Ningu is a subsidiary company of Hoko Industries, a woodworking and manufacturing venture begun by Bujinkan 15th Dan Matt Keiser and Bujinkan student and woodworker Eric H. Larson. The name Ningu is derived from the characters for Nin (Shinobi) and Gu (tools); Ningu = ninja tools. Although our own martial arts training is rooted in the Bujinkan teachings of Soke Masaaki Hatsumi of Noda City, Japan, our functional tools are suitable for most Japanese traditional martial arts, including kobudo, kenjutsu, aikido, aikijutsu, jodo, bojutsu, et al. Our mutual love for woodworking and appreciation of fine-quality training tools led us to begin crafting our own models out of a home workshop, utilizing quality domestic and fair trade exotic hardwoods. Our goal in producing these training tools is to strike a balance between functionality and art, combining workmanship, attention to detail, and aesthetics with strength and versatility. Our hope is that customers will appreciate and utilize these tools to deepen their understanding and enjoyment of Budo.
About Wooden Tools
Throughout history, many cultures have held a particular reverence for wood due to the fact that it is derived from a once living entity. Some societies believe that harvested wood continues to hold the spirit or energy of its once living host, and that the process of gathering and working with wood should be accorded a certain reverence. Even man-made wooden tools may contain the energy of the person that worked them, or become imbued with that of the person that owns and uses them regularly. In some dojo, it may even be considered disrespectful to pick up or use the tool of another without first seeking permission. Whether or not you hold these personal beliefs, it is at least worth giving some consideration to the entire process involved in making these wooden tools, from selecting a living tree for harvesting, milling it, aging it, cutting it and shaping it into something useful or artistic.
Most of our training tools are based on the traditional models found in Japanese koryu dojo, particularly in the Bujinkan – bokken, tanto, hanbo, jo and the like. Although we also produce some exotic battlefield weapons or tools associated with specific ryu (e.g. kunai, kyoketsu shoge), our primarily focus is producing a selection of common tools for the serious budoka to supplement his or her training in unarmed taijutsu. If you have specific needs or wants, please do not hesitate to contact us and we will be happy to answer your questions. If we are not capable of producing a certain specialized tool, we may be able to point you in the direction of a craftsperson that can.
Types of Wood
We are fortunate to have a wide selection of domestic and exotic hardwoods available to us through local suppliers. Fair trade is important to us, and we make every effort to acquire materials from businesses that support this ideal. Some species of wood are more suitable to functioning tools that can take hard training and absorb impact, while others are best reserved for weapons used in solo work or display in your dojo. For wood cultivated and harvested in the US, we offer the following: black walnut, hickory, red oak, and Pacific maple (recommended only for tanto and kunai). Exotic hardwoods that make suitable bokken or other tools include the following: Bubinga, Ipe, Jotoba, Padauk, Purpleheart, Wenge, Yellowheart, and Zebrawood. We have had success making very nice tanto from Gabon Ebony, but do not recommend it for larger weapons due to the brittle nature of this wood (although if you want a display or demonstration piece, we can certainly oblige).
A variety of natural finishes are available for our wooden tools based on the needs of the customer. Natural tung oil is a hand-rubbed finish that is durable, all-natural and provides a solid finish for tools that will see hard use. Shellac is recommended for tools that may receive occasional knocks but no serious abuse, and is also a completely natural finish with a semi-gloss appearance. We can also apply lacquer to your weapon, which will have a semi or high gloss appearance, but should not be used for wood-on-wood contact as it is prone to chipping or scratching.
Custom Woodburned Engraving
As a special service, Shihan Matt Keiser offers custom engraving on your tool using a high-quality Japanese wood burning tool. If you provide us with the name of your dojo, this can be burned onto the handle or blade of your bokken, tanto or other tool in Japanese kanji, along with your last name in hiragana or katakana for a modest fee. We can also burn a generic “Bujinkan Dojo” with your last name. When requesting engraving, please consider the available space on your tool. Longer inscriptions can be made on both sides of a handle, for example.
ABOUT OUR PRODUCTS
The purpose of a training tool is to simulate the weight and feel of a live weapon while minimizing the risk of injury to training partners (uke). Depending on the type of wood used to produce a training weapon, there is some variability in weight as compared to live steel. For example, soft maple and some oak may feel lighter, while many exotics such as ironwood or African ebony may actually produce a weapon that is heavier.
All of our products are hand-made using raw materials sourced from local vendors. We hand-mill the woods to appropriate length, width and thickness, and are personally involved in shaping the tools at every stage. Your weapons will be hand-crafted with attention to detail and each will be unique in that there is no factory or assembly line production. We make every effort to turn out a product that we would be proud to own and use ourselves. There may be very minor flaws but these tiny distinctions are what make each tool a one-of-a-kind creation.
List of Weapons
Bokken: Our standard bokken replicates a full-sized katana of approximately 41” length (104 cm). We manufacture a couple of different bokken designs based around the curvature, or sori. Our Kyo-zori styles features a mild curve as seen in many traditional kenjutsu schools. By contrast, the Koshi-zori style we produced has a more pronounced curve like a steel tachi or katana. Our bokken also feature a slightly wider blade/handle that allows for more of the wood grain to be displayed, more surface for engraving, and provides more area to grip for larger (Western) hands. Upon request, we can downsize our bokken to more conventional standards.
Long-handled bokken and shinobigatana bokken: Two different variant styles that we have played with. The long-handled bokken simply extends the area designated for gripping by another 2-3 inches to provide a more lengthy surface for gripping. The length of the bokken itself remains the same on this model. The traditional shinobigatana featured a shorter blade housed in a standard sized saya (scabbard). Our shinobigatana design follows that of the standard bokken, but with overall length of 33” (84 cm).
Tanto: Our traditional wooden tanto features a straight blade and is approximately 12” (31 cm) length. The straight design was more common historically. These can be crafted from a single piece of wood, or can be fitted with a peg of contrasting colored wood (fitted about 1” to 1.5” below where the blade section starts) that simulates the peg used to attach blade to handle on a shirasaya tanto.
Hanbo: A traditional hanbo measures 36” (92 cm) and can vary in thickness, depending on the stock used. We cut our stock blank at 1 1/4” thickness (a little over 3 cm) which produces a stout, but not oversized finished tool. We produce both a traditional rounded hanbo and an octagonal version. Although less common than a rounded version, the octagonal design does have some historical and pragmatic authenticity, as the edges of a hardwood tool are useful in applying pressure to nerves, muscles, and kyusho (pressure points).
Jo: Traditional jo vary in length from about 48 to 52” (122 to 132 cm). Like our other staff weapons, we start with square stock cut at 1 1/4" and hand-shape it from there in either traditional rounded or octagonal style.
Rokushakubo: These can be produced either in traditional rounded or octagonal cross section, and are approximately 72" in length. We seldom keep these in stock, so please place your order far enough in advance to allow us time to make it.
Nagamaki (長巻, "long wrapping"): This was a type of traditional battlefield weapon consisting of a blade the same length as a standard katana, and a handle of approximately equal length. Our design measures 54" overall, with blade section of around 28" and the remainder being handle section. We generally do a rounded handle, although can go octagonal at special request. Due to the time and material involved in producing one of these, the cost is significantly more than a standard bokken, but the models we have produced are incredibly robust and will literally last a lifetime.
Kunai: The kunai was a useful tool in the shinobi (ninja) arsenal that probably evolved from a trowel used for gardening or masonry work. The average kunai measured about 30-40 cm (12-16 in) but versions have been documented ranging from as short as 20 cm (8 in) to as long as 60 cm (23 in), in varying widths. The larger models are sometimes called dai-kunai. Most kunai have a flat, wide blade that could serve as a digging or boring tool, pry bar, chopping device, or as a functional weapon. The handle was often wrapped in twine or slender rope. If lashed to a stout wooden stave, one could create a makeshift spear or pick. Our standard kunai models are available in 12” (31 cm), 14” (36 cm) and 16” (41 cm) lengths, and come either wrapped in nylon 550 parachute cord, or plain.
Katana kake: This is a traditional horizontal stand that can hold two full-length katana, a matched daisho (katana and wakizashi or kodachi), or other combination of two weapons. Upon request, we can customize stands to accept three swords or weapons.
Seiza bench: The seiza bench is commonly found in monastic or spiritual communities and is used for sitting meditation (zazen), although they are also popular in Japan for domestic use. The bench allows the user to sit in the traditional Japanese seiza position for long periods of time without putting stress on the ankles (as happens with almost anyone not raised in Japanese culture). For sitting meditation, it is often more comfortable to sit for longer periods using a seiza bench rather than the full or half lotus position with traditional zafu pillow.