Although we already know that karate is generally an unarmed martial art, we sometimes wonder if it incorporates weapon training in its curriculum. So, does karate use weapons?
Generally, karate does not use weapons since it is an unarmed martial-art style. Weapons are also not allowed in karate sports competitions. However, some karate styles such as the Isshin-ryu have dedicated weapons programs.
Let me say this upfront, weapon training is generally not a part of the karate system. It is not used in karate sports.
After all, karate in Japanese means “empty hand”. It is an unarmed martial art style that employs striking techniques such as kicking, punching, and defensive blocking with arms and legs.
However, some systems include weapons standards in their curriculum, and others optionally offer weapons training.
Also, some individual schools may teach additional weapons which are not necessarily taught by others in their system.
Now let’s dive deep into this topic as I explain the history of weapons in karate, the karate styles that used weapons, and the types of weapons used.
Are Weapons Used in Karate?
Generally, weapons are not used in karate (especially in sporting competitions) since it is an unarmed martial art style that employs striking techniques such as punching, kicking, and defensive blocking with arms and legs. However, some karate styles such as Isshin-ryu incorporate weapon training in their curriculum.
I already mentioned that formal weapon fighting does not exist in the karate curriculum (especially for sporting purposes).
But some karate styles such as the Isshin-Ryu have weapons programs included in their curriculum which includes sai kata, bo kata, and tonfa kata. This is in addition to its empty-hand techniques.
Now, you might be wondering where karate weapon training originated from and why they are associated with Karate.
Well, let me explain!
As you already know, karate originated among the indigenous people of Okinawa Island in Japan. This, therefore, makes karate one of the Okinawa martial arts.
Apart from the reliance on the body as a weapon, many of these Okinawa martial arts (karate inclusive) also incorporate the old weapon system known as the Okinawa Kobudo.
Okinawa Kobudo is a Japanese term that translates to “old martial way of Okinawa.”
These systems have dozens of weapons in their curriculum.
A popular story and a common belief have it that Okinawa farming tools evolved into weapons due to the restriction placed on the peasants by the Satsuma samurai clan which prohibited them from carrying arms.
This made them defenseless therefore forcing them to develop a fighting system around their farming implements.
This, therefore, means that the kind of weapons traditionally used my karate are weapons of Okinawa origin (Okinawa Kobudo).
Most Okinawa martial artists (karate practitioners included) trained in both arts and performed many Karate moves with a weapon in hand for more effectiveness.
So, since karate was a part of the Okinawa martial arts, it was natural that the art would pick up these weapons as part of their training.
As a result of these, many karate styles (old and new) have adopted some of these weapons into their training program.
Okinawa Kobudo is different from the general term Kobudo which refers to all Japanese martial arts which predate the Meiji restoration.
However, some Kobudo is now also being used in different karate styles.
What Weapons Are Used in Karate?
The weapons used in karate are largely the Okinawa weapons known as the Okinawa Kobudo. Some of these weapons include Bo, Sai, Tonfa, Kama, Nunchaku, Eku, Tinbe-Rochin, Sansetsukon, Nunti, Kuwa, Tekko, Yari, Suruchin, Nunti Bo, and Tichu.
Many of the different karate styles today practice at least one of these many weapons not for sporting competitions purposes but as a self-defense mechanism.
Let’s now examine some of these weapons in detail.
The above are Okinawa weapons, but other Japanese martial arts weapons have also been adopted by the art.
For more on these karate weapons, visit this article from The Karate Blog.
What Karate Styles Use Weapons?
Aside from its traditional history of the use of weapons, modern karate does not generally focus on the use of these weapons except for self-defense purposes.
As a sport, its emphasis remains on the use of the body in the execution of different unarmed striking techniques such as punching and kicking.
The only karate style I can think of that has a dedicated weapons program is Isshin-Ryu.
Its kata includes;
- Empty-Hand Kata
- Bō Kata
- Sai Kata
- Tonfa Kata
Does Shotokan Karate Use Weapons?
Generally, Shotokan Karate is an empty-handed technique. However, some katas such as Bassai-Dai incorporate weapon training by basing some of their motions off Nunchaku, Bassai-Sho using a Bo, and Kanku-Dai being the removal of a staff (weapon) from the opponent.
Some dojos will teach Kobudo, which is the use of Bo, Sai, Nunchaku, Tonfa, and other weapons.
This makes Shotokan Karate to be weapons-inclusive, even though practitioners will encounter them at their higher grades of practice.
Does Wado Ryu Karate Use Weapons
I know that many Karate styles implement weapons (at least in their self-defense programs), but I learned in an article that Wado is the only one of the five main Karate styles (Wado, Shotokan, Goju, Shito, and Shorin) that does not incorporate the use of weapons of any kind.
Counter-attacking weapons in Wado Ryu include punches, kicks, arm locks, wrist locks, throws, and sweeps.
Why Do They Use Weapons in Karate?
Weapons are used in karate to help practitioners increase their application of force, improve coordination, better understand distance, and make their self-defense techniques more effective.
It might seem contradictory to know that weapons are learned in karate considering its self-defense concept and its focus on “empty hands” for combat.
However, weaponry training is taught to practitioners before and after reaching Black Belt. But why is that?
As a beginner, we learn to control our own body movements. And at a more advanced level when weapons are introduced, we are taught to use the weapon as an extension of our body.
This, therefore, requires our body to be under control at all times, which would require training and refinement.
Application of Force
Weapon helps to multiply force letting you do more damage to your opponent with less effort and exertion in a shorter period while reducing the risk of damage to yourself.
Once you have trained in weapons and learned the concept, you can use everyday objects.
Don’t have a sword? An umbrella will do. No bo staff? What about a broom?
The best martial artists have the ability to gauge distance from their opponent and avoid strikes by millimeters.
But this “strike zone” and “safe distance” change when you have different weapons.
Using different objects to practice can help your sparring and even make you better understand where to stand in a combat situation.
Nowadays, it’s unlikely to find anyone walking around with weapons like Nunchaku since martial arts and society have evolved.
This is why self-defense is learned with easily accessible weapons such as a baton or a knife.
Generally, aside from its history of the use of weapons, modern karate does not focus on the use of weapons except for self-defense purposes.
As a sport, its emphasis remains on the use of the body in the execution of its different striking techniques.
See also: Does Taekwondo Use Weapons?
Hi, my name is Godwin. I am a passionate martial artist with black belts in Taekwondo and Karate. I have over 15 years of martial art experience. I created this platform to enable me to help you learn martial art the right way.