Karate Weapons

Karate means “empty hand,” so karate weapons may seem like a contradiction in terms. But though weapons are not obligatory in this martial art, their use can double your strength, enhance your coordination, and make you a superior empty-handed fighter.

“Okinawan karate and weapons are like brother and sister,” explains karate and kobudo (Okinawan weapons) expert Tadashi Yamashita. “They complement each other.”

The physical conditioning that weapons offer karate stylists has increased their popularity in recent years, and people are eager to learn more about their history and current applications. “You try different foods,” says Yamashita, “you must also try different weapons to see which are best for you. If you don’t try, how do you know?”

Following is a list of some of the more common weapons of karate training, including their histories and current and traditional uses. You’re sure to find the one that suits you.

Simply put, karate means empty hands. Kobujitsu or Kobudo on the other hand is and Okinawan term for fighting with weapons. By walking into almost any martial arts school in the world, you will inevitably see a wall full of ancient style weapons that were originally not developed AS a weapon.

Early in the 1600s, Japan conquered the Ryukyu Islands whose main island is Okinawa. Okinawa is located some 300 miles south of the southernmost tip of the mainland of Japan. Fearing an over throw, the emperor of Japan forced the people of Okinawa to give up all weapons.

Thanks to trade, the nearness of China as well as the Shaolin monks and nuns who helped them, the Okinawans developed a means of self-protection by using common farm implements for weapons. Most of what are now traditional martial arts weapons are still used for farming to this day.

Nunchaku – “flail” Commonly called “nun chucks” or “chucks”, this is without doubt the most well known of the weapons. It is basically two sticks connected to each other by a string or chain. Their farming use was to beat the rice so it can be tossed on a large screen or piece of material to allow the wind to blow away the husks. The nunchaku can be used as both an offensive and defensive weapon by using them to strike, trap, jab, or choke an attacker.

Bo-“staff” The Bo is a long wooden staff for herding livestock, guiding boats or used as a way of carrying supplies in baskets. In this instance the Bo was placed across the shoulders and the baskets would hang from either side. Although there are two styles of the Bo, the average length of both is 6’ with a diameter of 3.5 inches. The Chinese Bo keeps an equal diameter along its entire length where as the Okinawan style tapers at each end. This tapering makes for a much more focused and affective strike. Regardless of the style, its ends are used to strike an opponent’s eyes, throat, and solar plexus of groin. It can also be used to block an attack as well as to sweep the feet. For those who are well versed in its use, a broom, mop, paint handle and any number of household items can make for an excellent stand in.

Tonfa- The Tonfa was developed as a handle for a grinder of rice in Japan and soybeans in Okinawa. The Tonfa is found to be affective when laid across the forearm as a way to block a sword or Bo attack. Tonfas are made of a hardwood such as oak, are approximately 17 inches long and have a 4.5 to 5 inch long handle near one end. The Tonfa is usually about 2 inches thick and has gained immense popularity among law enforcement agencies. The police issue PR-24 is carried by countless police officers as a nightstick and seen on television regularly.

Kama – A deadly, razor sharp sickle that has a half-moon shaped blade and wooden handle. The Kama is still used by farmers to cut rice and grass but seldom taught as a weapon due to its dangerous nature. The Kama is a defensive weapon that was used against sword and Bo attacks. It can become deadly when used as an extension of the users hands. In hand to hand fighting, the Kama is used to block a punch or kick but as it does so, the sickle blade can slash deeply into the arm or leg. There have been reported cases where a wrist or other body part was actually severed during practice and training.

Sai- (pronounced sigh) The sai was developed for planting rice or vegetable seeds. It resembles a trident and has central, rounded or octagonal shaped steel blade approximately 16 inches long. On either side of the blade there are two prongs that are wrist guards. Sais can be used for a number of things such as stabbing, slashing, punching, blocking, and even throwing. It is believed that farmers who used the sai would carry three at a time. One sai for each hand and one was kept in the belt to throw if necessary. Legend states a strap of some sort was occasionally tied to the handle so the farmer could retrieve it.


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