Although the tonfa is most commonly associated with the Okinawan martial arts, its origin is heavily debated. One of the most commonly cited origins is China, although origins from Indonesia to Thailand are also possible. Okinawan tradition derives the tonfa from a millstone handle.The Chinese and Malay words for the weapon (guai and topang respectively) literally mean “crutch“, which may suggest the weapon originating from such device. In Cambodia and Thailand a similar weapon is used consisting of a pair of short clubs tied onto the forearms, known in Thai as mai sok and in Khmer as bokgatau. In Thailand and Malaysia the mai sok often has a similar design to the tonfa, with a perpendicular handle rather than being tied on. This weapon might be the original version of the tonfa


The tonfa measures about three centimeters past the elbow when gripped. There are three grips, honte-mochi (natural), gyakute-mochi (reverse) and tokushu-mochi (special). The natural grip places the handle in the hand with the long arm resting along the bottom of the forearm. This grip provides protection or brace along one’s forearms, and also provides reinforcement for backfist, elbow strikes, and punches. In use, the tonfa can swing out to the gyakute grip for a strike or thrust. Martial artists may also flip the tonfa and grab it by the shaft, called tokushu-mochi. This allows use of the handle as a hook in combat, similar to the Kama grip is uncommon but is used in the kata Yaraguwa.

Parts of Tonfa

When first practising with the Tonfa care must be made with the grip, which can cause splits in the skin between the thumb and first finger.
In “Tsukai Kata” it is also imperative that some sense of control from the grip is gained otherwise the control is poor and pair work causes injuries. The rotation of the wrist is also initially hard to control and many students suffer with the Tonfa hitting the wrist joint. Care must also be made with the side strikes as many beginners hit the elbows due to not rotating around the body.