Toshukuken & Emonojutsu

“Toshukuken” and “Emonojutsu” mean to contrast the ways of fighting.  “Toshukuken” is translated as empty hands or for simplicity, Karate.  “Emonojutsu” is the way to use everything and anything around you to defend yourself or fight.  “Emono” does not mean weapon but is used to incorporate the way of weapons as well as the way of using everything.  The word some may know is “Buki” (Weapon) which is made by its purpose to be a weapon.  In Ryukyu Kobujutsu many of what we now call weapons were originally made to cut, grind, shoot, row etc. for farming, gaming or boating.   I would caveat this however to say not all!

For simplicity it is the contrast between the training of weapons and the training of empty hands.

It is a common observation and comment by many that weapons are an extension of your hands but when you view this in the real world most do not show or demonstrate this!  You see deep stances in Karate and yet high stances in Kobujutsu, you see good hip usage in Karate but very little in Kobujutsu and you see sliding or shifting feet in Karate but often little in Kobujutsu.  It is clear that whilst the way of words is known for many, the way to do it is not and the way to orchestrate it is far from being understood.

The divorce of both arts has been a common evolution based on the drive of expansion, politics, simplicity and commercialism.  This is seen commonly as the best approach but the price paid is the loss of the key links.  Many end up not utilising their Karate fundamentals properly when practicing weapons and not engaging with each weapons true distance potential which results in excessive kicking, punching and wrapping techniques instead of using each weapons reach, capability, strengths, characteristics, nature, purpose and ability.

In weapons kata the main observation from many is high stances, lack of power and lack of fluid movement.  Colour is used instead of ability and footwork with body linkage with the weapon usage is poor.  When in doubt kiaii or snap the weapon on the arm is the disguise for inept and unnatural fighting!

Kumite is more often than not too close and the angles are not exploited along with range due to poor footwork (Tsukuri Ashi) and a lack of fighting integration skills.  Hiding behind the badge of weapons is also common instead of showing the weapons strengths and the user’s understanding and ability.

I realise that historically weapons and weapons kata are older than Karate and go back further.  This means the old ways are footsteps in the path of time that should be learnt and cultivated.  It does not mean as it would seem for so many, standing still and trading blows with the premise that standing toe to toe fighting, quite simply is what fighting should be.  Remove overly large postures, loud shouts and great testaments of ability and strength and we get back to the common fundamentals that we all have known in our lifetime, before training and after too.

The important element for me is the need and ability of the student to do all he has done and can do in Karate with the Kobujutsu too.  So whatever is practiced and undertaken with the weapons must be emulated with the open hands and the body, bereft of the weapon.  This is a true test of the understanding and the merging ability to realise that the circle is one.  Not the concept of weapons in one camp and Karate in the other.  We walk the same footsteps but realise the advantages weapons give as an extension of the open hand and as an evolution.    

With Bo for example the feeling of size and distance is evident.  With Tekko the felling of open hand practise and short distance is also evident along with a closer feeling to Karate.  The student must do what he does with his open hand fighting as he does with weapons but must realise the additional strengths the weapon gives whilst learning also the weaknesses.  To know yourself is to defeat your enemy, Miyamoto Musashi once wrote.  He means that if you clearly know your abilities you can gage those against your opponent and then decide if he is stronger or not.  If he is then do not fight him.  If he is not then victory should be yours especially with the advantage of a weapon.  Weapons have a similar feel in that knowing its short comings also means you know its strengths and this makes using it to its true potential natural.  You should always look to maximise the weapons strength and advantages it gives but never solely rely upon the weapon, thus open hand naturally comes into play.

I have seen many demonstrations where this is not demonstrated and users quickly evolve to open hand and kicking whilst still using the weapons.  I have also seen many demonstrations where the weapons are used too closely and again the best option is to discard the weapon and resort to open hands.

The user must consider that the practice of Kobujutsu should be seen as a compliment to open hands and should enhance not detract from this study.  The user also must see that in using weapons the danger factor increases and if you get things wrong injuries occur which are more serious generally than open hand injuries.  This factor of increased risk is one reason why in Japan weapons are taught from Shodan in Karate for many traditional styles.  Many senior Karate students like the added tension and risk training with weapons provides.  Also the core fundamentals are there and this means the student does not have to focus on stances and body postures which are already apparent and naturally used but work more on handling the weapon and learning to use it to its full potential aligned to the open hand.  Studying weapons will make advanced Karate-ka recognise their core basics and return to these, thus consolidating their Karate further.

With Ryukyu Kobujutsu, using the eight classical weapons allows each one initially to bring to the table a different aspect and element to work on and this in turn while complimenting open hands overall compliments a critical element more so.  With Sai for example the study of Shuto is clearly evident as the Hiji and Uraken Waza are clearly evident with Tonfa. 

Realise that each weapon has its special usage and this engineers an approach unique initially to the weapon but subsequently triggered and found in open hand.  Once this is realised and learnt the weapons begin to merge as the principles of fighting are explored, realised and the common elements used.  This activates the true principles of Bujutsu.   Know the weapons well and know the corresponding hand usage, the cup then fills naturally and by evolution through understanding fighting with or without weapons becomes complete.   A phrase that can be heard in Japanese is “Subete ga Hitotsu ni Naru” meaning “All becomes one”!

I have listed some obvious connections:

  • Bo – Promotes the study of Large techniques (O Waza).  Based on the grip and hand positions it compliments all open hand techniques as well as Body Evasion (Tai Sabaki). Representing the largest kata volume and length of kata the training strengthens all aspects of the body.
  • Sai – A truncheon weapon it promotes the study of Open Blocks (Soto Uke), Ridge or Knife hand attacks (Shuto Uchi).  Based on the usage it also promotes power punching (Tsuki) due to the weight of the Sai as well as Body Evasion (Tai Sabaki). 
  • Tonfa – Promotes the study of Elbow strikes (Hiji-Ate/Empi) as well as Back Fist (Uraken).  Based on the usage it promotes Tension (Kime) in conjunction with Relaxation (Chikara wo Nuku).  It also promotes Standing first punching (Tatte Tsuki) as well as Body Evasion (Tai Sabaki).
  • Nunchaku – A portable weapon that belongs to the class of the Bo, it promotes Hammer Fist techniques (Tettsui) as well as Ridge or Knife hand attacks (Shuto Uchi) and Body Evasion (Tai Sabaki).  It also promotes good eye to hand coordination due to the speed of swing as well as critical distance awareness.
  • Kama – The first bladed weapon it promotes Hooking and Grasping techniques (Kakete & Kurite Waza), Elbow Strikes (Hiji-Ate/Empi), Ridge or Knife hand attacks (Shuto Uchi) as well as Body Evasion (Tai Sabaki).
  • Tekko – This being a small weapon aligns to open hand completely.  The specialty is Standing fist punching (Tatte Tsuki) as with Tonfa and Hammer fist techniques (Tettsui) which are very specific to attacking bony body parts in addition to Body evasion (Tai Sabaki)
  • Tinbe – Rochin – Is an anomaly due to the weapons as a pair not being the same for example as Tonfa or Sai.  The speciality is circular Blocking (Uke), Thrusting or Stabbing (Tsuki), Throwing (Shuriken Nage), Break Falling (Ukemi) and Body evasion (Tai Sabaki).    
  • Surujin – Equal to the movements and benefits of Nunchaku it also visual teaches evasion for the weapon, entrapment and throwing (Nage Waza) along with Body evasion (Tai Sabaki)   

When you see the common denominators you understand that both are bound by the same principles. Open hand and weapons are intrinsically link and compliment each other naturally.  In addition weapons kata are much longer strengthening the body and making the need for concentration (Shuchu) paramount.  For many Bo kata it is like doing Kushanku Dai twice! 

There is a word used in Japan called “Jyoteiken”, meaning a standard for the weapon size and its usage, which is the fundamental first step.  Then there is “Ranteiken”, which is the evolutionary step meaning there is no standard and all is open to interpretation and usage for varying sizes and ways.  These steps are important in understanding the journey of training and as the weapons usage evolves more and more to becoming free so does the effective use of open hand become more apparent.

There are many who do not train with weapons but try and show how they should be used in Karate for Bunkai.  Such Kata as Jitte are well known for this misconception and all too often the user has had no formal training of how to use the weapon and the attacks are therefore incorrect.  Catching an attack from Bo by an experienced student of the way of Kobujutsu is dubious at best.  This approach to training removes the authentic, undermines the weapon capability and over boosts the ego and confidence of the student.  When subsequently faced with real life conflicts and altercations the execution fails and the outcome is disastrous.  The question I ask is how can you defend against a weapon if you don’t know how to wield it and do not understand its strengths and weaknesses?

Breaking down weapons kata in open hand does provide another avenue for universal Bunkai and thinking.  What you find is that when you do this it removes style and categorisation and allows more open universal interpretation.  This is very refreshing for Karate seniors who have spent many years practicing their own way of Bunkai in their karate style and suddenly find much more from the weapons that fills gaps, opens the mind more and connects so much more. 

For weapons the study incorrectly does inhibit the way of both disciplines. I have seen students bowing with a Bo in hand allowing the tip of the Bo to hit the floor.  Again not understanding the meaning of Kamae and Junbi in the weapon usage negates the weapons strengths and thereon its usage.  If the tip of the Bo is on the floor the speed to raise this to Kamae is too slow.

The appreciation that authentic Kobujutsu and Karate should be studied as one complimenting authentic Bujutsu is paramount.  Recognising the transferable skills between both as well and the significant benefits makes the combined study a life’s work walking the footsteps of those who have left us and showed the combined way.   Referencing Sensei of the past who understood the requirement to study both, we have for example, Sensei Taira who was one of the first students of Sensei Funakoshi in Tokyo, Sensei Funakoshi himself who’s first demonstration in Japan was for weapons, Bo & Sai and not Karate as many think.  In addition Kushanku Karate Kata, Kushanku Bo Kata and Kushanku Sai Kata! Also Tawata Passai and Tawata Sai to name just a few!

Let not commercialism and politics segregate the legacy we inherit and learn from the past to define the future.