Okinawa Kobujutsu History

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.  Therefore, most Kobudo Kata bear the name of either a person who is believed to have originally developed the kata such as Sakugawa no Kon, the staff fighting techniques from 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.

Therefore, the most popular styles of Kobudo today, including the IHKO, are collections of these different Katas and traditions.  The genius of these master was to introduce progressive training methods as well as the systematization of Kobujutsu.  Through their tireless efforts and now Hokama Hanshi and the IHKO, these weapon arts, their history and culture are being preserved for future generations. 

A Short History

Okinawa has a long history of the use of weapons by its military and palace guards. 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, that led to the unification of the Ryukyu Kingdom in 1422 under the Sho Dynasty (1422-1869). It is 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 like Karate, they came mainly from China. But other weapons were also imported from other Southeast Asian countries 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 Okinawan people 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 warriors of Okinawa to adopt various common implements as alternatives to defend themselves.  

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, and like Okinawa Karate, is distinctly different than 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 (1868-1912), 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 Okinawa martial arts. Karate, specifically, underwent massive alterations to make it safe so it could be taught as a form of physical fitness exercise for schoolboys in Okinawan schools as well as instruction to the general public.

This extraction of Kobujutsu provided the opportunity for several master 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 weapons. While most systems focus on a few select implements, others include a very expansive inventory. 

As Okinawa began to recover from the devastation to 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.

Since Hanshi Hokama’s early training years included both Karate and Kobujutsu instruction, he continued that tradition when he opened his own dojo. Formally, Hanshi Hokama adopted the weapons’ kata and style taught to him by his grandfather, Tokuyama Seiken (1900-1958), who was a student of Oshiro Chojo (1888-1935).