Weapons of Ryukyu Kobujutsu
The Tonfa is the third weapon introduced in the Ryukyu Kobujutsu syllabus and is always received well by students who have found the weighted Sai a task in usage. It is a return to the wood and the feeling of open flow and speed.
The weapon has been made famous by the police batons designed on the same style and used albeit in a rather basic fashion by many police around the world. Whilst this reflects the effectiveness of the design it has in some ways diminished the full potential of the weapon as the police usage is restricted and very basic.
There is in principal only one kind of Tonfa although the shaft varies in shape from round to rectangular with widening and narrowing designs. History has also shown the butt ends in some countries to be pointed but this is extremely rare to see today.
The weapon is used in pairs and is of wood, again red oak or white oak preferably in keeping with the Bo. The length of the weapon is also in keeping with the same requirements as the Sai, about three centimetres past the elbow when gripped.
The weight like the Bo is paramount to the efficient usage of the weapon. Too light and it lacks power in Kumite, too heavy and the techniques lack speed and become ponderous.
Again like the Sai there are three grips, Honte-Mochi (Natural), Gyakute-Mochi (Reverse) and Tokushu-Mochi (Special grip). The latter is not commonly used but is very effective and relates strongly to the techniques of Kama. The usage is prevalent in the kata “Yaraguwa”
Kumite is undertaken against the Bo and the ability to block and strike simultaneously is important. The gap between block and counter must be kept to a minimum and Tonfa is the perfect weapon to learn this. Merely rotating to look impressive does not represent the ability and understanding of combat.
Continuous kumite (Renzoku) provides the perfect environment for the Tonfa to be used with a sense of freedom whilst testing the highest levels of control. This must be explored to understand the true merits of this weapon. The line between the art and the reality must be studied well.
Tonfa is the practise of Uraken(back fist) and Hiji waza (elbow techniques) in open hand fighting. Good body movement like the Sai can make this weapon formidable, combining the speed it needs and generates along with the skilful footwork for evasion and attack.
Although there are stories of Rice millstone grinding implements and horses bridles etc. as being the origins of this weapon, these are merely coincidental in my opinion. The weapons origins can clearly be traced back to China and be found in Indonesia and surrounding geographical locations.
Hamahiga no Tonfa
Yaraguwa no Tonfa
In “Tsukai Kata” it is also imperative that some sense of control from the grip is gained otherwise the control is poor and pair work causes injuries. The rotation of the wrist is also initially hard to control and many students suffer with the Tonfa hitting the wrist joint. Care must also be made with the side strikes as many beginners hit the elbows due to not rotating around the body.