This month, I'm set to visit some friends in Chicago and teach a nunchaku seminar. Nunchaku have a special place in my heart. I've been playing with and using them since I was about 10 years old. It was a bonding between my dad and myself. As a teenager, my dad took karate classes and his instructor would show a few tricks with the nunchaku. The 1970s were the peak of nunchaku mania in the US, and my dad was part of that trend.
When I was 10, I found my dad's hiding place for his nunchaku and asked if he could show me a few moves. After all, I was 10 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had assumed the role of nunchaku ambassador to my generation. He flipped them around a few times, and then proceeded to give me my first of two lessons: forward and reverse figure eights. Practice this technique, he advised me, and everything else will come out. (For those of you wondering, the 2nd lesson was how to bounce the nunchaku off the leg without needing an ice pack.)
Fast forward about 11 years, and I'm taking martial arts as an adult. My instructor gives me a staff to practice with in class. Shockingly, we practiced the same thing: Figure eights. Repeatedly. Eerily enough, his advice was the same. Everything comes back to those figure eights and their planes of motion.
My instructor taught me to use the staff on a more conceptual level, reinforcing his lessons with concrete examples. In other words, he didn't show us 20 tricks and then try to improve them. Instead, we spent time focusing on using gravity, momentum and leverage to our benefit and then would use a technique to teach that lesson. In fact, most of our time was spent on what he called "dexterity skills." I always thought this a bit odd given than our instructor was not one to spend time on frivolity.
It took me a few years to wrap my head around this way of thinking. As I teach staff and nunchaku now, I find myself returning more to this method of teaching. To me, the weapon is not the lesson. In fact, the weapon is a prop for the lessons I want to teach. It is the applied version of the planes of movement. Learning to appreciate how the weapon travels along these planes, and how to transition from one plane to another with smoothness, efficiency and power. From there, take those lessons to everything else: staff, chain whip, rope dart, whip, sticks, empty hand techniques, and more. Learn from feeling and experimentation.
That's what I hope to share with my audience in Chicago.