Nunchaku Passes

A pass is anything that moves the Nunchaku from the control of one hand to the control of the other hand (or both hands). Typically one hand has the weapon, a pass occurs, the first hand releases the weapon, and now the other hand has control of the weapon. A pass may also involve transferring control from one stick to the other using the same hand. We will cover a great many different passes, but there are always new passes to be learned and practiced. There are many potential passes that might be considered. Keep your eyes open for new opportunities to learn a new pass. It seems there are nearly an infinite number of ways in which one might accomplish a pass. We cannot hope to cover all of the possibilities here, but we will cover a large number of essential and effective passing techniques.

A problem you will quickly discover when learning new passes is you will drop the weapon. You will drop the weapon thousands of times. This is normal and not a sign of incompetence. You are learning, after all. Expect there to be a learning curve and that it will take you time to learn even the simplest passing technique. In the interim, you will frequently drop the weapon. This necessitates that you practice passes in a location where a dropped or flying weapon will not cause damage to flooring, glass surfaces, pets, or other people. A dropped weapon can bounce into some fragile object very forcefully. If you lose control of a spinning weapon while attempting a difficult pass the weapon can fly entirely across the room. Do yourself and your pocketbook a favor and practice outdoors, in a spacious Dojo, or some other location where spinning missiles can do little damage.

Two other suggestions will help ensure you have a more successful and safer practice session. Firstly, go slowly at first. There is seldom a need to do a pass at full speed initially. Go slowly so you can appreciate how the weapon moves, what timing is necessary, how your hand(s) will need to transition, and how your body may need to move. It is important to obtain as much feedback as possible while learning a new pass. This is seldom possible if you are moving the weapon around at high speeds.

Secondly, use a practice Nunchaku. Some passes can be quite dangerous, especially when you are first learning them. To paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt, go slowly, and carry a practice stick.

Single Hand Catch

To perform this simple pass you hold the weapon using a combined grip. You then loosen your grip on one of the sticks and cause that stick to flip forward and then over the top of the stick you are still holding. You now close your hand around both weapons, returning to a combined grip. This is a bit harder than it sounds.

Two Hand Catch

Begin by holding the weapon in a standard grip with the free stick hanging straight down. Now flip the free stick forward and up, allowing it to then fall into your opposite open and outstretched hand. Release the grip of your first hand and then flip the weapon again so this hand can catch it again. Alternate hands back and forth until you can do this comfortably and reliably while walking around in a random fashion.

An alternate form of this catch is to swing the weapon in a horizontal rather than vertical manner and allow your open hand to close around the weapon as it gently settles into the palm. You will need to practice both movement of the weapon and movement of your catching hand so that you minimize the amount of impact the catching hand will experience.

Standard Hip Pass

The Standard Hip Pass is perhaps the most rudimentary and effective passing strategy. The pass can be performed anytime a hip wrap is employed. As the free stick begins to wrap around the hip the free hand is placed over the free stick. As the free stick recoils and begins to move in the opposite direction it falls into the open palm of the free hand. Naturally the free hand then closes around the weapon in what will be a standard grip. Practice doing this pass back and forth from side to side until it feels second nature. It will probably not take very long for you to feel comfortable with this simple and elegant pass.

This pass will work whether you initially have a standard or reverse grip on the control stick. The pass will always result in a standard grip after the pass is completed.

Reverse Hip Pass

If you wish to pass the weapon at hip level but establish a reverse grip as a result of the pass then you may want to use a Reverse Hip Pass. This is quite similar to the Standard Hip Pass, but your hand position and timing elements must change. Begin the pass by placing your free hand against your hip such that the open palm faces outward (i.e. the back of your hand rests against the hip). Now wrap the free stick around your hand and hip. Just prior to the recoil of the weapon close your free hand to establish a reverse grip on what had been the free stick.

This pass is a bit awkward but can be readily accomplished with a little practice. The risk of course is that if the free stick is moving too quickly then the free hand can be bruised or otherwise injured from a strong impact. It is therefore important that this passing method be used only when there is controlled energy applied to the free stick. Move your hand out of the way and either use a Standard Hip Pass or allow a normal hip wrap to occur if you feel the free stick has excessive velocity.

Over the Shoulder Pass

In this pass the weapon is spun such that it wraps around the shoulder and upper arm from above. The free stick then moves under the arm as part of the wrapping process. The opposite hand is positioned under this arm to catch the stick as it completes the wrap and before it can spring back in the opposite direction. The elbow of the arm that is holding the control stick must be raised upward so there is adequate space for the free end of the weapon and for the open hand that is waiting to grasp the weapon. This is an extremely common and very useful pass that you will use quite often.

Behind the Back Pass

With this pass the weapon is moved such that it will wrap around the lower back. Your free hand is then placed in the vicinity of the kidney on the same side of the body (same side as the free hand). Assuming the weapon is initially held in the right hand, the weapon moves behind the back beginning near the right hip. As the weapon wraps around the back it will naturally fall into the open left hand, which then closes to gain control of the weapon. The hand that originally held the weapon then opens to surrender possession of the weapon.

Behind the Back Pass with Inverted Grip

This pass is quite similar to the Behind the Back Pass, but there are some significant differences. The first is that the weapon is being held with a reverse grip. The second is that the pass is initiated from the opposite side of the body. If the right hand is holding the weapon, then the pass begins by moving the weapon behind and above the left hip. The left (catching) hand will be placed behind the right hip. The arms are therefore crossed over one another in front of your torso. The catching arm is normally under the arm controlling the weapon. This pass can be difficult to do if you are a large person. It is somewhat odd by many measures and you will not see this used commonly. You will not be expected to demonstrate or use this passing method in a ranking examination.

Shoulder to Hip Pass

In this pass the hand not controlling the weapon is again opened and placed behind the back in the vicinity of the kidney on the same side of the body (e.g. left hand over left kidney). The weapon is now spun such that it moves over and behind the shoulder of the hand controlling the weapon. If the weapon is in the right hand, then the weapon moves over and then behind the right shoulder. In falls across the (right) scapula and lands into the palm of the open hand placed in the vicinity of the (left) kidney. The hand near the kidney gains control of the weapon and the hand near the shoulder releases its grip on the weapon to complete the pass.

Because of the relatively long distances between the two hands it is generally beneficial to hold the weapon near the non-corded end of the stick to achieve maximum reach. This can vary depending on your body size and the length of your weapon and the cord. You will need to experiment to see what works best. It also helps to vigorously extend the arm originally holding the weapon down behind the shoulder (but not so vigorously that you cause any joint pain or injury).

Opposite Shoulder to Hip Pass

This is similar to the Shoulder to Hip Pass except the weapon is first passed over the opposite shoulder. If the right hand is controlling the weapon then the weapon will be passed over the left shoulder and caught by the left hand placed near the lower part of the back (typically near the lumbar spine). The position of the catching hand can vary depending on where your grip is located on the weapon, how far you move your right hand behind your left shoulder, and how much wrist action you provide as the weapon moves over the shoulder. Experiment with this slowly at first until you have an appreciation for where the weapon is likely to land on your back.

Hip to Shoulder Pass

This is nearly the exact opposite of the Shoulder to Hip Pass. The weapon crosses behind the opposite side hip and is flipped upward toward the opposite shoulder. So, if the right hand controls the weapon, the weapon will be moved behind the left hip and flipped upward toward the right shoulder. The left hand will be placed above the right shoulder to catch the free stick as it passes near the right side of the face.

This pass can result in an impact to the face, head, or back of the shoulder. To reduce the risk of these impacts you will want to have the catching hand spread quite wide so it can intercept any form of errant weapon transition. You’ll definitely want to work on this pass initially using a cushioned Nunchaku.

Groin Passes

While this will sound dangerous and daunting at first, it really need not represent a major risk. We will discuss three alternate was by which the weapon can be passed from one hand to the other via a path under the groin.

In the first option the weapon is passed from behind up under the groin and into the open opposite hand which is placed in the vicinity of your lower abdomen. The back of the catching hand is placed against the abdomen so the weapon will land in the palm of that hand. If done properly there is no contact with the groin. Most of the energy is dissipated as the weapon wraps around the buttocks. The free end of the weapon is caught before it makes any contact with the body. Even if contact is made it will likely be in the lower abdominal area and not in the groin. But, you’ll still want to be careful in the event you are a bit out of position or swing the weapon in an awkward or unanticipated manner. I would suggest you not attempt this pass until you are quite familiar with a variety of other passes. There is really little risk if you are familiar with passing the weapon, but the daunting nature of this pass may cause you to make errors if you are unfamiliar with passing. Practice this pass when you feel quite comfortable with passing in general.

An alternate form of this pass is to place the catching hand just forward of the groin with the open palm facing downward. The hand is not touching the abdomen but is placed slightly forward toward angle one. The idea here is to catch the stick before it moves upward toward the groin. This generally keeps the stick and cord at some distance from the groin. The only drawback to this method is that generally there is no wrapping action so the weapon will strike the catching hand with whatever force you used to initiate the pass. Another potential problem is that if your aim is bad you may miss catching the weapon. While this is unlikely (your open hand is usually spread quite wide), you will want to ensure you are focused on ensuring the weapon follows your intended path accurately.

A variant of these prior two passes is to have the weapon pass under the groin but land on the upper thigh instead of the abdomen. In reality the path does not then pass under the groin (it is a thigh wrap maneuver), though it may still appear to the casual observer as though it did.

Another groin pass that might be used is to pass from the front to the back while moving the weapon under the groin. This is perhaps the most dangerous of these passes. If you are passing with the right hand you swing the weapon down under the groin from the front, angling the path of the weapon so it will move upward and into your open left hand which is pressed up against the area of your sacrum or lumbar spine. You will want to ensure that the stick in your right hand and the weapon cord or chain does not contact the groin during execution of the pass. This pass is the most risky because the full force of the pass is presented to the groin area before any wrapping or catching action can be employed. If you aim or control is not accurate you might regret using this pass.

Behind the Neck Pass

This is another pass you should not attempt until you are comfortable with passing. In this pass you will make contact with your face in a harsh and impactful manner if you make a mistake. While the pass represents little risk if you do the pass correctly, it represents significant risk if you overlook one or more fundamentals.

This pass requires some significant wrist turn during the pass. You begin (assuming the weapon is in your right hand) by placing your left open hand over your right ear and temple area with the palm facing outward and then swinging the weapon horizontally just above shoulder level. This is to ensure the weapon moves along a horizontal path as it passes behind your neck. You will swing the weapon so it passes above your left shoulder and then behind your neck. As your right hand moves over your left shoulder you will impart a sudden inward twist of your wrist. This flips the free end of the weapon upward and toward the right side of your face, causing the weapon to land in the palm of your open hand.

In essence you are allowing the cord to wrap around your neck. The stick will wrap around your open left hand. This can be impactful if you do not, at the same time you turn your wrist inward, stop adding energy to the swing. Once the weapon goes behind your shoulders you need to stall or otherwise rob the weapon of any additional energy so it lands with relatively little force in your open hand. As long as your open hand is in place there is limited risk to your face. Without the wrist turn the weapon could impact the right shoulder or scapula. With too much wrist turn the weapon could rise above your fingers striking the upper part of your head. This seldom occurs, but it is something to keep in mind.

A related pass can be done by passing the weapon without crossing your center. Here is an example assuming the weapon is being held with a standard grip in the right hand. Place the open left hand above the left shoulder with the palm facing backward. Move the right hand up, outward, then inward to allow the weapon to move in a horizontal path behind the neck beginning on the right side of the body. The weapon should strike the left palm which should close to gain control of the weapon. This will result in the left hand having a reverse grip on the weapon. If you wish to have a standard grip at the end of the pass then the left hand should be placed above the left shoulder with the palm facing upward. You should note this greatly increases the possibility of the weapon striking the left side of your face, so be careful if you attempt this form of the pass.

Inverted Shoulder Pass

This is a very dangerous pass that can result in non-trivial impacts between the weapon and the back of your head. Until you are extensively practiced at this skill you should only attempt it with a practice Nunchaku. Certainly do not try to learn this skill while using a wood or metal Nunchaku.

While holding the weapon with a right hand standard grip swing the weapon down and under your slightly raised left arm. You will allow the weapon to wrap under and then around your left shoulder from behind. Position your left hand just forward of your left shoulder and adjacent to your head. As the free stick moves forward in the vicinity of your left ear you will catch the weapon with your left hand. You will find it is essential that you perform a sudden wrist outturn movement just as the weapon begins to move forward behind your shoulder. This outturn is essential as it changes the path of the weapon so it moves to the left of your head. Otherwise the weapon will move along a direct collision course with the back of your head. If you are repeatedly hitting yourself in the head then you need to focus more on the timing and rigor of the wrist outturn. That outturn is the secret to doing this pass successfully.

The major risk of this pass is that the weapon, moving at great velocity, can make a very focused and intense impact on the back of your skull. Let me rephrase that a bit. There is not a risk of this happening, there is a certainty that it will occur. This is why you must use a rubber coated or other soft practice Nunchaku when you first learn this pass. Even when you think you are quite practiced at this pass you may still on occasion hear that sickening hollow sound that signifies high velocity contact between stick and head.

Even after you have become very accomplished at this pass you may find that you occasionally get the timing incorrect and clunk yourself in the head. This will occur less frequently as you gain experience, but one momentary mental slip and you will remember the definition of pain.

You will see some martial artists who do this pass by allowing the weapon to move outside of the catching arm. So instead of the path of the weapon being under the arm and over the shoulder, the weapon moves under the arm and then outside of the shoulder and bicep of the arm. This keeps the weapon further away from the head and reduces the chance of being struck. The bicep functions as a guard to prevent the weapon from moving in the direction of the head.  It is also probably a faster passing method than the over the shoulder variety. When I was learning the Nunchaku this method was definitely frowned upon. You were considered inept or a cowardly amateur if this was how you performed this pass. But I think any pass is a good pass, as long as you can do it quickly, not injure yourself, and not lose control of the weapon. I normally do the pass the way I was taught (in part because it is more challenging), but there is nothing wrong with a little variety. And I don’t think people who do the pass outside the shoulder are cowardly amateurs.

Behind the Neck to Opposite Side Pass

The trajectory of this pass has the weapon move behind the neck and under the same-side arm, where it is caught by the opposite hand. Begin by holding the weapon in your right hand and wrapping the weapon above your left shoulder then behind your neck, allowing the free stick to move under your right armpit from behind. Your left hand will be positioned under you right armpit to catch the weapon.

It helps to ensure you insert your right hand far behind your left shoulder as this exposes a larger surface area of the free stick for the left hand to grab. Similarly, holding the weapon a little further toward the end of the control stick will provide the same advantage.

Underarm Pass

Begin this pass by placing the weapon so that the free stick is trapped beneath your right armpit while the control stick is held in the right hand with a standard grip. Raise your arm slightly to release the free stick and strike with a downward flail strike toward angle one (a Shomen strike). Direct the returning movement of the free stick so it will come to rest beneath your left arm. Grasp the control stick with your left hand and release your right hand. Now repeat the flail strike, this time allowing the weapon to be trapped beneath your right arm once again. Grasp the control stick with your right hand and release you left hand.

Wrist Roll Pass

A fast and easy way to establish a reverse grip on the weapon is to perform a wrist roll pass. Begin by holding the weapon in a standard grip with the free stick hanging down below your outstretched arm. Use your control arm to cause the free stick to move forward and then up and back over the outside of your wrist. The free stick will pass just outside of your control arm as the free stick descends. The free stick will now begin to move down and then forward again. Eventually it will start to travel upward again. At this point you release your grip with your control hand and grasp the ascending free stick.

What you are doing is looping the free stick back and then up again until you can catch it with your control hand. You abandon the control stick you were originally holding and grasp the free stick as it lands in the palm of your now open control hand. You will be holding the weapon in a reverse grip.

This pass is not difficult, but it does take a little while to familiarize yourself with the timing, speed of movement, and wrist actions needed to accomplish it reliably. In the interim you will likely drop the weapon numerous times. But the frequency of these drops will decline rapidly as you begin to understand the mechanics of this pass.

Index Finger Roll Pass

The Index Finger Roll Pass can be used to transition from a reverse grip to a standard grip. It is a very simple pass that might be considered the opposite of the Wrist Roll Pass. Begin by holding the weapon in a reverse grip with the free stick falling freely at your side. Use your control arm to cause the free stick to move forward and then upward at moderate speed. The free stick will eventually loop and begin moving back in your direction. At this point you extend your index finger and release your grip on the control stick. The weapon will wrap around your index finger and land in the palm of your open control hand. You use the same hand to release the control stick and grasp what was the free stick. You will now be holding the weapon in a standard grip.

This is again a simple pass but may take a few iterations before you appreciate the timing, speed, and hand positions necessary to accomplish this pass reliably. As you become practiced at this pass you will see that extending the index finger is not strictly necessary. Using the index finger doesn’t really affect the pass much, but it does provide you with a bit more tactile sense for what is occurring. There are slight differences between using and not using the index finger, but you will find these are minor. Play around with the two variants to see which one you prefer.

Inserted Hand Pass

Performing this pass may seem complex at first, but it is really quite simple. Begin by holding the control stick in your right hand with a standard grip. Now casually wrap the weapon back and forth around your left and then your right hip. Go back and forth several times in a gentle pattern. One time, as the weapon moves from your left hip in the direction of your right hip, place the back of your left hand against the back of your right hand. The fingers of your open left hand will point downward. Now abruptly stop moving the control stick before the free stick reaches your right hip. Inertia will cause the free stick to land safely in the palm of your left hand, which will now hold the weapon in a standard grip. Now you can release your grip with the right hand and allow the left hand to move such that the new free stick will wrap around your right hip. Now move to wrap the weapon around the left hip and continue the pattern until you feel like inserting your right hand behind your left hand to perform the pass to your right hand. It will help if you are rotating your center as you are performing these passes.

You may correctly deduce that you could also pass the weapon by having the free hand placed behind the control hand with the fingers of the free hand pointed upward rather than downward. The result will be that the weapon is passed with a reverse rather than standard grip. This pass is a little more difficult to do, but it is readily accomplished with a bit of practice. Weapon elevation may have a good deal to do with completing this pass more readily.

You can readily change your grip at any time by changing the orientation of your free hand. Practice moving the weapon from side to side and randomly inserting the hand in different orientations to become accustomed to changing your grip at any time. You will also find that rotating your center substantially will also enable the weapon to be used in a subsequent flail strike to angle one. You may find it advantageous to add a flail strike periodically as you work in these passes.

As you become comfortable with this pass consider how it might be used in a vertical orientation as well. It works quite well in nearly any orientation. Try it in as many different situations and angles as you can. It is a pretty versatile, fast, and fluid passing skill.

Additional Wrapping Passes

There are innumerable other passes with which you may wish to become familiar. Here is a list of some other passes you may wish to practice as you become more experienced. We will leave it up to you to work out the details of how to perform these passes safely, quickly, and with positive control.

  • Front thigh pass
  • Back thigh pass
  • Under triceps pass
  • Wrist wrap pass

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