Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What is Kobudo?

Kobudo is the Okinawan term for old, or ancient, martial arts weapons. The kanji (Chinese ideographs) used to write kobudo include a symbol for 'ko' that looks like a grave site (cross on a stone) meaning old, or ancient. The middle symbol for 'bu' implies martial or combat methods, and the bottom symbol in the group of kanji translates as 'do' or 'the way' implying that there is a lifetime pathway for a person who learns and practices this art that should lead to enlightenment. It is part of the Zen philosophy.

But I need to explain what is a martial art weapon. Martial arts weapons are tools of trade - nothing more and nothing less. So, imagine you are a carpenter. Wow, you are carrying all kinds of potential weapons - that hammer, screw driver and nail gun. If you are a plumber - look at that monkey wrench! And the list goes on and on. So, these are tools of trade - just like the Okinawans used: fishermen had their tools such as the eku (oar), hari (fish hooks), tuja (three pronged spear). Farmers had the bo (transporting pole), nunchaku (rice flails) and tonfa (handles). Merchants had their tools - tekko (horse stirrups), tanto (knife), and kasa (umbrella). Then there were pechin (Okinawan version of samurai) who had their weapons - katana (sword), naginata (halberd), yari (spear).

So basically, unless you were part of the upper class or chosen class (pechin, royal body guards, royalty) you had no weapons. That's right! No weapons - and that's what we are looking at for all kobudo (martial arts) tools - none are weapons. That is, unless you know how to use them for something besides a tool. Just like that hammer mentioned earlier - its a tool! But if used for self-defense, it can be a weapon and it depends on how well the person uses it as far as its effectiveness as a weapon. So, nunchaku, kama, bo, etc are nothing more than tools! They are not weapons except in the hands of certain people.

Kobudo was the result of the Okinawan government (King Shoshin) taking away the people's rights to own bladed weapons in 1480 AD and to protect themselves and was apparently a response to King Shoshin's concern of possible insurrection by the Okinawan people.

We could draw similar parallels in history - such as the response of the American people to buy guns and ammunition every time the government tries to modify the 2nd Amendment. People have the basic right to defend themselves whether it is from the thief next door or the one in the white house. The response of the Okinawan people was to develop kobudo - the practice of using tools of trade for self-defense - and they became very good at this trade.

It is sad that elected governments put in place to represent their people, do not trust their people - the very people who elect them and pay taxes to them. This extreme paranoia leads to people no longer trusting their government. Government needs to learn to represent and please their people instead of attempting to subjugate them. This is an inevitable flaw in government, and  likely a problem of the flawed personality type that runs for office, or inherits a position of authority.

Farmers, merchants, fishermen and royal guards on Okinawa began modifying and developing tools of trade as weapons of self-defense. The pen or brush became a knife, the rolled-up scroll was used as a baton, a chair as a shield, a rake and hoe to cut an aggressor. Everything in site that could be moved quickly, became a weapon. The advantage that the Okinawan people had over others was that they understood muscle memory - so their tools of trade were used in daily practice in kata (forms) and bunkai (self-defense techniques).

Today, people still practice the ancient Okinawa weapons, but some martial arts schools also add other tools from the work place, home, garage, garden or car to this arsenal. Some common modern tools used as weapons include pens, pencils, shovels, books, staplers, coins, car keys, pry bars, books, rocks, computer disks, cups, hammers, screw drivers, axes and much more. Take the time right now and look around you - what do you see that would make an effective weapon if someone broke into your house - or if you are sitting in a cafe reading this - what is on your table that can be used against a thug? How would you use these tools?  Nearly all such tools can be used with the same kind techniques as the ancient Okinawan weapons such as nunchaku, bo, sai, tonfa, etc.

Wall of weapons at the Arizona Hombu (a.k.a. Arizona School of Traditional Karate in Mesa, Arizona
Kobudo is typically taught with karate. Good martial arts instructors know how to blend both karate and kobudo together. This is because both apply similar muscle movements for self-defense and it also results in a much better, all-around martial artist.

Martial artist with weapon - original sketch by Soke
Hausel.