Nunchaku Training: How to Use Nunchaku
This classic (and in-depth) nunchaku training article from Black Belt magazine considers what nunchaku techniques can work best against an attacker with a knife!
You're reading a book or an article on nunchaku techniques. You read that a person is confronted by a knife-wielding assailant and the defender slips his nunchaku around the waist of his attacker, gives a twist and sends the brute flipping onto his back. Or the defender parries a knife thrust, adroitly steps inside and gets the attacker in a nunchaku chokehold. Or the defender knocks the knife from the person's hand with a nunchaku technique, lunges forward and down, wraps the nunchaku around the assailant's ankles and sweeps him off his feet. How do you feel when you read something like that? Do you buy it? Do you honestly think these types of nunchaku techniques would really work?
The Realities of Nunchaku Training Imagine yourself in the role of the defender in a real-life situation. You're walking down a street — alone. Suddenly, someone approaches. This someone is holding a knife. By his words and actions, you have no doubt that he intends to use the knife on you. It's a narrow, dead-end street. Consequently, your best defense — escape — is not possible. But you do have your nunchaku with you. You grab hold of the sticks and face your attacker. ln that precious fraction of a second, you have to decide what you are going to do and which of your nunchaku techniques you're going to use.
How to Use Nunchaku Techniques in a Dangerous Situation
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you really want to get close enough to attempt slipping the nunchaku around his wrist? (There's a hand at the end of that wrist, and there's a knife in that hand.)
- Do you really want to try to parry a knife thrust? (Remember, this is for real.)
- Are you really sure that, under such circumstances, you could be accurate enough with your nunchaku techniques to knock a knife out of someone's hand? (Hands are pretty small and very mobile targets.)
If your answers to the preceding questions are “No," well then, what do you do?
Something practical. Something realistic. A nunchaku technique that has a very good chance of working.
You may only get one chance.
Choosing Nunchaku Techniques
Whatever nunchaku technique you choose should meet the following criteria:
- It is fast.
- It is unexpected.
- It does not require unrealistic accuracy or power.
- It leaves you in a good position to strike again or withdraw in the event your attacker is not neutralized.
With these criteria in mind, the following two variations of a practical nunchaku technique against a knife attack are proposed. Both variations share the same general outline:
- a feint (to draw the attacker's attention away from the direction of the actual strike)
- the strike itself
- good final position (ending in a stance that is neither awkward nor defenseless)
One variation of the nunchaku technique uses a forehand swing of the weapon to the attacker's head, the other a backhand swing. Let's analyze the steps in each variation.
Nunchaku Technique #1: The Forehand Variation
In this nunchaku technique for self-defense, the defender squares off against the knife-wielding attacker and leads with his left side. The nunchaku is held in a ready position over the right shoulder. The defender leaves a fairly large distance between himself and the attacker (always a good idea when up against someone with a knife).
The defender then throws a low (about knee-high) front kick with the rear leg (his right leg). This serves three purposes:
- It draws the attacker's attention down and away from the nunchaku, putting the assailant, at least for a moment, on the defensive.
- It closes the gap between the two combatants while the attacker is on the defensive, putting him in range of a nunchaku strike.
- It pivots the defender, turning him in the same direction as the upcoming strikes, thereby adding power to the swing of the nunchaku.
The feint-kick is not meant to connect with the attacker's leg; it is meant to divert attention downward. (Glancing down at the attacker's knee just before throwing the kick can help draw his attention downward.) The kick should look forceful enough to put the attacker on the defensive, but it is not necessary to make contact. This allows the defender to maintain a safer distance because the striking range of nunchaku is considerably greater than that of a kick or a knife.
The real strike is a full-swinging nunchaku forehand to the attacker's head. The strike should begin when the feint-kick has reached full extension. Don't lose the momentary advantage over your attacker by taking time to plant your foot after the kick and then begin your strike. It will be too late. Strike while you are retracting your kicking foot. The pivoting motion of your swing and your own forward momentum will bring you to the final position.
After the nunchaku strike, the defender is balanced and mobile, ready to skip back from the attacker, if needed. The nunchaku is in excellent position for an immediate follow-up backhand strike if the attacker has not been neutralized.
Nunchaku Technique #2: The Backhand Variation
In the backhand nunchaku technique, the defender leads with his right side. For reasons that will be explained, the nunchaku sticks are held 90 degrees apart, and the right hand grips the stick in a palm-up position. Again, the defender keeps a good distance between himself and the attacker. The defender then executes a low side kick — again a feint — to draw the attacker's guard down. This kick can be preceded by a skip to help close the gap, if needed.
The nunchaku strike is delivered in a backhand type of motion to the right side of the attacker's head. It is hard to generate as much power with the backhand swing as can be generated in the forehand strike described earlier, but holding the sticks 90 degrees apart helps. This gives the striking stick a greater arc to swing through, increasing its speed and therefore producing a more forceful blow than would be the case if the sticks were held in a straight line with respect to each other.
After the strike, the defender is balanced and mobile, his footing remaining virtually unchanged during the technique. The nunchaku has been caught in an across-the-back position with the left hand, making it very easy to execute a powerful follow-up forehand strike. It is for this reason — to be able to swing the nunchaku all the way around and across the back — that the stick is held palm-up in the right hand. Holding it palm-down would greatly restrict the arc of the swing.
Nunchaku Training Question #1: Which Nunchaku-Technique Variation Is Better?
Neither of the variations is the better of the two. Like all nunchaku techniques, both have their good points and their bad points. For most people, the forehand variation will deliver the stronger blow. This is a serious consideration.
However, the backhand variation has the advantage in that, during the course of this nunchaku technique, the defender only presents his side to the attacker — while in the forehand version, the defender pivots and, if only for a fraction of a second, gives the attacker a potential frontal target. Your best bet is to practice both of these nunchaku techniques and see which of the two you feel more comfortable with.
Nunchaku Training Question #2: Does Handedness Matter for Nunchaku Techniques?
In the preceding nunchaku techniques, the defender was right-handed. If you, as the defender, are left-handed, simply reverse your stance.
In other words, in the forehand variation, you would square off leading with your right side and the nunchaku over your left shoulder. You would throw the low front kick with your left leg (the rear leg), pivot and swing the nunchaku with your left hand.
In the backhand variation, you would square off leading with your left side, and the low side kick would be thrown with the left foot. You would swing the nunchaku with your left hand, bring it around your left shoulder, down across your back, and catch it in your right hand.
The attacker in the preceding scenarios was also right-handed. What if you are confronted by a left-handed attacker? Does it matter? Do your nunchaku techniques change?
Not very much, for the reason that this is a long-range nunchaku technique aimed at your attacker's head. Whether he holds the knife in his left or right hand will have little bearing on how successfully your nunchaku techniques are executed — especially if your feint-kick is convincing and draws his guard down from the head-level strike.
Nunchaku Training Question #3: What's the Best Nunchaku Strike Against a Knife-Wielding Attacker?
It could be argued that the best strike would be one in which the nunchaku swings toward the side of the attacker on which he holds the knife. In other words, against a right-handed attacker, a right-handed defender might want to use the backhand variation, while a left-handed defender might want to use the forehand version. (The stances are reversed against a left-handed attacker.)
The reason for this is that, under these conditions, the attacker's free hand and arm are rendered almost useless. If he attempts to block the nunchaku strike, it will most likely be with the arm and hand holding the knife.
Forcing him to block with this arm has two advantages: It momentarily renders the knife useless, and if the strike is blocked, the blow to the arm may leave the assailant unable or unwilling to continue the attack.
Nunchaku Training Drills: The Importance of Practice to Develop Nunchaku Techniques
Learning nunchaku techniques is very much like learning to juggle. You can read an article on how to juggle 10 times, but you won't be able to juggle until you put the article down, pick up three objects and start doing it. Juggling involves thought, intuition and quick reflexes. It requires practice.
The same sort of thing can be said about nunchaku techniques for self-defense. Reading about nunchaku techniques is not enough. Timing, distance, accuracy and power will not come from reading about nunchaku techniques. These are developed through practice.
If you have a friend who shares your interest, practice together. Take turns in the roles of defender and attacker. Use a rubber knife and hollow plastic or foam-rubber nunchaku. Wear headgear and eye protection. (If you don't have these things, do not practice with someone.)
Practice these nunchaku techniques until your timing is right. Vary your distances from each other when you square off. Have the assailant vary the aggressiveness of his attack. Get comfortable with both variations. When you feel comfortable, include the follow-up strikes.
Practice these nunchaku techniques and others by yourself with real nunchaku against a target. If you don't have a training bag, a stack of five or six cardboard cartons makes an excellent target. Arrange things so that the topmost carton is about head size and at about head height. Aim only for the topmost carton, drilling the nunchaku techniques to increase your power and accuracy.
Big-Picture Considerations for Your Nunchaku Training
In a self-defense situation, it is the fastest and least expected technique that has the highest chance of success. Drill for speed. Make the feint-kick convincing. Reach a point at which your nunchaku techniques become more of a reflex action than a conscious, premeditated act. Practice.
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