Ryukyu Kobudo

Nakamoto Mamoru

(Okinawa Kobudo Preservation

Society Bunbukan)

Okinawa Kobudo

Shimabukuro Tsuneo


  Minamihara Shubukan)

Sai and bo

(photo@Okinawa Media Planning)


Formation and development of Okinawa kobudo

Called Ryukyu kobudo in Okinawa, this martial art, like karate, is based on the use of various weapons practiced in different kata (forms). The major weapons used are bo or kon (staff), sai (steel truncheon), nunchaku (horse bit), tonfa (grinder handle), eku (oar), timbe and rochin (shield and short halberd), suruchin (weighted rope or chain) and kama (sickle). Sai and timbe are said to have roots in China. Others like kama are daily farming tools. Whichever the weapon, it makes no mistake that it was developed accordingly to the Okinawan natural features.

The origins of the systemization of kobudo are unclear. According to Nakamoto Masahiro, “Many of the names of kata of kobudo were devised taking the names of our predecessors. Kata names were created from someone’s name, from the name of a family or house, from a region or a hamlet name (yago), from the name of an island, as well as named on the particularity of the kata itself, according to people’s aspiration or natural phenomenon. Among various theories, the various weapon kata of Okinawa kobudo were given names characterized by the name of the one who created a kata and the names of the followers. However, because of some imperfection in teaching systems and the principle of extreme secrecy, as well as the states of affairs of the society, many kata disappeared with the death of first generation masters. It may also be considered that many kata were also forgotten”. (Okinawa Dento Kobudo History and spirit 1983 English edition 2008)

About kon and bo kata names, “There are 8 categories of names. 1. Names devised taking the names of our predecessors (Shirotaru no kon, Choun no kun); 2. Names devised by a name (Tokumine no kun, Soshi no kun, Sakugawa no kun, Oshiro no kun); 3. Names devised by a hamlet name (Hantagawa kurabo); 4. Names devised by a region name (Yonegawa no kun, Urasoe bo); 5. Name devised by an island name (Tsuken bo, Chikin Sunakake no kun); 6. Name devised according to the form characteristics (Shihokiri, Tsuki bo, 9 shaku bo); 7. Name devised according to aspiration or natural phenomenon (Tenryu no kun); 8. Name devised according to a material (Kongo no kun).”

“Many weapon kata of Okinawa kobudo were given names relating to the name of the one who created a kata and the names of the followers. From the fact that the names of kata passed on to us today are of Okinawan origins, one can think that many of these kata were invented and devised by Okinawans’ hands.” (Traditional Kobudo of Okinawa - Introduction)


One of the most prominent masters of kobudo who marked history is Sakugawa Kanga (1762~1843). Having traveled to China to study Chinese kenpo, it is said that he brought back kenpo and kobudo. He is remembered as Todee Sakugawa.

Also, a member of the congratulation suite to Shogun Togugawa Ietsuna circa 1682 and a famous go player, Hamahiga Peichin is remembered as a great master of kobudo who left to posterity kata like “Hamahiga no sai” and “Hamahiga no tonfa”.

Such masters have left their traces in history since the late 17 century and 18 century. Entering the 19 century, more would follow: Chinen Chikudun Peichin Umuikana, nicknamed “Abraya yamashiro” (1797 to 1881), Soeishi Ryoko (1752~1825), Chinen Peichin Sanra nicknamed “Yama no kun usumei” (1842~1925), Tawata Chikudun Peichin Shinboku, nicknamed “Tawata nu meigantu” (1814~1884), Chinen Shikiyanaka (dates of birth and death unknown), Kinjo Mahsanra Ufuchiku nicknamed “Kani usumei” (1841~1926). Those are the masters who led to the systematization of kobudo. In 1867, a demonstration was held in the Kume Village and although there are no specific names recorded, names such as “bo, timbe, kurumabo” are inscribed in the program.

Entering modern days, Yabiku Moden (1878~1941) and Oshiro Chojo (1887~1935) were among the inheritors and they transmitted their knowledge mainly in Tokyo and Osaka where it popularized. In the same line, another great leader in the popularization and development of kobudo is undeniably Taira Shinken (1897~1970).

Matayoshi Shinko (1888~1947) is another famous figure. He studied under Agena Chokuho nicknamed “Gushikawa Teeragwa”, Matayoshi Shinchin and Irei nicknamed “Chitodei moshigwa.” His kobudo was inherited by his son Matayoshi Shinpo (1921~1997).

Next to these two major systems, Ryuei-ryu too has inherited a unique system of kobudo brought back from China. And the Ryukyu Royal Family Secret Bujutsu “Motobu Udundi” also has its own peculiar system.


Sources: Okinawa Karate Standard Text (Written by Tsuha Kiyoshi as per request from the NPO Okinawa Karatedo Kobudo Support Center)