xi's moments

Judge frees nunchucks to swing in N.Y.

By William Hennelly | China Daily USA | Updated: 2018-12-27 23:11

One of the most enduring images of Bruce Lee is of him menacingly swinging nunchucks before clobbering multiple opponents as they approach.

Nunchucks, or nunchaku in Japanese, were an improvised weapon of farmers who used them for self-defense on the island of Okinawa. Legend also has it that in the 13th or 14th century, many Chinese immigrated to Okinawa, settling mainly in the city of Kumi. Many Japanese went to Kumi to learn about using nunchucks.

The kung fu master Lee's skill with the martial arts weapons — usually two footlong wooden sticks held together by a chain or rope — was so frightening, even if it was just in the movies, that it led to New York state lawmakers banning the weapon in 1974.

That ban stood until earlier this month, when Judge Pamela Chen of the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York struck it down as a violation of the Second Amendment.

Officials in the 1970s were concerned about "muggers and street gangs" who might use nunchucks nefariously, according to Chen's decision.

Chen, who was nominated for the federal judgeship by President Barack Obama in 2013, sided with an amateur martial artist who opposed the ban, reasoning that the right to bear arms applies not only to firearms but also to nunchucks.

The 44-year-old law that made possession of so-called "chuka sticks" illegal in New York code is "an unconstitutional restriction on the right to bear arms" and is "therefore, void", Chen wrote in a Dec 14 decision in US District Court in Brooklyn.

The law had been challenged by James Maloney, who claimed it prevented him from teaching his twin sons a martial arts form that used nunchucks.

In her 27-page ruling, Chen said Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, the defendant, had failed to provide sufficient evidence that possession of nunchucks should not be protected by the Second Amendment.

"Simply put, Defendant does not contradict the contention that the nunchaku's primary use, which Defendant concedes is as 'a tool from the sphere of martial arts' ... is a lawful one," the judge wrote.

Chen's ruling, however, made it possible that the state could present evidence in the future that might lead to a ban or restriction of nunchucks.

"It is an instrument or weapon that is a lot more humane than penetrating weapons," Maloney, now 60, told The New York Times on Dec 18. "The swords, the guns, the knife — they all do their damage by putting a hole in somebody."

Maloney's legal journey began in 2000, when he was charged with possessing nunchucks in his home.

But Maloney, a lawyer who teaches at the State University of New York's Maritime College, said that the case went back to 1981, when he was arrested in New York City after doing a public demonstration with nunchucks, the Times reported.

That was the first time Maloney learned about the ban. By the time he graduated from law school in 1995, Maloney had formulated the outline of a challenge to the nunchucks ban.

When Maloney was 6, his father was fatally stabbed, he told the Times, which made him well aware of the danger of weapons like knives.

When he filed his complaint in 2003, Maloney, who represented himself in the case, argued that he had a constitutional right "to possess nunchaku in my own home", he said.

The Nassau County district attorney's office contended that "the dangerous potential of nunchucks is almost universally recognized".

But Chen said that she did not see evidence of that, noting that the weapons were used most often in self-defense.

"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," Chen wrote.

Chen went beyond what Maloney had sought, also striking down a related law preventing nunchucks from being manufactured or transported in New York.

"The court gave me a great deal more relief than I asked for," Maloney said.

"I guess I could carry them on the street tomorrow," he said. "Not really my plan, but you know, that's the result of the decision. If you're going to commit a crime, your weapon of choice wouldn't be these two sticks."

I agree with the judge's ruling. To me, a nunchucks ban wouldn't be much different than prohibiting baseball bats, or at least those miniature ones.

I do wonder, however, how long it will be before we start seeing nunchuck performances on the subway.

Reuters contributed to this story.

Contact the writer at williamhennelly@chinadailyusa.com

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