I've been training in martial arts since the 1980s and consistently since the '90s. I am a 2nd-degree black belt in Kenpo Karate.
As the term implies, martial arts are based in war, fighting, and combat. For thousands of years, weapons have been used in warfare, everything from spears and swords, to sticks and stones. Martial arts, of course, often have weapons as a backbone of their systems, or at least extensively use weapons in their training.
Here we will examine the varied arts that use weapons as a basis for training in some regard, either as a foundation or an integral part of the art.
Eskrima, as far as I'm concerned, tops the list of weapons-based martial arts. Weapons form the foundation of Eskrima systems—and many Filipino arts of which Eskrima is one—and learning and training proceeds from there. That is, a student learns to use a weapon, typically a stick or blade, and then translates what is learned to empty-hand techniques. The weapon in hand teaches coordination and dexterity, informs the user of movement, and creates a respect for control of the weapon. The training makes the mind problem-solve and understand that a weapon is just an extension of the body and that what can be done with the weapon can be done with body parts, your natural weapons.
The arts have been used by Filipinos for centuries, helping them to defend themselves and their home from numerous invasions. Filipinos in the Southern Philippines are still largely independent and fierce, having kept out invasions for hundreds of years.
Weapons in the Filipino arts include the stick, the knife, blades of various sizes and shapes, and various flexible weapons. The arts are diverse and adaptable, keeping up with modern-day environments, with an emphasis on realism and combat.
Kobudo is the term commonly given to the use of Okinawan weapons, which have become famous because of their use in the movies. They have been used by everyone from Bruce Lee to Sho Kosugi (Kosugi being a famous ninja movie star of 1980s martial arts cinema). These weapons include the nunchaku, bo staff, and the tonfa. The tonfa was at one time used by law enforcement, and it was even featured in the old show TJ Hooker with William Shatner demonstrating its use in fight scenes for the show.
Ninjitsu is the art of the ninja, the art of stealth, espionage, and assassination. Ninjas were spies in feudal Japan and had an assortment of weapons in their arsenal to use on missions; everything was carried by the ninja, from grappling hooks to smoke bombs, to caltrops (tacks thrown on the floor to trip up and injure an enemy, used mostly for escape) and swords. The ninja was well-versed in weaponry, similar to a special forces soldier or intelligence officer in the modern world. He had to be well-trained and knowledgeable in warfare and weaponry to do his work.
Kung Fu styles are also known for their use of weapons. Some have been obviously used in warfare, like the huge and formidable trident. There are also more elegant weapons, like the Tai Chi sword.
Demonstration of the Tai Chi Sword
Although more famous for its fluid movement, its empty hand techniques of locks and throws, and using the opponent's energy against him, Aikido actually requires students to learn the use of the Jo staff, a staff that is about four feet in length. The student learns a form using the weapon and also learns its application in self-defense.
Aikido Demonstration of the Jo Staff
Kendo means way of the sword. It is a sword-based art, but practitioners use bamboo swords to avoid injury and wear heavy protective gear to allow sharp and strong blows to land when they are sparring. The gear features heavy padding of the body and head and a strong face guard. The idea behind this art is the "one-shot" kill or the typical samurai approach of taking someone down with one well-placed stroke. The technique in this art is focused, concentrating on precision, and hitting the mark in a way that is final. It is the way of the samurai.
So those are the arts that make use of weapons either fundamentally as part of their systems or rather extensively. Weapons practice develops strength, coordination, and control. It is also wise, in terms of self-defense, to have a certain familiarity with weapons, because they are common and often used by those who wish to do others harm.
Mostly weapons training can be very fun. They can be a challenge and test of reflexes and dexterity. They are a great addition to any martial arts training regimen.
© 2017 Nathan Bernardo
Mary Wickison from Brazil on April 26, 2017:
I can see that by adding training with the weapons it would keep the classes fresh.
The Jo Staff video was fascinating but I didn't understand how it could flip a person. I guess it's all about leverage.
The women with the Tai chi sword, are so elegant in their movements. In the west, we tell the kids not to walk with a stick or they could poke their eye out. Yet with their training and respect for their sport, those women showcase their skills.