Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sansetsukon - Okinawan Kobudo, 3-sectional staff

The sansetsukon, or three staved nunchuku, is a 
difficult weapon to master. 
One of my black belt students (yudansha) at the Arizona hombu karate dojo in Mesa Arizona, arrived to our martial arts school with a 3-segmented bo (san-setsu-kon) that is sometimes referred to as a 3-piece nunchaku and 3-sectional staff, asking about its use, and if we would learn this weapon in the future.

This particular student is very dedicated to martial arts and periodically shows up to class with uncommon weapons. Not so long ago, he arrived with odachi in hand – a samurai sword that is as long as most people are tall, something most never see.

You will find little information about sansetsukon on the Internet even though a few books have been written by Chinese martial artists on the subject. I typically warn my students about being careful purchasing martial arts books because few have any value, and most are poorly written and not worth reading. Only a handful of martial arts books are good.

This is because, few martial arts books are properly edited, and many are self-published. There is nothing wrong with self-publishing, as I highly recommend it, but self-publishing is sometimes a license for some authors to avoid spell checking, grammar and editors, when it should be used to avoid publishers, who pay little to authors for their work. It was not so long ago, I had one well-known publisher contact me about writing a series of books on rock-hounding (in addition to being a martial artist, I'm also a geologist) - but after discussing a 5% royalty, and having to be available at the publisher's whim to travel around the country to autograph books, I decided not to sign a contract. Through some self-publishing venues, authors can receive as much as 40% of royalties, but then the author has to do much of the advertising.

A sansetsukon is a Chinese martial arts weapon adapted by Okinawan karate-ka (karate practitioners) for their kobudo education. In Chinese, sansetsukon is known as sanjiegum (三節棍) and refers to a coiling dragon, probably because the weapon gives the impression of a coiled dragon, and tends to bite its user like a coiled dragon until they can tame this beast through considerable training.

The weapon consists of three staves with a combined length typical of many bo. These staves are attached by rope, chain, or rings, and the original tool likely was used as a farmer's flail to extract seed. If you decide to train with one, either make your own out of good-quality materials, or search the internet for custom sansetsukon, because those sold at most martial arts supply houses, such as many rattan sansetsukon, have poor quality chain links and metal cap attachments, such that the weapon will fall apart with little use.

The three-sectional staff it is used similar to surujin, bo and nunchaku combined. And like the surujin, it causes problems even for the most adept of kobudo practitioners. I do not like to teach this weapon to beginning students as it is difficult and beginners who often pinch and bruise themselves during training.

A coiling dragon, pencil sketch copyright by Soke Hausel

In the past, staves of the sansetsukon were manufactured out of bamboo, white oak, wax wood, red maple or metal. Today, most are aluminum, bamboo, rattan, or foam rubber. We've even had some members make their own out of newspaper, magazines, and rope or chains, which in most cases are better than those purchased at our local karate supply houses. You can even make your own nunchaku.

Along with learning how to block and strike with the weapon, our students learn bunkai (practical applications), kata (forms), basics and warm-up exercises. It is a brutal tool particularly to those new to its, whether you are on the receiving or attacking end. Even so, you will find it to be an effective weapon once you get use to it. And just like the nunchaku, I recommend starting with foam padded sansetsukon. A rope between the staves is also recommended.

Swinging sansetsukon to extend reach, Arizona Hombu Karate Dojo
Are they legal? Government constantly over-reaches its authority. If you are a harden criminal, you are never going to learn how to use this - it requires dedication. But if you are an honest citizen, you better check with your local police department. Places like Arizona, California and New York over-reach by making sure honest citizens are vulnerable to all types of criminals. So, if you are an honest, God-fearing individual, contact your local law enforcement office to find out what is legal. If illegal, find out who in the legislature is responsible for such archaic laws and work to have them replaced in the next election, or try to start a re-call election. It is time martial artists stand up for their rights!

Some suggest the sansetsukon was introduced to Okinawa from the Chinese Fuijian province by Soke Shinko Matayoshi (1888-1947) who also created two kata for the Matayoshi Shorin-Ryu Kobudo system. The two kata are referred to as sansetsukon dai ichi and sansetsukon dai ni. At the Arizona Hombu, we teach our students sansetsukon no kata

Blocking sansetsukon with tonfa during Shorin-Ryu karate 
& kobudo class.
Soke Shinko was succeeded by his son Shimpo Matayoshi (1921-1997). Following the death of Shimpo, Matayoshi Kobudo fragmented into different groups with one headed by Yasushi Matayoshi who operates the Matayoshi hombu dojo in Okinawa known as the Kodokan. Kodokan refers to a place where one can receive “Instruction in the Way” (there is more than one Kodokan training center). The best known Kodokan is that of the Judo Kodokan (35o42’28”N; 139o45’13”E) founded by Jigiro Kano in Tokyo, which is an incredible, 8-story dojo. Using the above coordinates on Google Earth, you can visit the Judo Kodokan from the air.

In 2003, the University of Wyoming Campus Shorin-Ryu Karate and Kobudo club brought the well-known Okinawan martial artist Tadashi Yamashita to the university to teach kobudo and karate. Yamashita is one of the more famous students of Shimpo Matayoshi and has appeared in several movies. And if you are into martial arts movies, this weapon was used by Jackie Chan in the 2000 movie Shanghai Noon. It was also seen in the 1980 movie The Victim and the 2006 movie Fearless.

Sansetsukon - Okinawan Kobudo, 3-sectional staff

The sansetsukon, or three staved nunchuku, is a  difficult weapon to master.  One of my black belt students ( yudansha ) at the Arizon...