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Ni Cho Kama - Two Sickles

By Jikishin Kobudo, Sep 5 2014 11:00AM

Jikishin Kobudo practices at the Royal Armouries in the UK, which holds one of the largest collections of arms and armour in the world. It also has within its possession some of the oldest martial arts literature in existence (such as the famous 13th century I-33 - The oldest such manuscript in Europe) Through its unique access to real historical artefacts, Jikishin Kobudo is fortunate to be able to research wider traditions of the martial arts and place its knowledge of Okinawan Kobudo within a global context.


Of particular interest for several years at the club, is the fact that the feudal peasant martial arts of Europe were not dissimilar to those found in the East. This image, created by Jörg Breu the Younger comes from a European fight-book commissioned by Paulus Hector Mair. In it we see 16th century sickle fighting not unlinke the kama techniques from Okinawa. There are many similarities and difference that we have observed, but this article will focus on one in particular: One or two sickles?


Whereas in the West, the sickle was used singularly, the Eastern kama is practised in pairs, but why?


The answer lies possibly in relation to the field uses of the tool. The European sickle was used primarily for collecting cereal crops, which was a one-handed job. It was important to get close to the ground and reap close to the earth. As such, single-handed techniques are most convenient. An alternate use was for maintaining hedge-ways or collecting fruit, again primarily one-handed jobs due to the reaching element. For this reason the average European farmer would only have had one sickle.


In Okinawa the kama are widely used for collecting rice and harvesting pineapple (one-handed jobs), but not for chopping sugar cane as some have suggested; the seiryuto (machete) is used for this. However, there is an additional use for the kama and also the seiryuto that gives us some insight into the dual-use phenomenon.


Due to the climate in Okinawa, vegetation grows very quickly and farmland can easily become overgrown. When clearing large areas of shrub in preparation for planting, old farmers would use two hands with either a kama in each or wielding a pair of seiryutos. The devastating pincer cuts and double-slashing techniques that could rapidly cut down vegetation taught the Okinawans the benefits of fighting with two of these weapons at one time.


The added advantage of using one weapon to block whilst counter-attacking with the other is standard technique of dual weapons seen throughout Asian martial arts. Interestingly, the Europeans rarely use dual weapons fashioned of the same form. An intrigue worthy of further research and study?

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