Kobudo History and Weapons Photos Page

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Kobudo is the art of Okinawan weaponry - Basically farming and fishing implements

When the Ryukyu kingdom of Okinawa was subjugated by the Satsuma samurai in 1609, a strong interest was given to the practice of kobudo.  Traditional military weapons such as swords, hand axes and cleavers which had been hastily mustered during the invasion of Okinawa were almost completely outlawed. This ban followed an earlier prohibition by Sho Shin, the Ryukyuan king a century before the Satsuma invasion. Thus Tode or Okinawan-Te, as the Satsuma Samurai soon called it, became the only means of protection left to the Okinawans. However, Empty-hand fighting was usually ineffective against a skilled swordsman. Hense, it was because of this, and the war like atmosphere at the time, that honed the early Karate-like arts of Okinawa into a weapon art (Kobudo), enabling the island people to conduct a guerrilla-type war with the Japanese Samurai that lasted into the late 1800's.

The Okinawan people developed their farming tools into weapons that were very effective against the samurai. This art of defense became known as kobudo or Kobujitsu.  Although Kobujitsu was an art seperate from the Okinawan art of Karate, it was commonly use together as an effective form of defense. In the art of Kobudo - the Kama, Sai, Nunchaku, Bo, jo, Hanbo and Tonfa are the most common weapons that were utilized. The Oar (Eku), Okinawan Brass knuckles, Tembe-Rochin, Nuntesai, Short Sticks, Nuntebo, Nitanbo, and several more weapons was an addition to Kobujitsu.

Okinawan Bo - The use of the Bo was commonly known as Bojutsu


The sai, also spelled saya, is a short spike sword or pronged truncheon. It is unknown when the sai originated from a farm implement or personal tool of some sort; a ladies forked hairpin has been plausibly suggested as its source. The sai is a three-pronged short sword, usually about 18" - 20" in length and made of steel. Sai are traditionally sharp at the tip allowing it to be used as a spear, but the tips are no longer constructed this way for safety in training purposes. The outer two prongs are much shorter than the long middle prong. The sai were carried in the belt and used in pairs. Okinawans often carried three in case one was dropped or lost in battle. The sai was used to ensnare the katana (long sword) or thrusting bo, and/or to deflect while using the other sai to counterattack with a strike or a spearing motion. Karateka can perform all blocking and striking techniques with the sai as with the empty hands. Sai work is integral in Okinawan kobudo, and the weapon is still used to today by many of the police in Japan and on Okinawa

Tonfa (Tuifa)

The tuifa was developed from the handle of a rice grinder. It is similar to a police night stick and is often used in pairs. Tuifa training was developed to protect the forearm in blocking a katana or bo attack and was swung out with the weapon at the opponent's head or ribs in counterattack. Used in this manner, the tuifa is deadly in combat. The tuifa can also be used for all manner of blocking and striking as with empty hands. It exerts tremendous force when swung at a great velocity. The tuifa, when used correctly, confuses the opponent when swung in rapid arcs and patterns and then lashed out quickly at the opponent's head, ribs, or joints. It is one of the least practiced or understood of the classical Okinawan weapons albeit one of the most effective. Unfortunately, the art of the tuifa is slowly dying on Okinawa because of the increasing popularity of the bo, sai, and nunchaku. On mainland Japan, it is referred to as the tonfa.


The kama was a tool used to cut weeds and bring in the crop. It was a very simple but very sharp and potentially deadly weapon. Its structure however made it very weak when attacked with heavy blows directly to the blade. Therefore, there has been a redesign of the weapon, which is called natagama. It is stronger in its construction, because the blade runs through past the curve of the normal kama and all the way down into the handle. This makes the cutting edge bigger, and above all, the previous weak point where the sickle was attached to the stick has disappeared.


This weapon became very popular in America, mainly do to its use by the legendary Chinese American Actor and Martial Artist Bruce Lee in the 1970's.
As all other okinawan weaponry, the origin of this weapon is obscure. Some say it has a Chinese origin, others say it was developed from a horsebit, but it seems like it was used by peasant to beat rice. It probably came into action somewhere in the 16th century, like sai, tonfa, etc. The nunchaku is made out of 2 sticks, usually some hard wood, and connected with a rope (it used to be a horsetailhair) or a chain. As the sticky vary in length, size and weight, so does the length of the connection between the two sticks. The nunchaku stick is normally as long as the forearm but it is up to your personnal favor to make it as long as you want.
The nunchaku stick is divided into 3 parts: the upper part (jokon-bu), the middle part (chukon-bu) and the lower-part (kikon-bu). The top of the stick is called kontoh and the rope passes through the hole (ana). The bottom of the nunchaku is called kontei.
There are a heap of variations of a normal nunchaku. It seems that the Chinese had a round stick nunchaku, or maru gata nunchaku. The Japanese made it a little more efficient by making the sticks octogonal (8 sides). This nunchaku is called hakabukei nunchaku. Then, there is a nunchaku with one long stick and a short stick, which is called so setsu kon nunchaku. It should prevent you from hitting your own hand when you miss a hit. The han kei nunchaku is made out of 2 halfs of a stick which fit nicely together and makes it easy to carry. The san setsu kon nunchaku is the 3 sectional staff. The sticks may vary in size. Sometimes, the middle one is a little shorter than the outer ones. Another variation of this nunchaku has one normal stick, and the other side is composed out of 2 shorter sticks. It makes it harder to block an attack and it is easier to loop another weapon or attacker with this nunchaku. Another variation, the yon setsu kon nunchaku is made out of 4 sticks: long piece/short piece/rope/short piece/ long piece.

Some of the important old masters that contributed to the development of the art include names like Sakugawa, Chatan Yara, Sanda Chinen, Masami Chinen, Moden Yabiku, Kinjo Ufuchiku, Gibu Kanegawa, the prolific Taira Shinken, Shinko Matayoshi and so on.  In more recent times men like Eisuke Akamine, Ryuso Sakagami, Motokatsu Inoue and Teruo Hayashi have all been at the fore front of the leading and teaching of these great kobudo arts.

Eku (oar)

The eku is one of the lesser-known Okinawan weapons. It is obviously based on the common oar used throughout the Ryukyu islands. It can be used in a manner very similar to the  bo, thrusting and striking one's opponent. because of its heavier mass and bladed edges, it has formidible sriking power when used in cutting motions. It has one other unique property - it can be used to scoop sand at the opponent's eyes!


Although the Makiwara is not a weapon, but a very important training tool, the Makiwara is a essential training device  for all Okinawan karateka's. Rarely seen outside Okinawan styles, the makiwara is basically a board about 4 feet long, padded at one end and anchored at the other. The use of the Makiwara can help the karateka to learn proper punching technique, stance, weight transfer, and hip rotation.