The study of Kobudo includes the use and application of several traditional weapons.  Students enter into the study of Kobudo in the Intermediate class.  Some of the weapons you will be exposed to include the bo, jo, nunchaku, tonfa, kama, sai, shinai, escrima, and bokken.  Listed below is a brief history and application of each.


The Bo was derived from a farming tool called a tenbib (tin-beeb), which was used to carry buckets or bundles around on either end and came in a variety of sizes.  The most common was the rokushakumarubo (roh-ku-shah-ku-mah-ruh-boh), which is a six-foot piece of round wood that was not tapered at both ends so it could bear a heavy load without breaking and have strength at the tips.  Other shapes included Kaku Bo (four-sided Bo), Rokaku Bo (six-sided Bo), and Hakaku Bo (eight-sided Bo).  Later it was learned to taper the ends so there would be less weight to the Bo for carrying lighter loads.


The types of wood they are made of can vary based on the use, whether it is for training, display, competition, or striking another weapon.  The type of wood used was determined by the need, e.g., combat.  Certain woods and certain diameters were better at stopping a sword but the wood choice also was impacted by what was available.  As a result, combat Bo was developed out of actual combat conditions.

Kanken Toyama, the founder of Shudokan, studied traditional Okinawan karate, which is based upon the Japanese occupation of the islands.  During that time the Japanese forbid the citizens of Okinawa to use weapons.  As such, the farmers learned to use their farming implements, in this case the Bo, against the Japanese samurai.  Due to being six feet long, it gave an advantage to its wielder in providing an excellent reach against a swordsman; both ends could be used as a weapon, giving it good utility in purpose and function.  The techniques executed with the Bo were probably developed very early in history and were probably refined in the Heian Era (around 1127 AD).


The Jo is a stout wooden stave fashioned from Japanese oak or a hardwood which was originally used as a substitute for the long sword and the short spear.  It is typically 48 to 54 inches in length and approximately 7/8 to 1 ¼ inches in diameter; it may be round or have beveled edges.  It is 6-11” longer than the sword and though it (the Jo) can break one (a sword), the Jo can be rendered useless in the process.

In the early 1600’s, Muso Gonosuke was a brilliant Bo fighter but was defeated by Miyamoto Musashi, the famed swordsman.  After his defeat, Gonosuke went into meditation on Mount Homan.  While there he developed the Jo and codified its movements.  He later came back and defeated Musashi in a second fight.  As a result of that defeat, Musashi recognized the genius of Gonosuke and introduced him to the Koruda Han of Fukuoka, where he became the chief instructor of Jo-jutsu, a dynamic, versatile, and effective fighting art that dealt with disarming and subduing an armed opponent.  Resultant to this the traditional studies of the Jo are based on this man's vision.  Uyeshiba Morihei, the founder of Aikido, used the Jo to teach the principles of his art.

Kanken Toyama, who was a swordsman, also studied the Jo in his search to learn more about the martial arts; this brought the study of the Jo into Shudokan Kobudo. 


The Nunchaku is typically constructed of two pieces of wood, like oak, loquat, or pasania; hardwoods that are strong and flexible and held together by rope or small chain—original ones used horsehair.  They come in different shapes and sizes with the most common types being hakkakukei (hahk-kah-ku-kheh) or octagonal shaped, and maru-gata (mah-rue-gah-tah), which is round; both are connected by three lengths of cord about three finger widths wide with more modern ones bound with chain.  The ones with three finger width cords will not give smooth flips until the practitioner becomes very proficient; the shorter widths allow for quick application of joint and trapping pressures.  Other Nunchaku have cord widths four fingers wide (a palm width) to provide for better control for hand rolling/flipping moves.  Sometimes this cord was made of vine so an adversaries head or hands could be bound.

Kanken Toyama’s studies of weapons also included the Nunchaku, another weapon that was used against the samurai by the citizens of Okinawa. 

Many theories surround the origin of the Nunchaku.  Some say it descended from a rice flail (used to pound grain or rice), a night watchman’s rattle, or maybe a tool for barking banana trees; others think it may have been used as an old style muge (moo-geh) to bit and bridle a horse.  Despite this disparity of origin, they are now defensive weapons which are said to possess a unique spirit and character. 


The main part of the Tonfa is the shaft, which is typically a hard wood (red or white oak) body about 50-60 centimeters in length, and a smaller cylindrical grip (handle) that is secured at a 90-degree angle to the shaft about 15 centimeters from one end.  The shorter end near the handle is the front and, of course, the other end, is the back or tail; some Tonfa are square and others are round. 

The Tonfa developed from two sources: 1) the grist mill handle, and; 2) the crank handle used for drawing water from a well.  They were used in ancient times by farmers as a bean or rice grinder; they were also known as Tong Fa or Tuifa.  Like the other farming implements, the use of this as a weapon was driven by the Japanese occupation of the Okinawa Islands.  The mills and water wells were usually communal and the farmers provided their own handles just in case handles were missing.  Since handles do break with usage, the farmers would bring two or more if they have a large quantity to mill.  Thus having two Tonfa available were not surprising.

Kanken Toyama’s studies of weapons included the Tonfa, another weapon that could have been used against the samurai by the citizens of Okinawa. 


The Kama is made with a metal blade or completely out of wood.  The bladed structure however, made it very weak when attacked with heavy blows directly to the blade.  Therefore, it was redesigned and made stronger in construction by running the metal of the blade all the way down into the handle.  This made the cutting edge bigger and above all, the previous weak point where the sickle was attached to the handle disappeared. 

Though the Kama was a tool used to cut weeds and bring in the crop (a garden sickle); it was easily a simple but very sharp and potentially dangerous weapon.  Like other farming implements turned weapon, this one was also studied by Kanken Toyama.  They are usually referred to as ni-cho Kama (nee-choh-kah-mah), which translates into a pair used in a combative manner.  


The Sai is an unsharpened dagger with two long, dull points projecting from the handle.  The shaft is referred to as the monouchi (moh-noh-oo-chee) and the bottom rounded part of the handle is the tsukagushira (tsue-kah-ghoo-she-rah).  A quarter of the way up the shaft, are two curved prongs called the yoku (yoh-kuh) and the tip of the prongs are called the tsume (tsue-meh).  The monouchi should cover the forearm with the saki extending at least one inch past the elbow to guarantee full protection when countering an attack.  The size of the yoku is also important; because of the grappling and catching abilities of the weapon the distances between the monouchi and the yoku should be narrow. 

Some believe that the Sai was once a bladed weapon that was created as opposed to being a farming or fishing tool, similar to a tool used in China as an agricultural instrument for preparing soil for seeds by creating holes in the ground for them (there has been some controversy and even some speculation as to its origin); it is believed to have been introduced to Okinawa by the Chinese in and around the late 1400’s.  As with other farming implements, the advent of the Japanese control of the Okinawa Islands banning weapons became the driver for it to be used as a weapon.  Kanken Toyoma also included the Sai in his Kobudo studies.


Sizes and style of Shinai vary. An adult male may be able to use one that is too heavy for a female or a younger person, as such; they are made in different sizes and characteristics with many styles and balances.  A Shinai should not be confused with a Bokken, which is a Japanese sword made from a single piece of wood.

The four slats of a Shinai, which are held together by three leather fittings secured with string, are usually made from dried bamboo and may be treated by smoking or soaking them in resin; some are made with carbon fiber or other approved alternative materials.  The three leather fittings are the hilt (tsuka-gawa/handle), point (saki-gawa/end tip), and the leather strip (nakuyui), which is about one-third of the length from the exposed bamboo tip; this not only holds the slats together but also marks the proper Kendo portion of the weapon.,  Inserted between the ends of the bamboo slats underneath the point is a plastic plug and under the hilt is a small square of metal that holds the slats in place.  A hand-guard is put at the point where the hilt and the bamboo slats begin; this is held in place by a rubber ring (tsuba-dome).

The origin of the Shinai can be found in the Edo period, a division of Japanese history running from 1603-1868.  It was developed when a group of swordsmen, in an effort to reduce the number of practitioners being seriously injured during practice, undertook to create a practice weapon that was less dangerous than Bokken, ,the hard wooden swords they were previously using.

The word “shinai,” means to bend or to flex and was originally short for shinai-take (flexible bamboo).  The ancestor of the modern kendo shinai is the fukuro-shinai, which is still in use in Kroryu Kenjutsu.

Kanken Toyama’s swordsmanship background was one of the factors that led to the Shinai becoming a weapon of study in Shudokan Kobudo; studying it would also bring the history of these weapons into Shudokan.


Rattan, an inexpensive wood from a type of palm in the Philippines, is the most common material for Escrima sticks. Hard and durable, yet light weight, it can be fire hardened. It shreds under only the worst abuse and will not splinter like other woods do, thus making it a safe training tool.

Eskrima sticks are made in many sizes depending on the system and the respective ranges being trained.  Common lengths range from 6" (15cm) to 96" (2.44m), with the most common ranging from 24" (61cm) to 36" (91cm).  Eskrima sticks are a reflection of the artist, their system and methodology.

The Escrima sticks emerged when ancient martial artists were striped of edged weapons during political unrest.  They were forced to conduct training in secret by masking it in ritual dance and music while using two sticks symbolically for sword techniques when long and short swords were not available.   Other terms include "Kali", which refers to a sword, and "Arnis de Máno", which means "harness of the hand"; sometimes the abbreviation "FMA" (Filipino Martial Arts) is also used.  "Eskrima" or "Escrima" refers to a class of Filipino martial arts that emphasize stick and sword fighting. The term and the art most probably originated from the Spanish word "esgrima" which is the term for fencing.


The Bokken is a wooden Japanese sword used for training, usually the size and shape of a Katana (real sword) but sometimes shaped like other swords; Bokken should not be confused with the Shinai, discussed previously.  Basic styles of Bokken that are made include the long sword, short sword, and other various sizes that are meant for solo training.  Some are much heavier and harder to use, developing greater muscles and increasing skills with more then with a normal sized Bokken. 

The quality of the Bokken depends on several factors. The type and quality of the wood and skill of the craftsman are all critical factors in the manufacture of a good quality Bokken.  Good wood can handle the impacts of training and last a long time, poor wood will break down quickly and can splinter upon impact, because of this they are best used for solo practice; exotic wood can be used but that will make the Bokken expensive.

The study of Iaido, the way of the sword, uses the Katana.  Due to the potential for personal harm of using real weapons the Bokken was developed.  Even with this weapon people were crippled by broken bones and even killed due to strikes to the head and neck, so the Shinai was developed (see Shinai).

Historically, Bokken are as old as Japanese swords and were used for the training of warriors.  Miyamoto Musashi, a Kenjutsu master, was renowned for fighting fully armed foes with only one or two Bokken.  In a famous legend, he defeated Sasaki Kojiro with a Bokken he had carved from an oar while traveling on a boat to the predetermined island for the duel!

Of course, our founder, Kanken Toyama, in his search to learn more of the martial arts coupled with himbeing a swordsman, brought in and studied the Bokken as one of the weapons of Shudokan Kobudo.

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