HISTORY: Interest in unarmed fighting increased during the 14th century when King Sho Hashi of Chuzan established his rule over Okinawa and banned all weapons. A further development of Tode (Okinawan Te) followed in 1609 when the Satsuma Clan of Kyushu, Japan occupied Okinawa and again banned the possession of all weapons. With the banning of all conventional weapons the Okinawans turned to karate as a means of defending themselves. It was during this time of conflict, that the Okinawan people (Predominately a farming and fishing village) developed their farming tools into weapons that were very effective against the samurai.
The Kama, Sai, Bo, Nunchaku, Tonfa and Ekku were the most common tools that were transformed in this manner. The practice of the weapons are now taught in the form of kata, containing many of the techniques that reflect their early use and development.
The Bo evolved from a pole balanced across the shoulders to carry water and other loads that were suspended on either end of the pole, it was also used as a walking aid and was a weapon that was carried by samurai, priests and commoners alike. Six foot in length, it allows for attacking and defending techniques utilizing both ends of the weapon, executed from a safe distance.
The Sai has a relatively short history compared to that of other Kobujutsu systems found on Okinawa. Used extensively throughout Asia as a fighting weapon, it was also used by the Okinawan Police Department who carried the weapon as an aid to control crowds and arrest criminals.
There are basically two schools of thought regarding its development and use. The first being it developed from an agricultural back ground, thought to have originated basically from a pitch fork.
The second is that it was developed purely as a fighting weapon, possibly from China and implemented into the Okinawan Kobujutsu Fighting Arts.
The sai was further developed and used in conjunction with the principals of karate. Typically one sai was used for defending while the other for countering with a strike, punch or a thrusting technique.
A third sai was sometimes carried which was slightly smaller and used for throwing.
In 1470 when traditional weapons were confiscated by the Japanese military, The Okinawans utilized the kama as a fighting blade. Originally used for cutting grass or sugar cane the kama (also referred to as the sickle) became a deadly close range fighting tool. The kama was sometimes fitted with a chain or rope to one end of the handle to give the weapon greater reach, this longer version of the kama was known as the Kusarigama. The kusarigama was one of Hohan Soken’s favourite weapon forms.
The Tonfa is basically a rice or milling grinder handle, from there it was developed into a fighting weapon used in conjunction with karate techniques. They were used in pairs, incorporating circular strikes, thrusts and either ends for punching attacks, it allowed excellent protection to ones forearm during blocking. A longer and narrower version of the tonfa has been used by a number of police departments also.
The Nunchaku was originally an agricultural tool used for threshing grain. The two sections of wood held together by a short piece of rope or horse hair were developed into a weapon of defence.
Its main attacking techniques are a variety of swinging attacks, together with thrusting strikes, the nunchaku can also be used in close to apply strangulation techniques. There is also a three piece nunchaku which is effective against someone defending with a shield.
The Okinawan Ekku, more commonly known as the oar, was used in similar fashion to the Bo.
However because of the oars make up it became a very useful weapon by utilizing the blade of the oar in a cutting motion to attack the body or legs. A technique commonly used when defending was to flick sand up into the attackers eyes, using the tip of the blade to scoop the sand up.