About Okinawan Weapons

In the feudal period of the Ryukyu Islands, the villagers needed more than just empty-handed techniques to defend themselves. Because weapons were banned throughout part of their history, they used their own initiative to disguise weapons as innocent everyday household tools. The main weapons of the Ryukyu islanders were the rokushakubo, which was a 1.8 meter (6 ft) staff; the sai, which was a steel weapons used in pairs with a tine on either side; the tonfa, made of wood with ah handle at one end and also used in pairs; nunchaku, which consisted of two lengths of wood with a universal joint made of cord; kama, which were farming sickles and again used in pairs; tekko, or knuckle-dusters; the tinbe, a small shield and short spear; and finally the surujin, which was a long weighted chain. Of these the five classical weapons are the nunchaku, rokushakubo, sai, tonfa, and kama.
Unfortunately, there is little record to prove or disprove many theories about the origin of of these various weapons, but the author has heard some unusual stories that may be recounted and then discarded. The first theory involves nunchaku, which are said to have been adapted from rice flails. This is unlikely in their present form as flails separate the seed from the chaff; nunchaku, however, would pulp everything into one. One theory regarding the weapon called a sai is that it was originally the head of a pitchfork, which a farmer would detach from the handle when he was attacked. Obviously not a clever farmer using the shorter of two available weapons. One amazing theory concerning the sai expounds that one of the tines fell off and the Japanese adopted it as a weapon called a jutte, which is certainly untrue. There are many such innovative tales - but the truth is much more interesting.
These old forms of training are protected today by the Society for the Promotion and Preservation of Ryukyu Classical Martial Arts and although there is some slight variation from teacher to teacher, the kata can be seen practiced in their classical style. However, apart from a handful of Westerners who have trained for some years in the Far East under a recognized master, genuine Ryukyu weapons have not so far come to the Western world. This is because traditional training is too arduous, repetitive and controlled for most western exponents. The opportunity to witness single or pair form practice of Ryukyu weapons is well worthwhile. The precision, accuracy and control of the weapon-wielding exponents reflects total judgment and mutual trust.
-Michael Finn, Martial Arts: A Complete Illustrated History, The Overlook Press, 1988