When most people hear the words “martial arts weapons,” they probably picture historical warfare and epic action movie sequences. But the role that martial arts weapons play in modern martial arts training is far more broad and diverse.
While the majority of us will never have to use martial arts weapons on the battlefield—and only a select few of us will have the opportunity to perform with them for film and television—anyone who trains in martial arts can benefit from the use of this type of martial arts training gear.
Even if you don’t want to compete in weapons categories in martial arts tournaments. Even if you don’t train in a discipline that includes specific techniques and specific weapons. Working with martial arts training weapons can improve everything from your hand-eye coordination to your muscular and cardiovascular endurance and make you a more athletic, powerful, and confident martial artist.
To illustrate the impact and potential of martial arts weapons on martial arts training, we’ll be highlighting six of the most important and popular martial arts weapons today. Let’s take a look at what they are, what they can do for your training, and further reading suggestions.
Bo and Staffs
What they are: From ancient Okinawa to modern day Hollywood, the bo staff is one of the most popular and prominent weapons in martial arts history. From its humble origins as a makeshift self-defence tool that the people of Okinawa developed when they were banned from using traditional combat weapons to its current use in Karate training, competitions, and stunt work, it has remained one of the most effective and impressive martial arts weapons.
What they do: In addition to making you look and feel like a Ninja Turtle or Jedi, training with a bo staff can help you to develop your core strength, wrist strength, shoulder girdle stability, body awareness, and overall mobility.
For more information: The Bo Staff: A Beginner’s Guide
What they are: Also known as Arnis or Kali, Escrima is one of the most popular and enduring forms of Filipino Martial Arts. It is practiced with a mix of open-handed techniques, household items that can be used as weapons, and traditional weapons like escrima sticks. These martial arts weapons are used in stick fighting and training exercises.
What they do: Training with escrima sticks can improve your overall awareness of yourself and other people around you, mobility, hand-eye coordination, self-defence skills, and confidence.
For more information: Filipino Martial Arts: An Introduction
What they are: Martial artists began using folding fans for the same reason everyone else did: to stay cool. Their ubiquity and their ease of use soon made them ideal concealed weapons, though, and people around the world adapted them for use with their own disciplines and techniques. Today, folding fans are used in a wide variety of martial arts, including Tessen Jutsu, Tai Chi, and Vo Lam Tan Khanh Ba Tra.
What they do: Training with fighting fans can improve your focus, hand-eye coordination, wrist and forearm strength, mobility, and cardio. And they can still keep you cool.
For more information: The Use of Fighting Fans in Martial Arts
What they are: The weapon popularized in western pop culture by Bruce Lee and Michelangelo the Ninja Turtle has a somewhat mysterious origin. Some historians believe it’s an Okinawan tool. Others suspect it has roots in China. It might be an agricultural tool, or it might have been adapted from a horse bridle. Or maybe it was always a self-defence tool. But here’s what we do know for sure: this tool eventually evolved into the martial arts weapon that’s used in Karate training and competitions as well as some forms of Jiu-jitsu training. Nunchaku techniques can also be found in Filipino martial arts, Tae Kwon Do, and Hapkido.
What they do: Nunchaku training and drills can improve your coordination, strength, cardiovascular conditioning, and posture.
What they are: Also known as a katana, the sword began its existence as a martial arts weapon in 14th century Japan when Samurai began to incorporate longer blades into their arsenal of weapons and training techniques. Over the centuries, it has been embraced everywhere from battlefields to ninjutsu training. Today, the most popular and accessible forms of katana-based training are Iaido and Kendo. A number of Karate tournaments also feature Katana or Sword Kata categories.
What they do: Training with a sword can improve your cardio, body awareness, focus, and self-esteem. It can also make you feel pretty cool.
Throwing Knives and Throwing Stars
What they are: Throwing knives are any type of knife that has been specifically designed for the purposes of throwing and martial arts training. The tool has roots in caveman hunting techniques, Central African combat practices, and carnival acts in the 1800s and 1900s. Throwing stars, aka shuriken (手裏剣, which literally translate to “hidden hand blade”) are the modern day martial arts weapons that have evolved from the collection of concealed weapons that samurai used as supplementary tools for their swords.
What they do: Training with throwing knives and shuriken can improve your fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and focus. Plus it’s a pretty fun skill to learn.
For more information: Throwing Stars and Throwing Knives: An Introduction