The nunchaku (//) (Japanese: ヌンチャク, sometimes "nunchuks" (//), "nunchucks", "chainsticks", "chuka sticks" or "karate sticks" in English; Chinese: 雙節棍) is a traditional Okinawan martial arts weapon consisting of two sticks connected at one end by a short chain or rope. The two sections of the weapon are commonly made out of wood, while the link is a cord or a metal chain. The person who practices this weapon is referred to as nunchakuka.
The nunchaku is most widely used in martial arts such as Okinawan kobudō and karate. Its intended use is as a training weapon, since it allows the development of quicker hand movements and improves posture. Modern-day nunchaku can be made from metal, wood, plastic or fiberglass. Toy and replica versions made of polystyrene foam or plastic are also available. Possession of this weapon is illegal in some countries, except for use in professional martial arts schools.
The exact origin of nunchaku is unclear: allegedly adapted by Okinawan farmers from a non-weapon rice-flail implement for threshing rice. It was not a historically popular weapon because it was ineffective against the most widely used weapons of that time such as samurai swords and naginata and few historical techniques for its use still survive.
In modern times, nunchaku (Tabak-Toyok) were popularized by actor and martial artist Bruce Lee and his martial arts student (and his teacher of Filipino martial arts) Dan Inosanto, who introduced this weapon to the actor. Lee famously used nunchaku in multiple scenes of the 1972 film Fist of Fury. Further exploration of use of nunchaku and of other kobudo discipline was afforded to Bruce Lee with and by Tadashi Yamashita, who worked with Bruce Lee on and in the 1973 film Enter the Dragon. Another popular association in modern times is the character Michelangelo of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. Various organizations teach the use of nunchaku as a contact sport.
The origin of the word nunchaku (ヌンチャク) is not known. One theory indicates it was derived from pronunciation of the Chinese characters 双截棍 (a type of traditional Chinese two section staff) in a Southern Fujian dialect of Chinese language (兩節棍 nng-chat-kun, pair(of)-linked-sticks). Another derives from the definition of "nun" as "twin".
Another name for this weapon is "nūchiku"(ヌウチク).
In the English language, nunchaku are often referred to as "nunchuks".
The origin of the nunchaku is unclear, although one popular belief is that nunchaku was originally a short South-East Asian flail used to thresh rice or soybeans. Alternative theories are that it was originally developed from an Okinawan horse bit (muge) or from a wooden clapper called hyoshiki carried by the village night watch, made of two blocks of wood joined by a cord. The night watch would hit the blocks of wood together to attract people's attention, then warn them about fires and other dangers.
Though some propose that the association of nunchaku and other Okinawan weapons with rebellious peasants, it is most likely a romantic exaggeration. Martial arts in Okinawa were practiced exclusively by aristocracy (kazoku) and "serving nobles" (shizoku), but were prohibited among commoners (heimin). According to Chinese folklore, nunchaku are a variation of the two section staff.
Nunchaku consist of two sections of wood connected by a cord or chain, though variants may include additional sections of wood and chain. In China, the striking stick is called "dragon stick" ("龍棍"), while the handle is called "yang stick" ("陽棍"). Most nunchaku tend to have rounded sticks, whereas others have an octagonal cross-section based on the appearance of sticks made with traditional wood-working techniques (making a rounded stick with hand tools would have taken considerably more work). The ideal length of each piece should be long enough to protect the forearm when held in a high grip near the top of the shaft. Both ends are usually of equal length, although asymmetrical nunchaku exist that are closer to a traditional flail.
The ideal length of the connecting rope or chain is just long enough to allow the user to lay it over his or her palm, with the sticks hanging comfortably and perpendicular to the ground. The weapon should be properly balanced in terms of weight. Cheaper or gimmicky nunchaku (such as glow-in-the-dark versions) are often not properly balanced, which prevents the performer from performing 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.
Traditional nunchaku are made from a strong, flexible hardwood such as oak, loquat or pasania.
The nunchaku is most commonly used in Okinawan kobudō and karate, but it is also used in Korean hapkido and eskrima (more accurately, the Tabak-Toyok, a similar though distinct Philippine weapon, is used, as opposed to the Okinawan nunchaku). Its application is different in each style. The traditional Okinawan forms use the sticks primarily to grip and lock. Filipino martial artists use it much the same way they would wield a stick—striking is given precedence. Korean systems combine offensive and defensive moves, so both locks and strikes are taught. Other proprietary systems of Nunchaku are also used in Sembkalah (Iranian Monolingual Combat Style), which makes lethal blows in defense and assault.
Nunchaku is often the first weapon wielded by a student, to teach self-restraint and posture, as the weapon is liable to hit the wielder more than the opponent if not used properly.
The Nunchaku is usually wielded in one hand, but it can also be dual wielded. It can be whirled around, using its hardened handles for blunt force, as well as wrapping its chain around an attacking weapon to immobilize or disarm an opponent. Nunchaku training has been noted[by whom?] to increase hand speed, improve posture, and condition the hands of the practitioner. Therefore, it makes a useful training weapon.
Freestyle nunchaku is a modern style of performance art using nunchaku as a visual tool, rather than as a weapon. With the growing prevalence of the Internet, the availability of nunchaku has greatly increased. In combination with the popularity of other video sharing sites, many people have become interested in learning how to use the weapons for freestyle displays. Freestyle is one discipline of competition held by the World Nunchaku Association. Some modern martial arts teach the use of nunchaku, as it may help students improve their reflexes, hand control, and other skills.
Since the 1980s, there have been various international sporting associations that organize the use of nunchaku as a contact sport. Current associations usually hold "semi-contact" fights, where severe strikes are prohibited, as opposed to "contact" fights. "Full-Nunch" matches, on the other hand, are limitation-free on the severity of strikes and knockout is permissible.
In a number of countries, possession of nunchaku is illegal, or the nunchaku is defined as a regulated weapon. These bans largely came after the wave of popularity of Bruce Lee films, when nunchaku were (largely incorrectly) believed to be extraordinarily dangerous. Norway, Canada, Russia, Poland, Chile, and Spain are all known to have significant restrictions.
In Germany, nunchaku have been illegal since April 2006, when they were declared a strangling weapon.
In England and Wales, public possession of nunchaku is heavily restricted by the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 and the Criminal Justice Act 1988. However, nunchaku are not included in the list of weapons whose sale and manufacture is prohibited by Schedule 1 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) Order 1988 and are traded openly (subject to age restrictions).
In Scotland laws restricting offensive weapons is similar to that of England and Wales. However in 2010 Glasgow Sheriff Court refused to accept a defence submission that nunchaku were not prohibited weapons under Scottish law, although the defendants were acquitted on other grounds.
The use of nunchaku was, in the 1990s, censored from UK rebroadcasts of American children's TV shows such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons and films. The UK version of the Soul Blade video game was also edited, replacing the character Li Long's nunchaku with a three-sectioned staff.
In Hong Kong, it is illegal to possess metal or wooden nunchaku connected by a chain, though one can obtain a license from the police as a martial arts instructor, and rubber nunchaku are still allowed. Possession of nunchaku in mainland China is legal.
Australia varies by state laws. In New South Wales, the weapon is on the restricted weapons list and, thus, can only be owned with a permit.
The United States varies at the state level. As elsewhere, the popularity of Bruce Lee movies in the 1970s led to a wave of nunchaku bans. Many states prohibit carrying nunchaku in public as a concealed weapon, but a small number restrict or completely ban ownership. California has made exceptions for professional martial arts schools and practitioners to use the nunchaku. The state of Arizona previously considered nunchaku to be a "prohibited weapon" since the 1970s, making mere possession illegal, with the sole exception of nunchaku-like objects that are manufactured for use as illumination devices. A constitutional challenge failed as well. It was legalized in 2019. New York formerly banned all possession of nunchaku, but this was ruled unconstitutional in the 2018 case Maloney v. Singas.
Nunchaku have been employed by a few American police departments for decades, especially after the popular Bruce Lee movies of the 1970's. For instance, in 2015, police in the small town of Anderson, California were trained and deployed to use nunchaku as a form of non-lethal force. They were selected because of their utility as both a striking weapon and a control tool.
However, tasers have become the preferred non-lethal weapon for most departments.