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Q: Okinawan Kobudo History links - clarified question, new price ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: Okinawan Kobudo History links - clarified question, new price
Category: Sports and Recreation
Asked by: toragirl-ga
List Price: $30.00
Posted: 23 May 2006 18:48 PDT
Expires: 22 Jun 2006 18:48 PDT
Question ID: 731848
I am looking for information on the history of Okinawan kobudo. I am
writing an essay on this topic for a martial arts grading, but 'book'
resources are scarce, so I am looking for as many sources as possible
to help me 'flesh out' my essay.
Here are some web sites I have looked at:

As I mentioned, I am running short on time, so even diving into links
related to these, and doing a little culling for the ones that have
the most detailed or different information would be greatly

Request for Question Clarification by webadept-ga on 24 May 2006 10:59 PDT

You might want to look at this site as well:

There are some time-lines and a few historic notes that you may not
have from the general styles of the other websites you found.

Keep in mind that your subject matter is not the easiest to research
in the first place. These people didn't want anyone knowing who was
teaching this, or where their information was coming from. A great
deal of this "martial art" when it first started was little more than
organized street fighting (for example the Tecchu and Jiffas are
little more than Prison Shanks), and it was this way for several
decades. It was not like it was with other martial arts (well, except
for the very first ones), there was no one on the islands who was a
"Master", there were those who were effective, and those who were
dead. The concept of ryu's or schools wasn't developed until the
beginning of the 20th century, that's when we can see the linage of
houses and styles. The development of these styles however were
reported back in the 1609 invasion of the islands. There were no
schools, only people who wanted to stay alive. Those who were
successful, taught others how to do the same.

The fighting style of the 1600's as compared to what we learn today
was much different in focus as well. Crippling strikes and deadly
blows against seasoned warriors usually didn't happen in a toe-to-toe
fair fight in the middle of the street. Again the style began more as
a organized method of dirty fighting -- a great deal of back stabbing
and hit-and-run tactics were used. This isn't a slight against the
style at all, this is the facts of life when farmers are going against
samurai. That they did eventually organize the techniques into a
"style" that could be taught quickly and effectively to others is the
amazing bit. While most of the history documents suggest that it was
through trade with China that many of their techniques were formed, or
ideas were developed, probably the most useful idea they acquired from
China was the idea of "style" and schools. I have a great deal of
respect for the Okinawan Ryu's, but researching the beginnings is
researching at best a secret society.

Good luck with your report. 


Clarification of Question by toragirl-ga on 24 May 2006 12:23 PDT

Thanks for the advice. 

I agree that detailed research will be nearly impossible. For that
reason, my essay will focus on the major events that took place to
drive development. So, even general historical websites for the period
of 1400-1800 would be helpful, as they can provide context for the
martial developments.

I'm really looking for a solid list of websites so I can sit down and
crank out this paper without a lot of legwork.
Subject: Re: Okinawan Kobudo History links - clarified question, new price
Answered By: boquinha-ga on 25 May 2006 11:40 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello toragirl-ga!

I?ve been hard at work on your question for quite some time (you?re
right?this isn?t easy!) and have compiled what I believe to be a good
set of resources to get you going on your research! As webadept-ga has
mentioned, much of the Okinawan karate and kobudo tradition remained
secret, being passed down from teacher to student in an effort to
circumvent the military ruling class at that time. There is a relative
dearth of concrete information available about this art form, but with
a little digging I uncovered some interesting information.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


As you seem to be fairly well versed in the basic history of Kobudo
(or martial arts with weaponry), I tried to focus on sites that you
hadn?t specifically mentioned, or sites that presented unique
information that will be useful in your own research.

On the Wonder Okinawa website (a site that webadept-ga also mentions),
there is a wealth of information regarding the history of kobudo, the
weapons and kata used, and the different schools of karate. The
following are two pages on the site that briefly describe many details
that you may already be aware of (like the Satsuma invasion, etc.), as
well as a description of the birth and development of karate. It is a
good place to start for a nice, concise history of Karate and Kobudo.

Here is a lineage site, listing important karate and kobudo masters
and their students. It is available in Japanese also, if that
interests you.

This is a timeline of major events in the development of kobudo and karate.

You had mentioned the Winston Stableford site. Here is an excerpt from
one of the pages on their site. It mentions the capoeira dance, as
well as the theory of embedding weapon techniques in native dances.

?It's been suggested that the traditional Okinawan dances or odori
played a part in the development of kobudo kata. They portrayed
movements from their agricultural life, including the use of simple
tools. We can see this most in the forms for the eku that feature
rowing motions. . . .

The influence from the dance is interesting because we also see it
other martial arts traditions - some gung-fu and more recently
capoeira. It also adds an interesting validity to the musical form
concept. Enough written evidence exists to prove that formalized
kobudo kata existed on the Ryukyuan chain of islands as early as the
1480s. The first account refers to Yaeyama, an island group south of
Okinawa. The tribal chieftain, Oyekei Akahachi is credited with
formulating bo and eku techniques and converting them into ritualized

This link is from the Karate and Kobudo Resource Page. This site has
many links to short historical pieces, details about weapons used in
kobudo, short stories regarding the philosophy of kobudo, and other
interesting information.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


It is long believed that the weapons used in kobudo are derived from
simple farm implements of the past. This happened because of the
weapons ban put into place in the 1500s. However, there is a growing
sentiment that this may not be the true origin of all of the weapons
used in kobudo.

A Boston-based organization supporting and promoting Okinawan martial
arts forms has this to say on their website:

?While there is little historical evidence to work with to date the
origins of Okinawan weapon arts, there are references to staff
techniques and weapon dances going back as far as the 1500?s. Many
sources credit the weapon bans of king Sho Shin O (1507) with the
impetus for the development of the current kobudo arsenal. It is said
that due to this ban on the owning of swords and spears, the Okinawans
developed local tools to use as weapons. Later, from 1609 onward, it
is said these skills were further developed and used to combat the
Satsuma invaders.

But while the current weapons used do resemble local agricultural
implements, it is unlikely they originated from farm tools, or from
peasants. The martial artists the weapon forms can be traced back to
were not farmers, they were primarily of the shizoku or pechin, (lower
or middle nobility) class, international merchants, and government
personnel. The weapon techniques were, more likely, developed from
mixed Japanese, South East Asian, and (primarily) Chinese and local
sources, with techniques being adapted to local conditions and
implements. Similar weapon techniques, including the use of the bo,
sai, tonfa, kama, guwa (hoe), and eku (oar) are common in Indonesia
and China, and are not primarily peasant arts in those countries. The
Satsuma Jigen Ryu also has a record of teaching specially developed
techniques for the eku, kama, bo, and guwa to locals for militia
purposes during their occupation of Okinawa. So while the concept of
secretly meeting to learn how to fight off the Japanese occupying
forces is romantic, there is no record of armed insurrection in
Okinawa during the Satsuma occupation. On the other hand, there is
record of local martial artists studying in China and Japan, and
passing this knowledge, as well as local traditions, on to their

I found an interesting paper written by a black belt candidate
discussing the history and current use of the sai, a weapon used in
Okinawan Kobudo. Much of the paper discusses techniques for its use,
but early on there is interesting information about the origin of the
sai specifically, and other weapons. Here is a lengthy quotation from
this paper:

?A review of these incidents shows that our current view of the roots
of Okinawan kobudo might be based on misconceptions. The first time
that the Okinawan samurai's weapons were supposedly confiscated was
during the reign of King Shoshin (1477 - 1526). While it is documented
that King Shoshin ordered his provincial lords, or aji, to live near
his castle in Shuri, many historians no longer believe that he totally
disarmed his ruling class. . . . Some Okinawan historians now
interpret that King Shoshin was actually building an armory to protect
his ports and prepare for any potential invasion by wako, or pirates,
not that he was stripping the Okinawan samurai or the general
population of their weaponry.

The second time that the Okinawan samurai were purportedly disarmed
was after the Satsuma invasion of 1609. But documents have been
recovered that state that the Satsuma outlawed the ownership and sale
of firearms, [but] all the Okinawan samurai of the Pechin class and
above were allowed to keep those muskets and pistols that were already
in their family's possession. There is further documentation that in
1613 the Satsuma issued permits for the 2 Okinawan samurai to travel
with their personal swords (tachi and wakizashi) to the smiths and
polishers in Kagushima, Japan for maintenance and repair. From the
of these permits, it is logical to infer that there were restrictions
on the Okinawan samurai carrying their weapons in public, but it is
also clear evidence that these weapons were not confiscated by the

Based on this misconception that the Okinawan samurai were stripped of
their weapons by the Satsuma most modern martial arts students are
taught that Okinawan kobudo developed because the Okinawans turned to
farm implements for their self-defense and training. When we consider
the sai specifically we can see that the plausibility of this common
myth is significantly strained. Sensei Toshihiro Oshiro, long time
practitioner of Yamanni-Chinen Ryu Bojutsu and the Chief Instructor
for the Ryukyu Bujutsu Kenkyu Doyukai - USA, says that he has never
found any evidence in his own extensive research to support the theory
that the sai was used as a farming tool. Nor has he been told that by
any of his teachers. He asserts that the sai has always been a
weapon.? (original source material)

Here is another quotation, disputing the idea that kobudo developed
directly out of fighting techniques using common farming tools:

?There is a popular tale that the weapons were developed due to
restrictions placed upon the peasants that meant they could not carry
arms. As a result, they were defenseless and developed a fighting
system around their traditional farming implements. However, modern
martial arts scholars have been unable to find historical backing for
this story. It is true that Okinawans, under the rule of foreign
powers, were prohibited from carrying weapons or practicing with them
in public. But the weapons-based fighting that they secretly practiced
-- and the types of weapons they practiced with -- had strong Chinese
roots, pre-dating the Okinawa adaptations.?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


There are some sets of historians that believe many of the techniques
used in Okinawan karate and kobudo were embedded in their dances in
order to pass them down from generation to generation, without drawing
too much attention to the fact that they were actually forms of
fighting. Here are a couple of references that I found to be most

?Martial artists were always very secretive and this [the weapons ban]
drove them even more underground, but probably also increased the
necessity for promoting the use of te and kobudo. The techniques of
karate and kobudo were also hidden in Okinawan dance. In secret the
kata could be performed alone or in groups keeping the art alive. By
this time there were three distinct styles of karate developing, each
named after the city were it was practiced. Naha te, from the port
city of Naha, Shurei te from the capital city of Shurei, and Tomarei
te, from the city of Tomarei, half way between Shurei City and the
port city of Naha. Karate being so secretive, was only for the
accepted students and so was taught on a personal level and there was
nothing written down. Usually only the top student or protege would be
taught the whole style. If there wasn't a worthy student, the school
had the potential to die out.?

?Forced to practice in secret, the Okinawan masters developed and
perfected kata. Kata are composed of a series of techniques which can
be practiced alone or with a partner. Since kata resemble the
traditional folk dances of Okinawa, anyone caught practicing the
martial art could claim to be only practicing a harmless folk dance.
Different masters developed kata unique to their style and, thus kata
became the primary method of transmitting the style of each master
from one generation to another. This remains true today as the primary
distinctions in Karate styles lie in the way in which the style or ryu
performs kata and which kata are performed within that ryu.?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


The website for the Ryukyu Historical Archives is one of the best
resources I found for basic and general Okinawan history. There are a
number of articles and links to articles (in addition to the two I?m
providing here) about the history, art, culture, and people of
Okinawa, past and present. Here is the index page for the historical
information found on the site.

Here is a timeline with links to more detailed discussion of the
different historical eras and major events during these periods.

Here is a site with a description of the history of Okinawan relations
with Japan and China.

This is a chronology of major events in Okinawan history. The site
also has a brief introduction to the religion of the island.

This is an interesting timeline of Okinawan history, along with
parallel timelines for major events in Japanese and World history.

Here is another timeline of major events in Okinawan history.

This is a brief narrative history of Okinawa.

This is a general chronology of Japanese history, with some references
to Okinawa. This can help to put major events in Okinawan history into

The U.S. Marine Corps site has a brief narrative about the history of
Okinawa. Of course, most of the information centers on events taking
place during World War II, but there is information on earlier history
as well.

This historical description is similar to the Marine Corps site in
that it focuses more on World War II events, but there are
descriptions of earlier history.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

It is not an easy task to research a ?secret? tradition, but I think
that these resources should give you some really good information to
include in your paper. If you have any need of further clarification,
please let me know how I can help. Good luck with your project!


Search terms:

kobudo Okinawa
kobudo history
kobudo writings
okinawan dance karate origin
origin "okinawan weapon"
Okinawa dance history kobudo
Okinawa history
Okinawa history major events
Ryukyu history
toragirl-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars

Subject: Re: Okinawan Kobudo History links - clarified question, new price
From: boquinha-ga on 30 May 2006 06:51 PDT
Thank you for the 5-star rating!


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