As long as man has been around, some form or another of combat has taken place. This was true of the ancient Romans and Greeks, and it’s also true of civilizations in the Far East and Asia. Knowing this is useful in getting to know martial arts weapons.
Almost everybody’s heard the terms “karate,” or “judo,” or “Kung Fu.” When they think of those words, the first thing that usually comes to mind is of a Jet Li or a Jackie Chan (or Bruce Lee, if one is old enough) flying through the air, kicking or punching somebody. Or maybe a movie version of a Japanese Ninja assassin (he practices the art of Ninjutsu), stealthily making his way about, prepared to hurl a poison-tipped shuriken (metal fighting star) at some poor victim.
But, many times, people also often picture Jackie Chan or Jet Li fighting off their attackers with a simple long wooden pole -- called a Bo staff – using an impressive series of moves that ends up leaving a dozen or more people lying on the ground unconscious, or at the very least, severely bruised.
The Bo Staff is also commonly known as the following:
Just as there are many different martial arts, keep in mind that there are many different martial arts weapons, most of which were developed out of necessity, and from some other tools or instrument.
The most popular weapons today, at least in the public’s mind, seem to be the ones which were developed in Asia more than a few centuries ago. What might surprise some people, though, is that many of these weapons began their lives as something different from what they are now. Nunchaku, or “Nunchucks,” as many people call them, have a murky past. Some think they began as wheat flails or threshers, used to beat down grain in a field or barn. Others think they may have started life as a type of horse bridle for the local samurai warrior’s horse or that of his daimyo (“dime-yo,” which means “overlord,” roughly). Whatever the case may be, what’s certain now is that those two sticks, joined together by rope cords or other method, can be deadly in the hands of the right person. The nunchaku origins will be debated just as long as what to actually call them.
Nunchucks are commonly referred to as:
The Bo staff is another example. While we’re all familiar with using a big stick to defend ourselves, if we have to, various Asian peoples of the 14th and 15th centuries began to seriously study the ways in which a long walking stick could also be used for self-defense. There are many stories of Kung Fu schools, or temples, perfecting the art of Bo usage. In fact, the use of the Bo was an important part of one of the oldest surviving martial art styles; that of the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu. In Japan, the study of the Bo is called Bojutsu.
Many Asian societies of a thousand or more years ago had trouble with bandits and criminals. It was only logical that self-defense systems of combat would soon pop up. Sticks, spears, farm tools, chain whips and even fans (the razor-edged Tessen, or fighting fan) were looked at for their possible use as a weapon. Because making things of iron was so expensive, the average peasant or monk of the time couldn’t afford a sword most of the time. They also in many cases were restricted to certain classes of people. Still, the Japanese Katana, or long sword, is valued for its precision and deadly use in the hands of a master swordsman.
Martial Arts and the Weapons That Developed
Over the centuries in Asia, various styles of fighting or dealing with danger and threats came into being. The Buki Yuushuu Martial Arts Weapons family is very familiar with these styles of unarmed combat, and they wish to pass along a bit of that knowledge to martial arts students, both young and old. They also believe that having a solid understanding of the various weapons that also came into being, which help to supplement the ability of a student of karate (called a karateka in Japanese) or Kung Fu or other Asian martial art, can only be a good thing.
We’ve already touched in a basic way on a few weapons, like the long, wooden staff called a Bo and the Japanese-originated nunchaku (sometimes called “nunchucks” in popular Western karate movies). Both of these items started their lives as either a perfectly-normal walking staff in the case of the Bo, and maybe a farming tool, in the case of the nunchaku.
Almost all of us have also heard of or seen the classic Japanese long sword, called the katana. Anybody who’s watched a Japanese martial arts movie on TV will have seen examples of these weapons. Together with its shorter companion, the wakazashi, the pair makes up the ancient samurai warrior’s sword set, which is called daisho (“dye-show”) in that Asian country. Someone who practices fighting with one or both of the daisho drawn from their protective sheaths is said to be training in kenjutsu. Within Japanese sword fighting, a whole subsection focusing on just learning to draw the long sword very quickly goes by the term Iajutsu. We’d pronounce most of these “jutsu” words as “joots,” because the ‘u’ sound at the end is normally very short or even silent. So for Iajutsu, just say “yah-joots.”
But there are many more weapons that a dedicated martial artist can take the time to study or learn about. The Japanese kama, which is a type of curved-blade sickle at the end of a short stick, actually did begin its life as a traditional farming tool. In the days of the samurai and their military warlords (Shogun), they were employed by Japanese and Okinawan farmers, and their usefulness as weapons soon came to be understood. When a small ball and chain is attached to the end of the kama, it becomes a kusarigama (“koo-sree-gah-ma”). Several other martial arts, including Korean karate, or Tae Kwon Do, and some forms of Kung Fu and silat (Malaysian martial arts), also use types of kama. The word in Japanese can be either singular or plural, by the way, as can nunchaku.
Over in the Philippines, a popular martial form of combat sprung up around the time when Spanish soldiers of the 1500s were exploring in the islands. Escrima was a reaction to the military might of these soldiers, and its techniques varied from tribe to tribe. But all of them had in common the use of certain so-called “fighting sticks.” Called Kali (“kah-lee”), and originally made of strong rattan about the length of an arm, they were normally used in pairs. They’re also highly effective in the right hands.
The Buki Yuushuu Martial Arts family offers fine examples of Kali fighting sticks and nunchaku. Please remember to train wisely and use caution while practicing with these weapons.
General Categories of Asian Martial Arts Weapons
Over the centuries, there’s been quite a variation in self-defense martial arts weapons that have emerged from the region we know as Asia. For some reason, the list of weapons to have come about is very long. This may be because the art of self-defense seems to have been a part of the mental character and desire to protect one’s self for far longer than it’s been here in the West.
For whatever reason, the Asian people have taken to martial arts – and to martial arts weapons – with a lot of desire. Their contribution to personal self-defense is almost without a competitor in the rest of the world, when it comes to unarmed combat. Think about all the different styles of martial arts to have come from Asia; it’s really quite a list.
There’s classic Karate, which originated on the island of Okinawa. And over in Korea, historic Tae Kwon Do (now spelled Taekwondo) shows evidence of having been around in some form or another for over two-thousand years. The case of China is also of great importance: In reality, most other forms of Asian martial arts seem to owe their own heritage to the self-defense forms of the art practiced in China for three or four-thousand years, at least.
This leads to the issue of all the different weapons that developed alongside those martial arts. Even in Korea – where Taekwondo isn’t known to have used many weapons – there is a type of fan called a Mu Puche (made of tempered birch) which first was developed back in the early 1400s.
What’s notable is that even in Korea, most real weapons were forbidden to be carried by the non-royal or military classes of people, at different times. In order to have some means to defend themselves, these fans came about. Many had sharpened edges which were concealed by ribbons that ran along the edge. Others used feathers to hide finger-sized razor blades. Still others had poisons smeared along those metal edges.
So, into what general categories can all these weapons be placed? For the most part, weapons experts put them into about twenty different ones, but for our purposes there are usually six or seven that are important to the Asian martial artist. The classic category is of course, the Sword. Chances are most people who think of swords in Asia immediately picture the Japanese Katana, which was the weapon of the Samurai.
Ranking just as high in importance in most martial arts experts eyes is the Long Weapons division. In this, you’ll find the Bo staff (called the Guan, in China) and Yari, or Japanese spear. The Chinese Bisento, or halberd (a pole with a large, curved blade at the end…the Japanese call it a Naginata) is also included in this group.
Other categories include Composite Weapons; where you’ll find Nunchaku and Kusarigamas – this is a really nasty weapon in the right hands, by the way. And Sickle Weapons is the category in which the Kama makes its home. As far as a potentially-lethal and effective self-defense tool, especially for close-in work, it’s hard to find one as serious as it can be in a well-trained artist’s hands.
These are generally the most recognizable and well-known martial arts weapons, at least here in the West. If you’d like to see examples of the Nunchaku, the Bo, the Kama and several other types, please go to the online catalog at bukiyuushuu.com. There, the craftsmen of Buki Yuushuu (which means “weapons excellence” in Japanese) have displayed modern and updated versions of each.
Each of them also is a direct descendant of the classic Asian version, though, so take a moment to go there and see what real craftsmanship can be like when it comes to a martial arts weapon.