Matayoshi Kobudo Tradition

Master Matayoshi Shinko was born in Kakinobana-Cho, Naha City, in 1888, third son of Matayoshi Shinchin. He spent his childhood in Senbaru, Chatan Town.

In his younger days, he learned about bo-jitsu, ieku-jitsu, kama-jitsu, and sai jitsu from Master Agena Chokubo (well known as Gushicha Teragua) of Gushikawa Village. He also learned tonkwa-jitsu and nunchaku-jitsu from Master Irei of Nozato, Chatan Town.

Master Matayoshi went on knight-errantry in Hokkaido. In Saharin, Manchuria, he spent many days with nomadic tribes and learned ba-jitsu (horse riding techniques), shuriken-jitsu, and nagenawa-jitsu (rope throwing). In Shanghai he learned about tinbei-jitsu, Suruchin-jitsu, Nunti-jitsu, and also about Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture from Kinkoroushi (Kingai). In Fujian province, he studied Shorin-Kempo, returning to Okinawa in 1935.

In 1915, there was an Imperial Memorial Budo demonstration festival at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. Master Funakoshi Gichin demonstrated Karate and Master Matayoshi demonstrated tonkua-jitsu and kama-jitsu. In 1921, the Showa Emperor was Prince and visited Okinawa. At a welcoming party, Gojyu-ryu Master Miyagi Chojun demontrated Karate and Master Matayoshi demonstrated kobudo. After Master Matayoshi’s return to Okinawa, he moved to Naha where be studied with other martial arts experts. Master Matayoshi was often called “Kama nu Matehi”(Matayoshi the Kama) and “Senbaru nu Mateshi”and was very popular among people. He passed away in 1947 at the age of 59.

Matayoshi Shinpo who was one of Matayoshi Shinko’s highest ranked students and also his real son. He was teaching Kobudo in Kawasaki-City, Kanagawa Prefecture, after World War II. He returned to Okinawa 1960 and taught kobudo mainly at Master Higa’s dojo but also at other dojos as well. Master Matayoshi Shinpo felt that karate is becoming more popular but on the other hand kobudo was still a minor art and needed instructors.

He decided to establish his own kobudo Dojo, which he called “Kodokan.” He took one Kanji “Ko” (meaning “Light”) from the “ko” in Grand Master Matayoshi Shinko’s name. After establishing the Kodokan Dojo, he contacted kobudo instructors and students of all over Japan. Together they organized the “Ryukyu Kobudo Assosiation” in 1960. Their purpose was to keep the traditions and spirit that had been passed down from kobudo senseis of early days. The association also intended to train youth to contribute to their society, and to make Kobudo more popular.

Later, in May of 1972, this association became the All Okinawa Kobudo League (Federation). After the birth of All Okinawa Kobudo League (Federation), an annual Kobudo demonstration and festival was held. League representative also visisted several regions and institions and also demonstrated in many national events.

In 1973, Master Matayoshi Shinpo visited Europe and United States in order to popularize kobudo abroad. In 1983, the All Okinawa Kobudo League (Federation) sent groups of instructors to South America, Central America, and the United States. The All Okinawa Kobudo League (Federation) has make great contributions not only to the popularization of kobudo throughout the world, but also to the interchanging of personnel between kobudo and other martial arts. This has contribututed to increased international understanding.

The Zen Okinawa Kobudo Remnei patch is very distinctive, characterized by the gold color.  The logo is based in the flower of Kiku or chrysanthemum, which represents the Japanese Imperial Crest.  Matayoshi Sensei is the only Okinawan martial artist honored by the Emperor of Japan to use the Imperial Flower as a symbol of his organization.  The inside of the logo contains the symbol Mitsu Domoe that represents the Imperial Okinawan Sho dynasty crest.  With this, the Matayoshi Kobudo logo represents the blend of the Japanese and Okinawan cultures.

Around the outside the words “Yamashita-Matayoshi Kobudo U.S.A.” appears in English.  This is to imply Sensei Yamashita’s position in the Zen Okinawan Kobudo Renmei (All Okinawan Weapons League).

Matayoshi Shinko Sensei or “Kama nu Matehi” (Matayoshi the Kama) as he was often called, was born in the city of Naha, Okinawa in 1888. As the third son of Matayoshi Shinchin, a wealthy businessman, Shinko was the only member of the family to become involved in the martial arts. Although Matayoshi Shinko, Sensei grew up predominantly in Okinawa, he traveled later on in his life around different areas of Japan and China. It was in Okinawa, Hokkaido, and China that Matayoshi Shinko Sensei received the majority of his exposure and training in various weapon arts. Matayoshi Shinko Sensei would later incorporate many of the weapons and styles of his instructors to form the foundation of what we know today as Matayoshi Kobudo system.

Shinko Matayoshi

Matayoshi Shinko Sensei had the opportunity to experience the art of weapons from many different instructors. During his teens, Matayoshi began his training in kobujutsu, under the instruction of Agena Chokuho Sensei of Gushikawa Village. From Agena Sensei, Matayoshi learned Bo-jutsu, Sai-jutsu, Kama-jutsu, and leku-jutsu.

Matayoshi Shinko Sensei then became the student of Irei Sensei of Nozato, Chatan Town, from whom he learned the arts of Tonkua-jutsu and Nunchaku-jutsu.

Not long after, at the age of 22, Matayoshi Shinko Sensei left on an adventure to Manchuria where he joined a mounted nomadic tribe, from whom he gained exposure in the arts of Ba-jutsu (bow and arrow while riding a horse), Shuriken-jutsu, and Nagenawa-jutsu (rope throwing).

Shinko Sensei continued in his travels to expand his knowledge of the art of weaponry, arriving in Shanghai where he learned the arts of Nunti-jutsu, Tinbei-jutsu, and Suruchin-jutsu. while in Shanghai, he began to develop interests outside of kobudo, yet still within the realm of the martial arts. Matayoshi Shinko Sensei became involved in the study of Chinese acupuncture and herbal medicine under the instruction of Kinkoroushi. He furthered his studies in China, learning Chinese boxing and Shorinji-Kempo in Fuchow, China.

Because of his abilities and knowledge, windows of opportunity were opened to Matayoshi Shinko Sensei, and he was able to participate in two very notable moments in the history of the martial arts. In 1915, during the Imperial Memorial Budo Demonstration Festival at the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, Shinko Sensei demonstrated Tonkua-jutsu and Kama-jutsu, while Funakoshi Gichin Sensei (the founder of Shotokan) demonstrated karate. This was the first time that Okinawan Kobudo was publicly demonstrated in mainland Japan, and remains a very important event in the history of Kobudo. Later, in 1921, during the honorable visit of Prince Hirohito (Showa) to Okinawa, Matayoshi Sensei demonstrated Kobudo, and Miyagi Chojun Sensei (the founder of Goju Ryu) demonstrated Karate for the distinguished guest. It was not until 1935 when Matayoshi Shinko Sensei returned to Okinawa, settled in the city of Naha, and shaped his experiences to the point of developing the Matayoshi style of Kobudo. Matayoshi Shinko Sensei passed away in 1947 at the age of 59.

Gichin Funakoshi kobudo

Matayoshi Shinpo Sensei, son of Matayoshi Shinko Sensei and successor to the Matayoshi line of Kobudo, was born in Okinawa in Yomitan Village, located in the Kina District on December 27, 1921. Shinpo Sensei was introduced to the martial arts by his father at the very young age of 6. However, Matayoshi Shinko Sensei did not limit his son to the practice of Kobudo; he also exposed Shinpo Sensei to Kingai Ryu, a White Crane open hand system. In 1937, Shinpo Sensei’s father also introduced him to the open hand system of Hakaku Kempo, which he learned from Gokenki Sensei. Although Shinpo Sensei would have various instructors throughout his life, his father remained his life-long instructor and mentor.

Shinpo Matayoshi

Matayoshi Shinpo Sensei remained in Okinawa until 1938, when he moved to Kawasaki-Shi in Kanagawa-Ken. He spent 19 years in the city of Kawasaki teaching and training. The year 1957 brought Shinpo Sensei back to Okinawa, where he taught kobudo predominantly in Goju Ryu dojos, namely that of Higa Sensei. While teaching kobudo in various karate dojos, Matayoshi Sensei realized that karate was growing in popularity, where as kobudo was not. Matayoshi Sensei wanted to increase the exposure of kobudo among the people of Okinawa, so he decided to form his own dojo.

In 1960, Matayoshi Shinpo Sensei founded his kobudo dojo in the city of Naha, and he called it the “Kodokan” in memory of, and as a dedication to his teacher and mentor Matayoshi Shinko Sensei. The significance of “Kodokan” is based on the kanji “Ko” (meaning “Light”), and is a tribute to the “Ko” from Shinko; for what Kodokan translates to the “Hall of the Enlightened Way.

Once Matayoshi Sensei opened his dojo, he focused on contacting Kobudo instructors and students all over Japan. His intention was to unite Kobudo practitioners under one goal; to not only to spread the art of Kobudo, but also to try to maintain the traditions that had been passed down from Kobudo Senseis of earlier days. Matayoshi Sensei had a strong interest in promoting Kobudo among young students to help make them better citizens and contributors to society. As a result of this interest, Matayoshi Sensei formed the Ryukyu Kobudo Association in 1960. This association became the foundation of the Zen Okinawa Renmei or All Okinawa Kobudo League, which formed in 1972 and still exists today. Matayoshi Shinpo Sensei passed away in Okinawa on September 7, 1997, at the age of 76.

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Multi Weaponed Art of Matayoshi Kobudo

The ancient history of Okinawa tells us a turbulent story, with violent political upheavals characterizing a major part of the now-peaceful island’s heritage. It was out of these days of unrest that the art of kobudo (the ancient martial way) was born, due to a necessity for peasants to defend their families or property by turning common, everyday items into weapons that could be used for self defense. In times of political strife, war faring weapons such as swords and spears were forbidden to the general populace, which left farmers and fishermen easy prey for armed bandits and pirates. To counteract the decrees than rendered them weaponless, Okinawans as well as the inhabitants of the other islands within the Ryukyuan chain became highly proficient in the use of implements such as water-bucket carrying poles, boat oars, and grist mill handles as means of self protection. Kata were eventually developed, usually named after a founder or village of origin, and various styles of kobudo came into being. One of these traditional systems is the Matayoshi style of kobudo practiced by Zen Okinawa Kobudo Renmei (All Okinawan Kobudo Federation), which is now recognized world-wide as a leader in the art that was so desperately needed and so carefully developed to preserve the well-being of the Ryukyuan citizenry.

The Zen Okinawa Kobudo Renmei has deep roots in the teachings of Shinko Matayoshi (1888-1947), who comes from a family that has one of the oldest lineages on Okinawa, and is distinctive in that every member has been involved in the martial arts to some degree. The unusually wide variety of weapons that are taught within the Matayoshi system evolved from the ability of Shinko Matayoshi to travel and learn all aspects of the art, as he spent a total of thirteen years studying in China, along with making frequent excursions to other areas to experience different cultures and learn about the weapons that were used for self defense. Shinko Matayoshi’s later travels were for the purpose of promoting his system, which became known as Ryukyuan Kobudo throughout Okinawa and mainland Japan. Today, Shinko Matayoshi’s work is upheld by his son, Shinpo Matayoshi (1923- ), who began training under his famous father’s instruction at the age of four. Like his father, Shinpo Matayoshi (as pictured to the right in his Kodokan Dojo in Okinawa training with a sai that is unique to the Matayoshi Kobudo system as it is angled differently from the more common type) travels extensively to promote kobudo, and founded the Ryukyu Kobudo Renmei in 1970, which was reorganized two years later into the Zen Okinawa Kobudo Renmei. Shinpo Matayoshi’s dojo is named Kodokan (Enlightened Way) in honor of his father, whose first name Shinko means “True Light.”

The differences between Matayoshi Kobudo and other systems result from, a strong Chinese influence, which came about from Shinko Matayoshi’s studies. Overall, the movements in the Matayoshi system are more relaxed and flowing, with both linear and circular strikes forming a smooth, fluid style. While the stepping movements within Matayoshi Kobudo are somewhat similar to those used in Okinawan karate, the stances are designed differently for very quick, light movements. For example, the foot positioning for the sumo stance (shiko dachi) is not as wide, and the front foot positioning of the cat stance (neko ashi dachi) is dissimilar from that used in karate and other kobudo styles. The Chinese influence also becomes apparent in bo (wooden staff) techniques where chambering of the close end of the weapon takes place outside the arm, rather than under the arm. Positioning the bo on the outside of the arm lends greater protection to the inner part of the body, and avoids the injuries that could occur when the bo whips around and snaps up under the user’s arm, striking vulnerable areas in the armpit and side of the torso.

The Matayoshi Kobudo system places great emphasis on the use of the bo, an implement said to be derived from the tenbib, which was a wooden staff that was slung across the shoulders in order to transport buckets of water on each end. The most popular type of bo is the rokushaku, which measures six feet in length and 1 1/4 inches thick at the center, tapering down to 3/4 inch at the ends. Other types of bo range in length from four to nine feet, and can be round (maru-bo), four-sided (kaku-bo), sixsided (rokkaku-bo), or eight-sided (hakkakubo). The most common bo kata are Shushi- No-Kon, Choun-No-Kon, Sakugawa-No-Kon, Tsuken-No-Kon, and Shiishi-No-Kon. Other staff-type weapons include the hanbo (threefoot wooden stick), jo (four-foot wooden stick), tetsubo (Iron staff), sansetsu-kon (three-sectioned staff), and the konsaibo, which is a wooden staff studded with iron nubs.

Rokushaku bo

Many traditional Okinawan kobudo weapons were developed to defend against opponents wielding spears or swords. Implements such as the sai, which is a three-pronged metal truncheon, were often used in sets of two or three for the purpose of entrapping an attacker’s weapon and using the pronged ends in a jabbing, puncturing strike. Although the exact origin of the sai is obscure, it closely resembles an instrument that was used in China, and is also believed to have been derived from a farming implement that was used for digging furrows in the ground for planting seeds. A third sai was often carried behind the back in the belt sash (obi) as a replacement for a hand-held sai that was thrown at an opponent. The nunti is a threepronged weapon that is sometimes incorrectly referred to as a manji-sai, with one of the outside prongs facing in the opposite direction, toward the handle, and which often attached to the end of a bo. Other truncheon weapons are the juste and the tokushu-keibo, a collapsible metal instrument.

The nunchaku is a weapon made from a horse bridle strap and a tool that was used to pound grain or rice. In the Matayoshi system, the most common types of nunchaku have octagonal (hakkakukei) or round (maru-gata) wooden handles of equal length connected by a length of rope or chain. A vine (kanda) can also be used as a longer connector, in order to bind an opponent’s head and hands together in an “Okinawan Handcuff.” Matayoshi Kobudo instruction includes nunchaku with one handle half the length of the other, both handles half the normal size, three-sectioned and four-sectioned. The han-kei nunchaku, with the circumference of the handles halved, is designed for easier carrying and concealment, as both handles fit together smoothly.


Sickles that became useful weapons for self defense includes the kama, which has a curved blade, and the naginata, a curved blade, sickle like spear seven feet in length. The nagemaki is a heavier version of the naginata with a larger blade, while the rokushaku-kama is a sickle with a six foot handle.


Wooden implements played an important role in the history of kobudo, and tools such as the tounkwa (tuifa, tonfa), which were used as grist mill handles, served as effective weapons. The eku (boat oar) was a popular item in Okinawan fishing villages, and has a unique feature in allowing the defender to fling sand in an attacker’s face by holding the eku straight up with the paddle end down, and kicking the bottom out in a swift, forward and upward motion. There is also the abumi (wooden saddle stirrup) and the tecchu (“knuckle-duster”) made from yarn spindles.

Chizikanbo, made from wooden fish floats, is another weapon that is attached to the hands to aid punching effectiveness. The bokken, or wooden sword, was employed as a training device, while the kendo practice sword made of bamboo shoots (shinai) served as a conditioning implement.

Knife-like weapons that could be concealed within clothing and easily produced when needed are the kaiken (six- inch knife), juken (bayonet), and the tanto (dagger with a blade measuring eight to sixteen inches in length). Another device is the ninshokudai, or candles on an L-shaped, iron-spiked holder that was said to be carried by Okinawan women.

Chains produced large, heavier weapons such as the surushin (Manriki-gusari), which was weighted at one end, and the gekigan (ball and chain). The chigiriki is a weapon that has a three-to-ten-foot chain attached to an iron ball at one end and a staff at the other end. The nagegama is a retractable walking stick made from chain links.


Other items on the lengthy list taught in the Matayoshi Kobudo system include the halberd, a heavy, axe-like weapon with a coin-shaped blade. The tecchu is another form of “brass kn

Tinbei & rochin, Matayoshi style

uckles,” as is the tatsuko, which is made of metal and studded. The tinbay (timbei, tembe, timpei), which is a shield made from the shell of a giant sea turtle, proved effective for repelling sword or spear attacks, and was often used with the small dart-like weapon known as rochin.

It must be pointed out that the study of the multitude of weapons in the Matayoshi system takes place on a complete basis, and students are not encouraged to merely dabble in various areas in an attempt to “learn a little bit about each weapon.” The founding master’s principles are based upon thorough knowledge of the purpose and origin of each weapon, and it takes many years of dedicated training to become proficient in the use of a single item.

Matayoshi Kobudo has become very popular among practitioners of the major Okinawan karate styles, as it fits in well with empty-hand arts and rounds out a student’s martial training. One of the traditional Okinawan principles concerns the fact that Shinpo Matayoshi views kobudo as not only an art for self defense, but also serves as a means of obtaining and maintaining inner peace.

July 2001.

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