The Kama as a Self-Defense WeaponWhen we think of martial arts weapon Kama as a Self-Defense Weapons in Asia that at one time really were made to do something else, we don’t need to look any further than at the Okinawan or Japanese Kama. This curved-blade weapon once (and still does, in traditional rice farming) served all over Asia’s rice fields and paddies as what’s called a sickle. Used to cut down, or “reap,” crops, the ancestor of today’s Kama (it means “scythe,” or “sickle” in Japan) was a common sight on any old-time Okinawa and Japanese farm or rice paddy. How the Kama ended up on Okinawa and in the rest of the Japanese islands is pretty well-known.
Before it became the fearsome martial arts weapon it is today, it was widely carried by farmers in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and anywhere else where rice grew. Usually tucked into a belt or rope sash around the waist, the Kama’s blade was wrapped in cloth or enclosed by a wooden sheath or scabbard that could be pulled off and tied to the waist. After the farmer was done cutting down the crop he’d usually replace the scabbard and move on to the next chore in what was probably a very long day. Soon enough, farmers and others who were prevented by Okinawan and Japanese law from carrying real bladed weapons such as swords or long knives started adapting these farming tools for self-defense against bandits, thieves or other criminals.
Sometime in the late 1400s, the first actual recorded use of a Kama in a manner related to fighting was noted. This was after ruling authorities in Okinawa took away the right of the island’s people to have or use swords and other “real” weapons. The Kama itself can be a very serious weapon.
Traditionally, its solid, curved blade was kept extremely sharp, and it tapered down to a wicked point. The handle which the blade fastened to could also be handy as a blunt object, and the Kama as a whole was excellent at helping its user block, trap and disarm an attacker. Farmers tended to use only one Kama at a time. In this way, they could grab the stalk of the crop being reaped with one hand while the other hand swung the Kama in a sweeping cross-cut, mowing the stalk down. Most martial artists, however, tend to use the Kama in pairs as the are sold or for sale in that manner.
Training with Kamas in the old days could be a risky business. New students were always in danger of receiving a serious cut or other injury from the blades if they weren’t careful. This is why people who came to understand what kind of damage the Kama could do in the right hands began to train with wooden-bladed or blunt edged and tipped versions.
At Buki Yuushuu we specialize in the creation and sale of today’s modern Kamas. They’re fashioned of the finest wood handles and high-tech aircraft-grade aluminum blades that are laser-cut to perfection and then powder-coated for long-life and everlasting beauty. Our professional kamas that we have here for sale are absolutely second to none. Any of the Kamas we have here for sale will serve you well, all you have to do is chose the set of kamas you like best. You can see many of these fine self-defense weapons here on our site.
Almost every Asian martial art today includes some version of a kata in its list of things a student must learn in order to advance up the ranks or levels towards mastery of the art. A kata is basically a system or series of body positioning and movement exercises. Through the repeated practice of a kata you can come to expect excellent muscle memory and an almost subconscious automatic use of one or more of the movements or techniques from the kata should you happen to be in a self-defense situation against an attacker. The Okinawan Kama martial arts weapon can be great for use in any traditional Kama , but there are a few things to remember when doing one, with or without a pair of Kamas.
The point of doing a kata over and over again is not to just do it for the sake of doing it. Any casual watcher of a Jet Li or a Jackie Chan or a Chuck Norris martial arts movie can learn a bit just from aping or imitating what they do on the screen. But what’s missing from that sort of mindless over-and-over activity is what the late Chinese Jeet Kune Do Master Bruce Lee referred to as “emotional content.” There’s a great scene near the beginning of 1973’s Enter the Dragon where Lee is spending a little time in a one-on-one session with his young student, Lao.
In the scene, Lee has instructed Lao to “kick him.” Lao delivers what he thinks is a perfect sliding side kick somewhere in the vicinity of where he thinks Bruce Lee’s head is going to be. Of course, Lee leaves his defensive fighting crouch and asks Lao: “What was that?” It’s obvious Lee is displeased not only with the quality of the kick that Lao has delivered, but also with his apparent lack of awareness about what it was he was trying to accomplish with it in the first place.
The point to all this Bruce Lee nostalgia is that Lee was trying to get across to his young student that your heart and soul must go into even the smallest of motions you make when studying your martial art. Hopefully, if you can do that in the dojo (Japanese word for a martial arts studio), it will soon spill over to the rest of your life, and you will be filled with “emotional content” and success in all that you do. The Japanese concept for all of this is called Wa, or “harmony.” It can also include “group harmony.” Any disruption you have in your Wa can be recognized by almost any serious master of the Japanese martial arts. That’s why many hard-working students of Karate or just about any martial art look they know what kick or punch or technique their opponent is going to deliver before their opponent even knows himself what he’ll be doing. That’s because the Wa of their adversary is so poorly maintained that they “telegraph” what they’re going to do.
So by all means, pick up the Kama and begin to practice a kata with it. You can study many of the Kama katas in the Seidokan Karate system of Okinawan martial arts, if you’re really curious about how a Kama can join perfectly with an “empty hand” system of self-defense.
The craftsmen at Buki Yuushuu make many fine examples of modern Kamas for adults and children, along with updated versions of classic Japanese Nunchakus, wooden staffs and other weapons. Go to their online catalog and take a look at some outstanding examples of each of these martial arts tools.
For those who don’t know, Okinawa – which is one of several islands in the Japanese Ryukyu chain – is the traditional home of the fearsome self-defense weapon known on the island, and the rest of Japan and throughout the world, as the Kama. It consists of a wooden handle approximately 12 to 14 inches long that has a sharpened, curved blade attached to one end of the handle.
The Kama is useful in close-quarters self-defense situations, where it can be used to slash or cut an attacker, and trap a wooden staff or pole and even a sword, if one were used against you today. This weapon was designed to be used in one hand but it can also be used as one of a pair. In fact, it could really make an attacker regret he’d ever run across someone armed with them.
The Kama can be a perfect companion for styles of martial arts which combine hard, straight-ahead movements and in-close punching or grappling techniques with softer, more sweeping motions and open hand blocking and takedown throws. For the most part, many of these kinds of martial arts had been growing on Okinawa for centuries. Gōjū-ryū Okinawan karate is just such a system. The word itself means “hard-soft style” in Japanese, and it readily accepted the Kama, the Nunchaku, the Tambo, and the Bō into its school of study.
Different versions of Te, which was a common style of fighting with roots in Chinese Kenpo, had been growing on Okinawa for a century or more when the farming class of people felt they needed a few weapons to supplement their Kara (Japanese for “open hand”) and Te skills. This was mainly because of the 1429 “Policy of Banning Weapons” that was put into force on the island at that time. This law made it illegal for the common people to own swords and other military weapons, and it was enforced throughout the rest of Japan. Of course, the samurai warrior class that was ruling over occupied Okinawa at the time felt that it was the right thing to do there, too.
When Kara and Te artists selected the Kama for one of their personal self-defense weapons, they really knew what they were doing. The handle and blade together made it easy to basically pick up the instrument and practice blocks, traps, throws and the various katas (“forms”) with one or a pair of them gripped in the palm of each hand. Soon enough, actual techniques for blocking or trapping a wooden staff or a samurai sword began to come to life. Over time, the Kama soon became important to the practice of every Okinawan karate student. And when it was gripped and used correctly, in fact, it was an enormously effective tool.
There are many styles of Okinawan karate, and almost all of them teach Kama techniques along with unarmed self-defense. All of the weapons mentioned in this article can be viewed in the online catalog over at bukiyuushuu.com, where truly fine examples can be seen. They’re modern versions of the classic Japanese weapons, and are sure to appeal to even the casual martial artist.
On the Japanese island of Okinawa, which is the traditional home of what we know today as Karate, there was a growing trend in the 15th through 17th centuries towards including various weapons in the study of those unarmed systems of self-defense.
It was only natural that the wooden staff would be the first of these non-military weapons to be joined together with self-defense techniques then in use on the island. At that time, swords and such were forbidden by law to most of the non-samurai classes of people on Okinawa.
The Kama, which is a form of a wheat or rice sickle used to cut down the stalks of those grains, is the fourth weapon of five in what’s called Okinawan Kobudō. The simple explanation for Kobudō (“koh-boo-dough”) is that it’s the combined martial arts weapons system of study in Japan. The Japanese word means “old martial arts way.” Besides the wooden staff (Bō) and the Kama, the other weapons in Okinawan Kobudō generally can be the Sai, the Tonfa, and the Nunchaku. The staff is always taught first, then the Sai, the Tonfa, the Kama and finally, the Nunchaku.
There is a method to this random-looking order, by the way. Each weapon is taught in conjunction with the techniques of the style or styles of unarmed combat and self-defense being learned at the time. If you notice, the wooden staff can be a good “stand-off” (you can hit people from farther away) weapon, which can fit in well with the short or long kicks, and the hand and arm traps and blocks taught to the student in certain phases of Karate. You can see how the follow-on skills and techniques which include so-called “sticky hands” (complicated and very quick hand traps and in-close blocks) would match up perfectly with the Kama and what it was meant to do.
As far as this effectiveness in close-in battle that a Kama was expected to help an Okinawan Kobudoka (a student of Kobudō) achieve, well…it could be a fearsome and deadly weapon when used in the right hands. Remember, the Kama has a short, wooden handle topped with a razor sharp, curved blade that comes down to a very sharp end at its far length, away from the handle. The possibilities for mayhem that could be created with a pair of Kamas were endless!
As a weapon itself, the Kama is mostly used as a pair because of the benefits in using two of them to defend against an attack by somebody using a baseball bat or a wooden stick or pole or some other longish weapon. They’re deadly-effective when it comes to cutting, slashing, and hacking at an attacker. Because of the nature of the weapon, most students will at first learn on completely wooden versions to avoid cutting or otherwise hurting themselves with Kamas that have a sharp metal blade.
We recommend that students who choose to study Kama techniques gain a little bit of wrist and forearm strength due to the sometimes top-heavy weight of a Kama. Once that’s done, there’s no end to how a skilled student can use them in self-defense and close-quarters battle. As a part of Okinawan Kobudō, the progression from the staff to the Kama will also help a student be better prepared for using this highly-effective weapon.
The Kama, along with the Tonfa, the Bō, and the Nunchaku, are available for viewing and purchase at bukiyuushuu.com. They’re all completely updated with the needs of today’s martial artist in mind, and each is a magnificently-detailed example of the original Japanese weapons each of them pays tribute to.