The tonfa is a simple hand weapon traditionally associated with Okinawan martial arts. As a single-handed weapon, combatants usually use a pair of tonfas, manipulating them for both offensive and defensive maneuvers. Despite its simple appearance, the tonfa takes years to master, so it pays to purchase a pair of well-constructed tonfas to last throughout your training. You also need to consider the correct size of tonfa for your stature.
Design and Usage
The tonfa has a simple design, comprised of a long stick with a perpendicular handle one-third of the way along the length. The long part of the stick is the “body,” the short part is the “head,” and the handle is the “grip.” The design makes it possible to hold the tonfa in three ways. With a natural grip, the tonfa’s body rests along the bottom of the forearm, protecting the arm from attack, and strengthening attacks that use the forearm and fist. With a reverse grip, the body of the tonfa extends outward, increasing reach when striking. Finally, the special grip involves holding the body and using the grip as a hook. Understanding the design and usage of tonfas makes it easier to purchase a style that suits your requirements.
Types of Tonfas
While all tonfas have the same basic form, they vary in design, construction, and materials used in their manufacture. Suppliers like Asian World of Martial Arts (AWMA) stock several types of tonfas, including:
- Training: Training tonfas comprise a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) core with a foam covering and are usually only available in one size. They are far less durable than a regular tonfa but are also significantly less expensive. The foam covering ensures a good grip and cushions impacts, which is useful for beginners who are still developing good technique and are at increased risk of making mistakes, such as accidentally striking an opponent, or dropping the tonfa during kata.
- Regular: Regular tonfas are wooden, featuring selected hard woods as the traditional material. They are far more robust than training tonfas but also less forgiving of mistakes. They are available in a range of sizes and often involve traditional tonfa construction techniques.
- Competition: Competition tonfas are similar to regular tonfas, but are for use by experts in competitive bouts and performances. The traditional styling and shape ensures precision movements and superior grip, and the sturdy materials are very durable. Competition tonfas are generally far more expensive than regular tonfas, but have the best construction.
- Display: Display tonfas have ornate designs and painted finishes. They adhere to all regular tonfa construction methods, making them suitable for sparring and competition, but such activity is likely to spoil their attractiveness. For this reason, display tonfas are best for kata, where there is no striking involved, or for mounting on stands as decorative pieces.
Buying the Right Size
Training tonfas are usually available in a single size, and measure around 20 inches. Other types of tonfas are available in various lengths and different grip sizes. The dimensions to consider are:
- Grip size: Ranging from 3 inches to 4.5 inches
- Head length: Ranging from 3 inches to 4.5 inches – always equal to the grip size
- Body length: Ranging from 10 inches to 16 inches
To ensure comfort, ease of control, and maximum arm protection in the natural grip, it’s important to get the correct size of tonfa. For the grip, measure the width of your knuckles, keeping in mind that it’s better to go for a slightly larger grip size rather than one that’s too small for your hand. To get the correct body length, measure your arm from your hand to your elbow. The body of a tonfa should not extend beyond the elbow by more than 1 inch.
Quality of Construction
In addition to the type and size of tonfa, it’s important to consider the quality of the construction. Some tonfas may have glued grips, which are more likely to break through repeated use. High-quality competition tonfas often use wooden pegs that are more durable.
The material used in the construction of the tonfa directly affects durability and price. PVC and foam sparring tonfas degrade quickly, but hard wood tonfas have a much more hard-wearing finish.
Finally, consider the grip design. A knob handle with an ergonomic design is more comfortable to use and decreases the risk of dropping a tonfa during use.
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Sensei Chris Feldt is the owner and chief instructor of Samurai Karate Studio, a leadership academy located in Northeast Columbia, South Carolina. His school teaches karate to children and adults ages 4 and up. SKS specializes in self-defense, anti-bullying, stranger danger and character and leadership development.
Mr. Feldt was an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina for college credit in karate and self-defense. Samurai Karate Studio has been recognized as a leader in martial arts instruction by being honored with the Best of Columbia Award for martial arts instruction for 8 consecutive years in a row.
Sensei Feldt is a certified instructor for C.O.B.R.A., a worldwide self-defense, and personal protection program. SKS offers Active Shooter Training, Real Estate Safety, 10 Week Self Defense Academies, Bully Workshops, and Child Safety Camps.
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