Thursday, April 10, 2014

Arizona Sojutsu - Ancient Samurai Martial Arts

The Itsukushima Shrine, Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan. Photo by Andy Finley, Hanshi

Following months of training with naginata during our Wednesday evening classes, at the Arizona Hombu on the corner of Chandler, Gilbert and Mesa; a small number of students tested for naginata-jutsu certification, an uncommon samurai art outside of Japan. Following tests, the class began training in another samurai art known as sojutsu that employs yari (spear) as a weapon. Our sojutsu training includes learning two kata along with several techniques (waza) and bunkai (kata applications).

Most people are unaware of what a great opportunity this is – to study these weapons along with Okinawan karate and kobudo. I had studied martial arts for nearly 30 years before I heard of anyone teaching these arts. And it is still very rare to find anyone in the US who teaches these.

Some sensei of Juko Kai International and Seiyo Shorin Ryu teach these koryu arts and the only other association I found on the internet that includes naginata training is the US Naginata Federation. However, there is a major difference in the JKI and SKI arts from the USNF arts. The JKI and SKI arts are traditional combat arts, while the USNF is sport art. When I searched for associations that teach sojutsu in the US, only JKI and Seiyo Shorin-Ryu came up.
Arizona samurai who tested for naginata certification
included Shihan Neal Adam (6th dan), Sensei Bill Borea (3rd dan), Sensei
Ryan Harden (1st dan), Sensei Patrick Scofield (1st dan), Scott Pritchett
(5th kyu) and Ben Moeur (9th kyu).
The yari was a spear favored by some samurai and warrior monks of Japan’s past. The yari was one of a group of nihonto (Japanese blades) (日本刀) that included yari (), naginata (薙刀), katana (), wakizashi (脇差), seoidachi (also known as odachi - 大太刀), and tanto (短刀). When I was in the US Army, we trained with bayonets. Learning the art of sojutsu would have given me great advantage in training with the bayonet. But I was not introduced to this art until the 1990s.

The yari is thought to have originated in China by some authorities; however, others suggest the spear is as old as Japan. When the Japanese ancestors picked up sticks to hunt game and fish, they created the first Japanese spear. Since no one recorded this event, we are left to speculate when it occurred.

Some suggest yari is simply a spear, others suggest to be a true yari, the blade must have a full tang and the tang must slide inside a pole similar to the tang of a katana (samurai sword).  Even so, so researchers separate Japanese spears into categories to include: (1) hoko or the early spears use by Japanese ancestors, (2) hoko yari or yari-like spears that originated in China, and (3) yari blades with a full tang that exhibit unique metallurgy and swordsmith characteristics indigenous to Japan.


Sensei Bill Borea (with bokken) and Sensei Patrick Scofield (with naginata) at the Arizona
School of Traditional Karate at 60 W. Baseline Road in Mesa.
According to Japanese folklore, a god named Izanagi no mikoto stood at the Bridge of Heaven and thrust a hoko into the ocean. As he withdrew his hoko, shinny drops fell from the weapon and formed the Japan islands. This legend is very old and Draeger and Smith (1980) suggested the use of spears on the Japanese islands was older than the legend, and spears likely existed on Japan as early as 200 BC. Others argue spears appeared later in Japanese history, but this is likely an argument of semantics, which is why spears are separated into three categories.

Kapp and others (2002) reported hoko yari originated in China and was exported to Japan during the Nara Period (710-794 AD). These Chinese spears typically consisted of wavy-shaped blades mounted on 6-foot long poles. The side of these hoko yari often includes a kama (sickle) blade which was used for slicing and chopping. The base of the primary blade had a hollow socket that slipped over a pole rather than into the pole – in other words, it did not have a tang.

The hoko-yari likely produced some interesting moments on the battlefield when a foot soldier, or an angry Buddhist priest lost their spear blade as it flew off the pole similar to what we periodically see in dojo today when we use low-cost katana that do not have full tang, or cheaply made tonfa purchased from most of the popular martial arts equipment outlets. I can visualize a young Japanese soldier on an 8th century battlefield swinging a hoko yari with great focus stirred adrenalin just to have the blade fly off before striking the intended target. Armed only with a bo I imagine hearing a loud "gulp" with loss of bodily functions as the opposing forces made their way toward him with blades drawn – makes you wonder how fast he could run.

This happened to me (just the part of losing the blade, not the latter). I had just purchased a modern garden hoe (kuwa) from a garden shop in Laramie, Wyoming that had a blade attached like a hoko yari. The blade simply slid over the end of the handle. I took my new kuwa to the evening class in the Education Building Gym on the University of Wyoming campus and I’m sure some members of the club remember this event. Luckily, I was facing the dojo shomen so no one was in front of me when I swung the kuwa down with full focus for atama uchi (head strike) at my imaginary opponent: the kuwa blade shot off the handle like a guided missile and struck the tatami (mats) on the shomen wall with a loud report that echoed throughout the gym and down the halls of the Education Building. I checked my garden hoko kuwa (made in China of course) to see if it had any warning labels stating it should not be swung or used in self-defense – there were no warnings.
Soke Hausel in traditional hakima
I learned a valuable lesson: you cannot trust any martial arts practice weapons or garden tools purchased from any martial arts supply house or local garden shop – most are junk and not made for kumite (sparring), kata, bunkai training let alone everyday use, and we should all consider wearing safety goggles because of this danger.

When Sensei Bill Borea purchased garden hoes from a local hardware store in Gilbert, Arizona for use in our hombu dojo in Mesa. He drilled holes through each shaft and added a screw to keep the blades from flying off. Then I picked up a kuwa from the Mekong Plaza in Mesa. The kuwa has a very heavy blade that Sensei Borea reinforced as he did with the other hoes. It should now make a formable kobudo weapon.

Martial arts practice weapons are a problem. A few years ago I taught an expandable baton clinic in Casper, Wyoming and Hanshi Andy Finley purchased new kioga from a well-known, popular martial arts outlet. Before the clinic was over, half of the batons had self-destructed.

At a martial arts demonstration at a University of Wyoming basketball game we also had a weapon malfunction that other Wyoming martial artists will remember. My uke and I were demonstrating a fighting kata between bo and tonfa. With the first block of my tonfa, my uke’s bo broke in half - she ended the kata with a short hoko yari.

During the Heian Period (794-1184 AD), Japanese swordsmiths progressed to a point that their blade work exceeded all others in the world. Japanese smithing and metallurgy resulted in some of the strongest and enduring blades in history. These swordsmiths produced yari and naginata blades using the same methods for manufacture of katana blades. The naginata and yari blades were mounted on poles of varying lengths designed to outreach their opponents’ sword. Some were very long.

Yari of the Heian Period were unique in quality, sharpness, metallurgy, smithing and method for mounting on a pole arm. They were also unique because the blades were like a double-edged knife and good for slicing and thrusting. The edges of most yari were razor sharp. These had full tang to keep young soldiers from losing blades and soiling pants. In addition to the blade, the handle was used for thrusting and had a weighted pommel known as a hirumaki. The side of the pole was also used for striking.


Sensei Ryan Harden trains with naginata during bunkai exercises.
Some blades came with sharpened horns or cross blades known as jumonji yari (also known as magari yari). These looked like a cross and were similar in shape to the Japanese number 10. Ten translates as ‘ju’, thus the origin of the root of jumonji. Some jumonji also had cross bars similar to the Okinawan nunte bo (aka nunti). The nunte bo was an Okinawan spear with three prongs. The two shorter prongs were directed in opposite directions. During the Heian Period, most yari were su-yari (straight blades). Later in the period, naginata were introduced with curved, single-edged blades (Sinclair, 2001).

During Kamakura times (1185-1333 AD), Japanese metallurgy progressed greatly. The bushi (samurai warrior) had grown accustomed to their swords which were portable and fast. It is said that excellent swordsmen could defeat a spearman (Draeger and Smith, 1980). The sword was considered the soul of samurai and became the favored weapon of samurai. The so-hei (warrior priests of militant Buddhist sects) chose yari and naginata as weapons.

Both yari and naginata had an advantage of reach over horse-mounted samurai. Near the latter half of the 16th century, Japanese foot soldiers known as ashigaru were armed with long pikes (nagae yari) to defend against cavalry charges. Sinclaire (2001) reports yari were as long as 18-feet while most were 10- and 12-feet-long. Foot soldiers marched into battle with their nagae yari to stop the cavalry, while others carried shorter su yari, arquebusiers (muzzle-loaded firearms) and yumi (bows).

During the Edo era (1603-1868 AD) the yari lost favor as the samurai placed greater emphasis on katana and close quarters combat. Even so, some yari were still produced, but mostly were ceremonial.
 
  • Draeger, D.E., and Smith, R.W., 1980, Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts:Kodansha International, 207 p.
  • Kapp, L, Kapp, H., Yoshihara, Y, 2002, Modern Japanese swords and swordsmiths:Kodansha International, 95 p.
  • Sinclaire, C., 2001. Samurai: The weapons and spirit of the Japanese warrior: The Lyons Press: 144 p.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Mesa Arizona Karate Students Train in Samurai Arts

What makes my job as the head instructor at the Arizona School of Traditional Karate so fun, is the students. I have a great group of students ranging in age from 70 to 12. Nearly all are adults. When I taught at various universities over the past 5 decades, I always taught adults and never got much of a change to teach children.
Students and faculty at the Arizona School of Traditional Karate travel from Chandler, Mesa, Gilbert, Phoenix, Tempe and even Scottsdale and Queen Creek to train in Shorin-Ryu Karate and Kobudo under Grandmaster Hausel, a certified Juko Kai Samurai, former Kyoju (Professor) of martial arts at the University of Wyoming and now the world head of Seiyo No Shorin-Ryu Karate Kobudo Kai. The reason is the art that is taught is authetic traditional (non-sport) Okinawan Karate and Kobudo, the students are all friendly, and because of Grandmaster's legendary history as a martial arts instructor - 50 years in martial arts and inductee into 16 Halls of Fame.

When Grandmaster Hausel became the sokeshodai of the Shorin-Ryu karate organization, he decided to expand the cirriculum to include samurai arts, particularly since he had certifications in some samurai arts at the Shihan (master instructor) level. These were incorporated into the Seiyo Kai Shorin-Ryu style such that members of this organization are trained in the classical Shorin-Ryu Karate and Kobudo techniques, as well as the Samurai arts that include iaido (fast draw sword), kenjutsu (combat sword), sojutsu (Okinawan spear), naginata (polearm), bojutsu (combat bo), hanbo (half bo), jo (4-foot bo), jujutsu (restraining and throwing arts), tanto (knife arts), hojojutsu (restraining arts) and manrikigusari (chain and rope arts).

Soke Hausel also has a group of highly qualified instructors. One is Sensei Paula Borea. Sensei Borea is Japanese-American and was born into samurai lineage. She is a tiger in the dojo but also is a grandmother and enjoys keeping up with the samurai traditions.

Senpai Sarahtrains with Adam Bialek with
manrikigusari (rope or chain).
Jujutsu was important in the samurai arts - it taught samurai
how to defend against an armed and armored attacker.
Here, Sensei Kati restrains Sensei Kris Urbanek at the
University of Wyoming.
All tied up and no place to go. Samurai of old were trained in hojojutsu - the art of restraining. Hanshi Andy
Finley, 7th dan at the Casper, Wyoming dojo, is tied up during samurai arts classes.
Sojutsu arts - Our samurai train with the yari (Okinawan spear)
Soke Hausel demonstrates the classical Halloween art of pumpkin carving in Gilbert, Arizona

Senpai Ben Corley trains with tanto (knife) at the University of Wyoming



 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Samurai swords of Japan


Senpai Patrick Scofield (1st dan) trains with naginata against Sensei Bill Borea (2nd dan)



At the Arizona School of Traditional Karate the Phoenix East Valley, students have the opportunity to not only learn the classical Okinawan arts of Karate and Kobudo, but also the opportunity to train in the classical Japanese samurai arts.

Several swords were prominent during Feudal Japan and these are generally known as Japanese swords (日本刀) or nihontō. The kanji used to write Japanese sword(s) include ’ the ideograph for sun, and ‘’ the kanji for ‘origin’ or ‘root’ (this symbol is a pictorial graphic of a tree with a root at its base indicated by the small cross horizontal line at the bottom of the kanji). These two kanji (日本) are combined to represent Japan (origin of the sun). The third kanji () represents sword: thus all together we have Japanese sword(s). The Japanese do not distinguish between plural and singular nouns.
Katana showing guard (tsuba), handle (tsuka), charm
(menuki) and the ‘handyman’s secret weapon (duct
tape) (photo by Kenrick Davis).
Most Japanese swords are not well-defined and categories for length of the weapon are general. The lengths were measured in shaku (the average distance between nodes of a mature bamboo stem ~ 1 foot). The primary shaku used to measure most objects in Japan equals 30.3 cm (11.93 inches).

A general length classification scheme used for nihontō:
tantō (knife or dagger) = 1 shaku or less;

  • wakizashi or kodachi (short swords known as shōtō) = 1 to 2 shaku;
  • katana or tachi (long swords known as daitō) = more than 2 shaku;
  • ōdachi (long swords) = more than 3 shaku.
In addition to the above swords, the naginata and yari were considered to be part of the nihontō family even though they were pole mounted blades.

The most common sword known to Westerners is katana (). The katana is a single edged sword, with a curve blade whose possession was restricted to the samurai lineage during Feudal Japan. It was thought that katana were the soul of samurai and was so important that the samurai actually gave names to their swords, as they were considered to be part of the living.


Long Swords
(1) ōdachi (also known as ōtachi) (大太刀)
The ō in ōdachi refers to ‘great’. The kanji for ‘great’ is written as which also means big. The ōdachi predated katana and had some unique characteristics. Not only was the sword noticeably long, the ōdachi was marked by religious inscriptions imprinted on the tang. It is thought by most researchers that ōdachi were used in ceremonies prior to battle; and because their length (5 to 6 shaku) was enormous (often longer than the samurai was tall), it is thought many were used as cavalry swords. The ōdachi would have been impractical to carry in an obi (belt) around one’s waist. Thus, it was thought the weapon was either carried on one’s back, in hand, attached to a horse, or by an assistant who followed the samurai.
Dr. Teule trains with bokken at a Seiyo No Shorin-Ryu
Clinic taught by Soke Hausel in Gillette, Wyoming.

(2) Nodachi
The nodachi is often confused with ōdachi. However, nodachi refers to any type of long battlefield or field sword (daitō) as well as a tachi and is often misapplied to any over sized Japanese sword. It has the same appearance and design as a tachi, but was significantly longer. The sword is believed to have been used primarily for dueling.

Daitō
(3) Katana ().
The katana (pronounced kah-ta-nah in Japanese and popularized as ka-tan-a in the West), was one of the traditional swords worn by samurai. It had a blade larger than 2 shaku with a more moderate curve than a similar blade known as tachi (see #4 below). The katana was worn on the left side of the samurai with the cutting edge (yaiba or ha) up. The blade included a circular to square guard (tsuba) separating it from a long grip handle or pommel (tuska) made for two hands. The blade of the katana along with the portion of the blade known as the nakago that extends into the handle was all one continuous piece known as the tang. Those katana made for combat (shinken) and training (iaitō) have full tang. This simply means that the nakago and ken (blade) are made of one, uninterrupted, piece of steel. Many cheap practice (iaitō) unfortunately have two separate pieces - a blade and handle. This results in loosening of the blade with prolong use until the handle starts to separate from the blade. Thus, when searching for an iaitō it is best to pay a few extra bucks and purchase one with a full tang. If you decide to purchase one to train in any of our dojo, it must be an iaitō with dull edge. Shinken are way too dangerous for dojo use and in Arizona should be reserved for trimming cactus.

Sensei Borea demonstrates naginata at Seiyo Kai Hombu in Arizona. Sensei is of
true Japanese samurai lineage and is the Staff Samurai at our dojo in Mesa, Arizona.
The grip handle of katana is typically covered with ray skin leather (same’) and wrapped with cord known as ito. To hold the handle (tsuka) in place on the nakago, a hole was punched into the steel nakago and a small bamboo peg (mekugi) forced through the handle into the nakago. When the handle is removed from a well-made katana by forcing the mekugi out, the swordsmith’s signature should be seen carved into the nakago. The katana was developed from an earlier sword referred to as uchigatana (打刀). The katana was carried in a scabbard known as the saya.

(4) Tachi (太刀). The katana and tachi look very similar but can be distinguished by locating the mei (signature) on the sword’s nakago under the handle. When worn, the mei would be carved on that side of the tang that would face outward when placed in one’s obi. Because the tachi is worn with the cutting edge down opposite of the katana, the mei will be on the opposite side of the tang for this sword. The tachi was often considered as a spare blade used in battle.

There were tachi with variations from the classical weapon that included a larger tachi (see #1 above) known as ōtachi (ōdachi) and a shorter sword known as kōtachi (kōdachi). The kōdachi was similar in length to wakizashi (see #5 below).


Shōtō (short swords)
(5) Wakizashi ()
The wakizashi, also referred to as wakizashi no kataka, translates as ‘sword inserted at one’s side’. The wakizashi typically had a blade of 1 to 2 shaku. Those closer to the length of a katana, were referred to as ō-wakazashi, while a shorter blade wakizashi was closer to the length of a tanto and known as ko-wakizashi. The wakizashi was worn with a katana only by samurai. Together, the pair were referred to as daisho which translates as dai’ (big) and sho’ (little), terms some of us are already familiar with because some of our advanced karate kata use these terms, such as Passai Dai and Passai Sho.
Rich and Ryan perform a traditional kata using
katana & naginata at the Mesa Dojo

The wakizashi was a back-up sword, also used for close quarters fighting and for seppuku (ritual suicide). The size of wakizashi was not regulated until the Edo Period when in 1638 AD, only samurai were allowed to wear katana of a regulated length. At this time wakizashi were also regulated. Samurai were allowed to wear both swords while those of the chonin class (merchants) were only allowed to wear a shorter ko-wakizashi to protect themselves from bandits. It was customary for samurai to leave katana at a door of a castle, but they always carried wakizashi. The wakizashi was the samurai’s honor blade and would never leave his/hers side, so much so, that it is reported samurai even slept with them under their pillows.


Tanto (knife)
(6) Tanto
The tanto was a knife worn by samurai of feudal Japan. One variety was that of the yoroi tōshi or dagger (about 8 inches long) that had a greater thickness and used for piercing armor. Another tanto was the aikuchi (). The aikuchi had the distinctive characteristic of no tsuba, similar to another dagger known as a kaiken. See also ken tanto below (#8). Even so, many tanto had tsuba, such as the tanto given to me by the Utah Shorin Kai at the last Gassuku (see photo to right of tanto with shaku measuring tape).

Tanto
Miscellaneous
(7) Chokutō.
The chokutō had a straight blade and was introduced to Japan from Korea.

(8) Kusanagi no Tsurugi
This was a double-edged sword used in the 5th century in Japan and similar to the ken tanto (double-edged knife).

(9) Shirasaya ()
Shirasaya translates as ‘white scabbard’. This was a sword that had a plain wooded blade mount consisting of a saya (scabbard) with a tsuka (hilt) and traditionally used for storage when a sword blade was not needed for some time. In this form, it was not used on a battlefield.


(10) Shikomi-zue (仕込み)
The shikomi-zue is a sword-stick. These typically contained a blade inside a cane (tsue) mounting for concealment. Some of these also concealed other weapons such as pepper powder (metsubuski), chains, hooks, etc.


Schools (dojo) and Styles (ryu)
Most Japanese swords are traced to one of five provinces in Japan that included Shoshu, Yamato, Bizen, Yamashiro and Mino. There were different styles and systems of Japanese swordsmanship and training.

Kenjutsu, Kendo
Kenjutsu (sword techniques) is the martial art combat sword training. Similar to kenjutsu is kendo (way of the sword). Both tend focus on techniques of the sword after it has been drawn from the saya (scabbard). Kendo-ka practice with bamboo swords known as shinai, while wearing padded clothing known as bōgu and head gear known as men. Most kenjutsu use sword.

Kyoshi Rob Watson, 8th dan, explains to members of the Utah Shorin Kai about kenjutsu and kendo while wearing bōgu and men of kendo and showing katana of kenjutsu. To the right, Renshi Todd Stoneking hands shinai to Kyoshi Watson as Soke Hausel, 10th dan, looks on.



Iaijutsu (iaidō 居合) and Battōjutsu (抜刀)
Iaijutsu, iaidō and battōjutsu are fast draw arts designed to develop fast draw with follow-up attacks with the sword. These arts are similar and generally only differ in training methods. For instance, battōjutsu incorporates multiple cuts following the draw of the sword; while iaidō emphasizes reaction to unknown scenarios, or a reaction to a sudden and swift attacks. In iaidō, the student begins training with a bokken (wooden practice sword) and later switches to a iaitō (dull-edged practice sword). Only very experienced practitioners use shinken (live blade) because of the extreme danger to oneself. Because iaidō is practiced with a weapon, whether it is a dull or live, nearly all training is by kata that includes drawing the weapon followed by cuts and finishing with ceremonial de-blooding of the blade and replacing the weapon back into the saya. Sparring is not part of iaidō, but is instead restricted to kendo. Another art that is similar to iaidō, is that of jōjutsu (training with a 4-foot staff).




Modern tameshigiri (sword testing) during Halloween
(photo by Sharon Hausel).

According to Wikipedia, some styles of iaidō include Muso Jikiden Eishin-Ryu, Muso Shinden Ryu, Mugai-Ryu, Jikyo-Ryu, Suio-Ryu, Motobu Udundi (Okinawan), Shindō Munen-ryu, Shinkage-ryū, Hōki-ryū, Tatsumi-ryū, Tamiya-ryū, Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū, Takenouchi-ryū,Eishin-ryū

Sword testing, known as tameshigiri was designed to test the blade’s sharpness and the practitioner’s abilities to cut a variety of materials. Today, we often see cuts on matting or straw on a vertical pole. In the past, it was not uncommon for some Japanese to test on cadavers of executed criminals. Few iaidō schools practice tameshigiri.

Samurai arts are also part of Seiyo Shorin-Ryu Karate and Kobudo. In addition to iaido, our members train in jujutsu, hojojutsu, hanbojutsu, naginatajutsu and yarijutsu.

Some Books On Nihonto
Craig, Darrell, 1981, Iai – the art of Drawing the Sword: Lotus Press, Tokyo, Japan, 257 p
Yumoto, J, M., 1958, The Samurai Sword – A Handbook: Charles E. Tuttle Co, Tokyo, Japan, 191 p
Warner, G. and Draeger, D.F., 1982, Japanese Swordsmanship – Technique and Practice: Weatherhill, Boston, 296 p
Zier, Don, J., 2000, Japanese Sword Drawing: Unique Publications, Burbank, CA, 317 p

Monday, March 19, 2012

Hanbo - weapon of self defense

Tameshigiri - Training during Halloween at the Arizona School of Traditional Martial Arts in Mesa and Gilbert, Arizona. Soke Hausel demonstrates use of katana during kenjutsu training.
The principal focus is Shorin-Ryu Karate & Kobudo at the Arizona School of Traditional Karate in Mesa and for members of Seiyo No Shorin-Ryu Karate Kobudo Kai worldwide, is karate & kobudo (Okinawan Weapons). But in addition to these traditional Okinawan martial arts, students train in self-defense and learn to defend against a variety of attacks including assailants with guns, knives, clubs, rifles etc. Many of the students also train in Samurai Arts including iaido (samurai sword), kenjutsu (samurai sword techniques), naginata (halberd), yari (spear), bo (staff), hanbo (half-staff), jo (4-foot staff), hojo (rope), kobuton (short stick), and jujutsu.


Many students also train with weapons of the Japanese Samurai including hanbo (or short staff). Similar weapons to the hanbo include kioga (or kebo) better known as the expandable baton (Asp), tsune (cane), kobuton (short stick) and manrikigusari (chain or rope). 

Hanbo training at the Arizona School of Traditional Martial Arts, Mesa -
Gilbert, Arizona
The Hanbo and Kioga are common weapons used by police departments around the world. As a Kyoju of Budo (professor of martial arts) at the University of Wyoming, Soke Hausel taught many law enforcement officials in these arts. But, you don't need to law enforcement officer to learn to use these valuable weapons. 

At the Arizona School of Traditional Karate we focus on training 3 nights a week (with additional clinics). The evenings begin at 6:45 pm at 60 W. Baseline Road in Mesa. We have an interactive map on our website.

Soke Hausel demonstrates kote uchi (two-handed
strike) with hanbo at Utah Gassuku (outside
training) near Park City
.
The hanbo (半棒) is considered to be a ‘half-bo’ and is taught in several traditional jujutsu and ninjutsu styles in addition to Seiyo Shorin-Ryu karate. This weapon was added to the kobudo curriculum of Seiyo Shorin-Ryu because it is such a practical weapon and is an extension of many of our empty hand self-defense techniques. Hanbo also goes well with kioga and cane and many techniques are similar between these weapons - so when you learn one, you are essentially learning all three.

In Seiyo Shorin-Ryu, to progress in hanbojutsu, students demonstrate basic strikes, blocks and stances and several self-defense ippon kumite against unarmed and armed assailants. They also learn very restrictive juji-kumite or sparring with the weapon. The kumite must be controlled and done with safety in mind. 

Kyoshi Rob Watson, 8th dan explains
use of katana at Gassuku.
The origin of the hanbo is uncertain. Some researchers suggest it originated quite by accident. According to a summary on Kukishin Ryu, legend suggests that during battle between Kuriyama Ukon and General Suzuki Tangonokami Katsuhisa in 1575, Kuriyama was armed with yari (spear) and Suzuki with katana (sword). During the battle, Suzuki sliced through Kuriyama’s spear cutting it in half, but Kuriyama was still able to overwhelm Suzuki with the remaining spear handle.

Ryan Harden applies kubi waza (neck technique) on Shihan
Neal Adam at the Hombu in Mesa, Gilbert, Chandler
Kuriyama realized the importance of the short staff for self-defense and developed hanbo-jutsu. Our members also train in katana and yari and learn these weapons along with many traditional Okinawan kobudo weapons such as nunchaku, sai, tonfa, kama, bo, and others.


Hanbo has been incorporated into several martial arts including taijutsu (体術). Taijutsu is a term used interchangeably with jujutsu. Most koryu (old style) jujutsu styles use arresting techniques for law enforcement. In particular, munadori waza (lapel grab techniques) are the focus of many of these arts. 

Hanbo is a half bo and is traditionally three shaku (35.8 inches) long, or essentially half the length of a traditional bo. A bo can be referred to as roku-shakubo, or a stick of 6 shaku

Shaku is the archaic unit of measure used until the Japanese adopted the metric system in 1961. Prior to 1961, shaku was a common unit of measure equal to 11.93 inches, or nearly one-foot. The shaku was derived from nature and is the average length between mature bamboo nodes.

Note the bamboo fence. A shaku was equal to the distance
between bamboo nodes (or growth nodes). Many of these
pickets would make very good hanbo as they are between
3 and 4 shaku long.
But the Japanese also had a second shaku - to make things confusing. This latter shaku was equal to 14.9 inches or the length of an average whale’s whisker which was adopted in 1881 to measuring cloth. To distinguish between these two, the cloth shaku was referred to as kujirajaka (kujira meaning whale); and the bamboo shaku was referred to as kanejaku. For me, I was surprised to find out that whale's had whiskers.

The hanbo is still used in training by many Japanese law enforcement agents. And it became very promintent during the late 19th Century during the Edo Period, when some law enforcement officers were armed with wooden staffs and were responsible for disarming samurai. These people worked in teams and attacked criminals simultaneously to disarm and restrain them with a rope - another art taught at our dojo - hojojutsu.


Following the Edo period, the Meiji Restoration began in 1868, known as the beginning of the modern era of Japan. During the Edo period, samurai were still important and privileged individuals. But a chain of events led major changes in the political and social system in Japan resulting in opening their door to gaijin of the Western World. During the Meiji, members of the samurai class were eliminated and the honor of wearing swords was prohibited. This was followed by all Japanese males being required to serve in the military for 4 years. 

These events caused considerable unrest with samurai, who prior to this event, were allowed to bear arms – unlike peasants. A samurai rebellion resulted and many hanbo waza were developed at this time to evade strikes by katana followed with follow-up strikes to head or sword hand, or thrusts to the attacker's body. Included in this were many take downs followed by restraints.

Demonstration of take down using
hanbo at the Arizona School of
Traditional Karate in Mesa.

Members of Arizona School of Traditional Karate in Mesa, learn how to use the hanbo in dozens of different situations for the street. But they also practice against an uke (partner) with a samurai sword as is tradition (as well as against an attacker with other weapons such as tanto [knife]). As they progress, they work up to juji-kumite to develop spontaneity and accuracy of action - in other words, to learn how to react without thinking. Restraints are important so that the hanbo can be used as a pragmatic instrument for law enforcement.
Hanbo restraint
Our classes at the Arizona School of Traditional Karate in Mesa, Arizona at 60 W. baseline Road, across the street from SunDevil Auto and learn this and other weapons.




Bill Borea applies yubi uchi (toe strike).