Nunchaku

A nunchaku or nunchucks (Chinese: 雙節棍, shuāng jié gùn; 兩節棍, liǎng jié gùn "Two Section Staff"; 二節棍, èr jié gùn "Two Section Staff"; Japanese: ヌンチャク) is a martial arts weapon of the kobudo weapons set and consists of two sticks connected at their ends with a short chain or rope. The other Kobudo weapons are the sai, tonfa, bo, eiku, tekko, tinbe-rochin, surujin, and kama. A sansetsukon is a similar weapon with three sticks attached on chains instead of two.

Various types of nunchaku.
Various types of nunchaku.

Legality

Possession of nunchaku is illegal in a number of countries, including Canada, Germany, Norway, Spain and the United Kingdom (anti-nunchaku laws in the UK were loosened somewhat in 1991). Legality in the United States varies at state level, e.g. personal possession of nunchaku is illegal in New York, Arizona, California and Massachusetts, but in other states possession is not criminalized. Legality in Australia is also determined by individual state laws. In New South Wales, the weapon is on the restricted weapons list, and thus can only be owned with a permit.

History

Although the certain origin of nunchaku is unknown (as with most weapons in history), it was possibly invented in China or Okinawa. The Japanese word nunchaku itself comes from the Min Nan word ng-chiat-kun (兩節棍). The popular belief is that the nunchaku was originally a short flail used to thresh rice (separate the grain from the husk). An alternate theory is that it was created by a martial artist attempting to conceal his staff from the current oppressive government by cutting it into three sections, creating what is commonly known today as a sansetsukon, and that nunchaku were derived from that weapon. It is also possible that the weapon was developed in response to the moratorium on edged weaponry under the Satsuma daimyo after invading Okinawa in the 17th century, and that the weapon was most likely conceived and used exclusively for that end, as the configuration of actual flails and bits are unwieldy for use as a weapon. Also, peasant farmers were unlikely to train for 'improvised' combat against professional warriors. Regardless of the origin of the nunchaku, the modern weapon would be an ineffective rice flail.

The nunchaku as a weapon has surged in popularity since martial artist Bruce Lee used it in his movies in the 1970s. It is generally considered by martial artists to be a limited weapon. Complex and difficult to wield, the nunchaku lacks the range of the bo (quarterstaff) and the edged advantage of a sword. It is also prone to inflicting injury on its user. Nevertheless, the nunchaku's impressive motion in use and perceived lethality contributed to its increasing popularity, peaking in the 1980s, perhaps due to its (unfounded) association with ninja during the 1980s ninja craze.

Formal nunchaku styles

The most common martial arts to use nunchaku are the Japanese and Okinawan martial arts such as some forms of karate/kobudo and ninjutsu, but some Eskrima systems also teach practitioners to use nunchaku. Songahm Taekwondo, a Korean style patterned after karate, also teaches how to use one and two nunchaku, though in Korean, they are known as Sahng Jeol Bahngs, or sometimes Sahng Jeol Bongs. The styles of these three arts are rather different; the traditional Okinawan arts use the sticks primarily to grip and lock, while the Filipino arts use the sticks primarily for striking, while Songahm Taekwondo teaches a combination of both.

In the early '80s, Kevin D. Orcutt, an American police sergeant, holder of a black belt in Jukado, developed the OPN (Orcutt Police Nunchaku) system. Since then some American law enforcement agencies employ the Nunchaku as a control weapon instead of the Tonfa, also known as the common police baton, which also finds its origin in the Kobudo weapons family. This system emphasises only a small subset of the nunchaku techniques, for speedier training.

Free-Style Marial Arts Programs across the United States, such as The Sports Club of West Bloomfield, Michigan encourage the use of nunchaku.

There is now a dedicated World Nunchaku Association, based in the Netherlands, which teaches Nunchaku-Do as a contact sport. They use yellow and black plastic weight-balanced training nunchaku and protective headgear. They have their own belt colour system where one earns colour stripes on the belt instead of using fully coloured belts. One side of the belt is yellow, and the other black, so that in a competition, opponents may be distinguished by the visible side of the belt.

There is also a complete system of ranking in the nunchaku called the North American Nunchaku Association, which is based in California, USA. They offer a complete system of the nunchaku teaching traditional and free-style techniques, from white to black belt. They have students in many countries including England, France, Netherlands, Canada, South Africa, and Denmark. Students studying at home from DVDs, and send their sends to the school in California.

Anatomy of the traditional nunchaku

A nunchaku is two sections of wood connected by a cord or chain, though variants may include additional sections of wood and chain. Chinese nunchaku tend to be rounded, whereas Japanese are octagonal. The ideal length of each piece should be the length of the user's forearm; the bone between elbow and wrist. Traditionally both ends are of equal length, although asymmetrical nunchaku exist. The ideal length for the connecting rope/chain is just enough to allow the user to lay it over their wrist, with the sticks hanging comfortably and perpendicular to the ground. Weight balance is extremely important; cheaper or gimmicky nunchaku (such as glow-in-the-dark ones) are often not properly balanced, which prevents the artist from doing the more advanced and flashier 'low-grip' moves, such as overhand twirls. The weight should be balanced towards the outer edges of the sticks for maximum ease and control of the swing arcs.

The traditional nunchaku is made from a strong, flexible hardwood such as oak, loquat or pasania. Originally, the wood would be submerged in mud for several years, where lack of oxygen and optimal acidity prevent rotting. The end result is a hardened wood. The rope is made from horsehair, and was traditionally claimed to be able to block a sword. Finally, the wood is very finely sanded and rubbed with an oil or stain for preservation. Today, such nunchaku are often varnished or painted for display purposes. This practice tends to reduce the grip and make the weapon harder to handle, and so is not advised in a combat weapon.

Anatomy of the modern nunchaku

The modern nunchaku can be made from any suitable material: from wood, metal, or almost any plastic or fiberglass material, commonly covered with foam to prevent self-injury or the injury of others. It is not uncommon to see modern nunchaku made from light metals such as aluminum. Modern equivalents of the rope are nylon cord or metal chains on ball bearing joints. Simple nunchaku may be easily constructed from wooden dowels and a short length of chain.

The Nunchaku-Do sport, governed by the World Nunchaku Association, promotes black and yellow Styrofoam nunchaku. Unlike readily available plastic training nunchaku, the ones they promote are properly balanced.

There are some alternate nunchaku, made solely for sporting such as:

  • Telescopic Nunchaku, sporting retractable metal sticks.
  • Glow-Chucks, made either with fiberglass and a coloured light fitted in the ball bearing or fluorescent tape wrapped around the sticks.
  • Penchaku, which are flashier Lissajous-do sticks available for artistic performances. These are more colourful and sometimes fluorescent with a modified anatomy which favors control in expense of power; they have longer length sticks and extremely short ropes. The idea is based on a mathematical model, the Lissajous, which allows the user to keep a continuous flowing form.

Nunchaku in combat

When used in combat, the nunchaku provide the obvious advantage of an increase in the reach of one's strike. Although somewhat difficult to control, the rope or chain joint of the nunchaku adds the benefit of striking from unexpected angles. Practitioners of the flashier styles contend that the motion of the nunchaku is often found distracting by opponents, who may have trouble keeping up with the nunchaku's rapid movement. In addition, the reach of the nunchaku is often underestimated, even by those experienced with its use.

The original Okinawan techniques involve holding the weapon in a variety of preparatory postures. Once an opponent has moved their weapon or body into close range, the nunchaku is used to strike vital spots, and apply joint locks, chokes and other control techniques.

Care of the nunchaku

For wooden nunchaku it is advisable (although not strictly necessary) to clean the nunchaku with a cloth moistened in olive oil, camellia oil or any other plant oil for easier grip. This also prevents fading of the original color. To prevent splintering, some owners wrap the sticks with cellophane tape. Candle wax can be applied to the nylon ropes at friction points to prevent wear.

Many traditional Kobudo practitioners leave the wood untreated. This is so the oils from your skin and many hours of use can "season" or harden the wood. Varnish, lacquer and the like are usually considered bad for the weapon and not as good for grip and control.

Freestyle Nunchaku

Freestyle nunchaku is a modern style of performance art using the nunchaku as a visual tool rather than as a weapon. With the growing prevalence of the Internet the availability of nunchaku has increased greatly, combining this with the popularity of youtube and other video sharing sites many people have become interested in learning how to use the weapons for freestyle displays. Freestyle is one discipline of the competitions are held by the World Nunchaku Association

Additional information

  • In the United Kingdom, all movies or media that depict a scene of nunchaku usage were censored heavily until year 2000, when they finally released a full DVD version of Enter the Dragon without censoring the nunchaku scene. A trailer for Fearless also features the weapon.
  • Nunchaku literally means "twin (or identical) sections" - a "chaku" being a unit of measurement, roughly equal to one section of bamboo.

Nunchaku in popular culture

  • Brothers Sakon and Ukon are characters in the anime/manga series Naruto bearing the names of the two connected sticks of a nunchaku.
  • In the webcomic 8-Bit Theater, Fighter frequently attempts to master "sword-chucks", a weapon of his own creation consisting of two swords attached by a chain. The other characters consider this to be a foolish weapon, saying that he would be more likely to injure himself with it than anything else. In a guest comic for a Christmas special, he creates "staff-chucks," two magical staves chained together, as a gift for Black Mage.
  • In the kung fu parody film Kung Pow: Enter the Fist, Steve Oedekerk's character has two gophers bite down on either end of a tightly rolled sheet, creating an impromptu pair of nunchaku that he calls "gopher-chucks".
  • An extensive nunchaku demonstration can be seen in the movie Sidekicks, starring Chuck Norris and the late Jonathan Brandis. In the movie, Brandis must learn a martial arts weapon to compete in a local tournament, and he chooses the nunchaku. When it comes time for him to perform, his imagination takes on his character, and he becomes a white-dressed ninja who begins a dizzying array of nunchaku motions and fighting movements.
  • Austin Stevens, the South Afican naturalist and herpetologist, practices martial arts with nunchakus as a way to improve his reflexes for when dealing with poisonous snakes.

Videogames featuring Nunchaku

  • One of the first revealed controller attachments for Nintendo's Wii video game console, a small add-on with a control stick and two buttons, was called the "nunchaku attachment". It was so named due to the fact that, when connected to the main, remote control-like Wii controller with its wire, the resulting setup resembles a nunchaku.
Okinawan weapons
of Kobudo, the "old martial way of Okinawa" (Japan).

Bo staff | Eku | Kama | Nunchaku | Sai | Tambo | Surujin | Tekko | Tinbe-Rochin | Tonfa

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