Karate-Do and Kobudo (“The Way of Old Martial Arts”, commonly translated as weapons) have often been linked as one. Many schools teach them as separate classes, but eventually make it a requirement to learn Kobudo in order to test for an advanced rank and Shodan. When someone first starts learning Kobudo is different at every school. When I was a mudansha, you had to be a green belt (7th kyu) before you could start a Kobudo class. The reason behind this is that the stances are different from Karate and the instructors did not want a student getting confused. Now as an instructor, I struggle with the same question of, “How do I teach my students Kobudo without confusing them?” I decided on a simple solution.
Karate Katas with Weapons
I have my students practice one of the first katas, usually either the Kihon series or the Pinan series, until they are comfortable with it. Then I teach them a simple variation holding either two Nishaku Bo (2 foot sticks), Kama (sickles), tonfa (police baton), or sai (metal forks). Doing this, they do not have to learn a new pattern, only some variant techniques with the weapons.
I teach these katas different quite regularly and do not have any set pattern or “correct way” to do them. It is meant to familiarize the student with the weapons, allow them to compete in the weapons divisions early on, and build confidence in their Kobudo ability. Similar to teaching Karate katas, I insist that all students understand the application behind their kata (with the weapons) so that they are not simply swinging a weapon around and calling it a kata.
The other added benefit of using a kata they are familiar with is that when they are in their first few tournaments and they get nervous before performing, they do not have the chance of mixing up the two kata. Additionally, if they do well on the first kata, then they have confidence in their ability to repeat it. Should they do poorly on the first one, then they have a chance to make up for it .
The next step in introducing the student to Kobudo is Hojo Undo. Rather than overwhelm someone who is already new to Karate with more kata and pattern memorization. I transition from the open hand katas with weapons to pure kobudo bunkai. We go move by move and practice with partners. One person will attack and the other will block. As time goes on, we start going faster and then start moving more fluidly back and forth.
Sensei Yamashita had a few sets of simple Kobudo katas that involved moving forward and backwards in straight line performing different moves repetitively for practice. There were three sets for bo, two for tonfai and sai, and I believe one for nunchaku and kama. I will search through my papers and see if I can find the original directions I received when I started learning years ago.
My final strategy in teaching new students weapons is to have them practice slow unscripted kumite. I have them attack and defend at half speed. We will practice going back and forth with the same weapon. Once the student is comfortable, we switch so that we each have different weapons. It is important that this is practiced slowly and not amongst two inexperienced karateka. I think it is safest to have at least one black belt amongst the pair.