Martial Arts Weapons (Kabudo)

Gichin Funakoshi Bo

Gichin Funakoshi using the bo

Kobudo is a term given to the practice and use of weapons in martial arts. Kobudo translates to “Old Martial Way“, and it refers to the practice of traditional martial arts weaponry in Okinawa.

Weapons in karate were created from farming tools. Practitioners would practice very late at night to avoid attracting law enforcement and used practical farming equipment as weapons. It was illegal for commoners of Japan to carry weapons or even practice empty hand karate back in the day. Believe it or not, most bans on practicing karate in Japan were not fully lifted until 1948.


The bo staff was a simple stick, used to carry two  buckets of water around. Nunchaku were originally a tool used for flailing rice and soybeans.  Lastly the Kama were similar to a scythe, and were used for cutting crops. The only oddball weapon of the group is the sai. The sai dates back to China and were used as a weapon by Okinawan police to keep order.

Weapons are a very important part of normal karate training. As my master William Viola says, “weapons is an extension of your body”. Think of the most common weapon in martial arts, the bo staff, literally a wooden stick. When the force of a reverse punch is put into the strike of a bo staff with proper technique, you are applying all of your force and energy into a confined, deadly point. This is a great demonstration of the power behind karate techniques in another form.

The Importance of Weapons

Besides demonstrating the force of martial arts, weapons make for great training tools. The bo can be used to stretch out the body and can be used for different types of workouts such as side-style push ups. Some masters, including Funakoshi himself, used  thick, oak bo staffs and other wooden weapons to strike themselves, developing stronger muscles around the body. Some practitioners do push ups use the Sai’s to develop finger and lower arm strength as well as sit ups using the Sai’s such as the video demonstrates below.

Besides training tools, there is another important reason I believe karate students should learn weapons. And that reason is a weapon can be an extremely efficient and deadly thing to master when in a life threatening situation. Suppose you were in a place like a bar, workplace, or some where you are unfamiliar with and within a moments notice, your life was threatened by multiple attackers? As one of Funakoshi’s precepts states, “When you leave home, think that you have numerous opponents waiting for you.

Sometimes, karate, the way of the empty hand, simply isn’t enough. In today’s society, we have people that carry guns, knives, and will attack in groups. It is essential to teach people how to disarm an open who maybe attacking with a knife for example, even simple evasion moves. If someone is holding a knife at you, the most practical solution isn’t to step in with a reverse punch. In fact, in events like this, the best thing you can do is run away and avoid fighting. But sometimes that isn’t enough.


Most of the weapons of karate were designed from practical things (in fact they were designed after farming tools). The bo is a simple stick. Sai’s are pointed like, knife shaped objects, and escrimas are two short wooden sticks If your life is threatened and there is an object nearby that is a practical karate style weapon, you can use it to defend your life. Pool sticks, sweeping brooms, baseball bats, branches, gardening tools, hammers, stands, signs, even your car keys which most people carry everywhere can be used as a weapon. I’m talking about in the most dire of situations where anything can be used as a weapon to your advantage in a life threatening situation. It all goes back to that basic concept of using an object as an extension of your body.

I think every student should be taught these kinds of things. People in the outside world will not fight fair. They will use objects to fight you. But someone who is properly trained to prepare for those kinds of situations may be able to better defend themselves better. For all these reasons and more, weapons are a great training tool to anyone’s karate training.

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