How to learn to use nunchaku by yourself

Since the modernization (and subsequent popularization) of Karate in the early 1900, Karate has spread to almost every part of the world. East to west, north to south. I even heard they have a Karate school in the North Pole. The training consists mostly of ice breaking…

No, that last was a lie. But there might be!

Now, with all of these Karate schools everywhere, the question I ask myself is this: How come Karate became so popular, spreading far and wide, but not Kobudo? Since, according to a noted Kobudo historian, “Karate and Kobudo are like brother and sister” they should be equally popular.

Then why are they separated? Why is Kobudo almost neglected?

I thought I had the answer to this. I thought long and hard, and came up with five basic theories. They are all good. But, then somebody told me the real reason.

The one reason I didn’t think about…

I will tell you that reason, of course, but first let´s look at the five reasons I came up with.

1. Kobudo is hard

Generally, yes, Kobudo is hard. Especially for people who can´t control their body. I mean, if they already have a hard time doing movements without an object in their hands, then doing it with something in their hands is sometimes too much for the brain. Overload.

And just when you think you are getting good at one weapon it’s time to switch to the next!

Complicated stuff doesn’t get popular.

2. Kobudo is expensive

To practice Karate you need clothes. To practice Kobudo you need clothes… and a weapon. And depending on how advanced you are you might need more than one weapon.

If you are a black belt in Kobudo, you are likely to have two bo (one for kumite and one for kata), two sai, two tonfa, two nunchaku (one foam for kumite and one wood for kata), four kama (two wood for kumite and two steel for kata), two tekko, two eiku (kata/kumite) and sometimes more! This arsenal of weapons doesn’t come for free. And if a weapon breaks, you need to buy a new!

Then you need covers for every weapon too…

Expensive stuff doesn’t get popular.

3. Kobudo is “not physical enough”

This was the reply from a student who quit Kobudo. He just didn’t get sweaty enough. Obviously he was doing something wrong, since Karate in full speed never can be as tough as Kobudo in full speed. I can prove it with a formula like this:

Body + weight in hands = more physical than Body – weight in hands.

It’s simple. You see it, I see it. And still some people claim that Kobudo isn’t as physical as Karate. It’s not logic (we have formula) but they say it anyway.

It’s because they are not on a high enough level to perform movements without risking hurting themselves. They are so afraid of the weapon itself that they cannot use it to 100 %. Hence, it becomes weak, slow, and boring Kobudo. Unless you actually train long enough to learn how to use 100% of the weapon without risking your neck.

A long, hard and repetitive process for learning fundamentals doesn’t get popular.

4. Kobudo is for geeks

This one can be misunderstood, so let me explain: Geeks are often the opposite of people who do sports, right? And Kobudo is not a sport. So, logically, Kobudo must be for geeks, since you cannot compete in Kobudo.

Competition is popular.

Geeks don’t get popular.

5. Kobudo is not practical

“So I was walking into the pub the other day, right, when this huuuge guy flipped out and came swinging at me. I quickly sidestepped, pulled up my sai from my back pocket and blocked his attack with my left sai, sticking the other into his throat. He puked blood and guts and died. I wiped the blood from my sai and ordered a beer.”

Not likely.

People just don’t think Kobudo is practical. And sure, I agree that it doesn’t seem that way. But when you know the principles of the Kobudo weapons, you can use anything as a weapon – Shoes, purses, bags, belts, baskets, sticks, guitars and other random stuff in your environment. The unique shapes of the Kobudo weapons make you adept at handling almost any object, irrespective of shape, as a weapon.

But people don’t know this. So they think you always have to carry around the weapons, instead of using your surroundings.

Outdated and seemingly unpractical things don’t get popular.

So, that was the reasons I came up with. This is great, I thought, now I can write a post about this. Then the noted Kobudo authority (that I mentioned in the beginning) told me the real reason.

Karate makes more money than Kobudo.

And it’s so true.

You know it, and I know it. Money rules the world. Money buys cars, flat screens and some more cars. Also, it gives you food on the table.

So, naturally people want money.

Now, let’s make a story. Imagine you are a Kobudo and Karate master in Okinawa, a long time ago.

Let’s say you want to spread Karate and Kobudo, so you move from boring Okinawa to mainland modern Japan. You find a nice building, and buy it. This will be your dojo. It has room for about fifty students. You put up a big sign that says “Karate and Kobudo Dojo”

On the first night you are having training, fifty people show up, having heard rumors about your supreme skills. You tell them they are welcome to join, and today it is going to be Kobudo. You tell them to get a bo.

Now you realize the problem. Only ten people can use a bo at the same time in the the dojo without hitting each other.

You look towards the exit of your dojo.

Forty people are putting their shoes on, going home. They didn’t have enough space to train.

So, judging from this, it’s easy to see why Karate was preferred by the old masters. They all knew Kobudo too, believe me. But fifty students generate substantially more money than ten students. And no matter how much you would like to teach people your Kobudo, you soon come to a conclusion:

You want food on your table.

Karate gives food, not Kobudo. That only gives you blisters.

So you stop teaching Kobudo, and from this day on you only teach Karate. Students start coming back, and your pockets are getting fatter. The food is on the table. The car is in the parking lot and the flat screen is in the living room.

Just like you want it.

And that’s why Kobudo never became popular.

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How to learn to use nunchaku by yourself

  • May 21, 2019

When Bruce Lee was handed his first pair of nunchucks in the mid-1960s, he called the weapon a “piece of junk,” his training partner, Dan Inosanto, recalled recently.

Mr. Lee, the martial arts expert, said the nunchucks were not as effective as sticks — too fancy and too showy.

“Then he goes, ‘This might be good for the movies,’” Mr. Inosanto said in an interview.

It was a good bet. Wielding nunchucks with dizzying force, Mr. Lee vaulted to international fame. Americans flocked to martial arts.

But the popularity of nunchucks — commonly, two rods connected by a chain or rope — alarmed the authorities, in what many now see as a hysteria that echoed other racist fears of Asians. The police began arresting people for carrying what some called “deadly weapons.” In four states, lawmakers banned them.

Now, decades later, those laws are being revisited.

This month, after more than 40 years on the books, Arizona’s ban, which one lawmaker called “antiquated,” was repealed. In December, a federal judge struck down New York’s decades-long ban, saying it violated the Second Amendment, despite arguments from officials that the weapons were “dangerous and unusual.”

Emboldened, martial artists are now eyeing the remaining state bans, in Massachusetts and California.

“A weapon can be anything from a rolled-up newspaper to a pool cue to a golf club, any kind of object that has a handle,” Mr. Inosanto said. “To me it’s kind of silly — you would have to outlaw everything.”

Rice thresher? Or horse bridle?

Modern-day disagreements over nunchucks — or nunchaku, their more proper name — are rooted in the weapon’s origin on Okinawa, the Japanese island.

Records are incomplete, so many theories have emerged, said Mark T. McNally, a history professor at the University of Hawaii, who has written about Okinawan history.

Many, like Mr. Inosanto, believe that nunchaku were developed from an agricultural tool used to thresh rice.

That theory does not resonate in Okinawa today, Mr. McNally said. He said nunchaku were adapted from horses’ headgear, a quick self-defense weapon that aristocrats could use to protect themselves from bandits.

“If you imagine kind of a bridle and a bit, and they would take it off and use it as a weapon,” he said.

Panic spreads

In the mid-1960s, Mr. Lee used nunchaku in the American television series “The Green Hornet,” playing the title character’s assistant, Kato. In the 1972 film “Fist of Fury,” Mr. Lee fends off more than a dozen assailants in a dojo with the weapon. They are also prominently featured in Mr. Lee’s best-known film, 1973’s “Enter the Dragon.”

The popularity of nunchaku rose. Then awe turned to fear.

In 1973, The Morning News in Wilmington, Del., reported the arrest of a 15-year-old who was carrying the “concealed deadly weapon.”

“Nunchakus are becoming a growing threat in American cities — including Wilmington — and police are gradually becoming enlightened,” The Morning News reported.

A 1973 article in The New York Times reported nunchaku “turning up in the hands of youths in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.”

Sgt. Bob Martin of the Los Angeles Police Department told The Los Angeles Times that year: “We’ve made almost a dozen arrests in the last few weeks and we’re still finding 12- and 13-year-old kids walking around with these thing sticking out of their pockets.”

In October 1973, Newsweek used a new name for nunchaku: “killer sticks.”

A month later, the California attorney general cited the Newsweek article when explaining that nunchaku can “generate 1,600 pounds of pressure at the point of impact, whereas the human bone breaks at about 8 1/2 pounds.”

In 1974, the state banned their possession. (An exception was carved out to allow them inside martial arts studios, but it remains unclear how people can legally get them to or from the studios.) New York, Arizona and Massachusetts also enacted bans.

Terry Park, an Asian-American studies lecturer at the University of Maryland, who has taught about Asian-Americans in film, said the reaction to the popularity of nunchaku spoke to “latent anti-Asian anxieties” that have repeatedly played out in the United States.

“Just the name ‘killer sticks’ calls for the residues of yellow peril and how Asian-ness gets imagined in the U.S.,” he said.

Revisiting the laws

After the hysteria faded, the bans’ impact has been mixed.

Joseph Pollini, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, who served with the New York Police Department from 1969 to 2002, said that “somewhere between ’69 and ’75 was the last time I ever saw a nunchuck.”

“It’s just not a common weapon,” he said.

Records do show, however, that nunchaku possession has regularly — if not frequently — been prosecuted. In 2002, a California appellate court upheld the conviction of a juvenile for nunchaku possession after the San Jose Police Department found plastic and foam nunchaku in his room while responding to a call of a possible threat, court records show.

The case that eventually overturned New York’s ban started after a Verizon worker on a telephone pole outside a Nassau County man’s home thought he was being threatened with a rifle. When the police responded, they found nunchaku in the home of the man, James M. Maloney. Mr. Maloney, a martial arts enthusiast, was charged by Nassau County prosecutors in 2000. The charge was dismissed three years later as part of a plea agreement, court records show.

Mr. Maloney then sued Nassau County officials in federal court, saying the ban violated the Second Amendment. The case dragged on for more than 15 years before the ban was struck down in December.

During the case, Nassau County officials said they had prosecuted three nunchaku possession cases from December 2014 to January 2017.

The bans also have commercial implications. Chris Pellitteri, the founder of the North American Nunchaku Association, said that nunchaku cannot be sold in California because of its ban.

“We have gun shows out here,” he said. “They’ll sell knives and bayonets and everything else, but you can’t buy a pair of nunchucks.”

The push to repeal in Arizona also came from a martial arts enthusiast: James Gowan, a state senator, a black belt in karate who teaches martial arts. Mr. Gowan did not answer phone calls and emails seeking comment.

At a hearing in February after the bill was introduced, Mr. Gowan called the law “antiquated.”

“There was a type of urban legend that was put upon it that gang members had used it to commit crimes and things like that,” he said.

Whether California or Massachusetts will follow New York and Arizona is yet to be seen. Mr. Pellitteri said he had received messages from lawyers seeking to replicate the success of New York’s challenge.

Shaun Rundle, deputy director of the California Peace Officers’ Association, said he questioned the wisdom of repealing the ban when data shows that overall assaults on law enforcement officers are rising.

As a former officer, Mr. Pollini said, he would not see someone carrying nunchaku as inherently threatening. Someone could always be charged with assault if they used nunchaku to attack another person. But he understood the sentiment put forth by Mr. Rundle.

“If you talk to a cop on the street,” he said, “the less you allow someone to carry, the happier they’re going to be because it’s less likely they’re going to get hurt with it.”

Choosing Your Martial Arts Weapons

In addition to being mind-blowingly awesome, martial arts weapons let you apply your skills in new and exciting ways. If you’re considering incorporating a martial arts weapon into your practice, read on to learn more about some of our favorite weapons. And, be sure to follow us on Facebook so you’ll be in the know about our special weapons classes!

How to learn to use nunchaku by yourself

The sai is a close range, dual-wielding, melee weapon. In pop culture, it is the weapon of choice for Raphael of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. A blunted weapon, the sai is especially suited for defense and is used to block, parry, and trap. It can also be used to strike, with either the tip of the weapon (called the saki) or the butt end of the handle (called the tsuka). Particular emphasis is placed on rapid grip changes in order to fully utilize the versatility of the sai.

Fun fact: the word “sai” refers both to a single weapon or multiple weapons. There is no plural of “sai.”

How to learn to use nunchaku by yourselfKung Fun War Fans (Tessen)

Want another pop culture reference? Kitana from Mortal Kombat favored the tessen. While her tessen featured pointed iron spokes, that is an incredibly impractical addition to the weapon and is not at all a good representation of how tessen were used. Traditionally, tessen were clandestine weapons that were designed to look like harmless fans, but were made from heavy iron plates that could really do some damage. Samurai were able to take these fans into places where swords were not allowed. Tessen are often used as a defensive weapon to fend off knife and dart attacks, or as a throwing weapon.

Fun fact: The tessen was also used as a swimming aid.

How to learn to use nunchaku by yourselfTonfa

A versatile melee weapon, the tonfa is held with the handle pointing upward, so that the weapon runs along the bottom of the forearm. It serves well to protect the forearm when performing blocks and reinforces elbow strikes and punches. It can also be swung outward in order to perform stabbing strikes.

Fun fact: Tonfa can be gripped by the shaft of the weapon. In this method, the tonfa is used more like a hook or sickle. However, this is not a common way of wielding tonfa.

How to learn to use nunchaku by yourself

Bo Staff

The bo staff is used in a variety of martial arts disciplines and is one of the hardest weapons to defend against. Measuring 6 feet in length, the bo staff is an excellent long-range weapon, but is also effective in close combat. The de facto bo staff move is to block an attack with the top of the staff, and in one fluid motion, counter-attack with with the lower end.

Fun fact: The bo staff is traditionally made of oak.

How to learn to use nunchaku by yourselfNunchucks (Nunchaku)

This might be the most instantly recognizable of all martial arts weapons. Popularized by Bruce Lee, nunchaku is an excellent weapon for developing quick hand movements and correct posture. For this reason, nunchaku is often the first weapon a student will learn. If not wielded with restraint and correct posture, the weapon is more likely to hit the student than the opponent. Nunchaku can be applied to lock and trap an opponent’s limbs, or as an offensive weapon.

Fun fact: While the origin of the nunchuck is debated, the most credible belief is that it was derived from Okinawan horse bits.

How to learn to use nunchaku by yourself


More often than not, the bokken is shaped like a katana, but can be made in the likeness of nearly any sword. The weapon was intended as a training sword that would lessen the damage caused by real swords. However, once it wound up in the hands of the masters, the bokken became a lethal weapon in its own right.

Fun fact: According to legend, the renowned philosopher and ronin Miyamoto Musashi defeated the kenjutsu master Sasaki Kojiro using nothing but a bokken he carved from an oar while on his way to face Sasaki in a duel.

How to learn to use nunchaku by yourself

Butterfly Swords

The butterfly swords may be the most ingeniously designed of all the martial arts weapons on our list. There are a multitude of ways the butterfly swords can be used for both defense and attack. Because the butterfly swords are only sharp from midway down the blade to the tip, the swords can be used not only to stab and slice — but also to deliver non-lethal blows and to block attacks without damaging the sharp end of the blade. The crossguards can be used to hook an opponent’s weapon, while the handles can be used as brass knuckles. The weapons can even be inverted and used in the same manner as a tonfa.

Usually, butterfly swords are wielded in pairs, but they are often carried in a single scabbard to give the illusion that a warrior possesses only one weapon. Due to their size, they are easily concealed up a sleeve or in other loose clothing.

Fun fact: Butterfly swords were traditionally commissioned by individual martial artists (they weren’t mass produced), so each set was different.

How to learn to use nunchaku by yourself

Known as the “Gentleman of Weapons,” the jian is a traditional, double-edged, Chinese straight sword. (It also appears in the movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, because Hollywood loves itself a mystical sword). The blade of the jian is divided into three parts, each with a unique purpose. The part of the blade nearest the tip is meant for stabbing and slashing. The middle of the blade is used for cleaving cuts, draw cuts (wherein you both cut your opponent and pull them closer to you), and deflections. The section of the blade closest to the hilt is used for defensive maneuvers.

Fun fact: The dojo is having a jian straight sword class on Saturday, February 9 at 3:30 PM, and it’s going to be the stuff of legend!