The 5 most Popular Martial Arts Weapons in Sport Karate today, and what makes them Unique

The 5 most Popular Martial Arts Weapons in Sport Karate today, and what makes them Unique

 Starting with Number 5

The Escrima Stick:

Escrima, kali sticks martial arts weapons training

Originally called Kali which is an ancient term used for martial arts in the Philippines. Filipino stick fighting has been in the islands culture long before the Spanish arrived in 1521. That time they were using a wavy edge sword about 30 inches long made of wood. During the Spanish occupation they outlawed the practice of Kali so they called it Escrima or Arnis. The weapon later switched to a straight stick made of rattan or bamboo. When using a Kali Stick you always assume you are using a blade whether is the sword or knife. Escrima employs many techniques including strikes, stances and weapon handling.

Escrima, kali stick trainingArnis is the official national sport and the Martial Art of the Philippines. 

 FMA ( Filipino martial arts) is also known as "Kali" or "Eskrima" and is a form of martial arts that focuses on weapon-based fighting with knives, sticks, bladed weapons and some improvised weapons. The sport also includes hand to hand combat, joint locks, grappling, and weapon disarming techniques. Practitioners of the sport are called Arnisador (male athletes) and Arnisadora (female athletes). Arnis is an art as well as the ability to defend oneself from attacks using hand to hand combat, grappling, weapon disarming in weapon-based fights. Escrima had no traditional belt testing or grading systems until recently, adopted from Japanese arts such as Karate which has become more popular with Filipinos. They were added to give structure to the systems, and to be able to compete for the attention of students. Many instructors to this day do not charge for lessons and they teach in the park or in their yard. It was said that to proclaim a student a "master" was considered ridiculous and a virtual death warrant as the individual would become challenged left and right to potentially lethal duels by other Arnisadores looking to make names for themselves.

At first the Escrima was used by the common class, training within the villages or tribes passing knowledge from one to another without any kind of written record. Arnis was declared the National Sport of the Philippines on December 11th 2009. The first national organizataion for Arnis is the National Arnis Association of the Philippines (NARAPHIL) which was founded in 1975 by Gen. Fabian C. Ver. The two major types of Arnis practised as sports today are the system followed by The World Eskrima Kali Arnis Federation which was established in 1989 and is recognized internationally. The other one is Arnis Philippines (ARPI), established in 1986 which was used prominently during the 2005 Southeast Asian Games.

Escrima, kali stick training

Picking up popularity in the United States many Martial Arts Schools now add Escrima training to their curriculum. FMA teaches weapon use that is practical today: how to use and deal with weapons that one can actually encounter in the streets and how to turn ordinary items into improvised weapons. No one walks around with sabers, katanas or jians anymore, but knives, machetes, clubs and clothing, (called Sarongs), are still among commonly encountered weapons on the street and in the field, thus making FMA very practical and geared towards military and street fighting.

To Learn Escrima translates to learning many of the skills needed for other Sport Martial Arts weapons used today. Escrima sticks are now also used for Martial Arts Demonstration Teams, and you can even decorate the sticks for the purpose of coordinating colors and so they show up better.


Number 4 The Kama :

martial arts kama blades

Used for quickly and efficiently cutting down large quantities of full-grown wheat stalks by hand, the Kama had to be modified only slightly for use as a formidable weapon. Its inward-curving, foot-long blade was shaped to bring large quantities of wheat stalks in towards the farmer; this also served to snare one's opponent. A Japanese sickle had holes in the blade to make it lighter and faster swung, making it truly deadly for sneak attacks.

Kamas come in many shapes and is particularly common in Malaysia, and the Philippines. From one, or both, of these areas, the Kama was brought to Okinawa and incorporated into the martial art of te (hand) and later Karate (empty hand). Like so many of the successful Japanese peasant weapons, the Kama was developed on the Island of Okinawa to the South of the mainland. Its use VERY quickly spread throughout the Japanese islands after its inception as a weapon somewhere around 1300 AD. Unfortunately, the sheer effectiveness and abundance of this tool tended to quickly make Japanese landowners highly suspicious of any of their serfs who carried them around.  Kama, martial arts weapons 

Both the point and sharpened edge of the metal blade are called into use. It can also be used to block, trap and disarm an opponent's weapon. The point at which the blade and handle join in the "weapon" model normally has a nook with which a staff can be trapped. The edge of a traditional rice sickle would be kept razor-sharp to enable efficient cutting of crops, though this is sometimes a cause of training accidents by unskilled wielders, for whom blunt training versions of the weapon are created.

Today’s training Kamas made with intentionally dull blades for kata demonstration purposes are referred to as kata kai, may have grips on them and can be made multi-color and covered with vinal. Kamas now are mostly used for demonstration, tournament competition, and school training. Used in todays sport karate setting it has become a flashy showpiece incorporating spins, and releases that, while not practical as the intended use in the fields, takes a great deal of training and skill to master.

sport karate weapon kama


Number 3 Nunchuck:

nunchuck for sport martial arts

Yes, this is Bruce Lee’s favorite weapon, the Nunchaku referred to as Nunchakus or Chucks. Many believe the first version of Nunchaku was developed in China as an agricultural tool. They were made out of two connected sticks shaped like a wheat, rice or soy flail, the Nunchaku was later also used in different parts of the world, such as Japan, Russia, Korea and India. The Nunchaku made their way to Okinawa and used as a farm tool for threshing rice. When Japan banned all forms of weapons in order to gain control of Okinawa the farmers developed ways to use them for self-defense. Although they were considered ineffective against a sword it is still extremely popular among Martial Arts practitioners.

nunchuck martial arts weapons

The Nunchaku consist of two sections of wood connected by a cord or chain. Most nunchaku tend to have rounded sticks, whereas others have an octagonal cross-section based on the appearance of sticks made with traditional wood-working techniques. In old days making a rounded stick with hand tools would have been much more difficult. Ideally, each piece should be long enough to protect the forearm when held in a high grip near the top of the shaft. Both ends are usually of equal length. There is no ideal length of the connecting rope or chain. Traditionally it is just long enough to allow the user to lay it over his or her palm, with the sticks hanging comfortably and perpendicular to the ground, however, many practitioners of today use a one to three inch spacing. The shorter the space the faster it spins. The weapon should be properly balanced in terms of weight. Cheaper or gimmicky nunchaku (such as glow-in-the-dark versions) are often not properly balanced, which prevents the performer from performing the more advanced and flashier "low-grip" moves, such as overhand twirls.

The Nunchaku, while basically the same today, has gone through a few changes. They are now faster and smoother and can also be covered with different vinyl colors and the chains now have ball bearing swivels and are definitely a crowd pleaser in movies and Karate tournaments. The more “freestyle” use of Nunchuck in Sport karate is all about creativity displaying the nunchuck as more of a visual tool than a traditional weapons use. Go to any major karate tournament now and you will see chucks spinning and being thrown and caught with a blurring speed that would even impress Mr. Lee.bruce lee using martial arts nunchucks


Number 2 BoStaff:

Bo Staff for sport karate

The Bo Has been seen throughout history as can be found mentioned many times in the Bible. Most people are familiar with the Okinawan Bo which was originally at least 5 feet long and 1 inch thick in diameter some could be up to 9 feet long! It could be used to carry buckets of water or as a walking stick and was later mastered to be used for self-defense. The Bo was considered merely an "extension of one’s limbs". Consequently, bo is often incorporated into other styles of empty hand fighting, such as karate. The bo is also used as a spear and long sword in some of its motions, such as upward swing and slashing motion across the body as well as extensions by gripping one end and thus increasing its length as thus making it similar to a spear.

The bo is typically gripped in thirds, and when held horizontally in front, the right palm is facing away from the body and the left hand is facing the body, enabling the staff to rotate. The power is generated by the back hand pulling the staff, while the front hand is used for guidance. Bo technique includes a wide variety of blocks, strikes, sweeps, and entrapments. Featured in pop culture today in tv and movie such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and even in MCU’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, it is one of the most favored weapons in martial arts schools today.

For as long as the martial arts have been in Asia the Bo has been a part of them. When Okinawa was under control by Japan, weapons were banned, making commoners defenseless against the samurai and forcing them to look for alternative ways to defend themselves. Thus, they turned to farming tools and mastered ways of using them for self-defense. The Bo Has gone through many centuries with very little changes until it was brought to the west. What a lot of people don’t know is that after being introduced to North America and then to Canada, the Canadian Bo( sometimes called “toothpick” Bo) was created. They found out that by tapering the Bo toward the ends makes it slide through the hands faster and by adjusting the size to the persons height also made it better. Nowadays you can get the Bo in any height and in a multitude of colors making it one of the most popular martial arts weapons in movies and all around the tournaments circuit.

The modern Bo is now a staple in sport Karate and Martial arts schools everywhere. They have developed tricking techniques with throws and spends adopted from fighting moves and it is very popular with many young martial artists. Beginner students will likely start with a lesser expensive Bo Without grip. And as they mature in their training usually go to custom grips in the center of the weapon. They Bo staff is a strong, dependable weapon with a fascinating history. It was my first weapon and I still love it today.

That brings us to

Number 1, The Katana:

katana, sword training for sport karate

 Yes! The Japanese katana. Oh, the beautiful Katana, before firearms dominated warfare, this blade ruled the battlefield. And of all the swords in history the katana from Japan is by far the most iconic. The razor-sharp Katana (means sword) is easily recognizable today thanks to the popularity of the samurai wearing their armor on the battlefield. One of the most popular movies that showcases the history and values of the Katana is The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise.

The Katana did not start out as the weapon of today. As we all know, perfection takes a little bit of practice and time. That is why the first katana did not have the curved shape. The first katana sword was straight, like the Chinese swords. Although no one really knows who improved the samurai sword transforming it from a straight sword to a curved killing beauty, we do know that this was done around 700 A.D. , when after battling Mongolian invaders they would come back with broken swords. After that they knew then they would have to find the best iron sand ore to make a better blade. The curved blade was born, and it became the strongest sword ever. The blood grove running down the sword is really for added strength making it lighter and resistant to vibrations.

The samurai warriors followed bushido, which means way of the warrior. They had a code of ethics with several values, including courage, integrity, loyalty, compassion, and respect. They were armor clad savages who made it their goal to live and die with honor. The katana was such an important part of a Samurai that when they were born the sword he would use in life was brought into the delivery room. And when he died it was placed at his side.  

samurai katana training for sport martial artsEach samurai had a collection of swords, from long to short and the set was called a Daisho. A samurai would never be without a sword. He even slept with a short one under his pillow. An entire martial art was created to learn how to use the samurai sword. Today it is called kendo. The Samurai had to master every move and every cut because their life depended upon it. For the Samurai warrior practice took on a whole new meaning. They would learn how to draw the blade efficiently and how to use it in battle to prevail. This was a way of life for them because they had to learn to kill without hesitation.

There are five basic cuts, top to bottom, left to right, right to left, and straight through the throat.

katana training for sport martial arts

I remember the line from the kill bill movie When Hattiri Hanzo played by the famous Sonny Chiba said that his katana was so sharp that if the sword encountered God along the way God would be cut. In pop culture as long as there or zombies, vampires, or anything that needs slicing the katana won’t leave Hollywood anytime soon.

Today you can purchase inexpensive reproductions or pay thousands for the genuine katana. But most martial arts practitioners for safety train using a blade made with aircraft aluminum because it is lightweight, it is not sharp, and it meets all the standard sport tournament competition and training requirements within schools.         

Today the katana remains popular not only for the modern martial arts student but is even prevalent within the cosplay community.


In today’s sport martial arts community and at most tournaments you can see each of these weapons in action and day by day modern practitioners are developing new methods of use for show and performance. What weapons will you choose? For training tip or to find your own weapons visit

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