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Arizona Hombu Karate Dojo

Traditional Okinawan Martial Arts (Karate, Kobudo, Self-Defense, Samurai Arts)

Nunchaku & Sansetsukon

Nunchaku is a weapon indigenous to Okinawa.


The word nunchaku strikes up images of Okinawan masters defending against well-armed samurai by swinging a pair of sticks attached to horse hair rope or chain. 

Originally, a farmer's tool, nunchaku was converted to a self-defense weapon. But in the hands of an amateur, it could provide considerable entertainment.  Nunchaku (also spelled nanchaku or nunchuku) is known to many Westerners as nunchuks or numb-chuks. It was originally used as (1) Okinawa threshing flail, (2) cart rail, and/or (3) horse bridle.

Even the word nunchaku rings with controversy. The word may be from the Japanese pronunciation of a two sectional staff, or it may be from the word used for horse bridle. By combining two Japanese words: 'nun' meaning ‘twin’ and 'shaku' the approximate ‘length of bamboo between two nodes, one ends up with the word 'nunshaku. The word for Okinawan horse bit or bridle is nunchiyaku, also similar to nunchaku

Some suggest nunchaku was modified from a farmer’s threshing tool. The threshing flail consisted of a long stick attached to a smaller stick by horse hair. Threshing tools were once common agricultural tools in farming communities around the world including Okinawa where it was used to separate grain from husks, or rice from stems. A threshing tool once used in the past, had a 5-foot long handle with a 3 foot striking stick. Although there are only rare references to using a threshing flail as a kobudo weapon, it is not hard to imagine farmers, who used this tool 10 to 12 hours a day during harvest, became adept in using it as a weapon. Even so, a flail could not have been used as nunchuku without modification. Thus, if the flail was the origin of nunchaku, it would have to have been modified by cutting both sticks to equal length.

Another interesting feature of nunchaku is that this martial arts weapon has no traditional kata like many traditional kobudo kata. The bo has more than a dozen traditional kata named after authors or geographical locations. It is thought that this is due to the lack of popularity of nunchaku in Asian history. In modern time, the weapon became popularized by Bruce Lee and Tadashi Yamashita.

Nunchaku techniques include blocks and strikes similar to karate with a few release strikes. Striking an object with nunchaku can be a problem, as the tool rebounds. Another problem with nunchaku is distance. A samurai sword (katana), halberd (naginata) or spear (yari) easily out-reach nunchaku

Sansetsukon is a Chinese weapon adapted for self-defense

In Chinese, sansetsukon is known as sanjiegum (三節棍) and refers to a coiling dragon, probably because it gives the impression of a coiled dragon, and it will bite its user like a coiled dragon until the user learns to tame this beast over time. The weapon consists of three sectional staves with a combined length of a bo. These are attached by rope, chain, horsehair or rings and originally used as a flail by Chinese farmers. In martial arts it is similar to surujinbo and nunchaku combined.  In the past, staves were manufactured from bamboo, white oak, wax wood, red maple or metal. Today, most are aluminum, bamboo, rattan, foam rubber or a variety of hardwood.  Like the nunchaku, it is recommended to learn using a foam padded sansetsukon

Some suggest that the sansetsukon was introduced to Okinawa from the Chinese Fuijian province by Soke Shinko Matayoshi (1888-1947) who created two kata for the Matayoshi Shorin-Ryu Kobudo system. The two kata were referred to as sansetsukon dai ichi and sansetsukon dai niSoke Shinko was succeeded by his son Shimpo Matayoshi (1921-1997). Following the death of ShimpoMatayoshi Kobudo fragmented into different groups: one led by Yasushi Matayoshi who operates the Matayoshi hombu dojo in Okinawa known as the KodokanKodokan refers to a place where one can receive “Instruction in the Way”.

Tadashi Yamashita is one of the more famous students ofShimpo Matayoshi. If you are into martial arts movies, this weapon was used by Jackie Chan in the 2000 movie Shanghai Noon. It was also seen in the 1980 movie The Victim and the 2006 movie Fearless. Please visit our next page about Sai - no not Uncle Si, but the Okinawan weapon.