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Some weapons used by traditional Japanese martial arts

This is only a short list of traditional martial arts weapons, favoring the japanese arts mostly. In addition there are many weapons that will seem more recognizable to westerners, such as the cane, rope or chain, broadsword, and throwing knives. Many of the weapons on this list came from agricultural applications, such as the club, sickle and staff, in part because the development of martial arts was often spurred by government prohibition against weapons and the practice of fighting.

  • Sai - Short metal club, usually used two at a time, with one long rod and two shorter rods. Useful for disarming opponent's weapon.
  • Tonfa (tuifa) - Very similar to a police club or billy club, these wooden clubs have handles three-quarters of the way down that are perpendicular to the main shaft.
  • Bo (rokushakubo) - A six foot wooden pole, used to stab and swing. Sometimes other lengths as well.
  • Jo - Four or five foot wooden staff.
  • Nunchaku - Usually two wooden sections, approximately a foot in length, joined by a short length of chain or rope. This weapon evolved from tools used to thresh grains.
  • Katana - A single bladed, slightly curved sword.
  • Kama - Essentially a sickle, these too are often used in pairs by martial artists.
  • Boken (bokken) - A wooden sword, usually used because the use of a metal (and sharp) sword in training is unsafe.
  • Tanto - A Knife (usually wooden), often used in pairs.

I would also like to add to that list a little bit of information about some of these weapons.

Traditionally, most of these weapons were considered lesser weapons when compared to the much more important daisho: The combination of katana and wakizashi which marked the station of the samurai. Even non-bushi samurai (for not all of that class were warriors) would wear the swords, as a mark of station.

The other weapons were not considered dishonorable to carry, but they were viewed as lesser weapons. Most of them were tools which could be used as improvised weapons, since the hinin (peasant class) were forbidden to carry the daisho, and in most cases, any weaponry at all. But, if you were fighting indoors, you were often not allowed to bring your sword inside with you, so having a jitte on your side would be a tremendous advantage versus an unarmed opponent. In fact, it would also be an advantage versus an opponent who was foolish enough to bring a sword into that cramped area: You could easily enter his range and disarm him, and then you would be the only armed combatant.

So, for this reason, many samurai would later carry these unorthodox weapons. They would also train with less deadly weapons, such as the bokken. As time progressed and the importance of the samurai lessened, the hinin weapons became more important. Primarily because many of those peasants who became masters of these unorthodox weapons had become the new police. (There's some indication that those were were "asked" to provide the lord with services he could not ask for, those which were beneath the station of the samurai -- the ninja-- were later to have become the police force. It might be true.)

Additional weapons:

  • jitte - the sword-catcher, or sword breaker
  • manriki gusari - a weighted chain
  • sasumata - a single ended military fork, or man catcher
  • tessen - the war fan, a metal fan meant to direct troops
  • kawanaga - a weighted chain with a grappling hook at the end
  • chijiriki - a chain with a spear at the end
  • naginata - basically a long spear with a curved blade
  • nagamaki - a shorter naginata used by mounted troops
  • sodegarami - the sleeve tangler, similar to the sasumata, but designed to catch the sleeves of the kimono
  • yari - a long polearm, very similar to the European lance
  • nage yari - a shorter version of the yari, also capable of being thrown
  • ono - equivalent to the European battleaxe
  • tetsubo - a big heavy club
  • no dachi - a tremendously huge sword, from about 1.5 to 2 meters long
  • dai tsuchi - the Japanese equivalent to the European war hammer

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