The weapons of kobudo.

When hands and feet are not enough.

Weapons have always been a factor in resolving conflicts between men, and nations. It began the first time one of our primitive ancestors reached out, and picked up something to strike down his opponent, in some long-forgotten argument.

Today martial artists from around the world study an Okinawan weapon-based art form known as, Kobudo. The ancient martial way. The weapons most commonly associated with Okinawan kobudo are; the sai, bo, kama, tonfa, nunchaku, eku, and the tekko. The following is a brief summary of some of the terminology associated with each of these weapons. 


Sai: The sai is thought to be of Chinese origin. It is one of the few Okinawan weapons that did not evolve from something else. Popular with many martial artists today the sai is most often used in pairs. Therefore it requires a student to be equally proficient with both hands. At a time when the citizens of Okinawa were banned from possessing weapons of any kind the sai was easy to conceal. Its metal construction made it an excellent defensive weapon against the Japanese samurai sword.

The sai is comprised of seven main parts, they are as follows: 1. tsukagashira - the butt end of the handle. 2. tsuka - the actual handle grip. 3. moto - the actual enter point between the two yoko. 4. yoko - the two sideguards. 5. tsume - the tip of each side guard. 6. monouchi - the blade of the sai. 7. saki - the very tip of the sai blade.

The modern sai while made today of lighter metals has in reality changed very little from its original design. Considered a fairly difficult weapon to truly master the sai katas taught today include; Chatan Yara no Sai Sho, Chatan Yara no Sai Dai, Tawada no Sai, Chikin Shitahaku no Sai, Yakaa no Sai, Hama Higa no Sai, just to name a few.

Bo: The bo is traditionally a wooden staff approximately 6 feet in length. Usually made of a hardwood with a diameter ranging from one to two inches depending on the hand size of the practitioner. The bo itself can either be the same width from tip to tip, or it can be tapered. It should be noted, however, that when training in the dojo a heavier, sturdier bo is best. As it will take the impact during striking, and blocking practice. 

The bo is comprised of three main parts, they are as follows: 1. moto - the center, or the balance point of the bo. 2. & 3. saki - the very tip at either end of the bo. It is important when selecting a bo to examine the weapon carefully, and to choose a bo that is not curved, or bent out of shape. As this will hinder the quality of your training. The best way to test for this is to put the bo on a flat surface, and roll it, if it wobbles, pick another one.

As weapon the bo affords a much greater reach than most. Some of the bo kata taught today include: Shushi no Kon Sho, Shushi no Kon Dai, Chatan Yara no Kon, Sakugawa no Kon Sho, Sakugawa no Kon Dai, Chikin Sunakake no Kon, just to name a few.

Kama: The kama as a weapon thought to have been derived from the hand-held sickles that were traditionally used in the harvest of rice. The handle of the kama should be approximately the same length as your forearm. Like the sai the kama is most often used in pairs and is truly a deadly weapon in the hands of the very skilled.

The kama is comprised of seven main parts, they are as follows 1. soko - the butt end of the handle. 2. moto - the center of the handle. 3. monouchi - the blade of the kama. 4. saki - the very tip of the kama blade. 5. kagashira - the top end of the handle above the blade. 6. kashira - the head of the handle. 7. himo - the rope at the base of the kama.

Used to cut from side to side, underneath, or from above, the kama is a versatile weapon. Since it's handle is most often made of wood this makes it a much lighter weapon than a sai. There are very few surviving kama kata. Those taught today include Kanegawa Nichi no Kama, and Toyama Nichi no Kama.

Tonfa: The tonfa while an ancient weapon has been a popular weapon of choice for many law enforcement agencies. With no sharp edges the tonfa can do double duty for striking, and blocking without the fear of cutting. It is effective against both long and short-range weapons. The main body of the tonfa can be either square or round. The handle must be round in order to facilitate proper rotation.

The tonfa is comprised of eight main parts, they are as follows: 1. Gedan tsukagashira - the forward end of the tonfa above the grip. 2. tsuka - the handle grip. 3. tsukagashira - the round top of the grip. 4. tasui - the under side of the tonfa. 5. yoko nage - the upper side of the tonfa. 6. sokumen - the side of the tonfa. 7. Ushiro tsukagashira - the butt end of the tonfa. 8. monouchi - the main body of the tonfa.

In the hands of an expert the many ways in which the tonfa can be utilized seem almost endless. Two of the most popular tonfa katas practiced today are, Hama Higa no Tonfa, and Matsu Higa no Tonfa. 

Nunchaku: This weapon is constructed of two equal lengths of wood connected together by a short length of rope or chain. The nunchaku can be whipped, or twirled in a manner that can generate great speed, and powerful blows. Lacking any sharp edges for cutting, or sharp points for stabbing, the nunchaku, like the tonfa is used primarily for striking. Held in one hand, or two the nunchaku is effective as an offensive, or defensive weapon.

The nunchaku is comprised of seven main parts, they are as follows: 1. himo - the connecting rope or chain. 2. Gedan tsukagashira - the end of the handle nearest the rope or chain. 3. ana - the opening through which the rope or chain is threaded. 4. jokon bu - upper area of the handle. 5. moto - the center of the handle. 6. kikon bu - lower area of the handle. 7. Ushiro tsukagashira - the end of the handle furthest from the rope or chain.

A true product of Okinawa the nunchaku was easily dismantled, hidden, or disguised as something else, at a time when weapons were forbidden. Two examples of nunchaku katas practiced today are, Maezato no Nunchaku, and Akamine no Nunchaku.

Ekku: The ekku is in effect an oar. Used by Okinawan fisherman the ekku is shorter in length than a bo. Unlike a bo this weapon is not griped in thirds, but instead is held with one hand. Because more of its overall weight is located at one end it is a much more difficult weapon to use than a bo. In addition to having a broader surface it can be used to scoop material towards an opponent’s eyes. It also has the added benefit of having two edges for striking.

The ekku is comprised of five main parts, they are as follows: 1. ushiro tsukagashira – the butt end of the oar. 2. saki - the tip of the oar blade. 3. moto - the center of the oar. 4. yoko - the side of the oar blade. 5. monouchi - the blade its self.

Today it is probably safe to say that not many students in North American have never seen an Okinawan ekku let alone practiced with one. The kata practiced using an ekku is Chikin Sunakake no Ekku, or as it is sometimes referred to, Tsuken Sunakake.

Tekko: It has been said that originally the tekko were made from two metal horseshoes. Easy to conceal they could be carried hidden inside a persons clothing, or openly since horseshoes were a common. Held by the center of the "U" shape with two ends facing outward they could be used to either block, or strike.

In the Ryukyu Kobudo Tesshinkan the tekko is used in the performance of the kata, Maezato no tekko. A kata created by the late master Taira Shinken. It was named in honour of his original family name, Maezato. This kata is said to have been influenced by the embusen in either Jion or Ji'in. Of the two the pattern Ji'in is the most similar of the two in many respects. 

So, choose your weapon. Practice your basics. And train diligently with an experienced, and knowledgeable kobudo sensei. Always stay true to the kata. It has come to you over thousands of miles, and through countless hands.

My thanks to Lee at for providing some of the drawings used on this page.

Remember: "To learn is a privilege, to pass on what you have learnt is your  responsibility."