KOBUDO - the way of Ancient Weapons

The ancient history of Okinawa tells us a turbulent story, with violent political upheavals characterizing a major part of the now-peaceful island's heritage. The need for fighting arts formed when King Sho Hashi of Chuzan established his rule over Okinawa in the 14th century and banned all weapons. A more rapid development followed in 1609 when the Satsuma Clan of Kyushu, Japan occupied Okinawa and again banned the possession of weapons. Thus Tode or Okinawan-Te, as the Satsuma Samurai soon called it, became the only means of protection left to the Okinawans. It was out of these days of unrest that the art of kobudo was born, due to a necessity for peasants to defend their families or property by turning common, everyday items into weapons that could be used for self defense. In times of political strife, warfaring weapons such as swords and spears were forbidden to the general populace, which left farmers and fishermen easy prey for armed bandits and pirates. To counteract the decrees than rendered them weaponless, Okinawans as well as the inhabitants of the other islands within the Ryukyuan chain became highly proficient in the use of implements such as water-bucket carrying poles, boat oars, and grist mill handles as means of self protection. Kata were eventually developed, usually named after a founder or village of origin, and various styles of kobudo came into being.

Many traditional Okinawan kobudo weapons were developed to defend against opponents wielding spears or swords. Implements such as the sai, which is a three-pronged metal truncheon, were often used in sets of two or three for the purpose of entrapping an attacker's weapon and using the pronged ends in a jabbing, puncturing strike. Although the exact origin of the sai is obscure, it closely resembles an instrument that was used in China, and is also believed to have been derived from a farming implement that was used for digging furrows in the ground for planting seeds. A third sai was often carried behind the back in the belt sash (obi) as a replacement for a hand-held sai that was thrown at an opponent. The nunti is a threepronged weapon that is sometimes incorrectly referred to as a manji-sai, with one of the outside prongs facing in the opposite direction, toward the handle, and which often attached to the end of a bo. Other truncheon weapons are the juste and the tokushu-keibo, a collapsible metal instrument.

Some people consider the naginata as a weapon of kobudo but actually naginata is a martial art of it's own that uses weapon similar to the Bo with a sword at one end. While originally a weapon of war, the naginata now has both a form appropriate for modern competitive sport as well as a wooden form (somewhat less lethal than the original steel one) for the safe study of the ancient forms.

It must be pointed out that the study of the multitude of weapons in Kobuda must be on a complete basis, and students are not encouraged to merely dabble in various areas in an attempt to "learn a little bit about each weapon." The Sensei's principles are based upon thorough knowledge of the purpose and origin of each weapon, and it takes many years of dedicated training to become proficient in the use of a single item. Students are encouraged to select a single weapon and become proficient at only the complete use of that weapon.


Bo - Kobudo places great emphasis on the use of the bo, an implement said to be derived from the tenbib, which was a wooden staff that was slung across the shoulders in order to transport buckets of water on each end. The most popular type of bo is the rokushaku, which measures six feet in length and 1 1/4 inches thick at the center, tapering down to 3/4 inch at the ends. Other types of bo range in length from four to nine feet, and can be round (maru-bo), four-sided (kaku-bo), sixsided (rokkaku-bo), or eight-sided (hakkakubo). The most common bo kata are Shushi- No-Kon, Choun-No-Kon, Sakugawa-No-Kon, Tsuken-No-Kon, and Shiishi-No-Kon. Other staff-type weapons include the hanbo (threefoot wooden stick), jo (four-foot wooden stick), tetsubo (Iron staff), sansetsu-kon (three-sectioned staff), and the konsaibo, which is a wooden staff studded with iron nubs.

Nunchaku - Originally this was a wooden flail used to crush rice and consisted of two unequal lengths of hardwood connected by a cord made of horse hair. The modern Nunchaku have octagonal (hakkakukei) or round (maru-gata) wooden handles of equal length connected by a length of rope or chain. A vine (kanda) can also be used as a longer connector, in order to bind an opponent's head and hands together in an "Okinawan Handcuff." Matayoshi Kobudo instruction includes nunchaku with one handle half the length of the other, both handles half the normal size, three-sectioned and four-sectioned. The han-kei nunchaku, with the circumference of the handles halved, is designed for easier carrying and concealment, as both handles fit together smoothly The Nunchaku can be wielded with tremendous velocity in striking and are also valuable in parrying attacks from other weapons.

Sai - A pair of short swords called Sai (pronounced "sigh") used defensively against the Bo and Samurai sword. Its design stems from the concept of a pitchfork and was originally developed in Okinawa during the Japanese occupation. Multi-purpose instruments like the Sai became especially useful, since an opponent's weapon could be blocked and/or trapped with one Sai with the other could be used to deliver a thrust to a vulnerable area of the body. Three sai were often carried, with one placed behind the back in the belt, where it could serve as a replacement for a hand-held sai that was thrown at an opponent.

Kama - Short handled sickles, The Kama developed from Okinawan farm implements and used to combat the Samurai sword, became useful weapons for selfdefense. The Kama, which has a curved blade, and the naginata, a curved blade, sicklelike spear seven feet in length. The nagemaki is a heavier version of the naginata with a larger blade, while the rokushaku-kama is a sickle with a six foot handle.

Tonfa - Handles consisting of two billets made of hardwood. A long handle is set about six inches from one end of each billet. It can be used to block or parry another weapon and can also be spun in a circular motion to thrust or strike.