Mar 10, 2014

Weapons & Warriors: The Tonfa of the Japanese

Tonfa Art by TL Jeffcoat
I’ve covered several weapons from Japan that were used by Samurai and Ninja, but the Tonfa was not very common among either. Never the less, it was a common weapon among the common people of Japan during the Shogunate centuries when civilians were not allowed to carry weapons. Sometime around the 1100’s, the Tonfa came into existence in Okinawa. There is a lot of discussion on whether this weapon was first invented in Japan or China, but until that is ever decided, the Tonfa is often associated with Japanese style martial arts schools, so I myself think of it as a Japanese weapon. The use of the Tonfa as a millstone handle did originate in Southeast Asia to grind wheat, but was probably not considered a weapon early on.

The basics of the Tonfa is pretty easy to learn, and is so versatile and effective that many law enforcement agencies in the United States trained their officers to take assailants down with a Tonfa. I used to hear a lot of people call them nightsticks because of their black aluminum materials.

The original Tonfa was not made of metal at all, but from red oak wood. The design was taken from that of the millstone handle that was inserted into the millstone wheel which turned and ground up wheat grain. It was a simple shaft of wood with a heavy handle that was drilled into it about two thirds of the way down the length at a ninety degree angle. Each Tonfa is designed to reach from elbow to a little past your outstretched fingers. This design protected the forearm and elbow as well as gave a slight extension from the hand once the fingers were wrapped around the handle.

Red Oak is a strong enough wood that it could withstand the swing of katana without breaking. This made the Tonfa a very good choice of weapons when you wanted to travel armed without appearing armed. The Tonfa was usually assumed to just be a millstone handle and was ignored by most nobles and Samurai.

The Tonfa was held by the handle with the longest extension flat against the bottom of the forearm. This gave the farmer some added protection to block attacks and was excellent for getting inside the reach of a Samurai and planting a Tonfa covered elbow in the chin. The handles were smooth which made it easy to spin the longer part out for some extra reach. This was particularly useful against knives or other short weapons. The short part of the shaft still protected the hand and wrist and the longer reach made it easier for strikes to the opponent’s arms and body. A slap on the wrist with a Tonfa could be serious enough to cause the attacker to lose their grip on their own weapon. An even more effective way to disarm an opponent was to grip the Tonfa by its longest shaft and use the handle as a hook. This was very effective for grabbing weapons, armor, arms, knees, and even necks and disrupting the balance of the target with a quick tug or push. Since Tonfa are used in twos, it created a great advantage to throw an enemy off balance with one Tonfa, while striking with the other.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Weapons and Warriors, click here to view the entire catalog of weapons and cultures. Thank you, see you next week.

No comments:

Post a Comment