Okinawan Kobudo has a diverse array of weapons. Gathered from everyday farming implements (but sometimes not really, shhhh), the Okinawans developed an impressive life protection system through armed combat. The kama, or sickle, is one of the fierce and intimidating weapons they developed.
As you probably already guessed, the kama were used to cut wheat, rice, and sugar cane on the island. The sickle is a very commonly developed tool and most cultures came up with something similar. The Okinawans, due to necessity, took things one step further and adapted it into a weapon.
The handles are made from a variety of hardwoods, and the blades of metal (obviously). The tang of the blade goes down into the handle and is fastened there. The area is then covered in a wrapping (the black in the kama above) as a final protective layer to keep everything as tight and sealed as possible. The wrapping is not a hand grip as you’ll sometimes see. Remember, those blades are going to be razor sharp on a real pair of kama and you wouldn’t want your hand anywhere near them.
The kama are instead gripped at the bottom of the shaft for maximum leverage during strikes and cuts. The primary striking areas are the sharpened inside of the blade, the blunt backend of the shaft/blade, and when the kama are folded inward, the butt edge of the shaft.
To see the kama at work, let’s take a peek at me attempting a kata (Odo no Kama Ni):
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You’ll notice the usage of sweeping motions combined with sharp pull-backs as the kama practitioner finds his/her way inside the maai of the attacker. The techniques for kama are universally useful, no matter what the attacker has in his hand, if anything; but one focus of the kata is being able to slip inside of the range of spears and swords, hooking the weapons aside just long enough to cut into the opponent. The duality of the weapon gives the practitioner a chance to block and enter in one motion.
If you are involved with kobudo or are thinking about it, try to avoid this sort of thing:
Traditional kama and xma kama are two very different animals. You’ll notice the kama above have extremely thin metal blades and air holes (not sure why). But more important than that, the practitioner is holding the kama in a very risky way. By grasping the middle he has eliminated any potential blocking surface, along with reducing the effectiveness of his attacks by about %50. Any strikes he might be able to produce with either blade or butt-end are going to be severely limited.
When it comes to kama, “extreme” kata and actual usage of the weapon are worlds apart. Both have their place so long as one doesn’t try to pretend to be the other (if you are interested in traditional kama, check here for more info).
In learning the kama, be sure to practice slowly and with a dull pair initially. You can even snag wooden ones, which you can later use for bunkai and kumite purposes. The hand changes and manipulations are difficult so don’t feel discouraged. Finally, be careful not to hook anyone around the neck too hard (not that I’ve ever done that).
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As a sword practitioner, I feel it is my duty to bring you the epic samurai failings of the internet. If you’re looking for good, quality content – today is not your day. But, if you enjoy watching cringe-worthy videos about swords, you’ve come to the right place.
This first video comes courtesy of failblog.org. In many sword arts, there is a concept called tameshigiri. Tameshigiri is the process of practice cutting through rolled up tatami mats or other artificial substitutes for the human body. In most instances, things go well and the viewing audience is impressed. Unfortunately this is not like most times…
You gotta believe that sword is razor sharp, which makes this all the more “holy crap!” worthy. I’m assuming everyone is ok as it didn’t seem to stick into anything (here’s hoping).
The next video is a lesson in getting what you pay for. If you’ve ever watched Home Shopping Network, you know that they sometimes come out with crazy deals like 600 knives for $79.95. They also sell curiously cheap katanas for right around the $40 mark. Why so cheap?
Ahhh. The only person truly shocked is the guy who got poked. This is also why live TV is so great – you never really know what’s going to happen. If you have one of these swords in your home (I do), make sure never to use it or even touch it.
The final video I think I showed once before, but it bares repeating for this particular post topic. A “master 9th dan” gets it into his head that he wants to do some cutting demos at a tournament. What his assistant doesn’t know is that the master needed a little more practice…
You gotta hand it to them for keeping composure though. It’s almost like accidents have happened before to these guys…
You may think that this post is purely for sick amusement, but you’d be wrong! In fact I am trying to communicate a very important message of not toying around with weapons, especially katanas. You kids out there – if you are thinking about running around, cutting off tree branches and stuff with a katana you bought at an anime convention, do not do it! I don’t want to have to make a fail post for you too.
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Last weekend I had the chance to train in DaitoRyu Aikijujutsu. DaitoRyu is a branch of the jujutsu family and was developed by Takeda Sokaku. One of the most famous students of Sokaku was Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido.
During our training the instructor presented us with various self defense situations, and from time to time would ask us to show him how we would react. During each event I did my best to apply solid techniques as quickly as possible.
Eventually the instructor said to me, “That’s good, but you’re making a lot of assumptions aren’t you? You’re thinking he’s going to stand that still, be that loose, and let you do these techniques without a rough struggle? You gotta hit him hard. bang! Loosen him up, then apply your technique.”
At first I was a little embarrassed because an aikijujutsu instructor had to remind me, a karate guy, to do some hitting. But then I realized that he wasn’t providing advice from a stylistic perspective, but from real-life experience, having dealt with conflict most of his life through law enforcement in the Bronx.
The Value of Striking
The art side of martial arts can be a bit ensnaring. With a skilled, cooperate partner, it’s easy to come up with extremely impressive techniques. Over years of practice, we can develop an almost “magic-like” effectiveness as we learn the exact buttons to push on our fellow practitioners. Unfortunately, this cooperation also leads to bad assumptions about how violence and struggle actually takes place.
When dealing with true conflict, you can never be sure of the physical or mental state of an opponent. An assailant could have steely arms which make wrist locks useless. They could be tweeked on mind bending drugs, nullifying any pain-inducing techniques. Their nervous system could be just a bit different than you expect, making your vital point strikes inefficient.
In unpredictable situations, you want the most reliable and simple techniques possible – and in most cases those techniques are going to begin with hard striking.
Starting With Strikes
The problem with beginning your self defense with wrist locks, escapes, throws, or other maneuvers is that you haven’t done anything to disrupt the mental rhythm of your opponent. As you move, there is nothing stopping them from adjusting and moving with you. Of course, your technique might still work, but you’re relying on the inability of your opponent to cope rather than utterly stopping their ability to cope.
A hard strike to a vulnerable part of your opponent’s body will immediately shift their train of thought from attacking you to dealing with the injury you’ve inflicted. As their brain is being fed alert signals from the damaged part of the body, you can swiftly move into your jujutsu, judo, or aikido technique since the overall strength and tenacity of your opponent is temporarily nullified.
The Importance of Location
Striking just anywhere isn’t going to do it. There are some individuals who are in such great shape that you can slam them as hard as you want in the pecs, abs, arms, and thighs and they won’t be slowed down by it. Instead, strikes have to come quick and hard to vulnerable locations like the throat, eyes, ears, groin, and joints.
Even for opponent’s who are enraged or on drugs, a balance inhibiting box to the ears or blinding jab to the eyes will give you an immediate advantage.
A Practice Tip
When learning self defense, even at a beginner level, always utilize some sort of distraction. Even if you are trying to learn a specific joint lock or throw, start off with something that will freeze your opponent’s mental state. Good self defense comes from good practice, and if you drill distractions into your routine there is a much better chance they will be there when you need it.
For non-striking practitioners such as aikidoka or judoka, stick to your curriculum but try to learn from other styles that do utilize striking.
Perhaps next we can discuss the other weapons in the arsenal besides striking, and their place in the self defense cycle…
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