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Sword Spotlight: The Skinken

January 26, 2018

Sword Spotlight: The Skinken

The shinken is a Japanese sword used in martial arts that's characterized by a real, live blade. Normally, martial arts practitioners use bamboo or wooden swords to protect against bodily injury. In some types of martial arts, however, the shinken is used. To learn more about the shinken and how it's used in Japanese martial arts, keep reading.

Overview of the Shinken

The term shinken literally means "real sword," which is an accurate description of the sword. As previously stated, the shinken features a real blade. This is in stark contrast to other, practice swords used in Japanese martial arts, such as the bokken and shinai.

As shown in the photo above, the shinken features a curved, medium-length blade similar to that of a traditional Japanese katana. Unlike the katana, however, the shinken is a relatively new sword. It was designed specifically for use in martial arts, with many practitioners preferring to use them over the more expensive Nihonto swords.

Shinken in Martial Arts

The shinken is most commonly used in the Japanese martial arts iajutsu and tameshigiri. Iajutsu, of course, is the martial art of quick drawing. Originally invented during Japan's Nara period (710 to 794), it involves drawing a sword in a fast and fluid manner. Different schools use different swords for iajutsu, though some of the more traditional and advanced schools encourage the use of real swords like the shinken.

In addition to iajutsu, the shinken is also used extensively in the Japanese martial art tameshigiri. Tameshigiri, of course, is the art of test cutting. It became popular during Japan's Edo period (17th century), during which swordsmiths and samurai warriors would perform cuts to test the quality and performance of newly constructed swords. Over the years, however, the art of tameshigiri shifted. Today, it's no longer used to test the quality of a sword, but rather it's used to test the skill of a swordsman.


A particularly rare, high-quality version of the shinken is the gendaito. According to Wikipedia, only 250 swordsmiths in the world, all of whom are members of the Japanese Swordsmith Association, produce the gendaito. Furthermore, Japan has a law restricting the production of gendaito to 24 units a year. Combined its precise specifications and emphasis on quality, the gendaito is a particularly rare version of the shinken that's highly sought after by martial arts practitioners and sword collectors alike.

To recap, the shinken is a katana-like sword that's used in Japanese martial arts like iajutsu and tameshigiri. While other swords used in martial arts typically feature a bamboo or wooden blade, the shinken features a real metal blade.


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