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Tonfa: From Kobudo Weapon to Modern Police Tool
Part 1: A simple tool becomes an effective anti-samurai weapon
It's seen on the belts of cops across the USA, but its roots lie in ancient Okinawa. It's the tonfa, a simple stick that has evolved as a martial arts weapon for centuries. click for large image
 More of this Feature
• Part 1: Kobudo Weaponry
• Part 2: Police Adopt the PR-24
• Part 3: Tonfa Techniques

The tonfa is a simple, flattened stick, around 15 to 20 inches long, with a handle sticking out at 90 degrees to one end. That handle was the first use of the tonfa, as a means to rotate the heavy cylindrical stones used to grind rice into flour. As with many other weapons of kobujutsu, the art of Okinawan weapons fighting, the tonfa also proved to have effective martial uses.

Kobujutsu is the Okinawan art of fighting with weapons, and is related to karate, open-hand fighting. Today, the more combat-oriented -jutsu orientation has been largely supplanted by a martial way, or -do, form of this martial art. Most kobudo weapons were simple farming implements or tools: the bo, for example, was a staff used for assistance while walking, or to suspend two parcels over the user's shoulder. The eku was a fisherman's oar. And the now-ubiquitous nunchaku was used as a flail when dehulling rice.

Villagers, forbidden from owning "more advanced" weapons like swords or naginata, adapted their everyday tools to defensive purposes. Techniques that worked were archived in kata, or special sequences of movements, allowing kobudo fighters to train and pass along their knowledge.

Tonfa were used in pairs, one in each hand. By gripping the handle in a fist with the shaft lying along the forearm,the tonfa wielder could use the same techniques used in empty-handed arts like karate. Measured properly, a tonfa would extend beyond the user's elbow when held by the handle. Dual weapons allowed the user to simultaneously block with one tonfa and strike with the other; the dense hardwood could protect even against sword cuts.

Tonfa techniques remained largely unchanged until the 1970's, when Lon Anderson developed single-tonfa techniques for police officers. The result made the tonfa perhaps the most widely used kobudo weapon today.


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