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The Nunchaku (Japanese: ヌンチャク Hepburn: nunchaku?, often "nunchuks" or "chainsticks" in English) is a traditional Okinawan martial arts weapon consisting of two sticks connected at one end by a short chain or rope. It was used by Okinawan nobles, but was not a popular weapon because it was not efficient against the most widely used weapons of that time, and few techniques for its use exist. 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 makes a good training weapon, since it allows the development of quicker hand movements and improves posture. Many varieties of nunchaku are available.
In modern times, nunchakus (Tabak-Toyok) were popularized by actor and martial artist Bruce Lee and his student, actor and martial arts instructor Dan Inosanto, in their respective movies. 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.
Modern-day nunchaku can be made from metal, wood, plastic or fibreglass. Toy and replica versions made of Styrofoam or plastic also are available. Except for use in professional martial art schools, possession of this weapon is illegal in some countries.
The word nunchaku comes from the Japonic Ryukyuan languages, though the origin of this word is unclear. One theory indicates it was derived from pronunciation of the Chinese characters 兩節棍 (a type of traditional Chinese two section staff) in a Southern Fujian dialect of Chinese language.
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 on Okinawa were practised exclusively by aristocracy (kazoku) and "serving nobles" (shizoku), but were prohibited among commoners (heimin). Others contend that it was this type of prohibition itself which supports the proposed evolution of unorthodox weapons out of everyday implements common to laborers, as well as the clandestine (therefore elusive) nature of their practice. Peasant-origin nunchaku proponents also suggest these innovators were not so much rebellious as attempting to be capable of a surprise defense against overzealous tax collectors' visits gone bad, or other perilous scenarios for which they were otherwise perpetually unarmed. Many martial arts institutions teach these suppositions as historical probabilities, and modified farm implement origins of other martial arts weapons are widely considered fact.
Regardless of its origins, the nunchaku was not a popular weapon, since no known traditional kata (choreographed practice movements) for it exist, possibly as a result of its lack of efficacy against contemporary weapons such as the katana.
Nunchaku consist of two sections of wood connected by a cord (himo) or chain (kusari), 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, 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). 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 prevented rotting and caused 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:
There are also some types of nunchaku with no noted use in sport, such as:
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 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:
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.
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 a place of training or private address. 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 (Offensive Weapons) Order 1988 Section 141 (n). 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, California, and Massachusetts, 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" in light of the Supreme Court's 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.
The nunchaku has been a popular weapon in movies related to martial arts, particularly popularized in modern culture through Bruce Lee movies.
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