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In Japan, martial arts are typically classified into classical »koryu« and modern »gendai« budo. The dividing line used is 1868 which marked the beginning of Emperor Meiji's reign and the official start of Japan's modern period.

Kobudo is a modern word meaning »ancient martial ways« and it is used as a blanket term for all arts of Japanese origin that were created before 1868. Kobudo can be used interchangeably with the almost identical terms kobujutsu and koryu bujutsu althought there are some subtle differences in nuance.

It is technically correct to refer to many styles of jujutsu as kobudo but the majority of systems that fall into this category are predominantly weapons styles, sometimes with supplementary empty handed section.

Historically, Japan's martial arts were organised into family based units called ryuha, modelled after the »iemoto« traditional family crafts guilds. The teachings of ryuha were considered to be the exclusive property of its current inheritor and he was the absolute and only authority on its syllabus, training and content. New lineages were often founded when gifted students who were not in line to inherit the style branched out on their own.

Okinawa Kobudo training includes instruction in the various traditional weapons of Okinawa. These are an eclectic mix and look more like tools and fishing implements rather than dedicated battlefield weapons. This kind of training is commonly reffered to as Ryukyu kobudo. The weapons are the bo, sai, tonfa, kama, eiku bo, nunte bo, tekko, techu and nunchaku.

The weapons used in Japanese kobudo are many and varied but the most common are the katana (long sword ), yari ( spear ), bo ( long staff ), jo ( short staff ), naginata ( glaive ), jitte ( metal truncheon ) and kusarigama ( a hybrid weapon consisting of a chain and sickle ).

Althought there are several organisations and federations for kobudo practitioners, the ryuha are all essentially independent and follow their own customs, doctrines and methods. Not only technical content but also terminology, uniform, ranking systems and many other things will vary tremendously. It is comperatively rare to find authentic koryu teachers outside of Japan altough they do exist.