The Nunchaku are normally held in one or both hands. Generally you will grasp a stick about midway between the two ends. This can vary a bit depending on what you wish to accomplish, but as a general rule hold the weapon near the middle of the stick rather than at either end.
When swinging the Nunchaku you will quickly learn how to take power out of the weapon and allow it to coast to a relatively non-impactful point of contact. This skill is used when reversing direction of the weapon. For example, you might swing the weapon with your right hand so that it horizontally strikes directly forward at your local angle one. The inertia of the swing will cause the weapon to move in the direction of your left hip. You can slow the weapon down and allow it to curve slightly along your left hip and left rear so that much of the energy from the swing is dispersed. Now the weapon will essentially spring back, allowing you to accelerate the weapon in a new strike moving in the opposite direction. This is a common method for changing the swing direction of the weapon and you will use it in many different ways. See the section on “Wrapping the Weapon” below for more information on this skill.
The cord or chain of the weapon can also be used. This can be done by holding both sticks in opposite hands and using the cord to strike or encumber some portion of the opponent’s anatomy. Using this method you could potentially strangle someone, ensnare a person’s wrist, or strike directly at the throat.
The ends of the sticks are also useful as striking surfaces. These surfaces can strike to the face or eyes, into soft anatomical tissues, or onto bone surfaces. Naturally, if you grasp one or both sticks in your hand you can use the weapon as a club.
By far the most common uses of the weapon involve its ability to spin or slice one stick through the air while holding the other stick firmly in your grasp. A myriad of skills will be practiced which will enable you to smoothly and quickly flow from one type of strike into another, often alternating hands, direction of movement, strike elevation, and sides of your body.
Many of the skills you will work on require a good deal of wrist turn and timing to make the skill successful. If you do not get the timing and the wrist turn correct then you are almost guaranteed to suffer the consequences, which can be painful. This is why we suggest you begin your training with a weapon with a soft exterior. In the article on Nunchaku Drills we will point out when wrist action and timing are especially important.
Gripping the Weapon
There are several common ways to grip the weapon. As mentioned above you will often grip one or both sticks at Chukon Bu, but there are several considerations that may cause you to hold the weapon at some other location. We will cover various ways and locations by which you may want to hold the weapon.
Gripping at Kikon Bu
You may wish to grip the weapon at Kikon Bu to gain a reach advantage or to increase the angular velocity at the end of the moving free stick. This grip position can be useful when performing more difficult passes such as over the shoulder toward the opposite hip. It is also commonly used when striking at an opponent or target that is some distance away.
This grip has the disadvantage that forward movement of the weapon in your grip can cause the weapon to slip out of your hand. It can happen surprisingly quickly. So while this is a powerful grip position we try to limit the amount of time we spend holding the weapon in this grip. As you gain experience you may find you are better able to prevent weapon slippage and may therefore find this grip more useful. But when first learning the weapon you may wish to limit the time you spend holding the weapon in this position.
Gripping at Chukon Bu
This is the position that we consider to be our normal or home position. This does not mean you should continuously hold the weapon in this position, but it is the position we prefer, especially for students who are beginning to explore the use of this weapon.
This grip offers a balance between reach, speed, control, and grip maintenance. The grip is not necessarily optimal for any of these characteristics, but it allows you to move between various maneuvers without the need for significant repositioning of your grip. It is essentially a happy balance between reach and control. You will find most skills you work on can be done reasonably well from this position. It is not the ideal position (there is no such thing), but it provides an excellent compromise when you are first learning.
Gripping at Jukon Bu
When the weapon is gripped at Jukon Bu (or very near the cord or chain) you will have maximum control of the weapon. You will notice you can more reliably predict how the weapon will move when you grip it in this position. You will also notice that increased speed of rotation is possible with this grip. This is particularly beneficial when you are performing various spin and rotation skills.
The disadvantage of this grip is it limits your reach and the power of your strikes. While this may not often be a problem (there are ways to easily compensate for a shortened grip), it does mean you cannot as readily strike someone who is further away. In addition, some passes may be more difficult because the weapon may not move sufficiently around the body to allow the catching hand to grasp the weapon. All of these problems can be resolved in various ways, but it is something to consider when you hold the weapon at this grip point.
No Best Grip
So there is no fixed or preferred position for your hands. As you gain experience you will naturally move your hands to the best location for the tasks you are attempting to perform. Hand position does not remain static for long and you will find that you may need to periodically perform some type of transition simply to readjust your grip on the weapon.
You will also find you can usually adjust your arm position to compensate for situations where you do not have an ideal grip. For example, if you are holding the weapon near Jukon Bu you may simply press your control hand further along the path of travel in order to facilitate a pass behind your neck, back, or over your shoulder. The ability to know when you can and will not be able to successfully perform some maneuver with your current grip position comes with experience. Usually you can do nearly anything from any grip position, but some grip positions will make some movements a bit easier to accomplish. But there are no fixed rules when it comes to gripping the weapon.
The standard grip involves holding a stick in one hand such that the thumb and index finger are toward the corded or chain side of the stick. Most of the skills you will practice involve this form of grip. This grip is independent of whether you are holding the weapon a Kikon, Chukon, or Jukon Bu.
The reverse grip is obtained by holding the weapon in one hand such that the thumb and index finger are on the non-corded or non-chain side of the stick. In this grip your little finger will be facing the corded or chain side of the stick. Again this is independent of where your hand is located along the length of the stick.
The dual or two-handed grip simply involves holding one stick in each hand. Generally both hands are holding the weapon in a standard grip, though some uses might involve holding the weapon so both hands are in a reverse grip. There are also occasions where one hand will be in a standard grip and the other will be in a reverse grip. These latter occasions tend to be temporary and occur while the weapon is in some form of transition. But as with everything in the martial arts, you can find an occasion and purpose for nearly anything.
It is also possible to hold the weapon by placing the cord in the palm of your hand, allowing both sticks to remain free to move independently.
A combined grip occurs when both sticks are held in a single hand. A standard or reverse grip might be used, depending on your intent. With this grip the weapon could be used as a club or utilized in a Tsuki type striking scenario. This is also the normal method used for holding the weapon when you are moving from one location to another with no plans to utilize the weapon (e.g. walking across the Dojo floor on our way home for the evening).
Wrapping the Weapon
Wrapping is the process of letting the cord and free stick dissipate energy across a large body surface. It is an exercise of both timing and physical skill. Generally you will abandon any energy you have added to the weapon swing and will then wrap the weapon, beginning with the cord or chain (or sometimes the control stick) and ending with the free stick, around some body part. If the weapon contains too much energy, or if the wrapping is not done in a manner that disburses energy over a large surface area than a painful impact may occur.
Wrapping the weapon is commonly done over the following body surfaces:
- The thigh
- The hips and buttocks
- The thorax
- The shoulder of the arm holding the weapon
- The shoulder of the arm not holding the weapon (opposite shoulder)
- The neck (this is a special case requiring other considerations)
- The back
- The upper arm (either biceps or triceps)
- The forearm
A byproduct of the wrapping action is that the weapon will generally spring back after the wrap has completed. This allows you to again accelerate the weapon, but this time moving in a different direction than before. For example, if you swing the weapon horizontally with your right arm at a target in the direction of angle one, the weapon will naturally wrap around your hips or thorax. There will be a slight bounce after most of the energy has been depleted by the wrapping process. You can either allow the weapon to simply fall into disuse, or you could accelerate the weapon again in the direction of angle one, using the bounce as the initial impetus for the swing. This wrapping process is what allows the weapon to be moved in a continuous cycle of strikes, spins, and hand switches, making for a very fast moving and amazing choreography of motion.
Catching the Weapon
As important as striking or spinning the weapon is the ability to stop its motion in a controlled and orderly manner that allows you to maintain control of the weapon while concurrently positioning the weapon so it can be used for a subsequent action. There are innumerable ways in which one might catch the weapon. We’ll cover some of the more common methods here and in subsequent discussions in other sections below.
The simplest way to catch the weapon is to slow its rotation and simply grab the free stick with an open hand. You might catch it such that you end up with one stick in each hand, or you might catch it so that both sticks are in one hand. You will find use for both of these catches as you perform the various skills and drills defined for the Nunchaku.
Another popular method for catching the weapon is to allow the rapidly spinning free stick to move up under your armpit and then close your arm down, trapping the weapon between your upper arm and side chest wall. This is very commonly done following a downward flail strike toward angle one. The weapon is allowed to continue its circular path until it moves up under the armpit where it is caught. A drill involving this skill is to simply repeat the pattern of strike then catch multiple times without any intervention or appreciable delay.
Other catches are commonly done as the result of a pass where control of the weapon is deliberately passed from one hand to the other. We cover this type of catching action in the article on Nunchaku Passes.
You might also elect to catch the weapon by grasping the cord or chain. You need to do this in a manner that precludes the possibility of the free stick (or either stick really) from moving in an unanticipated manner and colliding with you or some other person or object nearby. This is sometimes used as a means of performing a pass, but can be used to simply stop a drill or repurpose the weapon. There are several passes where the cord is wrapped around the wrist and then caught in the open hand. We cover several of these methods in the Nunchaku Passes article.
It is conceivable (though not often seen) to catch the free stick behind your bent knee, in your bent elbow, between your abdomen and bent hips (or raised leg), or in any other location that can develop a crease. Save experimenting with these possible options until after you are quite accomplished at the other fundamental methods of passing or catching the weapon. Delaying this level of learning will enable you to avoid nasty bruises, welts, and concussions.
A common scenario seen in demonstrations and at tournaments is to release one’s grip on the weapon entirely, allowing the weapon to freely fly upward or around some body part. The weapon is then caught and moved seamlessly into some subsequent movement. You are free to learn and practice these skills, but we do not teach them. They are not hard to do once you are quite familiar with the weapon. But we generally do not consider voluntarily releasing control of any weapon a sound tactical maneuver. These skills look fantastic in a demonstration, but they have very limited conflict usage. Then again, we realize you are unlikely to be involved in a Nunchaku street fight.
As you use the Nunchaku you will find many cases where you wish to transfer the hold on the weapon from one hand to the other. Many of these methods are what we call passes. The weapon is passed from one hand to the other through a prescribed movement that requires some significant practice. We will cover passes more thoroughly in a separate article.
Switching arms can be done in a number of other ways as well. Flipping the weapon up and catching the free stick in the opposite hand is one method. You could catch the free stick end as it moves upward, or you could catch it as it free falls back down into your waiting open hand.
You could also flip the weapon so you establish a combined grip. The free stick is swept out and upward until it eventually lands on top of the control stick. You relax your grip on the control stick just long enough to allow your fingers to encompass both sticks as you catch the free stick. Now you can use your free hand to grasp one or both of the sticks in your control hand.
One of the easiest methods is to simply stop the movement of the stick and grasp the free stick as it dangles loosely in front of you. This is not a particularly useful battle strategy (but can be useful strategically or to conserve energy), but it can be useful when you wish to practice a drill with the opposite hand or if you want to stop and think about something for a minute. Sometimes simple actions work quite well.
Handling Errors to Avoid
Here is a list, in no particular order, of things you will want to avoid when handling the weapon. Committing any of these errors may result in unexpected and potentially injurious results. This is certainly not a complete list of things to avoid (there could be no such list), but this will hopefully give you a set of common behaviors you will want to avoid.
- Do not loosen your grip on the weapon while it is spinning. This can occur if you attempt to pass the weapon and release your grip before the other hand has firm control of the weapon. It can also happen from a general lack of concentration or while attempting to change your grip position. In either case, the weapon will fly from your hands at great velocity and undoubtedly move directly toward the most junior or most senior person in you Dojo. Both situations could turn out unfavorable for someone.
- Do not try to change the course of the spinning weapon while it is spinning. Always, always, always, wrap the weapon to initiate a change of direction. Your face will thank you for following this little piece of advice.
- Do not practice using the weapon around furniture, your mother’s or spouse’s favorite lamp or keepsake, glass doors, windows, mirrors, small children, anyone who is unaware of what you are doing, a rambunctious dog, or any obstacle that may cause the free stick to bounce in an unexpected or unintended direction. Always inspect your surroundings to ensure the weapon will not strike anything that you do not wish to intentionally strike.
- Never spin or otherwise use the weapon without first ensuring its integrity. This includes the sticks and most importantly the condition of the cord or chain. Dojo owners are not particularly fond of students who allow one end of a broken Nunchaku to fly directly into an expensive floor-to-ceiling mirror in the middle of a class full of barefoot students. Spend three seconds to avoid this type of grief.
- Do not abandon a movement in an uncontrolled manner. Always move the weapon to a known point of control to completely stop the movement of the weapon. Abandoning a movement will likely cause the free stick to move in an erratic manner.
- If you have missed catching a pass do not allow the free stick to move in an uncontrolled manner. Treat the missed catch as a wrapping motion and spring out of the wrap and into a movement that will allow you to attempt the pass again or otherwise stop the weapon’s motion in a controlled manner.
- Do not move your entire arm when simply moving your wrist is quite sufficient. The movement of the wrist is a critical factor in using the weapon to its full potential. Concentrate much more on how your wrist is moving than on how your arm is moving.
- Do not fail to notice when the weapon is slowing moving forward in your hand. As the weapon spins it may slowly inch forward in your grip. If you do not notice this creeping action then the weapon can eventually move forward for enough to fly out of your grip. If you feel your hand is slipping toward the end of the weapon, perform some passing actions until you can establish a more favorable grip.
- Be careful when a free stick descends below your knee. These moves tend to be done very quickly and with substantial force. If the weapon impacts your shin or knee as it descends you will find yourself experiencing a great deal of pain.