Browse Categories

Japanese Swords

Shop By Forge

Tonfa: All You Need To Know


A tonfa is a martial arts weapon that many people use for both offense and defense. It is known for its power to incapacitate an opponent with a single, well-placed blow. It has a convoluted history that is still not fully understood, but one thing is certain that many used it as a martial art weapon. The tonfa is a stick that includes a handle where the person can grip it well. It can go along the forearm to protect the person using it and can even reinforce the arm when the user hits his or her opponent. This article is going to explore the history of this weapon, how many still use this weapon today, as well as tips for sparring with a tonfa, and the different martial arts that use the tonfa.


The History of the Tonfa

It is difficult to know for sure where the tonfa originated, and it has many stories about its origins. Many cultures have claimed it originated in their country, and many of the claims are from around the same era, making it unclear as to which culture as a legitimate claim. The one claim that has the most evidence is that this is a martial arts weapon used by the inhabitants of Okinawa. While it seems to originate as an Okinawan martial arts instrument, historians seem to have traced the origins to either China or Indonesia.


Chinese historians believe that this weapon was developed and adapted from a crutch as restrictions on weapons were put into place. The ruler Sho Shin wanted restrictions to be put in place to help bring about stability for the country because of the numerous bloody and deadly civil wars that had torn the country apart. As with all restrictions, this brought about some interesting and creative weapons that were not technically restricted by the government. Most of these weapons were created from various farming equipment and different tools for agricultural work. While many are not entirely sure what material the tonfa used, many believe it is the handle of a millstone. These were quite common on farms and make sense as to how available they were for individuals to use.


It traditionally was made out of red oak and made in pairs, as it was a two-handed weapon used for individuals to defend themselves against opponents. This was also used in the offense many times as it was quite formidable and could help someone beat an opponent just as easy as the weapons that were restricted by Sho Shin.


This weapon is used in several different martial arts and is referred to by different names such as tonfa sticks, tonfa batons, tonfa sword, and even tonfa lightsaber (yes, that is correct!). There is also a similar weapon called the mai sun sawk, which is the ancient martial art krabi krabong uses. In fact, the mai sun sawk might have been the original weapon, from which the tonfa evolved.


Modern Day Usage

The best example of a modern tonfa still used as a weapon is the police baton, that police all over the globe use for riots. This is not a weapon that is usually used against one opponent as it is in martial arts, but many police forces simply use this for crowd control. All you need to do is watch a few video clips of riot police around the world, and you will see how people use the tonfa nowadays.

This weapon is also used in different martial arts, as well. You can find different studios and teachers who will train you in how to effectively and safely use the tonfa. This article will discuss how to use a weapon in martial arts more in depth later on.


While the tonfa is still utilized today for police forces and in martial arts training, it has an incredible movie and TV history. In fact, the tonfa was upgraded to a science fiction tool in Star Wars. Many know it as a guard shoto, but it is also referred to as a lightsaber tonfa. In the Star Wars franchise, the guard shoto was used to block other lightsaber attacks, as well as to effectively trap or jab at other Jedi. However, Jedi who used this weapon without training could end up with severe injuries. The Jedi Padawan, Maris Brood, used it in pairs to get in close when fighting and defeating their opponents.


Martial Arts That Use This Weapon

While multiple martial arts use this weapon, it is best used in two different types. These are:


·       Okinawan Kobudo: This is a weapon system utilized by the Okinawan martial arts. It is important to note that Okinawan Kobudo is not the same a Kobudo. Okinawan Kobudo refers to the martial art that involves Japanese weapons, whereas Kobudo refers to the idea of morality in feudal Japan. Okinawan Kubudo utilizes several different Japanese weapons including:

o   Tonfa.

o   Rokushakubo or staff.

o   Sai, which is truncheon shaped like a dagger.

o   Nunchaku, which are wood blocks that connect with a chain or cord.

o   Kama or sickle.

o   Tekko, which is a “steel knuckle” weapon.

o   Tinbe-rochin or a shield paired with a spear.

o   Surujin or weighted chains.


It also does use a few rare Japanese weapons like the tambo, hanbo, and eku, all of which are forms of staffs with the eku being a traditional boat oar.


·       Okinawan Karate: The martial art of karate, which originated on the island of Okinawa, is regularly attributed to the Buddhist monk Daruma. This is one of the most common and popular martial art because of different films such as the Karate Kid and other martial arts films, especially those from the 1960s and 1970s. While the films usually get this art wrong, people are still intent on learning it. This martial art focuses on hand-to-hand combat but sometimes utilizes weapons like the tonfa.


Interestingly, along with the restriction of weapons, Sho Shin also restricted the practice of all types of Okinawan martial arts, which many of the people did not listen to. Different arts started to crop up, as they had yet to be banned and utilized the weapons that were also farm and agricultural tools.


Tips On Sparring

When you purchase a pair of tonfa, you will find that you want to learn how to use them. Here are a few tips on how to spar with tonfa, though it is important that you find a great martial arts studio or teacher to ensure you use them safely.


·       Always wear proper sparring protection, especially face and head protection.

·       Make sure you know how to hold the tonfa for the different moves. Learn how to hold them offensively and defensively. The normal way to wield the tonfa is to hold the handles and have the stick go perpendicular to your forearms. If the end of the weapon meets your elbow, you will know you are holding them correctly.

·       Use the weapons as a way to defend against your opponent’s attacks. Hold your arms like you would for defense.

·       When it is time to strike out at your opponent, use the area where your hand is holding on to the handle. Of course, always make sure to not make contact. This is why it is important to have a sparring instructor on site to help you know how to throw a punch without disabling your opponent completely.

·       When you strike out at your opponent, and he or she is out of arms reach loosen your grip slightly on the tonfa handle and flick your wrist. This will make the tonfa swing out, striking your opponent on his or her side. Make sure to tighten your grip after the tonfa swings out to avoid it coming around and hitting your side.

·       You can repeat this action by swinging the tonfa from the other way; this can incapacitate your opponent quickly if one or both attacks make contact.

·       Never strike with the handle of the tonfa, as this can cause it to break, which will make it difficult to get the best out of the weapon.

·       Always practice sparring with sparring dummies or punching bags before you start to spar with an individual. If you go to a martial art class, the instructor will pair up with you or pair you with someone who is well-trained in using the tonfa to make sure the environment is safe for both you and your opponent.


In Closing

While the history of the tonfa is still debated, one thing is for certain – it is an incredibly powerful tool for both offense and defense. Find a local martial arts studio and ask if they train individuals in the art of the tonfa. Start training and become an expert at using this amazing weapon!