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.