What To Expect in Kobudo | A Martial Arts Overview

Picking up a weapons-based martial art like Kobudo can sometimes be a bit difficult since it is hard to know what to expect and good information can be scarce in martial arts. I wanted to know what to expect from Kobudo, so I looked into it.

In Kobudo, you can expect a traditional Okinawan weapon martial art based on self-defense in a weapons-based training environment. Training Kobudo typically emphasizes weapons like the Bo, Sai, Nunchaku Tonfa, and the Kama.

This article will give a broad overview of Kobudo starting with its history and answering some frequently asked questions about Kobudo that you might want to have answered so that you know what to expect before you think about taking up the martial art.

A Brief History of Kobudo

In the 16th century came the rise of firearms. Throughout history, the development of new weapons and combat techniques invariably led to the invention of many new fighting techniques. 

Kobudo means the Old Martial Way of stopping war. Its true origin is difficult to trace since its practices spread via word of mouth. 

Formerly Kobujutsu, Okinawan Kobudo was invented and practiced for over 300 years after King Sho Shin set restrictions on using or carrying weapons in public. 

Consequently, Kobudo began in the 17th or 19th Century in Japan’s Okinawan islands. Okinawa is also the birthplace of karate. It’s believed that Kobudo uses the same stances and theory of movement as karate. The difference is that karate is an empty hand art while Kobudo applies weapons. 

When the technique began, it taught people to use farming implements as weapons. Farmers and fishers mainly used it to defend themselves against the Satsuma samurai. 

The primary weapons used in Kobudo include: 

  • Bo (staff) 
  • Sai (iron fork) 
  • Nunchaku (two or more pieces of wood joined by horsehair) 
  • Tonfa (wooden handle) 
  • Kama (bladed sickles) 

Okinawan locals practiced Kobudo secretly for over 300 years, and it passed from one generation to the next. 

Today, there are three deadly Kobudo styles: 

  • Ryukyu 
  • Matayoshi 
  • Yamane Ryu

Okinawan Kobudo, a history guide book is a great read to learn more about Kobudo’s history if you are interested. 

What Do You Wear for Kobudo?

You wear a specialized traditional martial arts uniform for Kobudo called Kobudo-gi. It’s similar to a Karate gi and resembles a kimono. Students in modern times wear a shirt or rash guard under their gi jacket. 

For Matoyoshi Kobudo, you should wear a black jacket and white pants. The uniform should not be highly decorative or made from expensive materials.

If your school is flexible in regards to uniforms and allows their students more agency in picking their uniform, I prefer this gi that is available on Amazon as a starting gi since it is affordable and a great value for a first martial arts gi that can be used in Kobudo.

There are all kinds of different expectations for gis based on individual disciplines and schools in terms of colors, preferred Kobudo-gi brands, and whether or not a hakama is used.

Talk to your prospective school in order to understand the expectations at that school. For first classes, you are not usually required to buy a uniform and can just come in comfortable athletic wear.

Do You Wear Shoes in Kobudo? 

You do not wear shoes in Kobudo. Depending on the school, some people may wear traction socks. However, most practice Kobudo barefoot due to tradition, and since it can enhance stability, foot and ankle strength, awareness, and the effective lifetime of the training mats and floors. 

It’s traditional to go barefoot, and unless you have a medical reason for not practicing barefoot, you should just follow the norms in your school. Additionally, being barefoot will help you get a better feel for the techniques and strengthen your body better overall.

However, if you have a limitation, talk to your instructor to get permission before donning a pair of shoes. This is out of respect for your instructor and also will allow them to direct you to footwear that is appropriate.

Cases that might require wearing a shoe are cuts and abrasions, ankle instability, and weakened or damaged feet. In these cases, a wrestling shoe is likely to be one of the most helpful shoes to wear. However, martial arts slippers and shoes might be appropriate in some cases and are more commonly used in the traditional martial arts context.

If you use shoes in the training area they should be specific to the training area and never used elsewhere for sanitary reasons.

For more details on the benefits of barefoot training in martial arts check out my post 7 Benefits of Training Martial Arts Barefoot.

What Equipment Is Required for Kobudo? 

The equipment required to attend beginner Kobudo classes is usually limited to a Kobudo-gi uniform. Most locations that teach Kobudo will provide training weapons to use during classes. After regularly attending Kobudo classes, most students like to purchase their own set of Kobudo weapons.

Make sure that your martial arts school of choice does not have any additional equipment requirements by talking to the school owner or the instructor when you do your trial class.

Do I Need To Be Fit To Start Kobudo?

You do not need to be fit to start Kobudo training. Due to the inclusion of weapons in Kobudo, you will naturally build up your fitness levels and get into shape. It might be initially uncomfortable if you are not fit, but that is the case with basically any martial art or physical hobby.

It is also the case that by practicing Kobudo or any other physical hobby, you will gradually get into better shape and typically enjoy the process more if you find the activity engaging, and learning weapons combat is usually pretty engaging once you get started.

Do I Need To Be Strong for Kobudo?

Being strong is helpful for all martial arts, despite the common belief that technique conquers strength, and Kobudo is no exception. If you are physically stronger you will be able to better train with weapons for longer. However, being strong is not a prerequisite to starting training Kobudo.

If you want to get stronger for general health, or for training Kobudo at a higher level, doing some kind of strength training option can help take you to the next level. Calisthenics and weight training are both good options.

If you want to know more about how to choose one of these strength-training methods check out my post Should You Choose Calisthenics or Lifting for Combat Sports?

Do I Need To Be Flexible for Kobudo?

Being flexible is helpful but not mandatory for Kobudo. Being flexible increases your mobility, balance, and ability to move between stances and also reduces the risk of injury. Doing a basic stretching routine after class in addition to your normal training can help your flexibility and mobility.

Is Kobudo Good for Getting in Shape? 

Kobudo is good for getting in shape. Kobudo can be physically demanding since you need to control your body and work with a weapon. While Kobudo is not usually used to address conditioning directly, the movements and forms do naturally provide you with useful exercises that help get you fit.

Is Kobudo Good for Self-Defense?

Kobudo has self-defense applications since it uses weapons that have simple equivalents that can be found in a real-life fight situation. Additionally, some skills learned in Kobudo like distance management, timing, stance, and awareness apply to self-defense situations.

That being said, Kobudo is not the best selection for self-defense in the modern environment. For most people, picking up a martial art like Muay Thai or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a better option, especially in the context of an MMA gym where techniques are mapped into a complete fighting context.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is probably the best option for most people to pick up for self-defense. If you want to know more about what to expect in BJJ check out my post What Should I Expect in My First BJJ Class?

What Style of Fighting Is Kobudo?

Kobudo is a weapons-based fighting system that involves a few core weapons and integrates them around core techniques similar to Karate. Kobudo will teach effective distance management, striking techniques, and blocking techniques for armed combat. 

Its training mirrors using ancient Okinawan farm implements for self-defense. The primary goal of Kobudo weapons training was how to fight using weapons at hand for farmers against trained samurai.

The landscape for Kobudo in modern times has changed to be less utilitarian about self-defense and more about practicing this part of history. That being said, learning how to fight with weapons carries over into any combat situation where you can pick up a stick or other improvised weapon.

Does Kobudo Include Live Sparring?

Kobudo includes live sparring for advanced students. In most Kobudo classes sparring is more limited and tends to just follow a basic routine for training combat techniques. Fundamentals are practiced typically using kata and other partner drills using unarmed and weapons techniques.

Most of the time Kobudo does not emphasize live sparring and tends towards learning techniques and doing choreographed sparring practices. In some schools live sparring happens more regularly with students that are more advanced and that have the requisite protective gear. In these cases, live sparring will happen as a natural endpoint at the end of the class.

Are There Kobudo Competitions or Tournaments?

Kobudo tournaments and competitions do exist and are often combined with Karate tournaments. Kobudo can be a demonstration performance showing knowledge of techniques and routines or be a points-based competitive combat sports event.

Kobudo is not usually emphasized as a combat sport and is mostly a traditional martial art practiced as a hobby for most of its students. Competitions and tournaments are often done as a performing arts display of Kobudo knowledge rather than a combat sports event, although points-based Kobudo does exist.

Is Kobudo Dangerous To Practice? 

Kobudo is not particularly dangerous to practice. Kobudo controls the injury risk by doing a technique warmup that is followed by individual kata techniques and progressing into partner technique drills. This helps students better control before minor injuries can happen in partner drills.

Due to the structure of a typical Kobudo class in combination with a relatively rare live-sparring component in classes, Kobudo is a relatively risk-free martial art to practice. Properly warming up and cooling down with stretching after class can further reduce injury risk.

Is Kobudo Hard To Learn?

With a wide variety of techniques and weapons, it can be easy to get overwhelmed in Kobudo and feel that it is hard to learn. However, with a focus on the basics and the commonalities between the techniques, it can be quite approachable to learn.

Over time you will acclimate to Kobudo and start to link together techniques and understand weapons fighting as a whole, making it easier to learn Kobudo over time.

How Long To Learn Fundamentals in Kobudo? 

Like many martial arts, you can learn the fundamentals of Kobudo in 3 to 6 months of consistent training. For the most part, the fundamentals will involve being able to perform solo drills to a proficient level and being able to perform some partner drills and techniques without feeling lost.

After a few months of Kobudo you should have a basic grasp of distance management as well as many of the more basic techniques that are repeated in Kobudo classes on a daily basis.

How Long To Reach Black Belt Level Mastery in Kobudo?

While the minimum time to reach a black belt level mastery in Kobudo (Shodan) is one year, reaching a black belt often takes students at least 2 to 3 years to achieve in Kobudo. Just because an instructor can allow a student to test for grading does not mean that they are ready.

A beginner starts with a white belt and progresses through red, green, and brown belts before getting a black belt. You also need to master at least ten weapons to gain a black belt, which can take a significant amount of time. 

Can You Learn Kobudo at Home?

It is possible to practice skills learned in Kobudo classes at home, but not practical to properly learn new skills without getting in person or at least having an online consulting relationship with a master in Kobudo.

The best way to polish your Kobudo skills is to practice the stances, movements, and techniques that you have already gone over in class during live instruction under a master of Kobudo. So you can train at home to help yourself achieve mastery with supplemental work but becoming a master at Kobudo wholly online is not something that you should expect to be able to do.

What To Expect at Your First Kobudo Class?

When you walk in for your first Kobudo class, you can expect to talk to the instructor and get an idea of what the class structure will look like, alongside their expectations for you in the first class. You will also likely get introduced to some other students to make you feel more comfortable.

Most Kobudo classes will go through a warmup routine that can vary from some basic calisthenics and stretching to immediately working on kata and single-person technique drills. After these technique drills, a specific technique or set of techniques will be demonstrated and students will split off for partnered drills.

If sparring occurs at your first Kobudo class, you will likely only be allowed to spectate and not be allowed to participate in sparring.

Be sure to talk to your instructor and your fellow students to get some feedback on what to expect on a daily basis and ask any questions that you need to.

What Does Kobudo Cost?

Kobudo training costs about $25 for registration and between $75 to $200 a month depending on your location. Depending on the school you may be expected to purchase a uniform or your own set of practice weapons. Private or semi-private lessons run between $30 to $50 an hour.

Kobudo equipment costs can vary greatly based on which weapons are trained and if you are expected to purchase uniforms or practice weapons for personal use, or if the school will provide them for their students as a part of the cost of training.

If cost is a major concern check out my post Practicing Martial Arts on a Budget | A No-Nonsense Guide for a guide on how to fit martial arts into your budget.

Is Kobudo Good for Kids? 

Kobudo is good for kids that are interested in martial arts. Kobudo classes aimed at children are often more traditional and structured to be both safer and more fun for kids to participate in. The weapons kids under 13 use in their classes are typically foam-based and quite safe.

Being involved in a complex and somewhat difficult-to-learn martial art in a group setting can give children a strong sense of accomplishment which can boost self-esteem and confidence while being in a social environment that is supportive and valuable to their development. Kobudo can also help children get enough exercise and build healthy habits for life.

Is Kobudo for Physically Smaller People? 

Kobudo is not a competitive combat sport type of martial art for most students, so physically smaller people can easily train it without being worried about being physically outclassed by their fellow students. Classes usually revolve around techniques and drills that anybody can do.

When Kobudo is performed as a combat sport, the athletes are usually matched with weight and skill level in mind, and the contest is usually based upon scoring points and not trying to knock out your opponent. So even people with a slant toward competition that are smaller do not need to be overly concerned about their size.

Is Kobudo Good for Women?

Kobudo is approachable for women due to the traditional environment and the lack of emphasis on live sparring in it. This is especially true since classes usually revolve around learning techniques and executing weapons drills in which physical strength and size are not a big factor.

Final Thoughts

Kobudo is an interesting traditional martial art that has not achieved the mainstream popularity that martial arts like Karate and Taekwondo have achieved. This is because training in Kobudo is a little more complex and harder to execute.

However, Kobudo has a fascinating set of weapons and offers a fun alternative to the more mainstream martial arts since it is far more weapons-based than most popular martial arts.

For more check out What To Expect in Iaido? A Martial Arts Overview


Hi, I'm Andre and I am the author of this website. I currently train primarily in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu but supplement with other grappling martial arts as well as help to coach my kid's blended grappling program.

Recent Posts