Although many martial arts do not teach the use of martial arts weapons, they are still an integral part of any martial art. The weapons subject discusses traditional martial arts weapons and contemporary street weapons, other than firearms. The use of firearms is not directly related to martial arts and is best learned from people who are experts in the use of firearms. However, martial arts training does include self-defense training against firearm attacks.
Weapons may be classified as defensive or offensive:
- A defensive weapon is used primarily for defense against an attack. It is not intended to harm the attacker seriously; rather, it is intended to discourage further attacks.
- An offensive weapon may be used for defensive purposes, but it is used with the intent to harm the attacker seriously enough to discourage further attack or to render the attacker unable to continue the attack.
Weapons training is a specialized area of training that is most appropriately taught after basic empty hand skills are mastered. Since the body and mind move and control the weapon, it is appropriate first to have good coordination. Although it is possible to develop the body and learn weapon usage simultaneously, as some systems such as eskrima and kali do, it is easier to develop basic body coordination first and then add weapons training.
Training is important
Weapons training is important for several reasons:
- It preserves a rich history of combat before the advent of modern firearms.
- It develops the body and mind in ways empty hand training alone does not.
- It teaches how to defend against weapons such as firearms, knives, clubs, etc.
- It is much more flowing in its movements. In the performance of a series of martial arts techniques, a pause may occur between techniques; however, in a weapon performance, the weapon is usually in constant motion.
- It increases coordination, especially eye-hand coordination. It also teaches you to trust your body, allowing it to do as it has been trained.
- Weapon techniques may be used in self-defense. You may not use the exact weapon, but the training learned may be transformed into use with common objects. A golf club can be used instead of a staff or a hook-handled cane can be used as a sai.
In many cultures, before the introduction of firearms, knowledge of a weapon was part of an educated man's learning. Many times, only certain classes of people learned a specific weapon. For example, in Japan, only the samurai class was permitted to carry the katana. In China, scholarly gentlemen tended to carry the jian (saber) whereas soldiers tended to carry the dan dao (single broadsword). Preserving this history and knowledge of the culture is important. One remembers something much better after doing it than after merely reading about it.
From a more practical standpoint, many martial arts weapons have some weight to them (at least the original steel ones did, unlike some modern-day wushu weapons, and practicing with them develops the body in a way that empty-hand training alone cannot. Some weapons develop certain parts of the body more extensively than others. For example, the staff and spear develop the waist and legs; the arms alone are not sufficient to power these long weapons.
Because many weapons move at greater velocities than the body alone, eye-hand reflexes and coordination are developed to a greater extent than would be possible with empty hand training alone. This is one of the benefits of two-person weapons patterns where students must react to weapons coming toward them. The psychological toughness of dealing with weapons transfers to empty hand situations. If one can face a weapon without fear, fists and feet do not seem very threatening.
The techniques used in many classical weapons patterns often translate directly to objects that may be available for use in a self-defense situation. A belt or dog leash may be used like a chain whip or rope dart. A stick or broom may be used like a sword, a pair of scissors like a dagger, etc. Many classical weapons were originally tools and everyday objects that were adapted for combat.
Many benefits may be gained from training with martial arts weapons; however, when it comes to self-defense, the bottom line is the best weapon is a firearm. If you live in a state that has concealed carry permits and you qualify for one, the best defensive weapon is to carry a concealed, readily accessible semi-automatic pistol and be well-trained in its use.
Origin of martial arts weapons
Most karate weapons are of Okinawan origin. A common belief is that Okinawan kobudo developed because of the Okinawan samurai being stripped of their weapons at two different points in their history; however, this belief is based on misconceptions.
The first time Okinawan samurai weapons were supposedly confiscated was during the reign of King Shoshin (1477-1526 AD). While documents show that Shoshin ordered his provincial lords, or aji, to live near his Shuri castle, it is no longer believed that he disarmed his ruling class. A famous stone monument, the Momo Urasoe Ran Kan No Mei, which is inscribed with the highlights of Shoshin's reign, describes Shoshin seizing the aji's swords, and how he amassed a supply of weapons in a warehouse near Shuri castle. Historians now believe Shoshin was building an armory to protect his ports and prepare for any potential invasion by wako, or pirates, not that he was stripping the samurai or the general population of their weaponry.
The second time Okinawan samurai were purportedly disarmed was after the Satsuma invasion of 1609 AD. However, documents describe that, while the Satsuma outlawed the ownership and sale of firearms, all the samurai of the Pechin class and above could keep family firearms. Documents show that, in 1613, the Satsuma issued permits to the samurai to allow them to travel with their personal swords (tachi and wakizashi) to the smiths and polishers in Kagoshima, Japan for maintenance and repair. It appears that, while there were restrictions on carrying weapons in public, the weapons were not confiscated.
The second time Okinawan samurai were purportedly disarmed was after the Satsuma invasion of 1609 AD. However, documents describe that, while the Satsuma outlawed the ownership and sale of firearms, all the samurai of the Pechin class and above could keep family firearms. Documents show that in 1613 the Satsuma issued permits to the samurai to allow them to travel with their personal swords (tachi and wakizashi) to the smiths and polishers in Kagoshima, Japan for maintenance and repair. It appears that, while there were restrictions on carrying weapons in public, the weapons were not confiscated.
Since there were restrictions on carrying weapons in public, the Okinawans relied on "kakushi buki" or the practice of using ordinary objects as concealed weapons, such as the sai and nunchaku, for self-defense.
The basic rules for self-defense against any weapon attack (firearms included) must be executed in the order listed:
- Clear your body from the weapon's line of fire or angle of attack.
- Stabilize and control the weapon.
- Disarm the weapon.
- Neutralize the attacker.
Even the best martial artist is vulnerable to the weakest weapon wielder. When defending against a weapon, prepare to be injured. Your goal is to minimize your injuries before you gain control of the situation.
Rules for weapons
Be proficient with the weapon. Whichever weapon you carry, use must be proficient with it. If you are not proficient with a weapon, leave it at home. Some weapons are as dangerous to the user as they are to the target of the weapon. In the case of firearms, many people are shot each year from accidental discharges and "unloaded" weapons.
Carry the weapon. A weapon is of no use to you unless it is readily available, and even then, it must be in your hand for you to use it.
Weapons laws. There are special state and federal laws that pertain to weapons, their ownership, carrying them, and using them. If you carry a weapon, you must know about these laws in the country, state, county city, or town in which you reside or visit.
A weapon is merely a tool. A weapon is merely an inanimate object; it is incapable of acting by itself. What the weapon is used for and how it is used is the responsibility of the person using the weapon.
Potential weapons are all around us. During a confrontation, be aware of objects in your surroundings and their possible usage as a defensive weapon for yourself or as an offensive weapon that may be used by an attacker. The following are some potential weapons that may be found in our everyday surroundings:
- Dishes. They can be used as a striking weapon or the contents can be thrown into the face of an attacker.
- Clothing. Throw clothing, such as a coat, as a distraction, use for choking, use to wrap around attacker’s arms or legs, use as a cloak to ward off attacks, or wrap around the arm to fend off knife attacks.
- Drinks. Throw them into the attacker's eyes.
- Pool cues. These are best used for thrusting attacks or defending. Pool balls may also be used as weapons.
- Napkin holders, salt & pepper shakers, sugar bowls, etc. Use these for clubbing or throw the contents into the attacker's face.
- Flashlight. Use long Maglite as a club. Mini Maglite may be used as a yawara.
- Jumper cables. Use for blocking and choking techniques.
- Spray cans. Spray into the attacker's face or use as an impact weapon.
- Tools. Use them as clubbing or thrusting weapons.
- Coins. Forcibly throw into the attacker's face as a distraction.
- Keys. Use them to thrust or rake at soft tissue targets or pressure points
- Scarf. Use a scarf for choking or as a defensive weapon.
- Wallet. Throw it as a distraction before escaping.
- Pen or comb. Use it to thrust at soft tissue targets.
- Umbrella. Use it for thrusting attacks or to assist with armlocks.
Be aware of other potential weapons in your environment, and how you, or an opponent, may use them.
Why to carry weapon
Reasons to carry a defensive weapon:
- Rape occurs every 5 minutes.
- 1 out of 3 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.
- Assault occurs every 10 seconds.
- Robbery occurs every 46 seconds.
- 1 in 5 families will be a victim of crime each year.
- 4.5 million dog attacks occur each year.
Since no weapon is useful unless you have access to it, any useful weapon must be one that is legal to carry. Most states have a law permitting concealed carry. The ability to gain a permit/license is very restricted in some states and less restricted in others.
Although a firearm is the ultimate intimidator, many people do not want to deal with a firearm. Next in line is probably a double-edged fighting knife. People seem to have an instinctive fear of knives, and, if used properly, they are highly effective. If a knife meets length limitations and not an automatic action knife, it may be legally carried in most states. After firearms and knives, almost any martial art weapon whose techniques may easily be applied to common objects a person may be carrying or may pick up from his or her surroundings would be a good choice.
- Echanis, M. D. (1977). Knife Self-Defense for Combat. Burbank, CA: Ohara Publications.
- Freeman, C. T. (2001). Weapons Training.