Nunchucks: Getting Children Ready to Study a Martial Arts Weapon
Sooner or later, a child who is studying a martial art will want to train with one or several of the different weapons we associate with the Asian martial arts. This can be something as simple as learning how to handle a wooden staff correctly or as complicated has using a set of Flying Kamas in a safe manner. Whichever the case may be, it is always a smart move to assess the child’s abilities and his or her physical readiness to take up this section of the art of self defense.
In almost every case, a boy or girl’s actual height will come into play. We don’t mean this say that some child who stands smaller than another cannot be equally as skilled with a Bo staff or a pair of Nunchaku (“nunchucks”) or the Kama (sickles). We just mean that the weapon itself might possibly need to modified in a way that makes it possible for children to do everything they’re supposed to do with it, both in training and in testing or self-defense situations.
In cases like the above, there are plenty of outlets available where a martial arts instructor or the child’s parents can find a weapon that’s appropriate for the size of the boy or girl who will be using it. In the case of the Bo staff, the Kama, and certain other martial arts “fighting sticks” for example, a good weapons maker or merchandiser will be able to supply these weapons in sizes suitable for both training and weapons kata (“forms”) competitions. At Buki Yuushuu we are such a maker and seller. Take a look at our online catalog to get an idea of the sizes and specifications for the weapon you and your little martial artist may have in mind, and which they’d like to begin using in a training manner.
For example, we manufacture a real child size Nunchucks. Our children’s Nunchucks are the perfect size for little hands. However, they are not just for children, anyone with a small hand or want more control love the Nunchakus.
As to physical grip strength -- in order to begin using any sort of weapon properly – this would again be a question for the instructor and the parent(s) of the student. Any good instructor will have taken this into account and set up a training program to bring the child along gradually, to the point where he or she will feel comfortable in handling a weapon. Remember, some of these tools – not toys – weigh a bit more than others.
In cases where it’s decided that it’s the right time to begin training with a weapon, a Bo staff -- if cut to the right size -- can be easy enough to physically handle. A pair of “nunchu,cks” though, has certain length requirements that may make it unsuitable at very young (5-7 years old) ages. This not only is because the instructor hasn’t had enough time to create the right amount of hand-eye coordination in the student, but also because the actual height and arm length of the student may prevent him or her from using the weapon properly. Over the last decade or so, though, there have been advances in so-called “training nunchucks” which make this problem rarer as the years go by.
A System for Using the Nunchaku
A lot of martial artists have taken the study of the nunchaku more as a labor of love than as something that could be a chore when it comes to making them a part of the wider martial arts way of life. How many of us have undergone constant bruising of our arms, back, legs, neck and other parts of our body, when we first decided to take a pair of “nunchucks” and began to do more than just twirl them around with no real purpose? We’re pretty sure that the answer would be “all of us.”
In the martial arts, as in many parts of life, great achievement sometimes comes from a little bit of pain, either spiritual or physical. We know that this is so because all of us have stood patiently, right or left hand (or both) in Shuto-uchi (“knifehand strike) readiness, constantly striking a makiwara in an attempt to toughen our hands and improve our minds enough to deliver the perfect defensive block and counter-strike without really thinking about it.
The same thing is true for using “nunchucks.” To become technically “good” at using them, you must practice with them. A lot. Whenever you can, for as long as you can. Okay, so that covers the physical part of things, just like striking a makiwara will make the edges of your hands physically tougher and more able to take and deliver a blow. But there’s more to using the nunchaku well and with a lot of “chi” or “ki” spirit.
Call it “meditation-in-action,” or “thinking-without-thinking,” or whatever makes you comfortable. What we mean is that any real study of the nunchaku will involve learning the physical techniques (blocks, strikes, katas, fragments and so forth) but also taking the time to learn to deliver a block or a strike with real meaning.
Picture yourself in the dojo, “nunchucks” in hand and warming up with Figure-8 movements, sideward movements or any other movements you’ve selected to limber up. You’re moving the weapon faster-and-faster; surer of yourself than you’ve ever been before You and your “nunchucks” have become a single thing. There’s no difference between the weapon and you, and both of you can support each other in any block or strike against any attacker right at that moment in time.
This state of awareness (knowing without knowing or seeing without seeing) goes by many names, and it’s not just restricted to the martial arts. Many famous musicians report going through the same thing on nights when it’s just them and their guitar, or piano or whatever instrument it is they play. The point is that the simple joy of doing something well takes over and the energy flow you create allows you to be better at using the nunchaku than you ever were before. This is what you need to work towards in the study of whatever martial art it is that you do, and however it is that you plan on including your “nunchuck” practice into that martial art.
So, remember this when it comes to nunchaku: There are two sides to learning it. The first is all about the physical. You practice and practice with your body and your weapon. The second side is the mind, or the mind and the spirit. Trust us when we say that if both sides come together when using the “nunchucks,” any system you use to learn them will be a great system.
Go to bukiyuushuu.com if you’d like to look at real nunchaku art in the form of the ones available for purchase. They’re really modern and customizable, but each one contains a bit of the history of Okinawa and Japan within it.
History of the Nunchaku in Japan
For most of the history of Japan up until the mid-to-late 1800s, Japanese society had been divided into different social classes of people. At the very top lived the royal family, led by the country’s Emperor, who relied for protection on a second elite class of men and women known as samurai (the ancient meaning of the word means “to watch” and “to guard”), this professional warrior class mostly had as its duty the protection of the very top-level Japanese royal class.
People being who they were, of course, the samurai class wanted to make sure that they or their soldiers were the only ones who had weapons like swords or longbows or other tools we think of as being “real” weapons. This desire to keep the people who were being ruled over from getting real weapons they might use to overthrow the ruling class in a revolution was only one reason among many, to be honest, but it existed. And so, no other member of Japanese society was allowed to carry the symbol of the warrior in Japan, the Katana, or long sword, and its smaller companion, the Wakazashi. They also generally did not carry short knives -- called tantō (“tahn-toe”) -- as this type of blade was also a weapon restricted to the samurai.
This left most of the rest of Japanese society looking around for tools they could carry that might not look like weapons as we’d picture them, but could be turned into one in the right hands. So, what to do? We all know how the wooden staff or pole is used as a weapon, but really…anybody can pick up a stick and hit somebody over the head with it. Or so we thought, until we saw how awesome that stick was in the hands of a master. The point is, though, what else back then could be suitable for use as a self-defense weapon?
Well, one answer to that lies in the appearance on the scene back then of what we now call nunchaku (“noon-cha-koo”). The word itself generally means “twin joined sticks” in Japanese. There are a couple of different ways in which nunchaku probably came about. One is that these “sticks” were originally a kind of farm tool used to separate a grain like rice from the shell which covered it. You would flail at the grain over and over, beating it until all of the shell was removed from the grain. Most scholars, though, think that this is more of a myth than what actually happened to turn these “twin sticks” into a usable weapon.
However they came to be used as a weapon, we know they made their first appearance on the Japanese island of Okinawa, back in the 16th century. They also were never as popular back then as they are today, because there are no traditional kata, or forms, that were developed strictly for the nunchaku, unlike for the sword or the wooden staff.
However, since those olden days, nunchaku(s) have grown in popularity throughout the world, and they really took off as a weapon during the late 1960s and early 1970s partly because the movies of the late Bruce Lee, who was really the first martial arts movie star of the 20th century, featured them at every opportunity. Because of his effort, artists like Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan, Jet Li and others have been able to bring the study of martial arts into wide acceptance, and so-called “nunchucks” into even wider use than ever before.
Basically, a nunchaku is two sections of wood connected by a cord or a chain. There are a couple of different versions of this weapon, with the Chinese one having round wooden sections and the traditional Okinawan nunchaku being eight-sided, or octagonal in shape. They can be used as a single set or in pairs, one set in each hand. There are many different styles or manners in which they’re used, which will be looked at further in later articles.
If you want to see modern, up-to-date versions of this classic Japanese weapon please look at the online catalog of nunchaku(s) available from the craftsmen at bukiyuushuu.com
The Nunchaku and Okinawa
Anybody who’s even a casual student of the martial arts has probably seen a pair of nunchaku being used at one time or another during the course of their studying of the martial arts. It may have been in a so-called “karate movie,” or it could have been in the dojo -- martial arts school – where you train in your chosen martial art. They’re so popular, in fact, that they’re known in many parts of the world today as “nunchucks,” or “numchucks.”
The “twin sticks” (that’s their meaning when the word “nunchaku” is spoken in native Okinawan), in the right hands, are a whirling blur of motion that can actually be hard for the eye to follow when they’re moving fast enough. And they can pack a seriously hard wallop when they’re used to strike at somebody during close-quarters fighting.
Used alone – as a pair of sticks joined together by a short length of rope cord or chain, usually – or in pairs (one set for each hand), the nunchaku has a long and interesting history, starting from their first appearance on the Japanese-dominated island of Okinawa sometime in the early or mid-1600s all the way up to today, where craftsmen like the ones at Buki Yuushuu turn out modern, customized versions of this classic weapon.
How the nunchaku came to be developed on Okinawa during that time is a bit unclear. The most popular story was that Okinawan farmers and others on the island, including the upper classes of that time, took a farmer’s thresher, which was a handheld tool made up of two sticks joined by a rope, and suddenly became nunchaku masters!
We’re just kidding about the “instant master” effect. It usually takes some time to study and practice with the nunchaku (and more than a few whacks on the head!) before a person becomes skilled enough to use it in a real self-defense situation.
Actually, the invention of the nunchaku most likely never happened that way at all, but it makes for a good story. In realty, this popular self-defense weapon probably was constructed for the role it played then and still plays today; as a weapon. The evidence for this is that the Chinese themselves had a weapon that was very close in appearance to the nunchaku back before the 1600s, and that Chinese immigrants to Okinawa brought it with them. Also, the word for “nunchaku” comes from the Chinese language, so we can assume that it really was built to be what we know it as today.
To understand why the nunchaku came into being, we should know that on Okinawa, just as in the rest of Japan in those days, most people were forbidden to carry a sword or other bladed or edged weapon. Only the actual Japanese who were of the samurai professional warrior class could have such things. Native Okinawans, who were not Japanese at all, fell under this same rule. But people were just as clever back then as they are today, and soon enough, the nunchaku began to be used in self –defense of people and property against criminals or Japanese samurai who happened to get too bossy or pushy.
The Native Okinawans were people who didn’t like to be ordered around, usually, and samurai were very good at giving orders to those beneath them. You can imagine the surprise one of these professional warriors felt when he first witnessed these blinding-fast wooden sticks coming at him.
If you’d like to see what a modern pair of nunchaku look like, go to bukiyuushuu.com and look at all the different colors and personalized options that can be ordered to make a nunchaku truly someone’s personal self-defense weapon.
The Nunchaku in Modern Times
Throughout most of its history the nunchaku as a self-defense weapon has been tied to the Japanese and the island of Okinawa, which is where they originally came from. Okinawa was not always just a part of Japan, however. At one point, it was its own independent kingdom, which lasted in some form or another until it was finally and fully joined with Japan in the early 1600s.
We know that the nunchaku as a self-defense weapon came about in response to a need by native Okinawans and others on the island to have some means to defend themselves against people who meant to do them harm or otherwise oppress them back in those days. Since then, a more formal method for the study of how and when to use the nunchaku (or “nunchucks,” as many people call them) has developed right up to today, when it seems to be everywhere one looks when thinking of martial arts.
In reality, the weapon is so common these days, training with it is now included in many martial arts that had never heard of the word “nunchaku” until the 1960s and onward. For this, we can thank the late master of Chinese Jeet Kune Do, Bruce Lee and others like him, who showed all of us how much could be done with two simple wooden sticks joined together by a thin rope cord or a piece of chain.
The fact that many combat art forms have taken on the nunchaku as a part of their own individual style is true even in many older Japanese martial arts. Okinawa, which wasn’t part of “official Japan” for many years, created certain styles of unarmed fighting or self-defense. These styles taken together were known as karate (pronounced either “kah-rah-tay” or “kah-lah-tay”). Many people incorrectly believe that karate as we know it developed in Japan itself, but this is not actually true. It was in Okinawa that people had been training and teaching Te and Chinese Kenpo for years. The meaning of the word “karate” in Japanese is “empty hand” (Kara and Te). It was only natural that something so good at being a weapon as two wildly swung wooden sticks would soon be brought into the karate system of self-defense.
Now that we have an idea of how something like a pair of “nunchucks” could find themselves adopted by Japanese and Okinawan karate styles, not to mention Kung Fu in China, and even modernized versions of Korean Tae Kwon Do (today, it’s all one single word: “taekwondo”), we can better see how the nunchaku itself has come to be included into a whole system of martial arts weapons training called kobudō or “Okinawan kobudō.”
Many times, modern nunchaku are part of a class of weapons that today’s martial student tends to study as a group. Besides “nunchucks,” kobudō includes the classic wooden staff called a “Bō,” the Sai (“sigh”), the Tonfa (now a modern-day police baton), and the Kama. There are several other minor weapons, including the short wooden staff known as the Tambo, but these are usually the Big Five when it comes to studying Japanese or Okinawan weapons styles of self-defense combat.
The people at Buki Yuushuu feature many of the weapons just featured in the above paragraph. All are thoroughly updated in attractive colors and with customized features for today’s active martial artist. Go to bukiyuushuu.com to see examples of nunchaku, Kama, tambo, and Bō staffs.