Ryukyu Kobudo is the term used for the ancient art of Okinawa Weaponry. The oldest documented history for Kobudo is believed to be around 1762 with Sakagawa Chikodun Peichin Kanga (1733-1815), also nicknamed “Sakagawa Tode” (China Hand Sakagawa). Sakagawa, a native of Okinawa, traveled to China to learn the art of Tode (China Hand) and with it the use of the cudgel (Bo).
Another master responsible for the growth of Ryukyu Kobudo was a man by the name of Yabiku Moden. Yabiku learned much of his weapons from Chinen Sanda and in 1911 he formed the Ryukyu Kobujutsu Kenkyu Kai, the Association for the Study of Ryukyu Ancient Weapons Arts. In 1925, Yabiku set up his dojo in Gumma Prefecture in mainland Japan. Yabiku’s most famous student was Taira Shinken.
A variety of weapons is used in Ryukyu Kobudo. Most traditional Okinawan systems use some or all of the weapons that are used by the Shimbukan association. It is common to see variations of the weapons used in other systems such as the bo or long staff in medieval English arts or the Nunchaku, which is usually thought of as being of Chinese origin. However, Ryukyu Kobudo is unique in bringing all of the weapons together into one system. The practice of Kobudo has continued for hundreds of years and the techniques used are powerful and focused.
Bo/Kun (Long staff)
The Bó is the main weapon or implement used by this Association and is one of the most difficult to master properly. Bó techniques (Bó-jutsu) are different to those used with swords but 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 does not have a blade or handle. It can be used to beat, strike or cut. Its length hides many possibilities and has 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 practitioners to become modern Ryukyu Kobudo. There is a Bó Kata in all grading’s from Shodan (1st Dan) to Godan (5th Dan).
The Parts of the Bó
Moto – Centre or balance point of Bó.
Saki – The tip of the Bó.
- Shushi no Kon Sho/Dai
- Sakugawa no Kon Sho/Dai
- Sueyoshi no Kon
- Shishi no Kon
- Urashi (Urasoe) Huntaguwa no Kon
- Chinenshichanaka no Kon
- Chikinsunakake no Kon
- Yuniga (Yonegawa) no Kon (Left hand)
- Sesoko no Kon
- Shirataru no Kon
- Choún no Kon
- Chikin no Bó
- Chatanyara no Kon
- Kongó no Kon
- Hantaguwa no Kon
- Shomen Uchi.
- Chudan Tsuki.
- Shomen Uchi, Chudan Tsuki.
- Gedan Uke, Gedan Nuki, Gedan Barai, Shomen Uchi.
- Jodan Nuki, Chudan Tsuki.
- Hidari Chudan Ura Uchi, Hidari Chudan Yoko Uchi.
- Migi Chudan Gyaku Yoko Uchi, Hidari Chudan Gyaku Yoko Uchi.
- Jodan Age Uchi, Jodan Kaeshi Uchi, Jodan Yoko Uchi, Shomen Uchi (Shiko).
- Hidari Gyaku Mochi. Chudan Uchi, Chudan Tsuki, Kaeri Gyaku Mochi, Chudan Tate Uke, Mawashi Barai, Chudan Tsuki.
- Jodan Ura Uchi, Jodan Nuki, Jodan Mawashi Uke, Kaeshi Uchi.
- Jodan Age Uke.
- Shomen Uchi Renzoku.
- Chudan Uke.
As a general rule, a bo is measured to be ideal if it is one fist length longer than the person’s height. This makes sense as a bo that is an ideal length for a 182 cm tall person could hardly be as well suited to a 152 cm person. Originally the bo was measured in shaku, a Japanese unit of measurement, equivalent to approximately one foot. It was originally derived as the average length between nodes on bamboo. Or approximately 30.3 cm / 11.93 inches 1 shaku (?) = 10 sun (?). The most common length used in Okinawa and still used in the Ryukyu Kobudo Shimbukan system is the roku shaku bo.
However, there are two things to consider when choosing a bo:
- If you want to take part in competitions, you will need a bo that fits the specifications of a particular competition. For example in Okinawa, the Okinawa Karate Do and Kobudo World Tournament Executive Committee require the Bó to be six feet (180 cm) long and over 900 grams. (These rules also require the bo to be made from Oak.)
Bo Tips and Advice
Holding the Bo
Beginners are taught to keep their hands at the thirds position of the bo. Beginning students should definitely continue to check that their hands are in the correct position after doing a technique, as it is common for hands to migrate towards one end or the other. The bo as a weapon is quite flexible in that it can be used for stabbing, striking and blocking with either end or the middle. Holding the Bo at the thirds point allows these multiple usages. It also gives the user a well-balanced weapon.
As a student becomes more comfortable with using the bo they will find that their hands find the most comfortable and most effective position naturally.
One thing for students of all levels to remember is that you should never grip a bo. The thumb and forefinger close around the bo and control it. The rest of the hand will tighten and loosen to allow the bo freedom of movement. So that it really is physically possible to do a Chudan Uke (Middle block) and have the bo touch the forearm.
Kumite Bo vs Kata Bo
One thing I really wish I had been told as a beginner is to always keep a separate Kata Bo and Kumite Bo. It would have saved me many splinters.
A regular oak or other hardwood bo will cause a lot of damage to an opponent in a fight but regular kumite (sparring) use will cause chips to form in the wood. During Kata, the bo continuously moves through the hands for the various strikes and blocks so if there are chips in the wood then splinters are inevitable.
If possible, I recommend the rattan style Kumite Bo used in Okinawa and sold by Shureido. If you don’t have access to a rattan bo then keep a cheaper bo (a broomstick handle if necessary) for Kumite practice.
Tips for Buying a Bo
I am so lucky to be able to buy my bo at Shureido in Okinawa. Shureido bo are made from Japanese Red Oak, and made to Okinawan competition specifications. They do sell longer length bo and have a scale available for you to check the weight. The quality is excellent but they are expensive especially if you have to pay for shipping. As a Bo is such a central part of the Ryukyu Kobudo Shimbukan system, I would recommend you buy the best you can afford and of course, it is at the top of the shopping list for visitors to Okinawa. They sell both straight and tapered Bo. Ryukyu Kobudo Shimbukan uses tapered bo.
Below are some tips for buying a bo whether from Shureido or any other source.
- Measure and weigh a bo before purchase.
- Try a few basic moves, such as showmen uchi and chudan tsuki. Make not of the balance and the feel of the weapon.
- Ask what type of wood the bo is made from. Oak is the standard but any hard wood such as teak, maple, beech or redheart make great bo. The different types of wood do have different properties and this can affect the use of the bo. For example, beech is a little softer and lighter, whereas teak is incredibly hard and makes a powerful weapon. (Note: Some competition rules specify the type of wood used.)
- Check for warping of the bo. You can do this by rolling it on the floor to see if it rolls smoothly.
- Try to buy an unvarnished bo. It is possible to use a varnished bo but it is common to get blisters on the inside of the thumb from sliding strikes. If you do have a varnished bo you can sand the bo down. I started with a varnished bo and the difference after we had sanded it down was amazing.
Tips for Caring for your Bo.
- Use a little oil on a cloth to nourish the wood, especially when your bo is new. Any furniture oil will do, although if you are particular, Walnut or Linseed oil are two of the most recommended natural oils for wood. Over time and use, natural body oils will nourish the wood and help make it smooth. This is particularly noticeable at the spots where the bo is held.
- New bo, or other wooden weapons, may become a little rough or furry. Use another hard wood weapon such as a Tunfa to smooth the bo. Run the tunfa smoothly along the length of the bo and you will find that it seems to polish the wood.
- Don’t leave a bo in a hot car for long periods of time as this causes warping. A bo left leaning against a wall or lying down in one position for a long period of time will also warp. For this reason, the best way to store a bo is upright.