Starting kobudō is easy; grab a broomstick and get going. Swing, twirl, strike, and poke. Then, after some time you want and deserve good quality equipment, but most weaponry cannot be easily produced. Therefore, you look for a supplier to provide professional equipment for a good price in a safe and fast order process and there are a number of companies and individuals such as Don Shapland of Tesshinkan, whose tinbē and rōchin are second to none. Maybe it is time for a full list of kobudō equipment manufacturers and suppliers but today I would like to draw your attention to Dreametal Kobudo.
Mr. Christos Papapanos — a studied industrial designer and owner of an engineering company as well as Dreametal Kobudo — has been designing kobudō weapons for many years. Recently he launched a Shimbukan signature series, that is, bō, sai, uēku, and other weapons that are approved by Akamine Hiroshi Sensei of Shimbukan Ryūkyū Kobudō in Okinawa.
While all of Dreametal’s weapons are well designed and manufactured from high-quality materials, there is a characteristic feature in the Shimbukan uēku no other commercial supplier meets: they are comparatively small and light. For example, I own two others of Dreametal’s uēku, but these are quite bulky and most uēku by other suppliers are likewise large and heavy with big diameter shafts and are often unbalanced in their shaft/blade lenght and weight ratio. Heavy-duty uēku certainly have their advantages, most importantly in case of heavy contact during combative application or makiwara. However, for kata performance the “big guns” are almost unfeasible in the current Shimbukan performing style, are too difficult to control from their sheer inertia, and just look and feel tardy.
What makes the Dreametal uēku different is that it is customized to the current Shimbukan performing style; In recent years the Shimbukan has moved away from the heavy tools of old and began to favor lighter weapons. This uēku is an example of this. Actually, the uēku at the Shimbukan ten years ago were small, light, and of inferior wood quality, and were more like theatrical equipment. I remember being scolded by sensei for breaking one of them; the head broke off and flew all through the dōjō. This is not what you want from a weapon and it is also not safe. While maintaining the advantages of light weight, and while based on that previous design, Dreametal’s Shimbukan-approved uēku has now also solved the safety issue by using better wood and it also has a slightly longer handle which is necessary particularly for the many gyaku-uchi in the kata. Incidentally, I have been told that the design of the new uēku has been provided by Akamine Hiroshi sensei.
I must add one cautionary note: If you want to use an uēku for heavy contact — such as cutting down a banana tree, or chopping a melon in halves, or combat applications, or makiwara work –, I’d recommend using a sturdier one, analogous to the differentiation of “bō for kata” and “bō for contact.” There’s no need to destroy your gala weapons.
The total length is 151 cm of which 98 cm is the handle. The balance is excellent. That is, the weight distribution ratio of handle and blade as well as the resulting balance point is exactly where you want it to be in both static and dynamic operation, which is a rather rare feature. One more advantageous feature is the comparatively short overall length of 151 cm; It allows living room practice without taking fright at grandma’s porcelain.
Another thing to mention is that most kobudō practitioners themselves might be great masters but are unfit to design and produce weapons according to their personal preferences, or even just to find someone who can. Therefore, much of high quality kobudō weaponry comes from a few professional suppliers such as Shureidō. For example, I have yet to find an equivalent in quality to their 196cm length / 25mm diameter bō made of Japanese oak. There was also the custom weapons maker Kamiunten in Okinawa, whose Tonfa I reconstructed from an original model. They are the best Tonfa I ever used due to a few small and simple constructive features (trade secret): Hokama Sensei, knowing of Mr. Kamiunten’s quality production, told me these Tonfa are priceless. BTW I am looking for a manufacturer for these (I have created a technical drawing and 3D data) so if you’re a manufacturer let me know if you’re interested in a joint venture. Moreover, there are others who produce their own customized weapons, such as Maeda Kyomasa sensei, who makes excellent quality bō all customized to his style and the individual user. This is the way.
As regards service, Dreametal is a pleasure to work with. Mrs. Sundy Papapanos takes care of the email correspondence, about weapons specifications such as materials and sizes, the shipping confirmations with tracking numbers, etc. Note: Since it happened to me, you may need to validate money transfers to Greece with your bank first. A note to your bank and they will fix it immediately.
BTW, a reason for the shift in weapons weight might simply be due to the specific body dynamics – sharp, quick, and short kime combined with a timed rear-heel stomp – of Akamine sensei’s karate and the wish to transpose it on the kobudō weaponry, too. This particularly makes sense in case of all the short weapons, and it also works for this uēku. Previously bō were heavy and with bulky 3 cm diameter so they were difficult to make use of by an average person, looked and felt lame, and necessitated the workaround of the “double-hip,” which was not only impractical but also looked somehow like a mix between a drunken giraffe and a tube man. The sheer inertia of such as tool is such as of a Bidenhänder as compared to a rapier. This issue has also finally been fixed in recent years within above mentioned innovation process and Dreametal offers a Shimbukan-approved tapered 25mm diameter bō. While this development is most welcomed – especially when compared to the previous almost compulsive inistence on unwieldy and poorly designed tools by some keepers of tradition (and preventers of improvement) – I am not sure if these bō fulfil the requirements set out for tournaments on Okinawa, which are usually at least 900 grams for male and 800 grams for female (Article 10.1 of 1st Okinawa Karate Kobudo International Tiournament Rules). On the other hand, the very advantageous point of this is that 25 mm light weight allows for more people to use the tool, which will greatly help smaller and frailer people such as kids appreciate kobudō more. Also, everybody just looks cooler.
Finally, if you’re a Shimbukan practitioner going at it for godan and want to score high points from the examiners, you want to use exactly this uēku, since the stipulated motion specifics and “kime” are difficult to achieve with any of the heavy-duty versions.
To wrap it up: Technical expression and style largely depends on equipment! If you’re looking for an uēku that’s light enough for a sharp kata performance, heavy enough for the right feel, and robust enough to take a full swing, then look no further than Dreametal’s Shimbukan-approved uēku.
© 2021, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.