The Art of ancient Okinawan weapons was passed on from father to son and from generation to generation. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell the Masters to put things in writing, and nowadays there are major problems trying to obtain any documents, relating to the development of this ancient Martial Art.
The description and understanding of these weapons, has been the source of much research by various martial artists, including Sensei De Araya, who have not ceased in his endeavours for a greater expansion and exposure of these beautiful weapons of self defence. After several stints in Japan and Okinawa, he has been privileged in following the steps of Matayoshi and Iha Sensei's, and now practices Okinawa Kobudo as taught by these two masters. After 40 years of Kobudo training, Sensei hold the rank of Rokudan.
After being deprived of the right to bear arms, the Okinawan people designed very distinctive self-defence weapons from the tools of every day life. They suited their weapons to their social and physical environment, and again using what it seems most appropriate at the time. Farming tools were especially modified, and other simple things like staffs, oars and chains were also brought into consideration. All of these utensils were developed into weapons of great sophistication and effectiveness.
Okinawa has been for centuries, a centre of cultural, artistic and Martial Arts focus. The island belongs to the group called the Ryukyu and altogether they form a group of about sixty islands large and small. Okinawa is the largest island in this group, and it's found at about 500 Kms from Kyushu, the southernmost of the major Japanese islands.
The island is divided in three very important centres, and they are all located in the Southern part. Shuri is the ancient capital of the Ryukyu Kingdom; Naha, the most important port for International trade and Tomari, the most important domestic transportation centre and industrial city. A very important place in the History of Okinawa and it's Martial Arts is the village of Kumemura. This Chinese settlement became intimately related to the development of both Karate and Kobudo, but as we've already mentioned, and because of many wars and other disasters, very little is known about the origins of most of these arts. As we all know, most background history and techniques were passed on from person to person, or word of mouth transmission of ideas and changes.
In Okinawa, this tendency was especially pronounced. During the WW2, Okinawans found themselves involved in some very violent forms of warfare, thus aggravating the loss of documentation and so forth. However, using the small amount of written material that was left, and relying mostly on verbal teachings, some of the Okinawan way of life, and the development of it's Martial arts was made available to historians. It is believed, that even when a lot of documents were found scattered everywhere, some of the techniques would have been passed down intact.
One book found in Okinawa (Yuan-shi Liu-Ch'uan) narrates the story of Okinawan people travelling and mixing with others in the 6th century, and also mentions the movements of Okinawans through Japan and Korea. The Ryukyu islands used to be separate kingdoms, and people traded goods from one another. Later on in the 10th century, a boy named Sonton, said to be a descendant of Minamoto Tametomo, a member of the Genji clan became lord of Urasoe, and proceeded to unify the Ryukyu islands into a nation to become King.
This dynasty lasted for 73 years, until falling to another powerful King. The new King tried to establish commerce with other countries, to strengthen their own economy, but also brought about the prohibition of bearing arms. This last measure would have acted as a great stimulus, to the development of Okinawan Martial Arts like Karate, where the use of military weapons is not necessary. Prohibition would have been dramatically enforced, when the islands passed into the control of the Japanese Shimazu family of Kyushu in 1609.
Some historians still believe that the Okinawan were not that keen of weapons anyway, due to the fact that there was a lack of iron products in the islands, and most of it would have been imported from China. Furthermore, it is known that the government of Okinawa established a port side office for the control of iron to be used in the manufacture of agricultural implements. Some of the Chinese merchants who came to the Ryukyus, used to travel a lot between Okinawa and China, and stayed at the Kumemura settlement for long periods of time. During this time, many who were also Zen Buddhists came to stay in Okinawa, and settled in for good bringing in an invaluable source of Martial know-how.
Martial Arts like kempo, were intensively cultivated and spread widely amongst the Zen Buddhist priests, because during this time they were constantly forced to protect themselves from pirates and foreign invaders, and of course from antagonistic sects.
Since Martial Arts in China involved the use of weapons as well as unarmed combat, it is believed that they easily found their way into the indigenous training taking place in Okinawa at the time, and blended easily with them. It is likely, that the Chinese brought with them implements like the nunchaku and the tonfa, although some would argue that these weapons were devised by the Okinawans, on the basis of their own agricultural tools.
There will always be arguments on the origins of some of the weapons used in those days, mainly to the fact that so little is know about them, and as conjectures go, perhaps we will never know.Needless to say, as we now research and study the use of these weapons, one can only speculate on their origins, but we can still see the relationship between the tool of farming, and the Kobujutsu weapon. In the modern era, and in about 1925, Yabiku Moden, a Kobudo master, established the Kyukyu Kobujutsu Kenkyu-Kai the "association for the study of Ryukyu weapons and techniques".
A student of his, Shinken Taira, systematised and classified approximately forty Katas, encompassing the study of eight Okinawan weapons. These Katas have a very closed relationship with the masters who created them, and many carry their names, and also the place or the island where they were developed, will impact on the naming of these Katas.
Today, many traditional Okinawan Kobujutsu schools, are in much demand from those who have taken Kobudo as part of their lives.