By Eric Minch
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.