How dangerous are nunchucks in real life?

Like many a youngster who watched Bruce Lee movies growing up, Philadelphia Inquirer contributor Marc Thiessen was dazzled by Lee's mastery of, well, everything he did on screen. One of those things was obliterating people with nunchucks, or nunchakus if you prefer. Evidently bent on entering dragon mode, a teenage Thiesen purchased a "soft pair of nunchucks" constructed from "light plywood and covered in bright yellow foam." A young New Yorker during the 1980s, he had no idea that he had committed a crime until a cop spotted him holding the nunchucks on a subway train and arrested him. 

Unbeknownst to Thiessen, in 1974, New York had imposed a total ban on owning nunchucks which wasn't overturned until December 2018. Thiessen wasn't the only New Yorker to be thrown behind bars for attempted Bruce Lee-ing. New York wasn't unique in issuing the ban. NPR reports that in the 1970s Arizona banned nunchucks and kept the prohibition in place until 2019 despite permitting Arizonans to openly carry firearms. Prior to legalizing them, nunchucks belonged to the same category of prohibited weapons as bombs and automatic firearms. Tuscon.com notes that two other states, Massachusetts and California, still outlaw nunchucks. Obviously, hitting someone with a pair of thick sticks can be dangerous, but considering that they were once banned in four states, you might wonder just how dangerous they are.

Sticks of fury

When assessing the threat posed by nunchucks, Bruce Lee shouldn't count because his hands were deadly without nunchucks. It would be like trying to judge the dangers of pencils and books based on what John Wick could do with them. However, you don't need to be either of those people to be lethal with nunchucks. Per the Telegraph, in 2008, a British teen who crashed a Halloween party beat a schoolboy to death with nunchucks after being asked to leave. 

Ironically, California police precincts have adopted nunchucks as a safer alternative to using guns or batons to subdue suspects. Chief Michael Johnson of the Anderson, California PD said the use of nunchucks was meant to make police seem less aggressive. PBS says a similar measure failed in Los Angeles after the LAPD used nunchucks on protesters and ended up breaking the protesters' arms and legs and even inflicted nerve damage.