Thoughts on fighting with nunchaku’s


(Different types of nunchaku’s.  From

I have always been interested in nunchaku’s.  Normally, people get interested in them by watching Bruce Lee.  Though I have seen Bruce Lee with nunchaku’s, and thought they were neat, I don’t think that is what got me interested in them.  I believe this came from going to all these martial arts stores when I was a kid.  I looked at books on nunchaku’s and thought they were neat weapons.  They were so simple and look so innocent.  This made them particularly unusual.  They do not have the normal image of a weapon which, in a way, was probably what most interested me about them.  I was also fascinated about all the different movements and things that could take place with these simple weapons.  In addition, despite their looking simple, they were quite a weapon and could do a lot of damage and even kill a person.   All these things made this weapon interesting to me.

Bruce Lee nunchaku

(Bruce Lee in “The Chinese Connection”, my favorite film of his.)

I’ve always felt that most peoples view of fighting with nunchaku’s is what I would call ‘theatrical fighting’.  No doubt, Bruce Lee had a hand in this.  In a way, it made nunchaku’s a form of a performance or show.  This ‘theatrical fighting’ with nunchaku’s seems to primarily consists of things like this:

  • ‘Flipping’ the nunchaku’s around excessively.
  • Repetetively changing from one hand to another.
  • Using big arcs and movements.
  • Using unnecessary positions and movements.

Stuff, such as these, makes nunchaku’s look really neat and impressive.  But I always felt that a real fight would be totally different.  I’ve never seen an actual fight, of course, but it seems that it would require different priorities and concerns than is found in ‘theatrical fighting’ creating a whole new form of behavior and action.  In fact, I can see it being something totally different.

To begin with, it seems to me that there are three main points in actual fighting with nunchaku’s:

  1. ‘Control, control, control’.  Fighting with nunchaku’s is nothing but control.  Because of this, one must avoid things, and movements, that decrease ones control.  This would be most of the bulk of ‘theatrical fighting’.
  2. ‘Safety, safety, safety’.  That is to say, one must use them in such a way that one doesn’t get hurt.  This may sound easy but its not.  A big part of learning nunchaku’s, I think, is learning to handle them safely.
  3. Be directed in ones actions.  When you make a movement make it count.  Nunchaku’s are no weapon to do frivilous actions with.

Some aspects of these are:

Do not ‘flip’ the nunchaku’s around excessively.  The reason for this is that once its in motion it has to finish its motion.  In effect, when ‘flipped’ the nunchaku is out-of-control . . . you are at the mercy of its movement.  You might be able to alter its movement, to some extent, but it primarily has a life of its own.  Because of this, its best if there is minimal ‘flipping’.

Not only that, if you have to move while its in motion (which, I suspect, happens in real fights) you may actually move yourself into the nunchaku’s movement and hit yourself!

Use single action movements.  Try to limit movements to one action as much as possible.  This makes the nunchaku more in ones control.  In addition, it makes ones effort more directed and ‘final’.

Use your dominant hand for the main motions.  The dominant hand allows for more control and directedness in ones actions.  Use the non-dominant hand more for supportive motions or only as necessary.

When making a movement, make it strong, forceful, and decisive.  With ‘theatrical fighting’ almost all movements are done as if casually as the intention is to flip it around for show.  Basically, the nunchaku’s are just moved about the place with little strength and force.  In actual fighting, I’d think that you’d want to make each strike count as much as possible.  Because of this, one would want to put more force and energy in each movement.

Another reason for a strong, forceful, and decisive movement is that it makes the free end of the nunchaku’s more determined in its course and thereby follow a specific path.  This will help prevent the free end ‘flipping’ around unpredictably, even after a hit.

Avoid changing from one hand to another.  When one changes hands with the nunchaku’s, one actually loses an element of control and may even lose control of the nunchaku’s completely.

Learn how to stop the movement of the nunchaku’s with the body.  Because of the high movement of the free end of the nunchaku, one has to be adept at stopping its motion.  This often entails letting it hit part of the body, such as the shoulder or leg.  This is often best done by having the end of the free nunchaku closest to the rope or chain hit the body.  In any motion, one must have a means to stop it on ones body.  Therefore, all actions really entail three elements:

  1. Setting up for the motion.
  2. Making the motion.
  3. Stopping the motion.

Of course, one must learn to stop the nunchaku without hurting ones own body.  Since this is so critical it seems like this should entail a lot of the practice on nunchaku’s.

Learn different ways to slow the nunchaku’s movement down while in motion.  One way to do this is to ‘flip’ the nunchaku in a circle while in mid motion.  This movement sometimes ‘absorbs’ some of the motion making it slow down abit.

Another technique, that can sometimes work, is to quickly move the nunchaku in a direction that is not in its originally intended movment.  In this way, it disrupts the normal movement of the free end of the nunchaku.  If this is done, in mid-action, it can sometimes slow the movement down abit.  For example, if a person ‘flips’ the nunchaku downward and then quickly moves the nunchaku outward, for example, it disrupts the movement enough that it can sometimes slow it down.  Usually, though, you have to be careful where the free end of the nunchaku goes.

I’ve always felt that, to have any effect, a person has to primarily aim at an exposed bone on the opponents body.  Hitting body mass, such as muscle, will hurt but I don’t think it will automatically incapacitate a person (though I’m sure it can if done properly).  If one hits an exposed bone (such as the shin or ulna bone of the arm) one may very well break it or, at the least, make it hurt horribly, which can bring someone to their knees.  Hitting someone on the head may crack their skull and possibly kill a person.  What this means is that the nunchaku seems to have three ‘hit zones and effects’:

  1. Cause pain – hit body mass such as muscle.
  2. Break bones – hitting an exposed bone.
  3. Death – hitting the skull.

Because of this, we see that nunchaku’s are only deadly in a limited sense, but it can cause a lot of pain.

Remember that the nunchaku’s don’t always have to be ‘flipped’ to be useful.  ‘Theatrical fighting’ emphasizes movements of the nunchaku’s making it seem that this is all it can do.  They can be used in many other ways such as blocking the opponents weapon or to hit the opponent.   In fact, I often wonder if this should be the main orientation of the nunchaku’s, with the ‘flipping’ done only at certain oppurtunities and times.  In this case, the nunchaku’s would be handled something like a double stick weapon most of the time (which happens to have a rope/chain connecting the two pieces).  In that way, they are ‘flipped’ sparingly and only as needed.

The nunchaku’s are limited as a defense.  The length of each end of the nunchaku is only about as long as ones forearm (something like 12-14″).  This does not give much defense against attack.  It would be like defending oneself by two small sticks.  In addition, having two pieces of wood connected by a rope/chain doesn’t off much either.  I’ve always felt that this limited defense capability was one of the nunchaku’s main weaknesses.  This is why I always felt that, in actual fighting with nunchaku’s, one will want to try, as soon as possible, to make a decisive strike upon ones opponent.  In other words, one should try to bring the fight to a close as soon as one can otherwise the opponent may be able to use the nunchaku’s weakness as a defense to his benefit.

The great strengths of the nunchaku’s are its longer reach and that a strike can be damaging.  The free end of the nunchaku extends the weapon quite aways, even beyond some weapons.  Not only that, the movement of the free end, with its momentum, has a damaging effect.  In fact, it has the potential of being more damaging than many weapons, such as a staff or even a sword whose strength is in its cutting ability.  One could very well say that the momentum, caused by the movement of the free end, IS the main strength of the nunchaku.  Because of this, any fighting with the nunchaku should take advantage of this capability and use it as effectively as possible.

The power of the nunchaku is in the momentum created by the rotation of the free end, caused by two rotation points:  the rope/chain and ones joints.  The rope/chain offers a very small and restricted rotation point with a small arc.  By itself, it can’t really achieve much momentum to be effective.  Ones joints, on the other hand, offer many variations and forms of rotation points.  This is because there are a multitude of joints and combinations of movements originating from the wrist, elbow, shoulder, and even waist.  A movement of the nunchaku from ones joints tends to make the nunchaku swing in a greater arc than the rope/chain by itself.  As a result, it develops great momentum.  A typical movement of the nunchaku, though, entails rotation from both points – rope/chain and ones joints – which as if gains the benefits of both rotation points and, in a way, amplifying it.  Because of this, in any movement one wants to try to ‘flip’ the free end (that is, cause a rotation about the rope/chain) and rotate the nunchaku about ones joints.  In general, the movement of ones joints will follow the rotation of the free end of the nunchaku.  In a movement with great force the movement of the joint may actually go faster than the movement of the free end to the point that the free end is actually pulled by the rope/chain making it as if follow along.  Probably the most powerful, and used, joints are the shoulder and elbow, which are generally used in conjunction.

With all this, it seems that an actual fight with nunchaku’s would probably entail little ‘theatrical’ or showy movement.  In fact, it may entail very little movement, only quick sudden actions.  This would give a whole new image to nunchaku fighting .


Copyright by Mike Michelsen

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