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Okinawan kobudo (also known as Ryukyu Kobujutsu, Koryu, or just as Kobudo) is a Japanese term that can be translated as “old martial way of Okinawa“. It generally refers to the classical weapon traditions of Okinawan martial arts. It is a popular story and common belief that Okinawan farming tools evolved into weapons due to restrictions that prevented the peasants from carrying arms combined with a scarcity of iron in Okinawa. The peasants reacted by developing a fighting system around their traditional farming tools. At Okinawa Karate Kobudo Kai, we practice Matayoshi Ryu Kobudo. This particular brand of kobudo is a collection of techniques and katas that were developed by weapons master Matayoshi Shinko as taught by the late Seikichi Odo who studied under masters Matayoshi Shimpo, Kakazu, and Sieke Toma. Matayoshi Ryu Kobudo contains a vast array of weapons. It is distinguised from many other styles of kobudo by its emphasis on practicality. The techinques and katas are not merely beautiful movements or dances, they are powerful and realistic.

The martial arts system known as Matayoshi Ryu Kobudo was developed by Shinko Matayoshi. Matayoshi Shinko spent several years in China studying weaponry, boxing, and medicine. He grew up in Shinbaru village, Chatan. In Chatan he learned a variety of kobudo weapons including bo, sai, kama, nunchaku, and tunfa from Gushikawa no Tiragawa and Jitude Moshigawa Ire. Around 1911 Matayoshi went to Manchuria, where he joined a bandit gang. In Manchuria he learned horse riding, lassoing, shurikenjutsu, and the art of the bow and arrow. Later, Matayoshi went to Shanghai and learned the surunchin, nunti-bo, tinbei boxing and herbal medicine. In 1934 Matayoshi returned to Okinawan. There he began studying a form of Shaolin and also began to teach kobudo to his son Shimpo Matayahoshi–who would later inherit the art.
Shinko Matayoshi had a son named Shimpo Matayoshi. Sometime around the age of nine years old, Shinpo Matayoshi started karate training under the guidance of Chotoku Kyan. In 1934 he started learning kobudo from his father. From 1935 onward he learned White Crane from Gokenki in Naha. Shinpo Matayoshi taught kobudo in the Kanagawa Prefecture for several years. 1969 was the year in which he opened his own dojo named the Kodokan in tribute to his father.
Nunchaku are undisputably the most well-known of all martial arts weapons. Nunchaku’s are flashy weapons easily able to wow the initiated and uninitiated alike. As a result nunchakus find consistent use in martial arts films and demonstrations. A pair of nunchaku is simply a flail–two sticks connected at the ends by lengths of nylon, braided horse hair, rope or chain.

In combat nunchakus are used as flails. One end is held, the nunchaku swung, and the opponent is blugeoned by the other end. Nunchakus can also be used to choke, strangle or otherwise restrain an opponent. The handles can be used to block attacks and also to poke or spear. The handles are also useful as truncheons (as opposed to flails).
The “Hollywood style” of nunchaku use (where the weapon is swung around the user’s head, neck, groin, and other body aread) requires some skill. The Hollywood style, however, has virtually no practical combat application (except perhaps, to impress or to scare a would be assailant into leaving you alone).

A very popular weapon in modern martial arts competition, the Kama still finds use as a garden/farming tool in Okinawa and other parts of Asia. Kama (sickles) have a varying uses, which include weeding, cutting grain, and harvesting pineapples.
As with all the okinawan weapons, kama construction is very simple. A kama consists of a harwood handle with a sharp blade attached to one end.
In kobudo, kama are usually used in pairs to slash and stab opponents.
The Tunfa is a hardwood truncheon with a wooden handle attached at right angles at about 6 inches (15 cm) from one end. The shaft of the tonfa is usually 20 – 24 inches (50 – 60 cm) in length. Ideally, if the martial artist holds the tunfa by the handle, the shaft should extend a slightly below the elbow. As is the case with many other Okinawan weapons, the tonfa was originally a farming tool. Tonfas were millstone handles. The okinawans adapted the tunfa for use in combat and a system of highly effective techniques were developed. The widespread use of tonfas (and their variants) by police departments and security agencies around the world, is evidence of the weapon’s effectiveness.

Tunfas are ordinarily used in pairs. In combat with the tunfa held by the handle and the shaft lying along the forearm, the tonfa user can employ techniques almost identical to close-fisted techniques. The shaft reinforces forearm blocking techniques, and the hardwood construction even allows defense against bo, sword and naginata attacks. In this position the short ends of the tonfa can be used to punch an opponent. Other offensive applications include swivelling the tonfa so that the long end points away from the forearm. The tonfa then extends the reach, and can be used as a powerful bludgeoning tool.

The Bo‘s simplicity belies the fact that it is one of the most versatile weapons. A hardwood staff or pole usually around six feet long, the bo has a wide variety of applications. It is extremely useful in open areas and gives its user a substantial increase in reach. The bo is used for striking and poking at at a distance, and also to block or parry incoming attacks.


The Sai has a primarily defensive purpose and is a truncheon rather than a bladed weapon. It is forked with the central shaft extended to make an overall length of 15-20 inches. The sai is made of iron and weighs a couple of pounds. Sai defenses against bladed or staff type weapons can be done in two different ways. An offensive action can be trapped by the sai positioned in front of the user’s hand or a rapid wrist movement can reverse the position, bringing the but or handle end forward. Counterattacks are jabs, pokes and strikes. Sais are most often used in pairs. Occasionally a third sai is carried for throwing or as backup in case one is lost in combat.
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!

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