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History of the Kobudo Weapons

The History


Interest in unarmed fighting arts increased during the 14th century when King Sho Hashi of Chuzan established his rule over Okinawa and banned all weapons. A more rapid development of tode 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 this atmosphere that honed the early Karate-like arts of Okinawa into a weapon, enabling the island people to conduct a guerrilla-type war with the Japanese Samurai that lasted until the late 1800′s.

The Okinawan people developed their farming tools into weapons that were very effective against the samurai. The Kama, Sai, Nunchaku, Bo, and Tonfa are the most common that were utilized. The Oar and Okinawan Brass knuckles are just a couple more.

The Bo

History: The Bo is one of the five weapons systematized by the early Okinawan developers of the style known as te (hand). In feudal Japan it was part of the bugei (early Japanese martial arts) and was used by samurai, priests, and commoners alike. Its six foot length made it an apt weapon against swordsman, disarming the opponent while allowing the user to remain at a safe distance.

Traditional use: The Bo evolved from a pole lanced across the shoulders to carry water or other loads (fruits or vegetables). As a fighting instrument, it allowed blocking and striking against a range of weapons.

Current use: Now part of the budo, the Bo is still used in kata performance. Physical conditioning with the Bo improves balance and upper body strength. Remember a Bo can be found anywhere; a pool stick, a tree limb, a broom, a mop, etc..


The Sai

History: Present in Okinawan and other Asian weapon arsenals, the Sai was used to stab, block, trap and punch. Practitioners often carried a Sai in each hand, and a spare at the belt. The Okinawans would also throw the weapon.

Traditional use: The Sai is believed to have originated from basically nothing more than a pitchfork. As a weapon, it was used in conjunction with various karate stances and techniques, and in defense against sword attacks.

Current use: With sometimes dulled points, the Sai is now a karate training weapon. It tests accuracy in striking and quick counter techniques. It also develops strong shoulder, forearm and wrist strength.


The Kama

History: In 1470, when traditional weapons were confiscated by the Japanese military, Okinawan commoners utilized the Kama as a fighting blade, often attaching a chain to the base for greater reach. This longer weapon was known as a kusarigama.

Traditional use: The Kama was originally used for cutting grass or sugar cane. In close range fighting, the sickle could be used to trap an opponent’s weapon, or for striking.

Current use: The Kama is most commonly used in Kata competition and demonstrations. Although, it is also still used in Okinawa today as a farming tool. The forms include circular movements which improve blocking and countering techniques. This weapon will strengthen the wrist and forearm.


The Tonfa

History: The Tonfa was developed as a weapon by the Okinawans, specifically for use in conjunction with karate. Two Tonfa were often used simultaneously, and were very efficient against armed assailants.

Traditional use: Originally a bean or rice grinder handle, the Tonfa’s circular movements as a farm implement evolved into its rotating strikes as a weapon. The side of the Tonfa was used for blocking, and the ends for direct punches.

Current use: Now an advanced karate training aid, the Tonfa aids in development block-and-strike strategies and upper-body strength. It was also once used by most police departments throughout the United States.


The Nunchaku

History: The Nunchaku: Developed in the 17th century by Okinawans after the Japanese gained occupation of their land, the nunchaku was one of many harmless looking weapons implemented at the time. The two equal sections were originally held together by horse hair and could be used against armed or unarmed assailants.

Traditional use: The nunchaku was originally an agricultural tool used for threshing grain. As a weapon, it was used in conjunction with various stances and techniques. The sticks could be used for spearing or striking, and the horse hair rope could choke , block, or trap.

Current use: The nunchaku is a popular weapon for demonstrations. It is also used as a weapon of self-defense by karate stylists and some law enforcement agencies.


The Eku (Oar)

History: The Eku: This was and still is today used as nothing more than a boat oar. Because the Okinawans were fisherman this was a common device that was found around the beaches.

Traditional use: The Eku was very effective against the samurai warrior because of the distance they would be able to keep the samurai away from them. The techniques involved kicking the blade of the eku while in the sand, throwing sand into the eyes of their opponents and temporarily blinding them.  This would give them a tremendous advantage, allowing them to more easily defeat the samurai.

Current use: The Eku is mainly used by high level Kobudo practitioners and is not very often seen. Training with the Eku develops coordination, upper body strength, and quickness. The same oar as we use in Kenshin Kan is the same oar they still use in the dragon boat races in Okinawa.



History: The Tekko: Used for easing the handling of horses harnessed to carriages.

Traditional use: The Tekko were developed from various sources depending on the type used. The tekko/metal knuckle-duster was used from the stirrups of a horse while the wooden tecchu is said to have come from the Okinawan fisherman. The fisherman used this instrument to assist with hauling their nets in order so that the coral would not tear the skin of their hands.

Current use: The Tekko is mainly used by high level Kobudo practitioners and is not very often seen. Training with the Tekko develops upper body strength, and quickness.