How Accurate Are The Portrayals Of Nunchucks In Movies?

There's a good change that most of what you know about martial arts is wrong, particularly if you learned it from popular culture such as TV and late-night B-movies shown on second-tier cable networks. For example, ninjas did not dress all in black, according to Time, and a companion Time report suggests that much of the mystique assigned to the class of spies, assassins, and secret police came not from history, but from their depiction in the James Bond franchise.

Another misconception about martial arts comes from the weapons they purportedly used. For example, you may have seen Bruce Lee artfully and menacingly swinging nunchucks (or nunchaku) about, or just as likely, you may have seen some goofy teenager awkwardly throwing them around. (Or a teenaged, mutant turtle.) In the right hands, such a weapon could deliver a nasty head injury or even break a bone. But are the cool-looking sticks held together by a chain an actual weapon ever used by real martial artists?

Nunchucks were probably not used by real warriors

By the time Bruce Lee started swinging them around on film in the 1970s, nunchucks had basically been forgotten about for centuries, according to Today I Found Out. Digging through the references, the research team at TIFO eventually landed on the concept that nunchucks emerged as a sort of improvised weapon, likely used by the upper classes, who were forbidden from using swords, guns, and spears, and instead got by with what they could find.

There are multiple problems with this theory, not the least of which is that documented evidence on the weapon's origin is hard to come by, while speculation and romanticism abound. What's more, nunchaku just aren't good weapons: sure, in the right hands they could crack a skull or break an arm, but in the wrong hands they were just as likely to injure the user. What's more, they're basically useless against a foe armed with a sword. If they were used at all, they were used against unarmed opponents or against poorly-armed enemies, such as those wielding only a knife. There's no evidence that they were ever used in combat.