The Twilight of Lord Kogusuku

Traditional Okinawa kobudō uses a shield with one hand in combination with a weapon in the other. There are basically two variants. One is the shield known best from Matayoshi lineage kobudō, which uses loop and handle, and which is combined with a machete in the other hand. While often manufactured from metal probably for the sake of weight, durability, and easy production, this kind of shield in both name and design is clearly modeled on the historical Chinese tengpai widely used in the 19th century.

The other model is the shield of Taira lineage kobudō, which is grabbed at a central handle and in that uses the same method as the medieval buckler. It is usually designed as a turtle shell – quite histrionically screaming “Okinawan culture!”

Both designs are referred to as tinbē (shield) and rōchin (machete/short spear). The shield is held in the left hand and the machete/short spear in the right hand.

Naturally, shield and sword or pike were weapons used in most regions of the world during ancient conflicts. In Ryūkyū, too, long before Chinese weaponry became popular as a historical reference among Okinawan kobudō troupes, military technology was imported from Japan. This can be seen in the “Omoro (ballad) of Kume Island,” which uses Japanese names to describe iron helmet, iron armor, leather shield, and lacquered pike (Omori-sōshi, Vol. XXI, Chapter 53):

The twilight of Lord Kogusuku; famous master Kogusuku.

Surprised and surrounded by means of cunning, he snatched the offensive.

Praised he be therefor!

And through Ichio-grove he advanced; and through Ai-grove he advanced;

and an iron helmet he wore; and an iron armor he wore;

a beautiful leather shield in one hand; a lacquered pike in the other.

Like that, he stormed the wooden gate. Like that, he stormed the iron gate.

As regards techniques and tactics, there is nothing special to it in either design, however, as has been pointed out by Inoue Motokatsu (1972), the tinbē (shield) in Taira lineage is used to hide both intention to fight and the weapon in the other hand.

© 2021, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.

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