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Nunchaku (Japanese: ????? listen (help·info); ???, shoshikon “Boatman’s staff”; Chinese: ???,???, shuang jié gùn; ???,???, liang jié gùn “Dual Section Staff”; ???,??? gèr jié gùn “Two Section Staff”; Korean: ??? ssang jul gon; also colloquially called “nunchucks”, “numchuks”, “nunchukkas”, “chucks”, “chain sticks”, etc.) is a traditional weapon of the Kobudo weapons set and consists of two sticks connected at their ends with a short chain or rope. A sansetsukon is a similar weapon with three sticks attached on chains instead of two.
Although the certain origin of nunchaku is disputed, it originated in China. The Japanese word nunchaku itself comes from the Hokkien (Min Nan) word nng-chiat-kun(no-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 Southeast Asian flail used to thresh rice or soybeans (that is, separate the grain from the husk). It is possible that it 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. The modern weapon would be an effective flail.
Some sources say that the first Song Emperor was in battle when an enemy general cut the end off of his staff. Instead of using a different staff, he connected the two pieces with a short section of iron chain, creating a weapon known as “sweeper”. At the time, it was not illegal to carry a weapon, but it was inconvenient to carry a sweeper because it was a long stick with a loose section, so some people shortened the staff section so that the weapon could be tucked in a belt. This was called a “small sweeper”, later renamed the nunchaku.
Another popular theory is that the nunchaku originated from China in the Song Dynasty. It was named “da pan long gun”(????), meaning great coiled dragon stick. The weapon is composed of one long stick and a short stick connected by horse hair. It was commonly used in wars against cavalry to trap horse legs. The weapon eventually evolved into a short range weapon as seen in present day nunchaku.
The nunchaku as a weapon has surged in popularity since martial artist Bruce Lee used it in his movies in the 1970s.
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 Okinawan 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 (around 12 inches per piece). 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 (about 5 inches, for a total length of nearly 30 inches) , 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 prevented rotting and caused the wood to harden. 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 for 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:
The most common martial arts to use nunchaku are the Chinese, Chinese-Okinawan and Okinawan martial arts such as some forms of karate/kobudo, but some Eskrima systems also teach practitioners to use nunchaku. For its part, Taekwondo teaches how to use one and two nunchaku. 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 Taekwondo teaches a little bit of both.
There are some nunchaku disciplines that combine nunchaku with unarmed techniques: