The Okinawan kobudo are, essentially, an eclectic mix of armed civil fighting techniques that compliment the Okinawan karate systems. They cover a large selection of weapons, and are somewhat notable in that they neglect the knife, sword, and spear, which are the primary weapons in the rest of Asia. They are also unusual in that they are often taught separately from unarmed styles. (Most systems in China, Japan, and the rest of Asia teach weapon and unarmed techniques as part of a continuum of technical knowledge using the same principals of combat.)
While there is little historical evidence to work with to date the origins of Okinawan weapon arts, there are references to staff techniques and weapon dances going back as far as the 1500’s. Many sources credit the weapon bans of king Sho Shin O (1507) with the impetus for the development of the current kobudo arsenal. It is said that due to this ban on the owning of swords and spears, the Okinawans developed local tools to use as weapons. Later, from 1609 onward, it is said these skills were further developed and used to combat the Satsuma invaders.
But while the current weapons used do resemble local agricultural implements, it is unlikely they originated from farm tools, or from peasants. The martial artists the weapon forms can be traced back to were not farmers, they were primarily of the shizoku or pechin, (lower or middle nobility) class, international merchants, and government personnel. The weapon techniques were, more likely, developed from mixed Japanese, South East Asian, and (primarily) Chinese and local sources, with techniques being adapted to local conditions and implements. Similar weapon techniques, including the use of the bo, sai, tonfa, kama, guwa (hoe), and eku (oar) are common in Indonesia and China, and are not primarily peasant arts in those countries. The Satsuma Jigen Ryu (The combative system of the Shimazu clan, which ruled Okinawa as a fief from about 1603 to 1868.) also has a record of teaching specially developed techniques for the eku, kama, bo, and guwa to locals for militia purposes during their occupation of Okinawa. So while the concept of secretly meeting to learn how to fight off the Japanese occupying forces is romantic, there is no record of armed insurrection in Okinawa during the Satsuma occupation. On the other hand, there is record of local martial artists studying in China and Japan, and passing this knowledge, as well as local traditions, on to their students.
For the most part, these weapon techniques have been passed down piecemeal, with one or two, or sometimes many more, forms being passed from teacher to student over generations; often a teacher would specialize in one particular weapon and teach it alone to his students. However, in the early part of this century, a few teachers began collecting and organizing these forms. Among the schools that have collected and kept this knowledge is the Matayoshi ryu. This is our style of kobudo.
In Boulder Kodokan, we study kata for the bo, sai, tonfa, nunchiyaku, kama, eku, guwa, timbe, san setsu kon and nunti bo. There are 5 bo kata; Choun no kon, Sakugawa no kon, Tsuken no kon, Suishi no kon, and Shishi no kon. There are three kata for the sai, two for the tonfa, a one kata for all the other weapons, named after the weapon, except the eku kata, which is called Tsuken Akachu no eku. We study formal paired sets for bo vs. bo, bo vs. sai, and bo vs. tonfa,
Kobudo training is much like karate training, in that it is made up of basics, kata, and applications of the kata, or bunkai. In studying the kobudo, the same level of commitment is required; some teachers say more, as each weapon has aspects of range, timing, and application that are specific to it, and must be learned.
Boulder Kodokan is proud and honored to be affiliated with the Shinbukai in Naha, Okinawa, Japan. Currently we are the only affiliated dojo in the mountain states. This affiliation provides us with the opportunity to have the head of Shinbukai (Itokazu Sensei) visit us in Boulder. It also provides us with the privilege of training Itokazu Sensei when in Okinawa.