Nunchaku are a pair of short rods connected by a small rope or chain. The art of using nunchaku as a self-defense tool, nunchakujutsu, is one component of kobudō and many other martial arts, because nunchaku are inexpensive, and easy to learn. The nunchaku is a gateway to flexible weapons. Once a student learns to the nunchaku, they can apply its principles to other, more exotic weapons, like the:
- Manrikigusari (Weighted chain)
- Suruchin (Rocks tied together)
- Kusarigama (Chain-sickle)
- Three-section staff
Nunchaku were most likely grain flails, a tool used to loosen grain husks before the advent of the thresher. Horse bridles, and the alarm clappers used by town criers and night watchmen are other possible origins of the nunchaku.
Nunchaku can be wielded in pairs, but this is not recommended, as it limits your available techniques to a few basic strikes. Both hands must be available in order to access the nunchaku’s full range of blocks, strikes, strangleholds, and joint locks. Unlike sticks, nunchaku cannot follow-through; once the nunchaku strikes a target, they will bounce, and follow an identical path back towards the user. You need a free hand to catch the nunchaku, or they will hit you. Likewise, with practice, you will learn to flow with the nunchakuand use this recoil momentum to augment your next strike.
While nunchaku are simple to use, they can result in self-injury -- but only if the user fears or disrespects the weapon. As such, the nunchaku are reserved for advanced students, since any dangerous timidity or hubris should be purged from their characters by that point.
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Unlike the other kobudō weapons, few kata were formulated for the nunchaku, and even fewer survived to modern day. The nunchaku was not a popular weapon in its time, since it is ineffective against attackers armed with swords or polearms. Nunchaku only became popular in the 1970’s, after their appearance in Bruce Lee movies. The great majority of nunchaku forms are “dōjō kata,” forms created by individual teachers for their handful of students, so they could have something to practice and hone their skills. This is why nunchaku kata have little consistency, and vary greatly from place to place. We will not make an in-depth or rigorous study of nunchakujutsu; we will only explain how nunchaku are used within Goshin-Jutsu Karatedō; that is, our system’s form for this weapon:
For more information on nunchakujutsu, please consult Fumio Demura's Karate Weapons of Self-Defense: The Complete Edition, or a used copy of one of the following out-of-print books:
- Nunchaku: Karate Weapon of Self-Defense, by Fumio Demura
- Advanced Nunchaku, by Fumio Demura & Dan Ivan
- Dynamic Nunchaku, by Tadashi Yamashita
(Though this might seem like a cop-out, no one can do a decent job of teaching nunchakujutsu without blatantly plagiarizing these books.)
Tips on selecting nunchaku
Many different nunchaku styles are commercially available, and they can be easily made at home, even by an unskilled craftsman. There are no real requirements for size, composition, or linkage; these are largely determined by personal preference.
Nunchaku are joined by rope or chain. From our experience, most practicing martial artists prefer the feeling of the rope-linked nunchaku over the chain-linked kind -- but again, this is a personal preference. The rope can be made from synthetic or natural fibers, or even braided hair; the material choice makes no difference. A longer linkage increases the weapon’s range, but also makes the weapon harder to control. Likewise, you cannot perform locks and strangleholds if the linkage is too short. Martial artists have empirically determined that the optimized linkage is one fist-width in length.
The handles are typically 12” (~30.5 cm), but they can be any length. We recommend using slightly longer nunchaku (14”, ~ 35.5 cm), since they are easier to catch. Hardwoods, like oak or cherry offer the best balance between speed and energy transfer. Heaver (e.g., metal or weighted) nunchaku strike like hammers, but they are harder to start, stop, or change direction. Lighter (e.g., plastic or rattan) nunchaku are faster, but they may not be able to cause the skeletal trauma needed to incapacitate an opponent. For this reason, the hollow-plastic foam-covered “safety” nunchaku are intrinsically dangerous, since they teach a false notion of what nunchaku use feels like.