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, especially if he is so skilled that he can make a wooden sword cut as well as a steel one. 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.
In Japanese, the term "bokuto" ("wood sword"), is more common and more specific to a single-edged sword. This word may also be read "bokuta" or "kigatana". The "ken" in "bokken" refers more generally to a blade, especially double-edged blades, (but, yes, this is the "ken" in "kendo").
- 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 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 demon because Genichirou Izayoi, Kyoya's father, had been pouring tremendous amount of spiritual energy into the weapon before his death.
- 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 Manipulation, 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. Suzuka claims this to be "a simple feat of strength", but nobody else in the series (even ones with Super Strength exceeding her own) shows the ability to make clean slices using dull objects.
- 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 Manipulation.
- Tatewaki Kuno of Ranma ½ can cut through stone walls with his bokken, an in his first fight, he nearly decapitated Ranma. One wonders why he even bothered to upgrade to an actual katana in his second-to-last appearance in the manga.
- 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.
- Samurai Harem: 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 Blade katana.
- Kamen no Maid Guy nicely twists 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
- 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.
- In Torako, Anmari Kowashicha Dame da yo, Suzume's most prized possession is a wooden sword she purchased with her savings. She talks it up a great deal, naming it the demon blade Muramasa, but neither it nor she have any special qualities. When she fights Torasawa, the battle consists solely of Suzume whacking her with her sword until she either gets too tired or the sword breaks. When the latter happens, Suzume starts bawling.
- 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.
- 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.
- Tales of the Jedi: 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.
- 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.
- In the opening of Royal Warriors, Michelle Yip (played by Michelle Yeoh), near a cultural parade in Tokyo, beats up a group of thugs (armed with real machetes) using a bokken she retrieved from the festival.
- 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.
- 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.
- In Thunderbolt Fantasy, Sho Fu Kan's sword turns out to be this. He just paints the sword silver and harnesses his energy to make the blade sharp in order to keep up appearances.
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim DLC Hearthfire adds wooden swords to the game world. You're supposed to give them to your adopted children as gifts, and they have the second-lowest weapon effectiveness in the game (after the fork), but they can still be improved at a grindstone (especially with smithing potions) and also given enchantments just like any other weapon. This allows a player gifted in smithing, enchanting and alchemy to create a legendary wooden sword with two powerful enchantments that vastly outclasses most other base-level weapons in the game.
- In Tales of Symphonia, Dual Wielding wooden katanas are Lloyd Irving's starting weapons, meaning they are the weakest weapons he can possibly equip (except for the Nebilim before unlocking its true power). If you don't unequip them until a certain point in the game (thus fulfilling the "more skilled wielder" version of the trope), you unlock a title for Lloyd.
- Musashi is a playable character in the Samurai Warriors and Warriors Orochi series from Koei. His starting weapon (in earlier games) is two wooden swords and his ultimate weapon is a large, wooden boat oar. (Along with a smaller jitte-like sword).
- 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 SoulCalibur 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 NetHack, elven weapons 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".
- In Persona 4, 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.
- 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.
- Yes, before you ask, from the third game onward, you can dual wield wooden swords. It is as lethal as it sounds, especially in 3 due to dual wield stance's moves being incredibly powerful and versatile.
- As his name might imply, KendoMan 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. Japan-exclusive DLC also adds a "Snake Soul" version which apparently has the soul of the now-deceased Solid Snake inhabiting it, causing it to randomly play Snake's voice clips from previous games with a swing.
- In World of Warcraft, you can transmogrify a Training Sword for any two-handed weapons to fit this trope. In terms of characters, there was the orc Broxigar Saurfang. After losing his axe, the demigod Cenarius gifted Broxigar with a wooden axe made of enchanted wood, stronger and sharper than steel. Broxigar would go down in history by using this axe to wound Sargeras, the Fallen Titan himself.
- You can purchase a bokuto from the Gold Saucer in Final Fantasy XIV. Whether it's "better" is zig-zagged; on the one hand, it's a level-1 weapon, with the appropriate low stats, and is incredibly weak when used on its own, especially considering the class it's used with starts at level 50 and the starting katana deals eight times as much damage. On the other, this is because it's not supposed to be used on its own; rather, you're meant to use a glamour prism to make a higher-level weapon look like it, at which point you can effortlessly cut down magitek monstrosities and demons from another dimension with it.
- Fate/Grand Order: Mandricardo tends to wield a wooden sword. Thanks to his Noble Phantasm, Serment de Durandal, anything he holds gets the strength and cutting power of the legendary sword Durandal, so his weapon inflicts serious damage. However, his weapons do not inherit Durandal's durability, so they tend to break and force him to get a replacement.
- 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 while her shinai is jokingly claimed to be a demonic blade, she has zero magical ability, so no super powers.
- 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. And even strengthened, his bokken quickly break due to Kuzuki's sheer martial arts skills.
- Tetsuro from Fate/Nuovo Guerra ups the ante by Dual Wielding them.
- The Penny Arcade Cardboard Tube Samurai takes it even further.
- 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.
- Tower of God: In a variant that amounts to about the same thing, when Master Swordsman Hatz loses his beloved katana, he starts fighting with a random hollow metal pipe. Of course, he reinforces it with Shinsu.
- 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.
- In the Adventure Time episode "Mystery Train", 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.
- In the Miraculous Ladybug episode "Oni-chan", an enraged Kagami manages to chop down a tree with a bokken. However, the bokken doesn't survive the experience either.
- Miyamoto Musashi himself is an example of how potentially deadly a bokken can be; tales of his exploits often indicate that he 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 usually used a nodachi a sword that was considerably longer than the average katana) in order to overcome Kojirou's reach advantage.
- The bokken he improvised would form the template of yet another sword-like training weapon with an oar-like blade known as a suburito, which is heavier and meant for kata practice.
- 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 strategically. However, there are different types and sizes of bokkens, optimized for different training styles and techniques, and some of them weighing almost as much as real swords.
- 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 the extra strength you've gained just to hold the training weapon up, much less swing it at a speed that it could hurt someone, will be used to actually deal damage with a real sword.
- Here is a demonstration of a Bokken cutting bamboo.
- Another demonstration on one slicing through a newspaper.