It is a popular story and common belief that Okinawan farming tools evolved into weapons due to the restrictions placed upon the peasants that meant they could not carry arms. As a result, it is said, they were defenceless and developed a fighting system around their traditional farming implements.
It is true that Okinawans under the rule of foreign powers, were prohibited from carrying weapons or practising with them in public. But the weapons based fighting that they secretly practised had strong Chinese roots, and examples of similar weapons have been found in China, Pre dating the Okinawan adaptions.
Kobudo arts are thought by some to be the forerunner of Karate and several styles of that art include some degree of Kubido training as part of their curriculum, similarly, it is not uncommon to see an occasional kick or other empty hand technique in a Kobudo Kata.
Okinawan Kobudo also known as Ryukyu (being the Islands) Kobujutsu is a Japanese term that can be translated as "Old Martial Way of Okinawa".
It generally refers to the classical weapon tradition of Okinawan Martial arts, most notably the rokushakubo
(six foot staff, known as the Bo), Sai (short unsharpened dagger), Tonfa (handled club), Kama (sickle), and the Nunchaku (nunchucks).
The Bo is a six foot staff, sometimes tapered at either end. It was perhaps developed from the farming tool called a "tenbin": a stick placed across the shoulders with baskets or sacks hanging from either end. The Bo was also possibly used as a handle to rake or shovel. The Bo, along with shorter variations could also have been developed from walking sticks used by travellers, especially monks.
The Bo is considered to be the king of the Okinawan weapons, as all others exploit its weaknesses in fighting it, whereas when it is fighting them it is using its strengths against them. The Bo is the earliest of all Okinawan Weapons and is made from red or white oak
The Tonfa is more readily recognised by its modern development in the form of the police nightstick, although its usage differs. It supposedly originated as the handle of a millstone used for grinding grain.
The Tonfa is traditionally made from red oak, and can be gripped by the short perpendicular handle pr by the longer main shaft. As with all Okinawan weapons, many of the forms are reflective of empty hand techniques
A Nunchaku is two sections of wood (or metal) connected by a cord or chain. There is much controversy over its origins, some say it was originally a Chinese weapon, others say it evolved from the threshing flail. Chinese nunchaku tends to be rounded, whereas Japanese are octagonal, and they were originally linked with horse hair. There are many variations on the nunchahu.
The nunchaku was popularized by Bruce Lee in a number of films. The nunchaku is now made with chain or rope in between.
The Sai is sometimes mistakenly believed to be a variation on a tool used to create furrows in the ground however this is highly unlikely as metal on Okinawa was in short supply at this time & a stick would have served this purpose more satisfactorily for a poor commoner. The Sai appears similar to a short sword but it is not bladed & the end is traditionally blunt. The weapon is metal & of the truncheon class with its length dependent upon the forearm of the user. The two shorter prongs on either side of the main shaft are used for trapping other weapons such as Sword or the Bo.
Sai was thought to be given to those in Okinawan society that the Japenese could trust to maintain order. Sai are traditionally carried in threes, two are used in combat & the third is used as either a precursor to the actual fight, & is thrown at the enemy, or as a spare in the event that one is knocked from the hand. There are many variations on the Sai with varying prongs for trapping & blocking. Sai were also used as handcuffs & were a symbol of authority in Okinawa.
The Kama is traditionally a farming sickle, and considered to be one of the hardest weapons to learn due to the inherent danger in practicing with such a weapon.
The point at which the blade and handle join in the weapon model normally has a nook with which a Bo can be trapped, although this joint is proved to be weak in design and modern day examples tend to have a much shorter handle with a blade that begins following the line of the handle and then bends.