Note: This post is a tutorial on a weapon used in the martial arts, and practice with such weapon is a high risk activity. This post is for information and educational purposes only, and the reader assumes the risk inherent in attempting to engage in this activity. Neither the author nor the Art of Manliness can be responsible for personal injury or injury to others or death due to use or misuse of the nunchaku. Persons interested in practicing nunchaku should do so under the supervision of a qualified martial arts instructor in a reputable martial arts studio. The reader is also responsible for knowing what laws regulate nunchaku in his jurisdiction.
By far, the nunchaku is probably the most recognized of the martial arts weapons. Go to any tournament or demonstration, and you’ll likely see someone swinging around these two connected sticks with blinding speed.
The history of the nunchaku is a subject of much debate. The most popular theories, as with most other martial arts weapons, hold that the nunchaku was a farming implement, possibly a flail for threshing wheat or rice, or part of a horse’s bit. Whatever its origin, the nunchaku is an example of an improvised weapon – an everyday farming tool used by peasants in Okinawa to defend themselves during a time when traditional weapons were forbidden under Japanese occupation.
The word “nunchaku” is a Japanese compound work that means “identical sections.” In the American Taekwondo Association, students call it by the Korean name “Ssahng Jeol Bong,” meaning “two sticks with a string.” Just don’t call them nun-chucks or num-chucks.
I present here a brief tutorial for getting started with the nunchaku.
Construction of the Nunchaku
Nunchaku is made up of two sticks connected by a chain or rope. The sticks may be round, but traditional Okinawan nunchaku has an octagonal cross-section, which increases the pain of being hit by the instrument due to the sharp edges. The sticks can be made of wood, metal, or hard plastic. You can also obtain a foam-padded nunchaku for starting out, and I highly recommend it for your safety. Lightweight nunchaku is built for speed while heavy nunchaku builds grip and forearm strength as well as dealing serious damage.
First and foremost, find a qualified instructor in the martial arts, and be aware that different organizations have different rules for when students can study weapons. Some organizations do not include weapons until the student has earned his first degree black belt. Others, such as the American Taekwondo Association, allow students as early as orange belt (the second color rank) to use weapons for freestyle weapons competition.
Also, find out what the laws are in your jurisdiction. Some countries ban nunchaku altogether, and in the United States, legality of nunchaku varies at the state and local level. Some states like California and New York criminalize simple possession of nunchaku. Nunchaku is perfectly legal in Missouri as long as it’s not used in an angry or threatening manner.
Start out with a foam-padded nunchaku until you get comfortable with the motions.
When choosing a nunchaku, follow these guidelines:
1. Grasp the nunchaku near the chain or rope, and bend your wrist so that the stick lies along your forearm. The end of the stick should be close to the elbow. My rattan nunchaku is twelve inches long on each stick.
2. Lay the nunchaku string or chain across your palm so that the sticks hang at the sides. The length of the string or chain should be about the width across your palm at the knuckles (primarily for fancy wrist-roll tricks that I’ve not included in the video).
Grasping the Nunchaku
There are two primary ways to grasp the nunchaku, near the end, and near the chain, and each has its strengths and weaknesses.
Grasping near the end of the nunchaku provides a longer reach and more power (because the outside of a circle moves faster than the inside), but the weapon is more difficult to control, and in the unlikely case of hitting a target dead-on, the free stick will bounce straight back and crack your knuckles.
Grasping near the chain gives better control, but sacrifices reach and power. In the unlikely case of striking a target dead-on, the free stick bounces straight back, but the chain will lie across your knuckles. Not as painful.
There is also a reverse grip that usually results from a wrist-roll. Holding the stick at near the chain, swing the free stick so it wraps around your hand with the chain across your knuckles. Release the stick you're holding, and catch the free stick as it comes around. This is half the wrist-roll. Swing the stick in the opposite direction to return to the normal grip.
Swinging the Nunchaku Safely
When trying the techniques demonstrated in the video, remember to let the stick ROLL around your body. When you swing the nunchaku over your shoulder or around your waiste, the end near the chain should make contact first, and then the stick will roll across your body. Don’t let the end of the free stick hit your body first. That will hurt. A lot.
When attempting the thigh roll or V-strike, be sure to roll the stick off your inner thigh near your knee. Don’t get too close to the crotch. That’s not a pleasant experience. Trust me on that one.
In the video I only show one common block and how to execute it against a blow coming at the side of the head. Other blocks aren’t so fancy and are self-explanatory. Basically, catch the opponent’s weapon with the chain. Holding the sticks with both hands, hold the nunchaku horizontally and sweep upward for a high block, or hold it vertically and sweep to the side for a side block against an incoming thrust (as with against a knife). Now if your sticks are connected by a rope and the other guy has a katana, well, you’re screwed.
When you've practiced each technique individually, try stringing them together into combinations. See what flows naturally from one technique to the other. In ATA competitions we are expected to keep the nunchaku moving non-stop in our freestyle forms (except when kicking).