Friday, November 26, 2010

Missing the point

I’m usually very diplomatic toward other Filipino Martial Arts practitioners from other systems and don’t criticize other groups and organizations but I’ll make an exception with this post. It’s not every day when someone comes up with an idea so dangerous and illogical that I’m driven to give my two cents on the matter. A particular FMA system is promoting a radically different approach to knife training. They train the knife as a less-than-lethal weapon, used with locking and trapping techniques, avoiding cutting or stabbing the attacker if at all possible. According to them, they would like to have the option of selecting whether to use the knife or not in a lethal manner. They demonstrate applying locks and takedowns using the spine of a fixed blade knife, applying the weapon as a tool for leverage and pain compliance. 

At first glance, this strategy would seem to be intriguing and worth exploring further. But if you take time to consider exactly what is being proposed, it’ll soon be apparent to anyone who knows and understands weapon use in self-defense that this strategy is, to put it as nicely as I can, extremely dangerous, na├»ve and ill-advised. The strategy displays flawed rules of engagement (ROE) and a lack of understanding of the nature of knife use in self-defense.

I’m not a lawyer but I know that deploying a knife in a self-defense situation is already an application of deadly force. Maybe a very good lawyer can get me off of a serious assault charge if I used a knife in a fight without actually cutting or stabbing my attacker, but it’s more likely that I’ll be charged for using a knife as a deadly weapon even if never even opened it (for a folding knife) or stabbed or cut with it. If I ever deploy a knife to defend myself, it will be because I truly fear for my life or those of my loved ones and I’m forced to resort to deadly force by the circumstances I’m in. Bringing a knife into play when it’s not legally warranted and relying on the courts to see your actions as benevolent and non-lethal is highly unrealistic. A more rational ROE is to only resort to using a knife when your actions can be legally and morally justified. 

Deploying a knife in a fight should be considered as a deadly escalation of counterattacking options in response to a threat, and that escalation can only be interpreted as the use of lethal force. Training to use the knife for anything other than stabbing and slashing in self-defense will instill hesitation to use the weapon properly. Hesitating to use the weapon fully for just a fraction of a second could mean the difference between surviving the attack or not.

Those who are serious about training to use knives in self-defense consider how to deploy their weapon under stress and train to get their weapon into play in a short a time as possible, precisely because they know that time and distance are vital elements in self-defense that they need to be gained and exploited, not to be squandered going the less-than-lethal route when immediate lethal force is needed. A life-or-death struggle against an attacker or attackers who are probably armed as well isn’t the time to play games with pacifist strategies and hoping to protect your attackers from harming themselves with your knife.

The nature of knives used in self-defense is that if you have to use one, it’s probably under very dire circumstances and you need to stop the attacks immediately, not after a few seconds of locking and taking down the attacker. You don’t use a knife to stop an unarmed drunken uncle making a scene at a family reunion; you use empty-handed skills for that. If your attacker also has a knife and is obvious determined on killing you, you need to strike to stop him dead in his tracks, literally and figuratively, or else the fight becomes a drawn out battle with edged weapons, a worst case scenario for the both of you. At that point, the decision on whether to potentially kill him or not has already been made by him and the circumstances he brought about. You as the victim need to protect yourself and everything else are all secondary considerations.

A closed folding knife can certainly be used as impact weapon or pain compliance tool if circumstances demanded it. But what circumstances are these? The only situation I can think about that might allow me to use this strategy is if I’m suddenly forced to use a folding knife immediately after I get to it, having to respond to an attack and I haven’t had the opportunity to open it yet. Even then I’ll probably be using the knife to gain time and space so I can finish the deployment, opening the knife and immediately using the blade’s point and edge. Knife use in self-defense is more than just having extremely effective technique and tactics; it’s also understanding the circumstances that make it morally and legally acceptable and having a sound, reality-based strategy.

Training to use a knife as a less-than-lethal tool for join locking, taking down and pinning an attacker is pointless and unnecessary, and will only teach habits and instincts that will get you killed. If you’re going to use a knife, it better be for only one reason: to make sure your attacker stops attacking you and you survive, period.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Scary live blade demo

Here's a video of Madala Nonoy Garrucho (in the white shirt) and Mandala Rommel Tortal (camo shirt) doing a live blade demonstration at the end of the seminar conducted by Mandala Garrucho at Pekiti Tirsia Kali Manila in July of 2010. Both of them were using razor-sharp ginunting swords brought over by Mandala Garrucho from Bacolod. 

Every since I started training in Pekiti Tirsia Kali I've always wanted to see a demonstration of the system by these two legends in PTK. I know that they haven't done a demo together in years and this would be a historical event for Pekiti Tirsia Kali Manila. I promised myself that someday I'd do my best to arrange a demonstration by the both of them.

What I witnessed surpassed any of my expectations. Everyone who was there, myself included, held our breath throughout the demonstration. It was that fast and scary. The video doesn't do justice to the spectacular skills displayed by two of the most talented Pekiti Tirsia Kali instructors in the world.


Three leaders in the Filipino Martial Arts recently left us. Grandmaster Ben Largusa from Villabrille-Largusa Kali passed away on October 3rd. Christopher “Topher” Ricketts succumbed to cancer on October 5th and Ernesto Presas, the founder of Kombatan, died in his sleep on November 1st. 

Their passing has again reminded me of the need for more Filipinos to value their own martial culture. The remaining grandmasters, founder of systems and other pillars of the Filipino Martial Arts aren’t getting any younger. Many have passed away in relative obscurity, ignored by Filipinos who prefer to study and support foreign martial arts. How many teachers of little-known systems have died without passing on their knowledge to their heirs? How many more of the FMA leaders will die of old age before Filipinos snap out of their colonial mentality and begin to value the knowledge and skills that our forefathers have used to fight for freedom and their lives, the very same martial heritage that foreigners consider as some of the deadliest in the world?

It’s a free country and anyone has the right to study what martial art they want to learn. But when a Filipino who is studying a foreign system is asked if he has also studied a Filipino martial art, he’d better answer in the affirmative. Anything less than is a disgrace. 

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Let’s talk about sticks

Unlike Tuhon Gaje, who’ll pick up any stick in class and proceed to amaze everyone with it, I prefer to switch among the wide variety I keep in my stick bag.

For me, sticks are like golf clubs. I have about a dozen at one time in my bag, and they range from the garden variety 2.5 cm diameter to a forearm-abusing 3.2 cm monster that look more like a rattan table leg than a weapon. At the thinner end of the scale, my skinniest stick is a little over 2 cm. I consider that my personal limit for practical training use; any thinner and lighter and it’s more of a whip than a stick. A stick that thin will sting on contact but for true shock and awe you need more mass.

I used to have two bahi stick but they got smashed by Doug during the filming of the Fight Quest FMA episode and I never replaced them. Bahi sticks are excellent, since they’re almost as heavy and hard as kamagong but don’t crack and shatter as abruptly as the latter. I only have one kamagong stick right now, which is my heaviest weapon.

Each stick I have is just the right weight, length and diameter I like for a specific kind of training. For example, I use the biggest sticks for working my forearms but I don’t try power shots with them. The same for my kamagong stick; I use that for wrist rotations and low and medium power training but I never use it for power striking. My thinnest sticks are for some drills when I’ll be using medium power. I prefer an average sized stick, around 2.5 cm, for power striking and general practice. As for length, I’m comfortable with a 28 inch stick, but I do have a pair of 31 inch sticks for when I have to feed a training partner for some forms of doble baston training. Those extra inches give me that much needed standoff distance.

Almost all my students have sticks they use specifically for hard contact. Those are the one they don’t mind bashing to bits by the end of the class. I have my own set of “contact sticks” and they get replaced regularly, or as soon as they’re no longer fun to use. At the end of their training days, my sticks get recycled as dagger-length pieces for tire contact knife training or off-sized training tools. For example, I have a 21” stick which is the same length as my collapsible baton.

I seldom put duct tape on my sticks. I just love that crisp sound and feel of rattan to rattan contact. Taped sticks feel and sound “dead”. Sure they’ll last longer but you lose the auditory and tactile experience that’s part of FMA training. I do use tape on sticks that are coming apart on one end and use it by gripping on the taped end. My tire contact sticks are usually the ones that are nearing the end of their useful lives, and I use duct tape to make them last a little bit more.

Close node sticks are widely regarded are being more resistant to impact and, depending on the number of nodes and the quality of the rattan, they are quite tough. But “close node” doesn’t mean “indestructible”. At the end of the day, no stick will last very long with hard use. Close node sticks last longer than usual, and you can save money in the long run, but they will still come apart once you go heavy on the contact. If I have close node sticks with rough spots at the nodes, I grind them smooth with a rotary hand tool. It doesn’t make sense to needlessly mess up my hands when I can make the weapon easier to use. I always chamfer new sticks on a belt grinder so they don’t splinter along the ends

Some of the sticks I’ve seen being sold at sporting good shops are really disgusting; the varnish and the finish are hideous. I’m not looking for fancy burn marks or carvings on them; I consider sticks as disposable training tools and weapons, made to be used and tossed away when they’re bashed beyond use. One of the great benefits of training in the Philippines is cheap sticks. The goal is finding cheap, good quality sticks.

Elaborate carvings and finishes aren’t going to make the weapon any better. This is why I prefer a natural finish on sticks, rather than a questionable coating that will get sticky and grab my palm, causing blisters. Some of the best sticks I’ve seen locally are found in the shops downtown, along Quezon Boulevard in Manila. I’m sure there are other good sources in Metro Manila.

I avoid going fast and hard with anything kamagong, bahi or anything much heavier than an average rattan stick. I had a terrible case of tendonitis in my first year of PTK training when my training partners and I got it into our heads to “fast track” our training by using metal pipes and bars. It took me months to heal enough to train effectively. I learned the hard way that you need enough training time to build up tendon strength in the forearms.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not too picky about what I may have in my hand at the start of a class. If Tuhon Gaje starts the class, and I’m using a thicker stick than I prefer, I have no problem using it. But if had a choice, I’ll switch to something that I feel meets the needs for that particular class, and in the case of a session with Tuhon Gaje, it may entail a lot of full power strikes and long repetitions.