“You can’t bring your Kobudo weapons to the pub can you?”

Almost exactly one year ago (8th of January, 2009) I made a poll on a popular Karate internet forum, trying to find an answer to why there are so few people training Kobudo in Karate circles.

Karate and Kobudo are, after all, “like brother and sister” and if you are truly interested in one, you can’t ignore the other.

The link between Karate and Kobudo is both physical, psychological, philosophical, cultural and historical.

For instance, many Okinawan/Japanese pioneers were hardcore practitioners of the Okinawan fighting systems, practising both Karate and Kobudo, like Taira Shinken who studied Karate under Funakoshi Gichin and Kenwa Mabuni while at the same time preserving a whole catalog of Kobudo, which is now world famous.

So anyway, my question on this particular Karate forum was the following:

“Why don’t you train Kobudo?”

And you could choose one answer from the following:

I don’t have an instructor
I don’t have time
I am not fit/strong/healthy enough
I am not interested
Other reason
“What’s kobudo?!”

Sadly enough, only 22 people voted.

But most of these people had been training Karate for a long time, so though I maybe didn’t get quantity, at least I got quality!

This was the result of the poll:

Why don’t you train Kobudo?
I don’t have an instructor
27%
27%[ 6 ]
I don’t have time
13%
13%[ 3 ]
I am not fit/strong/healthy enough
0%
0%[ 0 ]
I am not interested
31%
31%[ 7 ]
Other reason (please write!)
13%
13%[ 3 ]
What’s kobudo?!
13%
13%[ 3 ]
Total Votes : 22

As you can see, the number one reason was “I am not interested” (31%). The second most popular reason was “I don’t have an instructor” (27%).

13% didn’t even know what Kobudo was! And we are talking about experienced Karate people here!

So, what can we learn from this?

Well, it seems a majority of people training Karate aren’t interested in Kobudo, for some reason.

Surprise!

I remember hearing about a famous WKF national kumite team member who once witnessed a traditional Okinawan Kobudo demonstration, and afterwards asked the demonstrators why they were afraid of using their fists and had to resort to weapons? He thought it seemed cowardish.

Of course I don’t know if that’s what other people think, but that might be one of the reasons Karate people aren’t interested in Kobudo.

Are there some other reasons?

Let’s look at some comments to the poll I made. In the comment section I found the following:

“Bare hands [are] more practical. You can’t really bring your weapons when you head down the neighbourhood pub can you?”

“[I] really feel that hands are always with me – in Texas MA [martial arts] weapons get you thrown into jail.”

“I’m only interested in weapons that are relevant to SD [self-defense]”.

“I don’t carry a weapon of any kind as they are all illegal”

So, judging by these comments the biggest reason seems to be that Kobudo simply isn’t practical.

“It isn’t relevant”.

You can’t take your nunchaku down to the mall. You can’t walk into the cinema with a 6 foot cudgel on your back. And you probably will not be allowed to carry two metal truncheons to work.

So, the result is, Kobudo is not practical.

Right?

It is an outdated form of armed self-defense, using old (not to mention strange) farming equipment, created by random bored peasants in an oppressed, occupied tiny island – hundred of years ago – making it a complete waste of time in our modern, enlightened, society.

Or…?

It is an outdated form of armed self-defense, using old (not to mention strange) farming equipment, created by random bored peasants in an oppressed, occupied tiny island – hundred of years ago – making it a complete waste of time in our modern, enlightened, society.

Nope.

I don’t agree.

There has been a terrible misunderstanding here.

You see, even though the chance that you will use the actual weapons of Okinawan Kobudo in a self-defense situation today is slim, their principles still apply.

Principles.

That’s what it’s all about.

The eight basic weapons of Okinawan Kobudo (bo, sai, tonfa, nunchaku, kama, tekko, surujin, timbe) along with some other (kuwa, nunti, ticchu etc.) are so diverse, and so unique, that they all require different methods and strategies  for being used effectively.

That’s the key concept.

When you have mastered these different (though often partly similar) concepts, no tool or obstacle will feel awkward to use, should you want to use it. You can use whatever you want as a weapon.

No matter what shape, size, weight or material.

I mean, just look at these things:

A normal person would have second thoughts of using some of these ordinary everyday items as a weapon.

And that’s a big mistake.

Having access to something that could determine the whole outcome of a possible self-defense situation, and not using that to your advantage (because you don’t know how to), is really… I don’t want to use the word pathetic, so I’ll just go with sad.

I remember reading something that the famous samurai warrior Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645) once wrote, and it went something like: “If you die with your short sword (companion sword) still stuck in your belt, then you did not deserve to win.”

In Kobudo we could translate this to:

“If you get beaten up by a gang of thugs, without having used your belt, your handbag, your hairpin, keychain, jacket or shoes when defending yourself (because of your own ignorance of how to apply the principles of these items in a self-defense situation) then you did not deserve to win that fight to begin with.”

Actually, I think you could liken Karate and Kobudo to crawling and walking:

First you need to learn how to crawl (Karate, empty hands) before you learn how to walk upright (Kobudo, things in hands).

But if you stop at the crawling stage, and never learn how to walk, you will eventually have trouble when it’s time to race with somebody (fight).

You might even be given the best running shoes ever made (a tool/weapon), but if you never learned how to walk, they are of no use.

You will simply have to throw away those expensive shoes and resort to crawling.

While your opponent walks right over you.

The word Kobudo might mean “Ancient Martial Arts” but it’s true message is far from ancient.

Too bad more people don’t realize that.

21 Comments

  • Narda
    I recall the poll, and wondered then why you didn't include the option for: I train karate and kobudo. ;)As a newb to martial arts, I actually started with Matayoshi kobudo, and it was two years before I ventured into Goju. Looking for exercise, 'kobudo' was something I'd never heard of (part of the 13%). After starting it, I couldn't understand the 'resistance' karate folks had to training in kobudo. I've come to suspect it is a matter of validating their own training path. Most do karate, and it is a 'primary' art, that kobudo can enhance...as if kobudo is a slave to empty-hand.
  • Te'o
    Jesse, this is an interesting subject. Having trained in Okinawan karate and Samoan Lima Lama for many years I have seen interest come and go. I agree with the results of your poll. Perhaps the lack of interest is due to the lack of instructors. Interesting thing I've done the past two tournaments that I've competed in...I've used "unorthodox" weapons for the weapons kata. The last two...Tecchu and Tekko. By far the most common comment...What are those? The results were also interesting. One produced a first place result because of the amount of locks and pinpoint strikes in the kata. The other a third place spot because "no one really does that weapon." I will continue to train in weapons and find modern counterparts to aid my students in normal everyday life. I will also continue to train in traditional ways as well. I truly believe there is a nice balance here. Just my two cents on the topic.
    • Saxon_Thor
      I know what Tekko are, but what are/is Tecchu? Is that the hoe? If so, kudos to your adventurousness.
      • Kuwa is the hoe, as made famous by Matayoshi. Tecchu/Ticchu is basically a variation on Tekko (looks kind of like an L).Google is your friend!
  • Buddy
    Having been trained in kobudo, I guess I never thought about styles that don't train in weapons. That's an interesting view point from people who don't train in kobudo. Good article.
  • Andi
    Add Karate trainers in charge whom don't know Kobudo. HOw may they explain they don't have a clue of their brother or sister??? Karate teachers and associations have one big thing in common: you have to be a believer and succumb to the set habits, no matter what. I am talking about manipulating individual people and groups because fear of losing control. This includes all kinds of manipulation and sanctions, psychological and physical.
  • ANDREY TAMPA BAY FL
    2010-1,22 . 2 PM TAMPA TIMES.OSHU !!I REALLY DON T KNOW HOW WE WILL MAKEWW3. BUT I AM SUREWW4 WILL BE STICK SWORD AND KNIFE.OSHU !!!
    • I'll be sure to learn Kobudo before that
  • JamesD.
    So...let me get this straight, karate is like learning to crawl, and kobudo is likened to learning to walk? Okay, I'll agree with you on that to a certain extent. The problem is that way too many would-be martial artists want immediate gratification. They do not take the time to learn the basic principals of karate (empty hand) before rushing into kobudo (weapons). When you add to this factor the fact that many sensei (instructors) cator to such people by pumping out belt ranks like it was Christmas, all you wind up with is a bunch of people who learn just enough to get themselves (and possible others around them) hurt. The picture you used on the main page for this artcle says it all! A CHILD (wearing a junior black belt...ugh) using sai. Personally, I have no problem with anyone studying weapons. I myself have studied kobudo (and currently study Iaido), but learning/studying weapons is a serious endeavor which should only be undertaken (taught to) mature students who have first learned how to use the weapons they were born with. Sorry, this is my opinion, and I know many of today's practitioners would disagree with me...
  • Carlos
    Hola soy Instructor de karate y kobudo, quisiera saber si Ud. tiene un reglamento de kobudo para competencia.
  • ?ukasz
    I think Kobud? is meant to be taught at same time as Karate, its not one then the other. Kobud? teaches you more about your body in a different way.
    • daz
      I totally disagree weapons are to be used as an extension of ones limbs, so how the hell can you learn to use weapons before learning hand to hand
  • Batman
    Most excellent! For the record I would have voted "I don't have a teacher," though a class I was going to before Christmas was planning on doing bo, sai and nunchaku, but the way they did their karate, despite also being shotokan and also having studied under Enoeda, was different to how my main class does things (namely, locked back leg instead of slightly flexed). It doesn't exactly inspire confidence that the dude was learning from books though, even though it was Fumio Demura. I bought the same books so I can do that without him anyway :p
  • Jesse-Sensei, I have just discovered your website and it is quite good. I have been triaing in various martial arts since 1974. About 1-1/2 years ago, I went back to a Sensei that I had trained with in Okinawa Kempo Kubudo in 1980. His teacher was Sekeichi Odo -Sensei. At this dojo, we actually train in both karate and Kubudo hand in hand, side by side from white belt up. I have been taught that we can do our empty hand kata with any kubudo weapon ( yes it takes some thought) and enjoy trying to figure it all out. Even at 56 years of age, it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks.
    • Thanks for your comment Michael, hope you enjoy the site! See you around ;)
  • Nelson
    I love your site and your articles. Very open minded. Good jod. This article is great.
  • Russ
    Pfffft, who needs a teacher. I've got YouTube. In fact, I just promoted myself to 6th degree black belt kobudo master. I dont actually own any weapons, but I've gone over a few kata in my mind and I'm pretty sure I rock.
  • Ioannes Salinensis
    I've even invented my own karate ryu. That means I'm the head of my style. :-D And I'm not the only one either - my house mate is my disciple! But there aint grades nor gi nor obi in my ryu. Yeah, I know going over kata. I've already mastered Seisan (with minor changes) by seeing Shinyu Gushi doing it. :-D (After never having learned Heian Godan.)The idea of doing empty hand kata with weapons is interesting. I was wondering why practicing fighting with such outdated stuff. Didn't know about principles. When I see nail pullers and metal bars I often think of a weapon... (Do I have a ill mind?) For my "Táng Hand" to be complete it gotta contain fighting with random things (at least in attack-and-defense-exercises), as chinese MA mostly have weapon forms. But there's a long d? to this yet...
  • JeffC
    I have been studying kobudo for about six years now. I credit it with improving every aspect of my training. Nothing I have ever done has improved my power like training with weapons. And I'm not talking about strength, I'm talking about correct body mechanics and technique.
  • The one who said that why are they using weapons instead of their fist is ignorant or innocent. If you are brave fight with a weapon against a weapon; and you are more brave(if not stupid) if you fight one with a weapon with your fist. This guy who said that might have also a false confidence when he learned empty hand martial art. and he even think that the guy using a weapon is a coward. How nice to smash a nunchako or incise a blade on his face. In a survival fight, everything goes. If I can hold a weapon I will use it against my opponent although I am may be a karate expert. I sometimes practice swinging my bolo in the way I think should be done to avoid opening much my center line. In my country(Philippines) before the proliferation of firearms, the weapons available are usually blades- knife, the old barber's razor but especially the bolo a farm implement for cutting woods or swathing grasses. Then also ice pick, wood staves/branches, and lastly but not the least, a small rock or stones that can be pick up on the road sides and this can be smash on the head or face. Stick fighting was then practice which transition to bolo or knife fighting. This were practice not the way it is being taught today where there are many movements which seems not practical.
  • Anastasios
    According to the 20 percepts of karate,there was a quote like"regard the hands and legs of your opponent as swords",so I think Kobudo is part of the mindset and strategy of karate. Also most of the dangarous assailants use some sort of weapon so the instinct of" I will have only one chance" is crucial. I think the modern self-defense social mindset (insufficient drill scenarios for outwitting/neutralizing a simple minded attacker) doesn't completely identifies with legal civilian defense reality..and things become even more diverse when each country has different laws for it(so practitioners have to shape compatibility individually).

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