Okinawan Weapons




The Bo is one of the oldest martial weapons, and to many the most versatile. The Bo is the main stay of RyuKyu Kobudo having more kata than any other weapon. The Bo or Roku Shaku Bo as it is more precisely known (a shaku is a unit of measurement almost a foot long), is the predominant kind of Bo used and attracts the most interest by practitioners.

Its length is 6ft, or as is sometimes customary, cut to the height of the user. The wood used is usually Red Oak or White Oak and the Bo is tapered from the tip ends to facilitate better focus of power when impacting a target with a thrust. The weight is dependent on the wood used and is a critical factor for students, too heavy and the techniques become cumbersome, too light and there is not enough power. The weapon itself is an derivation of the water-bucket staff, or tenbin, used since ancient times on Okinawa. The practitioner is taught to hold the weapon initially divisible by thirds and then openly encouraged to develop a more flexible holding style allowing full use of the weapons potential distance. Real Bo-jutsu is fluid with a continuous flowing technique. It is not accurate to perform Bo kata the same way as Karate kata. Striking with the Bo should be more reminiscent of cutting with a sword, rather than the often static techniques of Karate basics.


The Eku was, and is, a genuine tool of Okinawan fisherman. Its popularity was obviously greatest in fishing areas, like Tomari and some of the outlying islands.

The Okinawan oar is only slightly shorter in length than a Bo, and has a long narrow paddle. One side of the paddle is flat, or gently convex, while the other side is peaked. The tip is rounded or slightly pointed.

Its systemization is related greatly to the Bo, but its techniques take advantage of its unique structure. There are techniques for scooping sand into an enemy's face, striking with either end, chopping with the edges and percussive strikes with the flat.

The oar has not been very popular in Japan, however, it is not uncommon among high level Karate-ka on Okinawa.


The royal palace guards specialized in the Jo, or four foot staff, and three foot hanbo ("half Bo"), within the confined spaces of the sleeping (and other private) quarters of Shuri Castle and similar places.

The Jo could be used to strike like a sword, sweep like a naginata, thrust like a spear. Its two ends could be used, unlike the single point of a sword, and its ma-ai (fighting distance) could be varied according to the hand grip you take. Because of its speed and changeable ma-ai, it is a formidable weapon in the hands of a skilled master.


The bladed weapon, the kama was a genuine farmer's tool. It was used as a weapon in many villages for centuries. This weapon brings to the practitioner the feel of steel and the hint of fear a live blade gives. The techniques for the kama include any number of multiple slashing, hooking, thrusting and blocking maneuvers, executed with two kama, or Nichokama. The corner of the blade to the shaft should have a groove cut into it for catching the Bo and other weapons without the blade digging into and getting stuck into the attacking weapon.

The weight of the shaft is dependent upon the strength of the user and should be tapered to the butt end with increasing thickness. This allows for ease of catching and sliding when changing grip. The blade should add sufficient weight to ensure it is the heaviest point in the weapon. This also allows for ease of usage. The length of the weapon should extend to about 3cm passed the elbow when held in reverse grip. The handling of the weapon is the same as the Sai.

The dexterity of the fingers is paramount to the changing grips the weapon affords and needs in kumite. Most students commence with wooded Kama to ensure safety and acclimatization before moving to the more demanding live blades.


A most practical technique is the use of Nitanbo, or two short sticks. It is a method similar to the well known Philippine Escrima, or Arnis, and may even have come to Okinawa via the Philippines. Nitanbo are not considered common weapons in China, but they can be found in Southern White Crane systems, such as "Two Short Rods". In Nitanbo, an approximately 18 inch stave is held in each hand, with which to effect devastating combinations of circular, snapping and linear strikes.


The most controversial of the weapons of the Ryukyu but in essence the least properly explored. Made preferably of red or white oak, or a heavy wood, the sections are tapered from the chord end (2.5cm) to the predominant strike end (3.3cm). The shafts vary from octagonal to round in shape and the weight is dependent on the strength of the user. Again too light and there is no power, and too heavy and the movement is slow and ponderous. Traditionally this weapon is not used in pairs, as the actions of the one should be sufficient. Nunchaku belongs to the family of Bo and is known as the “portable Bo”.

History has not endowed this weapon with traditional kata as shown by the content of those handed down. They are by design training kata to enable better handling and combination work. The essence of the weapon is the kumite, exploring distance, angles and footwork. Impact should be on the tip of the weapon or it will bounce back on the user. For a long period, the nunchaku was said to have been derived from a rice flail, or grain flail. However the grain flail was a much larger tool. Its development on Okinawa is not wholly clear, since a direct precursor to the modern Okinawan nunchaku seems to have been a wooden horse-bridle, or muge.


An interesting weapon that is not often seen in Japan proper, the Nunti, or Nunte, is also known formally as a Nuntesu. It is a type of Sai with points, or tips, on both ends, rather than a handle. In addition, one of the tines is reversed, so that their is a sort of "double sai" effect.

To many, the Manji-sai is really a regularly handled sai, with one tine reversed. Regardless, Taira is credited with developing the Jigen no sai kata for the Nuntesu. Other Nunti, or Nuntesu, kata can be traced to the Uhugushiku (gate guard) and Kanagushiku Sanda traditions.

One of the more unique aspects of the Nunte is that it is often attached to a Bo, and made in to a composite weapon called the Nuntebo (nunte-staff). This was supposedly accomplished by those who spent most of their time in and around the docks and marshes of Tomari. Used as a boat tool, the Nunte spear may actually have been a functional device in the harbor areas of Okinawa. Practice consists of the Tsuken Nuntebo, Matayoshi Nuntebo, Uhugushiku no Nuntebo or by adapting a Bo form such as Choun no kon to the peculiarities of this composite device.


The Sai has become, to many, the virtual symbol of Okinawan Kobudo. The weapon is metal and of the truncheon class with its length dependent upon the forearm of the user. When held it should be about 3cm longer than the forearm and generally Sai are
used in pairs.

Advanced Sai uses 3, with one held in the belt behind ready for, and used for throwing. The tang is of the Korean classification and the pommel is variant to round, square or multi angled types much dependant on the emphasis of the makers usage.

The efficient use of the weapon is much reliant on the dexterity of the practitioner with his thumbs, which the tang is balanced and rotated on along with the loosening and tightening of the grip from the small finger for striking and consolidating power. The early use of the weapon makes the user appear stiff and robotic but as the training advances the flow and unity with body movement becomes ever more apparent. Sai is the practice of 'Shuto' in empty hand and emphasizes the need for 'Koshi no Chikara' (Hip power) and 'Suri Ashi' (sliding movement). The importance of body movement and good footwork is ever more apparent as the weapon is of a smaller classification than Bo. Advanced practitioners must learn to throw the Sai, a difficult requirement in view of the weight.


Legally the most controversial of the Ryukyu weapons the Tekko is the smallest weapon, bringing the exponent closest to open hand techniques. The term 'knuckle duster' creates images of darker methods of fighting but in actuality attacks clearly defined points vulnerable to the taste of metal. The Tekko should be made to the width of the hand with anything between one and three protruding points on the knuckle front with protruding points at the top and the bottom of the knuckle. They can be made of any hard material but are predominately found in aluminum, iron, steel, or wood.

Due to the size of the Tekko the techniques are of the open hand family. The kumite focus on attacking the bony areas of the body such as the wrist, elbow, collar bone, ribs, and ankle. On impact this slows done the opponent drastically and allows for the quick changes of angle and height so apparent when studying Tekko. Gripping techniques prior to and at the time of 'Zanshin' teach the exponent the emphasis on pressure points, which the Tekko takes great advantage of due to its structure. Muscle and bone have to succumb to its efficient design and usage. This weapon is undoubtedly not a farming implement and was clearly design for the purposes of combat.

Tembe - Rochin

This weapon is the most glamorous of the Ryukyu system and exudes a feeling of history long gone. The usage however is more akin to a combination of Zulu fighting and European sword and small shield fighting.

The Tembe (Shield) can be made of various material but is commonly found in vine or cane, metal, or for presentation, in turtle shell. The shield size is generally about 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 the hand. The spearhead then protrudes from the shaft and can be found in many differing designs. The favored style has an expanded middle section before the point, which is twisted upon insertion to make the wound larger. The weight of the blade is critical for the spear usage, which is swiveled between the fingers to use both ends, smashing with the butt end and stabbing with the blade end.

The techniques are circular to avoid too much direct contact on the shield and the short spear is predominantly used in an upward stabbing motion, piercing armor under the rib cage, armpits, and throat. The techniques of the Tembe-Rochin are unique to shield and spear usage.


There is in principal only one kind of Tuifa although the shaft varies in shape from round to rectangular. History has also shown the butt ends to be pointed but this is extremely rare. There are only a few so called traditional kata for the tuifa, although many more basic, or training, kata have been developed in more recent times.

The weapon is used in pairs and is of wood, again red oak or white oak preferably in keeping with the Bo. The length of the weapon is also the same requirements as the Sai, about three centimeters past the elbow when gripped. The weight like the Bo is paramount to the efficient usage of the weapon. Too light and it lacks power in Kumite, too heavy and the techniques lack speed and become ponderous.

Good body movement like the Sai can make this weapon formidable, combining the speed it needs and generates along with the skilful footwork for evasion and attack. Although there are stories of rice millstone grinding implements and horses bridles etc. as being the origins of this weapon, these are merely coincidental. The weapons origins can clearly be traced back to China and be found in Indonesia and surrounding geographical locations. While the weapon may have been introduced into Okinawa via China (or elsewhere in southern Asia), it still does not rule out its use as a mill handle. It may have been "back adapted", by the enterprising Okinawans, in order to keep its use secret.