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Who Else Wants to Know About Kobudo?

Closely related to Karate, the history of Kobudo is afflicted with its share of ambiguity. However essentially, Kobudo is a Japanese martial art, practiced using a variety of weapons and taught at numerous karate dojos around the world. In case you have learned of the existence of kobudo and plan to take it up or are just interested to know a little more about it, here is a concise but informative guide covering the history, weapons, techniques and masters of kobudo.

Kobudo Origins: The legend and the Known Facts

When the island kingdom of Okinawa fell under the rule of the Satsuma samurai clan in 1609, the local citizens were forbidden by their occupiers from carrying or publicly practicing with weapons such as spears and swords. This much is fact, but legend takes over in having us believe that the Okinawans, keen to have a means to defend themselves, took up the practice of training to fight with the tools they traditionally used for tending their farms.

It is certainly true that the people of Okinawa secretly trained to fight. However historians believe that the weapons they used were similar to those found in China, Malaysia and Indonesia, dating from before the time of the Satsuma occupation. Whichever version of history you choose to believe, it is plausible that Okinawan Kobudo as a fighting style was born in those turbulent times at the turn of the 17th century.

Over a period of many years, it’s believed that Chinese and South East Asian martial arts were incorporated into the kobudo system, developing the style which is still practiced today. For the earliest documented historical evidence of kobudo as an established system, we need to fast forward to the mid-eighteenth century when two kobudo masters, Sakugawa Kanga and Chatan Yara were teaching students using techniques heavily influenced by their own martial arts studies in China.

The most famous students of Sakugawa were Ginowan Donchi, Matsu Higa and Chinen Chikudun no Peichin. Much of the Kobudo practiced today can be directly traced back to the teachings of Chinen Chikudun no Peichin.

Upholders of the Kobudo Legacy

The kobudo kata and weapons which are known today owe a lot to a man named Taira Shinken, who spent the early part of the 20th century travelling the Ryukyu Islands compiling kobudo kata. He collected a total of 42 different kata, which collectively comprised the use of eight individual types of weapon. Another founder of modern kobudo was Shinko Matayoshi, the son of a wealthy family from the Naha region of Okinawa. He was the first master to publicly demonstrate Okinawan Kobudo on the mainland of Japan in 1915. His son, Shimpo Matayoshi, continued his father’s legacy throughout the second half of the 20th century. Shimpo Matayoshi founded the All Okinawa Kobudo Federation in 1970 and went on to become the technical advisor for all styles of Okinawan Kobudo until he passed away in 1997.

The Weapons of Kobudo

Many different weapons were historically used in Kobudo, however the most well-known weapons, which are used for training in modern Kobudo are:

·        The Sai – Three-pronged truncheons which are wielded in pairs: One sai in each hand.

·        The Bo – A wooden staff approximately 6 feet in length.

·        The Kama – Basically a rice sickle with a handle the length of your forearm and a crescent-shaped blade attached. Usually wielded in pairs

·        The Tonfa – A straight baton with a handle projecting at 90 degrees. Instantly recognizable as the forerunner of the modern side-handle police baton. In Kobudo, tonfa are usually used in pairs.

·        The Nunchaku – Two equal lengths of wood connected at the ends by a chain or rope.

·        The Ekku – An oar shaped weapon uses in a similar way to a bo, but also designed to scoop up sand or earth to fling towards an opponent’s face.

·        The Tekko – Another kobudo weapon used in pairs, the tekko is shaped like a horsehoe and is gripped in the centre of the “D” shape.

Some lesser known kobudo weapons include:

·        Tinbe-Rochin – A short spear and shield used together

·        Sansetsukon – Similar to a nunchaku but with three lengths of wood rather than two

·        Kuwa – A derivative of the common or garden hoe, consisting of a short handle, with either a rectangular blade or three prongs attached

·        Yari – A long-handled, straight spear

·        Surujin – A length of rope or chain, either with weights at both ends or a weight at one end and a metal spike at the other

·        Nunti-Bo – A wooden staff with a sai mounted at the end

Depending on the style of kobudo taught by a given dojo or school, kata using some or all of the weapons listed above may be included in training.

Common Kobudo Styles

Many karate styles incorporate kobudo as part of the training curriculum. There are also a few pure styles of kobudo which focus primarily on use of the traditional weapons, although they may also incorporate elements of unarmed karate.

Matayoshi Kobudo is one of the oldest kobudo styles and was pioneered by Matayoshi Shinko and his son, Matayoshi Shinpo. There are an estimated 2,000 dojos teaching this style today. Matayoshi Kobudo incorporates kata in all the known kobudo weapons with the exception of the Yari.

Ryukyu Kobudo is a type of Kobudo which was developed at the hands of Taira Shinken. The style focuses on swift and fluid hip movements and primarily makes use of the bo and the sai. Other weapons in which Ryukyu kobudo kata are taught include the Tonfa, Kama, Ekku, Tinbe-Rochin, Tekko, Nunchaku and Tonfa.

Tokushinryu Kobudo is a very modern style developed by Tokumura Kensho. This is an eclectic style of kobudo which emphasizes the use of chinkuchi (explosive use of sudden bodily tension when blocking or punching). This style utilizes some of the less common kobudo weapons as well as standards such as the bo and sai.

Yamanni Ryu Kobudo is a style which was almost unknown outside of Okinawa until very recent times. This style of kobudo focuses primarily on the use of the bo, with the sai, tonfa, nunchaku and kama taught as secondary weapons. The signature characteristics of Yammani Ryu Kobudo are a powerful and swift circular motion, pliable footwork and vibrant body dynamics.

As well as these common styles, there are many hybrid versions of kobudo which blend the kata and characteristics of multiple styles and may also include unarmed karate elements.

Some Famous Kobudo Masters

Perhaps the most celebrated master or sensei of kobudo is the great Taira Shinken. He was born on the Okinawan island of Kume in 1897. Taira was the second son in a family of four children and his name at birth was Shinken Maezato. However at some point in his early life he took on his mother’s maiden name, Taira. In 1922, Taira traveled to Tokyo searching for work and it was there that he began studying Ryūkyū kobudo.

In 1932, after studying kobudo for three years, Taira opened his own dojo in the prefecture of Gunma, where he taught kobudo and karate in which he was also a master. In later years he opened further dojo in Naha, Okinawa as well as at Kanto and Kansai in mainland Japan. In 1970, Taira became president of the Ryukyu Kobudo Preservation and Promotion Society. Unfortunately, 1970 was also the year of Taira’s death.

It’s thanks to the tireless work of Taira Shinken that kobudo is an Okinawan marshal art which thrives as a topic of study in karate dojos around the world, although this form of weapon wielding self-defense has never been as popular as the empty-hand techniques which it’s designed to complement.

Toshihiro Oshiro is a kobudo sensei from Haneji in Okinawa, who now resides in California. He began studying karate when he was six years old and later took up the study of Yamanni-Ryu. Today, Toshihiro holds the status of eighth Dan in Yamanni-Ryu as well as ninth Dan in Shorin-Ryu Karate. He still teaches Okinawan martial arts at his dojo in San Mateo, CA.

Motokatsu Inoue was a grandson of former Prime Minister of Japan, Katsura Taro. Motokatsu was born in 1918 and began learning martial arts at an early age from his family’s security specialist. His teacher’s name was Soke Seiko Fujita, credited with the honor of being the very last true ninja. Motokatsu later studied kobudo under Taira Shinken and was eventually recognized officially as the grand master of Ryukyu Kobujutsu.

Why Study Kobudo?

As a martial art, kobudo is about much more than simply learning to block attacks and strike back with a weapon in your hand. Kobudo enables you to develop physical and mental skills as well as enhancing physical wellbeing through the rigorous workout the training puts your body through. Elements of your physical and mental condition which kobudo can enhance include:

·        Mental discipline

·        Physical strength and speed

·        Stamina and coordination

·        Spiritual discipline, motivation and self-control

If you should decide to take up the study of this ancient and revered martial art, you will be able to use your dojo’s equipment initially. However if you’d like to purchase your own Kobudo weapons, you can find them for sale online from vendors such as Swords of the East.