The Palm Stick
Written by: Eric Minck
In sort-of chronological/familiarity order
Introduced by Frank Matsuyama in the late 1940s, this was the device that first received wide-spread recognition in the USA. The word “yawara” can be variously translated from Japanese but is most frequently understood as meaning “soft.” It is also an older description of Jujitsu. Currently, it indicates the starting phase of Jujitsu, which trains in anatomy, stance, balance, leverage, locks, and escapes.
Matsuyama actually made his first yawara sticks a decade earlier, but these were more lethal versions of what he later made public as a deliberately non-lethal device for police and other law enforcement use. The idea was to replace the baton with something effective that could not be easily wrested from an officer’s grasp. If lost, it would not be useful to an untrained offender. The early production yawara sticks were plastic with rounded, symmetrical ends and grip knurls between. Each end featured embedded spikes just short of the end knobs, designed to defeat an opponent’s grab attempts. It was necessary for the user to grasp the device precisely in the middle to avoid these spikes, which made the yawara stick relatively long. It was, however, intended to be carried in a pocket for convenience as well as concealment.
The original 1948 training manual is available online in PDF format. From this it can be seen that the yawara stick was conceived as a striking device that could also be used for leverage, locks, and pressure/pain points. Although its popularity waned for decades, the yawara stick is once again receiving significant attention. In later emulations of the device, the spikes vanished and square cross-section elements have appeared. In general, the adjective “yawara” is applied to palm sticks a bit larger and blunter than other alternatives.
A contender for the modern “originator” of the palm stick, S.R. Linck claimed in his manual to have developed his device in 1930. Although apparently introduced to law enforcement as a baton substitute, it did not enjoy the same sort of success as the yawara stick. The Linck-Stick was a small piece of turned wood with a smoothly swelled handle ending in enlarged, very blunt knobs. Its manual warns that attempting to duplicate the device will inevitably lose “one or more of its valuable features.” Apparently, its greatest success was in being easily copied.
Grand Master Takayuki Kubota revived the palm stick concept in the 1970s with a fairly radical redesign called the Kubotan. This device was much smaller than its predecessors and was intended as a keychain fob. The original Kubotan was a flat-ended, groove-gripped, plastic cylinder with a hole on one end for a key ring. At 5.5 inches long and about 5/8-inch in diameter, its manual defines it as an “impact tool” derived from its designer’s “Pen Technique,” and entirely different from the “lethal Yawara (judo) stick.”
By now it should be obvious that there has been a little market rivalry between the various “inventors” of the million-year-old palm stick. The Kubotan does represent a departure from earlier sticks. It is primarily a pressure/pain compliance device, and its manual cautions against forceful strikes. As presented, it is a venture into more responsible and less harmful use, and the manual content is invaluable toward this end. However, without keys, it is an excellent yawara stick for a small or medium hand and perfectly suited for every use as an “impact tool.”
Unfortunately, despite Tak Kubota’s unmistakably good intentions, the Internet marketplace developed and used his name for all sorts of thin, nasty, pointy key fobs and other entreaties to customers of obvious bad will. This is a shameful turn of events and a dishonor to everyone who tried to do anything with a stick, right back to the first primate that invented tool-use. Now there finally is a viable market for sticks, and look what’s happening.
Chizi Kun Bo
This term translates as “little stick staff.” These Okinawan Ryu-te devices derive from float handles for fishing nets, and they usually come in pairs. They are wooden tubes about 6 inches long and a half-inch wide. Chizi kun bo taper to both ends and feature a cord loop that usually attaches to the middle finger(s). As Ryu-te is a combination of various family traditions, determining an “age” is difficult, but they no-doubt predate anything in the USA. Similar attachments, however, have been recently adapted to palm sticks.
Koppojutsu specializes in controlling and attacking bone and cartilage, which makes Koppo an appropriate palm stick name that the market has seized upon. Most of these seem to feature cord loop attachment in the chizi kun bo style, but it is uncertain if this is a determining factor. The name seems to be freely used, like Kubotan, but it is hard to determine if there is an originator with cause to be annoyed by this. Other names apparently considered koppo sticks include: suntetsu, shobo(u), tekko, and tenouchi.
Bob Koga recently designed two hard nylon sticks that Cold Steel is selling that are worthy of mention. The SD1 at 7.5 inches long and just over an inch thick is a simply magnificent, round yawara stick with a square cross section right where thumb support is needed for a diagonal grip thrust. The SD2 is slightly thinner and an inch shorter. Although aesthetically pleasing, it is pointed at both ends, which precludes palm heel thrust support and thumb support for a hammer strike.
Te Bo Hand Stick
This is another recent market entrant offered by DefenseTecSolutions. The cross section has a teardrop shape (perhaps designed by S.J. Gamma) to provide additional rotational pain when pressed against sensitive bone. It comes blister packed, looks like a nice, small device, and is marketed to law enforcement and civilian sectors.
From Israeli manufacturer Spikey-Tec (Sapir Tal), this newer device features chisel-tipped finger guards and separators with blunt and chisel ends. It looks like the offspring of a palm stick and brass knuckles. Promotional pictures show it with a key ring and keys, but it seems rather bulky and awkward for pocket carry. It is obviously intended as a serious injury weapon, but at least it has no silly points.
This metal marker from Cold Steel is one of the few tactical pens that try to not be stabbing weapons. Unfortunately, it seems that the marketing department won with the name and decorative shark teeth. It probably is a better weapon than a normal, stout pen.
Waves MFS Titan
Designed by Rainer Wenning for Boker, this is a good-looking metal tool (titanium and expensive) that doubles as a massage wand and acupressure device. It is 5.91 inches long and 0.87 inches in diameter. The weight is 5.5 ounces. It is very impressive in an understated way.
By no means complete, the above is a fairly representative list of what is available. Most of the other names you might run into are Filipino, including: dulo dulo, olisi palad, dos puntos, pasak, etc. Enjoy shopping, but in the end, do yourself a favor. Buy an inexpensive, decently sized, blunt, no-frills, wooden yawara stick … or make your own.