"A tree reaches past your embrace grows from one small seed."


The literal translation of the term kobudo is ‘ancient martial arts’, or ‘ancient martial ways’. Kobudo is a very old martial tradition that involves training and practice with a variety of hand held weapons – metal and wooden weapons, bladed and non-bladed weapons. Training with weapons in the martial arts is of vital importance as this method of training teaches the true value of life and emphasizes how fine the line is between life and death through knowledge of the subtle balance between the ‘weapon that gives life’ and the ‘weapon that takes life’. Weapons training reinforces the importance of and necessity for great mental focus and intense physical control as fighting with a weapon, when used as intended, that is, an extension of the human body, is much more dangerous than fighting with bare hands or the body itself (Platt, Williams and Dixon, 1998: 30). 

While Kobudo is not as well known or as popular in the West as its empty handed counterpart, Karate, it has a very long and illustrious history, which can be traced back hundreds of years to a hand full of Asian countries. Many of the kobudo techniques and traditions are rooted in a feudal age of  “phantom chivalry and incessant warfare” where “social distinctions were brutally imposed by an elite few on an oppressed majority” (Bishop, 1996:9). When training in any art and especially in a physical or martial art, it is important to understand the history and origins of the techniques being used and the context in which they were developed as this sheds light not only on how they can be used today, but also on the lessons that are of value when training with or in this system as well as identifying those lessons that are best left behind. Mark Bishop notes that “weapon practice should never be an excuse for any kind of violence, but a powerful means of helping to alleviate that scourge of history” (1996:9). 

As well as being rooted in a history of warfare, the history of kobudo is intimately intertwined with the philosophy of Zen Buddism. Don Draeger, author of ‘Classical Budo’, suggests that “the Do forms are indissolubly tied to Zen. They are, in fact, plastic zen. They are the means by which Zen is kept in touch with everyday life. At the same time, they act only as the vehicles by which the individual can reach high goal, only “helps” towards that last decisive “leap to enlightenment” that culminate in self-perfection. According to Zen concepts, the worst obstacle to self-perfection is self-deception. The do prevent self-deception. The achievement of self-perfection, the “enlightened” state, in a do form can be judged only by masters of the do. It is impossible to simulate this state of being. What is accomplished in the execution of a physical technique presupposes more than simply perfected physical skill. Any action well performed as physical technique fails to be mastery if the performer’s state of mind is tense and he exhibits consciousness of his actions.” 

The Origins of Kobudo: 

The fighting traditions that make up the arts of kobudo were handed down for many generations through word of mouth or oral tradition for many generations before ever being written down. It is therefore difficult to determine exactly where or when they began, which is likely exactly as the original proponents of these arts had intended, given that until relatively recently only certain people were allowed to train with weapons, techniques were carefully guarded and training was often done in relative secrecy. Despite the challenges in ‘authenticating’ these traditions, as many Western scholars require written documents as ‘the ultimate truth’, we can trace the roots of modern Kobudo back to feudal Okinawa and Japan, ancient China and to pre-colonial Philipines (Platt, Williams and Dixon, 1998: 30-31 

Okinawan Kobudo: 

According to a senior student of Sensei Kim, Patrick McCarthy, in his book Ancient Okinawan Martial Arts, one of the earliest accounts of one of the kobudo fighting forms is in the book Okinawa’s 1000 Year History(1999:9). It contains an account of the Ajii (one of the ranks of Okinawan nobility) using bojutsu around the year 1314. McCarthy also mentions another book The Biography of Jiryo, which describes the use of a ‘yaribo’ during the Keicho period from 1596-1615. These early accounts suggest that weapons were used in the Ryukyu kingdom at these times but do not identify whether these weapon defence techniques were indigenous to the Ryukyu islands or were imported as the empty handed Chinese martial arts were. In China the weapon arts were and are as intricate a part of martial arts training as are the empty hand techniques

Sansei Kobudo

The Bo

The BO is a six-foot staff, sometimes tapered at either end. It was perhaps developed from a farming tool called tenbin, a stick placed across the shoulder with baskets or sacks hanging from either end.The BO is considered the 'King' of Okinawan weapons, as all others exploit its weakness in fighting it, whereas when it is fighting them it is using its strengths against them. It is the earliest of all Okinawan weapons(and effectively one of the earliest of all weapons in the form of basic staff), and is traditionally made from red or white oak.

The Eku

The Eku is the Okinawan style of boat oar, noteworthy hallmarks are the slight point at the tip, curve to one side of the paddle and a roof-like ridge along the other. While not having the length, the sharp edges can inflict more penetrating damage when wielded properly.


The Tinbe (shield) can be made of various materials but is commonly found in vine or cane, metal or from a turtle shell. The size is generally 45 cm long and 38 cm wide. The Rochin (short spear) is cut with the length of the shaft being the same distance as the forearm to the elbow if it is being held in hand.The spearhead then protude from the shaft and can be found in varying design from spears to short swords and machete-style implements.

The SAI is appears similar to a short sword, but is not bladed and the end is traditionally blunt. The weapon is metal and of truncheon class with its length dependent upon the forearm of the user. The two shorter prongs on either side of the main shaft are used for trapping other weapons such as sword or BO. There are many other variations of the sai with varying prongs for trapping and blocking, and the shaft can be round or octagonal.

The Tonfa is more readily recognized by its modern development in the form of police nightstick, although its usage differs. It supposedly originated as the handle of a millstone used for grinding grain. The Tonfa is traditionally made from red oak, and can be gripped by the short perpendicular handle of by the longer main shaft. As with all Okinawan weapons, many of the forms are reflective of "empty hand" techniques.

The Kama is the traditional farming sickle and considered one of the hardest to learn due to the inherent danger in practicing with such a weapon.

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