The Tonfa is a roughly t-shaped weapon, comprised of a round or square shaft roughly two feet long, with the handle attached at approximately the three-quarters point. It is basically a stick with a handle that allows the wielder to rotate it in their hand to present either the long or short end forward. The handle protrudes from the weapon at this point, which is why it is only a rough cross shape, making the weapon appear as a small "t" with only one crossbar. A tonfa is made of wood and usually wielded in pairs, in the manner of the Sai or Bo Stick. The weapon can also be held by the "stick" portion so as to use the handle as a hook to snare an opponent's neck, arm, or weapon.

The tonfa has a lineage that can be traced back to ancient China, and is also found in Indonesia, Okinawa, and Japan. It is a surprisingly effective weapon for its simple construction. The legend of its origin as a mill handle or an implement to pound grain is more probably due to its use as such to disguise its ability to be used as a weapon from feudal masters. It almost certainly originated as such an implement, but the addition of a handle made it into more than a simple stick.

The Tonfa's effectiveness lies in its ability to be used in a variety of attacks. One uses the leverage of the martial artist's arm to strike, with the weapon pivoting at the handle to swing the long portion in a deadly arc. Another attack uses the weapon in a jabbing motion, held under the arm with the handle upright in the fist and the short end of the stick extending out in front of the artist and the long portion running along the forearm. It can also be used as an effective shield to block blows in this position. Used properly, it can also trap an attacker's weapon, but one must be VERY skilled to use a tonfa in this manner.

The design has been adapted by many police departments in their nightsticks, but they are not true Tonfa as they are much longer than optimum for use as a martial-arts weapon. They are much more effective than a simple stick, though.

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