Friday, July 17, 2009



Something that I have not written about in ages is the nunchaku. Personally this was always my favorite toy/tool/weapon, since I was a kid.

Grand Master Urban often spoke of the difference between a TOY, a TOOL, and a WEAPON.

What is the difference?


Many believe that the nunchaku was originally a farm tool,. A flail used to thrash crush or gather rice etc., later to be used after the ban on all weapons in Okinawa.

Others believe that it was a piece disconnected from a horse bridal .

Although there is little doubt that these tools were at times used as weapons, it seems unlikely that their presence in the Chinese arts came from Okinawan farm tools. Therefore it seems reasonable to believe that the flail has been around in various forms all over the globe since someone was creative enough to attach two or more sticks or what have you, together for the purpose of playing, working, or fighting.

The nunchaku has been an object of controversy on an off throughout the years.

As a kids, in NY and NJ back in the 70s, we used to carry them concealed on the streets. This was both before and after they were made illegal. My memories of the bloody nunchaku fights between various factions of neighborhood gangs are still quite vivid. As a matter of fact, the one and only time that I was ever knocked unconscious in my life was self induced while practicing a difficult under the arm pit and over the shoulder reverse switch at high speed while walking my vicious standard poodle Noal. I awoke with Noal licking my face as a cop looked down at me while straddling over head. The cop said “You were doing pretty good until you clocked yourself!” He had been watching me from a distance. I was more worried about being arrested, than I was about having just whacked myself unconscious. Thankfully, when I showed him my dojo id, he went to his car and brought out his own police issued black, square nylon nunchaku and handed them to me, asking if I wanted to give them a try. I remember that they had a very short string and I was able to whip them around even quicker than my own. However, the police nunchaku was actually more for seizing, pinching, and come along techniques.

On a more legit note: I actually carried the nunchaku that I bought in the 70's at NYC's Honda Martial Arts Supplies, into combat while in the Marine Corps. I also trained fellow Marines in the use of the nunchaku while stationed in Okinawa Japan, both at my on base dojo, and during the hand to hand combat classes that I gave on various bases throughout the 3rd Marine Division.

The nunchaku was made illegal in the 70's, in California first. Then after a police officer had the misfortune of chasing a thug up to a tenement building’s roof, to which the thug waited next to the roof’s door for the cop to follow, the thug proceeded to use a rear strangle technique on him as he exited the stairwell onto the roof. The cop was murdered, and the nunchaku became illegal overnight in NYC.

In this article from Official KaraTe Magazine January 1974, our own Shihan Al Gotay warns the reader of the new anti nunchaku law. (Click on article to enlarge.)

I visited Brendon Lai's Kung Fu Supply Store in San Francisco the other day. Rather than a display of various nunchaku, they had a sign on the counter, saying that nunchaku were illegal out side of martial arts schools in the state of California, and were not sold there.

The nunchaku was introduced for use, to the NY and NJ police departments by USA GoJu instructors who were on the job. This did not go without a certain amount of controversy either.

In This August 1970 issue of KaraTe Illustrated Magazine, the subject of police use of the nunchaku is discussed by Shotokan Master Fred Hamilton "RIP," and NinJitsu Master Ron Duncan, as well as Shihan Al Gotay, who also demonstrates Police Nunchaku techniques.

Master Ed Veryken and Master Joe Hess, both were instrumental in training Police in the use of nunchaku, as seen here in Official KaraTe Magazine's Annual Special Weapons Edition 1974.

My nunchaku training came from quite a few sources. I learned formally from Sensei Urban “who was a weapons genius,” of course.

I also learned from Sensei Ernest Hyman in the mid 70s, who many may remember was billed as the fastest man in the world with the nunchaku at Aaron Banks’ Oriental World Of Self Defense at Madison Square Garden.
I wish that I had some video of Sensei Hyman performing. You would not believe it! I can still remember walking around with cracked finger nails and sore hands after the nunchaku classes that he gave at the New York Karate Academy.

Everybody had a copy of this book when I was a young teen. Fumio Demura's Nunchaku KaraTe Weapon Of Self Defense served as our Chucker's Bible.

Later while stationed in Okinawa I learned the original premise from Dai Sensei Hanso Arakaki.

The way that nunchaku is used in the Ko Ryu = old school is a bit different from what you see in the modern versions. The flailing is less complex, however very powerful. The techniques are really not so much different, but separates them from the modern, is that they were used as a defense against weapons. But for that matter, the bulk of what is contained in the old KaraTe kata are techniques that deal with fighting against an armed opponent.

Hanshi Tadashi Yamashita is an Okinawan Shorin Ryu master who has lived in California for many years. He became quite famous back in the day for his flashy nunchaku demos.

No article about the nunchaku would be complete without clips of Bruce Lee.

The Chinese Connection

Return Of The Dragon

Enter The Dragon

Game Of Death