Monday, September 13, 2010

Nunchaku & Kobudo

Traditional Okinawa Karate and Kobudo arts are taught in the east valley of Phoenix at the Arizona Hombu Dojo on the
border of Chandler with Gilbert and Mesa.
Nunchaku is a tool used by some Okinawan farmers that was converted into a weapon of self-defense following the ban of bladed weapons on Okinawa by King Shoshin in 1480 AD due to his concern over a possible revolt by his people (sound familiar?). In the hands of an expert, it was a formable weapon, but in the hands of an amateur, it provided and still provides considerable entertainment.

Tsuki uchi with nunchuks (thrust strike).
Okinawan kobudo is thought of as the ‘ancient, or old, martial way of Okinawa’. Kobudo evolved from kobujutsu, a koryu (old system) that refers to ancient fighting methods of the Okinawan penchin and Japanese samurai. Many people better know these as martial arts weaponsKobujutsu implies fighting techniques without esoteric value, whereas kobudo has esoteric philosophy. 'Kobu' translates as old and 'jutsu' refers to the techniques or schools of Okinawa pechin class that were equivalent to Japanese samurai. This is unlike kobudo which implies there is philosophical and redeeming values by adding the suffix ‘do’. A word that is periodically used in place of kobujutsu is bukijutsu: 'buki' meaning weapon. Thus bukido would imply some kind of esoteric influence. That esoteric value would manifest itself in kata.

Most non-Asians ignore the semantics between kobudo and kobujutsu and use these words interchangeable as do many martial artists in Arizona. But it is important to understand there is a difference. Both may use the same techniques, but it is in how they employ those techniques that makes a difference. Kobudo uses techniques in kata and emphasizes philosophy and self-improvement of the person and spirit. Each time we practice kobudo kata at the Arizona Hombu dojo in Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, Arizona, there is a subtle reminder of the 'way' or 'path' we seek or the person we would like to become.

We bow (rei) at the beginning of karate and kobudo kata and we bow at the end of kata just as we do at the beginning and ending of our martial arts classes. This emphasizes respect for one another and provides an unspoken contract that we will humble ourselves to learn from our Sensei (martial arts teacher). The more you train in traditional karate & kobudo, bowing stimulates your subconscious telling you to respect, act with good manners, be non-violent, set goals to be a better person, etc, simply because you learn to affiliate these positive thoughts and philosophy with bowing in martial arts.

As budoka (practitioners of the martial way) we must always be aware that the opposite can happen. If you were to train in a dojo (martial arts school) that emphasized negative thoughts, these would sooner or later manifest themselves as negative affirmations in your subconscious. Even though it was just a movie, this is what we saw in the first Karate Kid. Every time martial artists from the Cobra-Kai dojo trained in sport martial arts, they were reminded by their Sensei to win at any cost and “show no mercy”; whereas, Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel-san to associate karate kata and training with positive affirmations.

Gichin Funakoshi pencil sketch by Soke
I’ve trained in karate schools that were similar to Cobra-Kai where students were encouraged to fight on the streets to practice martial arts. In Seiyo Kai, this type of activity would get you expelled from our association and lead you down a path that ultimately could end up in your incarceration. This is the one quality anyone should investigate in any dojo prior to training – find out about the philosophy of the dojo and Sensei. This was why Gichin Funakoshi and other Okinawan karate masters of the 20th century so strongly objected to the Japanese turning karate into sport: it provided a strong negative overtone by focusing on winning and attacking, rather than its real purpose – to make us better people. But the old ancient fighting systems (bujutsu) had a different concept behind them, they were designed for one thing, and one thing only: to defeat your enemy on a battlefield – no philosophy required. Ancient bujutsu taught practitioners to attack and kill with little regard to human life. But with evolution of bujutsu to budo, things changed dramatically. To be sure you find a school and instructor with good credentials and a good reputation, we always recommend that you simply type in the name of the martial arts school or the name of the instructor and do a quick websites on Bing and Google. It shouldn't take long to find out if the school is the type of school you would be interested in. Remember, there is a very high percentage of schools with instructors that have no evidence of proper certification let alone any certification other than what they purchased on the internet. But just the opposite will also be found. Many good instructors that have evidence of certification and lineage.

Master Cho, copyright pencil sketch
by Soke Hausel

Today, most traditional martial arts in the world (and Arizona) are a discipline with esoteric benefits for the mind and spirit and physical benefits for the body.

It doesn’t take a genius to see some influence of Buddhism and Shinto in martial arts, but even so, martial arts are not a religion and the influence is philosophical. For example, we do not have to practice martial arts to go to heaven nor we do not have to practice martial arts to be a good person. It’s just a tool to help us become more confident and better members of society. It teaches us valuable lessons in building affirmations (or goal setting). By following a martial arts path, one can improve no matter what their beliefs or practices. Martial arts should complement one’s religion, unless that religion is based on evil. The majority of our students worldwide are Christians as is our Soke (Grandmaster), but our association also has a large number of Mormons, along with some Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and agnostics. Through martial arts, we build positive relationships.

There is another important characteristic of budo that people miss. Budo requires a lifetime commitment. No matter how long you train, there is always more to learn in martial arts. If you earn a black belt, it means nothing if you do not continue to practice. It would be like earning a college degree in engineering and then going to work as a shoe salesman. You may have an engineering degree, but you would really be a shoe salesman rather than an engineer.

Nunchaku kata training in Mesa, Arizona - Sensei Bill Borea, a retired air force pilot trains in
Kobudo (martial arts weapons) uses agriculture and fishing tools such as: (1) bo (wooden staff), (2) sai (trucheon), (3) tonfa (millstone handles), (4) nunchaku (rice flail), (5) kama (sickle), (6) tekko (knuckle dusters), (7) tinbe-rochin (turtle shell shield & spear), (8) surujin (chain), (9) eku or sunakakebo (oar), (10) tanbo (short staff), (11) kuwa (farmers hoe), (12) nunti (staff with attached sai), (13) sansetkun (3-sectional staff), (14) kobutan or yawara (stick), (15) manrikigusari (weighted chain), (16) hari (fish hook), (17) chizikunbo (fish net handles), (18) gifa (hairpin), (19) ra-ke or kue (rake), (20) utsubo or kudamonbo (threshing flail), (21) shaku kama (pole with attached kama), (22) hanbo (half bo), (23) tanto (knife) (24) nireki, (25) surichin (rope with rocks) (26) tetsubo or kanabo and other tools.

Unlike karate - kobudo was family oriented and developed different kata and techniques derived from various families and/or geographic locations on Okinawa with little interaction from outsiders; whereas karate was developed geographically within three different Okinawa villages – Shuri, Naha and Tomarei. This resulted karate kata affiliated with distinct villages or styles, while kobudo kata either bared the name of a person who developed the kata or the name of the village where it was created. For example, Sakagawa no kun translates as ‘Sakagawa’s bo form’ in probable reference to Tode Sakagawa, one of the early members in the Shorin-Ryu Karate lineage as well as the lineage of Seiyo No Shorin-Ryu Karate Renmei practiced at the Arizona Hombu dojo in Mesa, Gilbert, Chandler just a short distance from Tempe.

One of the kobudo tools or martial arts weapons that remain a mystery is the nunchuku (also spelled nanchaku and nunchaku) and known to many Westerners as nunchuks or numchuks. Its place of origin and how it was developed is a matter of controversy. Did it originate in China (or some other southeast Asian country) and was later introduced to Okinawa: or was it weapon indigenous to Okinawa?

Actually there are several possibilities that include: (1) Chinese weapon, (2) threshing flail, (3) cart rail, and (4) horse bridle.

Even the word nunchuku is subject to controversy. The word may be from China, it may have been from the Japanese pronunciation of a two sectional staff, or it may have been derived from the word used for horse bit or bridle. By combining two Japanese words: nun meaning ‘twin’ and shaku the approximate ‘length of bamboo between two nodes’ (about one foot in length), one ends up with the word nunshaku that is very similar to nunchuku. The word for Okinawan horse bit or bridle is nunchiyaku, also similar to nunchuku. The parts of a nunchaku consist essentially of two short staffs attached by horse hair.

Many suggest a possible origin for nunchuku was modification of a farmer’s threshing tool. The threshing flail consisted of a long stick attached to a smaller stick by horse hair. Threshing tools were once common agricultural tools in farming communities around the world including Okinawa where it was used to separate grain from husks, or rice from stems. A threshing tool once used in Quebec had a handle 5 feet in length with the striking stick about 3 feet in length. Although there are only extremely rare references to use of a threshing flail as a kobudo weapon, it is not hard to imagine farmers, who used this tool 10 to 12 hours a day during harvest, becoming very affective in using it as a weapon without any modification.

Some school teachers train in kobudo at the Arizona Hombu
dojo in Mesa. Our dojo has many school teachers and university faculty
members because of Soke Hausel's past association with universities,
 because of the traditional and historical education taught to the
members of our school, and because of the pragmatic approach to self-
A flail could not have been used as nunchuku without modification. Imagine the difficulty swinging a flail around like you would a nunchuku. Thus, if the flail was the origin of nunchuku, it would have to have been modified by cutting one or both sticks to make them equal length.

One variation of nunchuku is a three-sectional tool known as a sansetsukon (or sanchuk). The sanchuk was likely a Chinese weapon introduced to Okinawa. By breaking a link of a sanchuk, either on purpose or by accident, one has a nunchuku. There is a tool used on Okinawa that looks like a sanchuk, it is essentially a cart rail. This was a removable rail which prevented large stacks of cane from slipping off of a flat-bed hand cart.

Another possibility for the origin of this weapon is the Okinawan horse bit or bridle (nunchiyaku). The Okinawan horse bridle has similarities to nunchuku, not only in name, but also in shape. Although the handles are curved rather than straight, in time, such a weapon could have been modified to straight sticks.

A nunchiyaku, or Okinawan horse bridle, consisted to two curved sticks attached by horse hair and placed around the horse’s neck.

Another interesting feature of nunchaku is that this martial arts weapon has no traditional kata like many of the traditional kobudo kata. The bo has more than a dozen traditional kata named after the authors or geographical locations. Many of these are practiced at the Arizona School of Traditional Karate in Mesa and also by members of Seiyo Kai International. It is considered by others that this was due to the lack of popularity of nunchaku in Asian history and it was seldom used in self-defense.

Sensei Patrick Scofield, an engineer, trains in kobudo at the Arizona
hombu dojo.
Even so, the nunchuku is a good weapon if used properly. Most techniques are designed similar to karate blocks and strikes with few release strikes; however most nunchaku kata have many release strikes which can be dangerous to the user because of rebound. Another problem with nunchuku is distance. A samurai sword (katana), halberd (naginata) or spear (yari) easily out-reaches the nunchaku. On the other hand, a martial artist who was skilled in nunchaku had the edge on multiple unarmed opponents or against an opponent armed with a knife (tanto). At the Arizona School of Traditional Karate in Mesa, students learn to use nunchaku in self-defense against armed opponents with knives and guns and unarmed opponents. Our Seiyo Kai International students also learn to use nunchaku against the classical samurai weapons.

Train at the Arizona School of Traditional Karate in our Adult Classes. For one low price (no up-front fees, no contracts, just pay each month) and attend all of our classes.

Just show up and sign up - wear comfortable clothing, and we will start you that evening learning to protect yourself & family.

A similar weapon to the nunchaku taught at the Arizona Hombu dojo in Mesa is that of sansetsukon - or three sectional staff. Sensei Pillow defends attack with tonfa by Suzette during kobudo class at the Hombu.

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