I recently acquired a new Nunte Bo. This was a very happy occasion.
Buying a Nunte Bo is tricky because you have to balance price against quality (not to mention scarcity). It is relatively impossible to go to one of the big distributors like AWMA or Century and get a lesser known weapon of this nature.
Luckily I’ve gotten to know the owners of Crane Mountain Weapons and have done business with them before. They hand make all of their weapons and provide personalized detail, from the kind of wood they use to the length/width/taper of the weapons.
For my Nunte, I selected Jatoba wood with a stainless steel Manji Sai on top. The wood is hard and durable, but not too heavy so as to make the weapon cumbersome. Also, it has a nice natural color and grain pattern.
The Nunte (Nunti) As a Weapon
Let’s talk a little bit about what the Nunte is and where it came from. As you may know, the Okinawans developed their karate and kobudo arts from the very nature of their day-to-day lives. As fishermen and farmers, they utilized the tools of their trade to develop easily hidden yet still practical weapons.
The Nunte is one of those tools converted into a weapon. Although much of Okinawan history has been passed down orally and is therefore vulnerable to exaggerations and shifts in truth, the generally accepted explanation for the Nunte Bo is that it was a fisherman’s gaffe.
Using the straight point (which would have a sharp tip but would not be bladed), the fisherman could stab any wayward fish and toss them onto his boat. Furthermore, he could use the inward “pronge” to help pull up fishing nets. The outward pronge could be used to push off from the dock, or really anything else he needed. It was a really great multipurpose tool.
Uses of the Nunte Bo
The Nunte is a very versatile weapon and important in the lexacon of Okinawan weapons (in my opinion). The value of having a long, spear-like weapon should never be underestimated. When dealing with a sword wielding opponent (almost every culture had some sort of sword, the Japanese Samurai included), a spear is very beneficial in keeping them at bay.
Using a weapon like the Nunte allows the practitioner to stay away from the razors edge of the sword while dealing significant damage through pokes, thrusts, hooks, and percussion hits. Let’s look at a few:
Standing in for an angry attacker is Yuki, our kendo assistant. One of the great things about the Nunte is the ability to get behind armor and body parts and hook inward. While an opponent may be suspecting forward thrusts, they could very easily be taken off guard as the weapon passes their field of vision, hooks into them, and lurches them forward (and creating extreme pain as the pronge digs in).
By thrusting and returning the Nunte bo provides excellent flow – much more than you would expect from a seemingly bulky weapon.
In addition to the “pointy” end, the Nunte can capitalize on it’s long back end. If the opponent’s attention is focused on avoiding getting speared, they might forget how quickly the shaft can spin around and deliver a percussive strike:
The centerpoint of gravity is higher toward the Manji Sai, as you would expect. But by using that point of balance the long back end can swing around at surprising velocity.
The forward prong provides an excellent safety net in case your spear technique misses. It also is invaluable when it comes to catching opponents weapons and using a torquing twist to lock them into place. When utilizing the leverage of two hands twisting and locking, you can essentially control your opponents weapon enough to create an opening, throw him off balance, or otherwise disrupt his game plan.
All in all, I am a big Nunte Bo fan and I think Kobudo practitioners can really benefit from it’s unique qualities that you can’t quite get from a bo.
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Hikite – what a great concept for us to sink our teeth into! I’d like to thank Mike Sherman for asking me a question in class that started a meandering rant that ultimately led to this post.
Hikite (te meaning hand, hiki or hikeru meaning drawing in) is a very common aspect of traditional martial arts, especially in karate. Whenever you see karateka performing straight punches as a group, they are sharply snapping one hand out while pulling the other hand back to the belt.
The performance of the hikite itself is fairly consistant across styles at a base level. As the straight punch extends, the withdrawing hand retracts. It is chambered somewhere around the floating ribs. Depending on style you might chamber it a little lower, or even higher tucked up near the armpit.
As opposed to simply cheerleading the usefulness of hikite, I’d like to talk about how I see it develop in martial artists as they grow. In fact, I personally believe that hikite is initially useful, then a hindrance, then useful again.
Let me explain.
When You’re A Beginner, Hikite is Useful
When student’s first step foot in a dojo, they rarely know how to punch with maximum efficiency (very rarely). Most people realize that if they swing their knuckles at someone’s jaw, it’s gonna hurt them…but that’s about it.
The usage of hikite for early students introduces technique into an otherwise chaotic event. By chambering one hand palm up while the other hand is extended, the student can learn to corkscrew his/her punch as it extends outward. By corkscrewing, the puncher can take advantage of the speed and power of a geometric straight line to the target. Furthermore, they can learn how to position a good punch at all distances: palm up closed punch at short range, vertical punch at mid range, and fully extended palm down punch at long range.
By drilling in this fashion, the practitioner can also discover proper bone alignment as they constantly seek to strike with the front two knuckles of the fist. This kind of accuracy and intent is hard to simulate when casually punching a heavy bag with sparring or boxing gloves on.
Hikite Can Become a Hindrance
As students progress, they get more and more comfortable in their karate (or taekwondo, etc). Hikite becomes ingrained in their body and it’s almost more natural to do than not to do it.
Soon hikite pops up everywhere – in kata, in bag drills, and even in self defense routines. Realism begins to get substituted for karate habit.
In the picture above we see a fairly common karate habit. In order to keep things “Safe” and orderly, the blue practitioner drops back into a seisan/zenkutsu dachi, performs a gedan barai (lower block), and withdraws his punching hand into hikite. The point of all this is to give the red practitioner plenty of time to learn a technique and practice it.
The problem is, these two karateka will get better at the technique and start going faster. Soon they are going at blitzing speed and thinking that they have everything down pat. Wrong.
Everything about this method of practice is karatefied. Real punches rarely travel in a perfectly straight line like we practice in karate. Furthermore, you rarely have so much time to see it coming. More realistically, an attacker is going to come from a hands up, on guard position (or even worse, a sucker punch position from half a foot away).
If you were to break out of hikite habit and practice in a realistic way, even at an extremely slow pace, you would be better preparing yourself for serious self defense.
Another way hikite becomes a hindrance is during sparring or when returning strikes during self defense. If you are engaged with an opponent, you want to keep your primary defenses (your hands) in front of you as much as possible. Also, you want strike as quickly as possible. Why would you return a hand all the way to your belt, open up your centerline, just to try and send it back out for a punch? Karate people who use hikite in this way will always be at risk of getting their block knocked off by boxing style fighters.
Hooray – Hikite is Useful Again!
Don’t worry, I’m not a hater. Eventually, after a whole lotta practice, karateka start to become relaxed in their style (hopefully). They stop being slavish to their stances and techniques because they learn the principles behind them. They begin to understand the theories of weight distribution and relaxation-to-tension. They also learn that hikite actually has two components – one going out for a punch, and one withdrawing back in.
The withdrawing aspect is the real secret for making hikite useful again. When engaged in combat, a skilled karateka will make sharp contact with whatever he can – be it hand, leg, head, hair, shirt, etc. As he/she makes that contact (hopefully in a stunning or distracting manner), they will then use that hand to pull the aggressor off balance or open up a vital target on their body. As the hand is withdrawing or manipulating, the other hand will shoot out for a very devastating strike.
Getting this to work with proper timing and force takes a lot of practice. Furthermore, the student needs to learn how to use koshi (hip movement) to weight the technique and cause accelerated unbalancing of the opponent. Ideally the unbalancing and counterattack occur simultaneously (or close to it), allowing the hip to snap in one motion, or snap and then snap back for the strike.
Once you start thinking of a returning hand as a grab, pull, twist, etc it opens up a whole new realm of application possibilities. There are other places in kata that utilize returning hands (think of Nai Hanchi Shodan):
Can’t you imagine closing the distance, striking your way inside your opponent’s guard, grabbing the back of his hair and cupping his chin, then performing a twisting neck break? Or is that just me…
Two Theories I Don’t Buy
I’ve heard two major theories about hikite that I don’t really buy into. First is that the purpose of hikite is to practice an elbow strike on someone behind you. This seems like one of those unlikely karate scenarios where I need to be punching a guy in front of me while elbowing someone behind me at the same time. Furthermore, by trying to tense both of these impact areas at the same time, I am limiting my ability to use my hips. Rather than striking both people weakly, I’d prefer to hit them in quick succession but put all of my force into each technique.
The other theory is that by accelerating the returning hand you can significantly accelerate the punching hand. I have not found this to be true. The theory of relaxing the body until point of impact dictates against this because in order to accelerate my returning hand I need to be tense through the arm and shoulder. I prefer to leave that tension out of it and let my fast twich muscles accelerate the punch while my hikite is controlling the opponent’s wrist (or something equivalent). Everything snaps together at the point of impact, causing unbalancing and damage with the strike.
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After an extended visit to gunville, we are getting back into warriors of antiquity (and I couldn’t be happier about it!)
In this week’s episode the Shaolin Monk faces off against the Maori Warrior in an intriguing clash. Where matchups like ninja vs spartan and gladiator vs apache could be easily fit into the ‘strong vs fast’ box, I don’t believe this match is so readily defined.
A Bit About Maori
The Maori are a native tribe of New Zealand who’s ancestors likely came from the islands of Hawaii. Living alone on the isolated New Zealand islands for thousands of years, the Maori developed a unique and complex culture.
It is said that 12 tribes originally made the journey from Hawaii, and over time, split from each other and spread across New Zealand. In order to keep growing (and keep diversity in their gene pools), they would conquer one another and integrate the women from other tribes into their own. Because of this warring nature, the Maori had to develop sophisticated fighting methods.
Here is a look at a Maori warrior in action (it’s just a lighthearted demo, but still worth seeing):
The Maori method of fighting is surprisingly chinese in nature. They utilize meridian theories and exercise through partner training, kata-like drills, and harsh tests of spirit. Much like other elite warrior castes, only the hardiest and most courageous Maori became true warriors.
One interesting note about the Maori is that they would often eat their fallen opponents. They did this both as a sign of victory and as a form of sustenance on an island that had little in the way of meat.
A Bit About Shaolin
The Shaolin Monks are easily among the most recognizable warriors of all time. In their trademark orange garb they fly around performing remarkable feats.
The Shaolin get their name from the trademark Shaolin Temple where their particular brand of Kung Fu was born. As legend goes, the monk Bodhidharma came from India on an historic pilgrimage when he came across a band of sickly monks praying at the Shaolin Temple. In order to improve their abilities to focus during medititation and perform their day-to-day duties, Bodhidharma taught them body hardening and fighting techniques.
Although this mythology has had many holes poked in it, it is the generally accepted story for the beginning of Shaolin.
Now a look at what the monks do:
Shaolin training is famously stark as practitioners are forced to devote their entire being into training. Eating very little and living in spartan conditions, the monks train and perform every day.
The monks have experienced a significant change in the past few decades. Going from religious body to entertainment troupe, the Shaolin lifestyle and goal has become less and less about fighting and more about entertainment.
The Weapons of Maori and Shaolin
If there is one thing the Shaolin have, it is a plethora of weapons. Amongst the most commonly used are the broadsword, straight staff, convenience spade, and whip chain. (see some pictures here).
The Maori, on the other hand, utilize very few weapons. Their focus is on spear (taiaha) or straight staff and club (mere, wahaika, kotiaiti). Maori rarely threw their weapons but could use the spear as a javelin. (see some pictures here).
If this were modern times, the decision would actually be easy. Shaolin monks have lost most of their devastating combat ability in exchange for glamorous technique and showmanship. The Maori, on the other hand, are still a select group and their training has maintained a lot of its simplicity and effectiveness.
Unfortunately, I have to assume that this match will take place during both of these groups golden eras. That being the case, the Shaolin will have a sophisticated array of fighting concepts and weapons.
The Maori warrior is likely to be stronger. I also like the simplistic approach they take to fighting. The Shaolin is likely to be quicker and more dynamic when it comes to weapons. Because this show tends to be mostly a matchup of weaponry, I think I have to ultimately decide in favor of the Shaolin Monk. In real life, I would probably go the other way.
What do you think?
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