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Types of Kusarigama



I am going to try and make December 2017 Kusarigama month - or Kusarigamarama.  To that end I will be posting as much of my Kusarigama back catalogue as time allows, starting with the basics of typology.

Examples of European flails are actually somewhat limited.  There are many examples of the spear in European and Japanese artwork as it was a common weapon even though the surviving information on codified techniques of the spear is much less than many other weapons in both cultures.

Whilst the varying types of flail and chain weapons are uncommon in surviving information on codified techniques in both cultures, they are also underrepresented in artwork.  The logical conclusion is that they were simply not popular weapons at the time.  Certainly, as weapons of war they have their limitations.

In his book Old School Ellis Amdur describes that 'the thought of a squad of kusarigama fighters is more an image of comedy than valour'.  For the most part I agree with Amdur in that a big portion of training with the weapon is so you are not surprised by it.  You want to reduce learning on the job in this sphere as much as possible.

I have limited myself to Japanese and European forms.  In a sense these are the forms of martial arts -  by this I mean there are rooted in the military or practiced by professional soldiers - many forms of martial arts are not really martial, more village arts.  This is not always true in any which way, but I don’t know much about Chinese spear or South American flails.

Amdur's work is one of the very few reliable sources on kusarigama or chigiriki, and I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in these types of things - although I must confess I have not purchased the updated version yet, but it is on the list (along with a hundred others).


In his work, which I will refer to often as the available materials are limited and of those the number written by practitioners even less, Amdur groups kusarigama into three types:

Type 1 - A sickle with a chain attached at the bottom of the handle, where the sickle is used in one hand and the chain in the other.


Type 2 - A sickle with a chain attached at the top of the handle, where the sickle is used in one hand and the chain is swung like a flail leaving the other hand free.


Type 3 - The Isshin Ryu/Shibukawa Ryu type in the style of Type 1 but with the handguard in the middle of the weapon where the blade joins the shaft allowing certain techniques.  It is an astute observation that this is qualitatively different to the Type 1.


Type 4 - He does not define a Type 4 but does note that he is ignoring what were essentially Type 2 style weapons mounted on long poles, which I will call Type 4 (Nagae Kusarigama) for ease of reference, and then pretty much ignore myself as the Japanese material is almost non-existent.  (Out of all of these weapons, this one deserves more love).


This classification is somewhat useful although I’m sure others could be constructed - essentially there are flail types and two-handed chain & sickle types which is how I will address them.  For the most part I am interested in the two-handed chain & sickle types of kusarigama because the two-handed types can be seen as a progression of the manrikigusari plus another weapon (such as a jitte).

That is not to say I am uninterested in the flail types - indeed simply hitting with the manrikigusari probably relates much more to the flail types that the casting of the chain in the chain & sickle types, and it is always possible to hold the manrikigusari and another weapon in the same hand.  Indeed within Isshin Ryu the chain is often not cast, just used as a flail in the other hand. In the case of the manrikigusari and the jitte, not having the weapons attached actually gives some scope to using the pair either as a flail or as a short chain & sickle type.

In this work I am mostly interested in the chain side of the weapon and have somewhat neglected the sickle - this is because I equate the chain in the chain & sickle types to the spear (probably a novel idea at this point in time) whereas the use of the sickle itself is somewhat more obvious, being a more conventional solid weapon.



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