The Yawara Stick | Origins and Evolution into Dulo-Dulo and Kubotan Weapons

The Yawara Stick | Origins and Evolution into Dulo-Dulo and Kubotan Weapons

By James Stewart - Filipino Kali and Japanese Taijitsu Master

The yawara stick (also called pasak or dulo-dulo in Filipino martial arts) was the first impact tool I was shown when I started training in the martial arts nearly 3 decades ago. I have been fascinated with it and have trained with, studied & researched it ever since. In this article I aim to give a brief overview of it's history and development.

yawara kubotan weapons

The Origins of the Yawara Stick

The yawara stick started life as a religious artifact known as a Vajra or Dorge. It was carried by Buddhist monks and formed part of their day to day religious practice.  The shape of the vajra meant it learnt itself well to serving as a makeshift weapon of self defense, capable of inflicting injury against an opponents bones, pressure points and other vital areas of the body.

During the feudal period of japan, one reason behind the country's  civil war was a feud between the follows of Buddhism & the followers of the Shinto faith. Not unlike the troubles of Northern Ireland or the situation in Iraq in recent times.

The vajra's martial properties were not lost on the Samurai that aligned themselves with the Buddhist sects and so it's development began.  While techniques specific to the weapon were developed the yawara techniques drew their influence from both Tessen-Jitsu, the art of the iron war fan & from Tanto-Jitsu

Originally the yawara stick resembled little more than a short rod or miniature dumbbell as you would expect to see in a circus. Made of hardwood, brass or iron it was used to attack pressure points,break bones & effect locks & holds. 

yawara stick
An original dumbbell shaped yawara stick
As time wore on the yawara went through various transformations. Simple pointed rods, were common, others were square or octagonal providing edges for increased effectiveness when employing joint locks & holds. Some had a swivel ring in the centre for the index finger, these leant themselves more to Atemi (blows to the body) than locking techniques but had the advantage of being very difficult to dislodge from the hand due to the ring. 

Others would conceal blades or blinding powders others would even house single shot firearms. Of course not every Ryu (Japanese Martial Arts School) had the yawara as part of it's system and it was pretty useless on the battle field but by the Meiji Restoration (when the samurai were employed more as a police force), the schools that did use it. They developed it to such a high degree that it became known as "six inches of sudden death". The length however varied from school to school as well as depending the owners stature & personal preference but were normally between 6-8 inches in length.

The yawara stick's migration into Filipino Martial Arts

filipino dulo dulo weapon yawara
Probably as a result of the Filipino's exposure to Japanese martial arts during and after the second world war the yawara stick has found its way into the Filipino martial arts. Known as a dulo-dulo, or olisi palad (palm stick) it can be found in a number of systems. While some resemble the traditional yawara others are made of buffalo horn and are more curved in nature. 

As with all adopted Filipino weapons they are used quite differently to the original arts that influenced them. The dulo-dulo is used in arts such as Sunkutan, also known as Panantukan or Filipino boxing. In other systems it is used to hook, snag, strike and control an opponent in ways very different to the traditional jui-jitsu systems of Japan. The methods employed by the Filipino systems often involve rapid multiple hits that include raking techniques along with being included in sub systems such as hubud lubud which to those unfamiliar with the Filipino systems are similar to the sensitivity drills found in systems like wing chun.

The evolution into the Kubotan Keyring

For many years the yawara faded into obscurity and it's techniques were kept alive by a handful of jui-jitsu schools and various systems in the Philippines. It made a brief reappearance during the 1940's when Professor Frank Matsuyama taught it's techniques to the American police force of the time. 

It soon faded again into obscurity until the emergence of the now famous kubotan. First
kubotan keyring
developed as an aid to subduing a suspect and issued to the female officers of the L.A Police Department, it proved so effective it was quickly adopted by all forces for all their officers. Not long after it became available to the general public and for a while became a world wide phenomenon.

Creator Takayuki Kubota felt that the Kubotan should be easily carried and never forgotten. To this end he designed it to be used as a keyring. This allowed the yawara design to now incorporate a flail. Personally I'm not keen on this arrangement but it does serve it's purpose and I know it works for others. I feel the popularity of the Kubotan is one
reason the yawara stick has found it's way into the reality based systems popular today. I bet the masters of old Japan would never have believed that one of the smallest and least significant weapons in their arsenals would outlive such weapons as the Katana sword.

As a foot note there is reference to Italian bare knuckle boxers fighting with a short wooden rod in either hand. It would appear that the yawara may have developed in Europe quite independently of any eastern influence, however I can find no further reference to it at the time of writing.

I will be presenting various dulo-dulo techniques through Combat Network Magazine in coming months - watch this space!

About the Author:

James Stewart has trained in the martial arts for many years starting with Japanese Taijitsu and spending the last decade or so training in the Filipino martial arts (Cacoy DP, Inosanto / Lacosta blend, Barong Kalasag Kali)He has also trained in Krav Maga and other reality based systems.

James holds a 2nd dan in Hanimau JKD/Kali, Black Belt in Barong Kalasag Kali and Dan grade in Japanese Taijitsu.

He is a coach at the IBF Atemi Jitsu self defence school in Torquay which blends Aikido, Karate, & Jui Jitsu techniques. James also runs self defense seminars and workshops for community groups.

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