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Main Cover - November 1988
tuifa, or tonfa, as it is commonly called in the United
States, is the easiest of all weapons to learn, according
to Isshin-ryu black belt A.J. Advincula of Oceanside,
It is very difficult to lose or drop because of the
convenient handle. And it can be used with most basic
blocks. Once learned, the tuifa can be applied to any
karate kata (forms).
The most popular tuifa kata on Okinawa is hamahiga
no tuifa; it is named after Hamahiga, a very small
island off the main island of Okinawa. Advincula learned
this kata from Tatsuo Shimabuku, who was taught by the
famous Okinawan Kobudo master -- Taira Shinken.
The tuifa was originally used on the island of Okinawa
as a handle for a millstone. In its initial configuration
the tuifa couldn't be implemented as a rotating weapon,
although there is the possibility that it may have been
wielded like a hammer.
The older tuifa were not machine-made as they are today.
They were constructed from various types of wood, ranging
from soft pine to very hard oak. Also, the earlier tuifa
didn't have a grip head. Advincula believes there is
evidence to support the theory that the tuifa evolved
not only from the millstone handle, but also from the
flail. However, the fighting tuifa most likely originated
from the larger millstones, as the handles of these
combative tools were much larger.
The best tuifa are made on Okinawa and are usually custom-designed
for each individual stylist. It is important to select
tuifa held together by wooden wedges which secure the
handle to the shaft.
Do not select tuifa with a round handle adhered to or
glued onto the main shaft -- they are not sturdy and
will break easily. Many inferior tuifa not made in Okinawa
have handles that are pinned or stapled to the side
of the shaft. This faulty protection can cause the tuifa
to shatter if struck by a heavier weapon.
The tuifa shaft should extend slightly below the elbow
to protect the elbow an forearm, if it is too long,
however, it becomes unwieldy and difficult to use.
Shape of the Tuifa
The shape of the tuifa is a matter of personal preference,
however, Advincula says the lighter, round tuifa- while
easier and faster to use -- can an be painful if wielded
in combat situations against heavier weapons such as
the bo. A round tuifa will not absorb the force of a
blow, but will instead assist in directing the impact
into the forearm. The half-moon and flat-shaped tuifa
are heavier and stronger and fit the contour of the
forearm to effectively absorb the shock of a heavy strike.
being an effective offensive weapon, the tuifa is also
handy for blocking. Isshin-ryu's Shimabuku taught eight
basic blocks utilizing the tuifa. They include the upper
block, middle block, lower block, cross-inside block,
X-block, middle block extended (using the bottom of
the tuifa), down block extended (also using the bottom
of the tuifa), and the double middle block. Although
there are other blocks, they are simply modifications
of those already mentioned. For the most part, tuifa
stances are the same as those used in karate.
Techniques to avoid
Advincula says to avid the following techniques -- not
only because they are ineffective, but because the practioner
could be subject to injury.
• The X-block or upper block with the grip head
of the tuifa directly over the head. For example, a
heavy blow from a bo against the tuifa will drive the
grip into the defender's head (this is a very common
mistake made by U.S. tuifa practioners.
• A middle block extended with the side of the
tuifa against a heavier bo may send the tuifa back into
your body. Use the bottom -- not the side -- of the
tuifa to avid this problem.
• Blocking with the arm fully extended. In reality,
the arm should be bent slightly to absorb shock and
to force the opponent's weapon to ricochet off the tuifa
and away from the body. A locked elbow will cause the
opponent's weapon to travel along the shaft of the tuifa
into your body.
• An extended down block with the edge of the
tuifa toward your opponent. A very strong attack may
spin your weapon and therefore drive it back into your
arm or body. (Again, use the bottom of the tuifa.)
Okinawan master Tatsuo Shimabuku taught eight
basic blocks using the tuifa. Here, Advincula displays
the upper block (1), middle block (2), lower block (3),
inside block (4), and X-block (5).
Karate stylists in systems utilizing the twist punch
find it difficult to punch with the tuifa because the
grip head has a tendency to snag on the outer clothing.
This usually occurs when executing a reverse punch.
Other stylists will use the twist punch when striking
with the front head, but not with the back head. Isshin-ryu
is ideal for the tuifa because the twist punch is never
Rather than relying on a twisting motion for power,
an isshin-ryu stylist can spin the tuifa fro the forearm
position to the extended strike for a tremendous advantage
in reach and power. According to Advincula, practioners
should change grips while training with the tuifa, however,
this is not recommended in a combat situation since
there is a risk of dropping the weapon.
Advincula also recommends manipulating the tuifa by
grasping the back head and using it to strike like a
hammer, or to catch an opponent's arms or legs.
Care of the tuifa
Before using the tuifa, make sure the grip is firmly
attached to the main shaft. Quite often, the grips of
inferior weapons become loose with use, resulting in
potential hazard to the student or other students in
Tuifa made outside Okinawa are usually lacquered or
painted. To prevent the wood from drying and cracking,
remove the lacquer and be sure to oil the weapon.
For a superior finish, Advincula recommends either lemon
oil, tung oil, or a mixture of two-parts boiled linseed
oil to one part turpentine.
These oils will make the weapon heavier, keep it from
drying out, also make it easier to spin. Sanding the
grips and applying talcum powder to the hands will facilitate
easy manipulation of the weapon.
shows how to hold the tuifa in a proper stance.
Many police departments have adopted a baton similar
to the tuifa called the PR-24. Advincula states that
while the PR-24 is generally easier to retain than a
nightstick in combat, it is not an adequate weapon for
the following reasons.
• The PR-24 is available in only two sizes -- large
and small --instead of being custom-fitted to the individual.
• The PR-24 has a roundish shape. If it is used on the
forearm to ward off blows (as discussed with the tuifa)
it will lead to the blow being absorbed by the forearm,
rather than by the weapon.
• The handle of the PR-24 is not fitted to the individual
and is poorly designed. This flaw allows the hand
to slide up the handle, leaving a gap between the forearm
and the shaft of the baton. Should the shaft be hit
by an opponent's weapon, the shaft will be driven into
the forearm and cause an injury. The grip should be
both stable and adjustable, allowing the individual's
hand to fit snugly between the shaft and the grip head.
Advincula states that most police agencies are also
teaching inferior techniques with this weapon, such
as the high-post position (by the shoulder with the
shaft resting over the top of the forearm). This position
can only be used for swinging the PR-24, If it was posted
with the shaft against the forearm, the weapon could
be used for either a block or a strike. A proper technique
should always have multiple applications.
About the Author: Robert B. Safreed, director of
security for the space and defense sector of TRW, Inc.,
is an isshin-ryu stylist based in Los Angeles.