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WELCOME!Weapons of Okinawan Kobudo

The discussion of Okinawan kobudo weapons contained in this article addresses a total of five of the basic ten traditional weapons. These weapons are the bo, sai, nunchaku, kama and tonfa. The nunte, eiku, nunte bo, tekko and the tinbe and rochin will be addressed in a future article. Bo

The bo is one of the most popular weapons of Okinawan kobudo. In the hands of masters such as Seikichi Uehara, Shimpo Matayoshi, and Seikichi Odo, it is almost an unbeatable weapon due to its reach and striking power. Formally called the rokushakubo (roku means six, shaku is a unit of measurement about a foot in length, and bo means staff) it is, as the name implies, a wooden, pole-like weapon about six feet in length.

As an art form, it is closely tied to karate, adopting from the Chinese the basic principles but developing its own Okinawan characteristics. The first of these is the matter of design, with the Okinawan bo being tapered at both ends to provide a more centralized focus for striking the opponent’s body. The use of the bo relies heavily upon a good knowledge of karate basics.

The bo operates best from outside the opponent’s weapon swing zone, and it gives its user a strong advantage over an opponent’s shorter weapon. The weapon is most useful in relatively open spaces – its effectiveness is limited in crowded or forested areas. When used at close range, within the opponent’s swing zone, the bo provides a variety of blocking and parry techniques but loses some of its distance advantage. In such close engagements the bo user may be required to use some of his karate skills while the staff ties up or misleads the enemy.

Bo training requires the student to make a lengthy study of the fundamental grips, stances, movements, and techniques of striking, blocking, poking, thrusting and disarming. It must be noted that to utilize the bo to its maximum potential, the student must be able to use the full range of the weapon. Sai

The sai is a uniquely designed, short metal weapon with a long history. Found in India, China, Indo-China, Malaya and Indonesia, its presence in Okinawa probably derives from migrations from one or more of these sources. Prototype designs may be seen in the trident-shaped weapons of ancient times and the ancient Indonesian civilizations of Sumatra and Java, which had contact with Okinawa and used the weapon in their systems.

The sai is primarily a defensive weapon and is effective against an enemy armed with blade, staff, or stick. The length of the sai varies, with the most popular lengths between 15-20 inches. It was generally made from iron or steel, and it weighed between one to three pounds. The sai is generally used as truncheon, although its earlier forms derived from a bladed weapon. The sai may be used to deflect, block, or parry a cutting or thrusting attack of a bladed or staff weapon.

Three sai were usually carried, one in each hand and one thrust through the belt of the user. The third sai in the belt was a replacement for one either thrown or lost in combat. Some old Okinawan masters were so adept that they could pin their enemy’s foot to the ground with a quick downward throw of the weapon. The prongs of the Okinwan sai were designed so as to provide the skilled user with the capability of catching and locking the enemy’s weapon. Furthermore, the skilled practitioner would generally utilize the weapon’s striking capabilities to attack an armed opponent’s hands, thus disabling and/or disarming him prior to moving in for the finishing techniques. Nunchaku

The nunchaku, a harmless-looking object appearing more like a toy than a weapon, is believed to have been first used as a horse bridle. The nunchaku user can subdue an enemy by making use of ensnaring actions, crushing and holding pressures, poking or jabbing striking attacks, and for defensive parrying, blocking and deflection actions.

The nunchaku is a double-pieced hardwood weapon. The separate pieces of wood are connected by a cord or chain. Each piece is identical in shape – being about one foot to 15 inches in length and having a square, hexagonal, or octagonal cross-section. The nunchaku is used from karate stances, and attacks are delivered during close-in fighting with the enemy. Held in one hand, it is supported by the other hand of the operator who employs appropriate actions. The nunchaku is especially effective against weak points of the body, ribs, wrists, back of hands, face, and knees. For thrusting blows the best targets are the throat, groin, face, and midsection. Painful, ensnaring actions can be applied by catching the opponent’s fingers, hands or wrists, and closing the open ends of the weapon with force. Kama

This agricultural sickle has been used as long as man has grown rice. Seen in a number of different forms all over Southeastern Asia, it has from earliest times served as an effective weapon in emergencies. On Okinawa the sickle is called a kama, and was probably brought there during the many migrations from the Asian continent.

Kama tactics are primarily Okinawan, using the principles of karate stances and movements. Some modifications had to be instituted so the operator would not wound himself during manipulations of the weapon.

The weapon has a hardwood handle and a blade that is crescent shaped and single-edged. This razor-sharp blade can be pointed and hooked for hacking rather than for jabbing or skewering. The kama is very effective in trained hands, but must be employed close into the opponent. Kama attacks incorporate chopping, hooking, hacking, striking, blocking, deflecting or covering actions against an enemy’s weapons or tactics. Kama can be used singly or in pairs, one in each hand. In the latter case, the swinging patterns are propeller-like covering actions. Its techniques are difficult to master, and for this reason it soon may become a dying art. Tonfa

Early Okinawans, at work gathering grain by the millstone, were nonetheless determined to continue their clandestine practice of karate. The wooden handle normally wedged into a hole in the side of the millstone served their purpose well. This handle, known as the tonfa, was made of a tapered shaft of hardwood attached to a cylindrical grip projecting at a right angle from the shaft.

The handle could easily be dismantled from the millstone and brought into action. It was held by grasping the short grip firmly so that the instrument could not drop out of the user’s hand when manipulated. Most commonly, two tonfa were used, one in each hand. All use of the tonfa depends upon karate movements. The operator can punch or strike with great force, since the hardwood projection acts like an extension of the knuckles. By a quick flick of the wrist and arm, the user can reverse the tonfa so that the longer end of the shaft will swing forward and strike the opponent.

Good tonfa techniques makes judicious use of blocking and parrying actions. These actions, and many of those involving the use of the tonfa, can be likened to those of the sai. Today, tonfa masters are rare in Okinawa, and there may be some chance of this art passing from the modern scene.

 Kobudo (Weapons) HAYASHI-HA KENSHIN-RYU KOBUDO (TRADITIONAL OKINAWAN WEAPONRY) We also teach Kobudo (traditional Okinawan weaponry). The primary style we teach is Hayashi-Ha Kenshin-ryu Kobudo, developed by Teruo Hayashi on the basis of the training he received from several weapons masters in mainland Japan, and Okinawa. The following is a brief history of the origin of this style: The Birth of Hayashi-Ha Kenshin-Ryu Okinawa Kobudo By Luis E. Gonzalez 21 June 2005 After studying under different karate masters in Japan proper (including Kenwa Mabuni, Kosei Kuniba, and Seiko Higa), Teruo Hayashi decided to travel to Okinawa to get more depth in his knowledge and training. He would go to Okinawa often and trained with several masters (Chojin Nagamine, Hohan Soken, Taira Shinken, Chosin Chibana, and Master Naga). His initial interest was in the area of kumite, which he pursued and then excelled in. Then he wanted to become good in kata. So he pursued his kata training until he was satisfied. He then pursued kobudo. He soon realized that the karate masters he trained with only knew a few weapons and that none of them knew all the Okinawan weapons. So he set out to find a master that knew them all. In the early '60s, Hayashi learned that a certain master, Kenko Nakaima, knew all the Okinawan weapons, so he proceeded to introduce himself to Nakaima sensei and ask him if he would accept him as his student. Nakaima refused, stating that his was a family system that his great grandfather had learned in Southern China and brought back to Okinawa, and had been kept in the family. This system of Ryu-Ei-Ryu, consisted of both open-hand and kobudo, and was not taught to outsiders. It was only taught to a chosen son from each generation. Hayashi then begged him again, but Nakaima again refused. Hayashi begged Nakaima for months and still the answer was always "No!" Hayashi was not one to give up easily. He had tenacious determination. He decided he had to do everything possible to get accepted. Failure was not an option. Nakaima, besides being a karate and kobudo master, was an elementary school teacher, and every morning he would leave his house to go teach at school. His wife would leave with him to go to the market and get the day's food as is custom in Okinawa. In the afternoon, Nakaima sensei would return from work. Well, Hayashi started to run low on money and could not afford to stay in an inn any longer after begging Nakaima for months. So one morning, after he was again refused by Nakaima as he was leaving to work with his wife besides him, he bought a one-man tent and some bread to eat. He pitched the tent on Nakaima's front yard! When Nakaima returned from work in the afternoon he was surprised to see Hayashi's tent, but refused him again. That night, Hayashi was practically eaten alive by the Okinawan mosquitos. In the morning, when Nakaima and his wife were leaving the house, Hayashi again begged to be accepted as Nakaima's student. Hayashi had welts all over his face, arms, and body from the mosquito bites, but again he was refused. The master and his wife left him feeling dejected. Hayashi though, would not give up. He went and bought some mosquito coils to repel the mosquitos and some more bread. He was literally down to eating only bread and drinking only water. When Nakaima returned from work again, Hayashi begged him again, and again he was refused. The coils Hayashi lit all around him helped some, but there were so many mosquitos that it was impossible to repel them all. He still got bitten. In the morning, Hayashi again begged Nakaima to teach him, but again, the answer was still "no". Nakaima sensei and his wife left, but as they were leaving Hayashi overheard Nakaima's wife telling her husband, "You have go to do something about that man. Look at him. He's weak from not eating well, and look at all the mosquito bites on his body!" Hayashi was left feeling terrible. He went to a high, steep, rocky cliff and sat at the edge. He was feeling so dejected, such a failure, that he contemplated jumping down to the jagged rocks below and committing suicide because he had never before failed at what he had set his mind to do. Fortunately however, he decided he was going to give it one more try. When Nakaima returned from work that afternoon, Hayashi again begged him to please teach him. This time, after apparently considering Hayashi's strong spirit and his wife's plea, Nakaima seemingly relented. "Okay, I'm going to teach you a bo kata right now. I want you to practice it for one year and then come back so I can take a look at it. We'll see how you do." Hayashi was elated! He had finally succeeded- so he thought. So Nakaima sensei taught Hayashi the bo kata. Hayashi goes back to Japan and practices it fervently and religiously and then returned excitedly to Okinawa. He knocks at Nakaima's front door. Nakaima answers, "Yes, who are you, what do you want?" "I'm Hayashi. You taught me a bo kata and told me to come back in one year to show my progress to you." "Oh yes," Nakaima answered, "Please let me see your kata right now, here." "Now? Here?" Hayashi asked. "Yes, now, here in the front yard" was the response. As he recalls, Hayashi proceeded to demonstrate the bo kata Nakaima had taught him a year before that, with as much focus, speed, power, and spirit that he could muster, even though there were cars passing nearby. When he was finished, Nakaima said, "Very good! But that really wasn't a kata. I just made it up, but you have proven yourself worthy to be taught my system. From now on, I will accept you as my student, even though you are not family, I will teach you Ryu-Ei-Ryu". Hayashi was stunned by the fact that the kata he practiced so diligently for a whole year was not a real kata after all, but elated that he had finally broken into the family system. He was the first to do so! This was circa 1966. The Ryu-Ei-Ryu system consists of both karatedo (Chinese kata) and kobudo material. Nakaima proceeded to teach Hayashi his system. I was there in Japan as a black belt student of Hayashi in 1971, when he with the permission of the Japanese government, and the All Japan Karatedo Federation, established his two styles: Hayashi-Ha Shito-Ryu Japanese Karatedo, and Hayashi-Ha Kenshin-Ryu Okinawa Kobudo. He took the first part of Nakaima's first name (Ken, from Kenko) and Shin (meaning "heart") and formed "Kenshin-Ryu" or, "The Style of the Heart of Kenko", his sensei. And thus, Kenshin-Ryu was born. This rich Kenshin-Ryu kobudo system consists of twelve (12) weapons; 6 basic, and 6 advanced. Basic weapons are: Bo, Sai, Tonfa, Nunchaku, Kama, and Tembe Advanced weapons are: Tatami tembe, Furigama, Suruchin, Gekigan, Dajo, and Ren. It is very important for one to know and understand the history behind Kenshin-Ryu. I believe that because of what Hayashi sensei had to do in order to learn from Nakaima, because of the ordeal and great sacrifice he went through in becoming the first to break into the Ryu-Ei-Ryu family system, that he was extremely conservative and reluctant to teach this style freely. As a result, a complete listing of all the kata from each weapon is not available, at least not outside of Japan. He does have kobudo masters of his in Japan that he imparted much knowledge to, but it is not known yet if any one master has all the material from this style. Therefore, the following is an incomplete list of the known kata to date for some, but not all weapons: (I personally asked Soke Hayashi one time how many kata there were in Kenshin-Ryu. His reply was," twenty bo kata, and 15 sai kata". He then grinned as if to say, "Are those plenty enough for you?", and with that, he elusively changed the subject to something else.) Bo 1. Shodan no kon 2. Nidan no kon 3. Shushi no kon sho 4. Shushi no kon dai 5. Kubo no kon 6. Sakugawa no kon dai 7. Kartin no kon 8. San dan no kon 9. Shirotaru no kon 10. Yonegawa no kon 11. Tsuken no kon 12. Chatanyara no kon 13. Soeshi no kon Sai 1. Chatanyara sho 2. Chatanyara dai 3. Shodan no gurai 4. Nidan no gurai 5. Tsukenshitahaku 6. Towada no sai Tonfa 1. Tonfa shodan 2. Hamahiga no tonfa 3. Matsuhiga no tonfa Kama 1. Nichougama no gurai 2. Furigama I, for one, am trying to do what I can to promote Hayashi-Ha Kenshin-Ryu and am also trying to continue learning more of this system as much more is to be learned.Luis Gonzalez Luis E. Gonzalez, Shihan (3X U.S.A. National Weapons Champion - '92, '05, '06) 7th Dan, Hayashi-Ha Shito-Ryu Japanese Karatedo 5th Dan, Hayashi-Ha Kenshin-Ryu Okinawa Kobudo