This post BLOWS!

From our friends at Vintage Nunchaku comes a feature on a critical piece of survival equipment that helped us get through the 1980s — The Jivaro Blowgun.

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The Jivaro Blowgun: This was serious “ninja stuff.”

First of all you had to be able to find them, they weren’t listed in Black Belt, Inside Kung Fu or any of the other major martial arts magazines. That meant you had to be familiar with magazines such as Solder of Fortune, Warriors or similar titles.

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Second, at least in the beginning, you had to be able to build your weapon. You literally got a long piece of aluminum tube, some brown rubber hose, a bunch of spring steel rods and some beads on a string. You boiled the rubber hose until it expanded and you then put those handguards on your blowgun before they shrunk. That done you installed the mouthpiece. As for darts, you stripped a bead off the cord, cut the spring steel to the desired length, heated it in a candle and then inserted it into the bead (if you were smart you followed the cord channel) and it literally melted into the plastic bead which hardened.

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It was a lot of work but it was a good system. You cut long darts for hunting and small darts for target practice or applications where a smaller less noticeable dart would be preferred. You could be a ninja without a sword, but there was no way you could be a ninja without a blowgun. This was the epitome of silent and deadly, it was the true signature weapon.

Jivaro blowguns go back at least as far as 1978 (that’s when I ordered my first one from an issue of SOF and were available until the mid 80s. I literally had about a dozen of these in that time. I had six foot ones for long range target use and I made them in lengths from two feet to four and a half feet to have a portable weapon for “missions.” I had some wrapped in black electrical tape for night use and even had a couple done in white athletic tape for winter use when I moved up north.

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Around 1984 they started shipping them completely assembled and they switched to a cheap plastic cone dart. Thankfully I had hundreds of beads on a string and lots of spring steel rods because those cone darts were junk. They were too light for any real accuracy. The bead darts on the other hand were amazingly accurate and from a 4.5″ blowgun I could nail lizards on trees from 30 feet away. I could put 12 darts in the same tree from twice that distance in a 6 inch group.

The two piece blowgun seemed like a good idea but the reality is it came apart at the wrong time, rattled no matter how you packed or slung it and the connection seemed to lessen accuracy. I found I could get almost the same results from one half of the two piece blowgun compared to the fully assembled weapon. Nothing beat a full size 6-foot blowgun, but it wasn’t exactly portable.

Sadly the majority of my Jivaro blowguns went to ninja heaven as they were destroyed in training. The only one that remains is a 1983 vintage six foot model that thankfully is in perfect condition…because you never see these come up for sale and the new ones don’t even come close.

As with most things from my younger days, I wish I had bought a couple extras.

— Vintage Nunchaku —

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We at Vintage Ninja never had Jivaro blowguns, opting for self-made (and vastly inferior) fare instead. I did have a plastic toy blowgun for suction darts that was actually branded from the American Ninja film, though, if that counts.

While an actual effective blowgun took some work, skill and practice, and some serious lung capacity, making non-functional but convincing movie-prop grade blowguns is much easier. Ours is a decorative bamboo rod from a florists with some twine embellishments. If we did it, anyone can!

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The oldest days of the Shuriken trade

We’re delighted to present the first of hopefully many editorial exchanges with the superb VINTAGE NUNCHAKU communityfound on Facebook here. This ‘other VN’ is the best fountain of info anywhere on old mail order advertising from the kung-fu craze to the ninja boom, and the collections of now antique weaponry amassed there will drop your jaw. We’re happy to expand their reach beyond Facebook (where page traffic is often limited based on how much admins pay for the right to communicate with their members) and give their research efforts another archive in case the mighty blue F one day goes the way of Friendster and MySpace.

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While the main focus of Vintage Nunchaku is the famed “karate sticks” — particularly the legendary stuff offered by Dolan’s Sports — there’s plenty of ninja fare as well. Scroll on through and note how many of the old scans of catalog pages and magazine ads have identical layouts and offerings from one martial arts fad to another, with cosmetic alterations like black paint and “NINJA!” typography being the only difference from one decade to the next.

Let’s start off here with a look at some of the earliest print adverts for Shuriken:

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FROM VINTAGE NUNCHAKU — The oldest advertisement for shuriken found to date. Scanned from the December 1967 issue of Black Belt magazine. Factoring for inflation, that set of two would cost about $35.00 today. Wonder if any of these “Albuquerque” shuriken darts even still exist. This advertisement, nor any other from the same company, is not found in any other Black Belt issues from 1967 or 1968 — which would make them that much more rare today.

I’m blown away that not only were shrink being imported into the U.S. in ’67, but that they were referred to as “Ninja Darts” — hell, “Ninja”-anything for that matter. Pre-80s ninja boom we always called them “Chinese Throwing Stars” with only David Carradine tossing around those thick, heavy wheels for reference. But this ad seems to be an aberration.

The below ad from Asian World of Martial Arts ran 10 years later, and despite the super early ninja-like star-chucker illustrated up top, is more indicative of the kung-fu-craze mail order scene:

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Again, much of the above would have some sort of black-colored, “NINJA”-stenciled version by 1984 or so.

Now, on to some of the gems of Vintage Nunchaku‘s beyond-enviable collections…

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One black, one gold, one silver — a ‘senban’ for any occasion! I can’t believe cases for these once ubiquitous mail-order sets survived the decades. Note the countries of origin, Japan and Korea, an era long before everything was cheap shit made in China.

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And then this grail original!!!

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Companies are still producing knock-offs of this 80’s boom staple, they’re all over eBay, dirt malls, swap meets and Chinatown smoke shops. And yes, I still think a shrunken belt buckle puts a sharp-pointee way too close to your junk…

OK, if you’ve never scrolled through Vintage Nunchaku, go now! Join the community, posts some pictures of your own old stuff, drool over the loot of others. The experts over there can identify anything you find in the attic, and are always looking to buy, sell and trade!