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Okinawa Kobujutsu





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Okinawa kobujutsu were the weapons used for self-defense by the people of Okinawa.  These include the (6-foot staff), tonfa (grinding-wheel handle), kama (sickle), eku (oar), kuwa (hoe), and nunchaku (rice flail). 

The IWU Budōkai offers instruction in those Okinawa kobudō weapons that were used for self defense.  The majority of these weapons were farm and fishing implements adapted for use in defense against armed attackers.  Prior to the 20th century, the majority of Okinawan karate-ka (karate practitioners) were also expert with several of these weapons.  In 2007, the IWU Budōkai adopted Aragaki-Ryū Okinawa Kobujutsu, which includes among its weapons systems the (6-foot staff), sai (constable's 3-pronged truncheon), tonfa (grinding-wheel handle), kama (sickle), eku (oar), and nunchaku (rice flail).

The is a staff, usually about 6 feet in length.  It was a common household tool for hundreds of years all over the world.  It was used as a clothes pole, a drying pole for clothing, food, or hides, as well as a walking stick.  It came into use as a weapon throughout Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, and has been used for defense since before recorded history.  In Okinawa, the bo was also used by low-ranking constables (chikudun/chikutō or satunushi/sato-no-shi) as their primary weapon for subduing criminals.

Probably due to its widespread use, there are more traditional kata (practice patterns) for the than for any other Okinawan weapon -- more than 20.  Many of these kata can be traced back to the earliest known masters of karate-dō, including Matsuhiga (1647 - 1721), Chatan Yara (1668 - 1756), Sakugawa Kanga (1733 - 1815), Aragaki Seisho (1840 - 1918), and Chinen Sanda (1846 - 1928).  Some 20 classical bō kata are included in the IWU Budōkai curriculum.

The sai is the second-most commonly practiced weapon of Okinawa kobujutsu.  Although some researchers believe it may have been used either as some form of tilling device or fishing gaff, most authorities believe it was primarily a defensive weapon used by the higher-ranking constables of ancient Okinawa.

Traditional kata for the sai can also be traced back to such notable karate-ka as Matsuhiga, Chatan Yara, Tawada Shimboku (1814 - 1884), and Aragaki Seisho (1840 - 1918).  There are about a dozen classical kata for the sai, and 9 of them are currently included in the IWU Budōkai curriculum.

Tonfa most likely began as the handles used to turn heavy millstones to grind rice, wheat, millet, barley, or other grains into various types of flour for noodles.

As another tool to be found in nearly every village, they were easily adapted as defensive weapons for use against bandits and other attackers in ancient times.  Although widely practiced among ancient karate-ka, only a handful of traditional kata for the tonfa survived into the 20th century.  The scarcity of traditional tonfa kata may be because it was either a heimin (commoner's) weapon or a weapon that would only have been used by a peichin or shizoku if none of their official weapons were at hand.

The IWU Budokai curriculum includes three of these classical tonfa kata.

One of the most common tools found throughout Okinawa, even in modern times, is the kama.  The kama is a sickle still used today to harvest rice and other grains, as well as for cutting brush and weeds.  As common to Okinawan households as pruning shears in American households today, a pair of kama in the hands of a master were a devastating weapon.

Once again, the kama would have been a peasant's weapon, used only as a last resort by an Okinawan constable, officer, or warrior, which may account for the scarcity of classical kata.

Fewer than 5 classical kata still exist for the kama, of which 2 are included in the IWU Budokai curriculum.  Techniques with the kama were designed primarily for defense against swords, spears, or the six-foot staff.

The eku is the type of oar that was in widespread use in Japan and the Ryūkyū Islands prior to World War II.  With more than 50 islands in the Ryūkyū archipelago and the majority of people living near the coasts of those islands, oars were exceedingly common, so they were a natural weapon for self defense among fishermen and coastal villagers.

Techniques of the eku are quite similar to those of the , with the addition of methods for employing the greater weight and the distinct edges of the eku.  Only two classical kata now exist for the eku, both which may have been created in the late 17th century by Shitahaku Oyakata, a magistrate of Tsuken village, who is also frequently credited with creating classical and sai kata.

Both of these classical eku kata are included in the IWU Budokai curriculum.

Nunchaku were greatly popularized by legendary film star, Bruce Lee.  Nunchaku are probably an adaptable of either an ancient bit for plowhorses or from a mochi -- a flail used to shatter rice husks.

No classical kata exist for the nunchaku, as it is generally believed that they were not a preferred weapon of the karate masters of old.  Instead, they likely served more often as an "equalizer" for those of lesser skill and training.  Easily concealable and easy to make, they may have served as the equivalent of a switchblade or "zip" gun for the street punks of ancient Okinawa.

The IWU Budokai includes two modern nunchaku kata in its curriculum, both of early 20th century origin:  Maezato no Sōsetsukon and Inoue no Sōsetsukon, because they are the closest to classical kata that exist for this weapon.  A third nunchaku kata, Yaeyama no Sōsetsukon is being researched for possible inclusion.

Requirements for Rank Promotion --

Requirements for promotion testing for Okinawa kobujutsu rankings up to gokyū (5th kyū purple belt) are now available, along with videos of some of the required kata.  These are for use only by IWU Budōkai members by simply clicking the links below.  CAUTION:  these videos are not a substitute for class instruction, and in some cases the kata are performed with slight differences from the way they are presented in the videos.  Each video is approximately 4 megabytes in size, so it may take a few moments to download, especially on dial-up connections.  They are in WMV format, so they are viewable using Windows Medial Player, which is a FREE download, if you don't have it.  Please be patient.  And please do not share these videos with non-members.  More promotion requirements will be posted coming soon! ....


Click on the Purple Belt at left to see the IWU Budōkai requirements for promotion to Rokkyū (6th kyū). Click on the Purple Belt at left to see the IWU Budōkai requirements for promotion to Gokyū (5th kyū).