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  • Bogu Buying FAQ

    This FAQ is presented as a guideline for purchasing bogu. The main target is beginners who are buying their first set. If you have any comments on this FAQ, please contribute to the comment thread, which may be found here.

    This is part one of four, covering the nuts and bolts of ordering online.

    1. What are some online suppliers for bogu?

    The following are suppliers various people on the kendo world forums have used and recommended:

    Australia & New Zealand:
    Online Kendo
    Zen Sankei

    Chiba Bogu
    Eiko Budogu
    Kendo Shop
    Miyako Kendogu (Tozando)
    Mori Budogu
    Sehyun Kumdo

    Emai Shop
    Euro Bogu (Koei)
    Kendo 24
    Nine Circles
    Shin Shim

    North America:
    Aoi Budogu
    Bogu-bag (Koei)
    Mugendo Budogu

    South America:
    Online Kendo Argentina

    2. That's a long list. Which should I use?

    You should ideally use the same supplier that your sensei or other dojo members recommend. Having a good relationship with a supplier you can trust goes a long way towards making people comfortable with their equipment choices.

    3. What are the dogi sizes? How do I measure for hakama and keikogi size?

    Hakama and keikogi usually go by height. Your supplier should have a chart indicating which height corresponds to size.

    Hakama come in sizes from 16 to 30, where a 27 fits someone about 6 feet tall. This can vary depending on supplier, so check the chart if you switch suppliers. Each size difference is about 4 cm in length. My experience is that if your height is on the boundary of the published ranges, go down rather than up. If you have an unusually long or short inseam, you may need to go up or down a size. However it is wisest to ask your supplier if you are unsure.

    Keikogi marketed outside of Japan typically come in sizes 0-5, where a 5 fits someone about 6 feet tall. If you are bigger than that, sometimes they are available in larger sizes. Some companies will offer custom sizes for a reasonable surcharge (typically around 20%). Higher quality keikogi come in sizes S, M, L, LL and sometimes LLL, where LLL is usually the same as a 5. Sometimes those sizes are written in Japanese characters Sometimes there are half-sizes, sometimes there are long sizes. To find your size, check the chart. Go up one size if you are much heavier than average. You may have to hem the arms or the tails, but it will fit better around the chest.

    4. What are the bogu sizes? How do I measure for bogu?

    Bogu usually are not sold in sizes, but rather you provide the measurements and the supplier picks the right sized pieces for you. Most machine-stitched sets and even some hand-stitched sets come in stock sizes. There are typically 4 or 5 different kote and men sizes, and 3 different doh sizes although of course it varies from one manufacturer to another. Semi-custom sets involve adjusting the padding internal to a stock sized men to fit you better, everything else is from stock sizes. Full custom sets are made to order in your size and available in the higher end machine-stitched and hand-stitched sets.

    Most good supplier websites will show you how to measure, and most every supplier needs the same measurements. For men, you will need the hatimaki and hokkaburi measurements, which are respectively circumference around your forehead and circumference from the bottom of chin to the top of your head. For doh, you need the measurement across the opening of your doh which is waist width (not circumference) plus a little more. Most people add a couple of fingers width, but some prefer bigger. For kote, you need the circumference around the biggest part of your palm not including thumb, plus the length from wrist to fingertip. You will also need to supply height, waist and weight. Some suppliers request a tracing of your hand.

    5. How do I pay for this stuff?

    This varies from supplier to supplier. Many companies accept credit cards. You can also do a wire transfer of funds, or send a money order. Be aware that wire transfer fees are typically in the order of $30-$40, so for small orders they don't make sense.

    6. How does it ship? Where does it come from? How long does it take?

    If you are ordering shinai or bokken, you will be required to use some sort of courier service such as DHL, UPS or EMS as normal mail doesn't accept long packages. If you are just ordering bogu, you can also ship normal mail. The cheapest when ordering from Japan or Korea is surface mail, also known as sea-mail.

    Some suppliers maintain an in-house stock and ship direct to you. Some maintain no stock, and act as a broker between you and the manufacturer in Japan or Korea in which case the shipment is direct to you from the manufacturer. Some do a combination, only maintaining stock for cheaper, more popular items like shinai.

    Of course if you are buying from a supplier in your own country, it will arrive in the same time as anything else you might order. If it is coming from overseas and you use one of the courier services, it should take less than a week to arrive unless it is held up in customs. If it is sent by sea-mail it will take at least one month and sometimes two.

    These timeframes are all from when the product is shipped. It can take some time to fill your order. If you order custom or semi-custom, it can take 3 months or more for your bogu to be manufactured. Even ordering stock sizes, it is typical to take a month to fill the order. If you are ordering from Japan during their busy season in April when they are supplying school equipment, expect additional delay.

    7. I'm confused by all the terms. What do I need to know?

    Men - the helmet
    Doh - the chest protector
    Tare - the waist protector
    Kote - the gauntlets
    Mengane - the metal mask part of the helmet
    Mune - the top part of the doh made of leather or equivalent
    Doh-dai - the hard shell part of the doh made of bamboo or fibre
    Take - an individual bamboo stave in the doh-dai or in a shinai
    Futon - the padding over head, wrists and waists, consisting of felt bound by cotton and sewed together
    Himo - the strings used to attach bogu, also the straps used to tie hakama
    Machine-stitched - when the futon is sewed by machine, resulting in long rows of stitches
    Hand-stitched - when the futon is sewed by hand, resulting in little square stitches
    Tezashi - hand-stitched
    Shoaizome - natural indigo dye
    Hakama - the divided skirt worn as part of the kendo uniform
    Tetron - an artificial material used to make hakama
    Keikogi - the heavy cotton tunic worn as part of the uniform
    Kendogi - same as keikogi
    Uwagi - generic for top of any uniform, kendo, judo, karate etc
    Shinai - split bamboo sword used by kendoka
    Last edited by Neil Gendzwill; 4th February 2010, 11:21 PM. Reason: Fix links

  • #2
    Part Two

    This is part two of four, covering just the basics of what a beginner needs to know to order a set. For the reasoning behind these short answers, see parts three and four.

    8. What should I budget for a beginner bogu set? I found something a lot cheaper, why should I spend so much?

    The low end for decent quality bogu is around $US400, and you probably shouldn't spend any more than $US1000.

    In the end, you get what you pay for. It's difficult to compare apples and apples when shopping mail order, or even if you see the goods in person. Quality shows up in the use and over the long haul, which is why having a supplier you can trust is important. In the end bogu is protective equipment for your own physical safety, so really think about whether or not you want to skimp on protective gear.

    9. Should I get a very expensive set of bogu as a beginner, because more money means more protection?

    Not necessarily. Some more expensive bogu protect better, some are lighter and thinner for competition. So long as you buy an adequate set, you will be fine and in a few years you will have a better idea of what you want in the high end. I hope you will be practising in a few years and upgrade, but if you are in the majority and are not, at least you won't have spent a lot. However, if you have the money and really want it, go for it.

    10. What does the "mm" measurement mean? What's a "bu"?

    In machine-stitched bogu, the distance between rows of stitches is given in mm. In hand-stitched bogu, the stitch width is given in bu, an old Japanese measurement that is about 3 mm.

    11. What width should I get for a first set?

    You should get a machine-stitched set of between 5 to 3 mm. Be suspicious of low stitch widths in inexpensive gear, the quality low end sets are usually 5 mm.

    12. What palm material should I get on my kote?

    If possible, choose clarino or deerskin palms. It's not the end of the world if you end up with cowhide, but you'll be happier with either of the other two.

    13. Should I get a fancy colour on my doh? How about a kamon?

    I'd advise against any colour other than black, or a kamon unless you are Japanese. Pick whatever stitching pattern suits your fancy for the mune.

    14. What sort of hakama and keikogi should I get?

    Most beginners are happy with a tetron hakama and a single-layer cotton keikogi. The vast majority of people choose blue for both pieces. You shouldn't need to spend more than about $US100.
    Last edited by Neil Gendzwill; 13th October 2006, 05:08 AM.


    • #3
      Part Three

      This is part three of four, covering more detail about bogu.

      15. How much does bogu cost?

      As stated before, the low end for decent quality bogu is around $US400. The high end can be very high, it's not so hard to build yourself up a $20,000 fantasy set from the catalogs. However, the point of diminishing returns for functionality starts at around $3000. Many people spend between $1000 and $2000 for a good set, but you don't need to spend that much especially if it is a first set.

      16. What am I paying for as it gets more expensive?

      A lot of what you pay for is hard to see. Overall quality of materials improves up the line, as well as craftsmanship. Here are a few of the things that vary:

      - stitch width (see question 17)
      - type/quality of felt used inside the futon
      - type/quality of padding used inside the kote
      - quality of cotton used to bind the futon
      - quality of indigo dye used on the cotton and leather
      - variable thickness padding in the men and kote futon vs same thickness
      - varying stitch width for machine-stitched bogu, tighter where needed
      - style of stitching if hand-stitched (nagazashi is best, other styles are shortcuts)
      - shape of needles if hand-stitched (round is better, triangular damages fabric)
      - trim/reinforcement material: clarino, cowskin, deerhide in various grades
      - type of mengane (duraluminum, titanium, IBB)
      - type/quality of lacquer used to finish the men and doh (artificial or traditional)
      - type of doh (plastic, fibre, bamboo)
      - number of take (staves) in the doh if bamboo
      - finish on the doh: even in plain black there are different qualities
      - type/quality of leather for mune (top of doh), cheap one is artificial
      - stock sizing vs custom sizing

      17. What difference does the stitch width make, anyways?

      For machine-stitched bogu, stitch width has become shorthand for the quality of a set of bogu and many people only look at this number but that is over-simplifying. Within the same product line from the same manufacturer, a lower stitch width indicates a better set. However as the quality of materials is also going up, it's hard to say how much the stitch width adds to the cost. All other things being equal, a tighter stitch width means the padding will be stiffer and stronger. However some manufacturers believe that a wider stitch width is better, allowing the padding to absorb shock better and be more comfortable. In that case, quality of materials and construction makes the difference.

      For hand-stitched bogu, again stitch width means the padding will be stiffer and stronger. However, usually the quality of materials will be the same within the same product line and same manufacturer, and the stitch width drives the price. Smaller stitches makes a much bigger difference in price for hand-stitched bogu compared to machine-stitched bogu.

      18. What width should I get?

      Machine stitch widths greater than 5 mm are usually not recommended for adults. Most people would be best off with a 3 or 4 mm width. The $400 low end is usually a 5 mm width. The exception would be Chiba Bogu's "mine" bogu, which uses a 6 mm width but is both expensive and a good choice for adults. Some bogu manufacturers offer 2 mm or 2.5 mm stitching, but this is entering into diminishing returns and many feel make the bogu too hard and stiff. Mostly the 2 mm sets are marketed to people who believe that tighter is always better.

      Most people opt for 1.2 or 1.5 bu when buying hand-stitched sets. But if you are buying tezashi bogu, you shouldn't be needing to read this FAQ.

      19. This 3 mm bogu is cheaper than that one. Why should I pay more?

      You can't compare sets just by stitch width alone. A 5 mm set from one manufacturer can be better than a 3 mm set from another. If the price looks too good to be true, it probably is. You gets what you pays for.

      20. Why are hand-stitched sets better than machine-stitched sets?

      They aren't necessarily. Cheaply made hand-stitched sets are poor choices. However, a good one breaks in more quickly and protects better than a machine-stitched set. This is due to the way the material is stitched.

      21. This hand-stitched set is cheaper than that machine-stitched one. What gives?

      Cheap hand-stitched sets have recently become available. In order to make the price attractive, corners are cut. This way people can have the prestige of hand-stitching without the price. However, the sets don't hold up and protect like they should due to cheap materials and construction shortcuts. Buying a cheap hand-stitched set is a waste of money - you are better off to put the money into a good machine-stitched set.

      22. Should I get a titanium men-gane? Are they lighter? What's IBB?

      Actually, titanium men-gane are about 100 g heavier than duraluminum ones. But they are much stronger, so for hard practice where collision is possible, titanium is better. Most recreational users are better off with the lighter and cheaper duraluminum.

      IBB stands for Ideal Best Balance, a specific brand of titanium mengane that is weighted towards the back. It is even heavier than a normal one, but feels better due to the balance.

      23. What's the difference between clarino, cowhide and deerskin?

      They are different materials used for the kote and for trim pieces. In a beginners set, the trim material is not so important but you should pay attention to the palms of the kote.

      The most common palm material in cheap kote is cowhide. Cowhide palms tend to get progressively stiffer with use (they loosen up after you sweat into them a bit or wet them down), which eventually causes them to tear. The only advantage to cowhide is cost. Expect to repalm or replace kote with cowskin palms in about 2 years of recreational use.

      Tanned deerskin is superior to cowhide in that it tends to remain pliable after repeated soakings in sweat. A good set of deerskin kote can last 5 years or more of recreational use.

      Clarino is artificial leather. Like cowhide, it gets stiff with sweat but it can be washed and becomes pliable again. Some people regard this artificial material with suspicion but several KWF members report that they like their clarino palms very much, and they are also cheap.

      24. What are kera? What are namako?

      Kera are the puffy stitched tubes running crosswise at the joint between the wrist and hand in kote. Namako is another name for the same thing. Kote can be either single kera or double kera. Double kera are supposed to be more flexible and offer better protection. Mostly they just look nicer.

      25. What should I look for in a tare? What do the number of bars mean?

      A cheap tare serves as well as an expensive one. Tare serve a function but if you are going to cut corners, a tare is where to do it. They are expensive because there is so much futon. The number of bars is purely decorative, some manufacturers make tare with a lot of bars to indicate a high-quality bogu.

      26. What's a "fibre-doh"?

      A fibre-doh is one that's made of a kind of compressed paper fibre, commonly mistaken for fibreglass. It's the normal construction for inexpensive adult doh. Cheap kids' doh are plastic and not suitable for adults, but the fibre-doh works fine, especially if you get the "bamboo-look" variety, which add some stiffness.

      27. Should I get a bamboo doh? What's the difference between 43, 50, 60, etc take?

      Bamboo doh offer more protection than fibre-doh but frankly not enough to warrant the extra price. You are better off putting the money into men or kote. Sooner or later in your kendo career you will want one though, simply because everyone loves having a nice doh.

      The number of take, like stitch width, goes up with price. More take allow the manufacturer to get a nicer bend to the doh. If you are bigger around the middle, more take are required - some manufacturers offer 64 take doh for those with exceptional hara.

      28. Can I get a fancy doh colour?

      This has been the subject of great debate. The conventional wisdom is that "the nail that sticks up gets hammered down", so beginners are best advised to get a black doh and blend in with the crowd. Many people in the west think this is nonsense and say to go ahead and get whatever colour suits your fancy. However just because you think it's nonsense doesn't change the thinking of the traditionalists. If you pick a colour other than black, you will get noticed and some sensei will care and others won't. Your call.

      28a. What about a kamon? Can I use a coat of arms instead?

      A kamon is a Japanese family crest, often worn as decoration on the doh. You can wear one if your family is Japanese or if your sensei has granted permission to wear his. Anyone else is just being pretentious. Anything other than a kamon is just silly.

      29. What about a white bogu?

      White bogu, usually with red doh, are sometimes worn by women. Feel free to get a white bogu if you are female and it's OK with your sensei. You should be aware of some problems with white bogu. They are hard to keep clean, and best worn with white keikogi/hakama for that reason. Also most of the more serious women wear blue because better quality sets usually aren't available in white.

      30. Do I have to buy a complete matching set?

      Some suppliers offer only sets. But many of the better ones allow you to mix and match from different sets. If you are on a budget, this is a fine way to build a functional set. Choose the best kote and men you can afford, and then buy a tare and doh with whatever is left over. You can always upgrade later.

      Another approach if you are using club bogu is to buy your own in pieces, swapping for the club gear as you go. Many people buy a pair of kote first.
      Last edited by Neil Gendzwill; 19th May 2008, 04:42 AM.


      • #4
        Part Four

        This is part four of four, covering the uniform and fit issues.

        31. What's tetron? Should I buy a cotton hakama? What does 7000, 10000 etc men?

        Tetron is a polyester blend commonly used to make hakama. Cotton hakama are more comfortable and look nicer than tetron hakama, but tetron are very easy to care for. Tetron requires no ironing and so long as you hang it up at home, you needn't even fold it all that carefully. Tetron can be machine washed without losing pleats. Cotton hakama must be carefully folded, hand-washed (or machine delicate) and ironed. They are a pain to take care of. Most beginners buy tetron to start and after a while buy cotton.

        7000 and 10000 indicate the thread density of the hakama, similar to thread count in sheets. The higher number means a heavier weight.

        32. What are singleweight and doubleweight keikogi? What is shoaizome?

        A singleweight keikogi has one layer of fabric. A double-weight has an exterior and interior layer. Usually the interior layer is dyed differently and doesn't rub off so much. A double-weight keikogi protects better and looks nicer, but is correspondingly heavier and hotter.

        Shoaizome is the traditional indigo dye used in keikogi and hakama. It is usually applied in great quantities and rubs off on your skin, turning you blue. You can help set the dye by washing in cold water with a few handfuls of tablesalt or a few cupfuls of vinegar. Some people feel this doesn't help much, but you'll at least feel like you're doing something to avoid looking like a smurf after practice.

        33. Why shouldn't I just get an artificially died keikogi?

        Artificially dyed keikogi are available from most suppliers. The natural indigo dye looks nicer and wears well like a good pair of jeans. The artificial dyes look, well, artificial. However if you prefer to avoid smurfdom, artificial dye may be for you.

        34. What's the difference between a keikogi and a judo, karate or iaido uwagi? Can't I use the one I already have?

        Kendo keikogi are longer than judo or karate uwagi and have a vent in the back rather than the sides. If you use judo or karate uwagi, your bare legs will show through the sides of your hakama. A karate uwagi is too light and won't protect. A judo uwagi is cut much fuller and with a heavier collar and is not very comfortable under hakama. The sleeves on a keikogi are 3/4 length so that they do not interfere with kote. A iaido uwagi is the right cut, but the material is quite light and will not protect as well as a keikogi.

        35. What colours are available for uniforms?

        The hakama may be blue, black or white. The keikogi may be blue, white, shiro musashi (white with pattern) or kon musashi (blue with pattern). The only combination not used is a blue or kon musashi keikogi with white hakama.

        However, you should check with your dojo. All white is generally for children or women. Shiro or kon musashi is almost always for kids. Some dojo require that beginners wear white keikogi and only yudansha may wear blue. Some require that all wear the same colour. The vast majority of people pick all blue.

        36. My dogi has arrived! How do I know it fits?

        Your keikogi should not bind you in the shoulders and the sleeves should be no shorter than 3/4 length. If they are longer, they can be hemmed so long as the rest of the keikogi fits OK. Check that you can do up the tie(s). If it is long enough but too loose, you can live with it or go one size down in the "long" version if available. If too tight, you can go up a size or consider moving the ties if you have enough coverage.

        Try on the hakama with the koshiita (hard trapezoidal panel) in the small of your back. The hemline of the hakama should be about ankle height when worn at the proper height - you can adjust the hakama up or down a little at the waist. The front himo should be long enough to tie properly ie bring to the back, wrap to the front, then back again and tie. Similarly the back himo should be long enough to bring forward and tie. The keikogi should be long enough that no leg is exposed through the sides of the hakama. If too short, exchange for another size. If too long, exchange or consider hemming especially for a growing child. Cotton hakama typically shrink about 2 cm after washing so keep that in mind - they should fit a little long out of the package.

        37. My bogu has arrived! How do I know it fits?

        Try on your men by putting your chin in the cup and then rotating the men onto your head. Your forehead should be against the forehead pad while your chin is in the cup. The fit should be loose enough that you can talk, but still snug. Very snug is good so long as your jaw is not forced together - it will stretch with use. The men-buton should cover the whole top of your head. Two of the bars of the men gane have a slightly wider spacing, this is called the monami. When your men is on, you should be looking out between those two bars.

        Try on your tare. The himo should be long enough to tie properly, ie bring around the back and then forward again to tie. Put your doh on over your tare and tie it while sitting seiza so that the bottom of the doh lines up with the joint between the belt of the tare and the flaps. Stand up and make sure the doh moves freely over the tare - if you lift it up and drop it, does it settle down over the tare or get caught on the belt? Check the gap between the sides of the doh and the tare - it should not be more than a couple of fingers on either side.

        Try on your kote. Don't fiddle with the laces at this point, get your sensei to show you how to adjust them correctly. Check that the joint between the barrel of the kote and the hand part is at your wrist. Your fingers should not be squished together. If you grasp a shinai with the kote on, the tips of your fingers should not be pushing at the ends of the kote. If you force your hand open and the fingers hit the ends, but they don't when holding a shinai, that's a good fit. A little snug is OK, they will stretch, but not too snug. They will feel stiff and awkward at first.

        If any of your bogu is too small, exchange it for the next size up. For doh, if you already have the largest size, your best solution is probably to stretch it - ask your sensei to show you how. Another option is a custom-sized doh which are only available in bamboo and are expensive. It is easy to add material to the tare-himo if you are too big for stock sizes.

        If your bogu is too big, ask yourself if going down a size is likely to make it too small. Men typically come in 2 cm sizes (hokkaburi measurement). Adding a pad either at the chin or at top is a common solution to an in-between sizes problem. Kote or doh that are slightly too large are usually not a problem.
        Last edited by Neil Gendzwill; 13th October 2006, 02:51 AM.