There are opportunities in martial arts training to learn to use various weapons. Many schools, especially those that teach Japanese karate and Chinese kung fu styles have weaponry as part of their overall curriculum. Popular weapons from karate systems include the bo staff, kama, sai, sword, nunchaku and tonfa. Chinese kung fu styles have broadsword, 3 section staff, kwan do, whip chain, butterfly knives as well as their own versions of staff. Of course, there are many other types of weapons in martial arts but the above are the more common ones taught. Some of the more exotic weapons include the fan, rope dart and the hook swords.
Martial arts weapons can be divided into short and long range. An example of a short range weapon would be a pair of sai. The bo staff would be a long range weapon because of the longer reach. Weapons can also be divided into bladed and non-bladed. Kamas and swords of course would be bladed weapons where staffs and nunchakus would be non-bladed. In most training situations with bladed weapons, the blades are not live. That is, the blades of swords and kamas are blunt rather than sharp. This adds to the safety aspect of martial arts weapons training. Weapons can also come in different weights from heavy traditional models down to ultra light weight versions for forms competition.
Weapons are considered as extensions of a martial artist’s own body. For example, strikes with a weapon are really extended hand strikes. Blocks with weapons are modeled after traditional martial art blocking techniques. Therefore, it is important for students to be relatively proficient with techniques using their own bodies first before learning to use any martial arts weapon. This will help the students understand the applications behind each weapons technique much better. In most Japanese karate schools, weapons training won’t be offered until students reach an intermediate level such as green or blue belt. There are styles that are strictly weapons oriented. An example is Japanese kendo which is modeled after samarai sword fighting. Philipino arnis is stick fighting which was developed in the South Pacific islands.
There are many benefits in training with martial arts weapons. Because most weapons have some weight to them, their use will help develop muscle tone and strength. Performing forms or katas with weapons will also develop coordination. In today’s world, martial arts weapons may not be as practical as the days of the past when it was acceptable to carry weapons wherever one traveled. However, with some understanding of weapons techniques, a martial artist today can turn almost any household item such as an umbrella, cane or even a set of keys into weapons of self defense if required. Another important point that shouldn’t be ignored is that most practitioners will claim that training with martial arts weapons is a lot of fun.
However, not all martial arts clubs and studios will teach weapons. Many tae kwon do schools for example do not include weapons in their overall training. This is not to say that Korean styles do not have weapons. Korean kuk sool won features the staff, sword and cane. So if a student wishes to learn the use of weapons, a school that includes them in their training should be sought after. Another alternative for students who are otherwise happy with their martial arts club that doesn’t have weapons training is to get supplementary private instruction from instructors who can provide it.
Weapons training can open up a whole new dimension to overall martial arts training. Even advanced tai chi practitioners use swords in some of their forms. It doesn’t matter if sometimes the swords are made entirely of wood either since the actual weapons techniques will still be used in the forms. For many competitors, weapons forms are their favorite divisions to compete in. From a spectator point of view, weapons forms can be very exciting to watch especially when weapons such as whip chains or kamas with strings are used since their presentations are so dynamic and even somewhat dangerous to the user. Such weapons have caused injuries to users when certain techniques were sloppy or mistimed. But like other aspects of martial arts, proficiency with a martial art weapon after much hard training can bring a high sense of satisfaction to a martial artist.
Clint is a lifelong martial artist with over 36 years of training experience in kung fu, tae kwon do, karate, kickboxing and martial arts weaponry. He has won Canadian and world championship titles (NASKA, NBL and WSKF). He is also owner of Martial Arts Articles Online (http://www.martialartsarticlesonline.com), an online martial arts information resource.