Ryukyuan kobudo developed along a parallel but slightly different path than karate. Kobudo emerged out of four distinct but overlapping traditions:
* The courtly fighting arts of the Okinawan Shuri palace guard,
* The native fighting arts of the lower classes of farmers and fishermen,
* The Chinese martial arts brought to Okinawa by visiting merchants, sailors, and officials or brought back by Okinawan visitors or long-time residents on the Chinese mainland, and
* Japanese martial arts such as ken-jitsu, jo-jitsu, yari-jitsu, naginata-jitsu, and kyo-jitsu also influenced the development of Ryukyuan martial arts, but to a lesser extent.
Over time, and especially after the incorporation of Okinawa into Japan in the late 1800s (along with the abolition of the regal court and the dilution of class differences) and following the introduction of the martial arts to the public around 1900, these traditions and lineages began to cross-fertilize and the distinctions began to blur.
By the mid-20th century, there were three major lineages and two smaller but important lineages. Today, kobudo lineages continue to mingle and it is a rare practitioner who does not know some of the kata from more than one of these general lines of tradition. In addition, new traditions, lineages or “styles” continue to emerge.
This is not to suggest that these each developed in a vacuum with no interaction. Actually, there was a great deal of overlap, with teachers in one lineage having studied extensively from masters of other branches. Each lineage has some unique attributes and characteristics, and a relatively stable curriculum of weapons and associated kata and waza (drills).
Although in pre-World War II Okinawa, there were many weapons, some of them created to suit the interests of a particular expert, in modern times kobudo schools have generally settled on five basic weapons, supplemented by a few “minor” weapons, as the core of their curriculum.
The basic kobudo weapons are:
◊ Bo – a wooden staff generally about six feet long which is wielded with both hands;
◊ Sai – Metal truncheons used in pairs, often to defend against the bo;
◊ Nunchaku – The pair of tied short wooden sticks made famous by Bruce Lee, the Ninja Turtles, and others. They can be used as a single pair or with a pair in each hand.
◊ Tunfa – A stout but short wooden stick mounted with a handle. They can be used singly or (more often) in pairs.
◊ Kama – The extremely dangerous and difficult rice sickles used by Okinawans in the fields. They also can be used singly or (more often) in pairs.
In addition to a full curriculum of forms (kata), two-person drills linked to the kata (kumibo), and two-person defensive drills, senior students sometimes practice sparring with one weapon against another.
For Advanced Students, other weapons may be studied:
Eku – an Okinawan boat oar;
Timbe and Rochin – A combination of a dagger and shield made of rattan, metal, or turtle shell;
Jo – A four-foot staff;
Tanbo – A short staff roughly two feet in length.
Tekko – Okinawan “brass knuckles”;
Bo-nunte – A staff with a hooking weapon attached to the end.
In addition, some SKKAA schools practice and teach Japanese sword fighting (Kendo and Iaido) and Philippine stick fighting (Escrima).