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I had the privilege of teaching a Tonfa seminar at Orangeville’s Kushindokai Karate club not too long ago.

They have a great club. Under the very knowledgeable Sensei Michael, they have strong seniors and a growing organization.

The tonfa is simply a fun weapon. Along with the bo staff and sai, the tonfa is one of the three primary traditional Okinawan weapons. As such, for karate students, training with these weapons is a natural extension to our studies.

Tonfa provide a good workout for forearms and grip strength. Training with a traditional weapon is also an exercise in controlling an external force, and what is an opponent, but an external force. You can’t just make a weapon move as you wish. You have to learn how it likes to move, and work accordingly.

Through the course of the seminars, I introduced the class to a warm-up drill with the weapons, a few tonfa basics / kihon, and primarily taught the kata Matsu Higa no Tonfa. Throughout, we added some bunkai / applications, and in the senior-belt class we ended with some very controlled single-exchange sparring.

Overall, we covered a tremendous amount of material in a very short period of time. It’s the type of emersion training that, while somewhat overwhelming, I love being a student for. Not only does it open your eyes to new things, more importantly, this type of training often strengthens your current knowledge base.

An exercise I didn’t get a chance to do in the seminar, but I recently had one of my senior belts perform in class, was blast through all of his open-hand karate kata holding the tonfa. For the student, this was harder than expected. It was an exercise in mental gymnastics doing what was familiar in an unfamiliar way. The light bulb went on though, when he realized the number of similarities in the movements and postures between the open-hand and the tonfa katas.

For the students who took part in the seminars, here is the tonfa warm-up exercise from class.


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