Among the ancient kobudo weapons of Okinawa, the bo and nunchaku have attained the most popularity. Despite that, the tonfa (tunfa, tuifa, etc) has maintained a small but loyal following of practitioners. The reason why is the dynamic versatility that the weapon allows.
If you’re wondering where the tonfa came from or what it looks like, take a quick peek at this video:
In summation, the tonfa is a straight wooden rod with a perpendicular handle attached. It was used (probably) as the handle to a grain grinding stone. If needed, the handle could be easily removed and used as a destructive weapon.
History aside, let’s look at what makes the tonfa so dynamic.
Ways of Holding the Tonfa (Tunfa)
The interesting thing about tonfa is the different ways it can be held.
On the left you’ll notice the “classic” way of holding a tonfa, which is long-edge-in. In this position you have the length of the shaft to guard your arm as you attempt to block, parry, and close distance. You also have the butt end of the shaft to punch with. In this position you can use the centrifugal force of swinging the back end around to strike.
In the middle the tonfa is being held long-edge-out. Although practitioners often end up in this position after a strike, it can also be used as a starting position. When facing a long edged weapon like a sword, it is often desirable to have some sort of method of deflection. With the tonfa, the long edge is the best possible way of decreasing the distance disadvantage while keeping all your body parts intact.
On the right is a lesser known but still very useful method of holding. This is a form of reverse grip where the practitioner holds the actual long edge, using the handle as a tool for hitting and hooking. Much like the kama, the handle can be used to ensnare limbs, weapons, and the throat, as well as create a harsh point of impact for striking.
Ways of Striking with the Tonfa (Tunfa)
Along with the different grips for tonfa is the different means of striking. Each grip offers different possibilities, and knowing these possibilities helps when deciding which style to utilize.
As you can see, the left picture shows the fairly limited method of striking when the tonfa is folded in. Despite that, the blocking possibilities are enhanced.
In the middle the practitioner has a wide array of swinging, poking, and striking techniques.
On the right the practitioner has hooking, poking, and bludgeoning strikes. All in all, when fighting an adept tonfa user, one can never really be sure where a strike is coming from, which creates an amazing versatility.
So Good It’s Still Around
One of the best arguments for the usefulness of the tonfa is the fact that it’s still around. Police all over the U.S. (especially in Los Angeles) utilize a single “night stick” called the PR 24. While okinawans tended to use tonfa in pairs, the single baton has proved very effective for dealing with the unpredictable criminal element.