Padding your batleth bokken
One of the most important things to do when learning how to swing a batleth is to pad it such that you don’t injure yourself or others. It’s tough to learn much when your sparring partner is in the hospital. With that in mind, I’d like to share a few things that I learned while using these things.
The pictures I’ve included here are of one of our old combat batleths, torn down in photos so that you can see how it all fits together.
If you follow the suggestions here, then you’ll wind up with a batleth that hits like a boxing glove instead of like a baseball bat, and yet still has something resembling the heft and balance of a metal batleth.
Insert Image: pipe insulation
Effective padding isn’t as simple as it sounds. The first thing that most people think of using to pad the bokken is foam pipe insulation. This is the ubiquitous padding of choice for most boffer weapons making it an obvious first thing to try for the wooden version. We abandoned this almost immediately for two reasons. The first is that the padding just isn’t stiff enough to cushion the force of a heavy blow. The second problem is that the foam breaks down rather quickly with repeated impact. Although we never broke any bones doing it this way, it quickly became obvious that it would result in many bruises and replacement of padding with excessive regularity.
The second thing that didn’t work was padding the tips with foam. A lunge from a batleth carries most of the weight of the attacker behind it, and it’s common for two combatants to be lunging simultaneously. The resulting impact can compress the force of a combatant moving at 30 mph into an area like the end of your finger. Even with heavy weight foam, by the time you pack enough foam over the tips to keep them from breaking ribs you wind up with something that looks like a mace and throws off the balance.
Things you’ll need: [image: collection of stuff]
- toilet bowl caps
- silicon sealant
- aluminum foil (optional)
- 1″ thick neoprene foam, 2 ft x 2 ft
- corrugated cardboard, 3″ x 15″
- lots and lots of duct tape, preferably in pretty colors
- handle wraps (tennis racket, bicycle grips, hockey stick tape)
- tools: utility knife, caulk gun, optional scissors
What we found to protect the tips is actually a toilet bowl cap filled with silicon sealant, with the tip of the batleth dipped into it to about half the cap’s depth. We covered the tips with aluminum foil before dipping them so that they wouldn’t be permanently glued to the batleths. The foil is optional, but will allow you to replace them if you get a better idea.
We made four caps per batleth – one for each saber, one for each tooth. Saber tips are not interchangeable with tooth tips, so don’t make four tooth guards and think they’ll fit your sabers. They’re easily the most durable part of the batleth and its padding.
After a while I got tired of doing them one batleth at a time and made a set of these tip makers in order to speed up the process. If you find yourself making a lot of tips, let me know and I’ll hook you up with one of these. Any similarity to a Batman symbol is purely coincidental.
We padded our edges of the saber and teeth with one inch thick high density neoprene. Being a closed cell foam, it doesn’t break down with repeated blows. It’s stiff enough that you don’t feel the impact of the wood underneath it while being soft enough to cushion the blow. It also adds enough weight to give the bokken a heft almost identical to a metal batleth. The only issues we had with the neoprene was that it stiffens over time, and should be replaced every other year or so to keep it from losing its cushioning benefit.
I found neoprene of this type locally, but I found a few resources online where it could be ordered. I’ve never ordered from these people, so let me know how it goes if you do.
We cut the neoprene into:
- two 14″ x 7.5″ rectangles
- two 4.5″ x 7.5″ rectangles
- four 1″ diameter plugs
The longer rectangles can actually be as short as 10″. As you can see from this image, we extended the padding well into the catch notch. If you intend to use your batleth for anything besides fighting other batleths, I would recommend leaving more of the catch notch path clear.
If you have a heavy enough grade of neoprene, rolling it into tubes can take a bit of arm strength. You roll it into tubes that just fit over the end of the saber and tape it closed with duct tape. We found that It helps if you have two people working on this, one to hold it closed while the other applies the duct tape. Usually two layers of duct tape is adequate to hold it together. Any more and you’re increasing the weight and sacrificing cushioning effect.
The padding for the teeth is virtually identical, just being about 4 1/2 inches long instead of ten to fourteen. The padding for the tooth should reach all the way down to the flat on the inner edge, but on the outer edge you may want to trim it back again to allow more clearance for the catch notch. this picture shows a very slight attempt at that with the disassembled batleth.
For each of the four points, put the filled toilet bowl cap over the end of it. Force the tube over the cap and down the length of the blade until the cap is roughly an inch from the end of the tube. IMPORTANT: The seam in the tube should be along once side of the blade, not along one of the edges. If the seam is along an edge, the edge will eventually push through the foam.
You could try pushing the tube on first and then shoving the cap into the end of the tube, but we found that to be harder than slipping the tube over the cap.
Image: transparency, tube over points
Push the 1″ neoprene plug into the tube so that they are flush with the top of the tube. This may involve some adjustment of where the tubes are on the blade. Tape it into place with the duct tape and pull the tube down the blade until the whole assembly is snug. Then tape the foam directly to the bokken so it won’t try to slide off when you swing it.
Padding on the flat is a point of question. While my original thinking was that every inch of the forward edge should be padded, in practical application the flat of the blade just never hits anyone. In the two years we practiced batleth combat, we never experienced any kind of injury from contact with the batleth flat. Because of the way a batleth is shaped, the flat is actually less likely under those circumstances to cause damage than the handles.
Padding the flat for combat against other weapons or multiple opponents may be different. Similarly, some uses of the batleth may resemble sumo wrestling more than fencing. I’d welcome input on this. If you find yourself bull-rushing behind your batleth then you will probably want to pad the flat with the full 1″ padding.
But for our needs, we actually just used a piece of the pipe insulation I so heartlessly maligned in a previous section, and layered it with enough duct tape that it would hold together even if the insulation turned to powder. We taped it directly to the handles because that provided the most secure attachment.
Lastly, the handles need wrapping. Need is actually a strong word here. We have some members who were quite happy with unpadded handles, but the majority felt that avoiding the occasional blister was worth a little time and money.
We tried numerous solutions for wraps, including tennis racket wraps, leather straps, hockey stick tape, and bicycle wraps. We may have tried other things, but these are the ones that someone or another preferred. There are three areas that you should consider when deciding what kind of grips you want to go with: padding, grip, and expense. Durability never actually
factored in, although the bicycle wraps would slip a little over time.
|Tennis Racket Grips||Good||Exellent|
|Bicycle Handle Wrap||Excellent||Good||Medium|
Remember that when you buy wraps that you have to buy three tennis racket wraps or one full set of bicycle wraps per batleth. Wraps are applied by cuttting one end at an appropriate diagonal angle, wrapping the wrap around the handle with about 40% overlap. You could optionally apply a bit of rubber cement on the handle before applying the wrap to improve how well it stays in place. We taped down the ends of the wraps with yet more duct tape. I’m sure other solutions are available.
After that, it’s just a matter of decorating.