Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Kama - Weapon of Shorin-Ryu Karate


"Few martial arts instructors know the use of kama. And of those who do, for some reason, this weapon lost favor with many sensei (martial arts instructors) and is rarely practiced in most dojo".

The kama and the kusarigama have had a long history on Okinawa, but it is difficult to find information about these weapons. The kama was used to cut crops similar to sickles used in the US to cut weeds.



One of the great controversies of Okinawan karate was how did karate develop and who practiced this martial art on Okinawa. Many people think of karate as being a form of self-defense used only by the samurai class of Okinawa, others argue that this was a peasant art developed both by peasants and the samurai class. But this one weapon, in particular, strongly suggests that at least kamajutsu was developed by peasants as no self-respecting samurai would use a farmer’s tool.

Sensei Jessica Ricks training with kama at the University of
Wyoming.
In the 15th century, Okinawan King Shoshin outlawed all bladed weapons on Okinawa. This decree affected the samurai class of Okinawa. Samurai on Okinawa were referred to as Ryukyu samurai or as Pechin. Pechin were of a feudal warrior class who were charged with military defense and enforcing Okinawan laws similar to the Japanese samurai. It is interesting that the rank of the Pechin was based on the color of the hat they wore. The Pechin were also responsible for developing and training their indigenous Okinawan art of Te (also known as Ti) that is better known to us as Karate. The Pechin kept this fighting art secret and typically taught the most devastating forms and techniques to one member of their family, usually the eldest son.

After the invasion of the Satsuma Samurai from Japan, the band on bladed weapons and firearms continued to be enforced, this time by the Satsuma Samurai. According to one document, the Pechin were sometimes issued permits by the Satsuma Samurai allowing them to travel with their personal swords to smiths in Kagushima Japan for maintenance and repair of their weapons. It is not clear if this permit allowed them to wear the weapon in public.

Dai-Shihan Neal Adam attacks Sensei Bill Borea during ippon kumite training with martial arts weapons at the
Arizona Hombu.
Peasants had no weapons other than farming implements. They also had no bladed weapons (other than kama and possibly knifes [tanto], so it is very likely they developed this art. Since Okinawa had no known source for metals to manufacture blades, the kama had to be imported from nearby Asian countries. Since kama was widely used throughout Asia to cut rice and bamboo, it is likely it was imported from China, Malaysia, Indonesia or the Philippines.

Sensei Bill Borea defends bokken attack by Sarah.
The kama is considered one of the hardest weapons to learn due to the inherent danger of the blade. Before karate became popular in the United States, kama training (just like the katana, or samurai sword) had a razor sharp blade. It was easy to provide oneself with many scars during practice. Luckily today, we have practice weapons, but care must still be exercised even with these. Because it is easy to lose a finger during training with a live blade, sharpen kama are not used in training in Seiyo Shorin-Ryu dojo. Just think how difficult it would be to insult someone if you accidentally removed your middle finger.

Most Shorin-Ryu karate systems train in kama. Seiyo Shorin-Ryu has three kama kata – one that is indigenous to our system of Shorin Ryu. In addition to the kata, there are several very effective bunkai for the kama. It is very likely that we will add one or two kama kata in the future.

Kobudo training at the Arizona Hombu dojo in Mesa, Arizona
The kama is used singly or in pairs (gama). The point, sharpened edge of the blade, handle and the butt of the handle are all used in strikes and blocks. The kama is used similar to sai and is used in the following grips: honte mochi (natural), gyakute mochi (reverse) and tokushu mochi (special grip). The weapon is used for kuride (hooking), kakede (gripping), ukete sasu (blocking and stabbing), tsuki (thrusting), kiru (cutting) and nagete ateru (throwing and striking). All of these techniques show up in most kata. Some kama also have straps attached to their handles so that the weapon can be released similar to some nunchuku techniques.

The point where the blade and handle of a Okinawan kama are attached forms a nook unlike the characteristic farming sickle some of us are familiar with in the U.S. where a blade continues to the handle without a nook. This nook is used for trapping weapons, such as a bo.

A similar weapon to kama is the kusarigama (chain-sickle). This is a very difficult weapon to master and rarely taught in most dojo and is also difficult to learn. In addition, it is very difficult to find kusarigama to purchase. They are almost non-existent and the few that are available are usually not quite up to specification.

The kusarigama is a traditional weapon consisting of a kama attached to a metal chain (kusari) with a heavy iron weight at the opposite end from the kama. The chain of the kusarigama is relatively long (usually about 6 to 9.5 feet) as was used to trap a samurai outside the striking distance of his sword with the weighted ball and chain, and then to move in to slice with the kama. This was done by swinging the kusari overhead or at the side and then wrap it around the samurai’s arms, legs, or neck. The chain was designed to strike a samurai with a katana or yari at a somewhat safe distance. The weight could also be used to cause injury and disorient the victim. It is also likely that the kama was swung overhead in big circles and thrown at a samurai with a follow-up strike to the head or other vital point with the weight.

Sensei Bill Borea blocks thrust by Charles at the Arizona Hombu in Mesa, Arizona.
According to various stories, the kusarigama was a weapon that was well-suited against swords and spears. Records show that kusarigama was extremely popular in feudal Japan, and many schools trained in this art from the 12th to 17th century including Koga-Ryu, a school of ninjutsu.

The kusarigama was a very useful weapon, but had its limitions. In the 17th century, a kusarigama master named Yamada Shinrykan was feared because of the many samurai that he killed in combat. However, he met his fate when he was lured into a bamboo grove by Araki Mataemon. Being surrounded by thick bamboo made it impossible for Shinryukan to swing his chain to trap Mataemon's katana and was subsequently killed.

Another story of limitations of the kusarigama involved Shishido Baiken who was also well-known for his kusarigama technique. Miyamoto Musashi injured Baiken by throwing a tanto (knife) outside the reach of Baiken’s chain prior to finishing him off with his sword.

Police DAV karate team from northern India poses with Soke Hausel, Dai Shihan Neal Adam and Sensei Bill and Paula
 Borea after a weeks training at the Arizona Hombu.
Members of the Police DAV school karate team from northern India pose with Soke Hausel and Shihan-Dai Adam on their visit to the Seiyo Shorin-Ryu Hombu in Mesa, Arizona for a week-long clinic in kobudo and karate training.

Kobudo, the ancient art of weapons, is part of the curriculum of Seiyo No Shorin-Ryu Karate Kobudo Kai, as are the samurai arts. These arts are taught at the Hombu in Mesa Arizona by Soke Hausel and Shihan-Dai Neal Adam. They area also taught at a number of dojo in Wyoming and Utah as well as several national and international dojo.

Our Hombu is located at 60 W. Baseline in Mesa, Arizona. Stop by and see our traditional dojo. We accept new students for training as well as train groups in special weekend clinics or week long clinics.

VISIT our website at Seiyo Shorin-Ryu Karate

And if you are in Arizona, visit our Arizona Site

Other information about Kobudo, see Arizona Kobudo

Seiyo Sai, and Jujutsu