The Ryukyu Kobujutsu Association teaches the traditional eight kinds of weapon as handed down by the late Grandmaster Shinken Taira. These weapons are the Bo, Sai, Tonfa, Kama, Tekko, Nunchaku, Tinbe-Rochin and the Surujin.

buki weaponsThese weapons are linked in their usage and action and naturally compliment corresponding open hand techniques. It is important to understand these links, as this allows progression and continual enhancement of the understanding of their usage and deployment.

Here you can learn about the weapons of Ryukyu Kobujutsu, the history of each weapon, their strengths and weaknesses and their usage within the Ryukyu Kobujutsu system.

BO : There are 4 kinds of Bo or Kon used in the system, San Shaku or Jo Bo, Roku Shaku, Kyu Shaku and Eiku or Suna Kake no Kon. The Bo is the main stay of Ryukyu Kobujutsu attributing 22 kata to the syllabus and its usage and posture is almost the same as the sword. The Roku Shaku Bo is the predominant kind of Bo used and attracts the main interest by practitioners.

Its length is 6ft, or as is sometimes customary, cut to the height of the user. The wood used is usually Red Oak or White Oak and the Bo is tapered from the tip ends for better blocking and smoother usage. The weight is dependent on the wood used and is a critical factor for students, too heavy and the techniques become cumbersome, too light and there is not enough power. The weapon is classified as a synthetic one and attracts the greatest distance training between opponents. It magnifies the areas of development needed with empty hand and encourages Tai Sabaki/Yoko Sabaki at all times. The practitioner is taught to hold the weapon initially divisible by thirds and then openly encouraged to develop a more flexible holding style allowing full use of the weapons potential distance.

SAI : There are 2 types of Sai used in the system, Tsuujo no Sai and Manji Sai. This weapon is the supporting mainstay of Ryukyu Kobujutsu and attracts 8 kata to the syllabus. This weapon is not the result of agricultural creativity as commonly written. Records from China prove its original existence although in a much more elongated form. The weapon is metal and of the truncheon class with its length dependent upon the forearm of the user. When held it should be about 3cm longer than the forearm and generally Sai are used in pairs.

Advanced Sai uses 3, with one held in the belt behind ready for, and used for throwing. The tang is of the Korean classification and the pommel is variant to round, square or multi angled types much dependant on the emphasis of the makers usage. The basic holding manner ‘Honte-Mochi’ (Natural) and ‘Gyakute-Mochi’(Reverse) is prevalent with basic Sai whereupon the advancement to ‘Toku-Mochi’(special grip) is introduced. This brings the usage and actions of the Sai into the same family as Tonfa and Kama. The Manji Sai which was made by Shinken Taira has a half reversed tang looking much like a swastika and a pointed pommel end denoting Sensei Taira’s preference to a stabbing motion instead of the smashing techniques dominant with the Tsuujo Sai.

The efficient use of the weapon is much reliant on the dexterity of the practitioner with his thumbs, which the tang is balanced and rotated on along with the loosening and tightening of the grip from the small finger for striking and consolidating power. The early use of the weapon makes the user appear stiff and robotic but as the training advances the flow and unity with body movement becomes ever more apparent. Sai is the practise of ‘Shuto’ in empty hand and emphasises the need for ‘Koshi no Chikara’ (Hip power) and ‘Suri Ashi’ (sliding movement). The importance of body movement and good footwork is ever more apparent as the weapon is of a smaller classification than Bo. Advanced practitioners must learn to throw the Sai, a difficult requirement in view of the weight. The Sai explores the weakness of Bo, thus making Bo-jutsu stronger.

TONFA : There is in principal only one kind of Tonfa although the shaft varies in shape from round to rectangular. History has also shown the butt ends to be pointed but this is extremely rare. The weapon attracts two kata in the Ryukyu Kobujutsu syllabus but because of its exposure with the police in the baton form it is a very popular weapon to practise with.

The weapon is used in pairs and is of wood, again red oak or white oak preferably in keeping with the Bo. The length of the weapon is also the same requirements as the Sai, about three centimetres past the elbow when gripped. The weight like the Bo is paramount to the efficient usage of the weapon. Too light and it lacks power in Kumite, too heavy and the techniques lack speed and become ponderous. Again like the Sai there are three grips, Honte-Mochi (Natural), Gyakute-Mochi (Reverse) and Tokushu-Mochi (Special grip). The latter is not commonly used but is very effective and relates strongly to the techniques of Kama.

The usage is prevalent in the kata Yaraguwa. Tonfa is the practise of Uraken(back fist) and Hiji waza (elbow techniques) in open hand fighting. Good body movement like the Sai can make this weapon formidable, combining the speed it needs and generates along with the skilful footwork for evasion and attack. Although there are stories of Rice millstone grinding implements and horses bridles etc. as being the origins of this weapon, these are merely coincidental. The weapons origins can clearly be traced back to China and be found in Indonesia and surrounding geographical locations.

KAMA : The bladed weapon of the Ryukyu arsenal, this weapon brings to the practitioner the feel of steel and the hint of fear a live blade gives. Used, as a pair there is one style of Kama with varying sizes of blade length and shaft size. The corner of the blade to the shaft should have a groove cut into it for catching the Bo and other weapons without the blade digging into and getting stuck into the attacking weapon.

The weight of the shaft is dependent upon the strength of the user and should be tapered to the butt end with increasing thickness. This allows for ease of catching and sliding when changing grip. The blade should add sufficient weight to ensure it is the heaviest point in the weapon. This also allows for ease of usage. The length of the weapon should extend to about 3cm passed the elbow when held in reverse grip. The handling of the weapon is the same as the Sai with the following grips, ‘Honte-Mochi’ (Natural), ‘Gyakute-Mochi’ (Reverse) and ‘Tokushu-Mochi’ (Special grip). Kama is the practise of ‘Kuride’ and ‘Kakede’ (hooking and gripping) in open hand technique

The Ryukyu Kobujutsu syllabus has three kata of Kama, which emphasise body unity with the weapon to obtain power along with demanding footwork. The dexterity of the fingers is paramount to the changing grips the weapon affords and needs in kumite. Most students commence with wooded Kama to ensure safety and aclimatisation before moving to the more demanding live blades. This weapon known as the sickle in the west has a derivative from the farming implements.

TEKKO : Legally the most controversial of the Ryukyu weapons the Tekko is the smallest weapon, bringing the exponent closest to open hand techniques. The term ‘knuckle duster’ creates images of darker methods of fighting but in actuality attacks clearly defined points vulnerable to the taste of metal. The Tekko should be made to the width of the hand with anything between one and three protruding points on the knuckle front with protruding points at the top and the bottom of the knuckle. They can be made of any hard material but are predominately found in aluminium, iron, steel, or wood.

Due to the size of the Tekko the techniques are of the open hand family. The Ryukyu Kobujutsu syllabus has one kata, which is a combination of the ‘Naha’, ‘Shuri and Tomari’ feeling combined. The kumite focus on attacking the bony areas of the body such as the wrist, elbow, collar bone, ribs, and ankle. On impact this slows done the opponent drastically and allows for the quick changes of angle and height so apparent when studying Tekko. Gripping techniques prior to and at the time of ‘Zanshin’ teach the exponent the emphasis on pressure points, which the Tekko takes great advantage of due to its structure. Muscle and bone have to succumb to its efficient design and usage. This weapon is undoubtedly not a farming implement and was clearly design for the purposes of combat.

NUNCHAKU : The most controversial of the weapons of the Ryukyu but in essence the least properly explored. There are three types of this weapon taught in the Ryukyu Kobujutsu syllabus, the 2 section, 3 section and the 4 section. Made preferably of red or white oak, or a heavy wood, the sections are tapered from the chord end (2.5cm) to the predominant strike end (3.3cm).

The shafts vary from octagonal to round in shape and the weight is dependent on the strength of the user. Again too light and there is no power, and too heavy and the movement is slow and ponderous. Traditionally this weapon is not used in pairs, as the actions of the one should be sufficient. The grips are similar to that of the Sai in name, Honte-Mochi- (Natural), – Gyakute-Mochi- (Reverse) and Tokushu-Mochi- (Special grip). The special grip falls into – Ippon-Tsuki- (single thrust) and – Tatami-Tsuki- (folding thrust). Nunchaku belongs to the family of Bo and is known as the – portable Bo- .

History has not endowed this weapon with traditional kata as shown by the content of those handed down. They are by design training kata to enable better handling and combination work. The essence of the weapon is the kumite, exploring distance, angles and footwork. Impact should be on the tip of the weapon or it will bounce back on the user. Whilst it is noted that there is a farming implement of the Nunchaku design, it should be pointed out that again China was using this weapon concept long before it was recorded as a Ryukyu weapon.

TINBE-ROCHIN : This weapon is the most glamorous of the Ryukyu system and exudes a feeling of history long gone. The usage however is more akin to a combination of Zulu fighting and European sword and small shield fighting.

The Tinbe (Shield) can be made of various material but is commonly found in vine or cane, metal, or for presentation, in turtle shell. The shield size is generally about 45 cm long and 38 cm wide. The Rochin (Short spear) is cut with the length of the shaft being the same distance as the forearm to the elbow if it is being held in the hand. The spearhead then protrudes from the shaft and can be found in many differing designs. The favoured style has an expanded middle section before the point, which is twisted upon insertion to make the wound larger. The weight of the blade is critical for the spear usage, which is swivelled between the fingers to use both ends, smashing with the butt end and stabbing with the blade end.

The techniques are circular to avoid too much direct contact on the shield and the short spear is predominantly used in an upward stabbing motion, piercing armour under the rib cage, armpits, and throat. Good knees are essential for the kumite along with a proficient understanding of Ukemi. The Ryukyu Kobujutsu syllabus has one kata, which exuded posturing, speed with agility, and balance. The techniques of the Tinbe-Rochin are unique to shield and spear usage. Clearly the origins of design and usage bear little resemblance to agricultural needs.

SURUJIN : This weapon is taught as the last in the Ryukyu system of the classical eight weapons. Found in two kinds, Tan Surujin (short) and Naga Surujin (long) the lengths are about 150-152 cm and 230-240 cm respectively. It is a weapon with the essence of concealment prior to use, which can extract a substantial price from the victim. Traditionally found with a bladed instrument at one end and a weighted end at the other, the Surujin techniques are very akin to those of the Nunchaku.

For kumite training the cord is usually made of leather allowing more speed and agility. Kata however tends to be demonstrated with a chain link Surujin to emphasise the potential in the weapon. The difficulty in usage is the control of the swing and the awareness of the length required in respect of the fighting distance. The hips need to be centrally fixed with a low centre of gravity and the swing should be through the arm to the shoulder without moving the head. The recovery from the swing is dependent on the dexterity of the user, as it is critical to the final attack before the stab. Historically this weapon is very prevalent and can be found attached to a weapon or used separately. It is undoubtedly a weapon designed for warfare and not for agricultural usage.