Martial art weapons have been around since man has had a need to defend himself. The history of martial art weapons is an interesting one and has included a multitude of armaments. Some of these weapons were everyday tools and some were not so common and maybe even bizarre. Three of the most popular martial art weapons today include the bo (staff), sai, and nunchaku.
1.The Bo (Staff). The bo is an ancient martial art weapon and has been a part of nearly every culture in every country. It probably made its first appearance in Asia and gradually developed into a sophisticated martial art weapon by Buddhist monks and commoners. The staff evolved into the bo when it become part of the Okinawan martial art weapons system known as Kobudo.
Most bos were a rokushaku bo, meaning they measured approximately six feet in length. The advantages of the bo lie in its ability to be used as a long distance martial art weapon and its ability to be multi-dimensional. Every part of the weapon can be used to block or strike and is not limited to any one method of attack or defense. Its versatile arsenal of techniques includes parrying, re-direction, entrapments, and even sweeping sand into an opponent’s eyes.
The bo is considered to be an “extension of one’s limbs” and is used in similar ways to open hand methods. For example, when thrusting the wrist is twisted much like punching. To generate power, the back hand moves away from the body while the front hand merely guides. This is usually coupled with evasive footwork to put oneself in a strategic position. This martial art weapon is one of the most popular and well known in use today.
2.The Sai. The origins of the sai can be traced back to several Asian countries. Among these countries are India, Thailand, China, Vietnam, and others before the inception of the sai into Okinawan Kobudo in the early 17th century. Interestingly enough, the sai represents an important Hindu-Buddhist symbol and may have been developed by this cultural group. While we may never know with certainty the true origins of this historic martial art weapon, we do know it was an effective instrument of self-protection against many different threats.
Most modern day sai feature a long, pointed shaft with two yoku (prongs) towards the base. The prongs are very effective at trapping and re-directing a blow. Along with its ability to hook and grapple it can also be used to stab, strike, or punch using the handle end. Due to its unique design it is effective against martial art weapons such as the sword and staff. There are many different Okinawan sai kata available, and though the martial art weapon is not seen as often as the staff, it is still well known and entertaining to see performed by a competent wielder.
3.The Nunchaku. This is probably one of the most obscure, yet popular martial art weapons today. Its popularity was more than likely sparked as a result of old Kung Fu movies, namely Bruce Lee. However, when it comes to martial art weapons the nunchaku (pronounced nun-chok-oo) traditionally was not a popular choice. This is evidenced by the fact that no known nunchaku kata exists, perhaps due to its inefficiency against other martial art weapons such as the sword.
Many theories exist surrounding its origins. Many say it was originally used to thresh rice or soybean, and yet other stories indicate it was developed as a result of the martial art weapons ban on Okinawa in the 17th century by the invading Satsuma clan. The idea of rebellious peasants with farm tools as martial art weapons is more than likely popular folklore (not all martial art weapons were banned- nobility were still allowed to carry). Another important point to mention is that the aristocracy was the only ones allowed to practice martial arts, so this sort of dispels the myth of rebellious farmers.
There are also Chinese legends that tell of the nunchaku being a variation of the two-sectional staff. Regardless of where it came from, most modern society is use to seeing the martial art weapon used as a fast, swinging contraption. This is great for keeping opponents at a distance, but the nunchaku was not always used in this manner. Generally it was used in similar ways to a “mini” bo.
It was often utilized as a blocking and hitting weapon that could also trap or lock with its chain. Often it was used as a concealed weapon (hid in the sleeve) and quickly deployed to surprise and overwhelm an aggressor. While the nunchaku may not have been a popular martial art weapon then, it certainly is now and is here to stay. Many different martial arts styles train with this weapon now and it is being seen more and more at competitions and demonstrations.
These three classic martial art weapons have both an interesting history and are all effective as self-protection devices. Training with martial art weapons in general opens the mind up to use the body in similar ways to these martial art weapons as well as everyday objects. We are probably not ever going to have to use these classic weapons in a real situation, but the training received from them can allow us, just like our ancestorsFeature Articles, to improvise and adapt to our environment around us.