[Sponsored Post] As a child, did you wish you had a nunchaku so you could fight alongside Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Raphael? The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are fictional, of course, but Matayoshi kobudo is a very real martial art, and it’s making a resurgence around the world thanks to Andrea Guarelli of Verona, Italy.
Guarelli is a master of goju-ryu karate-do and an eighth-degree black belt in Matayoshi kobudo. He’s the only Westerner to have received a sixth dan and the title of renshi directly from master Shinpo Matayoshi. That is possible because Guarelli trained under him for many years, and the two developed a deep personal friendship — as evidenced in a 1996 certificate of thanks that reads:
“Mr. Andrea Guarelli, for a long time you have been applying yourself to the growth, diffusion and development, by your students in your country, of our cultural heritage, which is karate-kobudo of Okinawa. The extraordinary results you have reached have contributed to the prosperity of Zen Okinawan Kobudo Renmei. To pay you tribute for your contribution in the association and to honor the result of your effort, I would like to demonstrate my gratitude.”
As chairman and founder of the International Matayoshi Kobudo Association, Guarelli has set out to preserve the history and teach the techniques of the Matayoshi style to students and instructors around the world. As part of this goal, he wrote Okinawan Kobudo: The History, Tools, and Techniques of the Ancient Martial Art, which Skyhorse Publishing has just made available for the first time in English. The book delves deep into the history of the Okinawan martial arts and includes many never-before-seen photographs given to Guarelli by the Matayoshi family.
Of particular interest to the Black Belt readership are the full-color technique photos of eku no kata and related bunkai (fighting applications) that pit the eku (oar) against the bo (staff).
The use of “white weapons” for self-defense has always been part of the cultural heritage of Japan’s Ryukyu Islands, which include Okinawa. Karate and kobudo are two wheels on the axle of the Japanese martial arts.
And while karate is practiced more widely around the world, kobudo can add a similarly rich dimension of fitness to students of any martial art. Making the pursuit even better, training in weapons is a whole lot of fun. Below is a video of two of Guarelli’s students demonstrating nunchaku renzoku kumite.
The Matayoshi style of kobudo dates back to the 1500s. It was systemized and modernized by Shinko Matayoshi early in the 20th century. After his death in 1947, his son Shinpo Matayoshi assumed responsibility as soke and codified the art further, creating hojoundo (basic training exercises), kata and bunkai. When Shinpo Matayoshi died in 1997, his son Shinsei Yasushi Matayoshi inherited his father’s dojo — although he’s not a practitioner of the style. Shinsei Yasushi Matayoshi wrote the preface to Guarelli’s book:
“I congratulate Andrea Guarelli sensei, direct student of my father Shinpo, on the publication of his book about the history, techniques and kata of our school. In spite of national and language differences, no distance exists between people who aspire to the same martial way (budo), and I am deeply grateful for his love and respect toward my father, grandfather and family.”
The weapons of Matayoshi kobudo are divided into four categories: long, short, soft and double.
In combat, long weapons have two advantages over shorter weapons. They have a higher potential efficacy, thanks to their length and trajectory. And their range of action is wider than that of shorter weapons, which permits the user to strike first and from a safe distance. Matayoshi kobudo long weapons include the bo, eku, nunti (perforating weapon) and chogama (long scythe).
Short weapons are easier to carry. For this reason, historically they were more often used for defense than for offense. Matayoshi kobudo short weapons include the jo (medium-length staff) and kuwa (similar to a hoe).
The so-called “soft weapons” of Matayoshi kobudo include folding weapons and limber weapons. Their lengths vary, and they’re most frequently considered secondary weapons intended for use after a main weapon. They can be hidden around the waist (suruchin, or rope with weights at the ends), in the sleeves (nunchaku) or on the back (sansetsukon, or three-section staff) before deployment in a confrontation. Also in this category is the kuramanbo (“stick that turns”).
Historically, the double weapons of Matayoshi kobudo were its primary tools of defense. The sai and tunkuwa (also called tonfa or tuifa) are still in widespread use and viewed as basic weapons suitable for beginners. Others, like the kama and tinbe (shields), are intended for more advanced practitioners. A few, including the tekko (fist-load weapon) and tecchu (hand-held striking implements), are rarely taught and, therefore, reserved for students at the highest level of the martial art.
This post is intended to whet the reader’s appetite. No doubt martial artists across the English-speaking world will want to learn more about Matayoshi kobudo and Andrea Guarelli. They can do so by visiting the International Matayoshi Kobudo Association website.
More good news for American martial artists: Andrea Guarelli plans to conduct a seminar in Connecticut in August 2016. For details, visit the Matayoshi Kobudo Association of America website.
About the author: Kimberly Rossi Stagliano is a student of Andrea Guarelli, as well as the secretary and treasurer of the International Matayoshi Kobudo Association and the vice president of the Matayoshi Kobudo Association of America. She trains in shito-ryu karate and Matayoshi kobudo with Kyoshi Danilo Torri, a founder of the IMKA and president of the MKAA, at Hanko Ryu Martial Arts in Trumbull, Connecticut. She’s a nationally recognized author, blogger and speaker who’s been published in The Washington Post and The Huffington Post.