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The Nunchaku In Police Tactics

by Steven J. Kaplan

Approximately forty years ago, I was a new instructor of the Taiho-Jutsu course, working in a dojo which rented space to an Isshinryu karate group two nights a week. After teaching my classes, I would stay around and watch the karate men train, and eventually I joined the class. In the course of my training, I befriended a Brown Belt who I convinced to teach me the nunchaku, the new rage at the time, despite my not having the karate rank to warrant it.

Back then, one could see nunchaku everywhere one looked – on TV, movies, videos, and magazines. Students and non-students of the martial arts were wielding them, trying to imitate Fumio Demura or Bruce Lee. While I thought I was gaining a degree of proficiency with the weapon, there were twelve year olds manipulating the classic Okinawan weapon with the grace of an expert baton-twirler. Sadly, the phenomenon led to abuse by many, and cities and states enacted laws banning the use of and in some cases even the carrying of the nunchaku.

At about this time, a book had been published by a karate Godan who was also a police officer, demonstrating the nunchaku’s application to police tactics. This trend enjoyed its fifteen minutes of fame, and ultimately fell into disuse for reasons few and simple. The techniques were difficult to learn and retain without extensive practice, and officers and civilians were getting hurt in the implementation of the weapon. In recent years, however, the nunchaku seems to have undergone a rebirth of sorts in the world of police tactics. Beginning in the 1980s, a police sergeant named Kevin Orcutt developed the OPN III. This is a complete training system employing the (lethal) nunchaku as a non-lethal controlling device for law-enforcement, stressing “control vs. impact”. It is said by Orcutt’s organization, that since 1985, over 200 law enforcement agencies have, following field tests, adopted the OPN (the nunchaku) as their primary controlling device.


Sgt. Orcutt’s website lists the following advantages for his version of the OPN: mobility, low profile appearance, accessibility, versatility, non-lethal, ease of use, control, reduced exposure to blood pathogens. There are a few strikes taught, but they are only to be used as a last resort.

A man named Bruce Hewitt followed with his own version of a police nunchaku, called the “tactical restraint baton” (TR-22). Similar to the OPN, there are two “improvements” added. There is a pepper spray canister built into the TR-22 handle, and the TR-22 utilizes a retention strap. Not able to be used as a striking weapon, it does not fall under any prohibiting laws re’ a nunchaku. Further, it is claimed that if an assailant takes the TR-22 away from an officer, s/he will simply not know how to use it.

This writer has hands-on experience with the traditional nunchaku, but not with either the OPN or the TR-22. However, control, restraint, takedowns, and come along techniques, would seem to be quite similar with these incarnations to the traditional weapon, despite some design differences in the handles. In the hands of a trained martial artist, the nunchaku is a devastating weapon. (I emphasize the words, “trained martial artist”, since there are many seen today using newly created nunchaku kata which would get them seriously injured if translated to the street for self-defense.) To develop the skill needed to utilize the nunchaku in any of it’s varieties for the non-lethal police tactics uses described would require far more hours than the law-enforcement officers receive. It is important to note that in the 1960s, a martial arts student was not introduced to this weapon until at least the rank of Brown Belt. It required more than just an attempt parroting select techniques. Even if a sound grasp of a basic course of either the OPN or the TR-22 could be had in a short period of time, the nature of “control vs. impact” techniques have a difficulty which requires consistent practice in order to use them effectively.

In conclusion, for the reasons listed above, I do not see the nunchaku in any form as a wise inclusion in a police tactics course.

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