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The tonfa, also known as tong fa or tuifa, is a traditional Okinawan weapon from which the modern side-handled police baton is derived.
The origin of the Tonfa is debated but experts believe it either originated in China or Indonesia. It is used in both Southeast Asian and Chinese martial arts and was possibly brought to Okinawa through their influence. A similar weapon called the mae sun sawk is used in Thailand. Tradition holds that during the reign of Okinawan ruler Sho Shin, restrictions were placed on the use of weaponry in order to stabilize the country after a period of civil war. This restriction is said to have favoured the development of unconventional agricultural tools as weapons of self-defense. In this context, it is believed that the tonfa was developed from a wooden handle of a millstone, a common agricultural implement much like the kama.
There are numerous ways to defend and attack with the tonfa. In defense, if the handle is grasped then the shaft protects the forearm and hand from blows from the opponents and the knob can protect the thumb. If both ends of the shaft are held, the shaft can be used to ward off blows and the handle can be used as a hook to catch the opponent’s weapons.
In attack, one can swing the shaft to strike the target. Large amounts of momentum can be imparted to the shaft by twirling the tonfa by the handle. The tonfa can also be wielded in such a way as to use the knob as a striking implement, held either by the handle or by the shaft. One can also stab one’s opponents with the shaft of the tonfa. By holding the shaft and the handle of the tonfa together, one can use it for holding or breaking techniques.
Tonfa are traditionally wielded in pairs, one in each hand. This is unlike police nightsticks, which are generally used alone. As the tonfa can be held in many different ways, education in the use of the tonfa often involves learning how to switch between different grips at high speed. Such techniques require great manual dexterity.