Tambo, Yawara, and Kubotan

These are various Japanese stick weapons that are often under twelve inches in length. These weapons were traditionally made of wood, but you can also find them today made of nylon, hard plastic, metal, rattan, or other stiff materials. None of these weapons have a predefined length or diameter.


The Tambo generally has a length of between twelve and thirty inches or so, though you can certainly find shorter and longer weapons that are referred to as a Tambo. There is no defined length for a Tambo weapon, though they are generally shorter than a Hanbo. The most common diameter is one-inch, but other diameters can be readily found. Usually the Tambo is not tapered. The Tambo is traditionally made of the same hardwoods used for the Bo, Jo, and Hanbo.

The Tambo is frequently used much like a Hanbo, so it is commonly subjected to impact forces during contact with a target or when blocking another weapon. But the weapon is short enough that it can be applied for more close quarter contact that involves manipulating small joints (like the wrist) and working against pain and pressure points on the body.

Much of the following discussions about small stick weapons are applicable to the Tambo when it is used to control and manipulate an opponent. Striking and blocking skills for the Tambo are nearly identical to the Hanbo, so those skills are not covered in the following material.

You should also notice that the Tambo is generally about the same length as a Yantok. Many of the movements and techniques that are employed for the Yantok are equally relevant to the Tambo. The main differences are that the Tambo is a bit heavier (generally) and harder than a Yantok. It also is not as forgiving of repeated contact as the Yantok and you will certainly feel more contact vibrations in your hands with the Tambo than with the Yantok.


A Yawara is typically between six and twelve inches in length. You can find them longer and shorter, but six to twelve inches is the norm. Traditionally the weapon is made of the same woods utilized for the Jo, Bo, and Hanbo, but today the weapons are made of almost any conceivable hard material. The weapon is not typically used to contact other weapons and so is seldom subject to substantial impact or bending forces. As a result these weapons can be made of nearly any relatively dense and stable material.

A Yawara is normally between one-half and one inch in diameter. A half-inch may be getting a bit small, and a full inch may be getting a bit large, but these sizes can be readily found. The most important thing is that the diameter feels good in your hand and that you can fully close your hand while holding the weapon. Yawara can be simple round weapons or may have finger grooves or other details carved in them. They may also have their ends tapered or pointed, or have blunt Tsuka Gashira type ends to increase the impact area of the weapon.


A Kubotan is usually about six inches long and may be just a simple stick weapon, or have a more elaborate construction. Like the Yawara, a Kubotan may have various blunt or pointed ends and may have grooves, perforations or raised ridges that aid in maintaining a grip on the weapon. Like the Yawara, a Kubotan may be made of nearly any solid and rigid material.

Smaller weapons, such as the Kubotan can be found fashioned as  key chains (see the image at the top of this page) or as tiny spears with one or both ends sharpened to a dull point. We will focus our training on the traditional Yawara, but most of what you learn regarding the Yawara can be directly applied to utilization of the Tambo and Kubotan.

Yawara Utilization

You should know that the more carved and intricate the weapon appears the more likely you will be detained for carrying a concealed weapon should a search by law enforcement find one in your pocket. In fact, carrying any Tambo, Yawara, or Kubotan may cause law enforcement to consider arresting you for carrying a concealed weapon. Some people attempt to get around this by using a Kubotan configured as a functional key chain or a tactical pen. This might work, or, you might still be arrested. Some countries, states, provinces, and local communities have strict regulations about carrying such weapons. You should know your local regulations before attempting to carry such a weapon in public.

The primary use of the Yawara is to strike or control and manipulate an opponent. They can readily be used as an impact weapon, but this is primarily limited to strikes where the very end of the weapon is used to contact the target area. The rounded (long) surfaces of the weapon are normally used to apply pressure to bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and other tissues of the body. Using these surfaces the weapon is quite useful when performing locks and throws, and for obtaining pain compliance from an assailant.

As a result the word Yawara is historically very closely associated with Jujitsu. In fact Yawara was originally used to describe Jujitsu arts. Originally these arts were referred to as Yawarajitsu. The kanji for Yawara is the same kanji as that used for “Ju” in both Judo and Jujitsu. Yawara is a root word often used to infer gentleness, softness, a lack of rigidity or avoiding impact.

When holding the Yawara you grasp the weapon in the palm of your hand, encircle your fingers around the weapon, and then lock the fingers closed by placing your thumb over the middle bone of the first two fingers. The thumb does not normally rest atop the weapon because this weakens your grip, exposes the thumb to a strike or counter grab, and makes it much easier for the weapon to be dislodged. You will know you have the correct grasp if your hand is formed as a fist.

When utilizing the weapon your thumb may at times move to different positions and no longer press your fingers closed on the weapon. This is especially true when the weapon is used during Kansetsu and Nage. The thumb is often used to apply leverage to the opponent’s arm, hand, fingers, wrist, or other areas of the body. In such cases you will want to be careful that either both of your hands are involved, or you can ensure the weapon cannot be forced from your hand if the opponent suddenly moves in an unexpected manner. Whenever your thumb is open you have at increased risk of losing control of the weapon.


These weapons are not legal everywhere. You should know what is legal in your local jurisdiction. You should understand that you cannot bring these weapons as carry-on when boarding a plane – they must be placed in your checked luggage. In most locations, even if you can legally carry the weapon, your use of the weapon may be restricted. For example, you may be able to use the weapon to manipulate and control a person, but not to strike them.

You may be prosecuted if it is suspected that you deliberately carried such a weapon for the express purpose of harming someone. This is a reflection of your intent. If you intended to harm someone with one of these weapons then you will be arrested for assault (or worse).

Even though we train students on the use of these weapons it remains the student’s sole responsibility to know whether, when, or how they may legally carry these weapons. It is important that students handle these and all weapons in a responsible and legally compliant manner.

When these weapons are strictly forbidden in a local area their use will not be taught. Further, students in such jurisdictions will not be required to demonstrate any of the skills associated with these weapons on a ranking examination.

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