The Kama is one of the classic "Poor Farmer's" weapons which became very common in Japan during the era of the Shogunate, a repressive feudal system which began around 1100 AD and lasted for 700 years. As with most of the enduring martial arts, the study of weapons such as the Kama was born of necessity. Japanese nobility forbade anyone not of noble blood (i.e. the commoners, over 95% of the population), to bear arms of any sort. This law allowed for the occasional abuse of power on the part of the Samurai, the noble warrior class. Some practitioners of the "Poor Farmer's" weaponry arts took up the practice in order to protect themselves from the transgressions of the armed, noble class. Others were revolutionaries bent on overthrowing the Shogunate.
Whatever their motivation was, the developers of weapons like the Kama were forced by the laws of the land into utter secrecy. This meant they had to hide both the development and the practice of their weaponry, which led to some truly incredible feats of creative disguise and ingenuity. The Kama is a great example of this ingenuity: it comes from the simplest and most common farm tool of all, the sickle. Used for quickly and efficiently cutting down large quantities of full-grown wheat stalks by hand, the Kama had to be modified only slightly for use as a formidable weapon. Its inward-curving, foot-long blade was shaped to bring large quantities of wheat stalks in towards the farmer; this also served to snare one's opponent. A Japanese sickle had holes in the blade to make it lighter and faster-swung, making it truly deadly for sneak attacks.
Like so many of the successful Japanese peasant weapons, the Kama was developed on the Island of Okinawa to the South of the mainland. Its use VERY quickly spread throughout the Japanese islands after its inception as a weapon somewhere around 1300 AD. Unfortunately, the sheer effectiveness and abundance of this tool tended to quickly make Japanese landowners highly suspicious of any of their serfs who carried them around.
The Kama, like so many Okinawan is typically wielded weapons, is usually wielded in a matched pair, one in each hand. The Kama is held as one might expect, with the hand near the bottom of the shaft and the blade facing outward. The sharp edge of the Kama's blade is on the inside of the curve, so generally a cutting strike is executed by moving the blade past one's target and pulling inward. This allows the wielder to entrap the opponent with one Kama, using the other to deal a finishing blow or to ward off counter-attacks (although holding the opponent's weapon is often a means of any preventing attack at all).
Blocking and parrying with a Kama can be accomplished either by using the inside of the curved blade to trap incoming strikes, or simply by using the outside of the blade to ward away strikes. This second method is faster and simpler to execute, but exposes the weak point of the Kama's design: the point where the blade attaches to the handle at a 90-degree angle. This commonly exposed weakness led to the design during the 1600s of the Nata-Gama, similar in most respects but for the attachment of the blade. A Nata-Gama's blade attaches to the top of the handle rather than the side, and the steel blade then makes the 90 degree angle. This makes the attachment point, the Kama's weak spot, far less apt to be struck in combat.
The Kama could, in rare circumstances, also be thrown for some distance. The weight of the blade, especially at its base, provided acceptable balance for short flights.
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