Updated: Nov 2
The Tonfa (also called Tong fa and Tuifa) has roots in China and Indonesia, as well as Japan. Some see parallels with old millstones used to grind rice (Nishiuchi, 2:08). While its origins are contested, it persists today as both a weapon and protection.
Held at the handle while the length of the tonfa extends along the forearm, and often in pairs, they are at first awkward objects to hold. I found that sleeping with my tonfas nestled under my arms at night eased my familiarity and increased muscle memory more quickly (I’m kidding.)
Tonfas are popularized in anime such as the character Hibari Kyoya in Katekyo Hitman Reborn, and even stylized in U.S. animations such as the Dark Jedi Maris Brood, whose Tonfa double as lightsabers, though the thought of having a lightsaber that close to my forearm makes me anxious. My anxiety helps me stay a Light Jedi rather than a Dark Jedi, I guess.
Tonfas are an exercise in physics. The handle is placed separate from the elbow; the hand holds the handle, but the bar extends past the length of the forearm. This is intentional. Tonfa with the handle placed more towards the middle are less effective–a handle too centered will not provide the force needed for the weapon (Nishiuchi, 5:45). The thumb and little finger serve as fulcrums (kuro-obi world) and the placement of the handle allows for a greater force in the spin. This allows for a centrifugal force that is effective both for blocking and attacking (Black Belt Wiki).
While the object feels very awkward to hold, when you understand the physics it makes more sense why it needs to be held against the arm as opposed to ajar from it. A parallel angle (tonfa against the forearm) makes for a much stronger position than an angled one. A great moment in one of the videos showed how difficult it is to properly hold the tonfa (5:00-7:00) and how to practice so that you know, upon impact with the tonfa, to differentiate between bad positions and good ones.
Black Belt Wiki, Tonfa
Kuro-obi world, 【TONFA】The Complete Guide! An ancient Weapon in Okinawa (Youtube)
Master Mikio Nishiuchi, user: hempev, Tonfa History and Selection (Youtube)
Nora TKD, The History of the Tonfa (Youtube)