The Secret to Why Kobudo Never Became Popular

Since the modernization (and subsequent popularization) of Karate in the early 1900, Karate has spread to almost every part of the world. East to west, north to south. I even heard they have a Karate school in the North Pole. The training consists mostly of ice breaking…

No, that last was a lie. But there might be!

Now, with all of these Karate schools everywhere, the question I ask myself is this: How come Karate became so popular, spreading far and wide, but not Kobudo? Since, according to a noted Kobudo historian, “Karate and Kobudo are like brother and sister” they should be equally popular.

Then why are they separated? Why is Kobudo almost neglected?

I thought I had the answer to this. I thought long and hard, and came up with five basic theories. They are all good. But, then somebody told me the real reason.

The one reason I didn’t think about…

I will tell you that reason, of course, but first let´s look at the five reasons I came up with.

1. Kobudo is hard

Generally, yes, Kobudo is hard. Especially for people who can´t control their body. I mean, if they already have a hard time doing movements without an object in their hands, then doing it with something in their hands is sometimes too much for the brain. Overload.

And just when you think you are getting good at one weapon it’s time to switch to the next!

Complicated stuff doesn’t get popular.

2. Kobudo is expensive

To practice Karate you need clothes. To practice Kobudo you need clothes… and a weapon. And depending on how advanced you are you might need more than one weapon.

If you are a black belt in Kobudo, you are likely to have two bo (one for kumite and one for kata), two sai, two tonfa, two nunchaku (one foam for kumite and one wood for kata), four kama (two wood for kumite and two steel for kata), two tekko, two eiku (kata/kumite) and sometimes more! This arsenal of weapons doesn’t come for free. And if a weapon breaks, you need to buy a new!

Then you need covers for every weapon too…

Expensive stuff doesn’t get popular.

3. Kobudo is “not physical enough”

This was the reply from a student who quit Kobudo. He just didn’t get sweaty enough. Obviously he was doing something wrong, since Karate in full speed never can be as tough as Kobudo in full speed. I can prove it with a formula like this:

Body + weight in hands = more physical than Body – weight in hands.

It’s simple. You see it, I see it. And still some people claim that Kobudo isn’t as physical as Karate. It’s not logic (we have formula) but they say it anyway.

I know why.

It’s because they are not on a high enough level to perform movements without risking hurting themselves. They are so afraid of the weapon itself that they cannot use it to 100 %. Hence, it becomes weak, slow, and boring Kobudo. Unless you actually train long enough to learn how to use 100% of the weapon without risking your neck.

A long, hard and repetitive process for learning fundamentals doesn’t get popular.

4. Kobudo is for geeks

This one can be misunderstood, so let me explain: Geeks are often the opposite of people who do sports, right? And Kobudo is not a sport. So, logically, Kobudo must be for geeks, since you cannot compete in Kobudo.

Competition is popular.

Geeks don’t get popular.

5. Kobudo is not practical

“So I was walking into the pub the other day, right, when this huuuge guy flipped out and came swinging at me. I quickly sidestepped, pulled up my sai from my back pocket and blocked his attack with my left sai, sticking the other into his throat. He puked blood and guts and died. I wiped the blood from my sai and ordered a beer.”

Not likely.

People just don’t think Kobudo is practical. And sure, I agree that it doesn’t seem that way. But when you know the principles of the Kobudo weapons, you can use anything as a weapon – Shoes, purses, bags, belts, baskets, sticks, guitars and other random stuff in your environment. The unique shapes of the Kobudo weapons make you adept at handling almost any object, irrespective of shape, as a weapon.

But people don’t know this. So they think you always have to carry around the weapons, instead of using your surroundings.

Outdated and seemingly unpractical things don’t get popular.

So, that was the reasons I came up with. This is great, I thought, now I can write a post about this. Then the noted Kobudo authority (that I mentioned in the beginning) told me the real reason.

Are you ready?

Here it comes:

Karate makes more money than Kobudo.

And it’s so true.

You know it, and I know it. Money rules the world. Money buys cars, flat screens and some more cars. Also, it gives you food on the table.

So, naturally people want money.

Now, let’s make a story. Imagine you are a Kobudo and Karate master in Okinawa, a long time ago.

Let’s say you want to spread Karate and Kobudo, so you move from boring Okinawa to mainland modern Japan. You find a nice building, and buy it. This will be your dojo. It has room for about fifty students. You put up a big sign that says “Karate and Kobudo Dojo”

On the first night you are having training, fifty people show up, having heard rumors about your supreme skills. You tell them they are welcome to join, and today it is going to be Kobudo. You tell them to get a bo.

Now you realize the problem. Only ten people can use a bo at the same time in the the dojo without hitting each other.

You look towards the exit of your dojo.

Forty people are putting their shoes on, going home. They didn’t have enough space to train.

So, judging from this, it’s easy to see why Karate was preferred by the old masters. They all knew Kobudo too, believe me. But fifty students generate substantially more money than ten students. And no matter how much you would like to teach people your Kobudo, you soon come to a conclusion:

You want food on your table.

Karate gives food, not Kobudo. That only gives you blisters.

So you stop teaching Kobudo, and from this day on you only teach Karate. Students start coming back, and your pockets are getting fatter. The food is on the table. The car is in the parking lot and the flat screen is in the living room.

Just like you want it.

And that’s why Kobudo never became popular.

And probably never will.


  • dira heavenly
    yeah. that's true...
    • Jose Santiago
      True also that it takes that much longer and requires lots of practice with a partner without actually killing him or her, difficult with a weapon, so your insurance is higher!
    • I have one more reason why. It is because there are not not so many instructors mastering Okinawa/Ryukyu kobudo.
  • Allan
    Interesting ideas - but what about kendo - that's a weapon art that's pretty popular - not to mention expensive ... what about the Filipino weapon styles - they're pretty popular too ... so maybe we should look at why kendo is so much more popular than iaido for our answer as to why kobudo is less popular than karate one last thing to think about - if you have a product people desire, they will pay for it - just look at the people who toss their old cathode ray tube TV's (which work perfectly well) for flat screen & plasma TV's ... cheers Al
    • Stuart Heiman
      Maybe the Okinawan karate instructors believed they maybe stepping on toes in Japan teaching a martial art with weapons. Japan already had martial arts with weapons, and karate needed to become Japanese.
      • Iasa Shimabuku
        Dude. No. Karate and Kobudo are from Okinawa, imported to mainland Japan
      • Iasa Shimabuku
        Dude. It started in Okinawa & was imported to mainland Japan
  • Leo
    Well, it's not that simple. Often people start paying of things only after they know they desire it. This is not always the case for kobudo. I didn't know that it is for me before I had to give it a try. Originally, I never want to practice kobudo, quite the opposite. However, it's part of the curriculum in my karate style so I needed to practice some of it for graduation; I was quite uninterested at that time. But that impact was exactly what I needed. This art has been an active part of my life for the last fifteen years and I will never quit. Having some experience in escrima, too, I feel that kobudo requires much more practice before one can reach the level that is required for actual sparring. It really takes time to learn, and there are periods when new students may feel that the training is not physical enough. But it will be, I promise. In a way, escrima is also more practical. It is mostly based on sparring thrills and there are no katas. It will take much more time to develop your kobudo skills at the level here you can really apply the same principles to any item. I don't know why kendo is popular but kobudo is not. They are quite similar arts in many senses, in fact. Maybe this is related to the fact that kendo is taught an art of its own, whereas kobudo has been mostly viewed as a complementary part for karate, and it has not been promoted that much as an independent art. This may have limited the number of potential practitioners. Even today, most who kobudo practitioners have karate background; people with no martial arts experience can be even discouraged to attend. This is not the case with kendo, I guess.
  • Allan
    Hi Leo, I don't really disagree with anything you've said. One of things I was thinking of was the competitive element, having a competitive combative format helps to popularise an art - usually to the detriment of the art - so I'm not bemoaning the lack of competitive kobudo sparring (that's a whole other discussion, so I won't get on my high horse about that). I believe if there were competitions involving sparring, say with similar protective equipment to what is worn in naginata-do (the kendo gear with shin guards), then you could imagine a whole swathe of young men wanting to flay each other with nunchaku. I think that this would have made kobudo more popular ... more popular, but not necessarily better. Additionally, you also mentioned a key point - kobudo is often presented as an adjunct to karate training and not an art in and of itself. Something that was not for me to understand until I started kobudo training. I was initially taught that if I wanted to learn kobudo, go and buy some sai and practice a karate kata with sai. This kind of attitude, or the idea that by learning a couple of bo kata you are learning kobudo, does little to fire the imagination of prospective students. So the lack of knowledgeable persons who were willing to promote it as an art in it's own right also limits it's popularity. Naturally this is more a point for kobudo outside of Okinawa. cheers Allan
  • Marc G.
    All are good possible reasons, and some might be actual reason this or that individual has no interest in learning traditional weapons. But, I think it is (primarily) just a misconception that Kobudo being based on ancient weapons has no relevancy in the modern world. I disagree on that point totally. There have been many cases where a weapon of oppotunity (a simple one similar to the traditional ones) has saved someones life. And, theoretically, a simple broom stick is close to being a Bo/Jo or a length of chain could easily double as a Surushin. But, in alot of cases the untrained person might not see that. Hence the relative unpopularity of Kobudo.
  • Andi
    If you want to implement Kobudo in a national Karate Association - and that's were the money is -, you would have to brawl with them old boys for years, until you're grey and like them. They will be fighting, biting, spitting and foulplay. Karate coaches, especially national coaches, seem to have some kind of socialistisc all-time-and-forever contract, no matter how unsucessful they are. There is no regular assessment for them. It proofed a great strategy for them to just keep going as ever. BTW, of course parents can give their kids to Karate, but maybe not to Kobudo. And kids/parents, that's where the money is. Honestly, I wouldn't want to teach a disordered kid Tonfa. Maybe Karate Kihon for some years would be nice...
  • Bart Scovill
    I can't answer for why it's not taught more, but I know why I don't train it more. It really is a question of practicality. I agree with what you say that there is practicality, but with only so many training hours in a day, it seems time better spent on empty hand training or training with a weapon I actually carry. I think you also left out the danger element. Make a mistake in karate and someone gets punched. Mistakes in kobudo can be much worse. Therefore you either go slow (boring) or go full speed and risk serious injury.
  • * Practicality: Kobujutsu is about preservation and promotion of ancient martial art. It is a holistic martial art involving tactics and strategy, history, philosophy, devotion, and spirit. Not just for sports and technicalities, although these are essential in serious training. * Safety: With particular kumite thrills you can actually get close to full speed sparring safely. My feeling is that serious injuries are not more common than in karate or other weaponless arts, although I am missing any firm statistics on this whatsoever.
    • Bart
      Those are good points. I love training kobudo, it's just tough to justify it over other training choices. We do have full speed drills, but they're all set piece. We don't do anything full speed free form, and to me, that's the key to making weapon practice practical. Maybe with the right protective equipment, but then I have to point out item 2 in Jesse's list. :)
  • Jorge
    yes, interesting
  • M W Garner
    WHY PRACTICE WEAPONS? Just my own take: First of all, weapons training seems contrary to the word "karate" which translates as "empty hand." Some historians believe that “kobudo” and "te" were at one time entirely separate from one another and, in fact, flourished mainly on different islands in the Ryu Kyu chain between China and Japan. It seems that sometime within the last couple of hundred years that the practitioners of te and those of kobudo (more accurately kobujutsu at that time) traded their ancient secrets and combined systems to create more mature, versatile and complete martial arts. Traditional teaching methods have kept the te and kobudo together in various styles. One may ask, "Is tradition alone worth the time and effort of weapons training?" The Okinawans of long ago definitely had a need for superior armed systems of defense, but what about today. Today, people have guns. Do traditional weapons practitioners believe that they can take on someone armed with a gun? In the hands of a versatile kobudo-ka (weapons student), a broom or a wrench could be a highly effective weapon. How versatile is marksmanship? And, satisfyingly enough, modern technology has yet to create a weapon more lethal than the blade in trained hands--“many have lived through point-blank gun-shot wounds, but I haven't heard about anyone living through a decapitation, yet.” Beyond direct application of weapons skills for self-defense situations, there are many indirect advantages that are sometimes overlooked. Within the dojo, weapons training is an excellent source of enhancing empty hand performance. Proper weapons training should increase wrist and gripping strength, improve eye/hand coordination, and increase overall power in empty hand techniques. Focus, extension of ki, and a better understanding of balance and push pull concepts are required when employing traditional weapons. Weapons kumite (sparring), be it yakusoku or kumitachi (pre-arranged) or jiyu-kumite (free-sparring) presents a way to temporarily increase your circle of reach, which is good study for tournament kumite or possible street encounters. The study of weapons techniques also goes right along with learning empty hand self-defense against armed attackers. Fascination with martial art weapons was originally my major inspiration to formally study the arts, but through years of formal karate and kobudo training I can no longer picture myself actually using my nunchaku, bo, or sai in a self defense situation on a city street. If I were attacked by several thugs armed with knives and clubs, I might wish that I had my nunchaku, but, like our marksman friends, I am usually unarmed, with my favorite weapons packed neatly in their cases at home. (Don't forget that a the walking stick, or jo, is the last legal weapon one can carry anywhere.) So, ironic results are presented when practicing weapons in the dojo. I also practice my kobu forms with rakes, shoes, and belts, and suggest that kobu be practiced outside when possible as a task master to make us used to uneven terrain To me, my weapons kata have become my least "internally aggressive." Therefore, when practicing traditional kobudo, I am no longer weighted-down trying to make my kata a "fight." This concept was discovered centuries ago and was a basis for the splitting of the "jutsu" forms and the "do" forms of martial arts. The extremist "do" practitioners became performers of the "court" forms (practiced strictly for entertainment by the upper-classes). I am not saying that kata performers should not demonstrate power, focus and speed, and continue study of proper application, but when watching a true master demonstrate a weapons form, you are more likely to compare it to a musician playing an instrument than a back street brawler roughing-up his victims. Bunkai can always be re-inserted. By lifting the burden of having to make your kata a "fight," you will be more able to allow yourself to "become one" with your "instrument." This not only allows an enjoyable experience within your kata, but also transforms it into a living, moving work of art. Let the chore of kata become your pleasure through the practice of weapons and always remember "Don't fight the wheel!" I fear that ignorance and apathy is more likely to be the demise of kobudo than the invention of the gun and its availability. After all, has Kodak reduced the value of a Van Gogh? Michael Garner 8th Dan Karate 8th Dan Kobudo 8th Dan Samurai Bujutsu 6th Dan Wu Xing Chuan Fa Instructor Tai Chi / Chi Kung President, Tennessee Martial Arts University Chairman, Board of Regents, U.S. Traditional Martial Arts Society
    • In Okinawan karate-do, "Kobudo" study is an integral part of the training, from ancient times..Along with the Okinawa-Te (Okinawa-hand, kobudo was essential to protect against rogue samurai and enemies of all kinds and their weapons..Kobudo may not be popular in our 21st, century, and yes it may be impractical, as we see it today. But, if you're a serious Budoka of Shorin-Ryu Karate-do, You'll see it differently. I introduced the use of the bo, in the documentary filmed in New York City called the "Super Weapon" in cir.74. Yes, no one walks around with a bo in their back pocket, but a broom handle or a long pole of some kind, can be found anywhere in the south Bronx, and used as a self-defense weapon. ( know) or a garbage can lid, will always come in useful..Train your God given weapons, your hands, feet, mind and spirit...But, don't reject Kobudo...Charles Bonet, Hanshi..
  • dean k. ziegler personal story fits right in....I joined a karate dojo on a pesonal reference from an employee. she was only doing kickboxing class.. which I signed up immediately, then later joined the karate class...the school was accesible, open many hours, advertised, and in a prime location...however we were advised that weapons training was after black belt, minimum of 3 years....I graduated but not after a departure on one sensei and then the school folded. meanwhile, a fellow student turned me on to samarui sword training, which we did between classes with no one there...eventually, I had to seek an instructor whom I am still with today in jujitshu and bujitshu; he is a traditional sensei with his sensei in point is that all your themes and arguments hold true for's just that I sincerely have a desire to learn the sword and jujitshu is a necessary additional practice. Perhaps I am not main stream America, but I have stayed and still train. I have purchased a practicial katana, and a non sharpened iaito katana and wazikashi, not to mention countless wooden boku, bamboo katana and futuro shinai, and of course traditional kendo shinai. The cost is adding up, but I feel it's worth it. thanks for listening.... dean k. ziegler
  • Manuel
    my girlfriend practices kung fu (modern wushu) and she has plenty of weapons to play with, and her master is not walking around with threadbare shoes and worn out t-shirts.... and (easthetically) a martial artist with a weapon is a lot more good looking...I want some weapons too! I WANT MY KOBUDO!
  • squeezebox boom
    kobudo seems better than karate but I wouldn't know though I'm not an expert. I think movies have a lot to do with the popularity of karate.
    • Free Speech
      It's not "better". It's part of.
  • Tooru
    Brilliant write up about kobudo. Simplistic and I do agree with you. I see fear in the eyes of students when I start kumite with weapons. To get to really know what kobudo was like, I travell back in time through getting stuck in, with those students that trust in what I am trying to to achieve. Tooru
  • Joseverson Goulart
    Hi, Jesse! May be... to tell people that there are TWO different Kobudo would help to place this matter in the correct context about "popularity". As we know, there are Japanese Kobudo and Okinawan Kobudo and they - really - are not the same. In fact, depending on place where Kobudo came from, it will be more or less popular.
    • Well, just assume that whenever I talk about "Kobudo", I mean Okinawan (Ryukyu) Kobudo. Unless otherwise stated, like Nihon Kobudo. This is, after all, a Karate blog. But sure, some people might not know (understand) the difference.
      • Joseverson Goulart
        ...But few (really few) people know that Karate is not japanese! (^_^)
        • Haha, that's another way to look at it ;)
  • Isnt Karate really Korean???:-p
  • juan manuel
    I guess there is one more reason, that comes from all your other reasons: there is a few "sensei" that really know karate, less know kobudo. I train Shorin ryu Shin shu kan/shi do kan (branches of kobayashi), in shi do kan, you have to be karate black belt to begin kobudo, so, most black belts dies knowing one or two kobudo katas, and that´s all. Shin shu kan teaches kobudo separately. Reason? of course $$$$$ diferent ranking test $$$$$. My teacher gives a shit about it and teach me karate and kobudo 50%/50%. Its much more practical that you think in self defense. Weapons? you need it for katas, but in street you can use any piece of shit as a weapon, as the best 10 dan black belt of shit jitsu. Allways the same problems: most karate experts are stupid, don´t know they art, they are no honest, they expect master-slave relation with their students, of course $$$ and think they know all and are unvencible. The problem is that the true art and it´s escence are losing. Ad one more (you will hate my): competition. Competition it´s all about two things: rules and aestetics. But real live fight with or without weapons don´t looks good, and have no rules. I can tell you so. Motobu could tell you so. Result: karate become something useless, and no ones knows why pratice kobudo. KARATE AND KOBUDO ARE FOR SELF DEFENSE, KEEP IT SO. Juan Manuel Coria Brawler 8 dan ass kicker 9 dan drunk jitsu 10 dan my ass shihan on nothing Pope of all idiots
  • I have to disagree with the premise for your post. Kobudo, although now thought of as a separate system was "always" a part of karate. Being so was inaccurate as they are and have been always a separate system but because they are bound historically together they tend to fall under one name, Karate. It is a bit like all martial arts in the sixties and seventies being bunched under the title, "Karate." In my lifetime in karate I have found that kobudo flourished far more than empty hand. In the seventies, eighties, nineties, and now the next century the focus is to learn what you have to in empty hand so you can get to the kobudo weaponry. Regardless, nice article.
  • As someone alluded to above, kung fu has a lot of weapons. It usually starts with the staff. I don't think kung fu having long weapons has hurt it - usually people are eager to get to learn the weapons. Same for Tai Chi - the most popularly practiced art on the planet - it has weapons too.
  • Andreas
    I could imagine that in public perception Kobudo tools look like the least "elegant" and unsophisticated - if not straightforward ugly - weapons in the world. Ever. Even a cobblestone has more sex appeal. And many of the positive characteristics ascribed to karate, such as being a "peaceful martial art" or ethical stuff etc., are probably difficult to project upon Kobudo. I mean from a layman's perspective. Which of course does not prevent us to prove this reception wrong. :D
  • Martin Rodriguez
    Hi all, I'm not a trained warrior and to be honest I'm not even a good fighter, I've been practicing kickboxing for just 3 years and I'm 26 so I bet I'm a real noob for you, but all my inexperience help me to see this from another point of view. I'm really interested in Kendo, while researching on kendo I found kobudo and I can tell that kendo kept my attention while I found kobudo a "meh", arts like bujinkan and kendo are so much more interesting to me than kobudo, the reason... Marketing. Society shows that ninjas are badass, they have some sort of supernatural power and that they have supernatural skills, on the other hand we got kendo, the way of swords, everyone loves swords, ask 100 kids to choose a weapon and 90 would choose a sword, is the iconic weapon of the samurai, one of the best units back then, we got our little assassins creed montage with the ninjas vs samurai like the assassins vs templars, also out of Asia, swords were a symbol of nobility, not much warriors were blessed to have a sword in their hands, even in Mexico, the obsidian sword-mace is an iconic weapon of the american samurai-templar the jaguar knight. You can separete people in 2 boxes, we got those who want to make killing machines of their fist (Karate, Ninjutsu, krav Maga, MMA, my beloved kickboxing, etc) And those that want to use killing machines (kendo, fencing, HEMA, Ninjutsu), also they could choose bows or Now-a-day-weapons, I'm being too general with this, but you know there is some true. Personally, I also like to evaluate the tradition, and I found kendo a really nice way to see a competition and is a lot more than just people hitting each other with fake weapons. Please forgive my poor english and my poor knowledge on Martial Arts, but at the end of the day you need this kind of opinion to know why kobudo is not trendy between people who doesnt know much about martial arts. Long Story Short.... Sword Marketing
  • Daniel E.Silva
    Hola a todos, y respecto a la gente que no disfruta de la práctica de KOBUDO sería interesante saber primero a que finalidad desean llegar, dado que si se tuvo la posibilidad de ver practicar a un buen "SENSEI" y está bien explicado y demostrado, realmente apasiona emular a éste. Asimismo el KOBUDO si es un arte independiente (ASOC. "RENMEI" y "MATAYOSHI") y no una rama colateral sino paralela del Karate-Do. Las opiniones de su impracticidad por ser anti-económico , muy espacioso , o poco intenso en su práctica, son solo excusas de quiénes no pudieron o quisieron realizarlo verdaderamente desde su esencia o sino "..como estarían bajo condiciones de enfrentar a alguien con un arma blanca o varios adversarios con garrotes y o armas blancas (es solo un mero ejemplo) aunque seas un experto de Karate, no basta y de tener el conocimiento de kobudo en varias armas, te sería realmente útil y hasta el pasaporte o la oportunidad de seguir vivo (Yo vivo en Buenos Aires, Argentina y se ha vuelto muy peligroso actualmente por lo que sería más que bueno saber desde un arte marcial sin armas y también KOBUDO...), bueno amigos, ésta es mi opinión y espero que si puedan tener la posibilidad de practicar KOBUDO con un muy buen maestro (Sensei) que les haga disfrutar desde verlo hasta prácticarlo con sus Katas y correspondientes análisis de combate. Hasta siempre y muy buena suerte a todos. "Daniel E.Silva - 5° Dan Karate-Do goju-ryu - Kobudo Okinawense"
  • Rick Brown
    Quick question that may be able to be answered here. Are there standard kobudo kata the way there are standard kata in karate? Is there a corresponding set the way karate has the Pinan/Heian kata, for each weapon type?
  • Leo Lahti
    There is an analogous system at least in the Ryukyu Kobujutsu Hozon Shinko Kai style and I think I've seen something similar in other systems as well.
  • Free Speech
    The simple fact is that only about 1% of people who ever start karate earn even a shodan. Thus, almost all people fall along the wayside before they start learning weapons and or when they're not very far into same. Also, most people who participate in karate aren't that good at kata and weapons demand kata. Authentic, Japanese, weapons grade weapons are expensive, but then everything of any quality is expensive. But, there are lots of cheaper grade weapons that one can learn with. Primarily, the moment people find out that karate is hard, they are lazy and they quit. Their loss.
  • LOL at the not practical aspect - bo isn't exactly a weapon one can conceal, and I can barely fit it in the hatchback of my car. Yet one evening I spent one hour doing bunkai for Bassai Dai with partners, then the next hour disarming bo-wielding attackers (and being disarmed in turn). What did those two hours have in common? Leverage! So I did learn something practical after all :-)
  • Narda
    I would add that as hard as it is to find a decent instructor of karate, it is even rarer to find one that teaches good kobudo.
  • Mike
    I was practicing kobudo as I was coming up through the ranks. I really wanted to learn the art, and couldn't wait to get started; but then my desires were crushed by, of all people, my own sensei! We were in the middle of a class where he stated that the only reason we run weapons is to keep up with tradition! Wait, what? You're only teaching kobudo to keep up with tradition? "So, I'm not really going to learn anything from you about weapons other than kata" is exactly what I took from that statement. Why should I even bother continuing with the lessons? I haven't touched a weapon for kobudo or been in a class since - nearly 15 years ago.
  • John Hornback
    Jesse would you be able to steer me in the right direction on where to Find an accurate Okinawan language site or dictionary so we can replace our Korean comands when participating in Kobudo or do they use Japanese for the Dojo.
  • bill
    i started formal martial arts in 1959. had informal family trying before that. the main reason was and is- self defense. starting karate in 1965, kobudo was required to progress. i learned what was in the curriculum and passed it on to my students. whereupon. i quit kobudo because- i don't like it. I'm also self-defense oriented, so i don't want to spend time on it when i have plenty of empty hand things to perfect. i can still remember and occasionally do the two sai kata and one bo kata. i know they have value in muscle building and body mechanics, but no value for my goals. i find once student start with kobudo, they ignore the basics, kata and kumite. i think it should be separate, separate gi, more money, separate ranks and rank only for black belts who have passed a stringent board exam on the empty hand art first. the expense is minimal- if you have to worry about how much your weapons cost, you have bigger problems than my advice can ever help with.
  • Bill
    There is so much politics involved with some arts. I think many really great arts have changed, or been lost, because of this. I was a Tae Kwon Do 3rd Dan under the founder, and inventor, of Tae Kwon Do, General Che Hong Hi president of the International Tae Kwon Do Federation. What we see today is the WTF and isn't the same art. Che called it "a weird combination of Karate and something else". It is a horrible practice. I say the older, non commercialized, arts are best.
    • Rick Brown
      First, it is Choi Hong Hi. And he did not invent Tae Kwon Do, he helped popularize the name change. Also, Tae Kwon Do is probably the most political and commercialized martial art there is.
  • Evan Reno
    Hi Jesse, I think you are confusing "Kobudo" with "Okinawan Kobudo". The latter encompasses the weapon styles and training of Okinawa. However, the former (synonymous with Koryu) actually refers to all Japanese martial style developed before the Meiji Restoration. Gendai Budo or Shinbudo refers to the martial styles created after the Meiji Restoration, when the Shogunate was toppled, topknots were forbidden, and the wearing of swords was outlawed. Karate, in any of its forms, refers to empty-hand. It is separate from Kobudo, however, not because one uses weapons and one does not, but rather that the carrying of weapons was no longer legal, so empty-hand styles were honed.
  • Evan Reno
    For this reason, Jujutsu (now often called Jujitsu) is actually a form of kobudo, despite being predominantly unarmed. It was developed for battlefield situations, in which a warrior or samurai was disarmed and had to defend himself against armed and armored (hence the notable lack of striking) opponents until being able to obtain a weapon again. In contrast, Aikido incorporates the jo staff (and even sometimes bokken and swords) into training, but is not kobudo because it was not developed until the 20th century.
    • Evan Reno
      Ninjitsu is also a form of kobudo, whether the techniques are those with or without weapons. I mean no disrespect, for i hold karate in high regard and am on this website only to learn more about it.
  • graham
    Having trained in Jujitsu and Karate over the years. I am pleased that my teachers also taught Okinawan Kobudo as part of the training/Syllabus. I feel that Kobudo helps my Jujitsu and I pass this message on to the students. Also we wear the same Gi and the gradings for Jujitsu also include Kobudo, one is not separate from the other they both work together in harmony.
  • Mr Rafael Perez
    I think it also has to do with the practicality of the weapon. In FMA you use knives and sticks - these tools are simple, effective, and people can see there self defense applications easier.. ie functional.. plus there is plenty of contact from the sticks and blades having a close realistic feel. With kendo... you and your partner are beating each other in armor with force... this gives people a sense of intensity. I practice a for of old jujutsu that involves the study of old weapons. Yes, they are many practical lessons in them that aid in the understanding of empty hand movement. But like a former sensei of mine once said, “I have choosen to work on my golf swing rather sword technique and after years of training. I am not going to be attacked by a samurai.” Although funny at the time, it really leans to the practicality and functional use of these tools. I picked up the nunchaku as a kid not because I understood the tool but because of Bruce lee movies. The question should be can people relate to these tools in minders times?
  • S. Pearson
    There is the complicating factor that one cannot legally walk around carrying most traditional kobudo weapons, at least in the U.S. You can get away with carrying sticks most places, but not every place, just by saying they are for a home project (closet rod, furniture repair, and so on), but they still aren't going to let you carry them into a movie theater most places. The other consideration, as shown by some Youtube videos, is the ease with which one can hurt oneself unintentionally with a tradtional kobudo weapon.
  • Diego Fernando Ruiz Patiño
    Thanks for the article Jesse San. There are many factors why Kobudo is not so popular now adays as explained in the article and the all of the comments. In particular I would agree that parents will not be willing to let their children "play" with potentially dangerous weapons and that carrying some of the Kobudo weapons may get you in to trouble in some countries. Also some karate instructors and associations do not promote the use of weapons. I have practiced Karate for a long time but had not practiced Kobudo (except for one small seminar long time ago). I would like to ask if there is a particular order in which weapons shall be learn? Thanks for your feedback.
  • Neal Engelman
    No, its unpopular for one reason and one reason only. Most Americans and Europians just don't have the patience to take an art form beyond the dojo, most see it as a hobby, not a promise they make to themselves. This is also why Mcdojos are so popular in the united states, because you get a black belt, without any effort, just money.
  • Manny Soares
    I use dumbbell exercises to make myself strong. I always carry a pair. In case I get into a bar fight, I just whip them out and do some fast BruceLee moves. Just kidding. In today's age, weapons training can be used as a tool to develop one's body motion, mental sharpness, and improve one's overall martial arts ability and understanding. You can use similar body motion with a piece of wood in your hands or without a piece of wood in your hands. I do not agree with the teaching “if you learn Kobodo you can pick anything up and use as a weapon.” It is the equivalent of saying if you know how to play tennis you know how to play football. There may be some truth to it, but it is too much of a simplification geared towards the: I want to make a buck out of the: I want to beat someone up clientele. Tomorrow I am teaching the ancient art of using an office chair as a lethal weapon. $80 for early registration, $100 at the door.
  • Tom
    I have been training Karate for more than a decade and a couple of months ago I wanted to try something "with weapons". So went to a dojo in my neighborhood that offers Kobudo and Arnis and after a couple of training sessions I quit Kobudo. However, I really have a blast when training Kali / FMA. Kobudo feels too traditional for me and I doubt that it would ever help me in self defence. Not to mention that most Kobudo weapons are illegal to carry in my country. Arnis teaches you basic principles that apply to all weapons except for guns and these principles also apply to empty hand techniques or you could use a piece of everyday carry like a belt, a pen, a smartphone or whatnot to defend yourself. What is more I feel like Arnis complements empty hand Karate pretty good., even better than Kobudo could. The basic stances and techniques are more or less the same as in Karate but the weapon techniques are a lot more complex than in modern Filipino Martial Arts. Maybe that is why Funakoshi got rid of Kobudo and created Kara-Te (Empty-Hand). If there was some kind of Modern Kobudo like Modern Arnis, then Kobudo might become more popular. Just my 2 cents.
  • Yun Mo
    I see a lot of misunderstanding of what kobudo is, and its possibilities. I train kobudo, we study 7 to 9 Ryuha and not all of them have weapon study, we study throws, locks, chockholds, punches, kicks and defenses against them, we train our minds, our intentions and presence, we trained unarmed fight, and armed against unarmed fight (I.e., tanto or short knife). Also, you do have to train slow so you have your form right, before anything, to protect your own body from injuries. I've seen a lot of black belts with their knees pointing inside, feet not aligned, all hunched, all tense, and just because they train fast and they use force, they think they're already martial artists. You need to have a right form, then precision and refinement, and when you have that, speed and timing. If you only want to look good and feel like you're the best, well, have at it, keep throwing punches at full speed. If you want to be a martial artist and apply this art in real life situations and in your own life, then it's going to take a lot of time, thousands of repetitions, frustration, patience, and a strong spirit, a warrior spirit. This is a journey of a lifetime.
  • Mike
    I can give you another reason. Karate kobudo kata are so embarrassingly simple that nobody cares to invest the time to learn them. When I asked about weapons at my very first shotokan school, I was given the same answer you gave as #1 here. "It's hard!" No, I'm sorry. It's not. You know that youtube video you did where you ran around with boards and gave them to random people on the street break them? Remember how lots of people were able to do it despite having absolutely no training at all? Kobudo is like that. Grab any random 12 year old off the street and you could teach them bo kihon kata ichi in 20 minutes. And then they'll forget it int a few days because it's not "cool" enough to bother remembering. Even high school color guard flag twirling is five times more complex and interesting. And yet karate schools act like weapons are some vast mystery that only the greatest masters could possibly grasp and that they won't even let you TOUCH until brown belt a lot of the time. Meanwhile, look at what any other style that teaches weapons is doing. Take wushu for example, where weapons training is generally mandatory after your first year. Go look up a beginner form like chu ji dao shu where you're jumping around and twirling a sword around your head. I've seen 12 year olds do that form, and nobody pretended like it was some deep unknowable mystery. Compare even the very highest black belt karate weapons forms to even the very first mandatory beginner wushu weapons forms that a second year student would learn, and it becomes painfully obvious that nobody cares about kobudo because it's simply "not cool enough." Everybody has access to youtube these days. When you can learn staff or sword twirling in 5-10 minutes, how can anyone be excited about waiting 2-3 years before being allowed to "step forward into zenkutsu dachi and swing your weapon then stop"? How can you expect people to practice material that simple for yet more years before being finally allowed to try something that's STILL not as interesting as the 5-10 minutes of youtube video they watched 4+ years ago? This is the problem with kobudo. It's elementary school level material, and we live in an era where people have the basis of comparison to see how trivially simple it is. Go ask any high ranking karate black belt to compare their "advanced" bo form with what a totally average first-year freshman high school cheerleader on the color guard squad does with a flag, and see who has the more difficult and interesting techniques.

Leave a comment