Nunchucks Make a Comeback on Small, Rural California Police Force

Friday, November 06, 2015
Bruce Lee and nunchucks

Nunchucks, also known as nunchakus, are illegal in California. Only martial arts participants and law enforcement personnel are allowed to wield the weapon made famous by movie star Bruce Lee.

The weapons were pretty popular in the 1980s among police agencies, but fell out of favor about the time the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) got sued for using them on anti-abortion protesters in 1991 and suspended their use.  

But nunchucks still have their fans and this week the 20-man police force in the tiny, rural Northern California town of Anderson (pop. 10,000) announced it was adding the weapon to its arsenal.  

“It gives us the ability to control a suspect instead of striking them,” Anderson Police Department Sergeant Casey Day told the Los Angeles Times. Reporter Veronica Rocha correctly pointed out, “Of course, if you’ve watched enough Lee movies you’ll notice that he didn’t use nunchakus to pacify his enemies. He beat them up with them.”

Nunchucks can be lethal—to the perp on the receiving end and the officer if he isn’t sufficiently skilled at using it. Self-inflicted groin shots are a mainstay of YouTube. It was said the San Diego Police Department gave them up because of too many cop injuries.

Nunchucks also got a bad rap in July 2009 during the U.S. Senate confirmation hearing of prospective Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. In response to a question about Second Amendment rights from conservative Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Sotomayor said, “When the sticks are swung, which is what you do with them, if there's anybody near you, you're going to be seriously injured, because that swinging mechanism can break arms, it can bust someone’s skull.”

The weapon is a simple device: two wooden sticks or bars connected by a metal chain or nylon cord. Although Bruce Lee was fond of waving them around and delivering debilitating blows, Day said they would be used as a rather painful pincer tool wrapped around a limb to subdue a person. Nunchucks can easily snap bones.

Anderson is getting its nunchucks from Orcutt Police Defensive Systems, Inc. in Denver. Owner Kevin Orcutt, a retired police sergeant and first-degree black belt, told the Huffington Post he sold nunchucks to around 100 law enforcement agencies across the country. But Anderson is about the only California city mentioned in the media.

Orcutt acknowledged that becoming an expert with nunchucks takes years of training. But it doesn’t take years to sort of get the hang of them. Anderson officers who want to use them—it’s voluntary—have to take a 16-hour training course designed by Orcutt.

“You won’t learn a lot in 16 hours, but that’s not what I’m doing,” he said. “I'm teaching very traditional impact techniques—and most officers have already received some type of training like that.”  How much harder to use than Tasers can they be? 

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

From Kung Fu to California Cops: Nunchucks Make Comeback (by Paul Elias, Associated Press)

Add Nunchucks to the List of Weapons Cops Can Use Against You (by Sebastian Murdock, Huffington Post)

In Bruce Lee-Like Move, Northern California Police Department to Adopt Nunchakus (by Veronica Rocha, Los Angeles Times)

Nunchucks, Popularized by Bruce Lee, Come to California Police Agency (by Michael Martinez, Dan Simon and Augie Martin, CNN)

Why Are Some California Police Now Using Nunchucks? (by Olivia Lowenberg, Christian Science Monitor)

Sonia Sotomayor Could Declare Martial Law on Kevin Orcutt's Nunchaku (by Jared Jacang Maher, Westword)

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