A Wooden Tonfa
A Wooden Tonfa

The tonfa, also known as tong fa or tuifa, is a traditional Okinawan weapon from which the modern side-handled police baton is derived.


Folklore says these were originally used as wooden handles that fit into the side of millstones, or as horse bridles, and were later developed into weapons when Japanese peasants were banned from using more traditional weaponry. Other sources say they have a richer history extending back into Chinese martial arts, and appearing in Indonesian and Filipino cultures. It also appears in Thailand as the Mae Sun Sawk. The slight difference is that the Mae Sun Sawk has rope tying the elbow end of it to the arm (see the explanation below).


The tonfa traditionally consists of two parts, a handle with a knob, and perpendicular to the handle, a shaft or board that lies along the hand and forearm. The shaft is usually 51–61 cm (20–24 in) long; optimally, it extends about 3 cm past the elbow when held. Often the shaft has rounded off ends which may be grooved for a better grip.


One way to wield a tonfa.
One way to wield a tonfa.

There are numerous ways to defend and attack with the tonfa. Defensively, when holding the handle, the shaft protects the forearm and hand from blows, and the knob can protect from blows to the thumb. By holding both ends of the shaft, it can ward off blows. When holding the shaft, the handle can function as a hook to catch blows or weapons.

In attack, the shaft can be swung out to strike the target. By holding the handle and twirling the tonfa it can gain large amounts of momentum before striking. The knob can be used as a striking surface, either when held by the handle, or when holding the shaft, using it as a club (when striking with the flat end) or like a hammer (when striking with the handle itself, which is an effective application of force amplification). The shaft can also be maneuvered to stab at attackers. By holding the shaft and handle together, the tonfa can be used for holding or breaking techniques. Another method as used by the Thais involves striking with the elbow end of the mae sun sawk while grabbing the handle similar to striking with the elbow in Muay Thai or Krabi Krabong. As the mae sun sawk has the elbow part of the arm attached to it, the swinging out technique described above cannot be used but offsetting that, almost all of the elbow strikes of Muay Thai can be used with great power.

The tonfa is traditionally wielded in pairs, one in each hand, unlike the police nightstick which is a single-hand weapon. As the tonfa can be held in many different ways, education in the use of the tonfa often involves learning how to switch between different grips at high speed. Such techniques require great manual dexterity, as they involve flips and slides with the weapon.

Media depiction

Recently tonfas have been seen in movies and video games where often the tonfa itself was bladed and sharpened.

Video games

  • Talim from the Soul Calibur series uses "tonfa blades" which are similar to tonfa with a blade along the outside edge of each shaft. Also, one of her additional weapons is a pair of regular wooden tonfa.
  • In the Front Mission series of games, mechs can be equipped with a rocket powered tonfa to add power to punches.
  • The Hero of Suikoden II uses a pair of Tonfa.
  • In the Dynasty Warriors series, Sun Ce wielded upgradable Tonfa, which is seemingly kept true to the original design, due to the apparent lack of blades or guns, but the character is able to execute techniques much more quickly than would be possible in reality.
  • The weapon of Strider Hiryu called the Cypher (or Cipher) is a bladed tonfa.
  • The Recoil Rod of Mega Man Zero 3 resembles a set of energy tonfas.
  • Maki Genryusai of Final Fight 2 and Capcom vs. SNK 2 fights with a tonfa.
  • Jax from Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance wields a blade tonfa.
  • In Death By Degrees Nina can wield one when dropped by an enemy.
  • Apharmd from Virtual On series has a pair of beam tonfa as its primary melee armaments. Later subsequent generations have variations that are also manufactured with beam tonfa as melee armaments. However, they are referred to as "Tongfers."
  • Proto Eagle and Eagle Robot from "Gotcha Force" wield laser-tonfa as melee weapons.
  • One of the later weapons of Josh Calloway from EOE: Eve of Extinction is a pair of energy tonfa.
  • In Super Robot Wars Alpha3, Ryuusei's R-blade Custom's most powerful move is called Blade Tonfa.
  • Orchid from the Killer Instinct series wields a pair of tonfas.
  • Aya Brea, main character from the Parasite Eve series, uses tonfas (called Clubs in Parasite Eve 1) as her chosen melee weapon
  • Eri Kasamoto and Fio Germi, from the Metal Slug series, utilize a one-handed tonfa during a melee attack.
  • Rody Birts, from Art of Fighting 3, utilize a tonfa in each hand.
  • Both Yoko and Redeye of Last Bronx use tonfa's,


  • Kroenen from the Hellboy movie uses bladed tonfas.
  • In its mae sun sawk form, it was used in the Thai fashion in Ong-Bak, Tom-Yum-Goong, and Khunsuk.
  • Mel Gibson's character Martin Riggs used two police batons as tonfa in Lethal Weapon.

"Wins without a knife", the Japanese fighter from the cult classic Kung-Fu film "Master of the Flying Guillotine" uses a pair of tonfa with hidden retractable blades that extend from the shaft.

Comics, Anime, and TV Shows

See also

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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