The nunchaku is a martial arts weapon of the Kobudo weapons set and consists of two sticks connected at their ends with a short chain or rope. The other Kobudo weapons are the sai, tonfa, bo, eku, tekko, tinbe-rochin, surujin, and kama. A sansetsukon is a similar weapon with three sticks attached on chains instead of two.
Possession of nunchaku is illegal in a number of countries, including Canada, Germany, Norway, Spain, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom (anti-nunchaku laws in the UK were loosened somewhat in 1991, although media scenes with nunchaku were still edited out by censors until 2002). Legality in the United States varies at state level, e.g., personal possession of nunchaku is illegal in New York, Arizona, California and Massachusetts, but in other states possession is not criminalized. Legality in Australia is also 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. In New York (USA), attorney Jim Maloney has brought a federal constitutional challenge to the statutes that criminalize simple in-home possession of nunchaku for peaceful use in martial-arts practice and/or legal home defense.
Although the certain origin of nunchaku is unknown (as with most weapons in history), it is thought to come from either China or Okinawa; and according to the History Channel they were created in their current incarnation for the movies. The Japanese word nunchaku itself comes from the Min Nan word ng-chiat-kun . When viewed etymologically from its Okinawan roots, nun comes from the word for twin, and chaku from shaku, a unit of measurement. The popular belief is that the nunchaku was originally a short flail used to thresh rice (separate the grain from the husk); rice, however, can be broken if treated this way, so it would be more appropriate if it had been used to break open the ripened pods of soybean. An alternative theory is that it was created by a martial artist whose staff was broken in three pieces in combat and then strung together, creating what is commonly known today as a three section staff, and that nunchaku were derived from that weapon. It is also possible that the weapon was developed in response to the moratorium on edged weaponry under the Satsuma daimyo after invading Okinawa in the 17th century, and that the weapon was most likely conceived and used exclusively for that end, as the configuration of actual flails and bits are unwieldy for use as a weapon. Also, peasant farmers were forbidden conventional weaponry such as arrows or blades so they improvised using only what they had available, farm tools such as the sickle. Regardless of the origin of the nunchaku, the modern weapon would be an ineffective rice flail.
The nunchaku as a weapon has surged in popularity since martial artist Bruce Lee used it in his movies in the 1970s. It is generally considered by martial artists to be a limited weapon. Complex and difficult to wield, the nunchaku lacks the range of the bo (quarterstaff) and the edged advantage of a sword. It is also prone to inflicting injury on its user. Nonetheless, the nunchaku's impressive motion in use and perceived lethality contributed to its increasing popularity, peaking in the 1980s, perhaps due to its (unfounded) association with ninja during the 1980s ninja craze.
The most common martial arts to use nunchaku are the Japanese and Okinawan martial arts such as some forms of karate/kobudo but not in ninjutsu, but some Eskrima systems also teach practitioners to use nunchaku. Songahm Taekwondo, a Korean style patterned after karate, also teaches how to use one and two nunchaku, though in Korean, they are known as Sahng Jeol Bahngs, or sometimes Sahng Jeol Bongs. The styles of these three arts are rather different; the traditional Okinawan arts use the sticks primarily to grip and lock, while the Filipino arts use the sticks primarily for striking, while Songahm Taekwondo teaches a combination of both.
In the early '80s, Kevin D. Orcutt, an American police sergeant, holder of a black belt in Jukado, developed the OPN (Orcutt Police Nunchaku) system. Since then some American law enforcement agencies employ the Nunchaku as a control weapon instead of the Tonfa, also known as the common police baton, which also finds its origin in the Kobudo weapons family. This system emphasises only a small subset of the nunchaku techniques, for speedier training.
Nunchaku training has been noted to increase hand speed, correct posture, and condition the hands of the practitioner.
Free-Style Martial Arts Programs across the United States, such as The Sports Club of West Bloomfield, Michigan encourage the use of nunchaku.
There is now a dedicated World Nunchaku Association, based in the Netherlands, which teaches Nunchaku-Do as a contact sport. They use yellow and black plastic weight-balanced training nunchaku and protective headgear. They have their own belt colour system where one earns colour stripes on the belt instead of using fully coloured 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.
There is also a complete system of ranking in the nunchaku called the North American Nunchaku Association, which is based in California, USA. They offer a complete system of the nunchaku teaching traditional and free-style techniques, from white to black belt. They have students in many countries including England, France, Netherlands, Canada, South Africa, and Denmark. Some students study at home from DVDs, and send their recordings to the school in California.
A nunchaku is two sections of wood connected by a cord or chain, though variants may include additional sections of wood and chain. Chinese nunchaku tend to be rounded, whereas the Japanese version has an octagonal cross-section (allowing one edge of the nunchaku to make contact on the target increasing the damage inflicted). The ideal length of each piece should be the length of the user's forearm; the bone between elbow and wrist. Traditionally both ends are of equal length, although asymmetrical nunchaku exist. The ideal length for the connecting rope/chain is just enough to allow the user to lay it over his or her palm, with the sticks hanging comfortably and perpendicular to the ground. Weight balance is extremely important; cheaper or gimmicky nunchaku (such as glow-in-the-dark ones) are often not properly balanced, which prevents the artist from doing 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.
The traditional nunchaku is 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 prevent rotting. The end result is a hardened wood. The rope is made from horsehair, and was traditionally claimed to be able to block a sword. 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 so is not advised in a combat weapon.
The modern nunchaku can be made from any suitable material: from wood, metal, or almost any plastic or fiberglass material, commonly covered with foam to prevent self-injury or the injury of 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 ones they promote are properly balanced.
There are some alternative nunchaku, made solely for sporting such as:
* Telescopic Nunchaku, sporting retractable metal sticks.
* Glow-Chucks, made either with fiberglass and a coloured light fitted in the ball bearing or fluorescent tape wrapped around the sticks.
* Penchaku, which are flashier Lissajous-do sticks available for artistic performances. These are more colourful and sometimes fluorescent with a modified anatomy which favors control in expense of power; they have longer length sticks and extremely short ropes. The idea is based on a mathematical model, the Lissajous, which allows the user to keep a continuous flowing form.
Although it may cause injury to an inexperienced user, the nunchaku is a very effective close-range weapon. When used in combat, the nunchaku provides the obvious advantage of an increase in the reach of one's strike. Somewhat difficult to control, the rope or chain joint of the nunchaku adds the benefit of striking from unexpected angles. Practitioners of the flashier styles contend that the motion of the nunchaku is often found distracting by opponents, who may have trouble keeping up with the nunchaku's rapid movement. In addition, the reach of the nunchaku is often underestimated, even by those experienced with its use. However, when swung, the nunchaku loses between one to two inches in reach.
The original Okinawan techniques involve holding the weapon in a variety of preparatory postures. Once an opponent has moved their weapon or body into close range, the nunchaku is used to strike vital spots, and apply joint locks, chokes and other control techniques. The chain link version of the nunchaku has also been known to be able to fend off enemies with swords or staves.
Gripping the nunchaku is usually a matter of preference. Gripping it close to the chain or rope link increases control but decreases both striking power and reach. A grip further down would have the opposite effect of increasing reach and power while decreasing control and, with the link further out, would also render it susceptible to capture. Unless in expert hands, it is unadvisable to use a nunchaku against a staff or a stick since disarming is often only a matter of striking at the link and jerking it hard out of the hands of the nunchaku practitioner. It is primarily because of this specific vulnerability of the nunchaku that most styles tend to minimize striking.
For wooden nunchaku it is advisable (although not strictly necessary) to clean the nunchaku with a cloth moistened in olive oil, camellia oil or any other plant oil for easier grip. This also prevents fading of the original color. To prevent splintering, some owners wrap the sticks with cellophane tape. Candle wax can be applied to the nylon ropes at friction points to prevent wear.
Many traditional Kobudo practitioners leave the wood untreated. This is so the oils from your skin and many hours of use can "season" or harden the wood. Varnish, lacquer and the like are usually considered bad for the weapon and not as good for grip and control.
Freestyle nunchaku is a modern style of performance art using the nunchaku as a visual tool rather than as a weapon. With the growing prevalence of the Internet the availability of nunchaku has increased greatly, combining this with the popularity of YouTube and other video sharing sites many people have become interested in learning how to use the weapons for freestyle displays. Freestyle is one discipline of the competitions held by the World Nunchaku Association.
* Michelangelo from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series uses two kobu nunchaku, although due to early censorship, there was a period in which he used a grappling hook, dubbed the turtle line.
* In the South Park episode Good Times With Weapons, Kyle and Token bought a pair of nunchaku.
* In the How I Met Your Mother episode Best Prom Ever, a high school senior who is Lily's date for the night, pulls out a pair of nunchaku on Marshall and hits him with them.
* Bruce Lee's movies, such as Fist of Fury, brought nunchaku into mainstream America as an oriental weapon.
* Brothers Sakon and Ukon are characters in the anime/manga series Naruto bearing the names of the two connected sticks of a nunchaku.
* In the third installment of the Naruto movie, Rock Lee uses a nunchaku.
* In the webcomic 8-Bit Theater, Fighter frequently attempts to master "sword-chucks", a weapon of his own creation consisting of two swords attached by a chain. Sword-chucks are a joke in that they are "impossible to wield" (according to Fighter) and they have no grip (nonetheless they have been shown as effective weapons in the hands of Fighter). In a guest comic for a Christmas special, he creates "staff-chucks," two magical staves chained together, as a gift for Black Mage.
* In the webcomic The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, Dr. McNinja is faced with a genetically modified 'Uber-Ninja' named Mongo, who wields Chainsaw Nunchucks - Two chainsaws tied together with a length of chain.
* In the movie Fight Club, Tyler Durden is seen practicing with a nunchaku.
* In the movie Domino, Keira Knightley is seen practicing with a nunchaku, as well as gets recruited into the Bounty Hunter business because of it.
* In the movie Napoleon Dynamite, the title character makes a couple of references to nunchaku, including the observation that girls only like boys with skills, like nunchaku skills. He tends to mispronounce the weapon's name as "num-chuks".
* In the kung fu parody film Kung Pow: Enter the Fist, Steve Oedekerk's character has two gophers bite down on either end of a tightly rolled sheet, creating an impromptu pair of nunchaku that he calls "gopher-chucks".
* An extensive nunchaku demonstration can be seen in the movie Sidekicks, starring Chuck Norris and Jonathan Brandis. In the movie, Brandis must learn a martial arts weapon to compete in a local tournament, and he chooses the nunchaku. When it comes time for him to perform, his imagination takes on his character, and he becomes a white-dressed ninja who begins a dizzying array of nunchaku motions and fighting movements.
* Austin Stevens, the South African naturalist and herpetologist, practices martial arts with nunchaku as a way to improve his reflexes for dealing with poisonous snakes.
* Four of the Sentai/Power Rangers Characters, Goggle Black from Dai Sentai Goggle V, Tenmaranger from Gosei Sentai Dairanger, OhYellow/Zeo Ranger II from Chouriki Sentai Ohranger/Power Rangers: Zeo, and GekiRed from Jūken Sentai Gekiranger are armed with nunchaku.
* In the New Zealand animated series Bro'Town exchange student Wong teaches the characters Vale, Valea, Sione, Jeff and Mack to use "jandal-chucks".
* The Thundercats character Panthro uses a special type of nunchaku he designed called 'Num-chucks'.
* In the Mortal Kombat series Johnny Cage and Liu Kang use the nunchaku as their weapon of choice.
* Sgt Joe Friday in Dragnet the movie, throws away a pair of nunchaku that he was attacked with.
* In the movie Trailer Park Boys: The Movie Bubbles attacks Jim Lahey with nunchaku.