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
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
EkuThe 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
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
strength of the user. Again too light and there is no power, and too heavy and
movement is slow and ponderous. Traditionally this weapon is not used in pairs,
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
those handed down. They are by design training kata to enable better handling
combination work. The essence of the weapon is the kumite, exploring distance,
and footwork. Impact should be on the tip of the weapon or it will bounce back
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
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
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
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,
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
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.