The following are brief explanations of some of the more common Karate/Kobudo
(In 1470, traditional
weapons were outlawed by the Japanese military, so Okinawan peasants began
stylizing farming or fishing implements as weapons for defense against armed
- Bo (Kun)
One of the earliest
weapons to be developed by Karate practitioners in Okinawa and Japan, the bo
(Japanese name) or kun (Okinawan name) for a wooden staff approximately five
to six feet in length (Okinawan staves tend to be longer).
There are two styles
of the bo. The Chinese bo keeps an equal diameter along its entire length
where as the Okinawan style tapers at each end.
The bo was used
by bushi (military warriors), priests and peasants alike. The bo's practical
origins stem from poles balanced across the shoulders to carry buckets of
water, or baskets,
for herding livestock,
or guiding boats. In fighting application it allows blocking and striking against a
range of weapons. A primary advantage of this weapon was its length which
enables one to disarm a swordsman or strike an armed opponent while
remaining at a safe distance.
It can also be used to
block an attack as well as to sweep the feet.
Still one of the most popular weapons of budo,
the bo is commonly used in kata and demonstrations. It is also beneficial
for improving balance and upper-body strength.
- Sai (#9)-
sigh) The sai is a
short, forklike metal weapon approximately 15 to 20 inches in length. The
weapon consists of a shaft, pointed in front and tapered to a blunt lipped
central blade can be rounded or octagonal
and two tines projecting forward from about a quarter of the distance
from the end of the shaft. The sai is believed to have originated from the
was developed for
planting rice or vegetable seeds. Its traditional weapon applications include usage in various
Karate stances and as a form of defense against sword attacks. It was also
used to stab, trap block and punch, with practitioners carrying a sai in
either hand and a spare attached to their belt. The weapon could also be
thrown. History of the sai can be traced to India, China, Malaysia,
Indonesia. The weapon immigrated to Okinawa and became one of the five
systemized weapons of the early Karate developers. In its current
application the sai is used as a training weapon (with dulled points) to
test accuracy in striking and quick block-and-counter techniques.
The Nunchaku is one of
the most recognizable of traditional weapons thanks to its proliferation
through cinema. An Okinawan weapon composed of two pieces of hardwood
connected by rope or chain, the most common nunchaku is octagonal (hjakakuei).
Variations include the round (maru-gat) in which both pieces are round and
of even length; long-short (so-setsu-kon) in which one piece is half the
length of the other; half-size (han-kei) in which the two sides, when placed
together, form one circular piece of wood; three-piece (san-setsu-kon); and
four-piece (yon-setsu-kon). Origins of the Nunchaku are as a rice flail or a
tonfa was originally used by peasants and farmers as a bean or rice grinder.
The tonfa's circular movements as a farm tool evolved into its rotating
strikes as a weapon, with the side of the tonfa used for blocks and the ends
for thrusts. Traditionally two tonfa were often used simultaneously and were
very efficient against armed assailants. In modern Karate training the tonfa
aids development of block-and-strike strategies and upper-body strength.
Also known as the tuifa, tunfa, or ton-kwa, expert use of the tonfa is a
rarity in Okinawa these days.
Originally used as a
rice-harvesting tool and to cut grass, the kama, or sickle, was an optimal
choice for early Karate practitioners versus opponents armed with a blade. For great reach they
attached a chain to the base of the sickle to develop a form of the weapon
known as kusarigama. The kama is used either singly or in pairs, one in each
hand, for close-range combat. It is employed to slash, hook, rake, chop,
deflect or block. The kama has a short blade set perpendicular to a hardwood
handle. Modern day kama use is primarily restricted to kata and
demonstrations. The kata include several circular movements that improve
blocking and countering techniques.
developed by Okinawan fishermen and farmers, the nunte has a central shaft
and two prongs, one pointing away and the other pointing toward its wielder.
The nunte is 15 inches long and usually placed atop a staff to form a spear.
It can also be thrown or used as a dagger. In its original form the nunte
was used as a fishing device. In traditional combat application, the nunte
was used to either hook the samurai sword and snap its blade, or to twist
the sword from an attacker's hand. The nunte modern application is mostly
found in kata and demonstrations in which it is held in hand or attached to
the end of a staff. The weapon is also known as a manji-no-sai.
Okinawan oar, (also
called a Kai) is 5 to 6 ft in length. Typically shorter than the Bo. The
blade usually runs about 1/3 of the length of the weapon and has one side
that is smooth and the other with a central ridge or spine. A very advanced
level wooden weapon requiring accurate manipulation of the surface areas for
striking or blocking.
- Katana -
The katana was the
favoured weapon of the samurai warrior and Japan's most widely used sword.
It is a long, curved, single-edged sword with a blade a little over two feet
long. The katana's hilt, usually made of wood and covered with skin and silk
cords, was removable. Drawn in a sky-to-ground manner, the katana was worn
in the belt on the left side, edge upward. Employed as a thrusting weapon on
horseback and foot, the katana was also used in competition and ritual
deaths. Many katana's were crafted by master swordsmen whom kept their art a
Nunte Bo (#1)-
When the Manji Sai or
Nunte is placed atop a staff to form a spear, it becomes the Nunte Bo which
may be employed as a stabbing or slashing device taking advantage of the
added range provided by the staff. The nunte bo was also used to either hook
the opponent's weapon or body, forcing the opponent to become off balance or
disrupt his attack. The nunte bo is now seen in kata and
demonstrations in which it shows the range and trapping abilities provided
by this weapon.
- Yari -
In terms of historical
significance, the Japanese spear or yari is second only to the bow and
arrow. The yari was used by men and women of the samurai class and has been
a part of Oriental weaponry for thousands of year. Bujutsu schools
specializing in the use of the weapon (sojutsu) abounded in Japan, each
teaching a different method of yari fighting. Higher-ranking Japanese bushi
carried his spear when on horseback, fastened to his leg or stirrup in an
iron or copper spear nest called a yari-ate. Foot soldiers carried their
spears on their shoulders. The yari was primarily used as a thrusting weapon
and existed in several forms including the pipe spear and the three-bladed
spear. There were two major arts of spear usage: yari-jutsu the art of the
straight spear; and naginata-jutsu -the art of the curved spear. Each art
was subdivided into numerous styles concerned with the use of various long
and short spears and javelins. Each style shared a number of common basic
techniques including strikes, thrusts and parries. Today the yari is only
used in yari kata, though knowledge of such kata is not widespread.
- Naginata -
The use of the
naginata emanates from the 11th century when the Monamoto and the Taira
clans began feuding and found the weapon highly effective for its combined
cutting and thrusting properties. In its early form the naginata consisted
of a blade and a shaft, with the handguard added later. Double-edged blades
and blades set at right angles (jumon-ji naginata) became the most popular
variations. Traditionally the naginata was employed with propeller like
slashes directed to all parts of the opponent's anatomy. The naginata could
keep a sword-wielding enemy at bay. It is also believed that the
introduction of armor for the legs and lower part of the body was owed to
the effectiveness of naginata. During the Muromachi Period (1392 - 1573)
hundreds of styles of naginata developed, but with the arrival of firearms
in 1542 began a decline. By 1600 the naginata was relegated to a symbolic
position. During the Edo Period (1600 -1808) the naginata became known as
the 'woman's spear' as women of the samurai class were the prime wielders of
the weapon for self-protection. Naginata-do is still popular with Japanese
woman and is part of several academic sports programs in Japan. In national
competitions women compete with naginata against men with bokken (wooden
swords). Indeed it is said that there are few more graceful or interesting
spectacles in Japan today than the manipulation of this weapon by an expert
- Jo -
“short staff” Developed by Muso Gonnosuke
after suffering a defeat by swordsman Minamoto Muashi in the early 1600s. It
is made of hard wood and is 4 feet in length. This shorter length allowed
close fighting with possibilities the longer bo can’t allow. The jo can be
used to choke, pin, lock, and throw an opponent. Years after his defeat,
Muso once again faced Muashi and came out of the match the victor.
- Manrikigusari -
This weapon is a
chain, which is usually 12 inches long. It has weights on each end that
resemble handles. A samurai by the name of Masaki developed the weapon as a
way to kill an opponent without bloodshed. This bloodless killing was
important because it was sacrilege to spill blood on palace grounds. The
manrikigusari can be used to block, choke, strike, and throw an opponent.
- Tekkos (#s 10 & 11)-
This weapon has two
types: one derived from the horse stirrups and the other from the wooden
tool used to haul in fishing nets. In either type, the tekkos are used held
in each hand to strengthen punching and striking techniques. They also aid
in trapping and dis-arming movements. Due to their small size, they are
- Jiffa -
(Kanzashi) the hairpin worn by all Okinawan men until
the later part of the 19th century, can be used as a device to augment the
power of karate techniques.
- Kuwa (#4)-
This weapon is the
The hoe is common in all agrarian
societies; in Okinawa, the kuwa has been also used as a weapon for as
long as there have been farmers. Compared to garden-variety hoes, the handle
tends to be thicker and usually shorter, both due to Okinawan stature, and
the fact that much of the agriculture takes place on hillsides where long
handles would be a hindrance. A classic shape of blade is a simple rectangle
of steel with a sharp leading edge, but may also be forked with tines.
(#13)- The rochin is a twelve to eighteen inch piece of wood with a three to four
inch blade on the end. The rochin is used in conjunction with the tinbe, a
type of shield usually made out of a turtle shell. As one can guess, the
shield is used for deflecting incoming attacks while the rochin would be
used to strike back. The tinbe may also be used with a short sword or
(#5)- The Suruchin is a piece of rope or chain tied to a stone ore weight at each
end. Originally created using oval shaped stones usually flatted on the top
and bottom connected by a length of hemp rope. Rope length should be one and
a half full arm-spans. The suruchin is used in a swinging motion and can be
used to strike or entangle opponents.
Kung Fu Weapons (By the Song Dynasty, the number of Shaolin Kung Fu
weapons had grown to more than 120. At the present, the primary weapons
practiced include: staff, spear, cane, sword (including broadsword & straight
sword), three-sectional staff, monk's spade, tiger fork, and steel whip).
- Staff -
interesting to note that the variety of weapons used by the Shaolin monks
increased to over 120 during the Song Dynasty. Today the main weapons used
by Shaolin are eight and include: spear, sword, staff, broadsword, monk's
spade, straight sword, cane and 9 section whip. The staff is arguably the
predecessor to all martial arts weapons. Chinese staves tend to be straight
(non-tapered, and more flexible). Staff maneuvers are called 'single headed'
when only one end of the stick is used. When both ends of the staff are
used, and the staff grasped in the centre and twirled, it is called 'double
headed'. Most double headed techniques are used for theatrical purposes and
- Cudgel -
(club) is known as the 'father of all weapons' as from it many other weapons
were developed. The most commonly used methods of cudgel practice are
swinging, jabbing, hanging, jumping, leaping, smashing, pointing, blocking,
sheltering, holding, piercing, floating, carrying, poking and lifting. The
main cudgel routines include: Qimei, Shaolin, Panlong (coiled dragon),
Jiuzhou (nine-continent), Liuhe (six-combination), Tiangi, Bodhidharma,
monkey and drunkard. Cudgels are mostly made of wood but some are made of
metal. In addition to long cudgels, there are two-section cudgels and
- Spear -
The spear was
arguably the first military weapon. Known as the jyang, spears fall into
several categories pertaining to their use defensively or offensively. The
spear is traditionally referred to as the 'king of weapons' and thus there
are many forms of it. These include the regular spear, the double headed
spear, the eyebrow spear (with a sickle shaped head), the snake spear
(tipped with a curved blade), and the spear with a hook.
broadsword is one of the most famous of Chinese weapons. Used in many forms
of Kung Fu, the broadsword is large with a curved single edge. It is used to
cut, swing, blow, thrust and parry and is manipulated through and intricate
set of footwork patterns.
- Double Edged Sword
double edged sword is known as the mother of all weapons. Said to have been
invented by Ch'ih Yu, who forged his sword from gold found in nearby
mountains, the weapon often has supernatural qualities attached to it. Use
of the sword was traditionally reserved for the upper class. It was the
emblem of the sage, varying from one-and-a-half feet to three feet in
length. The best swordsmiths in China were Che-Yen 2600 BC and Kan-Chiang,
who lived in the state of Wu in the 3rd century BC. They are said to have
forged magic swords of steel, regarded as supernatural because they were so
much sharper than the earlier bronzed swords. A rock still exists in Kashing
that, according to legend, was split in two by Kan-Chian when he tested the
blade of a sword. Also famous for his swords was Lu-Tung-Pin, one of the
eight immortals, who was given a magic sword by his teacher, Chung-Li-Chuan.
Lu could hold the scabbard of his weapon while the blade jumped from its
sheath and obeyed his commands. The sword traditionally includes some 16
methods of use. Wu Shu stylists adapt the sword to their own principles of
boxing, making the weapon an extension of their particular techniques. The
double hooking sword, also known as the tiger's head hooks, has a large
crescent-shaped handguard. This weapon is primarily found in the northern
styles of Chinese Kung Fu.
- Knives -
appear to be a specialty of Kung Fu stylists. The Chinese knife is often
ascribed to the Emperor Chou-Muk-Wong of the Chow dynasty who was presented
with a large sabre while travelling through Shi-Kiang province. The knife
has much the same mystique as the sword: if the sword was an emblem of the
upper class, the knife was the weapon of the warrior. Such knife varieties
include the butterfly knife, nine ring knife, spread the water knife, spring
and autumn knife and willow leaf knife.
- Butterfly Knives
butterfly knife is also known as the Southern style short sabre and
originated from a butcher's cleaver. These variably shaped weapons are
usually seen in pairs and often attached to the large Kung Fu drum played at
lion dance ceremonies. They are a weapon of the Southern Kung Fu styles.
Much like the Okinawan sai, the top of the weapon is turned so the
practitioner can twirl it around his thumb. The nine ring knife (also known
as the broad knife) is a Southern styles weapon. The knife has a series of
nine steel rings attached to its dorsal edge. These rings are used to catch
an opponent's weapons (eg. a spear) and to create a dent. One of the more
interesting Kung Fu knife varieties is the Pa Kua circular knife. Literally
translated as the 'eight trigrams knife', it is a moon-shaped set of knives
used in the Pa Kua system.
- Three Sectional
Another famous Kung Fu
weapon is the three-sectional staff. This weapon is constructed from three
pieces of wood connected by metal rings at their ends. Lengths of the
sections are equal, each about the length of an arm. It can be used as a
long range weapon when held at one end and swung freely, or a short-range
weapon when two of the sections are held and used to strike or parry.
- Steel Whip -
whip is another popular Kung Fu weapon. It is composed of 3, 5, 7 or 9
linked steel sections with a dart at one end. This weapon was favored for
its ability to be easily concealed.
- Rope Dart -
A popular weapon seen
in Wu Shu displays and in several martial arts films is the rope dart. A
dart is attached to one end of a rope and the weapons is swung at great
speeds to develop momentum before being launched at the target.
- Trident-Halberd -
originated during the Ming Dynasty. It has a 0.5-meter-long sharp steel head
with a crescent crosspiece, fixed on a 2.5-meter long shaft. At the end of
the shaft is an iron taper. The trident-halberd was used for hitting,
thrusting and blocking. As it is long and heavy the users must be tall and
strong. Similar kinds of trident-halberd include phoenix-wing, swallow-wing,
dragon-beard, ox-head and gilded halberd. The playing techniques include
throwing, patting, holding, hiding, pushing, turning, supporting and
blocking. The basic stances include thrusting and twisting, straight
attacking, dragon-riding, jumping over and hiding below. In trident-halberd
play there are no dancing movements and turning is the main action. For
holding the weapon, one hand is in the front and another below and the two
hands could change positions. The routines include swallow-wing play.
- 9 DragonTrident -
The 9 dragon trident
is a weapon used by Choy Li Fut practitioners. Known as gao loon cha, the
trident weights about twenty pounds and is six feet long. It is used for
striking, poking, cutting or in a spiraling motion to entangle an opponent's
weapon. The hooks of the trident are sharp and can be used for cutting.
- The Hook -
The hook is an ancient
weapon that was evolved from the dagger-axe. During the Spring and Autumn
and Warring States periods, the dagger-axe, hook and halberd were used at
the same time. According to a bronze hook unearthed from a tomb of the Wei
State, the hook looks like a halberd. The difference is that the halberd has
a sharp blade on the head while the hook has a small hook on its head. The
General Outlines of Wushu shows there were varied shapes of hooks in the
Song Dynasty including the claw cudgel, the fire hook with the double-hooked
knife as its blade, and the fire fork, with an iron trident head.
- Tiger Fork -
The tiger fork (hu-cha)
is a weapon that has been romanticized through Kung Fu films. A large
trident originally used to kill tigers in southern China, it is often
wielded by performing lion dancing groups. Southern forks are larger than
those used in the north, their techniques demonstrating power rather than
style. Northern forks were designed for mounted soldiers, while southern
forks were designed to be used on foot.
- Fork -
The fork is one of the
long-handled Chinese Wushu weapons. With two prongs on the head it is called
the horn fork, while the one with three prongs is called the trident or
three-pronged fork. The handle is 2.3-2.7 meters long and weighs about 2.5
kilograms. Of the three-pronged fork, the central part protrudes 10 cm. At
the end of the handle, there is a melon-shaped hammer. In the remote ancient
times, the fork was used for fishing. The primitive fish-catching fork
unearthed in the ruins of Banpo Village near Xi'an in Shaanxi Province has a
joint at the end of the handle for fixing a rope. When the fork is thrown
out, the fork can be taken back by pulling the rope. The hitting techniques
of the fork include blocking, covering, poking, turning, rolling, beating,
smashing, drawing, digging and patting. The routines of fork play include
the Flying-Tiger and Tai-bao).
- Battle Axe -
The axe and battle axe
are two less commonly used Kung Fu weapons. The battle axe was used in the
Shang Dynasty to protect the gods and also as tools of punishment. The
difference between the axe and the battle axe is that the cutting edge of
the axe is narrower than that of the battle axe. In the Qin and the Han
dynasties, the axe was the main weapon of the time. The axe mentioned in the
General Outlines of Wu Shu has a one-sided edge with a long handle.