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Brief History of Kobudo

Okinawan Kobudo (also known as Ryukyu Kobu-jutsu, Koryu, or just as Kobudo) is a Japanese term that can be translated as "Ancient Martial way of Okinawa." It has as long a history as the human settlement and use of weapons on the island. However, it went through a particular development in the Sanzan or three warring kingdoms period in the 11th and 12th centuries. At that time three kingdoms: Nanzan (Ozato Aji), Hokuzan (Nakijin Aji) and Chuzan King (King Tamagusuku) fought intense battles to control the island. It is at this time that various weapons and other martial technologies such as castle construction and siege warfare were developed. These battles finally resulted in the unification of the Island in the 15th century under the Shuri Dynasty.

The art was further developed within this new centralized Shuri warrior class (Pechin) of Okinawa. Like many other Asian countries these weapons traditionally included the sword, the spear, the battle axe, the halberd and various other bladed weapons and like Karate they came mainly from China. But other weapons were also imported from other South East Asian countries such as Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. There is no doubt that the arts surrounding these weapons would have continued their natural evolution had it not been for two important historical events. The first was the Order of the Sword an edict by King Soshin (1477-1526) by which the Okinawan people and the warrior classes were no longer allowed to bear arms. The second was the 'Policy of Banning Weapons' enforced after the Satsuma Invasion in1609.

The invasion of the Japanese Satsuma clan resulted in the repression and oppression of the indigenous Okinawan warrior classes and nobility (Aji). The Satsuma edict banning the use of weapons was no doubt aimed at avoiding the possibility of popular uprisings against a foreign invader. In turn, this repression caused the warriors of Okinawa to adopt various household farming implements as surrogates for their previous bladed arts. These surrogates included such weapons as the:

Bo (Wooden Staff)
Sai (Trucheon)
Tonfa (Millstone Handle)
Nunchaku, (Rice Flail, or Horse Bit and Bridle)
Kama (Farming Sickle)
Tekko (Metal Knuckles)
Tinbe-rochin (Small Turtle Back Shield and Short Spear)
Surujin (Common Chain)
Eku (Boat Oar)
Tanbo (Short Staff or Stick)
Kuwa (Farming Hoe)
Nunti (A Staff with a Sai placed on the end)
Sansetkun (Three Sectional staff)

As can be seen in the above list, it is clear that Okinawan warriors were choosing and developing weapons most similar to those they had previously used. For example, the Nunti replaced the halberd and the Bo the spear, etc... In time though, specific strategies would develop using the unique attributes of each of these weapons and something similar to the modern art of Ryukyu Kobujutsu was born.

But the invasion had a second important effect. The repression by the Satsuma's caused the Okinawa warrior class to develop these arts in a clandestine way. Because of this, Kobudo remained a secret family tradition right up to the 20th century, when Okinawan popular cultural movements, as well as the modernization of Japan allowed the Okinawan weapon arts to come out of hiding. The leaders of this popular Kobudo movement were: Moden Yabiku (1878-1941), Shinko Matayoshi (1888-1947), Shinken Taira (1897-1970), and Oshiro Chojo (1887-1935). Through their tireless efforts the organization of schools and associations teaching Kobudo openly, greatly accelerated. More important for us Oshiro Chojo would teach those arts to Master Hokama Tetsuhiro Hanshi's Grand Father.

Kobudo Masters

Boo with Sai

Hiroshi Akamine