The use of “white weapons” for self-defense has always been part of the cultural heritage of Japan’s Ryukyu Islands, which include Okinawa. Karate and kobudo are two wheels on the axle of the Japanese martial arts. And while karate is practiced more widely around the world, kobudo can add a similarly rich dimension of fitness to students of any martial art. Making the pursuit even better, training in weapons is a whole lot of fun.

The Matayoshi style of kobudo dates back to the 1500s. It was systemized and modernized by Shinko Matayoshi early in the 20th century. After his death in 1947, his son Shinpo Matayoshi assumed responsibility as soke and codified the art further, creating hojoundo (basic training exercises), kata and bunkai. When Shinpo Matayoshi died in 1997, his son Shinsei Yasushi Matayoshi inherited his father’s dojo — although he’s not a practitioner of the style.

Here in South Africa, our Honbu Dojo ( Parent Dojo / Headquarters) fall under direct lineage of Gaja Sensei. We are extremely privileged to be students of our Senseis, Elias & Lilan Kattan. Kattan Senseis make regular trips to Okinawa not only to study and train at OGKK Headquarters, but also at the Matayoshi Kobudo headquarters operated by Shinsei Matayoshi while instructed by current head of style, Gaja Sensei.

The beginner curriculum for Matayoshi Kobudo includes the bo, sai, tonfa & nunchaku. Students are introduced to these four weapons before testing for sho dan.

The bo is an approximately 6 foot staff usually tapered with flat, not rounded ends. For younger or shorter practitioners, it can be shortened to a length slightly longer than the height of the user. In the Matayoshi system, the bo is the first weapon taught. It has more standardized basics (3 sets) and kumite associated with it as well as the most katas (5) and creates a foundation for all other weapons.

The second weapon on the Matayoshi Kobudo syllabus is the sai. A sai of proper length will extend slightly beyond the user’s elbow when retracted. Sais are used in sets of three, with one carried in the belt to replace one that might be thrown.

There is one set of basics and 3 katas trained with the sai in the Matayoshi dojo. Two of them were created by Matayoshi Shinpo, and the third by his father or his father’s teacher.

The third weapon in the Matayoshi dojo is the tonfa, also called tonqua or tuifa. Like the sai, it is of proper length when it extends just beyond the elbow of the user.

There is one set of basics and 2 kata trained with the tonfa. Both tonfa kata were created by Matayoshi family. The techniques in the kata were taught to Matayoshi Shinko by Irei of Chatan village.

The final weapon in the beginner’s curriculum is the Nunchaku. There is one set of basics and one kata for this weapon. The kata was created by the Matayoshi family, and the techniques were taught to Matayoshi Shinko by Irei.

Once a student achieves shodan, they are taught more katas for the beginner weapons and introduced to a variety of other weapons, their techniques and katas. Advanced weapons include, but are not limited to: eku, gua, kama, san setsu kon, tinbe, surachin, nunti sai and manji sai. Students above sho dan are taught these additional weapons at the discretion of the chief instructor.