The following essays were submitted by two of our young students. As a point of interest their Father is also a student (now black belt) of many years. All come from Billinge and are under the instruction of Pete Houghton Renshi. Dojo Cho.
A study of some traditional Japanese weapons
Essay for Brown Belt 1st Kyu
Billinge Bu Jutsu
There are many traditional weapons used in Japanese martial arts schools but my essay will focus on giving a brief description of some of the weapons used in my Yamabushi Bu Jutsu club in Billinge.
The nunchucks originated in the Song Dynasty in China before making their way over to Okinawa. The possession of the weapon is illegal over in this country. Originally it was used as a farm tool to assist in the harvesting of rice. It is used as a ‘modern style performance art’ using nunchuku as a visual tool, not a weapon. Nunchuck is an abbreviation of the Japanese word nunchuku (a.k.a. nunchukus, numchuks, numchuk or chaku sticks). Some Chinese call it by the Mandarin term erjie gun (two-section stick). It is constructed of two hardwood sticks connected by a rope braided from horses’ tails. Today, it includes two short batons connected together by either a chain or a piece of rope. It is held at the bottom of the weapon in order to take advantage of the weapons reach. Some Chinese styles and freestyle techniques sometimes tend to be held closer to the top of the baton. Each baton is traditionally around twelve inches in length with four inches of cord or chain connecting them together. The nunchaku has different names such as ‘danger sticks’, nunchuks’ and ‘chain sticks’. In China the striking stick is called ‘dragon stick’ while the handle is called ‘yang stick’.They are mainly known for modern uses in films such as `Enter The Dragon` starring Bruce Lee.
The origin of the tonfa can be traced to ancient China and Thailand where it was originally used as an accessory to the millstone. After being inserted into the millstone, the tonfa would be used to grind rice. It then made its way over to Okinawa for the same reason (to grind rice). The tonfa is traditionally made from red oak wood and always made in pairs for use as a double handed weapon of self defence. It is one of the more popular devices in the Okinawan and Japanese jujitsu. Essentially it is a club with a handle that protrudes at a 90 degree angle. This enables the practitioner to hold the handle whilst protecting the forearm and elbow. From this position the long arm of the Tonfa can be swung out to make extended, swinging strikes. From the position of holding the long arm out, one can also make quick, powerful thrusts. The weapon also provides reinforcement to certain attacking techniques such as punching, elbow strikes and backfists (uraken). In modern times the Tonfa itself is considered to be the basis for the PR-24 side handle police baton, which is used by police forces the world over. However, the police combat application is considered different as it is more for crowd control rather than a weapon as such.
The Bo (or staff as it is commonly called) is a powerful weapon originally used as a simple, but effective farm tool. In poorer farming economies the Bo or Tenbin remains a traditional farm work implement. Typically, one would carry baskets of harvested crops or buckets of water or fish, one at each end of the tenbin, that is balanced across the middle of the back at the shoulder blades (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/). While staffs have a history of being used throughout mankind, the Asian martial artists has taken this weapon and turned it into an art form. The law at the time prevented non samurai from carrying weapons which forced the people to find other ways to defend themselves and using a simple staff proved to be one of the best. The Bo staff on the surface is one of the most simplistic of all Japanese weapons. Most of them are about 1.8m long 3cm thick and are typically made from oak.
A typical Bojutsu technique will be to block an opponents attack with the top part of the staff and then in a fluid motion to counter strike with the lower end. In the hands of a master, there will only be a split second between block and strike
(http://www.blackbeltwiki.com/bo-staff). This is one of the reasons why the Bo is one of the most difficult of martial arts weapons to defend against. The Bo is typically gripped in thirds, and when held horizontally in front, the right palm is facing away from the body and the left hand is facing the body, enabling the staff to rotate. The power is generated by the back hand pulling the staff, while the front hand is used for guidance. Bo technique includes a wide variety of blocks, strikes, sweeps, and entrapments. Other tricks that one can use this weapon for include sweeping the legs out from underneath an opponent, breaking the knees, and sweeping dust into the opponents eyes. In modern dojos the Bo is often used in kata training and competition. Physical conditioning with the staff improves one`s balance, coordination, and upper body strength, among other benefits (http://russbo.com/Chinese-History/bo-staff.html).
The bokken, or as it’s also spelt boken is a single piece of wood, usually made of red or white oak. There are many Japanese stories of men overcoming their enemies with the wooden practice sword. Bokken were often kept near sleeping warriors, as they could be used their to disarm an intruder without spilling blood inside the bed chamber. Unlike a katana, which is very heavy and can rust and snap in wet weather, damage to the wooden bokken could easily be spotted before entering battle. Bokken were designed to lessen the damage caused by fighting with real swords and were used for the training of samurai warriors in feudal Japan. Bokken eventually became lethal weapons themselves in the hands of trained experts. The bokken is used as an inexpensive and relatively safe substitute for a real sword in several martial arts such as Aikido, kendo, iaido and kenjutsu. Bokken are currently (as of 2015) issued to the Los Angeles Police Mounted Unit for use as batons.
An introduction to Bu Jutsu weaponry and the etiquette expected within the Dojo
Essay for the rank of Shodan Ho
(Word Count -1983)
The history of a selection of the different types of Japanese weapons:
Each weapon has its own history, from farming tools to everyday household items and this essay will provide a brief introduction to some of the weapons we commonly use whilst practising the art of Japanese Bu Jutsu in our martial arts school.
1) The knife is one of the most common weapons used in times go by, as it was easy to get hold of. A knife is a tool with a cutting edge or blade, hand-held or otherwise, with most having a handle. Some types of knives are used as utensils, including knives used at the dining table (e.g., butter knives and steak knives) and knives used in the kitchen (e.g., paring knife, bread knife, cleaver). Many types of knives are used as tools, such as the utility knife carried by soldiers, the pocket knife carried by hikers and the hunting knife. Knives are also used as a traditional or religious implement. Some types of knives are used as weapons, such as the dagger or the switched blade used by 1950s- criminal gang members. They used the knife as a small easy accessible tool or weapon to use for emergencies. Once they took all the weapons and they tied one knife to a pole in the middle of the village guarded by the toughest people in the village.
2) The Tonfa is a weapon used to block several strikes to the head or arms/legs and was a farming tool. It was traditionally made from red or white oak and wielded in pairs. They weren’t used that often but when the time came they used the Tonfa. It was traditionally used for grinding rice by using the short arm to spin the Tonfa around. It is used in the respective fighting styles. A similar weapon called the mae sun sawk is used in krabi krabong and tomoi. The tonfa measures about three centimetres past the elbow when gripped. There are three grips, honte-mochi (natural), gyakute-mochi (reverse) and tokushu-mochi (special). The starting grip, honte-mochi, places the handle in the hand with the long arm resting along the bottom of the forearm. This grip provides protection or brace along one’s forearms, and also provides reinforcement for uraken (back fist), hiji waza (elbow techniques) and punches. This allows use of the handle as a hook in combat. This is mainly used for close combat
3) The Bo was originally a simple farming tool which could serve as an effective fighting weapon in trained hands. The Japanese martial art of wielding the Bo is called Bojutsu. Farmers in China used long pieces of wood as tools for digging and as is most commonly known as a helpful tool for carrying buckets of water, bags of soil and other supplies. The stick or wooden pole was placed over the head, supported by the strong muscles of the neck and shoulders, as the farmer travelled the Chinese countryside from village to village with their precious harvest. Unfortunately they would encounter bandits who would attack them and steal their goods/supplies. Most of the peasants/farmers were forbidden from using weapons to defend themselves and so they learned to use their tools – like the wooden staff – as weapons of self defence. This is a widely accepted version of the origin of the Bo as a martial arts weapon. The Bo is typically gripped in thirds, and when held horizontally in front, the right palm is facing away from the body and the left hand is facing the body, enabling the staff to rotate. The power is generated by the back hand pulling the staff, while the front hand is used for guidance. Bo technique includes a wide variety of blocks, strikes, sweeps, and entrapments.
4) The bokken is a wooden weapon designed to lessen the damage caused by fighting with real swords and were used for the training of samurai warriors in feudal Japan. Bokken eventually became lethal weapons themselves in the hands of trained experts. The Bokken is a single piece of smoothed wood, which ours are like today, usually made from red or white oak. We may learn techniques from stories of old travellers with a wooden stick for walking with, and people would try and rob them but they would use the stick to defend themselves from the robbers. As weapons like the katana, which can rust in bad weather and can snap, with the Bokken, it can easily be checked before going into war/battle. Using the Bokken in places like a dojo means that in the interests of safety students should routinely check for splinters in the wood or for hazardous cracks forming. It is not intended to be a sparring weapon, but is intended to be used in kata practice and to acclimatise the student to the feel of a real sword.
5) The nunchaku is a traditional Okinawan martial arts weapon consisting of two sticks connected at one end by a short chain or rope. Used by Okinawan farmers, it was not a historically popular weapon because it was ineffective against the most widely used weapons of that time, and because few techniques for its use existed. The two sections of the weapon are commonly made out of wood, while the link is a cord or a metal chain. The nunchaku is most widely used in martial arts such as Okinawan kobudō and karate, and is used as a training weapon, since it allows the development of quicker hand movements and improves posture. Contrary to popular belief, the nunchaku did not originate in Okinawa as many assume. The nunchaku originated in the Song Dynasty in China and later made its way to Okinawa in the 17th century. (The Japanese term nunchaku derives from the southern Chinese term no-chiat kun) But, how did the nunchaku develop into a martial arts device? Because weapons were illegal in Okinawa, the nunchaku “farm implement” was incorporated into karate and jujitsu weaponry systems. Since it was primarily used for farming, the nunchaku would not be confiscated by the authorities.
Etiquette within the Dojo:
When you first start learning Japanese Bu Jutsu students are encouraged to bow when walking both on and off the mat and also when entering or leaving the dojo as a mark of respect. The execution of this bow means you but your hands at your side, legs together, you face your sensei and then bow still looking at your sensei. The name for this bow is Ritsurei. It has nothing to do with any kind of Eastern martial arts mysticism. It’s also not about showing subservience to any kind of karate master. These common myths seem more based in TV-land. The real reason we bow our heads is as a sign of respect. Respect to the practitioners who came before us and left their blood, sweat, and hard work on the mat. Their dedication made it possible for us to practice these arts today. Many years ago the old masters defined and refined the art we practice while also training the trainers ensuring the knowledge is passed on. We’re also showing respect to the future generations coming after us keeping the art alive and flourishing. The future leaders and champions will be better equipped to continue these traditions due to the work we do on the mat now. We bow to show respect to the elder practitioners, the future artists, and the process of one becoming the other.
The basic rules and techniques when starting
When starting the art of Bu Jutsu students early on need to become competent in their ability to land safely and to perform forward and backward rolls. These techniques are called ukemi kata (breakfalls) and taihen jutsu (rolling techniques). There are many techniques that we practice which cause the attacker to land heavily on the training mats and the ability to land safely or indeed roll away from danger ensures the safety of the students. This may consist of getting out the way of a weapon and to roll away from it or maybe to practice collecting a weapon from a rolling technique. When we learn to break fall we start to understand that it takes most of the pressure off the fall and becomes easier when the students develops the ability to relax their body when landing.
The first belt we try and grade for is the red belt which teaches the most basic moves which will help us further up the belt system. The red belt grading syllabus has simple techniques like; the lapel grab with a simple escape called kote-gaeshi, the escape from a bear hug, hip throws(o gosh) and shoulder throws (seoi nage).
When you perform a finishing strike (atemi technique) you release a shout or a hard breathing sound from your lungs to show you have defeated your opponent or you have finished the technique(s). This may be shown in a kata when you finish the kata with your final strike or to show you have killed an enemy in a certain direction. This shout is delivered from the stomach and is a sign of focusing your force towards the opponent and is commonly referred to as a Kiai.
Kata’s are a form of performance where you show the basics or what you can do with the weapon you have got. In the previous paragraph above I have said about shout’s (kiai) to show you have defeated an enemy, well in a kata, for example, the 3 kneeling kata when you have completed each section and you put your sword away you do a slow breathing shout that can build suspension for the next move.
Taking care of your mind is important in Bu Jutsu because training Bu Jutsu is something totally different from any other practice. It is not only about a fight that will help you to lose weight or recover your health. This is a gentle art in which the strongest man will learn that not always is the smallest person the weakest one. On the mats the equality between two physically different people is set by the use of the technique. These techniques which when practiced and demonstrated in grading events eventually earns the students a new belt. The belt system is a sign of the current level that the student has achieved thus far in learning the martial art. When we start the class the higher belts are given the honour of lining up on the front row on the left hand side and the lower belts stand further down the line according to their colour/rank. My next grading is to achieve the rank of Shodan Ho which results in wearing the black belt and commonly indicates the wearer is competent in a style’s basic technique and principles. The shodan black belt is not the end of training but rather as a beginning to advanced learning: the individual now “knows how to walk” and may thus begin the “journey”.
Bu Jutsu is a Japanese martial art and a method of close combat for defeating an armed and armoured opponent in which one uses no weapon or only a short weapon. Many people rightly consider the art of Bu Jutsu primarily to be one of self defence but some people may use it the wrong way outside of the dojo which is disrespectful to your sensei and the martial art. In some cases people use it for street fights or to simply hurt people. Respecting the traditions of the dojo, your sensei and your fellow students is important because it will ensure that the techniques are practiced in a safe and effective manner which benefits all present and future students.
I would just like to say how impressed I have been both by these essays and the effort and technical competence demonstrated by Megan and Lauren on the day.
Well done and many congratulations upon your performance!
Jaimie Hanshi Kaicho