So, I finally understand the nunchucks.


Oh, don't get me wrong. I can't use nunchucks. I've never even touched nunchucks.

But I now understand why the nunchaku exist, and why they developed the way they did.

You see, as a non-martial-arts-practicing Canadian, my entire exposure to the deadly nunchaku has been primarily through cartoon turtles, and secondarily through amusingly rebroadcast home videos of full grown men smacking themselves in the face and/or genitals. And, seeing this, I could not envision practical battle situations in which the 'chucks could be employed. At least, no situations in which one could not more readily utilize, say, a nice sturdy crowbar.

It occurred to me that the nunchucks may have been developed and handed down as a practical joke from sensei to student; a means of manipulating young, impressionable boys into hitting themselves with a stick on a chain as hard as they can, for the amusement of others. Only once the bruised and battered karate kids graduate are they let in on the joke - that nunchucks are effectively useless in combat.

This, of course, is standup comedian logic, which is rarely as intelligent as it is funny. Airplanes made of black box material would be far too heavy to fly. ATM keypads are mass-produced, and it's easier to leave the braille on than it is to track down which ones go to drive-thrus and file it off.

The excuse that was passed off to me was that the whipping action generates extreme amounts of force, enough to shatter bones and make up for the lack of user-friendliness. Of course, once one thinks about it, this doesn't jive with the tendency of 'chuck-wielders to grab this whirling piece of wood, like a gently passed baton, as it orbits around their body. If the force generated is so great, shouldn't they be breaking their own hands?

And, indeed, if you're striking at your enemy with a second and equally valid handle of your weapon, what's to prevent him from catching that handle? You would then have a rather awkward tug-of-war situation, in which both of you have half possession of the nunchaku in question.

So it seemed to me that the nunchucks were a monstrously impractical weapon, and (aside from their obvious esthetic value) it was a mystery why they had survived for so long.

No longer, thanks to Wikipedia.

You see, the nunchaku are a ninja weapon, and this explains everything. The ninja were not professional soldiers. The samurai had all the best swords and training, and, by rule of law, commoners had no weapons at all. Ninja were primarily farmers, of very low caste, possessing little pride or honour. They fought not on the battlefields, but in the dark, striking in secret, using whatever tools of desperation were at hand.

The ninja weapons - bo, tonfa, sai, kunai, kama, and nunchaku - were all based on modified farming equipment; tools that, in a pinch, could be passed off as the innocent implements of agriculture. Wearing black and hiding in the shadows is harder than most people think. Wearing peasant's clothing and hiding as a farmer - especially when you actually are a farmer - is far easier.

If the nunchucks don't look like a farming tool to you, it's probably because you're used to combine harvesters.

Back in the days before mechanization, most grain was separated from its parent plant with a flail, which was a fairly universal tool. You may have noticed some Pharaohs holding a ceremonial version, crossed with a shepherd's crook. Of course, the modern nunchaku have evolved somewhat from the agricultural version, which was only meant to be held one way, but the relation is clearly there. Ninja fought with the impractical nunchaku because nunchaku could get through security checkpoints that swords could not.

This secrecy is the reason the nunchaku did not evolve as the European swinging weapons did, into morningstars and maces and so forth. Though today, they would not make very good rice flails, they nevertheless resemble rice flails, and morningstars do not.

And that, my friends, is why the nunchucks were invented. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

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