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.


Seconds count! Learn how to draw your knife quicker than your opponent with this FREE download!
Knife-Fighting Techniques: 9 Essential Drills to Deploy Tactical Folders for Self-Defense Moves Under Any Conditions

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.

Make your instincts work for you with this FREE download!
The SPEAR System: Tony Blauer Shows You 6 Self-Defense Moves Based on Real Street Fights

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. [ti_billboard name="Nunchaku Defense: Forehand Variation"]
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. [ti_billboard name="Nunchaku Defense: Backhand Variation"]
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.

MORE KNIFE-COMBAT TECHNIQUES!
This was featured in the e-book The Ultimate Guide to Knife Combat, which features two decades of experience from the world's top knife experts. Authors include Ernest Emerson, Hank Hayes, Jim Wagner, David E. Steele, Erin Vunak, James LaFond, Richard Ryan, Bob Orlando, Joel Huncar and many others! Learn everything you need to know about fighting with — or against — a blade.

SUBSCRIBE TO BLACKBELT MAGAZINE TODAY!
Don't miss a single issue of the world largest magazine of martial arts.

To Master the Supreme Philosophy of Enshin Karate, Look to Musashi's Book of Five Rings for Guidance!

In the martial arts, we voluntarily subject ourselves to conflict in a training environment so we can transcend conflict in the real world. After all, we wouldn't knowingly train in a style that makes us weaker or worsens our position. The irony of all this is that we don't want to fight our opponent. We prefer to work with what an opponent gives us to turn the tide in our favor, to resolve the situation effectively and efficiently.The Japanese have a word for this: sabaki. It means to work with energy efficiently. When we train with the sabaki mindset, we receive our opponent's attack, almost as a gift. Doing so requires less physical effort and frees up our mental operating system so it can determine the most efficient solution to the conflict.In this essay, I will present a brief history of sabaki, as well as break down the sabaki method using Miyamoto Musashi's five elements

Keep Reading Show less

Enter our partner's current Sweepstakes. They are giving away a Grand Prize 'FKB Wardrobe'.

TAKE NOTICE!

FIVE KNUCKLE BULLET 'Wardrobe' Sweepstakes

Feeling Lucky? Enter our current Sweepstakes Now! We are giving away a Grand Prize 'FKB Wardrobe' which consists of our most popular sportswear items. Prize includes the following:

Keep Reading Show less

"Unlike karate training outside a combat zone," Cpt. Yoon explained, "it is important here that the troops be able to turn their techniques into devastating, bone-crushing blows. There is no place for mild strikes in combat when a VC is trying to push a bayonet into your stomach."

For that reason, the compound is peppered with makiwara punching boards, and the Korean Tigers spend much time conditioning the weapons of taekwondo. Also, throughout Vietnam there are plenty of sandbags, which are used to protect all kinds of constructions. They make excellent striking bags for a karateman.

The next unit in the schedule is to display free fighting. The commander again explains that this form of fighting is used to test the Tigers' skills against one another rather than to demonstrate the actual methods of close-quarters combat, as a fight on the battlefield is nearly always over in an instant.

The sparring matches are exhibitions of technique and control. Perhaps the only recognizable difference between these and matches held in tournaments is the consistent power the soldiers put behind their blows and their concentration on hard taekwondo techniques rather than elusive ones.

Against Weapons

At last, a final group prepares to show what happens when an unarmed Tiger meets a VC with a knife or a bayonet fixed to his AK-47 rifle. Two pairs of soldiers stride to the center of the hard-dirt arena, face the commander and render a snappy salute. Then they fall into a four-man square and await orders.

Sgt. Lee barks a command, and the best of the best explode into action. One gladiator leaps for a knife that has been thrown into the arena. He jams it, hard, at another, who violently kicks the striking hand and jumps shoulder height, scissoring the attacker's neck and tumbling him forward onto the unyielding ground with a crash. The knife spins away.

Meanwhile, another black belt catches a rifle with a fixed bayonet that is thrown to him from the sidelines. With a guttural shout, he lunges for his opponent. The defender spins to the left, brings his knee sharply inward against the weapon and rolls the attacker onto his own shoulder while tearing at his windpipe. It's over in seconds.

The couples repeat the performance again and again, smashing full tilt against each other. Every time, the attacker thrusts hard with his weapon. It's just less than miraculous that the practice doesn't turn into a blood bath.

Korean Budomen

Initiated as the Capital Infantry Division, the Tiger Division was activated on June 20, 1949, in Seoul with the mission of providing security for the capital. It was charged with additional security of the 38th parallel in Ongjin in September of the same year. When the Korean War began on June 25, 1950, the division began to prove itself in heavy fighting during battles at Ahn-kang and Kyung-joo along the defense line of the Nakdong River in the southeastern part of the country.

Following the successful Inchon landing by Gen. Douglas MacArthur's forces, the division penetrated deep into the North across the 38th parallel, overrunning enemy strongholds and advancing close to the Korea-Manchuria border. As their ability became recognized, the division was committed repeatedly and saw the armistice signed while fighting at the front in the spring of 1952. They captured more than 9,920 enemy, killed more than 91,000 and seized more than 31,000 weapons. As a result of their valor, the division was awarded five ROK Presidential Citations and a U.S. Presidential Citation, an ROK National Assembly award and 42 other plaudits.

After the armistice, the division had already been dubbed with the Tiger laurel and was deployed along the front line of the central part of the Korea DMZ. They remained under continued training and constant combat readiness.

Upon approval of the National Assembly, the division was directed to combat in the Republic of Vietnam on August 20, 1965. Three separate elements arrived at Qui Nhon on November 1 after four weeks of preliminary training. That month, it received its tactical area of responsibility, which consisted of 1,400 square kilometers in Binh Dinh Province in central Vietnam. The division's general mission objectives are to protect travel routes, military installations and facilities within its TAOR and to assist the Republic of Vietnam in its pacification plan by eliminating Viet Cong in the area and helping the people rebuild their destroyed homes.

Since 1965, the Tiger Division has stabilized security within their area to an impressive degree. The TAOR itself has expanded from 1,400 to 3,800 square kilometers. As of mid-June, the Tigers had killed more than 9,000 enemy, captured nearly 3,000 and counted 4,500 defectors, as well as seizing nearly 4,000 weapons.

All this leaves little room for doubt about whom historians will count as the true elite of Vietnam combat. In the ranks of the VC and the NVA, mention of these ferocious Koreans brings shudders to the comrades. Even as he fights those from North Vietnam and the Viet Cong, the Tigerman knows that he has full command of his body and his mind. When he's faced with hand-to-hand combat, he need not rely only on the ferocity of his rifle to equalize the score. He can hammer out punches with machine-gun rapidity or swing a full-flogging kick with sufficient force to gain the advantage. When a man is trained in karate, or to be more specific, taekwondo, he's ahead of the game and the Viet Cong, that crap-shooting armada of insurgent forces, and the crack North Vietnamese troops who come to do battle. They know full well that the Tigers with their taekwondo as well as armaments are tough to beat.

Kelly McCann's best-selling Combatives for Street Survival is available here!

The roots of taekwondo are in Korea, and for the ROK GIs who enter the Tiger ranks, the intensive routine of training in the martial art is strictly par for the course. No doubt every Tigerman hopes to use his martial arts training sometime in a tournament as well as he does in combat. That's the dream of every GI in the ROK division.

The Tigers, under Maj. Gen. Lew Pyong Hyon and with taekwondo's Capt. Yoon, have been making headlines throughout the world. They are the only troops, it's been said, who fight fire with fire, who use guerrilla techniques and ambush techniques in much the same manner as the Viet Cong. In a war such as this — where the boundary lines are questionable, where there is no front line and where your neighbor can turn into your enemy — such techniques are indispensable. Thanks to the hand-to-hand techniques and the combat-karate emphasis of this militia, the odds are clearly shaping up in the Tiger Division's ledger. Thanks to taekwondo, the Tigers are smashing the enemy with no holds barred and, if anyone doubts it, plenty of contact!

Read Part 1 of this article here.

text by Jack E. Swift

(This article first appeared in the November 1968 issue of Black Belt.)

Scene: A group of soldiers is gathered for a bull session. The subject under discussion is the Tiger Division of the Korean army. The soldiers are engrossed. One, a lean, tanned GI, pushes back his beret, squints into the darkness and looks out to see a mountain of burning embers.

"We were on recon operations in southern Binh Dinh Province," he explains. "One night, we caught the sounds of a skirmish. My squad leader held up his hand and when he smiled, we knew we were in for some action. As we approached the area, we were a little surprised that there was no small-arms fire, but we could hear a lot of guys yelling.

"When we got there, it was an unbelievable sight. Here were those Korean troops in close-quarters combat with what must have been superior forces, as there were [Viet Cong soldiers] all over the place. I've never seen so many broken necks and caved-in ribs in my life. We helped clean up what was left."

So goes the legend, and just in case you're casting a cynical eye as to the Tiger Division's aptitude in the use of martial arts, the record speaks for itself. If there was ever a primer on combat karate, these troops would write it. In two grueling periods daily, every troop in the Tiger Division trains in the taekwondo method, the official karate of Korea.

At one time, there were many factions, but in the past year or so, they've all been absorbed by the International Taekwon-Do Federation, with its headquarters in Seoul. In fact, with the Koreans, and even in many areas in Vietnam, taekwondo is synonymous with karate. Numerous Vietnamese do not even understand the word "karate" — but mention taekwondo and their faces light up with recognition.

Way of Life

At Qui Nhon, division headquarters, visitors are surprised to see sparkling white uniforms — and a sea of black belts — virtually in the middle of a combat zone. While on actual operations away from their base, the Tigers work out in field gear, but at the training center, everyone wears a gi and keeps it as immaculate as any other military uniform.

On the left side of the gi, each person wears the proud division emblem of a roaring tiger. On the other side, if he's an instructor, the soldier wears a black insignia of a fist with white dots above indicating how many degrees of black-belt rank he holds.

Commander of the massive taekwondo corps of the Tiger Division is Capt. Yoon Dong Ho, himself a third dan. But the rugged, intelligent captain is no armchair commander. He's on hand daily at the dirt arena, watching the troops go through their paces and often teaching a special class of officers.

Capt. Yoon is responsible for the official taekwondo training of more than 15,000 Tiger troops in Vietnam. Although popular belief holds otherwise, there are actually more than 200 black-belt holders in the Tiger ranks. Of them, three are fourth dan, 29 are third dan, 57 are second dan and 115 are first dan. There are roughly 600 red belts and 2,300 blue belts, as well as 9,000 troops holding degrees of white belt. Approximately 2,900 men recently began their training in Vietnam. Many of these, of course, already hold rank they won in Korea.

Deployment

Each element of the Tiger infantry arriving in Vietnam goes through intensive schooling at Qui Nhon. The 26th of these classes began in July, to run just over a month. The sessions lead off with classical techniques under the direct supervision of Sgt. Jun Jae Gun, head taekwondo instructor for the Meng Ho in Vietnam. Sgt. Jun, one of the division's tough trio of fourth degrees, displays a certificate signed by Gen. Choi Hong Hi, International Taekwon-Do Federation president.

When a trooper is promoted in Vietnam, however, he's awarded a military certificate of training by his supplement company commander, who acts as a representative of Lt. Col. Jai Chun Ko, division field commander. All promotions are recognized by the federation. In cases of promotion to the higher grades, however, special recognition is often meted out. For example, Sgt. Kim Duk Ki was recently awarded his third dan by Lt. Gen. Chae Myung Shin, field headquarters commander for all ROK Forces in Vietnam.

"The major objective of our formal taekwondo classes," asserted Cpt. Yoon, "is to take the minds of our troops and replace civilian thinking with military spirit and fierceness. 'Tiger' is the nickname the division has been tagged with because of the fierce nature we have demonstrated in combat. We intend to live up to it."

Click here to check out Combat Hapkido, a book by John Pellegrini and Black Belt mag!

Cpt. Yoon reinforced that statement with an impromptu demonstration of his own favorite techniques. Choosing a brawny trooper with a bayonet, the captain rushed him, parrying the weapon with an onslaught of power strikes with the elbow, palm, heel and fist. He ended with a forearm strike to the windpipe, which he explained is effective when one wants to silence the enemy quickly.

Key elements in hand-to-hand combat, the commander explained, are attacking the weapon directly or the hand that holds it while simultaneously attacking the most vulnerable spot within reach, then pressing the assault to keep the enemy off-balance while finishing him.

Field Testing

Stressing physical fitness in preparation for the application of these techniques, Cpt. Yoon said his troops rely heavily on powerful, smashing blows against the smaller Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Communists. He explained that the enemies are often undernourished because of their long treks from the North and therefore may fall easily under a strong attack.

"One particular situation where we encounter hand-to-hand fighting," Cpt. Yoon said, "is when the VC hide in bunkers and Tiger patrols do not have heavy weapons available to blow [the bunkers] apart. In such a case, the troops simply go in after them. The VC stand little chance against my men in close-quarters fighting."

In addition to the training of their own infantry, Tiger taekwondo instructors teach U.S. and Republic of Vietnam soldiers, as well as other Allied Forces infantry soldiers. Presently, some 1,250 Vietnamese and 150 U.S. soldiers are being taught by the Tigers at Qui Nhon alone. At other installations throughout South Vietnam, the Koreans teach their art to Allied Forces and Vietnamese civilians of both sexes and all ages.

There are scores of Korean black belts who are not members of the Tiger Division but who teach taekwondo to the local troopers and civilians. Many of these men belong to the larger White Horse Division. Especially in populated places such as the Tan Son Nhut Air Base–Saigon area, taekwondo has become as popular as baseball is to Americans. Today, self-defense is serious business to the Vietnamese, as no one knows when a VC terrorist squad will break into his home.

The Tiger Lair

Several miles away from the main training area on the Qui Nhon Air Base where the new arrivals hold classes, the Tiger instructors have their own compound, carved out of the verdant Vietnam countryside. Bordered on two sides by mountains and banked by the South China Sea, the encampment nestles into a serene and clean-smelling natural cradle, somehow out of place amidst the turmoil of war. The site has never been successfully attacked, and no one remembers the last time even a single mortar landed within the perimeter.

The perimeter itself is defined by roll upon roll of barbed wire, machine-gun posts and sandbag-reinforced bunkers. When not actually leading class, the instructors perform most of their military duties wearing their gi, often barebacked in the all-pervading heat. Somehow it doesn't seem quite right to see a fierce fighting man carting pails of water for the makeshift shower or spreading rolls of concertina wire — until you recall how budo masters of ancient times made their charges perform menial tasks before they would be accepted. Perhaps this accounts in part for their dedication and the respectful attitude the troops invariably display.

Get the scoop on military martial arts with The Complete Michael D. Echanis Collection!

Cpt. Yoon decides to review the instructors' training methods, so he has the select corps organize into a squadron to demonstrate their prowess. Sgt. Lee Jin Ho, whose official title is post instructor, leads the formation. They fall swiftly into ranks. The commander steps forward and receives the squadron's salute, then turns the command over to Sgt. Ho.

At a signal, the Tigers break ranks and rush into new formations with precision reminiscent of the Roman legions. The first squad is directed to show taekwondo forms. They snap through the kata in coordinated pairs, demonstrating the adroitness that can only come from military discipline. The forms are technically the same as classical Korean karate but are executed with the confident power of soldiers who have seen what their stuff can do to a man.

The next group forms behind a line of boards, bricks and tiles. Stacks of four and five bricks, up to 15 tiles and four 1-inch boards lie before them. The unit is called to attention, salutes again and assumes a ready posture. Sgt. Lee barks a command, and a dozen heads, hands and fists smash into the solid objects. Not a single one remains unbroken.

Read Part 2 here.

text by Jack E. Swift

(This article first appeared in the November 1968 issue of Black Belt.)

Free Bruce Lee Guide
Have you ever wondered how Bruce Lee’s boxing influenced his jeet kune do techniques? Read all about it in this free guide.
Don’t miss a thing Subscribe to Our Newsletter