Weapons? Can you handle it?
Updated: Nov 21, 2022
There are often debates about when weapons should be added to training, at what grade, time, or student development. I have to say I have always felt that from the very beginning, training sessions should incorporate the weapons of the art.
When someone starts training in any martial art there will be a period of 'Which leg goes where?' 'How does the hand turn?' 'Is it left or right?' 'How do I get from this point to that?' and quite a few 'What the f... just happened?' This is all entirely normal when learning a new way of naturally moving and a new art form. So, it begs the question why add weapons to an already motor-skill challenged student. Isn't there a risk of increasing their confusion and decreasing motor-skill co-ordination even further?
Not necessarily. If a student does not touch a weapon until they get to Shodan (1st Dan) then the impact of adding weapons at that point can have a detrimental effect. It is commonly seen that when someone first picks up a staff, sword or other weapon their motor skills and co-ordination decrease. I mean, imagine it has taken 5 years to get to shodan and you have not touched or trained with a weapon. Then you have to use a sword or bo staff. The sudden introduction of an unfamiliar tool makes the student concentrate on grip and posture. But, the feet and distancing are suddenly poor, co-ordination of footwork with strikes, and understanding of your opponent's movements is affected. So much goes into the correct grip, angle and movement of the weapon everything else suffers.
If, however, you were introduced to weapons in the first month of training and it is part of a normal class to train unarmed and with weapons concurrently, your skills at both grow at the same rate. Within Bujinkan Newbury Dojo, when students get to shodan at the dojo, they are expected to be familiar with hanbo, tanto, bokken, bo staff and shuriken. By familiar I mean they know the stances, they know the correct way to stike / cut / throw, they know the correct dynamics to avoid, receive and redirect attacks. Oh, and they know how to take ukemi (roll) with those weapons in hand or belt.
Ninjutsu is a weaponised martial art, where weapons are freely employed as needed to survive and escape conflict. Using weapons as a natural part of taijutsu (unarmed techniques) should reflect the same dynamic. It follows then that training both unarmed and armed should complement each other, with weapons not reserved for a certain grade or time served as a student.
Oh, and unarmed defence is an act of desperation...