July 31, 2013

Comes a Kanjin

An interview with the founder of Bujinkan Weapons, Carmelo Grajales.

Really, it was out of necessity. I was always trying to find a means to keep my training from the off and on commitment level that hardships kept me in. One of the additional struggles I realized was there was a lot of junk out there when it came to training resources and information - it didn’t matter if it was training or weapons. I had to do a lot of weeding to find any value. But it all brought me to the school I’m at now. Add my background in woodworking and now I find myself in a place where I can craft weapons, solving both problems.

Shidoshi Joe Bunales with the
BW Tsurugi v.2

What’s your process?

First, there’s always the research – finding that authentic line of information to glean off of. Some of the information comes from history and photography books. From there, I rely on my background in graphic studies, which helps with the dimensions and profiles. Then through the training, I start looking for what makes the (weapon/tool) really useful. What do we need to know about this and how do we translate that?

Nata: Hickory handle, Ipe blade.
With the yari, for instance, I decided to create something that had actual weighted ends, like an extra three pounds heavier. That’s a benefit for our training. Creating weapons with specific advantages and weaknesses – length can be an advantage or a weakness depending on one’s ability – we found to be of great use and value. I have to figure out the authenticity and keep it proportional to today so we can understand why things were done the way they were done back then. The challenge continues with getting the authenticity right. 

Yes, this exists.
Otsuchi: laminated Ipe head, Hickory
handle, iron fittings.
It seems as though the process itself is providing insight into the weapon’s actual usage. The otsuchi (war mallet) you are currently making is not a training tool -

It’s not a training tool at all.

This is an actual weapon.  


And as you are researching and crafting you are seeing things about the weapons themselves that relate to their use. You knew the proportions in the photos you were using meant that the mallet itself was over five feet in length. Standing it on end the (20lbs) head could then be set on the shoulder for ease of movement and use.   

Yep. With the war mallet specifically, what gave me greater understanding into its use in combat and warfare was actually looking at woodblock prints featuring the same war mallet. There are quite a few. The prints highlight certain aspects of a battle or story and you would see someone with a war mallet leading a march or breaching an entrance. You could see how they were holding it.

And that‘s when, after doing the math, I realized, “oh, this makes a lot of sense,” as to how someone would wield something so massive and destructive, but remain fluid. It had a lot to do with proportion and finding the point of balance. The person using it (back then) might not have been so big and strong.

Odaka Dengo Tadao pounding the gate
of Moronao's palace with huge mallet.
Kuniyoshi print, 1853-1857.
So, what “treats” haven’t we seen yet? What are you working on next?

Right now, I’m working on some of the larger, exotic, traditional tools that are really rare: bisento, nyoibo, nagamaki, naginata – we get a lot of requests for that. I’ll bring in some of the same design features we did with the yari. I want to inspire people with what these tools were really like, to gain the benefits from training with them.   

You’re trying to get it as close as possible to the actual feel of the weapon.      

Right, the feeling. And I can introduce aspects that weren’t available back in the day for training tools. For instance, I can bring in different wood types and densities that they might not have had access to. They had a limited selection of species of wood. I don’t.

I’m trying to bring back the right feeling for what’s essential in using it with Taijutsu. A bisento, a nyoibo – why would you need something like that? But I like to think I see the connection, even if I’m just carrying my training bag – it’s the size of a nyoibo! I’m trying to inspire people to see the value – not simply some esoteric, historical value, but the need to use them tactically with their Taijutsu to expand knowledge and ability. I’d like to bridge the historical with the contemporary just for the inspiration that it brings. I think it’s important because it opens the door to teach valuable things that I think get left out in our training.


Also, I have an extensive background in high-end remodeling and would love to offer dojos a historical display, an artistic display that features weapons and furnishings that show where our art really comes from, not what Hollywood tells us. My plan is to get into live weapons as well and even have a facility with target ranges and space where people can train with these large weapons.

Jack Hoban and his BW tsurugi v.1
You’ve actually built a kiln, right?

We are building a couple things to help us with steel work. We’re taking that slowly. Things I think that will really be a benefit to training right now is really my focus. I’m careful with the pace we’re growing at. And that is a challenge. We’ve had a lot of requests from all over the world – constantly – for all kinds of classic “Hollywood” style ninja tools that fascinate people at a different level. And it’s tempting, easy money, but I don’t want to abandon the goal. And some of the smaller items that are traditionally popular, I’m not really worried about providing. The market is so saturated with them, that I’m not in a rush to produce them. But to me at this point my priority is with what we want to focus on in our training.

This is ultimately about your training.

Absolutely. It is about my training. I won’t be an effective weapons maker if I don’t understand how to use them. I can replicate anything. I have no issues with that ability. But I don’t understand everything and I think that’s more important.

The better your Taijutsu, the better you’ll understand, the better crafter you’ll be. 

And the better tool I can offer the public. So, it has to have a lot of meaning to me. Everyday something of value is coming to light and it’s adjusting how I craft because it actually matters.