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A Brief History of the Nunchaku

In the 1970’s, Bruce Lee’s film Enter the Dragon gave the western world its first glimpse of the ancient martial arts weapon the nunchaku. The strange twirling weapon was comprised of two sticks held together by a small chain. It had the ability to strike an opponent from long range or choke him while in close quarters.

This weapon, however, was not a construct of the film. Its origins date back many years to previous centuries.

While most think of classical Chinese, Okinawan, and Japanese martial arts along the lines of empty hand systems such as Jujitsu, weapons were a significant part of all combat styles. Most of these weapons derived from farming implements as many martial artists were also peasant farmers.

Some sketchy historical records note the nunchaku originated from modifying a staff into sections linked with a chain for use as a weapon. However, most research into the subject points to the nunchaku as being used primarily as a farming tool for threshing rice and soy.

Where did the Nunchaku Originate?

Contrary to popular belief, the nunchaku did not originate in Okinawa as many assume. The nunchaku originated in the Song Dynasty in China and later made its way to Okinawa in the 17th century. (The Japanese term nunchaku derives from the southern Chinese term no-chiat kun) But, how did the nunchaku develop into a martial arts device? Because weapons were illegal in Okinawa, the nunchaku “farm implement” was incorporated into karate and jujitsu weaponry systems. Since it was primarily used for farming, the nunchaku would not be confiscated by the authorities.

Do to its exotic nature and cinema exposure the nunchaku is still studied in modern dojos, although sometimes know as the westernised nunchucks. Arguably due to popular movie culture, it’s one of the most popular martial arts weapon ever devised.

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