Tonfa Basic Moves & Forms

Learning the Tonfa

Tonfa, in one form or another, have been around since the inception of martial arts. In the modern world, they stand in the shadow of other more portentous weapons. A typical Tonfa might be a flat cut, or circular cut wood plank, about Click Image for Enlargement Click Image to Enlarge RECT 24 inches in total length, with a handle projecting perpendicular, several inches in from one of the ends. Traditionally, these were solid, single piece units, with the handle mounted/anchored through the plank, and permanently fixed into position. They did not swivel, nor were they mounted on washers to facilitate spinning or rotation around the axis of the handle. Modern Tonfa can be found with built in swivels, ball bearings, or free spinning handles, facilitating rotational moves. I prefer traditional units. They manipulate and maneuver just fine, without the add ons (all of the accompanying video was shot using traditional of tricks or gimmicks).



Several decades ago, Tonfa almost passed from the modern scene. With the explosion of interest in martial arts during the 1960's, Law enforcement agencies noted the tactical superiority of Tonfa over the prevalent police baton. Since then, they have become very popular with law enforcement, and are known variously as Police Tonfa, side-handle batons, TR-24's, PR-24's, etc,

This is not surprising, as Tonfa were frequently the weapon of choice for medieval Japanese police officers, and for good reason. With relatively little training, an individual could develop an arsenal of bone breaking blocks, strikes and counters, effectively establishing tactical superiority over the unarmed, or lightly armed opponent. At higher levels of execution, Tonfa proved to be effective even against the sword wielding samurai.

In the arts, two are used simultaneously (one in each hand), which allows for full movement of the body, and use of feet as appropriate (generally I prefer sweeps and balance attacks over kicks). Because of the physical properties of the side handle configuration, tremendous rotational velocity can be developed in even the tightest of spaces (not unlike the rotational characteristics of nunchaku). Twin Tonfa can be rotated and spun like Arnis middle sticks, and in fact, many Arnis drills and techniques can be executed with Tonfa, after only minor adjustments. They can be used as thrusting weapons, and fit perfectly into the postures and stances supporting traditional (hard style) low, high and mid blocks. If that’s not enough, a little creative improvisation reveals that gripping the trunk of the Tonfa permits using the handle as a striking element, much like a hammer. Or, with an additional sprinkle of improvisation, the trunk held Tonfa begins to act like a cane or extended hook, opening up a world of pull downs, joint locks and control techniques.

Black Belts will invest approximately 12-18 months of hard work in becoming excellent with the Tonfa. Most law enforcement personnel undergo a much truncated basic training regimen. They are not Tonfa experts, they carry only a single unit, and use it with one hand free. This facilitates control options crucial to law enforcement, but limits the tactical array available with two Tonfa. Regardless, Tonfa, even as a solitary unit, has proven its value in non lethal police applications.

At Iron Crane, we teach Tonfa to advanced students, typically after they have experienced middle stick fighting (Arnis), knife defense, and Bo. By the time students pick up Tonfa, the basic instincts, stances and footwork are in place. The student is first introduced to the basic moves, then becomes proficient with combinations of the basics (we have compiled some basic moves and archetypical combinations in the accompanying video clips (Drills 1 & 2)). Once students can move the weapons with confidence, they learn Kata. Each Kata is progressively more complex. So...over the course of training, you acquire the moves, explore the nuances, perfect them, and then solidify the knowledge with a crowning Kata. Kata #1 addresses the basic pattern off of a down block, introduces double blocks, and multiple strikes. Kata #2 goes to the next level, emphasizing the down block/high block sequence, followed by the basic strike pattern. The middle sections close with transitional cross body swings. Both forms are modeled on Shotokan’s Taikyoku forms. Katas 3; 4 (Tonfa Tiifa); and 5 (Hama Higa) represent Black Belt level concepts. Each embodies a unique array of skills, angles and techniques. Tonfa Tiifa is widely popular with West Coast Isshinryu proponents. Hama Higa (named after the Okinawan Island, probably where it originated) is also taught at Isshinryu schools, but is equally popular with virtually all Okinawan derivative systems. Kata #3 was created at the Iron Crane Dojo, essentially as a final repository for techniques not preserved in the other forms.

Here they are, for your viewing pleasure...


Tonfa Drills #1


Tonfa Drills #2


Tonfa Form #1 (Front and Side Views)


Tonfa Form #2 (Front and Side Views)


Tonfa Form #3 (Front and Side Views)


Tonfa Form #4 - Tonfa Tiifa
(Front and Side Views)


Tonfa Form #4 - Hama Higa
(Front and Side Views)


Shimabuku Tonfa


Shimabuku (Bo/Tonfa Applications)


[Home] [About Us ] [Archie] [Concepts] [Contact Us] [Gun Fu Manual] [Kata]
Philosophy] [Sticks] [Stories] [Web Store] [Terms of Use] [Video]

Copyright 2000-2024, Mc Cabe and Associates, Tacoma, WA.  All rights reserved.  No part of this site can be used, published, copied or sold for any purpose, except as per Terms of Use .