Source: SteyrAug (Freestyleforum.net)
Kobu jutsu is Okinawa’s ancient art of combat. It is a combination of native fighting methods and those imported from the surrounding areas, especially Fukien province on the Chinese coast. Native fighting arts and weapons date back to the Shell Mound Era 2000 B.C. – 616 A.D. and are generally regarded as primitive in nature. Most weapons of this time were stone hand held implements, bones and sticks. The most significant development began in the era known as The Realm Of Heaven 616 – 1187 A.D. It was during this period Okinawa entered the Iron Age, using metal first for tools and later for weapons. It is also during this period that fighting styles were influenced by their neighbors in the East China Sea as a result of trade with China. The unarmed methods of combat became a separate art known as Te and later Karate. Each village had its own techniques and styles were named for the village they were developed in, for example, Te practiced in Naha was known as Naha Te and Te practiced in Shuri was known as Shuri Te. For this reason Kobu came to be known primarily as a weapons art. As a complete art Kobu does employ unarmed Te methods but on a limited scale due to the risk of injury when fighting with weapons.
The weapons used came from a variety of sources, some were native weapons, others imported from surrounding areas and some developed from agricultural tools. There are as many as 50 weapons in some Kobu systems. It is a common misconception that all Kobu weapons were derived from farming tools after the banning of weapons in Okinawa. This is true in some cases but many weapons were merely disguised as or passed off as tools. As a result of this deliberate confusion the true origin of many weapons may never be known. Kobu weapons can generally be classified as; edged, metal and wooden weapons. They can also be classed as military and agricultural based weapons.
Significant development occurred during the extensive warfare of the Three Kingdoms Period 1187 – 1429. It was during this period of conflict that many weapons and techniques were developed and perfected. During the subsequent era of peace, King Sho Shin’s reign 1477 – 1526, a system of weapon control began. The first edict was to restrict the wearing of swords as personal weapons followed by a stock piling of weapons at the castle. This situation probably led to the development of unconventional weapons for personal defense. The private ownership of weapons was banned outright in 1609 as a result of the Satsuma invasion from Japan. 3,000 samurai occupied Okinawa militarily and controlled all aspects of policy. This led to further development of weapons from farm tools and empty hand fighting. During the 1700s influence from China was heavy and many new methods were imported. In 1879 the puppet King was deposed and Okinawa became insignificant. In 1890 Okinawa underwent assimilation by a modernizing Japan.
Most of the Okinawan weapons experts were also famous karate masters. This is due to the fact that most experts considered weapon and empty hand techniques to be of equal importance. The most famous weapon experts have kata named after them. Some of the most well known weapon masters were Sakugawa “Tode” (1733-1815) who created a famous bo kata. Higa Matsu left kata for the use of the bo, sai and tonfa. Yakibu Moden was an expert with the bo and sai, he is also remembered as the instructor of Taira Shinken.
In the early 1920s Taira Shinken, like his contemporary Master Funakoshi, traveled to Japan and introduced his art, Kobudo. Most Okinawan karate styles, such as Shorin Ryu, retain the use of weapons at part of the entire art. The use of weapons remained part of many, but not all, newly developed Japanese karate styles due to the importance given them. It was during the late 1920s and early 1930s that the Japanese classified existing karate and kobudo arts. During this process many styles were modernized along the lines of scientific analysis and some techniques were discarded as impractical. Karate and kobudo did not reach the United States until after World War II and karate took prominence. It was not until the 1960s that Kobudo became popular in its own right due to the efforts of practioners such as Fumio Demura. In the early 1970s Bruce Lee popularized the nunchaku in his films and created a greater interest in kobudo.
For our purposes we will classify kobu weapons into six categories; Japanese based, Okinawan based, tool based, disputed, variations and personal weapons. Japanese based weapons were either influenced by or imported directly from Japan. Japanese based weapons have entire systems devoted to their study and therefore are not part of many Kobudo styles. Knowledge of these weapons is important, however, due to the fact that the Japanese arsenal is the traditional adversary of the Okinawan martial artist. Okinawan weapons are generally the first non primitive weapons developed for combat. Tool based weapons were usually farm implements that were used as or converted to weapons. Disputed weapons are those whose origin is unknown or unclear. Variations are those which were evolved from existing weapons. Personal weapons were ordinary items used for defense. The five most common weapons today are the bo, sai, nunchaku, tonfa and kama. In some kobudo schools these are the only weapons practiced. The more traditional schools practice original Okinawan weapons as well as tool based weapons and their variations. Only the most complete and authentic styles retain the rare personal weapons in their arsenal. The following is a history and description of the major kobu weapons.
TINBEI (OKINAWAN) – A small shield usually about three feet in diameter and a short spear about two feet long. It is probably one of the first weapons of the Okinawan arsenal.
SURUCHIN (OKINAWAN) – A cord or chain two to eight feet in length weighted on one or both ends. This was also part of the original Okinawan arsenal.
BO (OKINAWAN) – Also known as the rokushaku bo is a staff about six feet in length. This weapon is one of the few dating back to the Shell Mound Era still in use. A unique variation is found in Okinawa with tapered ends.
TANKON (OKINAWAN) – A short stick about two feet in length often used in pairs. This weapon is as old as other stick and staff weapons. The forerunner of this weapon was most likely long bones.
TECHU (OKINAWAN) – A metal rod about half a foot in length, sometimes with a ring in the center. It was held in the fist with the ends protruding and often employed in pairs.
KAMA (TOOL BASED) – A sickle over a foot in length with a six to ten inch blade. It was probably the first farm implement to be used as a weapon and is commonly used in pairs.
KUWA (TOOL BASED) – A farming hoe about six feet in length with a sharpened blade. It probably became a weapon as a result of weapon restrictions.
KAI (TOOL BASED) – Also known as eku is a fishermans oar from five to six feet in length with a blade from one to three feet. Its use as a weapon probably developed before weapon restrictions.
NUNCHAKU (DISPUTED) – A wooden flail with two sticks just over a foot in length connected by a chain or cord. It is said to have evolved from a farming tool used to cultivate grain. The tool referred to is a six foot stick hinged to a one to two foot section. It is also said to have been derived from part of a horses bridle or to have been based upon similar Chinese weapons.
SAI (DISPUTED) – A metal trident shaped truncheon. Okinawan folklore claims it began as a small pitchfork. The sai was probably imported as examples were found in China and India. Because it is effective for countering the sword it was probably passed off as a farming tool.
TONFA (DISPUTED) – Also known as tuifa is often claimed to be derived from a millstone handle. It is a wooden shaft about a foot and a half long with a right angle handle six inches from the end. There are many claims that it originated from China.
TEKKO (DISPUTED) – An Okinawan version of brass knuckles made from a iron bar with a metal band curved from one end to the other. Some claim it was derived from the foot stirrup of a horse saddle.
KAMA BO (VARIATION) – A sickle blade attached to a staff about six feet in length.
SAN SETSU KON NUNCHAKU (VARIATION) – Nunchaku with three equal sticks.
MANJI SAI (VARIATION) – Four pronged sai with two blades facing opposite directions. The manji sai was often used as a throwing weapon.
KUSARI GAMA (VARIATION) – A sickle with a weighted chain eight to twelve feet in length.
NUNTE (VARIATION) – A spear with a manji sai head. Most commonly referred to as a Okinawan spear.
UCHI BO (VARIATION) – Two sectional staff with a five to six foot section connected to a one to two foot section. This weapon is said to be the forerunner of the nunchaku derived from an agricultural tool. Despite this claim it is generally accepted as a variation of the nunchaku.
KASA (PERSONAL) – An umbrella employed as a weapon probably due to weapon bans.
OGI (PERSONAL) – A fan which has been used for centuries by asian cultures as a weapon.
KANZASHI (PERSONAL) – A hairpin commonly employed as a weapon of necessity.
KISERU (PERSONAL) – A tobacco pipe often metal about a foot in length used as a weapon.
The following is a list of traditional kata of Okinwan Kobujutsu/Kobudo:
SHUJI NO KON
SAKUGAWA NO KON
SOEISHI NO KON
SUEYOSHI NO KON
URASOE NO KON
KONGO NO KON
CHATANYARA NO KON
SHOUN NO KON
CHINENSHICHANAKA NO KON
TSUKENSUNAKAKE NO KON
MATSUHIGA NO KON
OSHIRO NO KON
TENRYU NO KON
ARAKAKI NO KON
KATIN NO KON
MATSUHIGA NO SAI
TAWATA NO SAI
CHATANYARA NO SAI
YAKA NO SAI
HANTAGAWA NO SAI
JIGEN NO SAI
KOJO NO SAI
TSUKENSHITAHAKU NO SAI
HAMAHIGA NO TONFA
YARAGUWA NO TONFA
MATSUHIGA NO TONFA
HAMAHIGA NO KAMA
TOZAN NO KAMA
KANIGAWA NO KAMA
*There are no traditional kata (pre Meiji) for the nunchaku
I do like how you mentioned that when it comes to martial arts that handle weapons, Kobudo will be the one to enroll in as it is primarily known as weapons art. That is an activity that I would love my twins to learn since it can help them protect themselves in case of danger. Additionally, I am sure that they’ll love it. They love Japan’s culture as much as I do since that is their mother’s home. I’ll be sure to locate some places that offer Kobudo lessons. Thanks!