The Role of Senpai

A part of the Shodan testing is to provide an essay to the Honbu Dojo. Below is Marc Faux San's Shodan Essay:

 

 

The Role of Senpai

By Marc Faux

Shodan in Matayoshi Kobudo

 

In recent times I have been given the title of Senpai in my Dojo, having become the student with the highest grade. I feel the role is one of responsibility, and I try to assist my Sensei in the Dojo, support the group by whatever means necessary and to lead by example, in all things ‘Budo’. But what exactly does the role entail? What does the term mean? And why does it exist? Like many Japanese terms we adopt in our study of martial arts, we have our own western ideas, but with little understanding as to the real values it holds in Japanese society.

Senpai is pronounced as ‘Sempai’, and the literal translation in Japanese is senior. The term is often applied in school, business, the arts, and of course, the martial ways and refers to a senior or early member of a group. The meaning, however, for those in a traditional martial arts group and in Japanese society as a whole is much deeper.

The Senpai tradition has existed since the beginning of Japanese history, but the role cannot be fully understood in isolation. It is the Senpai – Kohai relationship that we should consider, Kohai meaning junior or later member. This system employs a method called On-Giri, meaning deputy or obligation. The Kohai has a certain debt which is owed to his Senpai by virtue of their willingness to impart knowledge. This relationship of a vertical hierarchy in Japan was primarily evolved from three main factors; Confucianism, the Japanese family system and the Civil Code of 1898.

Confucianism came from China between the 6th and 9th centuries, and its teachings of loyalty and respect for elders were well accepted by the Japanese. At this time, loyalty was taken as loyalty to a feudal lord or the Emperor. In the Japanese family system, the father, as the male head of the household, had absolute power over the family and the eldest son inherited the family property. Because of this, reverence for superior, or elders was considered a virtue and from the earliest age a Japanese citizen was indoctrinated into these attitudes. The Civil Code of 1898 further strengthened the rules of privilege of seniority and reinforced the traditional family system, giving clear definitions of hierarchical values. This was called Koshusei, meaning family-head system, giving the head of the household the right to command his family, with the eldest son due to inherit the position. This tiered family system can still be seen in other cultures, such as the British Royal family, for example, where the eldest son is the natural heir to the throne. In Japanese society, however, this attitude is deeply ingrained into the culture. The code was abolished after the Second World War, when many things changed, but, by then had played a key role in shaping relationships in Japanese society.

In the Japan of today, the Senpai – Kohai relationship applies to great extent in junior and senior high schools, where older students have great powers and influence over their younger pupils. The seniority system is also a cornerstone in interpersonal relations within the Japanese business world. For example, at meetings the lower-level employee should sit in the seat closest to the door, while the senior employee sits next to an important guest. The terms of kamiza and shimoza are used in describing the layout of the board room, in a similar fashion to that of the dojo. Most Japanese people, even those who are critical of it, accept the senpai – kohai system as a common sense aspect of society.

The position that we, as martial artists are familiar with was prevalent in the Japanese Samurai and Okinawan Warrior Society as far back as records go. Originally Senpai was the most senior warrior in a group, under the group’s commander or leader. The Senpai was responsible for development and direction of the lower warriors, and, critically for protection of the leader. No other position in a warrior group had these responsibilities.

As time progressed, the role remained very much the same in Japanese martial arts, with Senpai sitting between Sensei and Kohai in the hierarchy of a martial arts dojo. Senpai would maintain the relationship between Sensei and the students. But the role could be a turbulent one, with Senpai constantly observing the Kohai with an element of distrust as to who may be looking to replace them in a power struggle.

As the senior member of the dojo, Senpai had trained under Sensei for many years. This developed an understanding of Sensei, their training methodologies and philosophies. There is, after all, more than a little of the art itself residing in the personality of the teacher. With this relationship, that was often more personal than others in the dojo, came trust from Sensei, reciprocated by responsibility from Senpai. With these privileges, Senpai had the sole responsibility of protecting Sensei with his life. In times of war, depending on the skill and strength, Senpai could either be the strongest or the weakest link in the command chain. A Senpei who was not the strongest, was therefore quickly replaced, out of necessity to survive.

In today’s society, and in particular Western Dojo’s the Senpai role has been diluted somewhat. You may find that the actual expectations and responsibilities in any particular school, differ from similar roles in Japanese dojos, but the title of Senpai still retains its essence in commitment to Sensei, the Dojo and responsibility for promoting the art and culture of Japanese and Okinawan Budo.

Within the dojo, Senpai is predominantly responsible for Kohai etiquette or reigi in Japanese. Senpai means that you are personally accountable for the training of your Kohai in reigi, and this is a key part of the role. If Sensei deems students to be lacking in this discipline, it is Senpai who is to blame. In this respect the Senpai of the dojo, is parallel to the role of Senpai in other aspects of Japanese society, as discussed earlier. As in business for example, some line managers are held responsible, not solely for their subordinate’s work, but also for their behaviour on a personal level and the manner in which they conduct themselves out side of work. In Western society, this would cross many ethical boundaries, but echoes the spirit of Japanese culture and its allegiance to the Senpai – Kohai system. In the dojo it was Senpai’s responsibility to immediately correct any breach in reigi toward Sensei from his Kohai. Senpai will lead by example in reigi so his kohai can follow. In doing so, Senpai sets and maintains the attitude in the dojo. But there will also be occasions when clear direction is given and even reprimanding of kohai if repeated failure to follow reigi occurs.

Sensei has the most valued skill and experience to impart knowledge of his art to the students, and the group should therefore cherish Sensei’s time. The delegation of responsibility for reigi to Senpai, means that more time can be dedicated to developing the art through Sensei’s teaching. Much of what martial arts teaches us, extends beyond the mere practice of the skills and develops our values. The teachings that are delivered in the true spirit of martial arts will help us to grow in confidence and stature, but to maintain humble thoughts and a culture of respect. This is another reason why Senpai is often called upon to deliver correct etiquette. While Sensei should and rightly does command respect, it could be seen as egotistical for Sensei to demand this respect on his own behalf, and so Senpai is there for guidance. Whenever I have attended Gasshuku’s in my chosen art, I have witnessed the Senpai remonstrating students for poor etiquette. On this occasion the Senpai was 5th Dan. This fact alone helps to remind us that regardless of skill and experience, we are all still Senpai with Sensei above us and Kohai beneath, with knowledge to impart and much to learn.

Part of the role, regarding reigi, in a traditional school is for Senpai to order the students to line up for Sensei at the start of class. This should be done as Sensei enters the Dojo, or, when Sensei is already in attendance, that it is obvious to Senpai that Sensei is ready to begin. This shows respect for Sensei in not keeping him waiting, and not wasting any training time. Senpai will align himself at the right of the dojo line. This is where the high grades line up at the high seat or Joseki. Elements of this tradition have crossovers into the board rooms of Japanese business, and most likely other ceremonial events.  It is traditional for Senpai to position himself slightly forward of the line and facing at a 45 degree angle, while the Kohai are facing forward, to Kamiza. In ancient times this positioning comes from Senpai’s role as protector of Sensei. He positions himself with this viewpoint to ensure he has a clear view of both Sensei and anyone who would be a potential attacker. While it is unlikely that a loyal student would deem to attack Sensei, there may have been occasions in wartime where enemies may try to infiltrate a dojo for such purposes. Depending on the art, and adherence to tradition, this position may vary slightly. Due to the unlikely threat from students in the modern Dojo, the position of Senpai may be in line with other students, or slightly forward, but facing direct to Kamiza. Senpai also leads the same protocol at the close of training following instruction from Sensei to do so.

During training Senpai will conduct himself as a role model for others in the dojo. This extends to correct performance of reigi, consistently dedicated training and assistance to Sensei in demonstration and teaching where required.  As the senior, and most likely, the longest serving student, Senpai has a great deal of experience to pass to his kohai. It is Senpai’s role to tutor Kohai along whenever possible. Often the instruction is not as formal as the Sensei’s; rather it is given by example. Senpai should be positive, kind and display respect in his guidance, thus showing proper budo. The Senpai is acting more like a big brother, rather than the fatherly figure of Senpai. In this respect the role of Senpai is the first of many steps towards becoming Sensei. In return for their guidance Senpai learns new experiences from the Kohai by way of developing a sense of responsibility.

From a Western perspective, the Senpai of the modern dojo is the middle management of business, the big brother of the family and the ally of Sensei. He is a direct reflection of Sensei’s teachings, in the same way as the kohai are of Senpai’s example. From a Japanese viewpoint, the role is steeped in the traditions of loyalty and respect to figure heads and permeates the very fabric of all society. Such relationships are not easily translated or fully applicable in our own Western culture, but are an interesting insight into the culture from which martial arts stem.

 

Research

‘Being Senpai’ – Internet Article by Kobukai (2014)

‘Senpai vs Sempai’ – Internet Blog.

‘Senpai and Kohai Traditions’ – Internet Article by Dave Lowry

‘Senpai Responsibility’ – Internet Blog (2000)

‘Senpai and Kohai’ – Internet Article by Howard Collins (2013)

‘Okinawan Karate and Kobudo’ – Essays by Mike Jones (2011)

‘In the Dojo’ – Dave Lowry (2006)

‘The Senpai/Kohai relationship’ – Wikipedia.

‘The Heart of the Warrior’ – Catharina Bloomberg (1994)

Kiki-Te (pulling Hand)

Although I wrote this small article for Karate, it also applies to Kobudo so I have decided to include it here as well:

Hiki-Te (Pulling Hand)

This is a term that I refer to in Karate as the preparatory hand. The hand that is ready to strike or receive an attack. It is of course much more than this as it is the hand that has just finished a movement, such as in a block or a strike etc.

Most students tend to forget about the importance of this hand until they need it to strike with it or to block with it. They forget the hand that has just has just applied the technique and concentrate more on the hand that is applying the technique.

Before I carry on let’s just look at the term Hiki-Te. What does it mean? Well Hiki translates as “pulling” and of course Te is “hand”. So Hiki-Te is pulling hand. So, although I refer to the hand on the side of the ribs as Hiki-Te (which has just finished pulling) the hand extended is now the pulling hand, see picture:

The student in this picture has just committed a strike with her left hand. However, just prior to this strike the Hiki-Te hand (Right hand now on her ribs) has just finished pulling.

Most low kyu grade students only concentrate on the pushing hand in the strike (left hand in picture) and little attention is paid to the pulling action of this Hiki-Te. Why is it important? Well firstly there is a balance of rotation between both hands, equally pulling and pushing causing the correct centrifugal force that is needed in the strike, or block. Secondly it reinforces the momentum that is generated from our hips equally Thus, providing the power in the technique.

Hiki-Te is not only related to Karate, but also to Kobudo as well, no matter what the weapon is we should always not forget the Hiki-Te. See some example of where it can be applied below:

Similar to a strike in Karate

 

Although the hands are now linked with this Bo, it is important that the pulling hand does provide the same acceleration as the pushing hand to help create a powerful strike.

So, next time you train in either Karate or Kobudo, think about Hiki-Te and pay some more attention to it.

 

MKKI – German Branch Gasshuku

Matayoshi Kobudo Kodokan Internaltional – German Branch First Gasshuku

On the 20th of April 2017, I travelled from Teesside to Nuremberg, Germany, via Amsterdam. I was attending the 1st Matayoshi Kobudo Kodokan International – German Branch Gasshuku. This event was hosted by Brüchner Sensei, and tuition given by our MKKI chief instructor Sanguinetti Sensei.  Accompanying Sanguinetti Sensei from the USA was Thomas Sensei, Gaines Sensei and Chrisan Sensei. I was looking forward to another MKKI Gasshuku.

Upon my arrival, I was kindly pick up from Nuremberg airport by Brüchner Sensei’s student, Fred Stelleng and his wife Doreen. They took me to my hotel, which was about 1 hours’ drive away from Nuremberg to Eschenbach where the Gasshuku was taking place.

That evening we met Sanguinetti Sensei and the other MKKI members for a sociable meal. Brüchner Sensei and his students made us all very welcome, and they were extremely hospitable; a nice evening was had by all re-establishing with Sanguinetti Sensei and Senseis Thomas, Gaines and Chrisan, and meeting new MKKI family.

The next day, Friday, we were all picked up at our hotel and was taken to a traditional German Breakfast. Again, this event was an experience to me, having traditional sausage and bread, along with some lovely local German beer. Then in the afternoon a party of us went to climb a volcanic hill where a tower was built to view the amazing scenery around Eschenbach.

The Gasshuku was then officially started on the evening at 6.00 pm, meeting all the participants coming from different parts of USA, Germany, Austria and the UK. We covered the weapons of Bo and Sai. Straight after our training we went to the sport complex restaurant and I had some lovely Greek food.

Saturday’s training started at 10 am going over what Sanguinetti had shown us on the Friday night, but expending on the techniques and the Bunkai. The seniors of the MKKI helped our Germany family where we could, it was another successful day finishing at 4 pm. That evening around 20 of the participants went for the meal, where again I had a local dish, pork schnitzel and some local beer. We arrived back at our hotel around 11 pm that night. It was time to get our heads down as Sunday’s training started at 9.00 am.

Again, we were picked up at our hotel, by Brüchner Sensei, Werner (Brüchner Sensei’s dad), and Edwald Ploößner San. I’m truly grateful as they chauffeured us all to and from every event. Today, was spent on training in Bo, Sai and Tunkua. At lunch time, I had the privilege to train in Sai with Thomas Sensei, Gaines Sensei, Chrisan Sensei covering all the Sai kata from Nichou Sai through to Shinbaru No Sai. The afternoon was set aside for Brüchner Sensei and his students grading. However, as Sanguinetti Sensei states “Grading is just another day of training” so all participants joined in. The day ended with the presentation of the results from the grading; and I would like to congratulate Brüchner Sensei for passing his Shodan, and to his students that got their grades. It was the climatic end to a great Gasshuku weekend, closing around 6.30 pm. The weekend as always flashed by!

We were taken back to our hotel for a quick shower and a turnaround for a nice Chinese meal, starting at 7.30 pm. Again, a great night was had by all and we were eventually prized out of the restaurant around 10.30 pm; being the last in there! We said our farewells to some great students and MKKI family members, and was taken back to the hotel. My flight was leaving at 10 am on Monday morning so it was an early start back for me.

Werner, Brüchner Sensei’s dad, picked me up from my hotel at 6.15 am for the trip back to Nuremberg airport. We were hoping not to get stuck in the early morning rush hour as the German working day starts at 7 am. We made the airport in plenty of time and Werner kindly stayed with me to help pass the time. Soon I had to board for my travel back to Teesside, via Amsterdam, landing at 4.30 pm on Monday afternoon.

It was a great Gasshuku, meeting up with old friends and making new ones. I like to say Arigatou Gozaimasu (Thank You) to all and hopefully we will meet and train again in future.

More photo's of this event can be seen on the Gallery page.  

Ueku – Sixth Weapon of Matayoshi Kobudo

Below is the sixth article that was published in the MAI magazine about Matyoshi Kobudo. I would also like to thank Sanguinetti Sensei in his assistance and advice in the writing of the article.

Introduction

Ueku1In Okinawa this weapon receive the name of Ueku or Eku, meanwhile in mainland Japan is commonly known as Kai. It is known as the fisherman’s sword, as the edges can be used for cutting. The weapon has a displaced centre of gravity and therefore more difficult to master than the Bo. So in the Matayoshi Kobudo Kodokan system this is the sixth of twelve weapons that is taught. It is uniquely an Okinawan weapon but often seen practiced in other weapon schools. Furthermore, it is a weapon that is mainly used by the advanced Kobudo practitioner. When I first got involved in martial arts, Kobudo was rare. There were plenty of schools for empty hand, and dotted around there were schools in Kendo (Japanese sword art), but Kobudo was not known. Today, it has become more popular but still not many Kobudo schools exist. There are some empty hand schools in Ueku2what I would say “dabble” in Kobudo weapons, such as the Bo, Tunkua and Nunchaku, but not exclusively train with these weapons. As a consequence they don’t get a chance to study the advance weapons of Okinawa. I was exactly the same when I first got involved with weapon training. I would go along to seminars and short courses to pick up various techniques in the common weapons of Kobudo; the Ueku was nowhere to be seen. It was not until I found a school that trained specifically with these weapons that I came across this unique weapon. The downside was I had to travel far to learn this art, but my passion for Kobudo kept me going. This is where I came across the Ueku, but as I did not have one I had to perform the techniques with a Bo. At the time I didn’t know, but the feel of the weapon would change once I had a Ueku to train with. So I wouldn’t recommend training with a Bo especially as the Ueku can now be obtained in this country,

History of the Ueku

Ueku3Okinawa is one of the islands in the Ryukyu Archipelago that span’s from the southern tip of Japan to Taiwan. So there would naturally be fishermen on these islands, and the Ueku is a fisherman’s oar.  It was not only used to propel the boat, but could also be used as a tiller to aid in controlling the boats course. During the historical periods where it was outlawed to carry weapons, these fishermen, after tying up their boats would take the Ueku with them. The weapon could then be used for self-defence against the Samurai and bandits.

The martial art of the Ueku was derived and developed from the art practiced in Shanghai, China. It utilises the edge of the weapon for cutting, as well as the ability to strike with either end of the weapon and be able to fling sand up into the opponents face.

Tsuken island is part of the Ryukyu Islands and is south of Okinawa, which has an interesting legend.  A samurai by the name of Chikin Uekata Masanori was exiled to this island, and in a dispute he was defeated in contention for the throne. Uekata was sentenced to be executed by being bound by a 300-pound stone and thrown into the sea. However, his executioner could not bring himself to do the deed as he found out that Uekata was a master of the Bo. So the executioner asked a fisherman named Asato to carry out the sentence for him. However, instead of drowning Uekata he lived in secrecy teaching Asato his Bo-jutsu. Eventually Asato surpassed his teacher to become a great Bo master. Asato became to be known as “Chikin Akachu” because he had a red sun burnt face. It is our Ueku kata that is named after Chikin Akachu, i.e. Chikin Aka Chu No Ueki Di. Another name for this kata is Tsuken Akachu No Iyeku De as the Ukeu kata comes from the island of Tsuken; it is believed to be over 600 years old. 

Ueku5There is another tale for the Ueku whereby the Okinwans held boat races every year. Two villages used to compete and their stories would be told about the winners for decades to come. The winners were decided by two watchers at the finish line, one from each village. It was told that the two judges started to argue on who had won, their intense debate soon had the rowing teams joining in and the fighting ensued. Fists started flying and bodies rolling around in the sand. Then out from the watching crowd stepped forwards an old man. He picks up the Ueku and moves into the melee. His Ueku is seen to move and then disappear as sand dust forms a cloud in the air. Through this the old man is silhouetted, tripping over the rowers and flicking the sand up into their faces. After the sand has settled it was noticed that he had used this Ueku to dispel the fight. The fight was over with the rowers coughing and gagging and rubbing their eyes. The old man moved away quietly with his Ueku over his shoulder; there was no casualties only sand covered rowers.

Construction of the Ueku

Ueku6The Ueku is approximately 5 foot 6 inches in length where the paddle is 2 foot 3.5 inches in length by just less than 3.5 inches wide. The weapon is traditionally made of hardwood, such as Red Oak, but can be made from others like Ash or Purpleheart. The paddle has four types of striking surfaces. They are named as follows:

  • Saki – tip of the paddle
  • Ha – the side of the paddle blade
  • Ura – the curved bevelled part of the paddle
  • Omote – the roof part on the paddle

The paddle is known as the Monuchi, the Moto is the centre of the oar and Ushiro Tsukagashira is the butt end of the oar. The paddle was shaped in the fashion of one side being domed and the other roofed so as to cut through the water where there were strong currents. 

Fundamentals of Matayoshi Ueku-jutsu

Ueku7The Ueku is gripped by one hand at the moto just behind the monuchi and the other hand is around a shoulders width from the front hand. The grip is changed just like that of the Bo, but the feel of the weapon is completely different to that of the Bo. This is because the balance point of this weapon is where the paddle meets the handle. The heaviest part of this weapon is the paddle. It is this offset in weight of the weapon that increases the centrifugal force when it is used in swinging attacks making the Ueku a difficult weapon to control and master.

As like the Bo it is a long range weapon and has similar techniques to that of the Bo. You will find blocking, parrying, striking and thrusting techniques. However, in addition the paddle of the oar offers a sharper striking surface than the Bo. The ha thus becomes immensely powerful in the cutting techniques of this weapon. I have been told that the force and the blade would take the head off the shoulders. Because it was used by the Okinawan fishermen it is only natural to find techniques that incorporate throwing of the sand, called Sunakake. Although we see this in Bo, the Ueku has a broader surface, which is used more easily to throw material into an opponent’s eyes. We see all these techniques in the Matayoshi Kobudo Kodokan kata, Chikin Aka Chu No Ueku Di. 

Within this kata there are also jumps whereby the practitioner is flicking up sand with their feet in to the addition the throwing of sand by the weapon; this is known as “me-tsubushi” – to blind. It is not an easy kata to learn and requires above all else good dexterity in body movement during the execution of the weapon.

Ueku8As with all the kobudo weapons it offers new concepts to learn and master. Training with the Ueku can also be beneficial to the empty hand martial arts as it develops coordination, upper body strength, and speed. Also the practitioner will notice a marked development in hand grip and forearm strength because swinging this weapon around requires a tight grip on the weapon.

This brings us to the end of the first six weapons that are studied in the MKKI, the other six are:

  • Kuwa – Hoe
  • Timbe and Nata – Shield and Hatchet
  • Sansetsu Kon – Three sectional staff
  • Kama – Sickles
  • Suruchin – Weighted rope.
  • Manji Sai – Similar to Sai

The above weapons are for the more advanced student in Matayoshi Kobudo and are only taught to higher Dan grades. 

 

Ueku 2

Nunti Bo – Fifth Weapon of Matayoshi Kobudo

Below is the sixth article that was published in the MAI magazine about Matyoshi Kobudo. I would also like to thank Sanguinetti Sensei in his assistance and advice in the writing of the article.

Introduction

Nunti InstructionThis is the fifth weapon in the Matayoshi Kobudo Kodokan syllabus and the reason for this becomes clear when you start training with this weapon. The Nunti Bo is not one of the better known weapons in the UK, such as the more common, Bo, Sai, Tunkua and even Kama. Most of us abbreviate it to Nunti. This weapon is practiced in conjunction with two Manji Sai to add the ability to throw those weapons during the execution of the Nunti Bo kata as they are very similar to the Sai. The spelling is many times represented incorrectly as Nunte. In Okinawan hogen is referred as Nuntei, and it means Nunchidi – thrusting hand. At first glance the weapon looks like a spear, but is composed of a Bo with a Manji Sai mounted on one end. It is uniquely Okinawan, as the Japanese have similar types of weapon in the guise of the Yari (spear) and Naginata (halberd), but these will not be used in the same way as the Nunti Bo as it’s a spear with hooks.

Nunti Bo 2I first saw the Nunti Bo very briefly in the 1986 Karate Kid Part 2 film where Mr Miyagi is defending against it and eventually disarms his attacker. Knowing what I know now I don’t think I would go up against this weapon empty handed, but then again I’m not Mr Miyagi. I suppose my fascination for what this weapon could do started then. The only downfall I had was that it was not a popular training weapon in the UK. So it was when I went to Okinawa in 1998 I decided to purchase one and bring it back to the UK. It sat in storage for quite some time as I did not have a Sensei that could teach me this weapon correctly. It wasn’t until I became a member of the Matayoshi Kobudo Kodokan International where Sanguinetti Sensei started to teach me this weapon. I grew to like it very quickly as it was similar to the Bo, but has this extra weapon of the Manji Sai on the end whereby other techniques can be done with devastating consequences. Today you can import them more easily to the UK from Shureido (mass made) or Crane Mountain Weapons (handmade).

History of the Nunti Bo

Nunti Bo 1It is thought to be a fisherman’s tool, where the point could be used to stab the fish. The inward hook of the Nunti Bo was used to pull nets in the boats when fishing and the outward facing hook to push their boats off from the dock. Because it was a tool these fishermen were allowed to carry and use it during the years where weapons were banned by their Satsuma overlords. These men had a very effective weapon for dealing with rogues and bandits. Furthermore, when up against the Samurai, due to the length and the fact it had the Manji Sai on one end, it was very advantageous defending against these sword wielding men.

The origin of this weapon is thought to be from China and brought to Okinawa some 600 years ago during the prosperous trade they had with China. In fact a similar weapon is in the book Bubishi called the Sabu. As a martial art Nunti-jutsu resembles the Bo-jutsu which was performed in the Tsuken Island of the Ryukyu archipelago. It was normal to find these men wielding three Manji, one attached to the Bo and the other two held by their belts and used like Sai.

On his trips to China, our founder Matayoshi Shinko learnt this art of Nunti-jutsu in Shanghai from Kingai Sensei. This has been passed down to his son Matayoshi Shinpo Sensei and then onto the instructors and students of the Matayoshi Kobudo Kodokan. I think we’re very honoured to be taught this weapon as it is not very common in other systems.  

Construction of the Nunti Bo

Nunti Bo 3Today’s Nunti Bo is generally made of Red Oak hard wood with chrome or natural Manji on one end. If getting a Nunti Bo handmade discuss with the manufacturer the type of wood that would be suitable for contact, especially if you are training in the Matayoshi Kobudo Kodokan system. Woods such as White Oak, Hickory, Jatoba and Purpleheart all can take a beating but some are better than others. The total length is around 81 inches, but can be handmade to the length of the individual.

The parts of the Nunti are very similar to that of the Sai and named as follows:

  • Moto: is the centre part of the Manji between the two side guards and the monuchi
  • Mae Monuchi: is the front shaft
  • Ushiro Monuchi: is the back shaft that is fitted into the Bo
  • Mae Saki: is the pointed end at the tip of the Mae Monuchi
  • Ushiro Saki: is the pointed end that is inserted into the Bo
  • Tsume: the tip of the Tsuba. Can also be known as Saki
  • Tsuba or Yoko: symmetrically curved upward and downwards turning prongs ending in points 

 

Fundamentals of Matayoshi Nunti Bo-jutsu

Nunti Bo 4The first thing you notice about the Nunti Bo when you hold one is that it is top-heavy. The balance point rides high towards the Manji end of the weapon. This makes it difficult to control and over time you can start to feel the muscles in your arms getting a good workout. As with all weapons, the control and manipulation is mastered the more you practice with it. Nunti Bo training can be beneficial for other martial arts, especially your empty hand art, as it’s like training with weights in your hands.

The second thing you are conscious of is the Manji itself, especially where the tsuba is pointing. This is most important as it is used in the various techniques, but more so as you could end up jabbing yourself with the Tsume part of the Manji that is pointing down. I’m still checking myself with a backward glance to see where it is lying in relation to my arm before carrying out a thrust with the Bo end of the weapon.

As with the Bo the Nunti Bo is a long range weapon. It is one of my favourite weapons I like to train with as it has the attributes of the Bo but with the added ability to strike, catch/trap, stab, hook etc with the Manji. The Tsume can be used to get behind the body, such as the head, legs and to pull the opponent inwards. It can also hook the opponent’s weapon when they block the Nunti Bo pulling them off balance prior to stabbing them with the 

Nunti Bo 5

Mae Saki. The outward pointed end of the Tsume can also be used to pierce the throat, eyes etc after striking with the Mae Monuchi, similar to that of the Sai. Another attribute is after the block, the downward pointing end of the Manji can then be used to hook and break posture of the opponent prior to the counter with the Nunti Bo.

Because the balance is high towards the Nunti the weapon has the ability to swing around at surprising velocity thus using the end of the Bo for strikes, blocks and thrusts.

Most of these techniques can be seen in the Nunti No Kata and practiced with the partner during the bunkai. The kata teaches the practitioner how to move from stance to stance, changing directions, executing the various strikes, blocks, thrusts and hooks with this top heavy weapon. Furthermore, in this kata it can be seen that the practitioner carries two other Manji Sai, which are held in back of the belt. These are thrown towards the opponent’s feet, which is very similar to the throws seen in the Sai kata.

Nunti Bo 6

 

 

 

Nunchaku – Fourth Weapon of Matayoshi Kobudo

Below is the fifth article that was published in the MAI magazine about Matyoshi Kobudo.

Introduction

Nunchaku PartsThe Nunchaku is a traditional Okinawan weapon used in schools of Kobudo and some Karate. They are one of my favourite weapons to study as it takes a great deal of practice and skill to be able to use them. Because of the nature of the weapon where you have a flying stick which is swung around your body is dangerous in the unskilled hands. Over the years I have seen and had my fair share of strikes by the flying shaft when the technique is not correctly executed. It is for this reason that I have always said that the Nunchaku teaches you, because if you make a mistake you will not make it again. The most common mistakes are those from the execution of the weapon where the practitioner is only thinking of “juggling” the weapon and not of striking the opponent; consequently they eventually hit themselves.

I saw this weapon for the first time in the famous Bruce Lee film Enter the Dragon back in 1973. Except for Judo, this was the first time I had seen any form of martial art and was immediately mesmerised with Karate. But it was a long time before I started training with Nunchaku, in fact not until the early 90’s. In this film he used two Nunchaku, but traditionally the weapon is used singularly. Since then they have appeared in many other films and TV shows, such as by Michelangelo who is one of the Teenage Ninja Turtles.

Nunchaku MAI # 1The Nunchaku sometimes referred to as Nunchuks in English, was developed for self-defence. They can be easily concealed and are said to be still used in guerrilla war in Korea and South East Asian countries. Today they have become more popular in modern freestyle sport. Here the performer uses the Nunchaku as a visual art rather than a weapon, swing and catching the weapon in various ways. Sometimes they are swung and caught around the neck and between the legs. Although highly skilled and I would assume many hours of practice I don’t see any strikes within these skills. Now there are many sporting associations that use the Nunchaku in this way and because of inherent dangers they use the foam or rubber variety. As Matayoshi Kobudo Kodokan is steeped in tradition, the Ryu only uses the wooden variety of Nunchaku, and in the correct manner of Budo, and not in a sporting application. Hence the reason why this weapon is the forth in the series of weapons one learns. This weapon takes time to acquire the skill and to control. However, when the practitioner gains confidence with the Nunchaku I think it’s a nice weapon. But be prepared to get the occasional knocks!

This weapon is now illegal for anyone to carry them not unless they are being transported safely to and from the martial art school. If stopped you may also be asked to prove that you are a martial artist. In 2010 the Glasgow Sheriff Court ruled that Nunchaku fell into the category of a “prohibited weapon”. In other countries this weapon is also illegal, such as in Norway, Canada, Russia, Poland, Chile, Spain and Germany. So make sure they are in your kit bag, and if driving in the boot of the car, if transporting this weapon to and from your home to the dojo. Always carry proof that you are a martial artist just in case you get stopped.

History of the Nunchaku

As with many of the kobudo weapons the origin of the Nunchaku originates from several theories. Firstly it is thought to have come from China in the Song Dynasty and made its way to Okinawa in the 1600’s. There were a lot of cultural exchange between china and Okinawa so it seems likely that this weapon did originate from China. In Fuzhou, China there is a weapon called Nisetsu Kon or Ryosetsu Kon and pronounced Nunchaku in dialect. Furthermore, during the cultural exchange the Sunsetsu Kon came from China to Okinawa. This is a three sectional staff and it wouldn’t be too unreasonable to think that the Nunchaku was developed from this. So although the origin of the Nunchaku was not known there is evidence that China was using a weapon similar to this long before it was recorded in Okinawa.

Most of kobudo weapons have been developed from farmers tools, one theory tells of its development from that of a flail, known as Utzu, which is said to thrash rice or soya. The Okinawa flail has one short length of staff and one as long as a man’s height. They held one end then thrashed the rice husks or soya with the other in order to remove the husk. Rather than thrashing, another theory is thought that the Nunchaku was used to remove the rice husks from the stalks. To envisage this it was done by splitting bamboo down the middle and putting the stalks between the shafts and pulling the stalks through the split bamboo.

It is also said that the Nunchaku has been developed from a tool carried by the village night watchman. This tool was made of two sticks tied together at one end by rope, it was called a hyoshiki. It was used like a rattle and they would hit the sticks together to warm the villagers of any danger or fire.

There are stories that the Nunchaku was invented by women in order to defend themselves from bandits or their Satsuma overlords. The tool was made from bamboo which was split down the middle and tying one end together with rope. They then used this to remove bark from the banana tree, called Abaca. This bark was then used to make waved items; the majority of this work was carried out by the women.

I think the most convincing of all these development theories is that which has originated from the Muge, horse bridle. In fact the Okinawan language “Nunchiyaku” means “Horse Bridle”. It was made of wood which was curved and strung together with rope.

However the development of the weapon came about, due to their law restraints, the Okinawans were forced into training with them in secrecy.  Furthermore, because the Nunchaku was one of the most difficult weapons to learn and develop techniques for, there was not many recorded or passed down kata; in fact Matayoshi Kobudo has only one. Matayoshi Shinko Sensei learnt the Nunchaku-jutsu from Irei Sensei of Nozato Chatan village. His knowledge was passed down to his son Matayoshi Shinpo Sensei and to the instructors of the Kodokan in Okinawa. 

Construction of the Nunchaku

Nunchaku # 1Traditionally the Nunchaku was made of hard wood such as red oak, where the length of the shafts do not have an specific length but it is very common to be able to find Nunchaku of 14” shafts. For taller practitioners shafts can be personalized to a longer length. Both shafts are joined together at one end with cord (himo), horse hair or women’s hair so that they could swivel from the central point. The shafts are generally tapered, cord end being around 2.5 cm to the other end of the Nunchaku being around 3.5 cm. These shafts were either square, hexagonal, octagonal (Okinawan adaptation) or round in shape. The octagonal has a greater ability to inflict more damage due to its edge. The cord holding the two shafts should be of an ideal length whereupon when laid across the users palm it should just span the palm and the two shafts would hang perpendicularly down from the hand. The shafts were strung together by triple string. The triple string Nunchaku is the safest as it has the advantage that if one cord breaks it is held by the other two. Furthermore, both shafts also need to be identical and equally well balanced. In addition to the cord there are the chain (Kusari) versions, but these chains cannot be altered to provide the required length to carry out all of the Nunchaku techniques seen in the Matayoshi Kobudo system. Also the chain version brings the risk that the metal will get worn out with the use and it will break having as a consequence that one of the shafts will fly in the air without control.

As the popularity in Nunchaku has grown we are seeing more varieties on the market especially in the area of free-style sport martial arts. The modern day Nunchaku can be made from various materials, for example from metal, such as aluminium; or plastics and rubber, such as nylon, and fibreglass. There are types that glow in the dark, have fluorescent tape around the shaft and some have coloured lights fitted; there are some that even make a type of Bruce Lee Kiai as it is used. They can be small with long chains and others are telescopic. Toys and one supposedly for safe practice are covered in foam rubber. A lot of the mass produced Nunchaku are painted or varnished, this tends to reduce grip making the weapon harder to handle.

As Matayoshi Kobudo is a traditional Budo system the Nunchaku is made from the hard wood, octagonal, and with a three-strung cord. Again they can be made to order, which is preferable, or if purchasing one of the mass made wooden varieties then make sure they are rubbed down with sand paper to remove any paint or varnish and then oil them with a wood preserve, such as Linseed or Tung oil. However, I would again recommend getting Nunchaku that is made for the individual practitioner. The best woods for Nunchaku that can withstand the type of bunkai, partner work that is carried out in the MKKI would be Jotoba, White Oak, Cocobola, Bloodwood, or Purpleheart.

The parts of the Nunchaku are named as follows:

  • Ana: the hole on the kontoh of each shaft for the himo to pass through
  • Himo: the rope which connects the two shafts
  • Kontei: the top of each shaft
  • Jokon-bu: the upper area of the shaft
  • Chukon-bu: the centre part of the shaft
  • Kikon-bu: the lower part of the shaft
  • Kontei: the bottom of the shaft
  • Monuchi: striking area of the shaft
  • Gedan tsukagashira – end of the shaft where the rope is.
  • Ushiro tsukagashira – end of the shaft furthest from the rope

Fundamentals of Matayoshi Nunchaku-jutsu

This weapon is not manipulated as in the flamboyant manner seen in martial art movies, or as in sport martial arts, but with a more practical approach. Handling the Nunchaku is difficult and requires a high degree of skill, coordination and persistence in training. The diversity of techniques of strikes, blocks and catches requires time to master. The practitioner soon learns the high degree of coordination that is required after a few bangs and crashes on the body. Because we only use the hard wood variety and not the foam safety type the novice tends to be afraid of swinging and catching these weapons. As a consequence of this the Nunchaku swings closer to the body providing a greater chance of being hit. There are not many students that I have seen that have not hit themselves with these weapons; on the elbow, leg, fingers, back and even some on the head. This is why without the correct training they can be lethal to the practitioner.

Matayoshi Kobudo teaches how to carry out these movements correctly and imparting the correct strikes. The target of the Nunchaku is the same with all kobudo weapons; these are the hands, wrist forearms, head, face, jaw, clavicle, ribs, sternum, groin and knees. They can also be used at different distances which incorporate striking, strangles and holds. To do this the practitioner trains in the Nunchaku Hojo Undo for the weapons, which teaches the distance and angles required.

Nunchaku MAI # 6The power imparted from the Nunchaku comes from the correct movement of the hips, shoulder and wrist and movement in stance. Because the shaft that is swinging is attached to the shaft that is held by a cord it has the tendency to bounce back after hitting the target and thus striking the wielder of the weapon. The Matayoshi Kobudo teaches how to strike through, whereby the Nunchaku does not bounce back. There are exercises that are done by striking Bo or pads to teach this principal. You can see the strike and power of the Nunchaku as it makes a “Whooshing” sound through the air as the technique is performed correctly.   

Through the kata, Nunchaku No Kata, the practitioner learns how to move from stance to stance, changing directions, executing the strikes, blocks and catches. Through the bunkai of the Hojo Undo and Kata the practitioner learns the vital Maai, distance and timing, against the various weapons they come against. As with the other weapons the practitioner learns the advantage of deflection and of posture breaking prior to their counter.  

This weapon also benefits the empty hand practitioner as it increases hand speed, coordination and posture.  It is important to say that the practise of Nunchaku must be maintained otherwise the skill is easily lost, but once mastered enjoyable and exciting to use.

 

 

Tunkua – Third Weapon of Matayoshi Kobudo

The 4th article was published on the Tunkua – side handle batton.

Introduction

Tunkua TrainingIn our Matayoshi Kobudo Kodokan International (M.K.K.I.) budo organization this weapon is known as Tunkua, but it is also commonly known as Tonfa (or Tunfa). However there are old documents that mention this weapon as Tuifa. The Tunkua is a side handle baton, very similar to the modern day American PR-24 baton. In fact the PR-24 baton was most likely derived from the Tunkua.   

Although this weapon appears to be similar to the Sai in its application as a form of truncheon, its feel is remarkably different. Again as with the Sai, the Tunkua is used in pairs which can be flipped out and retracted in depending upon the technique being delivered. Because of this rotation within the grip of the student it is very important that the weapon is of the correct size and balance. My first pair of Tunkua was one of the mass made types and was not well balanced or fitted well in my hand. Because of this I began to take a strong dislike to the weapon. It has been since that I’ve had good tuition in the Tunkua, and have purchased myself a handmade pair which fits my grip, and providing good balance that I now have more respect for the weapon and its capabilities. So I must stress that anyone that wants to train in Tunkua-jutsu they need to get themselves and pair of Tunkua that fits them.    

Tunkua Dai Ichi # 5This weapon is the third in the Matayoshi Kobudo series and I think that the reason for this is due to the movement of the body that the students needs to develop in order to perform the blocks and strikes with devastating efficiency. Much more use of the wrist, shoulder and hips are required. Again as with the Sai it is a close combat weapon, instilling the student with the skills of the correct maai (proper distance). 

 

History of the Tunkua

Tunkua MAI # 1The Tunkua is strongly associated with Okinawan Kobudo derived from a farmer’s tool and used to defend against ruling samurai. However, its origin is strongly debated. It is known to be cited in China, Thailand and Indonesia. One of the debated origins of the Tunkua is from the development of the weapon known as Mae Sun Sawk which was brought to Okinawa from Thailand. It has some similarities to the Tunkua in looks and the weapon is used as club. However, it can’t be flipped out as the Mae Sun Sawk is strapped to the arm. In my opinion I prefer the theory that the Tunkua origin was derived from the Okianawn’s agricultural farmer tool. It is thought to be the handle that was wedged into the side of the large milling stone that was used in the grinding of rice and grain. Other theories have been said that it has been developed from hooks for hanging pots over a table, or a short hand held hoe. Where ever the development of the Tunkua originated from it was used as an efficient self-defence weapon with devastating consequences. And like most Okinawan kobudo weapons of that period was practiced in secrecy from the powerful Shogunate.      

Matayoshi Shinko Sensei learnt Tunkua-jutsu from the Irei Sensei of Nozato Chatan village, and passed down his knowledge to us through his son Matayoshi Shinpo Sensei and the Kodokan in Okinawa.

 

Construction of the Tunkua

Poor fit of shaft with mass made Tunkua

 

Tunkua shaft length incorrect

 

Traditionally the Tunkua is made from red oak, but other woods are used. My recent pair has been made from hickory which is said to be an excellent wood for this weapon as it has good hardness, durability and flexibility that is required for the type of partner work that is carried out in MKKI.

The shape of the Tunkua varies in style, the most common is where the shaft is round in shape and can taper towards

Good fit of shaft with handmade Tunkua
Tunkua shaft length correct

 

both ends. Other is where the shaft is square and although this seems to fit on the forearm better the edges can split over time from constant striking and blocking. There are some that have a mixture of the two, the half round style, where the top of the shaft is flat and the bottom is round. My preference is the submarine shaped shaft, or the contoured style. It combines the features of the tapered squared and round styles. The ends are then tapered off providing a good balance. Because there are no sharp ends the tunkua can withstand more punishment that is seen in our MKKI system during partner work. The handles of Tunkua do not vary so much in style. However, in handmade Tunkua some handles are contoured to fit the shape of the hand giving them greater control and hold.

The mass made Tunkua are in my opinion not particularly good and feel unstable in the hand. Firstly the handles are generally too long and the handle itself too thin. Secondly the main shaft is normally too short and don’t cover the forearm. Furthermore the construction of the joint between the handle and forearm is not very strong and comes loose and my split during practice. This was the main reason why I disliked training in Tunkua-jutsu until I got my first handmade pair. So I would highly recommend in getting a pair made.  If you do then you will need to make sure that you provide measurements of the size across the hand and the size from your hand grip to your elbow. Then add half to 1 inch on so that the Tunkua protrudes from the elbow when held. Normally the makers of the Tunkua will help you with these measurements.

 

Good fit of handle with handmade Tunkua – fits in the hand

Poor fit of handle with mass made Tunkua – it’s too long

Tunkua hand grip size correct Tunkua hand grip size incorrect

 

The parts of the tunkua are named as follows:

  • Monuchi – the main shaft of the Tunkua.
  • Zento or Zen Atama – the head of the Tunkua near to the handle.
  • Nigiri or Tsuka – the grip or handle
  • E-gashira or Tsukagashira- the grip head on the handle
  • Sokumen – the side of the shaft
  • Jomen – the top of the shaft, same side as the handle is on.
  • Monuchi Zoko – the side of the shaft opposite to the handle
  • Koto or Ushiro Atama – Bottom end of the shaft furthest away from the handle
  • Hoshi – the rivet, some Tunkua don’t have these.

 

Fundamentals of Matayoshi Tunkua-jutsu

Tunkua MAI # 3The Tunkua has a close similarity to that of the Sai where they are used in pairs, and are also a close range weapon. So the user will have to get in close to perform the variety of blocking, clubbing, striking, thrusting and posture breaking techniques. They are normally held in the retracted position, gripping the handle with the monuchi running down the forearm. It is important that the monuchi remains touching the forearm when held in this way, especially when blocking otherwise they can compound the incoming strike on the forearm is the monuchi drifts away. To ensure this doesn’t happen the user must always have a tight grip paying particular attention to the little fingers. The grip only becomes loose when the Tunkua are flipped out for the strikes, thrusts and blocks using the length of the Tunkua.

There is another grip change whereby the Tunkua is flipped around the hand and is caught by the monuchi allowing the handle to be used as a hook or for hitting. However the danger of this is that the handle is the weakest point and could come away from the monuchi.

To impart the power and speed of these techniques the user needs to apply the correct movement from the hips, shoulder and wrist. The user then needs to develop control over the Tunkua as it is flipped in order to stop the circular motion of the monuchi. The body then goes through a kime (focus) when the strike or block lands. All this is what makes Tunkua-jutsu more of a weapon for the practitioner that has been training a while in kobudo.

Tunkua MAI # 2As with all kobudo weapons the Tunkua requires good control, form, and good body condition. It strengthens muscles in your hand grip and forearm which only enhances the empty hand systems. My students say that my claw hand is very painful, and I think this is down to gripping and using kobudo weapons. There are a lot of positives in the training of kobudo that only assists martial artist in their empty hand systems and the strong body conditioning is just one of these. Controlling the varied strikes and blocks and using kime helps the body develop.   

In the Matayoshi Kobudo Kodokan system these various techniques are taught via Tunkua No Hojo Undo, the Tunkua Kata Dai Ichi and Dai Ni, and various Bunkai. The student learns the important Maai, distance and timing, against the various weapons they come against. In addition they learn the advantage of deflection and of posture breaking prior to their counter. This is important as the MKKI use full contact with these weapons. 

Tunkua Training

Sai – Second Weapon of Matayoshi Kobudo

Below is the 3rd article of seven which was written by Bateman Sensei and published in the magazine Martial Arts Illustrated.

Introduction

Sai MAI # 4I think the Sai catches many practitioners imagination, due to its shape and how it is used. I remember my first pair I got for Christmas and sat practicing throughout the day on trying to flip them out and back in again. I think it attracts many practitioners because of its shape, it’s a metal weapon and it can be flipped. It is the second weapon in the series of Matayoshi Kobudo where a novice would describe it as a typeof “dagger”. But it has similar strikes and blocks to that of a truncheon. In Sai-jutsu the practitioner normally uses two Sai, one in each hand. However, there are occasions that three Sai are used, where the third is held in the belt at the back of the person wielding these weapons.

 

Because of the nature of the weapon they provide the student the benefit of learning techniques for close combat. This is a benefit of instilling the practitioner with the skills of correct Maai, the distance and timing, for short range weapons, such as with the knife. Another advantage of Sai training is due to their weight which develops good forearm and wrist strength and in turn grip. After an hour training with sai the beginner can feel the burn in the arms; which also benefits our empty hand martial arts.

 

History of the Sai

Sai MAI # 2Again, like all the kobudo weapons the Sai has no recorded history; how did its’ origin come about? Well the simple answer is no one knows exactly and there is a lot of speculation out there. Below I will provide these and give my opinion to the one I think seems most logical.

Kobudo weapons are mostly farming/fishing tools and therefore one theory is that the Sai was used as an agricultural tool. It is said to have evolved from a dibber, a tool used to create furrows and holes in the ground for planting. Another is a small hand held pitchfork for picking up hay. Both of these I think are most unlikely. Firstly farmers were Heimin, poor commoners, and therefore metal would be expensive and precious to them. I don’t think they would design such a tool to furrow the ground when a stick would do the same job. Secondly they did not harvest hay as their farms were mainly paddy fields. Thus the Sai is not a result of a farming tool, but one that has been designed as a weapon.

Another theory is that the Sai was designed upon a ladies kanzashi, hairpin, which had a similar shape to the Sai. Another was based upon the Kanji for Migi (right), and Hidari (left). If you look at these kanji you can see the possible shape of the Sai, and being left and right we have two Sai. However, I must admit this is stretching the imagination.

Sai MAI # 1So say that it was designed after the Buddhist symbol seen on shrine roofs, which is the religious symbol known as the Manji. This shape is the reverse swastika symbol which if straightening out the top and bottom of the symbol we get the shape of the manji Sai. Then turning the upward pointing guard downwards the Sai shape is obtained.

It is this last theory that in my opinion is the most probable as to the origin of the Sai. We do know that similarly shaped weapons are in other Asian countries’ histories. These include India, Thailand, China, Malaysia and Indonesia. In Indonesia the weapon is known as the Chabang, and in Malaysia as the Tekpi. In fact it is thought that the Tekpi was derived from the Indian Trisula which is a long or short handled trident. It is believed that the Sai was introduced to Okinawa from Chinaby Chinese officials in a trading era. 

Officer's Chiku and Saji, who acted as both judge and police at the same time, carried Sai in order to protect the King, control crowds, and catch criminals. There was a similar weapon called "Jutte" which was used by police officers in mainland Japan. The Jutte is not an Okinawan weapon and not used in the Matayoshi system.

However, Sai is usually used in pairs with a third sometimes carried as a backup. It is good for both defense and attack. Sometimes it can even be thrown to stab a runaway criminal. Sai implies an ornamental hairpin and it was mentioned in the Chinese war tactics book "Bubishi". It has been actively practiced in Okinawa as a martial art for a long time. This technique was handed down to late Shinko Matayoshi Sensei by Higa Sensei (Gushikawa Tiragawa) who came to Gushikawa village from Shuri. His techniques are now passed down through his son Matayoshi Shinpo to this current date through the MKKI and the Kodokan in Okinawa.
 

Construction of the Sai

Sai MAI # 3The Sai is made of metal, with normally iron or chrome plated shaft with upward curved guard. The size varies and depends on the individuals forearm. The shaft should cover the forearm and extend past by around 3cm for total protection. The guard size is also important and should not be too wide, around 4cm from the shaft. This enables the weapon to be used to catch and trap other opponents’ weapon, such as the Bo or Katana. The parts of this weapon are described as follows:

  • Monuchi is the shaft, which is either round or octagonal
  • Tsuba or Yoko, symmetrically curved upward turning prongs ending in points.
  • Tsume, the tip of the Tsuba. Can also be known as Saki.
  • Moto is the centre part of the Sai between the two side guards. On cheaper weapons these are normally bulbous, which enables the thumb to roll off.
  • Tsuka is the handle of the Sai which is normally wrapped in hemp rope, or more recently with nylon cord.
  • Tsukagashira is the pommel which is normally round, but some Sai have multifaceted.
  • Saki is the blunt pointed end at the tip of the Monuchi, and Tsume.

 

Fundamentals of Matayoshi Sai-jutsu

The Sai is a short range weapon where the user will have to get in close to impart the devastating variety of strikes, blockand entrapments. They can also be thrown, which is normally to impale or pin the foot of the opponent. 

This technique can be seen in the Matayoshi Kobudo Sai Kata. They are usually used in pairs, but some kata uses a set of three, such as in Sai Dai Ni (Sancho Sai Kata) where the third is taken out from the back of the belt after one of them has been thrown.

Sai MAI # 5Because of the Sai’s ability to be flipped it provides the student with the capability of providing blocks and strikes at different heights. With the Sai retracted the student has protection along the forearm to carry out forearm blocks. In this position the use of the tsuba enables the opponent’s weapon to be hooked or trapped. Then the Sai tsukagashira, pommel can come into play with a strike. Conversely the other Sai can be flipped out to strike the opponent with the monuchi and stab with the saki. When both Sai are in the out position the Sai can be used for entrapment of a weapon, such as the Bo or Katana. This is done either by catching the weapon in the tsuba and twisting the Sai to lock the opponent’s weapon, or by kosa uke using both Sai. It is said that the Sai was used to break the katana by this twisting method.

To use the Sai the student must be dexterous in order to balance and rotate the sai around the thumb by loosening and tightening the grip. The techniques should also incorporate hip movement along with the elbow, wrist and locking of the shoulders to produce powerful strikes and blocks.  I see many practitioners just using shoulder and wrist in their strikes and blocks whereby their power will be lacking as body mass will not enter into the equation. As with empty hand arts the power must come from the tanden, the abdomen. In addition to the power generated by the student’s body it also comes from the penetration of the weapon upon striking or blocking. So we see a lot of suri ashi, the sliding movement with the Sai in order to penetrate or absorb the opponent’s strike.       

The Matayoshi Kobudo Kodokan system teaches this in Sai No Hojo Undo and the various Sai Kata, Nicho Sai, Sancho Sai and Shinbaru No Sai. As with all the weapons taught in the Matayoshi Kobudo system it is steeped in partner work through its bunkai of the hojo undo and kata. The student learns the important distance required and how to break the opponent’s posture and balance prior to delivering the devastating strike. 

 

I wish to thank Sanguinetti Sensei (MMKI) for his time and contribution in helping me information in this article. 

 

Bo – Principal Weapon of Matayoshi Kobudo

Below is the 2nd article of seven which was written by Bateman Sensei and published in the magazine Martial Arts Illustrated.

Introduction

Gasshuku 2011 Open 12

I have had many discussions with various martial artists why we need to study weapons, especially the old traditional weapons of Kobudo. My answer is simply this- These weapons have come from every day implements back when weapons were banned in Okinawa. The practitioners studied how each one can be used to form a defensive style against their oppressors. By doing this it provided the practitioner of kobudo the co-ordination, speed, strength and endurance in utilising the respective weapon. The study also provides the knowledge of distance, trajectory, timing, control and flexibility of the weapon being used. This gives a great advantage over the empty hand practitioner who does not study the art of weapons. Each one can be translated into a modern day tool, such as the Bo techniques can be used with walking sticks, branches or even the umbrella. The Nunchaku, or Surichin, techniques can be used with belts or dog leads (including the extendable types). So then why not practice with the modern day tools. The answer is simply that I’m a traditional martial artist and the techniques/syllabus for these tools have been set in stone and used in defensive situations by our masters of yesteryear.

Now we have decided to study these weapons it would therefore be nice to know their history. How their individual art forms have come about, one has to look back in time into the history of the Okinawan people. This I have already provided in a past article, see March 2014 edition of MAI. I shall start this series of Matayoshi Kobudo weapons with Matayoshi Kobudo Kodokan International’s (MKKI) principal weapon – the Bo.

History of the Bo

Bo # 3

From the beginning of time man has used a Bo type weapon. In fact the earliest weapon would have been a club made from a branch of a tree. There has also been archaeological findings of Bo made from stone; it is known as Ishibo. One can only imagine the problems of this type of weapon, for example hard to produce and braking up in a conflict. In the UK we all know about Robin Hood’s meeting with Little John where Robin wanted to cross the river and had to fight Little John with a Quarter Staff. It is said that the name of Quarter Staff is alleged to arise from its manufacture from a tree that was split into quarters. The Quarter Staff was used extensively in self defence during the Middle Ages in Europe. It was an excellent defensive weapon against the sword due to its range and varied techniques.

Shushi-no-Kun-KataWe can see this too in the history from Okinawa. There the people had to develop an effective means to defend themselves from their oppressive overlords. Although there is no hard written evidence of the development of Bojutsu, or indeed for Kobudo per se, it is thought to have arisen because of the weapons ban. This seems to stem from the 2nd Sho Dynasty in 1477 when the Emperor Sho Shin, the third Emperor of the Sho Dynasty, decided to ban weapons to enforce his principles and to prevent his overthrow. This was the period of the Golden Age in Okinawa when trade became affluent amongst the people and peace lasted for many years. However, due to political conflicts from Japan, Okinawa was invaded in March 1609 by the Satsuma Clan. They again enforced a weapons ban and demanded taxes and goods for Tokugawa in Japan. They enforced high ranking officials to pledge their allegiance. Hence, Okinawa was caught up in a political struggle between Japan and China. Unlike Okinawa, Japan did not have a good relationship with China, but they wanted the trade that Okinawa had.  So through the Satsuma Clan, Japan imposed its control. It seems that the only way the Okinawans could defend themselves was by evolving their art of kobudo; using simple tools. It is thought that the Bo techniques came from China through Sapposhi (Chinese envoys) visiting Okinawa. Also the Okinawans went to Southern China, or Shanghai to learn Bo-jutsu. Matayoshi Shinko Sensei was known to travel to China for his training in the martial arts.  

Sunday 2015 # 90So it seems that the Bo can be traced back to China. In Chinese history it is seen to be used by the Shaolin Monks who were founded by Bohidarma during the 5th/6th Century. One famous image is of him carrying one sandal over his shoulder on the end of a Bo. So we can see that it was used as a walking stick, or for carrying. The staff known as Tenbin was used for carrying baskets and buckets which contained food, water or milk. It was balanced across the shoulders with the baskets on either end. We see this proof in the opening move of the kata Chikin No Kun. So this Bo was an effective tool that could be used as a weapon after disengaging its baskets.

Okinawan fishermen used the staff to navigate their boats around mangroves and roots where oars were difficult to be used. These were called Kushaku Bo and were 9 foot in length. Another unusual use of the Bo is of stories that have been told were the Bo was used to scale castle walls by inserting the Bo between the stones and using them as steps.

Whether it was used as a walking stick, a pole for carrying goods, to navigate the mangroves, or to scale walls of castles, it is the most commonly used weapon in Okinawan Kobudo systems. It has the refinement, the power and provides the extension required for defence against most weapons.

Types of Bo

The name Bo is from the Japanese language, however it is also known as Kun (Okinawa), Kon (China) and Dong (Korea). The sizes vary providing different types of Bo, such as:

Sunday 2015 # 89

  • Han Bo – 3 foot (Han means half, so Han Bo is half the size of a Bo),
  • Jo – 4 foot,
  • Go Shaku Bo – 5 foot,
  • Roku Shaku Bo – 6 foot (Roku meaning six, and the Shaku is a measurement of just under a foot),
  • Roku Shaku Han Bo – 6 foot 6 inches,
  • Ku Shaku Bo – 9 foot

I would just like to point out that although I have listed the Jo above; it has only been recently introduced by some Okinawan Sensei into their systems. It is not an Okinawan weapon and even less so from the Matayoshi Kobudo system. The history of this weapon firmly lays within in the Japanese weapon systems.

They are also known to be made from different types of materials. I have already said that one has been reportedly made from stone. Some have been known to be inlaid with iron to provide extra strength, but lack the flexibility required during impact. Others have been made from Bamboo, but the most common type is those made from the hard woods, such as red oak.

The Bo can vary in shape as well, such as square (Kaku Bo), hexagon (Rokkaku Bo) or Octagon (Hakkaku Bo). However, the most common are the circular Bo (Maru Bo) and are known as Roku Shaku Bo. These are either straight or tapered from the centre (Chukon-bu) around 1½” thick to the ends (Kontei) of ¾” thick. This tapering maintains the fulcrum at the centre of the Bo, providing good balance and ease of handling. It also facilitates a powerful whipping action during striking and blocking. However the downside of the tapered Bo against the straight Bo is that it is not as strong at the ends and can be subjected to breaking during blocks or striking. This straight Bo, known as the Kon originating from China, will not be balanced at the centre. This is not important as the Chinese systems involve handling the Kon from one end or the other. This Kon can also measure eight feet to nine feet in length, and has a very flexible whipping ability, as seen by the techniques used by the Shaolin Monks.

Fundamentals of Matayoshi Bojutsu

Sakugawa No Kun # 5The Bo in the Matayoshi system is a long range weapon and is used for striking, blocking, sweeping and entrapment. Within this system techniques are seen where the Bo is used to flick sand, and even in a cutting action. It is generally held in thirds with the front hand palm up and the back hand palm down. This enables fast rotation of the weapon generating power during the strike. In addition to this both hands pull and push, depending on the strike or block. Adding to this rotational power, there is a penetrating linier power, using the weight from the body, the hips, and penetration of the Bo by turning the hand upon impact. All this comes together in what is known as Karada To Bugu Issho – Weapon and Body are One. This is another reason why I think martial artists should study weapons along with their empty hand arts, as it teaches these dynamics especially if they need to use this weapon to defend their selves.

The Matayoshi Kobudo Kodokan system teaches this in various Bo No Hojo Undo sets and in the Bo Kata. There are 5 Kata that are extensively studied, starting with Shushi No Kun, and Choun No Kun. The style is steeped in partner work, which is important to learn the required distance and timing needed to defend against the various weapons. To the untrained eye the techniques look as if it uses power on power in the various blocking actions. But this is far from the truth as the art teaches how to deflect away in incoming power from the opponent’s weapon.  These subtleties is what I think makes Matayoshi Kobudo Kodokan different from some of the other so called Matayoshi Styles.   

Sakugawa No Kun # 1

 

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