"How many wood types for Bokuto are there really?" The simple answer is there's alot. A rigorous answer is it really depends on your region and intended usage.
Some time back, we did an article on introduction to Bokuto. After some more research on the available wood types, this article outlines some of the characteristics of the many potential wood types one may come across when looking for a suitable Bokuto. The list covers some of the more common wood used in Asia and is by no means, comprehensive.
Geography, supply chain, and woodworking craftsmanship collectively play a role in influencing the Bokuto material offered by the supplier.
This introduction is arranged by geographical region, followed by the English name/ Romanji/ Katakana/ Scientific name of the tree from which the wood is derived. A brief description of the tree and wood characteristics is then provided.
Starting from Japan, some of the wood types are:
Oak is a tree or shrub in the genus Quercus, of the Beech family. Their names might be used interchangeably leading to some confusion. An analogy would be considering Oak a subset under the Beech family. The flowers of Oak are catkins (downy, hanging flower cluster), and the fruit is commonly associated with squirrels - the acorn. The flexibility and hardness make this wood an ideal candidate for contact and suburi practices.
Ichiigashi/ Quercus gilva. Found in Japan, Korea, and Southeastern China. The color of this wood is slightly lighter than that of the Akagashi. Suited for beginners considering the wood resistance, availability of the wood. Note quality is not discussed explicitly here, since, it is a given that the bokuto from any reputable supplier will meet quality standards as a minimum.
Red Oak/Akagashi/ Quercus acuta. Found in Japan, Korea, and Guizhou & Guangdong, China. The wood is pale reddish-brown to reddish-brown and slightly stronger than Ichiigashi.
White Oak/Shirakashi/ Quercus myrsinifolia. Found in Japan, East-central, and Southeast China. Also found in Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand. It is slightly heavier than red oak, slightly denser, and more resistant to shocks than Akagashi. This makes it an ideal candidate for frequent contacts compared to Akagashi, provided availability and personal budget allows.
Japanese Loquat/Hon Biwa/ Eriobotrya japonica. Grown commercially for its fruit, which tastes like a mix of peach, citrus, and mango. The wood has a good balance of flexibility and hardness, making it an ideal candidate for bokuto manufacture. The bokuto is suitable for suburi and contact practice alike.
Buna/ Fagus crenata. Also known as Japanese Beech. Endemic to Japan. The wood color is clear yellow. Its strength and lightweight qualities make the bokuto a potential choice for children, women, or users recuperating from injuries.
Found in eastern and southern Asia, from the Himalayas east to Japan and Indonesia. Flowers are usually large, with colors ranging from white to pink, red and yellow.
Camellia/つばき/ Camellia japonica. More flexible and less hard than ironwood. Its impact resistance and lightweight make it an ideal candidate as bokuto for women.
Not a single tree, but several types of trees are classified under this category, given the hardness and density of the timber from these trees. These trees are generally slow-growing, which may lead to scarcity issues. As the name implies, the wood from these trees is very dense and hard, making them suited for suburi and not recommended for contact practices.
Japanese ironwood/ Distylium racemosum. Member of the Hamamelidaceae family (witch-hazel). Native to Southern Japan, Korea, China. Produces small, red flowers consisting of stamens with no petals covering the branches. Used traditionally in the manufacture of furniture. Compared to Oak, it is harder, heavier, and less resistant to shocks; making them more appropriate for suburi practice. Two general types of wood may be derived from this tree:
Isu no Ki. Derived from younger trees.
Sunuke. Derived from older trees (approximately 250 to 400 years old). Understandably, this wood would be scarce, considering production limits and natural conservation efforts.
Ipe/ Tabebuia Serratifolia. Also commonly known as the yellow poui or bastard lignum-vitae. Native to tropical Central and South America. The wood of this tree is highly resistant to decay and is strong, dense, and durable. Its qualities make it widely used in the building & construction industry. Its weight and hardness limit its use to suburi practice.
Cassia/ Tagayasan/ Senna Siamea. Native to South and Southeast Asia. With small and golden yellow flowers, the blooms can be a spectacular sight. The wood is very dense and hard, with weight being similar to that of the Sunuke wood. These qualities make it not recommended for contact practice. Instead, it is more suitable for suburi practice.
Ulin/ Eusideroxylon zwageri. Native to Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Also known as the Bornean ironwood. Threatened by over-logging. Its export from Indonesia has been banned. The wood is famed for its ease of working, despite its high density and hardness. Its resistance to decay and insect attack makes it highly prized for outdoor constructions. Its hardness, density, and weight (price and scarcity as well) make it suited for suburi or as ornamental swords.
Ebony/ Kokutan. Dense black/ brown hardwood, distributed across the tropical and warmer temperate regions of the world. As with ironwood, the hardness, density make such bokuto well suited for suburi, not recommended for contact practice. Three main categories as follows:
Asian Ebony/ Shima Kokutan
Purple Ebony/ Murasaki Kokutan
African Ebony/ Hon Kokutan
We hope this has been an informative read. It certainly was for us!
There are more wood types that are not discussed in this article, as we had not had the chance to see and experience Bokuto made from these - examples include the False Acacia, Hickory, Carob, Hornbeam.
Interested practitioners should always consult their respective Dojos on advice relating to the choice of Bokuto relevant to their intended practice.
Til next time, stay safe!