Wooden swords, called bokken, were used by warriors so they could practice sword fighting in relative safety. Bokken are made from hardwood, usually red oak. Although originally used as a practice weapon, the bokken gradually became a weapon itself. Where the sword is used for cutting bones, the bokken is used to smash them.
The jutte is a form of sai. It was used by the Japanese police to defend against swords and knives; the short tine was used to snare, trap, or break the blade.
The kama was originally a short sickle used for cutting rice, grasses, or other grain crops. It consists of a wooden shaft with a metal blade set at the top. The inside edge of the blade is sharp while the outside edge is blunt. Kamas are usually used in pairs with the lanyards around the wrist so the kamas may be twirled. Because of the danger of the sharp blades, practice kamas for beginning students are usually made of wood, including the blade.
A redesign of the weapon, which is called natagama, is stronger in its construction because the blade runs through past the curve of the normal kama and all the way down through the handle. This makes the cutting edge bigger, and the previous weak point where the sickle was attached to the handle was eliminated.
Kamas use more sweeping motions than other weapons, so it he is a close range weapon. These sweeping motions include hooking, hacking, and chopping. The blade adds an extra deadly feature to this weapon since the user may block an attack with the wooden shaft, and then pull the sharp blade across the attacker’s arm or leg. While one kama is being used for blocking, the other kama could be used for slashing at the opponent. In addition, both kamas could be swung simultaneously, creating a sort of propeller effect.
The kusari-gama is similar to the kama, except it has a chain with a weight on the end. The chain is used to trap a weapon or arm. The weight is spun and used to strike an opponent.
The manrika- kusari is a weighted chain that is whirled and whipped to distract, ensnare, immobilize, or eliminate an opponent. They are particularly effective at trapping feet when thrown at the ankles. Carried with one end extending down inside the pants leg and the other end hanging over the belt, the exposed end could be grabbed and the entire chain whipped out in an instant.
Few weapons have been so closely associated with the martial arts than the nunchaku, westernized as nun-chucks, or simply chucks. They were first popularized in the west by Bruce Lee in his widely popular 1973 movie, Enter the Dragon.
Nunchaku originated in Okinawa. Some believe it was used by to harvest rice. A farmer would be in his boat and swing the nunchaku in a long arcing motion to gather as much rice as possible. Grabbing the nunchaku on its return, the farmer would pull into the boat all the crop that was encircled by the nunchaku. A second theory says that the nunchaku was derived from the Chinese three sectional staff. This weapon proved too large for easy concealment by the Okinawans so they modified it, downsized it, and eliminated one section of the staff. Another theory has it being used as a horse bit (the original cord was made from woven horsehair).
Some versions have two rods of equal length, some had one rod longer than the other where the long rod was held with both hands so the small rod could be strike powerfully against a shield. The long rod prevented the short rod from bouncing back against the user. The Chinese had similar weapons, the shuang-chin-kun, which had two rods connected with metal fitting, and the san-chin-kun, the three-sectioned staff. Another variation of this nunchaku has one normal stick, and the other side composed of two shorter sticks to makes it harder for the opponent to block an attack and easier to loop another weapon or attack. Another variation is made of four sticks (long piece-short piece-rope/chain-short piece-long piece).
Since they must withstand powerful strikes, most nunchaku are made from oak, although ebony and ironwood are used because of their weight. The connecting cord is usually made of silk or nylon but chain is also used.
The proper length of each stick should normally be equal the distance from the middle of the hand to the elbow so a stick may be with the length along the forearm as protection for blocking.
A hard plastic version of the nunchaku made by Monadnock and Orcutt is used by some law enforcement agencies in the United States. Some law enforcement agencies experimented with it during the 1970s but abandoned it. They found that officers needed extensive training to be effective with it, there were too many training injuries, it was cumbersome to carry, and the public perception was that it was a weapon designed to beat down suspects. Some law enforcement agencies still use the nunchaku, such as taught by Orcutt Police Defensive Systems.
A street version of the nunchaku is shown below. The two halves may be screwed together so they appear to be a short baton. Many states, particularly California, specifically list the nunchaku as a deadly weapon that cannot be carried in public. Since they are large and awkward to carry, they are not effective as a present day self-defense weapon. Also, if used, even in a self-defense situation, you will probably be viewed as the "bad" guy.
Nunchakus are glamorized by their swinging ability. A swinging nunchaku can reach in excess of 85 miles per hour. Swinging techniques are grouped by the direction of the swing. Examples are the up strike, down strike, horizontal strike, and the figure eight motion. Swinging techniques can also be used defensively where the user swings the nunchaku to deflect or otherwise stop an attack, such as a low kick) Nunchaku may also be used as an effective defensive/control tool.
Defensive techniques include using the shafts of the held together as an augmented block along the forearm, using the rope or chain to catch and control strikes and grabs, and using both shafts separated as a cross block technique for overhead and low strikes. The nunchaku may be used to bind an opponent's head and hands together in an "Okinawan Handcuff." It can also be used in a punching or clubbing motion to imitate most hand strikes.
The sai (pronounced "sigh") looks like a miniature trident. It consists of a metal shaft 18 to 21½ inches in length with a wrapped handle. At the bottom of the handle is a butt knob that may have various shapes. One third of the way up from the butt are two prongs that protrude upward, acting as a hand guard. The shaft tapers slightly toward the tip. Modern sai are normally chrome plated. The blade above the prongs is either an octagon shape or round. The round blade resists chipping better than the octagon one but the octagon blade does more damage on impact because the striking area is more concentrated. In modern times, the hexagonal shape reflects more light making a sia demonstration flashier. Original sai had a sharpened point on the main shaft. Sai are made from metal that is chromium-plated or black anodized. Sai may also have opposing tangs and two shafts as shown below.
Originally, the sai was made of two separate parts: the stem and the curved prongs. An early version of the sai had only one prong, consisting of a flat metal handle with a bamboo hilt held together with cord. Later two metal parts were used and pounded together. In late 19th century, another method was used. A finished sai would serve to create a sai-shaped cavity in the ground. Molten iron was poured into this shape, producing a perfect twin of the first sai. Rough edges were then removed and the sai was polished. To size the sai to your body:
- Hold the handle in the hand with the blade extending backward along the forearm toward the elbow.
- Blade should extend one inch past your elbow so that the sai may fully protected the forearm.
Balance is also an important consideration in choosing or purchasing a sai. This may be tested by placing the forefinger under the shaft where the two prongs meet. If the sai is properly balanced, it should remain in place and not tilt to either side. The quality of the metal may be determined by taking a sai in each hand and tapping the blades together. A ringing resonance should be heard, rather than a dull sound.
There are three basic ways of holding the sai:
Offensive hold, with the blade forward. Used for striking, catching, and stabbing .
Defense hold, with the blade backward. Used for blocking with the forearm and thrusting with the butt knob.
Third way of holding is rare. In it, the sai is held by the blade and is used for hooking and for striking.
Like all the traditional Okinawan weapons, the exact original of the sai is not known. A few theories exist though. One theory is that the sai was derived from a farm tool, the short handles were held and the prong was pulled through the dirt to form a small trench for planting seeds.
A second theory suggests that the sai was always a weapon and that it made its way into Ryukyuan history by following the path of Buddhism, migrating from India to China to Okinawan. This theory suggests that the shape of the sai was designed in the image of the human body of the monks who carried them for protection. The rational for this theory is that there is little iron on Okinawa that would be needed to make the sai.
Another more modern theory is that the sai originated with the Okinawan police force who carried them as their personal "side-arm" to control crowds and apprehend criminals. This story gains credibility because one of Okinawa's leading sai practitioners was Kanagushiku (Kinjo) Ufuchiku, a highly regarded police captain who lived from 1841-1926. However, if the sai was a required weapon for the police there should be some evidence in recorded laws or regulations, but there not seem to be written evidence.
Although there is no evidence of weapons being confiscated in Okinawa, there were tight restrictions imposed on their rights to carry their weapons in public. Therefore, Okinawans increasingly relied upon carrying concealed weapons and sai were one of the prevalent weapons used for this purpose. These hidden sai were typically shorter than the modern sai, with straight prongs rather than flared ones so as not to snag on clothing when being drawn. Since throwing the sai was a common technique, the Okinawans routinely carried more than one sai. The sai could be used as a throwing weapon to knock a rider off his horse, not by stabbing, but more by the sheer weight of the sai. Also, a warrior had a spare sai in case he dropped or lost one. A concealed technique to use for in-fighting is a jab with the tip of the sai from the basic grip (blade along the forearm). However, this only is only possible when the sai length extends past the elbow.
Even though the sai are sometimes called "short swords," they were not used as a sword would be used. Sai were primarily a defensive weapon, much as the way a club would be used. Some of the major techniques with the sai are:
- With the blade retracted, the sai covers the forearm to augment blocking techniques. Also, the butt end may be used as an effective punching implement. When held in this position, since the kimono had very long and baggy sleeves, the opponent cannot tell exactly what you are holding or the length of the weapon.
- After flipping the long end outward, it may be used as a whipping or striking tool or for poking and blocking techniques.
- The butt knob may be used for punching techniques or for pressing on nerve centers and pressure points.
- Many believe the prongs were used to catch and trap a strike from a weapon, such as sword or a bo. Once the prongs complete the trap, the defender may use the sai to twist the attacker's weapon from his grasp or even break the weapon. However, the range and momentum generated by a longer weapon, such as the bo, would make this a risky defense. Although this type of defense may be effective against a short weapon, such as a knife. Prongs are used to protect the hand from injury.
There is evidence that the sai was used for "hojo undo" or endurance training. While it is possible that the native martial artists used these heavy sai for fighting, it is more probable that they were training tools used for developing arm and wrist strength. Because of the flipping techniques employed in use of the sai, strong and limber wrists need to be developed if one is going to master their use. For this reason, modern martial artists use the sai to supplement their training.
Because the sai was used primarily for self-defense, it was taught as a separate martial arts style. The "traditional" sai kata practiced today are of relatively recent invention. Modern sai training uses rigid karate-like punches and strikes, but the sai is more effectively used by using slashing and cutting movements.
Rapid Rotation Baton
The old becomes new again.
The rapid rotation baton has two side handles that permit rapid and fluid grip changes. The batons are supposedly more effective as an extreme close quarter baton against grips, grabs, body holds, and ground defense than previous batons. It has recently been adopted by the Federal Bureau of Prisons for maximum custody use. The baton is used by many different agencies, primarily by agencies that use community policing, due to the baton's non-threatening carry position.
Notice the similarity between the rapid rotation baton and the sai.
When asked to name a martial arts weapon, most people will probably mention the nunchaku, but the second choice will probably be the samurai sword, the nihontō or katana. It has been glorified in movies and on televising for decades, most recently in the television show, Highlander. The sword, the katana, is woven through the entire tapestry of Japanese culture. It was chosen to be one of three items in the Imperial Regalia, the other two being the mirror and the jewel. Samurai swords were made by honored craftsman and were revered by the owners. Drawn in a "sky-to-ground" manner, it was worn in the belt on the left side, edge upward. Employed on foot or horseback as a thrusting weapon the katana was used in battle, competition and in ritual deaths.
In addition to the long sword, the samurai would frequently carry a shorter blade, the shuto.
Samurai would also carry a short knife, the tanto.
Samurai swords were the ultimate weapon of their time, but they have no use as a present day self-defense weapon.
The shinai is the sword used in the art of Japanese fencing, Kendo. Kendo is a full-contact art practiced in the dynamic atmosphere of a real sword fight. Flexible slotted bamboo swords, called shinai, are used along with protective equipment to allow realistic cut techniques to be delivered with full-contact.
A shuriken (pronounced "sure-ee-ken") is a sharpened star or rod shaped, multi-pointed, throwing weapon made from various metals. They come in many shapes and sizes. It was mainly used as a harassing, nuisance weapon that was thrown at the opponent to give the warrior time to draw his sword.
When using the shuriken, some warriors carried it in the palm so that it was hidden from the opponent's view. Some carried a small stack of them so that when thrown they would spread out in an array. One of the easier ways to throw on is to grip a point between thumb and forefinger and throw overhand or sidearm with a quick snapping motion. When throwing overhand, it is thrown similar to a dart. When held near the tip of a point, the star will spin quicker than when held more toward the center of the star. The star will stick best if it is thrown so that it strikes the target board parallel with the grain of the wood.
A staff is basically just a long wooden pole. The staff was adapted from the tenbin, a stick held across the shoulders, usually with buckets hanging from each end that were used to carry things. When attacked, the defender could easily slip the buckets off each end and have a very handy weapon. Staffs would also be used as a walking implement. When attacked, what seemed a harmless tool became a deadly weapon.
Staffs are mostly made from hardwood, usually oak because of its natural weight, strength, durability, and resistance to splitting. The ends of staffs are usually tapered to make them lighter and to consolidate their mass near their center so they will be lighter and easier to handle. The tapering also reduces rigidity to reduce breakage and to permit power, whipping attacks. Also, sharper ends make jabs more painful to the opponent. Some staffs have a square, hexagonal, or octagonal shape since the edges will cause more damage during strikes.
Staffs come in three basic lengths:
- Bo: 5 feet 11 1/2 inches long and 1 1/16 inches in diameter
- Jo: 4 feet 2 3/16 inches long and 7/8 inch in diameter
- Hanbo: 2 feet 11 3/4 inches long and 7/8 inch in diameter
Types of staffs:
- Maru-bo: round shape
- Kaku-bo: four sided shape
- Rokkaku-bo: six sided shape
- Hakkaku-bo: eight sided shape
- Take-bo: bamboo
- Yari: spear shape
- Naginata: long sword shape
- Kai: Oar shape
The bo staff, because of its length, was not a weapon for close-in fighting. Rather it was used to defend one's self from outside the opponent's attack zone. It is also most useful in relatively open spaces and is best used when both hands manipulate its use.
Striking techniques include switching the weapon from side-to-side. This involves switching the places of the lead and end of the staff. The quicker this switch is made, the greater the potential energy of the strike.
The use may also twirl the bo either overhead, of in front, causing confusion in any attacker. The attacker never knows exactly from where the bo strike is coming. Because the bo can cover such a large defensive area, blocks may be made against head, side, and low strikes. Holding the bo above one's head will be an effective block against overhead strikes. Likewise, the bo may be held to the side to protect the side.
The tonfa originated in Okinawa as a millstone handles. Like the nunchaku, they were improvised weapons called into use after rulers and invaders confiscated all metal weapons. The tonfa's circular movements as a farm implement evolved into its rotating strikes as a weapon. The sides of the tonfa are used for blocking and striking, and the ends are used for thrusts and strikes. By spinning the tonfa around the short handle, tremendous striking force may be generated. By using the long portion in conjunction with the short handle, the tonfa may be used for numerous come-a-longs and arm locks.
Because they are so versatile and are not viewed by the public as excessive force, many law enforcement agencies use a version of the tonfa called the PR-24, previously called a Prosecutor, made by Monadnock (shown below). The Prosecutor name was dropped due to its negative connotations. It is interesting to note that Monadnock states that the PR-24 is a uniquely designed weapon that is in no way related to the tonfa. When used for law enforcement, on one is used rather than the traditional pair.
Because of its size, the tonfa is not effective as a present day self-defense weapon.