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Wooden Katanas Are Even Better
In the right hands, wood beats steel.

Wooden or bamboo swords are just as sharp as metal swords, if not sharper.

For those familiar with Japanese culture, Katanas Are Just Better. For those who live in Japan, Wooden Katanas Are Even Better. Ever since Miyamoto Musashi defeated Sasaki Kojirou with a bokken, the wooden sword has become a symbol for the ultimate swordsman.

Sometimes they have the impossible cutting power of the steel versions, but usually these are more about the skill of the wielder than anything else. Sometimes it's actually because the wielder is a Technical Pacifist.

Bamboo shinai are also commonly used, and they are even lower impact because their construction allows for it to give more, and these often end up in the hands of younger characters.

This seems like an Improbable Weapon, but wood can still be dangerous if sharpened enough (just like a javelin can be dangerous, or an arrow or spear without a metal tip). But even if it isn't, getting hit with a bokken is about the equivalent of a baseball bat or axe handle, which means bones can be broken or worse, and shinai can cause concussions. Note how at least these days, those training with these weapons have to wear safety gear. In the right hands, a wooden sword is even capable of shattering a katana.

It should be noted that simply using one is not quite enough for this trope. The weapon has to stand up well. If it beats a steel weapon, it's definitely an example.

Can still be used in a Single-Stroke Battle.

Interestingly, Musashi didn't really cut Sasaki Kojiro with his bokken. According to Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa, he actually cracked his skull with it. And, to add the insult to injury, it wasn't even a proper bokken: because Musashi was partying hard before the duel he not only got late to the agreed place, but in his hangover he forgot his bokken and had to jury-rig a replacement from a boat's spare oar. Presumably, the incredible cutting power is due to a certain rule.

Technically, the word bokken for a wooden sword is a Western misnomer; the kun-yomi ken for "sword" appears only in the beginning of a compound word, and in the end of the word the kun-yomi is used. The correct reading is bokutó.


Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • Wooden Sword Ryu in Shaman King wields a wooden sword, and the trope is played with quite a bit: initially, he's just a punk with a sword, but he eventually becomes a shaman and demonstrates that he's not so weak after all.
  • When Thor is stuck as a human in Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok, Mjollnir disguises itself as a wooden sword.
  • Although it's a shinai made of bamboo, Utena uses one to win Anthy as the Rose Bride. Bonus points in that she didn't expect a duel with actual swords, and the trope itself is Double Subverted in that her shinai was cut to a stub almost immediately, but she won the match anyway.
  • Hinagiku in Hayate the Combat Butler has "The Wooden Masamune".
  • In Demon City Shinjuku, the hero Kyoya Izayoi wields a bokken that can cut through demons.
    • Only because Genichirou Izayoi, Kyoya's father, had been pouring tremendous amount of spiritual energy into the weapon before his death. Without that extra reserve of power Kyoya wouldn't have stood a chance against Rabi Ra or his demon minions.
  • Suzuka from Outlaw Star also has a wooden sword, which might as well be a lightsabre considering how she uses it to cut or block almost anything, including cutting a bus in half, standing in front of it, straight down the middle, causing it to separate and go past her, one half on each side. In this case the blade's just a conduit for her Ki Attacks, and she was able to take down several armed combatants by using her sword fighting moves while using an ordinary lead pipe. Basically, if Suzuka has it in her hands, she can use it to slice ANYTHING in half.
  • In Real Bout High School, Samurai Girl Ryoko Mitsurugi's skill with her wooden sword has to be seen to be believed. And that was before she figured out she could use Ki Attacks.
  • Tatewaki Kuno of Ranma ˝ can cut through stone walls with his bokken; one wonders why he even bothered to upgrade to an actual katana in his second-to-last appearance in the manga.
    • And that's only after training! In his first fight, he nearly decapitated Ranma.
  • Rurouni Kenshin
    • Kaoru manages a pretty impressive performance in the Kyoto Arc, and manages to beat Kamatari Honjo with the broken handle of her bokken. She refers herself as the assistant master of the Kamiya-Kasshin Style, the master is her father who's dead. Ignoring sexism against women's abilities in combat, that means that she is the master of an entire style of japanese swordfighting, and Word of God is that by real world standards she's actually quite powerful, but against freaks like Kenshin and Sannosuke she Can't Catch Up.
    • There's also her student Yahiko, who's fought his every battle (against airborne bombers, assassins, and a huge guy with a cannon-arm) with a shinai. And in both cases it's made very clear that Kaoru and Yahiko fight at a distinct disadvantage, and that they'd be much more powerful with real weapons. However, since they believe that swords are meant to protect instead of harm, their fighting spirit and skill bridge the difference. In the Kyoto Arc, Yahiko, a 12 year old kid had to fight by himself a flying guy who tossed explosives. It's even lampshaded in the manga: "When Kenshin was 12, he was still training, and Sano only had minor street fights at that age, but you have fought Henya and survived harder fights. You are the strongest 12 years old boy in the history". And he only have a stick to fight. In the spinoff one-shot Yahiko no Sakabato, Yahiko has inherited the titular sakabato (reverse-bladed sword, Kenshin's signature weapon), but he doesn't even draw it until the last few pages. Instead, he's taken so many levels in badass during the timeskip that he can beat up two goons wielding real swords with a bamboo practice sword, all without breaking a sweat.
  • It's amazing what Gintoki from Gintama can do with Lake Touya, his curry-scented, totally replaceable wooden sword (made from the wood of a 10,000 year old diamond tree, albeit) that he purchased off of an infomercial.
    • Likewise, Shinpachi once defeated an enemy wielding a beam saber.
  • Since it focuses on kendo clubs, shinai are the primary weapons of choice for the cast of Bamboo Blade.
  • Katsuhito (or Yosho) tends to use these in the various Tenchi Muyo! franchises. He keeps these on hand more often than steel swords or Laserblades that wander around. And on occasion he's been shown slicing mecha open. (On another, in the manga, after chopping up a futuristic fighting robot, his sword falls apart in pieces.)
  • Bontenmaru of Samurai Deeper Kyo wields a wooden sword, which confuses Yuya, until the guys in the party explains that it makes him even stronger—he has to work so hard to turn his blade against metal ones that he's easily one of the most skilled of the group.
  • Asu no Yoichi!, based around a martial art style using a wooden sword. The title character and the eldest two of the main family use wooden swords, and the eldest is a teacher, and has the youngest as one of her students
  • Kunieda Aoi from Beelzebub uses a bokken that can cut through anything. One of the other characters even mentioned her sword style as being deadlier than using a real sword.
    • They take this trope to another level when Aoi fights a fellow wooden katana user: she manages to slice his sword using a ruler.
  • Played in an episode of Lupin III. When Goemon's katana is stolen and used to attack the protagonists (held by a rocket robot, no less), Goemon confidently bring a simple bokken to the fight. As he is probably the best sword fighter in the world, his immediate defeat is almost shocking.
  • Mina Hazuki, from Darker Than Black, has the ability to turn objects into energy weapons, which can cut through most materials with ease. Her preferred weapon is a bokken which she transforms into something that looks like a Laser Sword katana.
  • Kamen no Maid Guy nicely averts this trope. Kogarashi's training of Naeka has her power and skill increasing so that she senses and slices a leaf in half as it comes down a waterfall. The peak of her training is when she goes to slice a log in half lengthwise with a bamboo shinai (kendo sword) and suddenly realizes it's impossible, instead taking a log to the face. Kogarashi rewards her insight.
  • In Sky Girls, Otoha takes down a purse-thief with her wooden sword. She didn't know the thief was armed with a switchblade. Karen helped out by clumsily lobbing her bag at the crook, stunning him and allowing Otoha to deliver a nice thwack.
  • Taiga Aisaka, from Tora Dora, is sometimes seen wielding something similar to a wooden katana. She doesn't actually use it much over the course of the anime, though. She's much more effective with her fists.
  • Used in Holyland by Taka the kendoka.
  • Busujima Saeko from High School Of The Dead uses one for most of the series. She even kills Ishii Kazu with one hit after he is bitten protecting Marikawa Shizuka.
  • A rather large variant is the preferred weapon of Hazumi Jinno in Bakuen Campus Guardress
  • Subverted in Kaiketsu Zorro (the anime adaptation of Zorro): one episode had amped up the threat to Zorro due the danger of a villain getting his hands on a katana, but, due a mishap, it was actually a wooden replica, quickly cut by Zorro's sword when he was forced to block.
  • Chapter 45 of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Vivid had Micaiah provoking Sieg's Super-Powered Evil Side by attacking her with apparent Killing Intent while using a normal bokken. While it snapped like a twig against Sieg's instinctual Counter Attack, it turned out that it had still managed to slip past her defenses and inflict a clean Diagonal Cut on the Modesty Towel she was wearing.
  • Uzu Sanegeyama of Kill la Kill actually subverts this. His primary weapon is a Shinai and is definitely capable of kicking ass with it, even beating Ryuko rather handily after he sewed his eyes shut. His weapon however is still inferior to the ones used by Ryuko or Satsuki though as theirs can sever life fibers completely without them regenerating.

Card Games
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!!:
    • There's a card called Broken Bamboo Sword, which does nothing when equip to a monster. But, when you upgrade it with another card, it becomes a "Soul Devouring Bamboo Sword", which kicks ass.
    • The Golden Bamboo Sword, which lets you draw two cards if you have the Broken Bamboo Sword.

Comic Books
  • In the Chris Claremont/Frank Miller's Wolverine miniseries, Mariko's father regards Logan with such contempt that he refuses to use a metal sword to beat him into submission. Note that this was the very first such major solo for Wolverine, so when the sword cut him through his torso, it challenged even his healing factor, which wouldn't happen these days.
  • Then-Jedi and eventual Sith Lord Exar Kun fought a duel against his master who was using a wooden cane. He needed two lightsabers to finally beat the guy. Lightsabers can cut through metal armor.
    • At least a partial subversion, in that the cane was merely a material focus, and the master was using the Force to empower it.

Film
  • The Twilight Samurai The Unasaka clan has strictly forbidden dueling, so when Iguchi Seibei accepts a challenge from Kouda, his friend's abusive, alcoholic ex-husband, he brings a short bokuto to a katana fight. Kouda feels he's being mocked, and is properly furious. Seibei defeats Kouda easily, and hopes that he'll be embarrassed enough not to tell anyone about the duel.
  • Subverted in Kobayashi Masaki's Seppuku. Wooden katanas are better, EXCEPT when you're trying to commit seppuku with a bamboo sword.
  • Averted in Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi. The film features a ronin who beats up a bunch of samurai in wooden sword sparring session. If you watch closely, however, you can see that he "cheats" by constantly grabbing onto his and his opponents' swords, a tactic that would get his fingers cut off in a real fight. Thus, he's only an expert at play fighting. While pummeling a defeated samurai, the ronin lampshades this by saying that real warriors use real swords. When a humiliated samurai returns to regain his honor, the ronin has become too sick to fight, so the samurai merely chops the ronin's wooden sword in half with his katana.
  • Subverted in Moonraker, in which James Bond and the Dragon engage in a fight in Venice that eventually leads them into a glass shop (which Bond had toured earlier looking for his contact). Initially, his opponent (an apparent master of Kendo) had the advantage with the Shinai, until Bond picked up a glass-handled Rapier and sliced it in half. This wasn't what won the battle, though, as he soon lost the weapon himself.

Literature
  • In the Night World series, vampire hunter Rashel uses a wooden sword specifically referred to as a bokken. Justified, as she is hunting vampires. It is also mentioned to cut through vampires like razor-sharp steel through a human, on at least one occasion.
  • The villain in Eric Lustbader's The Ninja.
  • Eventually averted by Syrio Forel from A Song of Ice and Fire. In a suicidal last stand, Syrio quickly kills five lightly armored guardsmen with a wooden sparring rapier. When he faces an armored knight, however, his blows have no effect, and his wooden sword gets chopped in half.
  • Fighters in the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson tend to use wooden dueling canes in lieu of metal swords because the magic users in the setting can manipulate metal. Having metal on you just makes you more vulnerable to ass-kicking.

Professional Wrestling
  • Shinai (aka "kendo sticks" or "Singapore canes") are a popular weapon in Professional Wrestling. On the wrestling weapon power scale, they seem to be one step below Triple H's sledgehammer.

Video Games
  • In Tales of Symphonia, Dual Wielding wooden katanas are Lloyd Irving's starting weapons, and if you advance to a certain point of the game without unequipping them, you'll get a special title for Lloyd.
  • Averted in Kingdom Hearts: when Sora loses his Keyblade, he's left with a wooden sword that leaves him weak to the point where defeating even the previously non-threatening weakest of enemies becomes a long, drawn-out chore. Luckily, he has the Beast on his side who takes down most baddies without a backward glance, relegating Sora to keeping him alive above all else or else you're totally screwed. (Although your magic still works pretty well, albeit without the bonuses your keyblade would give to it. Gravity in particular works quite well.)
    • Played fairly straight in Kingdom Hearts 358 Over 2 Days. At one point Roxas lets Xion "borrow" his keyblade. He then uses a stick as his weapon for awhile, but it isn't noticeably weaker than the keyblade.
  • Mushashi is a playable character in the Samurai Warriors and Warriors Orochi series from Koei. His ultimate weapon in those games is, unsurprisingly, a wooden katana. (Along with a smaller wakizashi because dual-wielding is cool note ).
    • In the first Samurai Warriors game, Date Masamune also battles with a pair of bokken. In later editions, though, he wields a cutlass and a pair of handguns.
  • In the Soul Calibur series, a bokken is Mitsurugi's joke weapon in 3, and a shinnai in 4. They make a delightful plok sound, yet are still perfectly capable of impaling someone to the hilt. Nightmare or Sigfried sometimes have an actual (uncarved) galley oar, both of these are explicit references to the original Miyamoto Musashi.
  • In many of The Legend of Zelda games you start with a wooden sword, which you aren't ever required to exchange for a real one (you get a better sword by doing a sidequest). This makes Link one of the best warriors ever since he can potentially face off against some of Ganon's best lackeys using a piece of wood.
    • However, the wooden sword is always the weakest sword in the game.
      • The wooden stick glitch, though technically not a sword, is the most powerful melee weapon Link can use.
  • In Chrono Trigger, with enough levelling (and a time machine), it is possible to beat Lavos with just Chrono using a simple wooden sword.
    • With even more levelling and said time machine, it is possible to beat Lavos with Chrono using a mop.
  • The elven weapons in Nethack are wooden, but are as effective as steel weapons. Plus they don't rust.
  • Ninja Gaiden (Xbox) gives Ryu a wooden katana that can withstand any attack his steel Dragon Sword can. Something of a subversion though as while it is one of the strongest weapons in the game it doesn't become that way until fully upgraded, stops looking like a katana, and is renamed "Unlabored Flawlessness".
  • Double subverted in Persona 4, where a bamboo shinai you can obtain near the end of the game is extremely weak...but since equipping it gives the whole party a +50% XP bonus and you do most of your fighting with spells at that point, most players will use it exclusively from then on.
  • Dwarf Fortress plays with the trope a bit. Wooden training weapons do bludgeoning damage instead of slashing or piercing, but armour in DF isn't great at protecting the wearer from blunt-force trauma and the new version goes to a lot of trouble to avert Elemental Crafting, so a really well-crafted wooden training sword could well beat a poorly-made iron or copper shortsword in some circumstances. The sharpened wooden swords wielded by the elves remain rather feeble, however.
    • A lot of the danger depends on the density of the wood, which goes from .1 (featherwood) to 1.25 (blood thorn) grams per centimeter.
  • While his sword isn't a katana (instead settling for a BFS), Susano from Ōkami can qualify during his Crowning Moment Of Awesome where he declines help from the player (who was helping from behind the scenes, without his knowlege) and bisects the boss under his own power.
  • Amano from The Last Blade uses a seemingly simple wooden stick to bash and whack about his opponents. It also conceals a sword which he only uses in exceptional circumstances.
  • The Sniper in Team Fortress 2 has the Tribalman's Shiv as an unlockable melee weapon, which, while not being a katana and dealing only half the damage of his standard weapon, causes a nasty blood loss effect.
  • Properly upgraded and with its moves learned, wooden katana weaponry in Way of the Samurai are this. A notable example would be the impossibly hard-to-get Reikon-Kudaki from the second game, which differs from a regular wooden Bokuto by its wrapped grip, and its (un)naturally high defense at the expense of extremely low offense. And what all of them shares is that, barring using the Blunt mode at the third game, every one of them kills an enemy just as easily as a sharp katana does.
  • As his name might imply, Kendo Man from the fourth game of the Mega Man Battle Network series uses a shinai as his weapon of choice, and it hurts just as much as most of the actual swords do. Justified, however, as the games take place inside computers, and swords don't do damage by cutting, they do damage simply because they're programmed to, making his weapon no different from any other melee weapon.
  • Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance has an unlockable wooden sword that initially deals as much damage as a fully-upgraded default blade and has a chance to knock-out enemies, resulting in a higher "no kills" rating.
  • In World of Warcraft, you can transmog a Training Sword for any two-handed weapons to fit this trope.

Visual Novels
  • Fate/stay night:
    • Another Taiga likes this trick at well, being the sensei of a kendo dojo. It's said that in terms of stylistic skill, this Taiga is actually very good. However, she's a goofball and has zero magical ability so no super powers, sorry.
    • Shirou, from the same series, uses a bokken or a shinai near the beginning of some routes (before upgrading to projected weaponry, generally the scimitars Kanshou and Bakuya) with the added justification of Strengthening Magic.
    • Tetsuro from Fate Nuovo Guerra ups the ante by Dual Wielding them.

Webcomics
  • The Cardboard Tube Samurai takes it even further. (Note that in Fate/stay night, Emiya Shiro also fights with a tube using Reinforcement. It is unlikely that the comic is a reference, though.)
  • Dellyn in Goblins has a body that's partially made of magical wood, and can quickly grow wooden weapons out of it to defend himself. When he gets into a tavern brawl with another adventurer, his wooden sword is able to sunder the metal sword of his opponent, to the opponent's complete disbelief.

Web Original
  • We Are Our Avatars: Played With. Zeke's clearly not happy with his weapon of choice, but tradition didn't allow him another option. He's trained well enough with them that they're basically this trope, though. It also helps that they're unbreakable, although that's not a unique trait; through means kept secret, every Feccian Bladesman's weapon is rendered indestructible.

Western Animation
  • Samurai Jack had an episode where Jack faces a poser named Da Samurai who challenges him into a duel. Jack insists they battle with bamboo sticks instead of blades. The wannabe takes a beating and draws his real sword, which Jack defeats with the same bamboo stick.
  • Averted in the Adventure Time episode Mystery Train where the train conductor who "murdered" everyone had a wooden sword and it was able to stand up to Finn's sword without breaking in a sword fight.

Real Life
  • Musashi himself is an example of how potentially deadly a bokken can be, tales of his exploits often indicate that he has employed wooden swords to lethal effect. The most famous example of this is his use of a bokken against his rival, Sasaki Kojirou, in their fight on Ganryuu island that he carved from a spare oar on the boat he rode in on the way over. This is an example of tactical brilliance as Musashi deliberately carved his weapon to be slightly longer than Kojirou's infamous "drying pole" (Sasaki was usually using a nodachi — a sword that was considerably longer than the average katana) in order to overcome Kojirou's reach advantage.
  • Dave Lowry's book Bokken says "Historical tales of swordslingers and their art, called kenshi kodan, are full of examples of master kenshi who met opponents armed with live, steel weapons with nothing but a bokken in their hands." He then explains why this worked.
  • The British martial art Singlestick is this same philosophy applied to sabres.
  • Some wooden katanas have an advantage in being lighter than most other weapons. This allows the user to move quicker and strike faster/more strategic. However, there are different types and sizes of bokkens, optimized for different training styles and techniques, and only some of them are lighter than the real swords. Because they're made from a hard, dense woods like oak and are much thicker that metal swords, they can sometimes weigh up to twice more than the real sword.
  • Shinai were developed because bokken were far too deadly for training and demonstration of skill. A serious downgrade in lethality, the shinai can still inflict some incredibly stunning pain.
    • Not to mention the various horror stories about incorrectly bound shinai smashing into their component sticks and making their way through the horizontal faceguards of kendo helmets. Ouch.
  • In an inversion, Roman legionnaires trained with wooden swords thrice the weight of their Gladii, making non-wooden Gladii even better.
    • This is a common training method in swordsmanship worldwide. Learning to wield significantly heavier versions of the weapon you're being trained in means that real fights will be easier than training, because all your extra strength will be used to actually deal damage, rather than simply hold your weapon up.


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alternative title(s): Wooden Katanas Are Just Better
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