THE BEST WEAPON FOR YOU?
Here Are a Few Tips to Help you Choose
By Marilyn Fierro
In the 17th century there was no choice. The island
of Okinawa was under Japanese rule and there existed a national
ban on weapons. For the farmer and fisherman, protection of family
and possessions became a matter of necessity. Common sense forced
the Okinawans to experiment with the tools of their trade as self-defense
implements. Thus began the evolution of Okinawan weaponry. An entire
life had already been dedicated to handling a familiar tool, so
why not use it as a weapon if the situation arose?
For today's practitioners though, weapons training has become more a matter
of choice than necessity. Keeping alive an ancient art and expanding martial
arts skills are just two of the many reasons for weapons practice. Some systems
have a set order for b eginners to learn weapons, while others may be more
flexible. Regardless of the circumstances, you may one day find yourself at
a crossroad about weapons training. You will have to decide whether to train
with weapons, and if you do, what weapon to study.
Weapons selection is as individual as choosing
a new outfit. There are many things to take into consideration
when you decide to begin weapons training. The following are a
few tips to help you either make your choice or adapt your choice
to fit your situation.
The size of the weapon:
As a rule of thumb, hand-held weapons (sai, tonfa, kama), when positioned in
a closed position along the forearm, will extend just beyond the elbow for
rear strikes and have a forward striking surface as well. The weapon should
feel balanced in your hand when in both the open- and closed-striking positions.
In the closed position, the length of the sai handle should be slightly shorter
than the length of the forefinger. This creates a tighter grip and more powerful
The tonfa handle should comfortably fit the fist so it can easily be reclaimed
to a striking position after a figure-eight flow movement. The average Okinawan
bo is six feet in length with tapered edges. Some people advocate using a bo
which, when raised slightly from the ground, is one fist length above your
head. In a smaller training area this may be the ideal bo for you.
The size of your training area:
If you wish to train with the bo and you live in a small apartment, this may
present a problem. There must be adequate time available to you at the dojo
or another large facility for you to train. Outdoor training is advisable
and encouraged, but proves t o be difficult during the winter months or inclement
weather. It is also necessary to familiarize yourself with the local laws
before choosing outdoor training with any weapon. Hand-held weapons may at
first appear to be the easy solution to indoor traini ng until the first
time the weapon flys out of your hand into your favorite antique. It is a
good idea to practice manipulation of these weapons over a bed or a cushion
Availability of instruction:
The ideal situation would be to train with a qualified kobudo (weapons)
instructor. There are, however, phony instructors. As long as the instructor
has a basic understanding of weapons, which includes basic knowledge of origin,
use, kata (forms), bunkai (analysis) and application, you are off to a good
start. If your own martial arts instructor cannot teach weapons, it is a
good idea to ask his permission before training elsewhere. A good instructor
will recognize his own need for growth and may even go out with you to learn.
Books and magazines are another approach to weapons
training. There are some very fine ones on the market which demonstrate
basic movements, kata and application of moves. Most importantly,
they can give you a more thorough background in regard to the his
tory of an individual weapon. With or without an instructor, reading
always enhances your knowledge of a subject and is always recommended
for the serious student of martial arts or kobudo.
Videotapes are the current trend in learning. While these cannot take the place
of a qualified instructor or books, they certainly can offer guidelines for
you to work from.
Whichever training method fits your needs, remember books and videotapes are
wonderful, but you can only ask questions of an instructor.
Training in spite of the problems:
If a bo is your chosen weapon and space does not fit into the picture, it may
be necessary to modify your training methods to fit the situation. Although
it is not ideal, it is possible to practice weapons forms sans weapons. That
is, going through the mo tions of the form with the correct stance, footwork,
shape of form and upper-body motion without benefit of holding the weapon.
It is essential for you to include all of the wrist movements conducive to
the weapon you are practicing such as the hand chang es in bo and kime (focus)
at the end of the strike.
Visualization is a powerful tool in all martial arts training. It is especially
useful when you are forced to train without the benefit of a weapon. Mentally
going over kata moves, visualizing correct use of the weapon again st an
opponent both empty-handed and with another weapon will aid in the understanding
of your weapon.
It must be noted that nothing can take the place of training with the weapon
itself. You cannot develop a skill without actual handson experience with weapons.
You must also spend time on strengthening exercises applicable to the chosen
weapon. If, through visualization, you can begin to master at least the floor
pattern of your kata, you will then have that much less to consider when given
the opportunity to use the weapon.
To effectively train with a weapon and build a degree of proficiency, you must
be as comfortable with that weapon as the Okinawans were with their farm tools.
You must practice basics and kata daily and apply your weapon against others.
You cannot defeat the enemy without first understanding him. Therefore, it
is essential to familiarize yourself with all the weapons, know the strong
points and the weak ones, and learn how to utilize this information to your
advantage. Remember, "you are what you train."
About the Author: Marilyn Fierro is a New York-based
freelance writer and heads the Smithtown Karate Academy on Long
island. She last wrote, "The Bo, an Extra Six Feet of Self-defense" (M.A.
WEAPONS, August, 1987).