Okinawan Kobudo

Kobudo is an Okinawan term that refers to Kobujutsu or, ancient weapon art.

In 1477, during the Second Sho Dynasty, swords and other weapons were banned from Okinawa and the Ryukyu islands by Emperor Shoshin. All weapons on the island were collected and garrisoned in his royal castle in Shuri on Okinawa. It was as a direct result of Shoshin's edict that Okinawans turned to the development of karate (open hand) fighting. Although kobudo weapons are not really a part of karate, their development has shadowed the development and evolution of karate to the degree that they are almost inseparable.

In 1600 the Japanese invaded and occupied Okinawa. As a conquering army they used the continued prohibition of weapons as a method of controlling the population. This was combined with an attitude by the Japanese, that still permeates the island today, that Okinawans were second class citizens and not as good as Japanese. (Even today most any Okinawan will quickly inform you - "I am not Japanese, I am Okinawan!") Therefore only Japanese samurai's were permitted to own and carry weapons

Okinawan karate further developed from it's Chinese roots. Just as the monks in china had developed weapons from seemingly innocent items such as the staff, so to did the Okinawans. These creative farmers and fishers resorted to weaponizing the implements of their everyday working life. They developed complex weapons forms for such items as the boat oar (eku), fish net floats (chesen kun bo), millstone handles (tonfa), top knot pints (jiwa) sickles (kama), saddle stirrups (tekkos) and the 6 foot staff (bo).

Over the years modern machinery and implements replaced most of the traditional kobudo implements, however they remained an integral part of kobujutsu.

With the growth and development of Shorin-Ryu Matsubayashi-Ryu karate certain kobudo weapons have remained closely aligned to our system. These weapons include the Bo, the Sai, the Tuifa, the Kama and the Nunchakus. By adding weapons training to the traditional open-handed training, Grandmaster Nagamine felt the individual student could enhance their mental and physical training.

The Weapons of Kobudo Utilized in Shorin-Ryu, Matsubayashi-Ryu


The Kama (comma) or hand sickle

Kama were one of the first weapons utilized by the Okinawans after the confiscation of their other weapons. Kamas had long been used as a fighting blade in addition to it's routine farm uses of cutting grass, rice and sugar cane. The weapon could be utilized to cut, slice, block and for striking. Another version of this weapon, the kusarigama, had a length of chain attached to it to increase it's length. However, since chain was in short supply on the primitive island and the addition of the chain made the kama more clearly a weapon, it's use was limited.

In Shorin-Ryu the kama is used primarily in kata demonstration and competitions. It is still used as a farm implement in Okinawa. The kamas used in Shorin-ryu are traditional kamas and not the fancy, aerodynamic titanium and aluminum varieties seen in flashy demonstrations at some competitions.


The Bo (boh) or 6 foot staff

The Bo is another early weapon of Okinawa. It differed in that it was utilized by peasants, monks and samurai alike. Fashioned of Okinawan hardwood, the Bo is 6 feet long and 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. Many present day Bos taper at the ends. This is probably not the traditional style as the bo was utilized to carry water buckets and other items. If the original Bo was indeed tapered at the ends it would have been more difficult to keep items on it. Because of this original Bos are felt to have been non-tapered.

The Bo's size makes it a good weapon to use against swords and to disarm an opponent while allowing the Bo practitioner to remain at a safer distance. Manipulation of the weapon requires a thorough knowledge of basic karate stances and techniques

Shorin-Ryu utilizes the Bo for demonstrations, kata and practical self defense techniques. In day-to-day life many articles can be utilized as a Bo-like weapon; a broom or mop stick, a pool stick, a PVC pipe or even an umbrella. The Bo is also used to augment physical conditioning and balance.


The Tuifa (twee-fa) or Tonfla (tone-fla) or grinder handles

Controversy surround the original use of the tuifa. It has been referred to as a rice grinder although some evidence exists to support it's use as a milestone handle. Either way it's use has also parrelled the development of karate.

The tuifa are very effective weapons for striking and blocking. The handle can be used to twirl the weapon thereby increasing it's reach. The sides of the weapon are used primarily for blocking and the ends for striking. Although generally used in pairs it is also an effective weapon when used singularly. Good evidence of this is seen with the adaptation of the Tuifa in a great number of police departments and correctional facilities around the world.

In Shorin-Ryu the tuifa is used in black belt weapons katas and in demonstrations


The Sai (sigh) or trident

The Sai are found in both Okinawan and other oriental martial arts schools. Used in sets, the Sai are made of iron and weigh upwards of 3 pounds each. It can be used to block, stab, trap or strike. In Okinawa forms developed where the Sai was thrown. When thrown, the practitioner would frequently carry a third Sai in his belt to replace the thrown Sai. The pummel on the Sai's handle could be used to block and to crush (i.e. skull). A Sai could also be attached to a Bo to create a spear.

Originally the Sai was probably a farm implement along the lines of the pitchfork. It was also carried by police to defend themselves against swords. It has long been associated with the study of karate.

Modern day Sai's generally have dulled tips and are now used in kata and demonstrations. Because of it's weight it is also utilized to develop both strength and coordination


The Nunchaku (noon-chuck-uu) or rice flails

The Nunchaku was originally a tool for thrashing rice, wheat or other grains. To the Japanese it appeared to be two harmless wooden sticks connected with a length of rope, braided horse hair or chain.

The Nunchaku were utilized to strike, block and trap an opponent. Stances utilized with the Nunchaku were the same as those utilized in karate so, again, the development of the two closely parelled each other. Use of the Nunchaku required the martial artist to be equally proficient with either hand. During it's use the weapons could be switched from one hand to the other as needed.

Most occidentals were introduced to the Nunchaku by Bruce Lee in the 1970s. Since that time the Nunchaku has been closely aligned to Okinawan and Japanese karate. It can be a "flashy" weapons and because of this it is frequently seen in Karate demonstrations. Many police departments carry Nunchakus.

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