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 Principle Weapons

Bo: The Bo is one of the oldest martial weapons, and to many the most versatile. The Bo is the main stay of RyuKyu Kobudo having more kata than any other weapon. The Bo or Roku Shaku Bo as it is more precisely known (a shaku is a unit of measurement almost a foot long), is the predominant kind of Bo used and attracts the most 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 to facilitate better focus of power when impacting a target with a thrust. 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 itself is an derivation of the water-bucket staff, or tenbin, used since ancient times on Okinawa. 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. Real Bo-jutsu is fluid with a continuous flowing technique. It is not accurate to perform Bo kata the same way as Karate kata. Striking with the Bo should be more reminiscent of cutting with a sword, rather than the often static techniques of Karate basics.

Sai: The Sai has become, to many, the virtual symbol of Okinawan Kobudo. 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 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 practice of 'Shuto' in empty hand and emphasizes 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.

Tuifa (Tonfa): There is in principal only one kind of Tuifa 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. There are only a few so called traditional kata for the tuifa, although many more basic, or training, kata have been developed in more recent times.

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 centimeters 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.

Good body movement like the Sai can make this weapon formidable, combining the speed it needs and generates along with the skillful 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. While the weapon may have been introduced into Okinawa via China (or elsewhere in southern Asia), it still does not rule out its use as a mill handle. It may have been "back adapted", by the enterprising Okinawans, in order to keep its use secret.

Eku (Oar): The eku is one of the lesser-known Okinawan weapons. It is obviously based on the common oar used throughout the Ryukyu islands. It can be used in a manner very similar to the  bo, thrusting and striking one's opponent. because of its heavier mass and bladed edges, it has formidable striking power when used in cutting motions. It has one other unique property - it can be used to scoop sand at the opponent's eyes!

Kama: The origin of the Kama comes from an agricultural tool that was used for mowing or reaping a farmer's crop. Due to the obvious characteristics of the Kama, it easily made the transition from a tool used for work into a tool that could also be used for protection.

Makiwara: The makiwara is a essential training device  for the Okinawan karateka. Makiwara is a punching board. It is a piece of equipment essential in toughening the hands, strengthening the wrists and giving training in hand techniques.  Rarely seen outside Okinawan styles, the makiwara is basically a board about 4 feet long, padded at one end and anchored at the other. The makiwara can be an invaluable teacher. From it the karateka can learn proper punching technique, stance, weight transfer, and hip rotation. It sounds cliche', but with the right practice it  turns one's fist into a true weapon.

Makiwara technique


The very first thing to remember when working with a makiwara is that it will always win. If you punch it too hard, too soon, you will damage a knuckle...and it will still be there waiting for you the next time!  The student of the makiwara should initially just push the pad with their punch, taking care to get all the little things right, for example:


  • First two knuckles on the pad
  • Strong wrist
  • Arm extended but elbow not locked
  • Shoulders down
  • Head up
  • Rear hand well chambered
  • Hip rotation into the punch
  • Strong stance
  • Muscles not used in the techniques are very relaxed
  • Mind focusing on refining the technique, not the job just left or soon to be started

With practice the pad can be struck harder, but always keep your priorities straight. If you let your enthusiasm carry you away, you'll be hurting...and the maki will still be waiting.

What's important is not how hard it's hit but how many times. Repetition is a hallmark of good training with a makiwara.


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Carlisle Isshinryu Karate Club