What does it take to get started?
What does it take to get started?
First and foremost a good attitude like all martial arts; that and a good teacher. You will also need to have a solid understanding of the fundamentals of martial arts basics. While it is possible to begin directly in Kobudo with no experience a good background in a fighting art will help you proceed more easily. If you have studied some martial arts previously you will have a better understanding of how to break down a lesson to absorb and recall the information later. You will also have learned some discipline over you body and have a better chance of getting it to do what you want it to do.
It would also help if you have some background in one of the Okinawan Karate forms that have come from the Shuri area. The hip movement that is used in Ryukyu Kobudo is the same as what is typical of those Shuri Te styles.
What about the Weapons?
To discuss a weapons art we have to eventually get around to describing the actual weapons. First our system is predicated on two main weapons. The Bo and Sai make up 17 and 8 of the Kata in our system and a grouping of other weapons make up the remaining 11. The testing for each grade also supports this structure with one Kata each for Bo and Sai and then a third one from the less represented weapons.
The Bo is usually made from Red Oak or a similar wood that is heavy enough yet flexible enough to be wielded properly. It is round and usually comes to a slight taper at the ends. It should be sized about 4” or one fist’s distance above your head. Length is important as it impacts the proper spacing of your hands on the weapon and balance to your body. The Bo should not be coated with any type of varnish that either makes it sticky or slippery when your hands are sweaty. Simply rubbing the weapon down with some oil along with proper hand sweat is sufficient.
The Bó or Kun (Long Staff) 棍
The Bó is the main weapon or implement used by this Ryuha and is one of the most difficult to master properly. Bó techniques (Bó-jitsu) are different to that used with swords but it can also be used like a sword. Depending on the technique, it can change into many different kinds of weapons. A sword must contact the opponent with the edge of the blade or it will not cut. This is a limitation. The Bó do not have a blade or handle. It can be used to beat, strike or cut. Its length hides many possibilities and has the capabilities in common with the sword, halberd and spear. Both Northern and Southern China influenced Ryukyu Bójutsu as it is combined with techniques developed locally by the Ryukyu become modern Ryukyu Kobudo. The Bó Kata is the basis in all grading.
The parts of the Bó
Moto – Centre or balance point of Bó
Saki – The tip of the Bó
Additional Information. Bó size for Kobudo Kata Competition, as used by The Okinawa Karate Do and Kobudo World Tournament Executive Committee. The Bó must be made of oak, be at least six feet (180 cm) long and over 900 grams.
The second main weapon the Sai, were adapted from the Chinese Truncheon. Military contingents and bodyguards that used the Sai accompanied Chinese emissaries to the Ryukyu Kingdoms. The Okinawan counterparts to the Chinese Mission adopted these implements.
The Sai should be well balanced with the center tang extending just slightly past your elbow. Round or Octagonal, the various makers produce different shapes. Choose one that lays in your hand well and is easy for you to move and control.
The Sai or Truncheon (釵) passed through India and China to enter the Ryukyu Islands where it was further developed. During the Ryukyu Kingdom Era, it was originally devised as a policing tool for the protection of the King and high ministers. It was used in combat situations and for arresting of ruffians and criminals. The Busa (martial artists) formulated Kata so people could train by themselves in offensive and defensive techniques. The primary emphasis being self-defense and policing. When using the Sai place the thumb where the side tongs and the central tong meet for stability. When punching with the Sai the central tong should be pressed firmly against the punching forearm to provide protection for the arm and stability with the weapon. Use the forefinger to keep the Sai in place by extending it along the handle and providing downward pressure. Never have any part of the hand in front of the side tongs when blocking to avoid getting pinched between the Sai and the weapon being blocked.
Balance for both weapons should be at the axis point for their movement; which for the Bo is the middle and for the Sai is at the hilts. Proper balance is essential for smooth and easy movement.
The other weapons that make up the remaining 11 Kata include Tekko (basically “brass knuckles”), Nunchaku, Tunfá, Rochin & Tinbé (short spear and shield), Kama Sickles, Ekku (like a canoe paddle), and Suruchin (a weighted chain). Please see our website for examples of all of these.
Now that we know what we will be holding in our hands how do we move with it?
Moving is key to the fundaments of any art. Moving properly begins with knowing where to move from and where to move to. You also have to know how to get there. Your instructor will begin with an explanation of the Kamai or the ready stance. These stances take into account the advantages and disadvantages of each weapon and are designed to maximize the one while minimizing the other. This has to be taught and felt and it will take some time and effort and corrections before it will become natural to you.
The where to move to part of the equation is governed by stance and structure. The founders of the art learned through experience and experimentation that they moved faster, cleaner, more powerfully, and with less energy when they had good balance. As energy needs to transfer from one movement to the next equilibrium is preserved by moving from one good stance to another good stance. The front stance (zenkutsu dachi), middle stance (shiko dachi), back stance (kokutsu dachi), and cat stance (neko ashi dachi) all have different weight distribution and all are used to shift the weight through the hips and the body to make the weapon move. By using strict stances the movement is controlled and powerful without being forced.
The association has 10 original Bo basics or Kihon. Recently three more basics were added in the headquarters (Hombu) dojo. These basics teach the body and the mind the concept from the previous paragraph. The exercises drive home the importance of using the hips and how using good stances make using the hips easier. When the technique is getting good it should resemble a crashing wave or a whip like action, emanating from the center of the body. It will be driven by the movement of the hips and the use of breathing and the center of gravity taking into account alternating tension and relaxation in the body all at the right moments. The force should never feel like you are pushing the weapon around. The weapon should feel like it is an extension of your body and that your stances and hips are moving the body in a way that the weapon has no choice but to follow; indeed it should be as if the weapons is rushing to catch up. The body should never be over committed in its stance. You will know when it is overcommitted as your next movement will become difficult and take too long and burn too much energy. Repeating the Kihon until you are tired forces you to find where you are using muscle and raw power instead of form.
I have tried to describe the importance of the movement but words in a document will not be enough to learn the concept fully. Only you and your teacher working together over many hard training sessions will make this clear to you. Even after decades of training the people who are very good at Kobudo will still come back to the Kihon to get better and to keep their skill.
The Association’s Second President Akamine Eisuke Dai Sensei is often quoted by his Shihan relating to the importance of Kihon. I am told that he would often say that teaching someone Kihon meant that they would always have something solid. Even if they forgot Kata they had the basics. Teaching Kata without Kihon he observed meant that the person only had the Kata, which could be forgotten easily, and that the Kata was probably not done well anyway. My observation on this is that if you cannot do it well then it is probably not helping you to get better.
That point being made, Kata are of course very important. Else why would all of our teachers put so much effort into composing, preserving, improving, and conveying them to us? Kata are a collection of techniques that preserve some experience or lesson learned in actual fighting. Kata are a memory, a teacher, a challenge, a goal, and a mental and physical drill. They should be done with the attitude that you are bringing them to life. They move, they have pace, they have breath, and they have purpose. Through them we harden ourselves and deepen our understanding of the link between mind, body, and spirit. They are key to progress on our road.
by Jannie Le Grange Shihan