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Classical Kobudo Bias

Recently, a senior instructor mentioned to me that there was a bias in the early days in Okinawa to the use of the bo and sai. These were the classical weapons used by the experts in Shuri -- the castle town. The bo was used by court attendants and the sai was used by law enforcement officers. Bo techniques were likely derived from yari (spear) techniques.

The use of other weapons was not looked upon as highly -- at least by some people. Thus, some Kobudo experts would not emphasize the use of the nunchaku, tonfa, or tekko, for example, as these were not "samurai" weapons.

Here, the term "samurai" means the martial artists of Shuri.

Another bias was toward the Karate and Kobudo systems of Shuri. Other styles were sometimes called "village" Karate or village "Kobudo." Such descriptions were probably accurate. A Karate system from Itoman would indeed be an Itoman system. But the implication might have been that this system was not from Shuri. Even here in Hawaii, I have found that immigrants were very conscious of the Shuri issue.

Sometimes, the implication was that the "village" art was geared more toward performance at festivals rather than actual fighting. Again, this might or might not have have been true. I am sure that there were some village systems that were quite effective and others that were more like odori (dance).

Today, most Karate students are not too aware of such matters. Kobudo is taught as an adjunct to Karate and as something extra to do in tournaments. Just as in Karate, Kobudo kata are learned for performance, rather than for "fight". Students have to pose (delineate movements) so that they can be accurately judged.

My Sensei here in Hawaii used to speak about Shuichi Agena, who, when using the bo, moved so quickly that his bo could hardly be seen. His bo was just a dark blurr.


Charles C. Goodin