Nunchaku

The Nunchaku is a weapon consisting of two lengths of wood or other hard material connected at their ends by a cord or a chain. These lengths of hard material are technically called the Monouchi. This term is seldom used when discussing the Nunchaku so we will refer to them by the more common name, sticks. The cord or chain essentially exits the end of one stick and enters the end of the other. The cord or chain separates the two sticks so that their ends are approximately six inches (15 cm) apart (this length can vary greatly).

The length of each of the sticks is ideally equal to the distance from your wrist to a point just beyond your elbow joint. This allows the weapon to be used to block a strike with minimal risk of injury to your arm. The cord or chain is ideally just long enough to span the distance between opposite sides of your open and widely spread palm.

The wood or metal sticks can have a variety of different shapes. Sometimes the sticks have an octagonal or hexagonal pattern while at other times these parts of the weapon have a round and smooth shape. Sometimes the sticks are tapered such that the end nearest the cord or chain is of a smaller diameter than the opposite end of the stick. Sometimes the end further from the cord may have a notch or two carved around the entire circumference of the stick, perhaps an inch (2.5 cm) or so from the end to enhance your grip (reducing the chance for the weapon to slip from your grasp) and to let you feel when your hand is nearing the end of the weapon. All of these are simply a matter of individual preference, as is the choice of whether you use a weapon with a cord or a chain between the two sticks.

When discussing use of the weapon in the following sections of this manual we may refer to a stick as either a Control Stick or a Free Stick. The Control Stick is the stick you are holding in one hand. The Free Stick refers to a stick that is not being held. The Free Stick may be in motion or may simply be hanging down by the cord or chain. The Free Stick is usually set in motion by some movement of the Control Stick. You may hold a weapon such that a stick is held in each hand. In this case there is no Free Stick and no Control Stick. If you hold both weapons in one hand then there is no Free Stick and only a single Control Stick that is comprised of both sticks.

If your weapon is made using wood then it is essential to ensure that only straight grained wood was used. Wood in which the grain emerges from the weapon somewhere along the length of the stick will likely fail eventually during use. All wood grain should run the entire length of the sticks. You will have a catastrophic weapon failure eventually if this is not the case. Your weapon will be inspected by someone in your Dojo and they will not allow you to use a weapon that contains substandard grain patterns as a matter of safety for yourself and others who may be nearby.

As you gain experience with the weapon you may find that you like different features of the weapon. You may feel that you prefer a slightly thicker or thinner grip, a heavier or lighter stick material, or a longer or shorter cord or chain span. These are all individual preferences which will likely change as you gain experience with the weapon. There are no hard and fast rules regarding what you should use for your weapon.

There are some things to consider, however. Firstly, weapons with shorter sticks and a shorter cord or chain will generally move or spin faster than a longer weapon. But such weapons may not provide you with adequate support if you must block with the weapon. They also will logically not reach out as far as a longer weapon. Lighter weapons will move faster than a heavier weapon (there is a limit to how light a weapon can be while remaining useful), but may not have as much impact when striking a target. The weapon you use for tournaments may be quite different than a weapon you consider for combat practice.

Over time try using different weapons to see what you prefer. Politely ask others if you can examine and use their weapon for a few moments so you can gain experience with several different weapon styles. You’ll undoubtedly find some you like and some you dislike. This is truly a matter of experience level, weapon purpose, and personal preference.

Nunchaku Types

Nunchaku come in an infinite number of types, styles, and configurations. We’ll cover the basics here, but you will see a tremendous variation in construction, materials, sizes, and uses for Nunchaku over time.

As with other weapons, each part of the weapon has a name. You should be familiar with these names as we will refer to them frequently in discussions below. The table and diagrams below provide the relevant nomenclature for the weapon.

Japanese NameEnglish EquivalentNote
KontohTopThe chain or corded end of the weapon. This might occasionally be referred to as the Zen Atama.
KonteiBottomThe free end of the weapon. This might occasionally be referred to as the Ushiro Atama.
AnaHoleThe hole from which the cord emerges. Some weapons do not have a hole. On a corded weapon there may be additional Ana, through which the cord is threaded, on the body of the stick. But when the term Ana is used in reference to the weapon it normally refers to the location from which the cord emerges at the Kontoh.
BuSection.The terms Kikon Bu, Chukon Bu, and Jukon Bu refer to the lower, middle, and upper regions of the stick. The terms do not refer to a specific length or exact location; they are relative terms.
HimoCord or ropeThis is the rope or cord connecting the two sticks on a corded Nunchaku
KusariChainThe chain connecting the two sticks on a chained Nunchaku.

Nunchaku Nomenclature

The image below shows the fundamental components of the Nunchaku. The nomenclature discussion continues after the image.

Nunchaku can be made of wood, metal, plastic, foam, or pretty much any material with adequate weight, heft, and impact resistance. The sticks may be round, oblong, square, hexagonal, or any other shape. The shape is strictly a personal preference. The sticks may also be of uniform width or may taper down from the Kontei[/glossary[ toward the [glossary]Kontoh. The degree of taper, if any, is also a personal preference.

The Himo or Kusari is ideally exactly the same length as the distance across your open palm. You may not find this exact length if you purchase Nunchaku online but you can set this length by replacing the cord or modifying the length of the chain.

Most weapons with a Kusari come with a relatively long chain to facilitate subsequent resizing. Resizing a chain weapon is not always easy and may require a number of appropriate tools (heavy duty wire cutters, vice, hacksaw, pliers, hammer, etc.). Examine your weapon to determine how to best remove a link (or two) with the minimum amount of cutting, prying, and frustration. Most generic weapons do not make this process particularly easy.

Changing the Himo length is much easier. Simply cut and discard the old cord and replace it with a new cord that you size to better fit your grip. You can readily find numerous videos about how to restring two and three-string Nunchaku.

Corded weapons typically come with either two or three strings between the two sticks. Three string weapons are commonly thought to be more resilient, but either will work fine as long as you pay close attention to potential cord-wear problems. If you restring a corded Nunchaku you can decide whether you want to convert it to a two or three string corded weapon. No modification to the weapon itself is normally required to convert to or from a two string or three string cordage. The Nunchaku Nomenclature diagram shows a three-string Nunchaku. A two-string Nunchaku is depicted at right.

Chain weapons may have a bearing swivel located at the Kontoh that allows the stick and chain to pivot independent of one another. Some chained weapons do not have this swivel and may seem a little more stiff and unforgiving in their movement, but these weapons all work fine once you become accustomed to them. Most people seem to prefer chain weapons with the swivel, but needs, cost, preferences and circumstances may dictate a different choice. A wooden hexagonal weapon with chain and swivel is shown at right.

A Practice Nunchaku is a weapon that has a soft exterior coating, usually rubber, foam, or plastic, over the sticks. The sticks may be made of a softer material, or may simply have a soft covering applied over the sticks. In either case, the practice Nunchaku are intended to lessen the impact felt when a rapidly moving free stick makes its acquaintance with your head, shin, or elbow. Practice Nunchaku can be found in every imaginable shape and size with either Himo or Kusari connecting the sticks. A typical practice Nunchaku is shown at right. Note that this Nunchaku has round sticks of a uniform diameter. Other configurations can be readily found to fit any preference, need, or requirement.

Selecting a Nunchaku

When selecting a Nunchaku there are several questions you will want to ask:

  • Do I have a specific requirement as to the type of weapon I need (Dojo or tournament requirement, etc.)?
  • Do I prefer a wood, metal, or practice Nunchaku?
  • Do I want a chain, two-cord, three-cord weapon, or even four cord weapon?
  • What length do I want?
  • Do I want the weapon to have a specific type or shape for the sticks?
  • Can I specify the length of the cord or chain when I purchase or make the weapon?

Most weapons that you purchase online will come with a standard cord or chain length. This length works well when you first start, but you may find you need a different length when you begin working on more complex skills. Most of the weapons you purchase will offer one stick size or a limited selection of stick lengths. For most purposes you will want a weapon that extends from your wrist to just beyond your elbow. Measure this distance so you will know what length to select if your retailer offers weapons of different lengths. Over time you may elect to use a weapons of different lengths for different purposes. But as a first weapon the wrist-to-elbow measurement is an excellent starting length. Select a weapon as close to this length as possible.

The choice between cord and chain weapons is strictly a matter of preference. Chain weapons usually require less maintenance and are less likely to experience a weapons failure (though they can fail quite unexpectedly). A weapon with three cords may be slightly less susceptible to cord separation than one with two cords. Some people feel chain weapons are heavier and less responsive than corded weapons, but again this is simply a personal preference. You will quickly adapt to any weapon you select. Chain and corded weapons do feel and behave differently, but you can readily make either type of weapon perform every skill.

I would caution against purchasing a Nunchaku with metal sticks until after you are quite practiced at using the weapon. Metal is particularly unforgiving. Start with practice Nunchaku, then move to wood, and eventually to metal if that is your preference. A metal weapon spun without absolute control is likely to produce a bone fracture somewhere. If you prefer a skull without major dents in it, skip use of a metal weapon until you are quite practiced at using the Nunchaku.

The shape of the sticks is another option. Sometimes you will not have an option as your retailer or Dojo may only carry one type of weapon. At other times you may have a selection of various stick shapes, lengths, and materials. You’ll simply need to shop around for what you want or what is required by your Dojo. The vast majority of weapons either have a round or hexagonal Monouchi, but other shapes are also available.

Sticks of a uniform diameter may be easier to work with initially, but this is seldom a significant factor. Sticks with a hexagonal shape are designed so they will deliver more impact force into a target when they strike along one of the ridges. Of course, metal sticks are employed for their increased impact forces as well. The hexagonal shape of many weapons also resists rotation of the weapon in your gripping hand. Similarly, a weapon that is tapered may not slip toward the Kontei as readily as a weapon with of uniform diameter. But you will quickly adapt to a weapon of nearly any configuration, so these choices are really about personal preference.

Weapons with shorter sticks and cords (chains) usually can be moved much more quickly than weapons with longer components. For tournaments or demonstrations such weapons can be quite beneficial as they allow for much faster and crisper movements. Weapons made of acrylic, with bright colors and patterns, or with other unique characteristics can also add to the presentation during a demonstration or tournament. But keep in mind that a flashy weapon will not compensate for less than stellar weapon control. Develop great control first, then get a weapon that can help you show off your skills for maximum effect.

Some individuals and companies offer custom made Nunchaku. These sites normally allow (or require that) you select the cord or chain length, the stick length, the materials to be used, desired colors, and the shape of the sticks. You can get almost anything you want, but it may not be inexpensive.

Some people prefer to make their own weapons. This is not hard, but it does require some knowledge and specific care when it comes to how the cord or chain is attached. If you feel confident that you can do this level of work then feel free to make your own weapon(s).

However you come by a Nunchaku you must still ensure your weapon is inspected by a qualified instructor before you use it in your Dojo. Do not swing, pass, or otherwise employ any Nunchaku that has not been inspected. Also realize that at any time an instructor may request that he or she inspect your weapon. This should not be considered an insult, but rather an effort to ensure the safety of everyone in the Dojo. Your Dojo does not want to see anyone get hurt. Weapons inspections are and should be a common practice at every Tensoku Ryu Dojo.

Nunchaku Safety

We have already mentioned that if your weapon is made of wood you must ensure you have a weapon in which the grain runs straight from one end of each stick to the other end. Nunchaku are subjected to rather severe kinetic energy forces that can cause the weapon to fail if the grain is not properly oriented.

Each time you pick up a pair of Nunchaku you should check two things. The first is the condition of the sticks. Are they sound or have they developed cracks or severe chips (if you’ve been striking a hard surface)? This might indicate a potential for weapon failure. You might also tap the two sticks together lightly to ensure there is a musical quality to the tapping noise. If the weapon sounds dead or hollow it may suggest that one or both sticks is experiencing some form of failure.

The second thing you must check is the condition of the cord or chain between the two sticks. Chains are generally more robust than cordage, but chains can develop metal fatigue or cracks over time that make the chain or the hardware connecting the chain to the sticks subject to potential failure. All hardware should be checked to ensure it is in good condition. If your weapon has a cord then the cord must be inspected to insure it is not frayed to the point of potential separation. If the chain or cord breaks the free stick can become a very dangerous missile that can cause personal injury or property damage.

These safety checks must be performed every time you pick up the Nunchaku. Even if you just used the weapon yesterday, you must check it every time. You do not want to be surprised when your weapon suddenly feels much lighter than it did a moment ago.

Cords can wear very rapidly. Chains do not normally have this same problem. Most commercially purchased corded weapons are not highly refined and have flaws that cause the cord to wear unusually fast. At the end of most corded weapons where the cord emerges from the stick is usually a concave cavity that allows the weapon to move freely about the cord while in use. This concave cavity often is not very smooth (especially on wooden weapons) and will quickly chafe and score the cord in the vicinity of the stick, causing the cord to wear quite quickly. If your weapon is doing this then you will soon need to replace the cord (it’s not hard, but takes some knowledge). When you remove the old cord you should consider taking some very fine sandpaper and working on the corded end of each stick until it has a very smooth surface. This will increase the life for future cords you use with the weapon.

Let me reiterate the primary point in this section. Every time you pick up a Nunchaku you must inspect it for potential problems or areas of failure. Not sometimes; every time.

Nunchaku Maintenance

Nunchaku require frequent inspection to insure the weapon is not becoming dangerous to use. The cord on corded weapons must be inspected constantly to ensure it is not fraying to the point of separation. Chained weapons must be similarly inspected to ensure all retaining pins are firmly in place and that no cracks or other signs of metal fatigue can be detected in the chain or associated hardware. If such conditions exist then either the hardware should be replaced (the hardware can be found online) or the weapon should be retired.

The swivel on a chain Nunchaku (if one exists) should be periodically lubricated with a viscous fluid of some sort. Just a small drop is all that is required. You do not want oil or other viscous fluids to drip onto any handling surface, including the chain. Wipe off any excess lubricant before using the weapon.

If you use the weapon for any contact work then the Monouchi should be inspected frequently to ensure they remain intact. Even if you do not use the weapon for contact work it is prudent to examine the Monouchi periodically to ensure their integrity. You need to be concerned about a few things. Firstly, is it possible for the Monouchi to fail causing the weapon to separate into two or more pieces? Secondly, if the weapon begins to splinter in any way then a splinter could be driven into your hand causing you to release the flailing weapon as an unconscious reaction. Thirdly, if the weapon is cracking in any way then the crack could open and then close again, pinching your skin in the process. While this would be a very rare event it could result in another unintended release. In any of these situations you may launch a missile in the direction of some poor unsuspecting soul. It’s hard to make or keep friends this way.

Resizing a Chain Nunchaku

The chain on a Nunchaku can be shorted by removing one or more links in the chain. This is usually accomplished by knocking out a pin where the chain attaches to the swivel or head of the Nunchaku. You will want to use a hammer and small punch to drive the retaining pin out of the swivel. Do not lose the pin. Now cut off any excess links from the end of the chain and then reattach the chain by reinserting the pin. Lightly tap the pin back into position with a small hammer.

If your existing chain has become damaged or is too short for your liking then your best option is to remove the existing chain entirely (removing both pins) and then taking the chain to your local hardware store to purchase an appropriate length of similar chain. Then simply reattach the chain by reinserting the retaining pins.

Restringing a Corded Nunchaku

When the cord on your corded Nunchaku begins to fray (and it will) you need to start planning to replace the cord. You may also decide you want to replace the cord if Nunchaku you have purchased do not have a cord length of your liking. In either case, you will eventually need to replace the cord on your Nunchaku.

Replacing the cord is not an especially difficult task, but it does take some planning and patience. You will also need some common tools that can make the process easier. Here is a list of some tools you might wish to have on hand:

ToolUse
Small flat bladed screwdriverPoking and prodding strings through holes
Needle nose pliersGrabbing and pulling strings
Small metal hookPulling strings up through holes
Masking tapeWrapping around the ends of cords
Matches, candle lighter, etc.Melt the ends of nylon cords to prevent unravelling
ScissorsCutting cord to length
220 Grit SandpaperSmoothing areas of potential chafing

You will next want to purchase the replacement cord. A variety of materials can be utilized for this purpose. People use thick ribbons, shoe laces, climbing rope, parachute cord, accessory cord, and a variety of other materials to string Nunchaku. I use either climbing rope (which has a bit of spring to it) or accessory cord. Other materials work well, but the cords I use are somewhat more chafe resistant than other materials and reduce the frequency with which you need to restring the weapon. It does not, however, reduce the frequency with which you need to inspect your cord.

Cord diameter can vary somewhat. I generally use ¼ inch (6 mm) material as I find this is easy to work with and it holds up well. Slightly thinner or thicker material can be used, but there is a balance between cord strength and how much string you can stuff through a small hole.

The first step in restringing the weapon is to cut the old cord and remove it, in one piece, from the weapon. This one length of cord will give you a good idea of how much new cord you will need. Give yourself perhaps six more inches (15 cm) of the new cord so you have some slack to work with. You will trim it to final length later, but in the interim you will find extra cord makes your efforts easier.

The next step is to clean up the weapon. Remove any old glue or damaged wood where the new cord will be routed. While the weapon is dismantled take this opportunity to sand all surfaces at the end of the weapon in an around the Ana. Make this as smooth as possible to reduce the amount of future chafing the new cord will endure.

Begin the recording process. Cut your new cord to length and place masking tape over the cut ends to prevent them from unraveling. It will also make the ends easier to maneuver through the various holes in the weapon.

The diagram below shows you one way to restring both two and three string Nunchaku. There are many other ways this can be done. The methods shown in the diagram are relatively straight forward and simple. You will find other more elegant methods if you do an Internet search for videos on restringing Nunchaku. There is no requirement that you use any particular method. The only requirement is that the method chosen should not result in the cord coming undone during prolonged vigorous usage.

Normally the two loose cord ends are either tied together or somehow braided or tied around other parts of the cord. If any knots result from this process it is normal to stuff the knot back into the holes in the weapon both for aesthetic purposes and to prevent the knot from becoming a hindrance during weapon usage. This is usually done simply by shifting the cord around through the various holes until the knot can be safety and securely stuffed into one of the various holes in the weapon.

You can usually readily convert a two cord weapon to a three cord weapon (or vice versa) with no problem. In some cases you may need to slightly enlarge the holes that go through the side of the weapon, especially if you are using thick cordage. Try stringing the weapon first and if this becomes extremely difficult then you may wish to remove the cord, make the holes 1/32  of an inch (.8 mm) larger and then cord the weapon again. Repeat the process as necessary, but try not to make the holes any larger than necessary.

Click for larger image.

A note of clarification may be need on the diagram at right. When stringing a three cord Nunchaku the final two loose ends are fed through the Ana, through the top hole in the side of the weapon, then down and through the bottom hole on the same side. Excess cord length is required for the next part. Push or pull part of this same cord so it extends back from the top hole it exits from until it protrudes through the top hole on the opposite side of the weapon. You are in essence pushing a loop of cord out through the top hole on the opposite side of the weapon – on the same side where the loose end is waiting. You now tie the loose end round the loop to anchor it. Cut off any excess cord and use a match or other flame source to melt the end of the cord (if nylon) so it will not unravel. Now reposition the knot so it is located inside the hole and just below the Ana. You need to do this on both sides of the weapon.

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