Last month Judge Pamela K. Chen of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York ruled that New Yorkers have a constitutional right to own nunchucks. The ruling comes after James A. Maloney, a lawyer and nunchucks enthusiast, launched a complaint over the state’s 40-year ban on the traditional martial arts weapon in 2003.
According to The New York Times New York decided to criminalize nunchucks in 1974 while the “United States was in the middle of a kung fu fever” inspired by martial arts movies. It was in the seventies that Maloney first developed a passion for the instrument, which is formed of two batons connected by a chain or cord.
Maloney told NYT that his first legal sparring over nunchucks came in 1981, when he was arrested in New York City while doing a public nunchucks demonstration. Maloney, who is self-taught, first learned about the ban during that arrest.
Along with being a lawyer and teaching at the State University of New York’s Maritime College, Maloney has developed his own system of martial arts called “Shafan Ha Lavan,” Hebrew for “white rabbit.” That system heavily utilizes nunchucks.
When Maloney originally challenged the state on the legality of nunchucks, he was told by the Nassau County district attorney’s office that “the dangerous potential of nunchucks is almost universally recognized” and therefore they were not protected by the Second Amendment (the right to keep and bear arms).
In Judge Chen’s ruling, on the side of Maloney, she disagreed with Nassau County stating, “The centuries-old history of nunchaku being used as defensive weapons strongly suggests their possession, like the possession of firearms, is at the core of the Second Amendment.”
The origins of nunchucks is somewhat unclear. Some believe that the weapon is derived from a tool once used in South-East Asia to thresh rice and soybeans. Other theories are that they were derived from an Okinawan muge (horse bridle bit) or a wooden clapper that nightwatch members would use to warn of fires and other dangers.
Nunchucks have been a staple in pop culture since at least the 1970s, when Bruce Lee featured them in a number of his movies. One of Lee’s most notable nunchuck scenes can be found in 1973’s Enter The Dragon (clip provided below).
New Yorker’s buoyed by the news they can legally own nunchucks would be well served to check out local laws before traveling with their nunchaku in tow. The weapon is still illegal in some US states, as well as Canada, Norway, Russia, Poland, Chile, Spain, and Germany. The weapon is legal in the UK for those over 18, but is only allowed at private addresses and martial arts centres.