This explains the name fukuro, which means bag, sack or pouch. Sometimes the older and rarer kanji tō (韜) is used, but has the same meaning as fukuro.

Some schools cover the entire bamboo in the sleeve and add a tsuba, like Kashima Shinden Jikishinkage-ryū does. In Shinkage-ryū, the sleeve is lacquered Kamakura Red, and rather than covering the entire length, is tied off at the non-split end. This particular kind of fukuro-shinai is also called a hikihada (蟇肌?), or toad-skin shinai. The name comes from how the leather looks after lacquering; the sleeves are actually made of cow or horse-hide.

Other uses[]

Shinais are commonly used as a prop in professional wrestling, where they are often referred to as Kendo sticks or incorrectly as Singapore canes.[4]

They may also be used in other martial arts to correct students and build discipline in a mild manner.

See also[]


  1. Junzō Sasamori; Gordon Warner (June 1989). This Is Kendo: The Art of Japanese Fencing. Tuttle Publishing. p. 51. ISBN 978-0-8048-1607-6. 
  2. Green, Thomas A.; Svinth, Joseph R. (30 June 2010). Martial Arts of the World: An Encyclopedia of History and Innovation. ABC-CLIO. p. 599. ISBN 978-1-59884-244-9. 
  3. The Regulations of Kendo Shiai and Shinpan. Tokyo, Japan: International Kendo Federation. December 7, 2006. 
  4. Thom Loverro (2006). The Rise & Fall of ECW: Extreme Championship Wrestling. Pocket Books. pp. 59–60. 

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