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Okinawa's

Nitan Bo

"Combat Stick Fighting"

 

Traditional Weapon of Self Defense

 

The Nitan Bo, is a unique and rare weapon comprised of two-short sticks. It is part of the traditional Okinawan Kobudo or ancient weapons system. To understand this weapon it is necessary to go to the island of Okinawa for a glimpse of the history of these island people. The Okinawans whose tenacious island culture spawned the art of karate are known for their pragmatic approach to self-defense. During their history weapons were prohibited so they turned everyday implements into weapons for self-protection. Okinawa’s situation is somewhat unique in that their martial arts were born out of secrecy. This was because of the military invasion and subsequent occupation of the Ryukyu Islands and the main island of Okinawa by the samurai warriors of Japan in the 17th century and their prohibition of the possession of weapons. So, the Okinawans turned to whatever means necessary to protect themselves in lawless times.

 

The weapons system of Okinawan martial arts, known today as kobudo, meaning the way of ancient weapons, uses chiefly agricultural tools in the execution of its tactics. It was both practical and expedient and was created out of a need for self-preservation and its use dates back to antiquity in Okinawa. In fact, between the years 1100 and 1314, the Okinawans fought amongst themselves a great deal using all sorts of weapons. Okinawan samurai largely used Okinawa kobudo weapons in combat that pitted one weapon in the kobudo arsenal against another. A primary example of this is the sai versus the bo. This is contrary to the romantic belief that the poor Okinawans successfully defended themselves against professional samurai armed with razor-sharp swords with only their bare hands and feet or crude kobudo weapons. It simply didn't happen that way. This notion is yet another example of revisionist history. In any case, the use of staffs or bo [stick] is particularly noted during this time. This was a time of civil strife and political unrest in Okinawa when many warring local chieftains sought to control various fiefs and villages.

 

The kobudo or weapons system of Okinawa uses the same stances and theory of movement as karate. Major tactics in kobudo include the use of taisabaki or body shifting, trapping and hitting and simultaneous blocking and hitting.

 

The bo is one of the foremost traditional arms in Okinawa’s arsenal of kobudo weapons. The bo is a six-foot wooden staff and is probably “the oldest weapon known to man other than a flung rock”. No doubt its use dates back to antiquity and there are many “classical” Okinawan bo kata. The nitan bo is no doubt derived from the bo. 

 

The applications of the nitan bo are not only very fast but also very powerful. Nitan bo, meaning two-short sticks, is a weapon used in pairs. Although the nitan bo can be used singularly like a club or truncheon. It is very similar to Filipino stick fighting and its kata emphasizes flowing circular movements. However, the sticks are usually made out of hardwood and are very heavy which gives them the ability to deliver a crushing blow. This is in opposition to the lighter rattan used by the Filipino systems. One of the kata designed for this weapon is a rare and beautiful kata simply called nitan bo kata. This kata has been handed down from Grand Master Yuichi Kuda (1928-1999). Once a secret, this kata uses the graceful movements of Okinawan folkdance or odori to conceal its deadly power. The kata emphasizes crane-like postures, circular movements and many combat applications.

 

Two grips with the weapon include honte mochi, natural or extended grip and gyakute mochi or reverse hand grip. The extended grip is used to deliver a strike or a thrust and is also used for blocking. The reverse grip positions the shaft of the nitan bo so that it is held along the forearm to facilitate blocking. A punch can also be thrown using the reverse grip. These are the same grips used in the manipulation of the sai and tonfa.

 

It is the belief of the International Shorin Ryu Karate Kobudo Federation (ISKKF) who has preserved this weapon that in kobudo, as well as its empty-hand counterpart karate, sparring or kumite is the ultimate expression of the essence of the martial arts. “Kumite is the creative process by which one applies everything learned in basics and kata and uses it while under the pressure of combat.  This is done by pitting one weapon against another in combat, making it totally spontaneous and putting one in touch with an ancient warrior spirit”. The ISKKF method of doing this is by matching one weapon against another in two-man prearranged sparring drills or kata. This is quite similar to modern kendo, Japanese sport swordsmanship.

 

In addition, another system used by the ISKKF for free sparring with weapons makes use of protective gear and/or foam weapons. In Okinawa in the 1920s, full contact bo fighting tournaments where held in the central part of the Island. The participants used headgear, gauntlets or gloves and kendo-like bamboo armor as well as sune ate (shin protectors similar to those used in naginata do). Since the fighters incurred many serious injuries, the tournaments were discontinued. Perhaps the use of protective gear and foam weapons is the only safe way to spar with weapons in a tournament situation because of the danger involved, especially when one’s fighting spirit is aroused.

 

The nitan bo and its tactics have been handed down to us from another time. Thanks to the pragmatic nature and ingenuity of the Okinawan people the nitan bo is yet another ancient weapon in Okinawa's kobudo arsenal whose use has been developed and perfected and handed down to us from antiquity.

 

 


 

 

 

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