Up in Shasta County, in the town of Anderson, the police have a “new” weapon in their arsenal.

The Taser? That’s so last decade. Pepper spray? C’mon — get serious. The PR-24 baton? Well, you’re getting warmer.

According to recent news reports, the officers of the Anderson Police Department have begun use “nunchuks,” aka nunchaku. Just as the PR-24 baton is a modernized version of the tuifa or tonfa from traditional Okinawan weaponry or kobudo, the Anderson police are using modernized nunchaku, also from kobudo, to help them in their police work. (See the story, along with a video, at:

In case you haven’t a clue what nunchaku are, picture two heavy-duty wooden rods or dowels, tapered and rounded, attached by a heavy cord or chain. (If that’s not helping, picture a couple of big dinner candles connected by the same wick.)

When utilized offensively, a user holds one of the rods of the nunchaku and swings it across his body or from high to low, to strike a target at a very fast speed. Used defensively, the nunchaku can be swung in a figure-eight motion to keep an attacker at bay. (The impact of a nunchaku strike can be bone- breaking.) By putting a wrist between the nunchaku cord and pulling the rods in opposition, it can be an effective “come along” tool to make an uncooperative arrestee a bit more cooperative.

Is the nunchaku, in reality, an effective tool for police work? Maybe, in the hands of a well-trained user. I have to remain respectfully doubtful, however, that nunchaku have real use for the average cop.

Not to disparage guns or gun users, but it takes far less time, training and skill to use a sidearm effectively than it does to do the same for nunchaku. Yes, it’s a gross oversimplification, but using a sidearm effectively comes down to: Point it in the direction needed — and if necessary, pull the trigger. (For a comedic take on that, watch “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” the scene where Indiana Jones dispatches with his pistol a swordsman who probably spent years perfecting his skills.)

Training to use nunchaku effectively in a very basic manner isn’t all that time-consuming — but it takes more motor skills, hand-eye coordination, muscle control and strength than it does to use a gun. Developing any level of efficacy with nunchaku takes time — something police officers don’t have much of. Along with that, a user is probably also going to hurt himself while practicing. It’s literally a school of hard knocks.

Also, you have to get pretty close to an opponent to use nunchaku — close enough for that opponent to possibly wrest it away. A gun can be used while many feet away from an adversary. Just pointing a gun can quell a problem. Holding aloft a pair of nunchaku, not so much.

Owning and using guns, thanks to the Second Amendment, are legal. As far as I know, nunchaku in California are illegal, except in martial arts classes — and if you happen to be a police officer in Anderson, Calif.

So why are two sticks attached with a string illegal? Two words: Bruce Lee. (Make that four words: The late Bruce Lee.)

While not the only reason for the kung fu movie craze of the 1970s, Bruce Lee was by far the most influential. He used nunchaku spectacularly in some of his movies and the popularity of the once obscure weapon skyrocketed. You could say he was the reason they were made illegal.

Bruce Lee wields nunchaku.
Bruce Lee wields nunchaku.

If he hadn’t died July 23, 1973, Bruce Lee would now be nearly 75. Just a few days short of that birthday, Visual Communications is holding “Celebrating Bruce Lee” on Sunday, Nov. 15, at 5 p.m. at the Japanese American National Musuem’s Tateuchi Democracy Forum in Little Tōkyō, address 111 N. Central Ave. (See page 1 of the Oct. 27 Rafu Shimpo for details on buying tickets, etc.)

It’s further proof that all these decades after his death, Bruce Lee still fascinates. What’s unique about this Visual Communications program is that it will feature live and in-person his daughter, Shannon Lee, and Diana Lee Inosanto, the daughter of one of his senior students, Dan Inosanto. The price of admission is a bit high, though: $100 for the reception and birthday celebration, $150 for all events, including a silent auction. That pretty much eliminates riff-raff like me!

One of Lee’s movies was released here as “The Chinese Connection”; next column, I’ll have more on Bruce Lee’s Japanese American connections. In the meantime, though, if you happen to get arrested in Anderson, Calif., and the cop whacks you on the head with nunchaku, you can blame Bruce Lee.

Until next time, keep your eyes and ears open.


George Toshio Johnston has written this column since 1992 and can be reached at The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect policies of this newspaper or any organization or business. Copyright © 2015 by George T. Johnston. All rights reserved.

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