Nunchaku as a weapon comes originally from Okinawa (Ryukyu) archipelago which is part of today’s Japan. In 1429, King Sho Hashi united the three parts of Okinawa, creating the Ryukyu Kingdom. To decrease the possibility of a revolt, he declared prohibition to carry weapons (kin bu) – none but the king’s army and nobles can carry weapons. Of course, usual people became helpless against the swords of soldiers and bandits (wako). To defend themselves, Okinawa citizens and villagers widely practiced Martial arts. In the beginning of XVIII century Okinawa was occupied by Japan, the Okinawa army was defeated and unarmed population was unable to resist to Japanese samurais. Okinawa was turned into a Japanese protectorate; the population had to pay high taxes and was discriminated in other ways. Inhabitants didn’t begin serious revolts, but killed Japanese officials and tax collectors here and there, attacked small groups of samurais. Then there were created secret groups who fought against Japanese soldiers. Then warlords prohibited carrying and owning of any kind of weapon, everyone who owned weapons had to be killed according to new law. There was organized the so-called “hunting of swords” (katana-girl) – all iron weapons (and even iron tools) were confiscated, forges were closed.
In these bad days only one knife for a complete village was allowed – this knife was stored on the square of village tied to pillar and villagers were allowed to take this knife only for a few hours and only after confirmation of the village leader. In this period Okinawa martial arts were widely spread as last possible means of self-defense. Of course, knowledge of unarmed fighting techniques can’t help on battlefield against regular army, but sometimes it was enough to defend against a few bandits. Citizens mainly practiced unarmed arts of to-te or okinawa-te, which later became the basics for today’s karate, villagers usually trained in the use of every day’s tools as weapons, today we know these systems as kobudo or kobuj’utsu.
In the hands of a kobudo practitioner usual tools were converted to weapons when needed – not such lethal weapons, as sword or spear, but serious enough to really increase chances to defeat opponents. In the list of most popular tools, which were learned in kobudo as weapons, were such things as staff (bo or rokushakubo), baton (hanbo), sickle (kama), handle of home millstone (tonfa) and, of course, nunchaku. Popular myth say, that nunchaku were used in original as flail, but it’s a mistake – Okinawa flail, like European, have human-height length handle, such tools are also used as a kobudo weapon. Nunchaku was originally used as a horse bit. Original nunchaku sticks were curved and became only later the model which is used today – with straight handles. The nunchaku wasn’t a very popular weapon – we can see this because none traditional nunchaku kata is known today (for comparison – more then a dozen traditional staff katas are known today). The lowPopularity of nunchaku came probably from its low effectiveness when used against sword or staff – in such situation tonfa or kama give more chances to defeat the opponent. But one who was skilled in nunchaku usage was able to easily defeat a few opponents, who were unarmed or armed by knives. So today, when swords and spears are passed to museums, nunchaku has become one of the most popular weapons.