Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Martial Arts Weapons Classes, Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa Arizona

Ben defends attack by Gavin at the Arizona Hombu during ippon kumite (one step
sparring).

Traditionally, kama was developed with other farming implements for self-defense on Okinawa. It became an important weapon due to King Shoshin of Okinawa outlawing the ownership of bladed weapons. Some suggest that the king was a devout Buddhist and was against violence, but in all likelihood, this notion was not correct, but instead the King was fearful of an uprising. Even though kama had a blade, these were not considered weapons, but rather farming tools so the Okinawan people converted traditional sickles into weapons of self-defense and trained in secret. Typically, one trains with two kama - one in each hand.

Thursday evenings, members of the Arizona Hombu on Baseline Road on the border of Mesa and Gilbert Arizona in the Phoenix valley train with Okinawan Martial Arts Weapons - just like the Okinawan peasants of the past. Currently (2015), students are training in kama as well as nunchaku. Few other schools teach kama (gardening sickles) which is unfortunate, as kama is a martial arts weapon found in most Sears garden shops. Most Okinawan kama (gama) come as pairs  and are handy to have for any garden or home invaders which are all too common in Arizona.

Training with Nunchaku
A modified kama, known as kusarigama is even more rare in martial arts schools because it leaves so many bruises until the student learns to use this complex weapon - its a kama attached to a chain. But at the Arizona Hombu, we teach our students to love gardening. So if you are ever attacked in your garden by a gang of ninjas, you will be thankful you learned to use kama and kusarigama.

When I was 10, I was handed a rusty sickle by my mother and told to go out back and cut weeds. I only wish I would have known something about the kama back in those days, it would have made cutting weeds interesting. 

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Anyway, kama was likely a weapon of the peasant class on Okinawa, simply because it would have been a tool of farmers – something beneath the Pechin class (Okinawan equivalent of Samurai). One of the great controversies of Okinawa karate was how the martial art developed. Many think of karate as a form of self-defense used only by Okinawan bodyguards and royalty, others argue it was a peasant art. The martial art of kobudo argues this was a combat art for peasants.

Kobudo developed after King Shoshin outlawed bladed weapons on Okinawa in the 15th century. Okinawa was invaded by the Satsuma Samurai from Japan and the ban on bladed weapons continued to be enforced by Japanese Samurai who could take the life of any peasant they chose. If any Okinawan was caught with a weapon or practicing karate, they likely would have lost their head – this was one reason why karate was a secret for centuries.

Training in kama and bo at Kobudo class in Mesa, Arizona
The kama is one of the more difficult Okinawan weapons to learn due to the inherent danger of the blade. Before karate became popular in the US, kama training (just like samurai sword) involved a razor sharp blade. It was easy to self-inflict scars during practice. Today, we have practice weapons, but care must still be exercised because most are so poorly made that they tend to fall apart with little use. It is a good idea (and highly recommended) to wear safety glasses or goggles while training with these and to search for either a martial arts supply house that sells kama that will last and not break easily - a challenge. Otherwise, one must search for ways to keep the practice weapon from breaking. We encourage our students to purchase weapons from a custom manufacturer such as Crane Mountain. As an example, a few years ago I purchased an eku (Okinawan oar) from Century Martial Arts. On the very first swing (in the air) the weapon snapped in half - I didn't even get a chance to use it in ippon kumite (controlled sparring).

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. There are different grips used in kama combat including honte mochi (natural), gyaku te mochi (reverse) and tokushu mochi (special grip). The weapon is used for kuride (hooking), kakede (gripping), ukete sasu (blocking & stabbing), tsuki (thrusting), kiru (cutting) & nagete ateru (throwing and striking). Some kama have straps attached to handles so the weapon can be released similar to some nunchaku techniques.

A similar weapon to kama is kusarigama (chain-sickle). This is a very difficult weapon to master and rarely taught and it is difficult to find kusarigama to purchase. They are almost non-existent in the US and the few available at local martial arts stores are not up to specification.

Kusarigama is a traditional weapon with a kama attached to a metal chain (kusari) with heavy iron weight at the opposite end of the kama. Or it can be attached to a rope wound around the wrist.

Okinawan farmers at the Arizona Hombu dojo train with farming implements. Photo shows karate students
and instructors training with kama (Okinawa sickles) during kobudo class.
The chain of kusarigama is relatively long (often 6 to 9.5 feet) and used to reach an attacker outside a striking distance of a samurai sword with weighted ball and chain. This was done by swinging the kusari overhead or at the side and wrapping it around the attacker’s arms, legs, or neck.  It is also likely the kama was swung overhead in big circles and thrown at samurai with follow-up strikes to vital points with the weight. 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. Anyone who doubts the effectiveness of kama or kusarigama should spend time with Tadashi Yamashita.

Kama and bokken - traditional Okinawan martial arts at the Arizona School of Traditional Karate.



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