I get asked many times about the type of weapons to purchase, their quality and how to look after them. There are many suppliers of these weapons and in the main they are adequate for training in Hojo Undo and Kata. If they are required to withstand the practise of Bunkai, then I would recommend in getting hand made weapons in a hard wood. Below I have given my recommendations for the first six weapons from the Matayoshi Kobudo Kodokan Ryu, but I must stress this is my personal choice and practitioners of kobudo will choose depending on various factors, such as cost and how easy they are to obtain.
These can be purchased from any good martial arts store, and in general are fine for training in Matayoshi Kobudo. However, if cost is no object then a hand made version in the recommended hard wood would be preferable for Bunkai. I would recommend the straight versions rather than the tapered. When you obtain the Bo make sure it has no varnish on it, if it does remove this and then treat the wood with oil – see below. Note that the hand made wooden weapons will not be varnished and may have already been treated.
Again most martial art suppliers will have reasonable quality sai, but my recommendation would be to purchase a pair from Japan, via Shureido. The reason behind this is that they will be made of quality steel and the Tsuba will not have the bulbous weld which is seen in the cheaper versions. This keeps the placement of the thumb in the correct location when using the sai. Furthermore the width of the Tsuba does not need to be too large otherwise it makes some of the locks impractical. Finally make sure to obtain a pair that is the correct length for you. They need to protect the forearm with about 1cm or so protruding from the elbow when held.
It is of my opinion that if any weapon wants to be hand made for the practitioner it is this one. The tunkua that are obtained from martial arts suppliers are not very well made. Their handles come loose and are of wrong dimensions. This makes training with these weapons unwieldy. The Japanese’s versions from Shureido are of better quality and can be purchased in various sizes, but I would still recommend having this weapon made to the individual’s specification. Again as with the Bo, if purchased, then remove all paint and varnish and apply the wood oil to keep the wood in good condition.
As with the Bo, these can be purchased from any martial arts store, and are generally fine to use (note: Matayoshi Kobudo use the string nunchaku). But if the practitioner requires the nunchaku to be of the correct length, i.e. covering the forearm when held, then I would recommend in getting a hand made set. If purchased by a store then remove any varnish and treat them in oil.
This weapon could only be supplied by a store such as Shureido and would probably need to be imported. I’m not aware of anyone that makes these in the UK.
This weapon, as far as I’m aware, can only be purchased in certain martial arts stores, such as Shureido. It is normally quite pricey, but well made. It can to be hand made which may have a benefit of being made from a wood of choice.
Types of Wood
Normally the wooden weapons are commonly made from Oak, but can be supplied in other woods too such as Ash, Maple, and Mahogany etc if hand made. Below are some examples:
- Ash (strong and inexpensive but may not stand up to the Matayoshi Kobudo bunkai),
- Hickory (very strong),
- White Oak (good wood but has a tendency to warp and may break),
- Purple Heart (very strong, good looking and lively to the touch),
- Kuba (Chinese palm tree).
More exotic woods that can be used are:
- Green Heart,
- Snake Wood,
- Ebony and Lignum Vitae (iron wood) may be used but are rare and expensive.
These woods are examples of which weapons can be made from. However, I do not have any experience with them except for Oak. If students want to try a different wood to see how they stand up to Bunkai then perhaps it might be worth trying Cocobolo, and Cherry, but I cant recommend that they will not break, even oak does after time.
Care of Wooden Weapons
The first thing to do when you get your wooden weapon is to treat it with Linseed Oil. If it was hand made this may have already been done. If it has varnish then remove with sand paper, starting with a course and working your way down to a fine paper to remove all the varnish. Remove the surplus wood dust with a cloth then treat the wood by applying with linseed oil and rub this into the wood. Leave for this for 15 minutes then remove any excess oil. About every 12 weeks reapply the oil to prevent the wood from drying out and cracking.
Always check the weapon before and after training looking for faults, such as splinters or cracks that may appear from bunkai training. If splinters are present then smooth them away using fine sandpaper. If cracks are present then do not use the weapon, especially in bunkai. Store the weapons away correctly; Bo, Nunti and Ueku should be laid flat or in a purpose built stand to keep it upright. Do not lean them against a wall for storage as over time they will warp. Always check the handle of the Tunkua, made sure that it is string for training and not loose. With nunchaku, make sure the rope is tight, secure and not frayed. If possible triple string the nunchaku as this binds the two shafts more strongly together. Check for damage as with Bo and all wooden weapons. Transport them securely in their own carrying bags and if possible in the boot of the car out of site. They are classified as dangerous weapons by the Police, so always have your licence book with you.
I hope this post was of some use to you. If you have any more information on the subject, or have experience of different types of wooden weapons and how they fare then please feel free to contact me.