What is Okinawan Kobujutsu?

Kobudo is a Japanese term coined in the twentieth century which refers to all Japanese martial arts that predate the Meiji Era (1868-1912). Okinawan Kobudo, translated as "old martial way of Okinawa, like Okinawa Karate, is distinctly different from its Japanese cousin. 

Until the modern age of Karate (latter half of the 19th century), Karate and Kobujutsu were practiced as one. Of the many major reforms in Japanese law, society, government, and economics enacted by the Meiji Era, it was Japan’s adoption of the American system of universal public education and subsequent requirement that all Japanese children attend school that would have the greatest impact on the future of Okinawan martial arts. Karate, specifically, underwent massive alterations to make it safe so it could be taught as a form of physical fitness exercise (gymnastics) for schoolboys in Okinawan schools as well as instruction to the general public.

This extraction of Kobujutsu from general martial arts' training provided the opportunity for several masters to create systems specializing in the Kobujutsu arts. Even though many of these Kobujutsu proponents were also skilled in the empty hand arts, they focused their teachings strictly to the modernized weapons systyems. While most systems focus on a few select implements, others include a very expansive inventory. 

As Okinawa began to recover from the devastation to Okinawa and the Okinawa people sustained during WWII, a few Karate and Kobujutsu instructors would partner with each other, sharing whatever building space was available. As the Okinawan economy improved and the country began to rebuild its economy and infrastructure, these Kobujutsu masters would venture out on their own, establishing their own dojos and furthering their systems. With the exceptions of a few Karate dojos, Okinawa saw its 2nd round of intended separation between the two methods.

The  is unique in the world of modern martial arts as we offer instruction and certification in two Kobujutsu training programs: Ryukyu Hokama Kobudo and Yamanni Chinen-Ryu Bujutsu

The Ryukyu Hokama Kobujutsu system is taught as part of the KenShiKai Karatejutsu Kobujutsu Association curriculum. Upon achieving intermediate rank within our dojo, Adults and Juniors begin Kobujutsu training. 

Yamanni Chinen-Ryu Bujutsu is a stand alone Kobujutsu system and taught independent of the KenShiKai program. After 6 months of training in the KenShiKai system, adult students may begin training in Yamanni Chinen-Ryu. Jr. Students may begin training in Yamanni Chinen-Ryu once they achieve Brown Belt in the KenShiKai system. Sensei Saiyid Hassan, Yondan, is Shihan McMains’ direct instructor and oversees the progression of Yamanni Chinen-Ryu in our dojo.

Yamanni Chinen-Ryu takes its name from the Chinen family, a Ryukyuan family of nobility. According to many historians, the legendary Kanga "Tode" Sakugawa brought a staff-fighting art from China to Okinawa. The Chinen family, who were entrusted with the security of Ryukyuan nobles and their families, adopted and further developed the art over the course of several generations. Like most martial arts of former times, the techniques were passed on mainly within the family. Masami Chinen was the last member of the Chinen family to teach this martial art. 

Upon the death of Masami Chinen, the Chinen family passed the title of Soke (宗家 - "Head of Family" / "Head of House") to his student, Chogi Kishaba, who had begun training with Chinen as a teenager and remained with him as a student until his death. Kishaba held the Japanese ministerial equivalent of the copyright to the system.

Because Yamanni Chinen-Ryu had largely been taught within the Chinen family, Yamanni Chinen-Ryu almost died out as few people had trained in or ever heard of it. In 1979, Chogi Kishaba sent his top students, Toshihiro Oshiro and Kiyoshi Nishime, to the United States for the purpose of bringing Yamanni Chinen-Ryu to the West. In 1985, the three founded the Ryukyu Bujutsu Kenkyu Doyukai (Ryukyu Martial Arts Research Group (RBKD)琉球武術研究同友会), with Soke Kishaba serving as the world head of the RBKD until his passing in 2017. Shihan Kiyoshi Nishime is the current director and chief instructor of the RBKD in the US.

A majority of modern Okinawan bojutsu styles have their roots in Yamanni Chinen-Ryu and as a result, share the same names of some Yamanni Chinen-Ryu kata. And while these kata appear similar, the foundational techniques of Yamanni-Ryu bojutsu are strikingly different in that they are more fluid and dynamic. During kihon practice and kata performance, the feet and weapon remain in near constant motion, with the hands continually moving the length of the bo.

Our dojo is very proud to carry on the centuries long legacies of both styles of Kobujutsu.

A Short History

Okinawa has a long history of armed and unarmed life protection arts taught to its military and those entrusted with the safety of the members and families of the royal court. However, the use of weapons went through a particular development during the Sanzan, a period of war in the 11th and 12th centuries between the 3 main ruling kingdoms, which ultimately led to the unification of the Ryukyu Kingdom in 1422 under the Sho Dynasty (1422-1869). It was at this time that various weapons and other martial technologies such as castle construction and siege warfare were developed.  Like many other Asian countries, these weapons traditionally included the sword, the spear, the battle axe, the halberd and various other bladed weapons and were imported mainly from China. But other weapons were also introduced from other Southeast Asian cultures such as Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and India.  

There is no doubt that the arts surrounding these weapons would have continued their natural evolution had it not been for two important historical events.  The first was the “Order of the Sword”, an edict by King Sho-shin (1477-1526) by which the Ryukyuan royal and the warrior classes were no longer allowed to bear arms and were required to relocate their families within Shuri Castle.  The second was the 'Policy of Banning Weapons' enforced after the Satsuma Invasion in1609. These repressions caused the exiled warriors of Okinawa to secretly adopt various common implements as alternatives to defend themselves.  

As Okinawa transitioned from the feudal era of Ryukyuan rule, some members of the royal court and families moved outside the walls and protections of Shuri Palace.  For the first time, these people not only had to fend for themselves, they had to deal with bandits, pirates and others. And since so many had been trained in the "palace arts:, they began to train the general population, consisting of farmers, fisherman, carpenters and others in the community. And while these arts may not have been as refined as those practiced within the palace walls, they were quite effective.

A Note About Kobudo Styles and Systems

Unlike modern Karate which clearly originated in 3 regional areas of Okinawa, namely Naha, Shuri and Tomari, modern Kobudo systems are largely compilations of different kata and techniques derived from various family lineages and geographic locations.  This led to many Kobudo Kata identified by the name of either a person who is believed to have originally developed the kata (Sakugawa no Kon, the staff fighting techniques of a person called Sakugawa, or the name of the village where they came from such as Hamahiga no Tonfa, Tonfa fighting techniques from the village of Hamahiga).

The majority of today's popular traditional styles of Kobudo are collections of these various Kata and institutions.  The genius of these modern day masters, like those of Karate, gave way to the systemization of Kobudo and the introduction of progressive training methods to be shared worldwide.

The  has the distinct privilege and honor in helping to preserve these phenomenal arts for future generations.

For more information on the Ryukyu Hokama Kobudo or Yamanni Chinen-Ryu Bujutsu, follow the links below