The nunchaku (Japanese: ヌンチャク Hepburn: nunchaku?, often "nunchuks", "chainsticks", "chuka sticks" or "karate sticks" in English) 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 nunchaku is most widely used in martial arts such as Okinawan kobudō and karate, and is used 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 fibreglass. 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 art schools.
The exact origin of nunchuku is unclear. Allegedly adapted by Okinawan farmers from a non-weapon item, it was not a historically popular weapon because it was ineffective against the most widely used weapons of that time, 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 instructor Dan Inosanto, who introduced this weapon to the actor. Another popular association in modern times is the fictional character Michelangelo of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. Organizations including the North American Nunchaku Association, World Amateur Nunchaku Organization, Fédération Internationale de Nunchaku de Combat et Artistique, World Nunchaku Association, and International Techdo Nunchaku Association 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 "nûchiku"(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. This gave rise to the theory that it was originally developed from an Okinawan horse bit (muge), or that it was adapted 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.
Some propose that the association of nunchaku and other Okinawan weapons with rebellious peasants 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.
- Ana: the hole on the kontoh of each handle for the himo to pass through—only nunchaku that are connected by himo have an ana.
- Himo: the rope which connects the two handles of some nunchaku.
- Kusari: the chain which connects the two handles of some nunchaku.
- Kontoh: the top of each handle.
- Jukon-bu: the upper area of the handle.
- Chukon-bu: the center part of the handle.
- Kikon-bu: the lower part of the handle.
- Kontei: the bottom of the handle.
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"). Chinese nunchaku tend to be rounded[according to whom?], whereas the Okinawan version has an octagonal cross-section (allowing one edge of the nunchaku to make contact with the target, increasing the damage inflicted).[according to whom?] 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.
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. Originally, the wood would be submerged in mud for several years, where lack of oxygen and optimal acidity would prevent rotting and cause the wood to harden. The rope is made from horsehair. Finally, the wood is very finely sanded and rubbed with an oil or stain for preservation. Today, such nunchaku are often varnished or painted for display purposes. This practice tends to reduce the grip and make the weapon harder to handle, and is therefore not advised for combat.
Modern nunchaku can be made from any suitable material, such as wood, metal, or almost any plastic, fiberglass or other hard substance. Toy and practice nunchaku are commonly covered with foam to prevent injury to the self or others. It is not uncommon to see modern nunchaku made from light metals such as aluminum. Modern equivalents of the rope are nylon cord or metal chains on ball bearing joints. Simple nunchaku may be easily constructed from wooden dowels and a short length of chain.
The Nunchaku-Do sport, governed by the World Nunchaku Association, promotes black and yellow styrofoam nunchaku. Unlike readily available plastic training nunchaku, the devices they promote are properly balanced.
There are some alternative nunchaku, made solely for sporting such as:
- "Bleeder" (nunchaku with sharp or dull razor blades) and "sharper" (nunchaku with nails) are used as components of the basic training and grading programme (Programme Verhille) in French nunchaku de combat.
- "Glow-Chucks," made either with fiberglass and a coloured light fitted in the ball bearing, or fluorescent tape wrapped around the sticks.
- "Penchaku" or "Prochux," which are flashier Lissajous-do sticks available for artistic performances. These are more colourful and sometimes fluorescent with a modified anatomy, which favors control at the expense of power. They have longer sticks and extremely short ropes. The idea is based on a mathematical model, the Lissajous curve, which allows the user to keep a continuous flowing form.
- "Speedcord," a new version of a cord and bearing nunchaku called "Neo Speedcord" and "Neon Speedcord" nunchaku, a fast, lightweight, purely freestyle or demonstration type nunchaku.
There are also some types of nunchaku with no noted use in sport, such as:
- Nunchaku with knives, or metal branches with a concealed blade in the end of each branch.
- Telescopic nunchaku, or nunchaku with retractable metal sticks.
The nunchaku is most commonly used in Okinawan kobudō and karate, but it is also used in eskrima (more accurately, the Tabak-Toyok, a similar though distinct Philippine weapon, is used, as opposed to the Okinawan nunchaku), and in Korean hapkido. 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. 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 paired. 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.
There are some disciplines that combine nunchaku with unarmed techniques:
- Mouhébong Taekwondo combines Korean nunchaku with taekwondo.
- Nunch-Boxing combines nunchaku with kicking and punching techniques. Nunch-Boxing itself is part of the broader discipline Nenbushi.
- Nunchaku en savate combines savate techniques with the nunchaku.
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.
- North American Nunchaku Association (NANA): Founded in 2003 in California by Sensei Chris Pellitteri, NANA teaches all aspects of the nunchaku, traditional and free-style, single and double.
- World Amateur Nunchaku Organization (WANO): Founded by Pascal Verhille in France in 1988.
- Fédération Internationale de Nunchaku de Combat et Artistique (FINCA): Founded by Raphaël Schmitz in France in 1992 as a merger of disbanded associations WANO and FFNS (Fédération Française de Nunchaku Sportif). Its current name is Fédération Internationale de Nunchaku, Combat complet et Arts martiaux modernes et affinitaires (FINCA). A fight with FINCA rules lasts two rounds of two minutes. There is no need for changing either the nunchaku branch or the hand before hitting, just a correct recuperation. There are no stops during the fight, except for loss, lifting, or penalties.
- World Nunchaku Association (WNA): Founded by Milco Lambrecht in the Netherlands in 1996. WNA uses yellow and black plastic weight-balanced training nunchaku and protective headgear. They have their own belt color system, in which participants earn color stripes on the belt, instead of fully colored belts. One side of the belt is yellow and the other black, so that in a competition, opponents may be distinguished by the visible side of the belt. WNA fight rules correspond to the kumite subsection of Nunchaku-do discipline. It is a two-minutes "touch fight," in which technical abilities are very important. After each scored point, the fight stops and the fighters take back their starting position.
- International Techdo Nunchaku Association (ITNA): Founded by Daniel Althaus in Switzerland in 2006. ITNA rules fights last two rounds lasting 2:30. There are no stops during the round, except for loss, lifting, or penalties. Between two strikes, the fighter has to change hand and nunchaku branch before hitting again, except if he blocks.
Possession of nunchaku is illegal, or the nunchaku is defined as weapon in a number of countries, including Norway, Canada, Russia, Poland, Chile, and Spain. In Germany, nunchaku have been illegal since April 2006, when they were declared a strangling weapon.
In the United Kingdom, it was legal for anyone over the age of 18 to buy and possess nunchaku for many years, although public possession is not allowed unless transporting between places of training or private addresses. However, following a case brought by Strathclyde Police and the procurator fiscal heard at Glasgow Sheriff Court on 10 February 2010, a sheriff ruled that nunchaku fell into the category of a "prohibited weapon," as defined by the Criminal Justice Act 1988. The nunchaku in question were the fixed length (non-telescopic) wooden type handles, which the sheriff judged to be contrary to current legislation.
The usage 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.
Legality in Australia is determined by individual state laws. In New South Wales, the weapon is on the restricted weapons list and, thus, can only be owned with a permit.
Legality in the United States varies at the state level. For example, personal possession of nunchaku is illegal in New York, Arizona, and California but in other states, possession has not been criminalized. California has made exceptions for professional martial arts schools and practitioners to use the nunchaku.
In New York, attorney Jim Maloney has brought a federal constitutional challenge to the statutes that criminalize simple in-home possession for peaceful use in martial-arts practice or legal home defense. The court dismissed Maloney's Second Amendment claim based on prior case law that the Second Amendment applied only to federal action, and this decision was affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. However, on June 29, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari, vacated the decision of the Second Circuit, and sent it back for "further consideration". It took this action in light of its decision in McDonald v. Chicago, which held that the right of an individual to "keep and bear arms" protected by the Second Amendment is made applicable to the states by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
In popular culture
The nunchaku has been a popular weapon in movies related to martial arts, particularly popularized in modern culture through Bruce Lee movies.
- Bruce Lee used the nunchaku in many of his films, including Fist of Fury, Game of Death, Way of the Dragon, and Enter the Dragon.
- The American TV show Deadliest Warrior, in the episode "Yakuza vs. Mafia", shows the Yakuza's short-range weapon as a pair of nunchaku. The weapon was tested against the Mafia's short-ranged weapon, a baseball bat.
- In US franchise series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Michelangelo's signature weapons are nunchaku.
- On the television series Charmed, Billie Jenkins often practices with a nunchaku made of metal.
- On Power Rangers Jungle Fury, Casey Rhodes, the Jungle Fury Red Ranger, uses a pair of nunchaku called the "Junglechucks". The footage was taken from Juken Sentai Gekiranger. Chōriki Sentai Ohranger's OhYellow also uses nunchuks, but the footage was heavily edited when used in Power Rangers Zeo.
- The nunchaku are prominently used in several video games, particularly in fighting games:
- Dante of the Devil May Cry series wielded a triple nunchaku, called "Cerberus", in Devil May Cry 3.
- Johnny Cage and Liu Kang of Mortal Kombat have wielded nunchaku as their weapon of choice. The latter is fitting, considering the character was inspired by Bruce Lee.
- Kim Wu of Killer Instinct uses a pair of nunchaku as her weapon.
- Maxi and Li Long from the Soul Series of weapon-based fighting games always use a variety of nunchaku.
- Selphie Tilmitt in Final Fantasy VIII wields nunchaku in battle.
- Ling Tong, from Dynasty Warriors 5 and 7, uses nunchaku as his main weapon. In 7, it was his EX weapon, while in 5, it is his main weapon.
- Guan Suo, from Dynasty Warriors 7 and Dynasty Warriors 8, uses nunchaku has his main weapon.
- In Lego Ninjago, a golden weapon of lightning is a nunchaku, used by Jay.
- In Marvel Comics, superheroes Daredevil and Moon Knight often use nunchaku.
- In the ThunderCats animated series, Panthro uses a pair of nunchaku.
- Might Guy from the Naruto series uses nunchaku as a weapon, as does his student Rock Lee. Both characters are tributes to Bruce Lee.
- American guitarist Buckethead is known for performing with nunchaku in the middle of his sets.
- American martial artist Romeo Magruder is known for doing a double back flip while spinning his nunchaku around him. He raised $5,000 for an Arizona children's hospital by doing this stunt on CBS 5 KPHO.
- Rapper Tyler The Creator and singer Frank Ocean collaborated on a song called "She", in which they refer to both the use of nunchaku and shuriken.
- In the movie Napoleon Dynamite, the character Napoleon claims to have trouble fitting his nunchaku into his locker.
- In the movie Black Dynamite, the titular Black Dynamite uses nunchaku to fight off associates of the character Chicago Wind.
- The Nintendo Wii console features an attachment to its controller, the Wii Remote, called the "Nunchuk". Its appearance when attached resembles a nunchaku.
- In the series RWBY, a monkey Faunus named Sun Wukong wields two nunchaku made of two pairs of lever-action shotguns, allowing him to fire rounds while spinning them around. They can also be merged to form a quarterstaff.
- WWE superstar Dean Ambrose used the nunchaku on the March 28, 2016 episode of Monday Night Raw, as well as at the 2016 edition of Extreme Rules.
On Americas Funniest Home Videos. Various painfully erroneous uses of the nunchaku can be seen in nearly every episode aired.
Law enforcement use
In 2015, police in the town of Anderson, California have been 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.
Nunchaku have been employed by American police for decades, especially after the popular Bruce Lee movies of the 1970's, but tasers have since become the preferred non-lethal weapon for most departments.
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- Information and techniques
- International associations
- World Nunchaku Association English homepage for the World Nunchaku Association, based in the Netherlands.
- International Techdo Nunchaku Association English homepage for the International Techdo Nunchaku Association, based in Switzerland.
- Forums and portals
- Freestyle (Nunchaku) Forum English forum for freestyle nunchaku artist, collectors and enthusiast.
- Legal issues
- Maloney v. Rice: The Nunchaku Case Chronicles the American legal case of Maloney v. Rice (formerly Maloney v. Spitzer and then Maloney v. Cuomo), which was begun in 2003, and which challenges the constitutionality New York's decades-old prohibition on possession of nunchaku in the privacy of one's home for peaceful use in martial arts training, etc.