While most know Karate to be a primarily empty-handed self-defence martial art, many Karateka do train with weapons from time to time. From a basic understanding, no weapons are involved in Karate, due to its origins in Okinawa where they lived under a weapons ban.
In Okinawa, when locals were prohibited from carrying weapons and practicing martial arts, many hid their training and even fashioned simple weapons (known as Kobudo). The story goes that most Okinawans trained with both empty hands and these primitive weapons – most Karate strikes can be used with weapons for heightened effect. As a result, many Karateka practice weapons-based techniques during their training.
Common Types of Weapons
Bo Staff – the Bo staff is one of the most commonly used weapons in Karate training. The staff is about 5 to 6 feet long and does not originate as a weapon at all. Some theories postulate that the bo staff developed from the tenbin stick people used to carry bucks across their shoulders, or simply from a walking stick! The bo staff is heavy and can be used to powerful effect. The Bo is mostly used for strong, range-based attacks while providing defence for the user’s rear.
Hanbo – The Hanbo is a shorter staff that can also provide powerful strikes when used properly. Most Hanbo staffs are around 3 ft in length and are often customized to match the measurement between hip and ankle. Unlike the Bo, hanbo staffs are easier to use and provide the freedom of increased speed.
Tambo – Another staff that is typically 18 inches long, which allows for better concealability and use in close quarters. Many students often dual-wield the tambo.
Nuchaku – Nunchuks are a widely known martial art weapon. It consists of two small batons attached via a rope or chain. Traditionally, nunchaku is made with wood, but can also be made from rubber, plastic, fibreglass and even metal. Nunchuks are powerful weapons that are compact and easy to hide. Becoming an expert at nunchaku is difficult and requires tremendous skill, dedication and dexterity.
Sansetsukon – This is similar to nunchucks but consists of three batons instead of two. This is one weapon that actually can trace its origins to a weapon as well – the Chinese 3-section staff. Think of it as a hybrid weapon that combines both the Nunchuk and Bo staff. To properly wield it requires tremendous training, conditioning, and dexterity. However, in the hands of an expert, the Sansetsukon is a highly effective and versatile tool.
Tonfa – these are short sticks similar to a police baton. Often dual-wielded, Tonfa offers versatility and power. The use of the tonfa often enhances blocks and punches during close combat.
Kama – is a short staff topped with a blade, similar to scythes. It traces its origins to harvesting sickles. The Kama is short enough that most practitioners can dual-wield it. Because of the blade, the kama can inflict serious injury on an attacker. Most people begin training with a bladeless, or blunt version due to its difficulty to master.
Katana – this is the traditional Japanese weapon of the samurai, a 27-inch blade of multiple layers of folded steel. Traditional Katana featured a hard cutting edge with great flexibility. Most modern Katana are made from one layer of steel as it’s cheaper and more practical for daily training.
Sai – this is an easily recognizable weapon heavily depicted in martial art movies and tv. This is a short weapon that features three prongs, with the centre point being considerably longer. Sai’s are perfect for strikes, blocks and agility. In a skilled practitioner, a sai can easily defend against a Katana and Bo – even break a Katana blade!
Eku – the Eku looks and actually is a boat oar. It is not well known and is used like the Bo staff, but has a bit more force thanks to its shape.
Tekko – Tekko are much like brass knuckles as they are worn on the hands to provide powerful punches and slashes to opponents. Many tekko also feature 1 to 3 spikes.
Nunti Bo – a long, hooked spear, similar to a fisherman’s gaff. Often 5-6 ft long, featuring similar training techniques to the Bo staff. The only difference, is the sharp hooks on the end!
Tinbe Rochin – a spear/shield combination weapon
Surujin – Weighted chain or rope to entrap and strike opponents
Kuwa – originates from traditional garden rakes, but features a shorter handle and wide-flat blade for slashing and chopping.
These are some of the most commonly used weapons in Karate training. While most of them can trace their lineage to Okinawan Kobudo weapons, some were introduced later on. With proper training, each can provide tremendous strength, and power and cause vicious damage.
The use of weapons in Karate requires proper training, supervision, and dedication. Most schools do not introduce weapons use until much later in Karate development. If you are looking to progress in Karate by starting with the basics, The Powerhouse offers karate classes in Vancouver to begin your journey toward the coveted black belt.