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.


Getting Started


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).


Have fun.

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Comment by Peyton Quinn on March 27, 2012 at 7:41pm

I am happy to see you good people see this Old Man's view on the Nunchuk weapon.

I just took my students back to the airport after my a 5 day class. I do not have regular students or the 'business model' of monthly paying students as in a regualr dojo or Kwan.

The people who come to RMCAT training come from so many parts of ther world. They stay here in the dorms and eat their meals here together and I am their chef too.

 Despite their diffrent Faiths cultures and their languages I once again see the commonality of mankind... and that the truest form of worship is simply service to mankind.

I am 62 now, I am no longer the young man I was.

It is in one way lauaghable, and in another way more profond, but I see myself today more as 'Obi Won Konobi' , when in the past I was 'Luke Skywalker' and later 'Han Solo'.

As the Christians say. ""Turn, turn, turn, for everything there is a season, a  Eb time for every purpose"

The truest form of worship my friends is simply service to mankind. Please try to think on that thought a bit. The time may come when it will serve you... as well as it has  the fullness of time, served myself.


My freinds once again I am remided that the truest form of worship is service to mankind.

Comment by Paul Sappington on March 27, 2012 at 6:13pm

Yes, I get what you're saying.  The nunchaku is not considered one of the best weapons, and it wasn't the first weapon I expected to learn in my Taekwondo training.  I was quite intimidated by the idea of cracking my own skull, but surprisingly it's been the easiest weapon for me to learn.  I train with it to develop my dexterity and coordination, and in a real self-defense situation, I probably wouldn't have it anyway, so learning to use a simple stick would be in order.  Right now I'm learning the bo and later on i'll probably pick up the kama.  I'd like to learn the sai, but since it's not part of the ATA curriculum I had to put that on the back burner.

Comment by Peyton Quinn on March 27, 2012 at 12:51am

Back in the mid seventies when I was a cooler/bouncer in a Texas bar, and a rather rowdy bar, and one with as many as 350 patrons in it I was attacked in the parking lot several times and once inside the place by nunchucks.

But i really never found the nunchuck a true threat really, it was fairly easy to disarm a person of them and even if hit with them you could genrally slip it to take the impact on your back and avoid it doing any damage or make you see those 'purple lights against the black background'.

I sort of learend to relax when somebody pulled them out and started twirling them and trying to seem dagerious as I pretty much knew I was in no real danger

But a guy who just busted off a pool cue to make shorter more effective 'stick' to attack me was something to be careful with, they could connect and it they did it could carry that 'ko' juice and even if they missed your head and hit your shoulder it was a true shock to the body that interupted your flow.

But a nunchuck just did not have that  power. It is therefor challenging for me to see how they coud have reallly been used as a combat weapon. Just a straight stike ( as in an Aikido, JO, etc) is far, far more dangerious. I ended up with pasbboar box behind the bar with various weapons in it thaty we had taken of patrons over 3 or 4 months. There were at maybe as many as a dozen pairs of nunchucks in there. Some were home made and some commercial ones.


But as a Black Belt Hall of Fame member I do see their values in a martial arts study context and the practice of same, and it can be fun to spin them around sometimes too.It can aid the aquitoion of flow and 'spatial relation'. If oyu can say hany ping pong bal on string and whip the chuck so the ping pong ball is struck with focus and only the ping pong ball hit, and do it quick and fluidly, then you have good skill level with the device. But it sitll is not realy an effective self-defense weapon, a nunchuck is not much more than a 'nusanace weapon' compared to a simple billy club.

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