GRAPPLING WITH THE NUNCHAKU
Dr. William Durbin
The Chinese martial artist stood in the middle of the Japanese Dojo located in the international community of Shanghai. He was surrounded by Keikogi clad opponents who were ready to take him down for returning the sign which read, sick men of Asia. The sign had been delivered during the funeral of his late instructor and was meant to insult the members of the Chinese martial arts school. He had been battling them for quite a while and held the upper hand, but they were well trained and he needed an advantage.
As one opponent hit him with a flying side kick, he performed a shoulder
roll and snatched a hidden pair of Nunchaku from his discarded jacket. With
alacrity the Chinese youth flashed the weapon through the air, taking care of
his antagonists in short order.
This was the Western world's introduction to the Nunchaku, though the fight scene in Bruce Lee's Chinese Connection.
While Okinawan stylists had been practicing the weapon for years, it was not until Bruce Lee demonstrated them in this movie and the one to follow, Return of the Dragon, that most people knew they existed. However, once the weapon was shown to the public, interest grew in exponential proportion. From the streets of the inner city, where youths fashioned them from two sticks and a chain, to the formal weapons of Okinawan Dojo, teaching Kempo, Karate, and Kobujutsu, the weapons found great favor, mainly due to Bruce Lee's exceptional portrayal of them as the ultimate weapon.
However the interest in them was a mixed blessing. Because young thugs used them in street altercations, they ended up illegal in several states, and considered deadly weapons in several more. Humorous events occurred with the weapon, some harmless, others not.
In one situation, during a large martial arts demonstration given in New York, a young man ran up into the boxing ring where every event was being held, demonstrated a Nunchaku free style Kata, and then ran out again. No one ever knew who he was, as he was not a scheduled demonstrator, yet some say that his demonstration was the best of the event.
In a less humorous event, a man entered a bank holding a bag and a pair of Nunchaku. He gave the bag to a teller and said that if the person did not want to get hurt, they should fill the bag with money. After the person did, the robber backed up and said that should anyone try to follow him he would give them a taste of the Nunchaku, he then started to swing the weapon wildly. At this point he struck himself in the head with his own Nunchaku, knocking himself out. He awoke surrounded by the police.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Nunchaku was the popular weapon of choice. While it is not as popular among the street gangs, having been supplanted, unfortunately by the gun, it is still a weapon of choice by many Okinawan stylists for the development of hand speed and dexterity. It is also a popular weapon at many tournaments, in that the execution and maneuvers with the weapon are beautiful to behold. In the Chuck Norris movie, Sidekicks, it was featured prominently as a training device of the young hero and in the tournament weapon competition.
The history of the weapon is one of wonder and uncertainty. It is believed that when King Shoshin, who reigned from 1477-1526, imposed his weapons ban in 1507, on the common people, they turned to their farm tools as weapons of convenience. Among these was the Nunchaku, which can basically be translated as flail. Some say that the term flail was used as it's farm name in that it was a flail used for thrashing rice. There are others who believe the weapon derived from a horses bridle, and there are examples of the bridle in some martial artists collections on Okinawa. One final concept of the Nunchaku, which has a Chinese connection to it, is that it was a hanging attachment to a staff used to carry water buckets on.
Yet if the name Nunchaku is the original name of the weapon, then since it's meaning is flail, it is most probable that it was a rice flail, which tends to be the oldest and most believed story. Some say that the great master Shinken Taira was mainly responsible for the preservation of the weapon along with all the other tool weapons of Okinawa.
Before Bruce Lee demonstrated the Nunchaku in the Chinese Connection there was a movement in 1970 to get the Nunchaku included in the repertoire of police tactic devises. Several police officers carried the weapon in their cruisers in case the need arose where they might need them, especially in dealing with riot control. For a time the controversy hit the martial arts magazines, but the subject soon changed as the effectiveness of the Nunchaku as anything other than an impact weapon was brought into question.
The problem with the Nunchaku is that at it's most effective, it is an excellent striking weapon, but to become proficient with it as a grappling weapon takes a lot of skill and training. For the martial artist, this is not a problem, but for the typical police officer the need for an easy to learn weapon is essential. Anything that takes a great deal of time to become proficient in is considered not expedient.
However, there are many other aspects of value in the practice of the Nunchaku. First of all, practicing the Nunchaku provides an excellent method of developing hand dexterity. Learning how to manipulate the weapon from hand to hand, teaches a coordination between the hands which cannot be surpassed. Training with the weapon also improves hand speed, as the weapon is accelerated, the hands move quickly to catch the swinging section. Finally, practice with the Nunchaku improves the ability of the hand to catch and grab, which greatly improves many martial arts skills but especially those related to grappling.
While the Nunchaku is an Okinawan weapon, and has proven of benefit to those who practice Okinawan grappling skills, it's value to any martial artist, regardless of style, is inestimable. Nothing teaches reaction time, angles of attack, or body manipulation, better than dedicated practice with the Nunchaku.
The question is still asked by those who remember the controversy, is the Nunchaku too deadly of a weapon to be used by the police or even in self defense? Since the Nunchaku can generate nearly 1600 pounds of pressure in a strike, it is seen by many as an overkill weapon. Yet this is only true if the person using the weapon is skilled only in striking techniques.
For those who have studied the Nunchaku properly, in traditional Okinawan fashion, there are many grappling skills that can be applied with the weapon to supplement the striking art. The biggest mistake that people who want to learn how to use the grappling techniques of the Nunchaku, is that they try to do the grappling skills directly, without first setting up the move with a stunning strike.
Whenever a person learns a truly competent form of grappling, especially in regard to self defense, they also are taught a series of stunning strikes which allows them to safely enter into the throwing, joint locking, or choking skills. The same is true of weapon grappling skills. The Nunchaku can be used with the sticks held together, with the same kind of strikes used by a Hanbo, half stick, or Keibo, police stick, which are less dangerous than those delivered with the free swinging movement.
Another way of using the Nunchaku is to hold one of the sticks in each hand, striking with the sticks separately. It is like having two billy clubs, with one in each hand. Once a stunning blow is struck, then the two sticks and the connecting chain or rope, can be used to apply a lock or choke, which can then be used to throw the person down.
The swinging movements of the Nunchaku should be thought of as it's most deadly technique and should only be used when absolutely necessary. A solid strike from a fully swinging Nunchaku section can easily cause death. It should also be noted that a wild swing can hurt the bearer of the weapon, as noted in the story about the would be bank robber. Unless a person is extremely careful, it is also possible to strike another person, only to have the striking stick fly back and hit the hand or even face of the Nunchaku wielder. This actually happened in an altercation in Lexington, Kentucky, with both individuals ending up in the hospital.
Since many states list the Nunchaku as a deadly weapon, a reputation it does not really deserve, in that the hard work that goes into making it an effective tool of combat is beyond the typical street thug, it would be unwise to ever use the weapon in a self defense situation, however the skill it develops make it worthy of practice in the martial arts Dojo. Plus the skill one gains in manipulating this flexible weapon, allows the martial artist to apply such items as belts, purses, umbrellas with a strap, et cetera, in self defense.
Should the weapon be considered for inclusion into the police officer's repertoire? Only if the officer is willing to spend the time to truly become a master of the ancient art of Okinawan Kobujutsu, which includes not only the striking skills but also the grappling techniques of the Okinawan masters. No weapon should ever be carried, or attempted to be used on the street, or in self defense, without complete and total mastery, whether by an individual citizen or by a police force.