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Wastelander
KF Sensei
KF Sensei

Joined: 18 Oct 2010
Posts: 2401
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Styles: Shorin-Ryu, Shuri-Ryu, Judo, KishimotoDi

PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2018 11:10 am    Post subject: Mythbusting: Who Developed Karate/Kobudo? Reply with quote

This is a subject that I, and others, have mentioned numerous times in various threads, but since it keeps coming up here and there, I figured it might not hurt to consolidate thoughts on it into one thread.

So, who developed karate/kobudo?

Popular belief is that farmers and fishermen, after having their weapons taken away by the invading Japanese, began training with their empty hands and their farming/fishing tools in order to defend themselves from the sword-wielding Satsuma samurai, but they had to train in secret, because martial arts were banned.

It's a very cool story, and would make for a great movie, which is why it is so popular, but it's not true.

The truth is that nobles were the ones who developed karate/kobudo, not commoners, and while the common folk weren't allowed to have weapons (which was a rule put in place by the king of Okinawa nearly 200 years before the Japanese invaded), the nobility was most certainly armed. Even after the Japanese invaded, the only weapons they banned were firearms, because the Japanese had been first introduced to them by the Okinawans, and then used them to overpower the island nation. Martial arts practice was also not banned, it was just not allowed to be done publicly, or in large groups. Both the firearms ban and the public restriction on martial arts was to make it harder for resistance groups to build up a revolution, but this did not really impact the nobles, at all, as they already did their martial arts training fairly privately, and got to keep all of their other weapons.

If we think about this, logically, it makes sense, even if it isn't as easy to romanticize. If you lived on a subtropical island, and your livelihood was based on farming or fishing, you would, most likely, spend most of your time doing those activities in order to provide for your family. That doesn't leave much time or energy to learn, much less develop, a martial art, especially in any attempt to fight against Japanese samurai, who had been trained for war their entire lives. Nobles, though, tended to have more time on their hands. On top of that, we know, for a fact, that the nobility on Okinawa was responsible for security and peacekeeping activities--they made up the royal body guards, palace/temple/garden guards, military leadership, and police. It makes perfect sense for such people to be practicing martial arts, as it is a key component of their jobs.

It isn't a very romantic notion, to say that rich, entitled nobles, whose rights were actually protected by the invading rulers, developed the arts that we practice today, but I believe that unfortunate truths are more important than pretty lies.
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Shorin-Ryu | 2010-Present: Nidan | Sensei: Richard Poage, Jeff Allred
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mushybees
Orange Belt
Orange Belt

Joined: 16 Nov 2014
Posts: 196
Location: UK
Styles: Wado ryu

PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2018 12:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I hear this one all the time citing kubudo weaponry and their apparent dual use as agricultural tools. I hear it from otherwise clued up, pragmatic martial artists.
It's quite a pervasive myth.
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Rayrex
White Belt
White Belt

Joined: 24 Oct 2018
Posts: 1


PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2018 12:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As someone who recently started training in Karate and Kobudo, and really likes learning history. I find the real history of the nobility and guards developing the martial arts to be much more interesting to learn about.

I'm pretty confused on why this myth is so prevalent, even by organizers and teachers, even ones from Okinawa. I have two teachers who both believed in the "commoner" myth, and one of them is from Okinawa. Also their teacher who's the head of the group at Okinawa, also believes in the myth as well.
Fortunately, I've watched your videos when I was starting out, so I was very skeptical when they told me that story, albeit I didn't correct them at the time. I'll talk to them about this next time the topic comes up.
I really enjoy reading your articles and I'm looking forward to reading more in the future.
I'm also reading McCarthy's Bubishi. I'm currently around a quarter the way through and I'm already learning a lot of great information, it's a very interesting and enjoyable read.
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Bulltahr
Purple Belt
Purple Belt

Joined: 08 Mar 2015
Posts: 590
Location: NEW ZEALAND
Styles: Shotokan, Seido Juku

PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2018 2:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Rayrex wrote:

I'm also reading McCarthy's Bubishi. I'm currently around a quarter the way through and I'm already learning a lot of great information, it's a very interesting and enjoyable read.


Great book! Essential reading IMHO, as it covers the history of MA in Okinawa before Funakoshi, whose contribution to karate history was to take karate to Japan and mainstream it, for better or worse......
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MatsuShinshii
Black Belt
Black Belt

Joined: 15 Aug 2016
Posts: 1423
Location: Kentucky
Styles: Machimura Suidi Rokudan, Ryukyu Kenpo, Kobudo, Judo

PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2018 5:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for posting this again Wastelander.

Western myths are prevalent in the MA and this is one of the more popular ones.
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JR 137
KF Sempai
KF Sempai

Joined: 10 May 2015
Posts: 2323
Location: In the dojo
Styles: Seido Juku

PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2018 8:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Excellent write-up Wastelander.

Next up, can you tell us how black belts really came into use? I know the real story and Iím pretty confident that you do as well, but itís your thread and youíd do a far better job I donít want to hijack.
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RW
Blue Belt
Blue Belt

Joined: 07 Mar 2009
Posts: 322


PostPosted: Mon Oct 29, 2018 9:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Interesting. Even I believed the "kobudo were farming tools" story!

So... why were kobudo weapons so... un-weapon-like then? I mean, the bo is literally a wooden stick, the sai isn't even sharp and nunchucks... are nunchucks (lol).

You'd think a weapon designed to be a weapon from the beginning, something you'd use in a life or death situation would be sharp or pointy or lethal in some other way.
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Wastelander
KF Sensei
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Joined: 18 Oct 2010
Posts: 2401
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Styles: Shorin-Ryu, Shuri-Ryu, Judo, KishimotoDi

PostPosted: Mon Oct 29, 2018 10:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

RW wrote:
Interesting. Even I believed the "kobudo were farming tools" story!

So... why were kobudo weapons so... un-weapon-like then? I mean, the bo is literally a wooden stick, the sai isn't even sharp and nunchucks... are nunchucks (lol).

You'd think a weapon designed to be a weapon from the beginning, something you'd use in a life or death situation would be sharp or pointy or lethal in some other way.


Kobudo includes spears, swords, and a short spear/long knife and shield combo, which are all pretty definitively martial. The bo is actually a bit more than just a wooden stick--it was a status symbol for the guards of Shuri Castle, for example, with those people carrying octagonal bo with every other face painted red and white. Octagonal bo will do some serious damage to a person, thanks to the edges, and are not terribly dissimilar from the spears they might upgrade to, if needed. Sai are historically a police weapon in China, and they are the same on Okinawa--they were the equivalent of our modern police batons, so they were more focused on "less-than-lethal" force with those, and they were also used as symbols of station of those in the peacekeeping ranks. Nunchaku are horse bridles, and I rather suspect that using them as a weapon came about from either necessity (somebody was attacked while repairing their horse bridle and used it in the moment) or boredom (soldiers spend more time traveling and camping than actually fighting). The same could be said for various other weapons, such as the kama (sickle), given that many of the nobles were responsible for guarding gardens.
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Kishimoto-Di | 2014-Present | Sensei: Ulf Karlsson
Shorin-Ryu | 2010-Present: Nidan | Sensei: Richard Poage, Jeff Allred
Shuri-Ryu | 2006-2010: Sankyu | Sensei: Joey Johnston, Joe Walker
Judo | 2007-2010: Gokyu | Sensei: Joe Walker, Adrian Rivera
My Blog: www.karateobsession.com
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RW
Blue Belt
Blue Belt

Joined: 07 Mar 2009
Posts: 322


PostPosted: Sat Dec 08, 2018 10:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wastelander wrote:
RW wrote:
Interesting. Even I believed the "kobudo were farming tools" story!

So... why were kobudo weapons so... un-weapon-like then? I mean, the bo is literally a wooden stick, the sai isn't even sharp and nunchucks... are nunchucks (lol).

You'd think a weapon designed to be a weapon from the beginning, something you'd use in a life or death situation would be sharp or pointy or lethal in some other way.


Kobudo includes spears, swords, and a short spear/long knife and shield combo, which are all pretty definitively martial. The bo is actually a bit more than just a wooden stick--it was a status symbol for the guards of Shuri Castle, for example, with those people carrying octagonal bo with every other face painted red and white. Octagonal bo will do some serious damage to a person, thanks to the edges, and are not terribly dissimilar from the spears they might upgrade to, if needed. Sai are historically a police weapon in China, and they are the same on Okinawa--they were the equivalent of our modern police batons, so they were more focused on "less-than-lethal" force with those, and they were also used as symbols of station of those in the peacekeeping ranks. Nunchaku are horse bridles, and I rather suspect that using them as a weapon came about from either necessity (somebody was attacked while repairing their horse bridle and used it in the moment) or boredom (soldiers spend more time traveling and camping than actually fighting). The same could be said for various other weapons, such as the kama (sickle), given that many of the nobles were responsible for guarding gardens.


fascinating... thanks
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sensei8
KF Sensei
KF Sensei

Joined: 23 Feb 2008
Posts: 14244
Location: Houston, TX
Styles: Shindokan Saitou-ryu [Shuri-te/Okinawa-te based]

PostPosted: Sat Dec 08, 2018 6:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, who created Karate/Kobudo??

From all that I've been taught, told, and read through all of these many years on this very subject, in which I don't doubt the validity of the sources, I've reached one final conclusion...I wasn't there to witness either, and I really don't care one way or another because I'm happier than a Panda playing in the snow that someone had enough fortitude to create either of them in the first place.


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