Ryu Kyu Kobudo of Okinawa

The Original Kobudo of Okinawa


Okinawan Weapons

Kobudo was developed independently by the people of Okinawa, in response to the ban on real weapons, that is the weapons of the samurai and higher classes, by the Japanese.

They evolved from farming implements.

The Bo was the stick slung over the shoulders and used to carry water. The Kama was the sickle used to harvest the rice. The Sai was the pitchfork.

The Nunchuks were horse bridles also thought to be flails that separated the grain from the chaff.

The Tonfa was the handle of the mill stone used to make flour. And the Eku or Iyeku was, of course, the oar.

The Bo appears to be a fairly universal weapon. It is after all, a long stick that can be traced back to the prehistoric time for various tasks.

Tonfa is a handle - for a mill stone, also known as a handle for the village well.

Eku or Oar as a weapon appears unique to Okinawa.

Nunchaku was used as the bridle for the horse and later refined into what we see used today the original was curved and tied together with braided hair from the horse.

Sai certainly resemble pitchforks, they are generally attributed as a weapon invented by the Okinawan or Chineese police, it has been suggested that the idea came from the nails used to pin the large wooden blocks together in large buildings.

The Sai also appears in other oriental weapon traditions.

While these are by far the most commonly seen weapons, there are others.

Such as, the Nunti-Bo (a bo with a nunti-sai mounted at the tip), Tinbe/Rochin (short spear/shield), Kuwa (Okinawan hoe), Suruchin (bolo), Abumi (a wooden saddle stirrup), yari (spear), Tekko (the Okinawan brass knuckles from the horse shoe), the Shu-chu or Tettchu (small hand weapon), and of course, the Katana and Naginata which are obviously not native to the Ryu Kyu Islands, and were practiced more in Japan.

The tradition that seems to have driven the development of these weapons is that of famous/legendary practitioners whose legacies are soundly stamped on the kata practiced today.

The Kata of Kobudo provide insight to the history of the art.

Usually passed down from father to son, master to disciple, this mode of transition is a time honored tradition.

It was kept secret, camouflaged, or misrepresented to avoid persecution.

This applies particularly to the Okinawan tradition where weaponry and martial arts training were specifically and repeatedly outlawed by the occupying forces of Japan.

It's been suggested that the traditional Okinawan dances or Odori played a part in the development of Kobudo kata.

They portrayed movements from their agricultural life, including the use of simple tools. We can see this most in the forms for the Eku that feature rowing motions, and that of flipping the sand.

The influence from the dance is interesting because we also see it in other martial arts traditions - some gung-fu and more recently the Brazilian art of capoeira. . .

IMPORTANT DATES in Okinawan History:

In the 14th century (1372) Okinawa became a Chinese satellite. It was during this time that ch'uan fa (fist law) was probably introduced.

Chinese style fighting was greatly admired by the Okinawans, and they began to merge it with an existing native form of fighting called te (fist ), or bushi no te (warrior's hand). At that time, this hybrid Okinawan martial art was referred to by one of it's two names: To-de (Chinese hands) or Kara-te.

In 1429, an Okinawan by the name of Sho, Hashi united what was known as the three kingdoms: Hokuzan (north), Chuzan (middle), and Nanzan (south), and made his capital in the city of Shuri.

In 1477, Sho, Hashi was succeeded by another Okinawan by the name of Sho, Shin, who put a stop to all feudalism on Okinawa, made all of the anji (feudal lords) move to the capital city of Shuri and imposed a ban on all weapons even rusty swords, by the peasant class.

Sho-shin encouraged people to focus on art and philosophy, so they might be dissuaded from te. However, the martial art continued in secrecy.

During this time the Ryukyu kingdom expanded and prospered through trade with China, Asia, Korea, and Japan.

Then, in 1609, the reigning king of the dynasty found himself obliged to outfit an army for sake of repelling an invasion of the islands that had been launched by Shimazu, the daimyo of the clan of Satsuma, who had been exiled from Japan.

The newly armed Ryukyuan warriors fought with conspicuous bravery and gallantry against the soldiers of the Satsuma clan, known and feared throughout the country for their fighting skill, but, after Ryukyuan success in a few pitched battles, a surprise landing by Shimazu's forces sealed the fate both of the islands and of their monarch, who was forced to surrender.

The Sansura clan of Japan invaded and took over control of Okinawa.

Shimazu reissued the edict banning weapons.

Okinawan Ch'uan fa groups and To-de societies banded together to produce a solid front against the Japanese .

Many Okinawans were secretly sent to China to learn fighting arts.

Okinawa for many centuries engaged in trade with the people of Fukien province in southern China, and it is probably from this source that Chinese kempo ("boxing") was introduced into the islands.

As well as empty handed fighting, the use of the Bo, Sai, Tonfa, Nunchaku, Kama, and other farm and household items were secretly developed into effective weapons with their own individual methods or system.

Combined, these weapons systems are known as kobudo.

During the 1700s, an officer called Sakugawa, who was in the Okinawan Palace Guard, learned Chinese fighting from a Chinese military officer, Kusanku, who arrived in Okinawa in 1761.

At this time of Japanese occupation, it was still permitted for some Chinese attaches to come and go in Okinawa, for envoy purposes.

It was also allowed for the nobles or royal classes to practice To-te, and it was definitely a requirement for the Royal Guard ).

Sakugawa traveled many times to China with Kusanku, and learned to combine Ch'uan fa with te to form Okinawan-te. In fact, Sakugawa's nick-name was "karate" or To-te" Sakugawa ( sometimes spelled ' To-de' ), which literally meant, "Chinese fist Sakugawa."

The name karate, in those days, meant, "Chinese hand". Later on in Japan, the character for "Chinese," was changed to one meaning "empty," so the new translation meant "empty hand." ( From Kusanku we have the name of two high level katas, Kusanku Sho and Kusanku Dai, which is interesting because Kusanku supposedly did not teach kata!

The katas may have been formed from the techniques taught by Kusanku).

In 1904, Karate became even more popular with it's introduction to the Okinawan public schools.

The man responsible for this was Yatasune "Anko" Itosu, who helped make karate part of the physical education requirements. Yatasune "Anko" Itosu ( "Anko," means 'horse,' and referred to the horse stance at which Itosu was superb in demonstrating ) was an educator in Shuri, a south city in Okinawa.

Itosu was born in 1830 into a shizoku, or noble family.

He became an educator, but was also a learned master of karate.

From Itosu came the Pinan katas. These katas were stated by one source as coming from the Kusanku kata, before it was broken down into Sho ( lesser ) and Dai ( greater ).

However, another source says that Itosu learned a form from a Chinese man, and the form was called "Chiang Nan" or ( Channan in Okinawan pronunciation ) from which he produced the Pinan katas.

Itosu taught anyone who wanted to learn, in contrast to some of the other masters, who would not permit a student to learn from more than one teacher.

According to Gichin Funakoshi, student of Itosu and founder of Shotokan karate, Itosu was of average height, with a great round chest like a beer barrel.

Despite his long mustache, he rather had the look of a well-behaved child.

The techniques of karate and kobudo were, by their very nature, to be kept from the uninitiated, many were only taught to the oldest son in the family.

Thus, there are but few historical records and the arts were conveyed almost entirely through personal oral transmission from master to disciple.

However, following dissolution of the kingdom and the 1879 annexation of Okinawa as a prefecture, new institutions came into effect and karate and kobudo were into the Meiji public education system.

There followed a movement to present these arts to the general public:

During the Taisho Era (circa 1910-1926), demonstrations were made throughout mainland Japan, and in the early Showa years (circa main schools (ryu): Shorin-ryu, Gojyu-ryu, Uechi-ryu and Matsubayashi-ryu.

Today, there exist many more sub-schools (ryuha) and factions (kaiha).

Each boasts its own distinctive kata derived from the basic movements (kihon kata) common to all schools as the systematization of techniques of attack and defense.

The next development took place in 1922 at Tokyo and Osaka, Japan.

Two karate men, Funakoshi, Gichin and Motobu, Choki, gave a demonstration of Okinawan karate for Japanese approval.

Funakoshi impressed the emperor Horohito so much, that by 1932, karate became part of the educational system of Japan. After his demonstration, Funakoshi was asked to stay in Japan and teach Okinawan karate-do.

The karate-do as Funakoshi knew it would have to change in order for his Japanese students to understand it's complexity.

Stances were altered and names of katas changed. His new system was titled Shoto-kan, but Funakoshi disliked the name; he thought that all karate should be the same.

At this time, the Okinawan martial art was referred to by one of it's two names: To-de (Chinese hands) or karate (Empty hands).

The Okinawans wanted everyone to agree on one name, so during a meeting between Miyagi, Chojun; Hanashiro, Chomo; Motobu, Choki; and Kyan, Chotoku, the decision was made and one name was finally agreed upon.

In 1936, the Okinawan martial art was given the name karate-do, meaning "an empty-handed self defense art", or "weaponless art of self defense." Some would even go on to call it kute-do, ku meaning "sky", which was associated with being "empty", and "te" of course meaning hand.