This is known as Rokushaku Bo, Roku means six, shaku is a measure of about 1 foot in length. Hence the Bo staff is about 6 foot. This weapon is the most commonly used weapon in Okinawan Kobudo systems.
The first staff was probably a long tree branch, used as a walking stick and used to protect oneself against wild animals and bandits. It is known that Okinawan fishermen used long poles called kushaku Bo to navigate their boats around the roots of mangroves where oars proved ineffective. Stories are also told of the Bo being used to scale castle walls. The Bo was inserted between the stones and used as a step.
Farmers placed a staff, measuring from five to nine feet, across the shoulders to carry their loads. Baskets were hung from each end of the staff for carrying everything from fish and farming harvest, to human waste. Thus when faced with confrontation the Bo could be disengaged from the load and used as a defensive weapon.
The Bo tapers from the centre of about 1½” to each end of approximately ¾”. It is made of a hard wood, generally red oak. The taper maintains the fulcrum of the Bo at the centre, keeping it balanced and easier to handle. It also provides more tensile strength, making it more flexible and lass prone to breakage. This taper also facilitates powerful whipping of the Bo during striking and blocking.
In comparison the Chinese staff, Kun, is not tapered. Here the balance at the centre is not essential as the Chinese system involves handling the Kun more from one end or the other. Kun can also measure eight to nine feet in length, and has been with the Character of Okinawan people since the beginning of the 18th Century, e.g. Shushi No Kun.
Early practitioners of bu-jutsu used a variety of Bo shapes. When fighting the multiple edges prove effective in breaking the opponent’s weapon and delivering a deadlier blow. Many cultures throughout history have used the Bo staff, e.g. the English during the time of “Robin Hood”. However, none have the refinement of effectiveness, power and art as seen in the Okinawan systems of Bu-jutsu.
This weapon is thought to have been introduced to Okinawa through trade with one of the Asian countries. It did not become popular in Japan, but developed primarily in Kobudo styles of Okinawa. The Sai was thought to be used by the police, Chichi saji of the Ryukyu Kingdom.
The Chinese character (kanji) for Sai means “hair pick”, thus creating conjecture that the Sai was either designed after a hair pick or named after one because of its similar appearance.
Other theories of origin are that it was fashioned after the shape of the human form, hence a policeman’s badge of office. Also after a religious symbol “Manji”, which can be seen on church roofs.
Three Sai were often used in combat. One in each hand and a spare kept in the belt. A master of the Sai is said to be able to impale an opponent or pin his foot to the ground, by throwing the Sai.
Sai techniques closely resemble those of karate, and its use develops strong wrists and forearms. This weapon is the 2nd most popular Okinawan weapon after the Bo.
The variation of the Sai is the Manji Sai, or Nuntei Sai. These were used primarily as throwing weapons. One of the forks is reversed to facilitate sticking, no matter which end hits the opponent.
The Tonfa (more commonly known) can be pronounced many ways, such as “tunfa” and “Tunkua” (as preferred by our style).
The word means, “handle” and has three theories as to its origin:
Most common is the handle, wedged into a hole in the side of a large milling stone, for grinding rice and grain (see opposite).
A hook for hanging pots over a fire or a table.
A type of short hoe in which the handle was used to dig.
Tonfa, usually made of red oak, measures around 15’’ to 20’’ in length with a handle at 90 degrees to the main body. Although the configuration of ancient tonfa remained constant in shape, the main body has differed in style from square to round, or half round.
This weapon is so versatile that the American police and some of the British forces have adopted the tonfa, i.e. the side handle batten or PR-24.
The weapon can be used to block, punch or strike. It is excellent for strengthening the practitioner’s wrists, forearms and grip. It is a very difficult weapon to control and used efficiently.
Nunchaku is one of the most famous Okinawan weapons, popularised by the legendary martial artist actor, Bruce Lee. Its origin is again shrouded in the mists of time, and there are several theories as to its development.
The most credible version attributes its origin to a traditional Okinawan harness, or horse bridle, made of wood and rope (see picture below). In fact the Okinawan language “Nunchiyaku” means “Horse Bridle”, whereas “Nunchaku” means “Identical Bamboo” or “Twin”.
Other theories come from a thrashing tool (flail) used to pound Soya beans to remove the husks (see below). Although most people think of thrashing rice husks, which are a lot smaller and harder than Soya bean. The nunchaku is thought of as a tool for removing the rice husk from the stalks, which is possibly more plausible than thrashing the rice.
By splitting down the bamboo and tying the ends together with rope, it was then used to remove bark from trees. As women used to perform the majority of this work, the nunchaku is first thought to be used as a weapon by an Okinawan woman. The story goes that while performing her work she protected herself from an evil Anji using the tool nunchaku.
The last theory is based around the Chinese weapon “Sansetsukun”, the three sectional staff. Okinawan history tells us of a lot of cultural exchange between China and Okinawa. The people from the island traveled to China and studied Chinese martial arts. So it is not too unreasonable to think that on of these travelers brought back with him the skills in sansetsukun. The theory goes that one of these sections became detached and the practitioner was left with only two sections that is a nunchaku. However, although sansetsukun is thought to be a Chinese weapon, there are some stories that the Okinawan farmers developed this weapon. The theory is that it is derived from removable rails of a farmers cart (see picture below). The three sections implement prevented the large sacks of cane from slipping off the cart. Then when needed for self-defence the rails were quickly removed to become a formidable weapon.
Today’s modern nunchaku are constructed of two pieces of wood of equal length. They may be round, square, hexagonal or octagonal and measure between 12’’ to 15’’ in length. Some taper, others maintain the same diameter from end to end. They are attached at one of the ends so as each piece of wood swivels from one central point. Early nunchaku were connected by silk, rope, women’s’ hair, horsehair or vine. Modern versions use nylon rope or chain.
The weapon is not manipulated as in the flamboyant manner of the martial arts movies, but with a more practical approach. Because of these movies a lot of today’s martial artists have taken the practical use of nunchaku to the level of “circus juggling” and have lost the real meaning of the weapon.
Handling the nunchaku is difficult and requires a high degree of skill, coordination and persistence in training. In fact I have always thought that the nunchaku “teaches” you as you learn to prevent yourself from being hit by them. In fact the practitioner of the nunchaku quickly learns the high degree of coordination required after a few bangs and crashes on the body.
The target of the nunchaku is the same as with all striking weapons of kobudo: the hands, wrists, forearms, head, face, clavicles, ribs, groin and knees. It can also be used at three distances to incorporate holds, and strangles, striking and throwing.
Oppressed people to accomplish their own defence against life threatening attacks practiced the nunchaku diligently. In this historical context, kobudo-ka dedicated them self to this practice to perpetuate the history and culture of the Okinawan people. The practice of nunchaku must be maintained otherwise the skill is easily lost, but once mastered enjoyable and exciting to use.
The Nunti Bo is a bo which is attached to a Manji Sai at the end. Thus providing a weapon that has all the elements of a Bo but the Manji Sai provides techniques that are similar to a spear and the two hooks in opposing directions gives the practitioner the ability to hook and trap.
The weapon was most likely brought back to Okinawa about 600 years ago, when the Okinawans used to travel and trade with China. Matayoshi Shinko was taught this weapon by Master Kingai in Shanghai China, and according to him the Nunti meant Nuchidi (thrusting hand).
It historical origin most probably was originally used by Okinawan fishermen (Gaff). It is thought that is was mainly used on Tsuken Island.
The weapon is used in fighting with two Manji Sai, used for throwing.
Ueku is the Okinawan oar, although it is also used as a tiller, not only propelling a small boat but controlling the course as well. The reason for its shape, in comparison to the western oar, is mainly due to its ability to cut through the strong currents around Okinawan coastline.
The Okinawan fishermen, after tying up their boats on the beach, used to take the Ueku with them, both for self-defence and to discourage the theft of their boats.
This weapon is used very similar to that of the Bo, in blocking, parrying, striking and thrusting. However, the paddle of the oar offers a sharper striking surface than the Bo. The edges of this paddle were rough from constant exposure to salt water. The result was a devastating cutting surface, which was applied most often to the neck. Furthermore, the paddle was used to throw sand or water into the eyes of attackers.
The balance point of this weapon is where the paddle meets the handle. The heaviest part of this weapon is the paddle. Thus, this offset in weight increases the centrifugal force when it is used in swinging attacks. The downside to this is that this offset in weight and balance makes the Ueku a difficult weapon to master.