Guest Author - Caroline Chen-Whatley
Perhaps one of the most well recognized weapons in Martial Arts is the Nunchaku. The weapon is two short sticks, about the length of ones forearm, bound together at one end.
From comedy routines to stars like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, the Nunchaku have helped to distinguish Martial Arts from other forms of fighting. The most memorable image in my mind is of Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon as he takes on a room full of men armed only with his Nunchaku.
The word, Nunchaku, is actually an Okinawan word that when written literally translates to “double restrained sticks”. There are many myths around how the Nunchaku came about, the most creditable seems to refer to an Okinawan horse bit, which was two wooden pieces tied together by a short rope for the bit.
Versions of Nunchaku can be found in many different styles of Martial Arts from around the world. Some, like traditional Eastern culture based styles more than likely adopted effective techniques they found from the Okinawan, just as the Okinawan embodied some of the styles they saw in others. More modern styles have incorporated the weapon as well because of the popularity and recognition of the weapon in Martial Arts.
Depending on the lineage, the Nunchaku can vary slightly. Most these days begin training with at least foam-covered or foam ends to the sticks. Some traditional styles insist on the sticks been of wood, especially wood of certain origin or type. This varies the weight and how one would train on the weapon. The “rope” in between can also vary from a thick threaded rope to chain to plastic depending, again, on the lineage. The length of the sticks and how far apart they sit depends in part on the style and also on the individual using the weapon.
Because of its size, the Nunchaku is easy to conceal, especially in more traditional outfits of the ancient Eastern world. Though, for all its ease, it isn’t as popular a weapon as a sword or staff. Most styles have limited number of forms that involve Nunchaku. A lot of this can be attributed to the fact that unless someone is well trained, the Nunchaku tends to be less effective against longer weapons like swords, staves, Monk spades, etc. Street-fighting and close-ranged combat are where the Nunchaku are most effective.
When training on the Nunchaku at first, be prepared to look like a bad comedy routine. It is very common when one starts to hit yourself constantly. Head, nose, arm, body, legs, there is no zone safe on your body until you learn to control your weapon.