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What is Kobudo?

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Not too sure this question has ever been adequately answered, at least in the American versions of karate. I can tell you only that when I started to seriously study karate the weapons involved in the style I chose was often referred to as ‘kobudo’ and was always, always, translated at karate weapons. 

Lets get to the most direct translation I can find to date of kobudo, i.e., as to the characters/ideograms used with the English formation of the Japanese term, “Kobudo.” 

Kobudo [古武道], the characters/ideograms generally mean, “Ancient Japanese martial arts.” The first character means, “Old,” the second means, “warrior; military; chivalry; arms,” and the third character means, “road-way; street; district; journey; course; moral; teachings.” 

Kobudo [古武道] according to the shinjinbukan dojo, the characters all mean the same and the general definition given is, “The ancient martial way. In general, the term may apply to any ancient martial art. It is commonly used to refer to the Okinawan weapons systems, also referred to as ‘kobu-jutsu’.  

Ryukyu Kobu-jutsu [琉球古武術] or Ryukyu Kobu-do [琉球古武琉球古武] according to the shinjinbukan dojo definition means, “The Okinawan weapons system founded by Taira Shinken and later continued by his disciple Akamine Eisuke. 

So far, none of these actually refer to the weapons as the sole art taught and practiced often under the heading of karate, empty hand. Another conundrum I feel makes for more convalusion is the term, ‘martial or bu,’ that indicates martial in the phrase martial art. Martial or bu is about the art of war, military arts, military force and the sword but not so much as to empty hand with ancient Okinawan implements such as the bo, the tuifa and the kama, etc. The question, for a more accurate perception, is what terms, if any, would better describe the art of ancient Okinawan weapons?

Ancient [古い]; Okinawan [沖縄]; Weapons [剣戟 and/or 兵器]?
Kodai Okinawa no buki [古代沖縄の武器] through google translation from English to Japanese means ancient okinawan weapons. 

古代 = Ancient Times
沖縄 = Okinawa (one of the Japanese Ryukyu Islands)
の武器 = weapons; arms; ordnance

Still, with this slightly more detailed definition it still does not connect in a more direct way to the ancient okinawan weaponry that is unique to the practice and teaching of karate or Taira Shinken’s kobudo. 

In the end, is kobudo appropriate to the practice of the ancient okinawan weaponry of the ‘bo and tuifa and nunchaku and kama, etc.?’ If we assume that the term is being used correctly today on Okinawa then we can accept that but I suspect that they use the term simply out of convenience and of course respect for Taira Shinken who pioneered the separate and distinct system of Okinawan weaponry training and practices and teachings. 

Personally, I am not amicable to combining karate, empty hand, with kobudo or kodai no buki because the two are, at least to my perceptions of ancient Okinawan martial disciplines where empty handed training was a prerequisite to weapons training and that the weapons training was more in line with military operations than the civil form of today’s karate. 

Kodai no buki [古代の武器] Ancient Weapon(s).

So, even if I am correct and accurate, what does this mean to the community and will the term kobudo be removed? I think not, like most things it has become ingrained in the mind and belief systems of all martial artists so we can expect that it will remain the term for Okinawan weapons practiced in Okinawan karate. The chances of acceptance and implementation are remote to plain old ‘ain’t never ever gonna happen’!

In closing, using the most common translation and definition of ancient Japanese/Martial Way/Arts 

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