This post comes from a variety of thoughts circulating in my head recently. It has come as the result of recent discussions with those wiser than me in karate. And that topic is of the importance of weapons training.
Now let me preface all of the proceeding writing with information about my current state. I have been doing karate, in some form, for the last 15+ years, more than 10 of which have been in my current style of Goju Ryu. In those 15 years, I have studied at least 4 years of Iaido and at least 10 years of Saijutsu (as a component of karate). I have also have the opportunity to play with tai chi sword, butterfly sword, nito (Musashi's two sworded style), eskrima sticks, butterfly knives and bokuto/bokken. I have use briefly also a bo. So I am not a stranger to weapons training, but definitely not well experienced in anything but sai and iaito, which I would claim some measure of capability.
But specifically I have been really thinking hard about learning traditional Okinawan Kobudo. Not only would this reinforce my interest in Okinawan Karate, it would directly benefit it. It can be seen as a form of strength training at the least, but this would be a poor reason to study it. It is an entire history of the islands I have come to respect with lessons that reinforce what I know and would let me learn that which I have yet to imagine or comprehend.
Recently (I mean for the last 50-100 years) karate has been taught separately from kobudo, despite there being a solid history of their combined methods being taught together. In fact, many of the greatest names in karate have kobudo kata named after them. This alone should give any karateka pause to consider studying kobudo.
But beyond this, I don't want to learn just any weapons. I want to learn the most esoteric. I have recently seen some great applications of weapons forms. Here is an example of applied nunchaku or surujin technique:
I have also come to the realization that much of the island's bo techniques are based around not just the staff (what in Chinese Quan Fa is called the Grandfather of weapons) but also the oar (eku) and spear (yari). So much of what I want to learn is the technique and application of armed combat from the masters of armed and unarmed combat from the Ryukyu islands. I see and sense a great depth there which I have yet to tap or understand, and hope to in the future.
Anyways, this leads me to the question: why did the split happen? Why is karate taught alone, and kobudo the same? I ask this because I ask myself what I would want to teach. My answer is always a complete art: one with strikes, locks, throws, weapons (improvised or otherwise), escapes, restraints and healing technology. When I look at the curriculum of a other martial arts, I see the inclusion of at least a few weapons forms/techniques/styles. Why should I or my students (should I ever have any) be any less demanding of our art? When I look to the past, this is what my lineage should hold: all of the above. The history of karate is deeper than the common place "peasant/famer's art" that is considered standard history: it is one of police and palace guards. It is one of such depth that I hope to one day see enough to consider myself a true student rather than someone lost in the deep end of a swimming pool.
The way is in the training, as always...