The Immersion Review - Stick Arts #1

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Stick Arts ISSUE 1

To thine own self be true

CONTENTS "To thine own self be true"

Vol. 1 - Stick Arts

14 Ron Saturno





Mark Mikita

Michael Blackgrave

Dexter Labonog

Cuentada: Learning to Prioritize in the Flow

The Long Pole: A Western Perspective

Bridges of Rattan, Bolos and Daggers



Mahipal Lunia

Burton Richardson

Hermit Training

Traditional Stick Fighting: Common Themes Oceans Apart

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Guido Caporizzi

Jeevan Gowda

Stick Fencing and Canne Italiana

An Interview with Sensei Sastri: Jo Jutsu Staff Techniques

162 Marc Denny

Dog Brothers Martial Arts’ Seven Ranges and Stick Grappling




Mark Human

Bryan Cannata

William McGrath

Applying stick fighting skills in the modern environment

Sticks and Chivalry

Tapada Staff

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From the Editors


THE ROBES OF M WELCOME TO THE FIRST issue of the Immersion Review: a journal for the martial comprehensivists. You may wonder why anybody would put out a magazine now when everybody watches videos. And why publish another magazine on martial arts, when everybody knows if you want to know what the best martial art is, just try it out in the octagon and you will get your answer. ‘Hold on!’ others may say, martial arts are more than that; it can instill self-discipline, respect for others, and an honoring of tradition. These are all good points, I would respond, but the fights we know, people got jumped on by crowds, people fought with steel-toed boots, pieces of pipe, baseball bats,

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knives and an occasional revolver. Yes, martial arts can develop one’s character, but so could joining the Boy Scouts. Learning how to tie knots and identify clumps of poison ivy did not turn us into Junior Seal team-6 members, but it gave our parents a few hours free of us. The point is combative sports and raising good citizens has always played a minor role in martial art traditions of a community. The problem is now that these two minor aspects have taken center stage. As a result, people protected by their wealth and status ignore the fact that throughout the world, they rely on their ability to assault and dominate others to gain money or goods. Others successfully fight off assaults to


MARS make it back home safe. Such is life at times. In a world where MMA gyms train competitive athletes, and martial art schools churn out healthy and respectful teenagers, there are still a few who hew to the old ways. They understand the training that is necessary to prepare someone for what is often one of the most frightening situations somebody can encounter; a real fight where you’re outnumbered, or weapons are involved. These types of fights might occur in several variable scenarios that should shape your response. The ways a soldier might clear a house full of enemy soldiers after his weapon jams are different, than

dealing with a group surrounding your wife and children in a mall parking lot. And this should differ from dealing with a drunk and angry friend. In all scenarios, though, one's responses should be quick, efficient, and effective, yet reasonable. However, the ability to dominate a situation is vital. If you can’t dominate a combative encounter, then all the other benefits of training are meaningless. And contrary to what many martial art teachers might say, most combative encounters are armed encounters. While jump spinning heel kicks and upside down reverse berimbolos to a heel hook have their place, an armed fight might not be the best place to try these moves out. From the Editors | 5

Being able to deal with a situation, get home, have a drink, relax, and get ready for work the next day is enough for many. However, for a few, their obsession to strip away all extraneous moves to perfect their combative skills becomes something of a quest. At some point in this journey, a simple set of trained responses to armed combat may become more than a couple of good moves; it transforms itself into art. It becomes a vehicle that can embody and reflect the maj6 | The Immersion Review

esty of a sunrise, the terror of a volcanic explosion, and the tragic beauty of a cheetah taking a down an impala through the effective, efficient and elegant use of combative principals to dominate a combative encounter. Over the centuries, many of those whose dedication to combative arts have risen to the level of an art form have codified their knowledges and passed them down. Many of these arts have died out along the way due

to catastrophic events, lack of interest, or students who just couldn’t ‘get it’. However, in this issue and those to come, the Immersion Foundation brings to you the ideas, the stories, the concepts, and the methods of those who have progressed much further on this journey then we have. Graciously they have come out of the shadows, back from the desert or come down from the mountains to encourage us, inspire us, and give us some advice to take a few more steps down this never-ending road to understand the truth of what lies at the root of all martial arts.

tack and riposte.

Opening this issue is the contribution from Ron Saturno. Blending an intense apprenticeship with Angel Cabales with recent scientific findings on physiology and neurology, Ron Saturno brings out the hidden knowledge buried in the most basic drills of serrada escrima in order to make their art more effective and efficient.

Solo training should be a key part of any martial artists training regime. Mahipal Lunia gives us a variety of solo training methods from various systems he has studied to cultivate specific skills we all need to take our skills to the next level.

Next in line, Mark Mikita’s article on cuentada advises us how to identify the logical progression of possibilities that arise when two weapons cross. From this event, he explains how this understanding can open your mind to the almost endless possibilities of countless applications of attack and counterat-

A common issue that arises among those who hew to the old ways to make it relevant to a new land and a new time. Michael Blackgrave tells us of his journey to showcase the advantages of any martial artist willing to adapt the six-and-a-half-point pole of WC to their training. In a wonderful and informative article recalling a disappearing Stockton, Dexter Labonog tells us how his teacher Leo Giron transformed his escrima to ensure its practicality and survival in the western world.

Burton Richardson takes us on a trek around the world to study the combative traditions of the Philippines and South Africa. Here he explores the commonalities and differences between two arts from these countries. In our opinion, Italy is a storehouse of combative traditions just waiting to be explored. Supporting this belief, Guido Caporizzi gives us a brief history of the

From the Editors | 7

martial arts of Southern Europe, specifically the role of stick fighting in Northern Italy and France. For years a group of dedicated men from this area have sought to preserve the hard-won knowledges of the old fighters yet find a way to ensure its popularity and continued existence in the 21rst century. In an interview with a man steeped in the Japanese battlefield arts of the samurai, Sensei Sastri answers some questions about his Ryu and the way energetics are used to charge and manipulate the jo. From the university of hard knocks on a thick skull known as the Dog Brothers gathering, Marc Denny breaks down and organizes what he sees as the seven ranges of combat. Here he urges us to take heed of all these ranges and have responses to each of them if you get in a fight or face the consequences of being unprepared. Forced to leave their lands and adapt to new ways, some rural Africans did better than others. Some turned to crime, and conversant with the stick and stabbing spear transposed their knowledge to modern weapons to make their way in the world. In this article, Mark Human describes how security officials in

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South Africa continue to adapt their training to deal with these people and their ways of fighting. Again, demonstrating how one expression of fundamental combative principles is often expressed in different ways, Bryan Cannata’s article gives the reader the history of another path to search and cultivate the truth of controlled fighting as a training tool. As the Dog Brothers took off on a journey based on the teachings from the old Filipino escrimadors to discover the truth of fighting, another group of North Americans looked backward to the pre-modern days of chivalric Europe to learn best how to hone one’s combative skills. Finally, one of the first generation of students of Leo Gaje of Pekiti Tirsia, William McGrath, teaches us a short spear form from the island of Cebu that he learned years ago. The roots of our ideas that led to this journal go back to the mid19th century during a time when European nations began expanding their reach around the globe. One problem that arose was that after hundreds of years of the supremacy of musketry, the sword and spear again came to the fore in European combat. The problem was no one remembered how to fight with these weap-

ons. The French turned to the Poles, who had a long experience fighting mounted warriors from Central Asia. England, on the other hand, turned to the Northwest of India, where insanely brave and disciplined warriors armed with swords, lances, and muskets wreaked havoc among English soldiers for many years. So, there was a practical need to learn how to fight with bladed weapons. Second, with the growing expansion of European exploration and colonization of

the world, the colonizers began to run across peoples who lived in varying forms of political and technological societies as if they were lost in time. This coincided with scientists' interest in evolution. And scientists turned to look at these people and rank these societies in an evolutionary ladder to show how the entire world will one day become modern and civilized like the West. Out of these two projects, Sir. R. F. Burton, who began his military service in India with

the 18th Bombay Native Infantry, blended the two interests. How do people arm themselves to fight? And what does the way people arm themselves and fight others tell us about the process of human evolution? He called this discipline Hoplology. Or the science of armed combat. The word derives from the big oval shield or hoplos that ancient Greek hoplite warriors once used to form a phalanx. Since then, the fortunes of this discipline have risen and fallen. Hoplology has taken many forms. But still, the fundamental question remains. How do people choose to arm themselves properly and fight? It is this question that drives 10 | The Immersion Review

The Immersion Foundation. Finally, some of you might wonder about the name. While the name might appear a little strange or cumbersome, however, it reflects a core concept regarding the way The Immersion Foundation approaches the study of combative arts. What we mean by the term Immersion is a complete deep dive into a modality or discipline to the point of being where the complete mind/ body/spirit is involved in the discipline. Moving to the term martial comprehensivists is a nod to Buckminster Fuller. Bucky coined the term comprehensivist to refer to someone who special-

izes in comprehending knowledge within the broadest possible framework. Bucky further added that a comprehensivist might periodically plunge very deeply into a narrow subject or specialized project; however, this is always a part of a much larger plan.” We follow that lead in our goal of becoming martial comprehensivists – developing as broad a framework of combat as possible while diving deep into our fascinations. But don’t let this take intellectualizing deter you from the wealth of wisdom gained through hard work that lies within these pages. Read, think, put down the magazine, and experiment with what the

Mahipal Lunia Executive Editor

authors are saying. Then pick up the magazine and read some more. Then write to tell us and what you found out. With help from the authors and the readers, we hope to bring out better, stronger, and more exciting material with every issue. Once we feel we have lost our mojo, our passion, we will shut the journal down. We are not going out like the Rolling Stones but more like the blues singer Robert Johnson or Little Walter. Struggling and playing with every ounce of passion we possess until the lights go out. Enjoy!

Michael J Ryan Editor-at-Large

From the Editors | 11

MEET THE TEAM CONTRIBUTING EDITORS Mahipal Lunia Executive Editor @theimmersionfoundation

Michael J. Ryan, Ph.D. Editor-at-Large @michael.j.ryan.54


REVIEWERS 3 Anonymous Reviewers

CREATIVE Iryna Melnykov Art, Design and Production

The Immersion Review, founded by The Immersion Foundation, is a conduit for penetrating insights in combat and combative behavior. It is a space for the dedicated martial artist, who dares to seek ideas from diverse fighting systems. The Immersion Review is a peer-reviewed journal for the martial arts comprehensivist. FOR EDITORIAL AND ADVERTISING INQUIRIES, PLEASE CONTACT: 12 | The Immersion Review

SPEED Ron Saturno

“Slow is smooth and smooth is fast,” I say. It’s my mantra. When I practice escrima, I mentally repeat it again and again. It’s hard, damn hard to seamlessly transition from movement to movement during a spar smoothly and efficiently. It’s a very rare breed that can.

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“SLOW IS SMOOTH and smooth is fast,” I say. It’s my mantra. When I practice escrima, I mentally repeat it again and again. It’s hard, damn hard to seamlessly transition from movement to movement during a spar smoothly and efficiently. It’s a very rare breed that can. My teacher, the late Angel Cabales, the progenitor of Serrada Escrima, could. I have a long way to go, and yet a few believe me to be fast. In my fashion, I am fast but not in the same manner as my late master. After repeated spars with the late serrada master, I eventually realized that no matter how fast I moved, he was waiting for me. He accomplished this by superb timing, zone defense, and setups for a world-class wicked backhand, balls of steel, and actual combat experience. I am saying that “in fact,” Angel Cabales only appeared

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to be fast. He reduced possible responses to his attacks to the point that he was waiting for you most of the time. He played a whole other level of escrima. I’ve heard it said that good escrimadors would hit you, and then you will have lost. Angel Cabales won, and then he would hit you. I still must hit people to win but hope for the day when I win long before hitting. My art Serrada Escrima bases itself upon algorithms. Some say algorithms are simple algebra. If only it could be so easy to explain away. Serrada Escrima bases itself upon a maddening simplicity. The sad fact is that simple isn’t always very easy to teach or perform. It can take decades to understand something so well that it becomes simple. Serrada Escrima appears upon the surface to be an exceedingly if not an overly simplistic art, but nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve had people take six months of lessons from me and quit because they believed that they fully understood the art. Some believed themselves to have become undefeatable warriors. A well-instructed Serrada

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Escrima practitioner can hold his own after just six months of training, but he’ll be far from an undefeatable warrior. Monsters are walking the face of the earth, swinging sticks, and could care less about you or your beloved system. If they knock you down, you and your beloved system aren’t much about shit in their eyes. To the casual reader, I suppose that more than a few conclude that I haven’t said anything of importance regarding “speed.” Not true. I am talking about doing a lot with just a little. It is about doing away with all the bullshit to the point that everything you do has a purpose. That everything you do is tied together to a point where you “appear” to be exceedingly fast. You won’t be fast at all; you will be the epitome of economy of motion, you will do what you need to do when you need to do it. To me, this is the definition of fast. And is the true meaning of “slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” I am now going to try and address the concept of speed. “I know it when I see it” is a now commonly used expression will be the epitome of economy in motion, you will do what you need to do when you need to do it. To me, this is the definition of fast.

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coined by the United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stuart to describe pornography, but people get screwed by speed just as they do in porn. We all know “speed” when we see it. So, seeing it is believing it, but “How can we achieve appreciable speed?” I hope to answer this question, but first, we must define speed. In martial arts, the guy that hits first is “faster.” Hitting “first” isn’t how we scientifically measure speed. When people describe “fast,” they use euphemisms like “quick,” and people can and do mix the proper terms which form the basis of speed. We are speaking about terms such as reflexes and reaction times. “Reaction time” is a term used to measure how quickly a man responds to a stimulus. Reflexes are automatic responses. I’ve heard men use the term reaction time and reflexes synonymously, and so at the beginning, I wanted to differentiate the two terms. In escrima, our prime directive is hitting without being hit. Occupying the same space as an incoming weapon is detrimental to your health. Anyone that can hit with being hit in re-

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turn is “fast.” But how does one hit without being hit? Reaching out and striking someone with impunity is almost a godlike quality. The eyes must recognize a threat, and you must make a sound split-second decision to avoid a weapon strike. The first good strike with a weapon is usually the beginning and the end of an altercation. My master didn’t focus upon incoming weapons; he focused upon his opponent’s chest. His many years of focused practice upon the chest area he earnestly believed was a key to speed. Chest movements are a precursor to limb movement, and reading movement before it begins in earnest can give one a real edge. Our core moves a helluva lot slower than our limbs. I also focus on the chest area. When I am forced to concentrate upon an incoming weapon, my chances of avoiding an incoming weapon go way down. The actual physiology of recognizing an incoming weapon is a mere fraction of a second. Anything that can give you an edge is significant. Looking at the chest and observing the whisper of movement even before the incoming movement can provide you with a small but a definite combat edge.

REPORTS FROM Neurologists suggest an incoming weapon first registers in the occipital lobe of the brain. The information then travels to the frontal lobe. Here in the frontal lobe is where decisions are made for deciding the best course of action. Once a decision is reached, the message is transmitted via the spine to the necessary limbs. An individual’s frontal lobe has a lot to do with your chances of survival. Consider the complex nature of combat; it is a miracle that some men’s minds can make the correct decision in the heat of combat. I went to Angel Cabales because he had the knack of making the correct decision in battle. If you seek to learn how to survive in a combat situation, learn from a man that has. When I earnestly began looking into the how’s and whys of speed, some of what I learned made things more complicated. It’s only 100 milliseconds between the time your eyes see something, and it registers. The average reaction time is between 200-250 milliseconds. A stick can travel 100 mph or roughly 44.7 meters/second. Using a 100-mph

ball as an example by the time a batter even recognizes the ball, it will have traveled 12.5 feet. In escrima, we are usually standing well within 12.5 feet of an opponent. It’s a miracle that you can avoid being hit by a man standing anywhere near you. In one study conducted at UC Berkeley, scientists used FMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to pinpoint the prediction mechanism in the brain that allows us to track objects. Our brains can accurately track the paths of objects. The research showed that the V5 region of our visual cortex showed distinctive activity, suggesting that this was the home of motion-predictability and that the prediction mechanism may be more sophisticated in some than in others. I believe that the practice of Serrada’s Espada y Daga improves reaction times. To become better in Espada y Daga, you must practice and practice a lot. In Espada y Daga practice, you are hitting a lot, avoiding being hit a great deal, moving a lot; and this may improve your brain’s motion tracking mechanism, but this is me talking.

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Angel Cabales forced every one of his students to perform Serrada basics slowly - ever so slowly. Slowly going over the basics is a secret of speed.

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All of us have a basic makeup, genetic propensities. Many teachers try to make their students fit a mold rather than working with their strengths. Angel Cabales could teach students on an individual basis intuitively. He made you feel special. He didn’t ever say that you were a student that needed kinesthetic training, or was a visual learner, or a listener. He could reach you in a personal and proficient way. He was that good of a teacher. But the heart of his teaching was Serrada basics. He forced every one of his students to perform Serrada basics slowly – ever so slowly. Slowly going over the basics is a secret of speed. We have receptors around our joints that let us know the positions of our limbs, and by practicing slowly, you become intimate with the various positions your limbs go through when producing set movements. Your muscles go through complex procedures to achieve coordinated movements. You have muscles that fixate, retract, etc. When you move slowly, your movements are felt all through the process. Eventually, you increase speed, but everything you do has become second nature. When you perform repetitive motions over and over, your nerves can start developing what I call super-

highways. Myelin sheaths start forming over particular nerve pathways that allow movements to be performed almost without conscious volition. How can you develop more speed? Plenty of practice. Lots and lots of practice. A secret of speed? Work your ass off – that’s a secret! The magic martial arts system? Good luck finding it. I did not intend this to be a technical article in any way, but achieving real speed does have a technical aspect. I have written before how we have deep abdominal muscles that stabilize our core. These deep abdominal muscles tie our upper and lower parts of our bodies together. Research has shown that if the brain recognizes that our core is not stable, it will inhibit nerve transmissions to our limbs. Angel Cabales had a unique foot-stomping motion, which caused the deeper abdominal muscles to remain in a state of tension. With this motion, the core muscles are stimulated and stabilized in such a way as to and allows us to avoid inhibited nerve transmissions so we can function at an optimal level. Serrada secret? Yes. I’m now going to go a little deeper into my art of Serrada Escrima. My art starts everyone (traditionally) with a movement SPEED • Ron Saturno

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called Outside Number One. You step to the left, parry with your left hand, and then strike with a backward strike to your opponent’s weapon hand. The parry strike is a primary attack in many arts. In Karate, the parry soon follows with a strike to GB20 or B10, possible GV16; it’s a standard motion. The movement is called Double Knife Hands in some arts. Motion is motion, but some motions are more effective than others. The movement performed cor26 | The Immersion Review

rectly, keeps your motions from crossing your centerline. Any time your limbs cross your centerline, it causes your brain to switch. I have no idea how much time I am speaking about here, but our knowledge about this can make us at least think about this, and every little bit of time we can save adds up. It’s masters’ thinking. I do want to speak more about Outside Number One of Serrada Escrima and give away a secret that has always been right out in

the open. The best way to hide something is out in the open. We are wired to deliver forehands and backhands. Speaking of the origins of hand movements, I will refrain from a discussion of the part of the brain known as the “Fissures of Rolando.” However, our hand movements are essential, they have a lot to do with our being able to function, and when we put a weapon into our hands, we naturally strike with forehands and backhands. Angel Cabales built a lot of his

art around the backhand. Oh, he called it a cross block, but the cross block is the Yin before the Yang. Soft before the hard. We must keep in mind that Angel Cabales was a smallish man, and he had to find ways to deal with much larger and stronger opponents. The cross block allowed Angel Cabales to commit his opponent just before he let loose with a swift backhand strike with his weapon. I don’t care how fast you believed that you were; he was usually waiting for you. He

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could have effortlessly unloaded on me on many occasions. You didn’t see it at first because it was so subtle. The backhand was simple, an Outside Number One, the very first movement learned in Serrada Escrima. Outside Number One performed, again and again, is a secret of Serrada Escrima. Outside Number One is chained backhands and forehands. These are part of a set of automatic movements genetically wired into our makeup by nature itself and is a secret of our art – simplicity and basking our art upon our genetic makeup. Angel Cabales, I believe, understood this and is the reason why so many of us got individual attention. He helped us tune in our backhands and forehands to fit us individually. I get complaints. Many insiders in our art of Serrada Escrima believe that I no longer do Serrada as taught to me by the late great Angel Cabales. I know for a fact that our late master is on tape explaining that once you understand his art, you should make the art “yours.” If you ever 28 | The Immersion Review

tried to do our movements “entirely,” as taught in basics in an actual fight, you are likely to get your ass handed to you. Fundamentals are the letters of our art. Espada y Daga and sparring are the chapters, and ‘free-flowing’ are our bestselling books. Basics teach footwork, angulation, timing, and proper body mechanics. Espada y Daga and sparring develops our ability to move in real-time. In real life, we don’t throw away basics, we don’t or can’t do basics exactly in the regimented fashion in which we learned. Actual fighting occurs on beats, just like in music — full beats, half beats, quarter beats, etc. Two men wielding their sticks in combat is akin to two directors using their ‘sticks’ to direct a symphony. Just like in a real-life orchestra, if the director wields his stick improperly, all you get is a cacophony of movements and sounds. It takes many long years of earnest practice to get you to a point where you can wield your wand as an impresario.

The escrima greats can and could take in the totality of a combat environment and make the proper choices. Honestly, it takes a lot of hard work. At the end of the day, the good escrimadors can find the quickest paths to their destinations, which usually means connecting various points on an opponent’s body. Men achieve this by discovering the best paths to accomplish a destination with their weapons. As it relates to a practitioner, this means if your style or system inhibits your goals, you need to learn how to work around your predicament. There are no best ways to getting this done, but physics helps point you in the proper direction. There is no best style or system, just men who properly apply physics. A man who practices a so-called inferior system long enough will eventually look and act like the so-called ‘great’ system artist. The fact remains that long hours of hard work and toil forces men to find better ways to do things.

Serrada stylists. I am a Serrada man through and through. I have highly personalized my art to fit my needs. I can never be Angel Cabales. I can be the best that I can be properly using the principles of Serrada Escrima. Using the principles of Serrada sometimes makes me appear to be “fast.” I am not fast. I am an old, slow guy who has cut a few of many wasted movements out of my overall responses so that I only appear to be fast.

For this reason, in some ways, I don’t look like some other SPEED • Ron Saturno

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There have been a few training tricks that I discovered along the way, which have helped me out immensely. In my research, I found that ‘rebounding’ seriously, well, at least appreciably, helped my eye-hand coordination. You go out and buy those small circular trampolines. I hung a ball near me, and when bouncing up and down, I would make attempts to connect the hanging ball with my stick. One reason guys do so poorly in stick fighting competitions is that they are forced to throw hits off balance and still attempt to connect upon their moving opponent. The mini-trampoline does help with your eye-hand coordination. Don’t believe me? Don’t do it. A few scientific publications suggest the many advantages of bouncing. It may not help your speed, but your connect rate goes up, and he who hits first is best and, therefore, the fastest.

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Double-end striking bag! I don’t use it in typical boxer fashion. I do (used to anyway) go 45 minutes per day on the double end bag. Appropriately performed, I could get in hundreds if not thousands of punches in a day. If you want to get good at hitting, then hit a lot. My arms could effortlessly move, my cardio was off the charts. I kept the weight off and had real stamina. But there were other things that I did upon the bag. If I tried out a new punch combo on the double end bag and couldn’t do it, I knew I couldn’t do it on the streets. The ball is very unforgiving. But you can also use your knife techniques upon the ball. You used a knife-sized stick and cut the bottom of the cord under the ball as if it was an opponent’s neck area. You can elbow, chop, grasp, etc. Practicing in this fashion can help make you very, very quick with a knife and improve one’s hand speed. And yes, you can also use your stick, but your ball won’t last very long, but that’s the cost of greatness? Greatness costs money. How great do you want to be?

I covered a lot in this writeup. Speed is all about chipping away. At first, your efforts will pay off handsomely. As you move further along, you start getting smaller and smaller payoffs for more and more effort. There are “no free lunches” in martial arts. It’s hard work over time; this is the definition of Fu. If you are not willing to put in the hard work, your Gung Fu will be weak, Grasshopper! – Ron Saturno

Ron Saturno @ron.saturno


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Mark Mikita with Burton Richardson

I REMEMBER THINKING how cool it was going to be to have the skill to do what my teachers said I should be able to do, eventually; that being not only to disarm every incoming angle but also counter every disarm and counter-disarm attempted against me, all in a real fight with a tactically intelligent and actively resisting

opponent, as opposed to a choreographed drill with a cooperative and habitually acquiescent partner. The only problem was, while my teachers would go on and on about this mythical group of enlightened grand masters who could do such things with

Mark Mikita



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...if teachers do their job, their students will naturally evolve and advance their ‘system.’

remarkable ease themselves, when it came to what I was being taught, they never actually laid out any real steps for me to acquire those skills myself. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good yarn as much as the next guy and stories of extraordinary prowess, however embellished, can serve to inspire the next generation of eskrimadors while also passing on the history and culture of the art, as well as the unique personalities and contributions of those who went before. However, it seemed to me that we ought to be devoting at least some portion of our training to working on doing what they claimed the learning process would accomplish if we kept at it. But that was not the case, not ever. Oh sure, they would teach jazzy variations and sophisticated ‘progressions’ meant (we were told) to be so deeply ingrained through repetitive practice that – upon necessity – we would

somehow transcend the chasm between mechanical training and what the legendary combat general George S. Patton called the orgy of disorder that is battle and have full and unfettered access to everything we were ever taught. It’s the same paradox that advocates of traditional kata espouse when anyone questions the set-pattern approach to training, except that, in the Filipino martial arts, our set patterns also include set answers to a seemingly well-thought-out list of what-ifs one need only memorize and work like a faith-based, twelvestep program to be ready for whatever may come. And right about now, I’m probably starting to irritate the followers who staunchly believe their ‘system,’ with its ‘battle-proven’ patterns, is the real deal. How many of us have heard the droning of devotees claiming that theirs is the ‘original’ system? If whatever the so-called ‘original’ system included in its arsenal CUENTADA • Mark Mikita

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of dirty tricks was unequivocally and forever the only true art by virtue of it being the ‘original,’ why isn’t the United States Air Force still flying Orville and Wilbur Wright’s canvas and spruce contraptions? In my opinion, and I am an admitted iconoclast, if teachers did their job, their students would naturally evolve and advance their ‘system.’ It’s certainly not a negative to move on from the original seed if one has the creativity to do so. However, as doing so does require a certain degree of irreverence, it can definitely undermine the presumed authority

who have always been the originators, the ones who scoffed at rules, restrictions and rank to forge their own path. Moreover, I believe we should take from their example not only the ideas and innovations they came up with but also, more importantly, their willingness to break from the security of the crowd to venture out on their own. On a side note, as an artist, I have always found it odd that martial artists are so inclined to follow a certain teacher or system with such unquestioning devotion. In the art world, no one but an idiot would ever say that they paint in the Leonardo Da Vinci style. Only Da Vinci did that and to be

Often defined simply as ‘accounting’ or ‘to do by calculation,’ Cuentada is all about learning to prioritize in the flow.

that insecure grand masters of the ‘original’ system tend to hold like guillotine blades over the necks of their followers when they demand blind allegiance, so it’s not a big surprise to me that such excursions are rarely encouraged. If you haven’t noticed, I’ve sprinkled in a few allusions to the borderline-religious mindset that pervades the Filipino martial arts because I feel very strongly that it is the atheists and heretics, if you will, 38 | The Immersion Review

a devotee of his ‘system’ of personal expression is a ludicrous idea. Anyway, I digress… Returning to the point, to the dismay of anyone who has ever pressure-tested their systematized approach in the crucible of even light, padded-weapon sparring, the results more than likely did not inspire confidence in your training method. To zero in on just one element of the art, if you have ever put on

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a fencing mask and exchanged even just moderately hard blows with a game partner using hard sticks, you have undoubtedly found it nigh on to impossible to pull off any semblance of checking in the manner you were taught. Rather than engaging your critical thinking and digging into and questioning the manner in which checking was taught to you, though, if you’re like most practitioners – the followers – you probably leapt to

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the conclusion that checking was a useless remnant of the past and then discarded it. I can’t be the only one who finds it ironic that that flies so directly in the face of the otherwise unquestioning devotion to systems and lineages. What I think the response reveals, though, is the inclination of individual practitioners to make sweeping changes to their personal expression of the art when their experiences

Cuentada is the apex.

and research uncover weaknesses or deficiencies in what they were taught. That’s why they call martial arts training ‘the solitary path.’ Functional checking, counter-checking and counter-counter-checking; disarming, counter-disarming and counter-counter-disarming; masterful weapon control and manipulation; weapon seizure and preemptive counters to weapon seizure; control of distance and position such that the opponent’s options are minimized or entirely eliminated while your options are expanded and fully under your control… these are all elements of the art that you should be training from the earliest beginnings. Furthermore, you should be doing so in

a way that teaches you to get to checkmate quickly rather than simply exchanging techniques in a cooperative exercise without developing the mindset to achieve victory. On its face, the concept of cuentada would seem to offer a way to do just that. Often defined simply as ‘accounting’ or ‘to do by calculation,’ cuentada is all about learning to prioritize in the flow. To illustrate, imagine that I have either directly seized or somehow entangled your weapon. Obviously, you need to regain control of it as soon as possible. However, if I am in position to immediately strike you with my weapon, that threat has to be your priority. Even if your system has a really cool technique for breaking the opponent’s grip CUENTADA • Mark Mikita

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on your weapon, you can’t just absorb a few full-power cracks in the skull while you pull off your cool technique. So, turning your attention to my weapon, how do you nullify it while also getting your weapon back under your control, all while I am actively and very skillfully maintaining my position of advantage? Mind you, I’m not talking about anything that is choreographed in any way. I’m describing a very real dilemma, one that finds expression in innumerable ways in the flow of a combative exchange. By ‘combative,’ I mean the goal of both combatants is to effectively breach the other’s defenses and land a telling blow, followed by a withering barrage of confirmation blows.

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While cuentada is alluded to in every system of Filipino martial arts I have trained in, Balintawak eskrima often includes the word in the various names practitioners come up with to distinguish their particular approach from that of another’s. As a perfect example of what I was saying about individual practitioners making sweeping changes in their personal expression of the art, I’ve trained with a number of Balintawak grand masters and, to the uneducated eye, it might seem that they are all teaching entirely different arts. Crispulo Atillo, for example, teaches a brand of checking and counter-checking that is very preemptive. He’s a very little guy (I’m thirteen inches taller than

he is) and he undoubtedly figured out, early on, that if a much bigger opponent gets hold of his stick, he’s screwed. So, good luck trying. On the other hand, when I worked out with Bobby Taboada years ago, he was an ox by comparison. Grab hold of his stick and he would not only rip it out of your hand but he might also rip your hand off, just because he could. What we’re talking about, though, is cuentada. Both Atillo and Taboada teach it, or at least allude to it in their teaching, and can do it themselves exceptionally well. If you aspire to acquire such skill, though, you will need to look beyond the ‘procedure of teaching,’ as Atillo calls it. You must distill the essence of

cuentada for yourself and, with all due respect to your teachers, tailor it to suit you, just as they did. But don’t presume for a second that their vaunted procedure of teaching will impart that knowledge to you directly without you engaging your critical thinking and doing the work it takes to slough off the imprisoning chains of their intentionally repetitive and mechanical procedure that’s only meant to give you a taste of what it’s is all about. Simply put, if one person is feeding attacks and the other is answering those attacks in a prescribed manner, that is a choreographed exercise. That is not cuentada.

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Cuentada is the apex. Sparring is certainly important and essential, but the very first things you would actually want to do in a real fight are not what anyone wants to be hit with in a friendly sparring session. Cuentada puts those things first on the list of priorities in attacking. To practice cuentada, you have to consciously abandon any semblance of a cooperative exercise. However, that is certainly not to say that you should throw all caution to the wind and just fight. You won’t survive the practice long if you take that approach.

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The beauty of cuentada training is that you can choose the degree of intensity at which you want to practice. Right about now, I imagine you’re getting frustrated. I’ve talked about how a great many teachers who are, themselves, highly skilled at cuentada, often only allude to it in their teaching. I’ve also said that cuentada is meant to be very personally yours. Unfortunately, it’s only natural to look at something a teacher is trying to illuminate

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for you through the lens of your previous experience in the art and therein lies the main problem with ‘teaching’ cuentada. It is not a technique. It’s about being fully awake and in the moment. Attempting to access and make use of memorized skills will almost certainly fail in the context of cuentada because your opponent will be changing the circumstances constantly, and you’ll be doing the same in return. In a sense, you’ll both be playing keep-away. Neither of you will do anything that will

provide any opportunity or advantage to the opponent unless you’re baiting him so you can then counter him and finish it. As opposed to basically every other drill in the art, in the practice of cuentada, the singular objective is to win. The one who wins does so by being better at it, period. Hence, it is a pure test of skill. Going back to what my teachers said I should be able to do, about fifteen years ago, I resolved to figure out, for myself, how to do just that, as it was clear that no one was actually teaching that. Dismantling and restructuring my daily practice, I flipped the script. With freedom as the goal, I knew that I had to have freedom at the beginning. Hence, I began exploring applying the ideals of cuentada without using a mechanical exercise as a portal. I also made it a point to start there with new students, rather than only alluding to it as a high level goal. No teaching basics. No wasting time with teaching Filipino terminologies (the innumerable dialects and the rivalries that crop up because of them make that an exercise in futility). It’s quite simple, really. Hit but don’t get hit. Take line and immediately seize control of the opponent’s weapon but don’t let him touch your hand or

your weapon unless it’s to your advantage to do so (which, surprisingly, it often can be, particularly if the opponent doesn’t know what he’s doing). In my experience, very few possess such a level of skill. Having been told, again and again, that I should be able to disarm every angle; that seemed like a suitable place to start. What I soon discovered, though, was that the way I was taught to look at disarming was, in and of itself, fatally flawed. Isolating disarms in a defensive framework made them easy to learn but impossible to actually pull off against a full-speed, full-power attack. Turning the situation around by aggressively putting the opponent on the defensive made disarming him significantly easier and more practicable. ALWAYS BE ATTACKING is a hallmark of cuentada. Immediately, the opponent is essentially cornered and likely to response by somehow binding or otherwise entangling your weapon as you endeavor to disarm him. That’s why they call it fighting. You need to effectively solve whatever problem he creates on the fly before he can take the initiative and attack, putting you on the defensive. I can well imagine a great number of you are nodding your CUENTADA • Mark Mikita | 47

heads right now, feeling absolutely certain that you fully understand what I’m saying. You are sure your system teaches a progression of counter-offensive techniques that ingeniously solve the problems you’re likely to encounter in a situation such as that. The problem with that belief, though, is that you won’t have access to those techniques when my stick is coming at your face at seventy miles an hour. In fact, even if I slow it down to just ten miles per hour, you still have no hope of coming up with anything from memory.

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After all, that approach is equivalent to coming to a conversation with pre-rehearsed sentences. You may be able to impress people with your eloquence as an orator or speechmaker, putting on impressive demonstrations of advanced technique. However, as an eskrimador, your goal is to be a great conversationalist, able to open your mind and give your full and complete attention to whomever you’re speaking with and express your thoughts and feelings in a way that leaves them unable to argue with you. When done well, cuentada can be compared to trying to get your

ball back from your big brother. By virtue of his greater life experience and his dedication to torturing you, his keep-away skills are insurmountable. As silly as that analogy may seem, I often use the idea of simply playing keep-away to get students to stop trying to learn by memorizing techniques. You all know how to play the game. To do it well, you have to be very present. You have to watch your proverbial little brother like a predator stalks its prey. Watch his efforts. See how

he tries to solve the problems you create. Then, adapt to him and, as you continue to torture him, expect the desperate lunge and be ready to counter it. I know it’s reprehensible and politically incorrect to use such an analogy to illustrate my point but, before you get your hackles up, know that I was the little brother and my beloved big brother John was a veritable genius at that infuriating game. In that fury, the seed of my personal expression of cuentada was sown.

Mark Mikita @mark.mikita

@markmikita CUENTADA • Mark Mikita | 49


“Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication” - Leonardo Da Vinci

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Preface THE ARTICLE YOU are about to read will be on my understanding of the “luk dim boon quan” or “6 1/2-point pole”, “dragon pole,” “long pole” and how I use it. I approach this article as who I am, a westerner. I am not a master of the pole, just a humble practitioner who sees deep value in the long pole work of Wing Chun. I will present my approach to the pole, and more so, how I use it for my daily training and in daily life. The History There have been countless articles on the Wing Chun long pole, along with numerous premises as to where it originated. Many people believe the pole was used as a boat pusher by various individuals in the time of the ‘Red Boat Days.’ This premise holds in many ways. In those bygone days, river transportation was frequent; there had to be a simple way to propel the craft, and seeing how the boats would often use much shallower canals it was practical to use a long pole to propel a vessel. The pole is also believed by many to have doubled as a spear. The spear is an ancient weapon that comes in various lengths and adorned with multiple types of points, some steel, others carved

down, and fire-hardened wooden points. In ancient times, the possession of steel weapons by the common man were forbidden by the Qing dynasty. The Qing Dynasty, who persecuted the commoner of the time made it quite clear that the possession of a weapon was an offense punishable by death. The long pole was an everyday tool used by farmers, fishermen, and boatmen. A simple tool, it could also be utilized as a weapon quite easily. It would not take a considerable amount of skill to wield it in such a fashion, and it was simple enough to blend into daily life. So, which view is correct? In my opinion, they all hold merit as they all make practical sense. The pole as a weapon has been used in many formal systems, and informally by people who just picked it up and smashed someone in defense of oneself or one’s clan. While the history of the long pole and its inception into Wing Chun has always been a mystery, there is no doubt that this tool is both lethal, and in this writer’s opinion, the backbone of Wing Chun.

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Poles The long pole is a very versatile tool with different yet equally important components to its usage. Taking into consideration these varied usages determines the type of pole one will use. I use three different poles, the first being a very heavy eight-and-ahalf-foot pole that I use for conditioning. I also use a nine-foot tapered hickory pole to work the long pole form and build flow. For sparring, I find a seven-foot wax wood pole suitable as it is lighter, dense and can take a smashing. I also use a cut-down six-foot long hickory pole. The long pole traditionally was measured at nine feet; however, through the years and individual choice, the pole lengths now vary between seven and nine feet.

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Another reason for shortening the poles is postal shipping. It is much easier to ship a seven or eight-foot pole as opposed to a nine-foot pole, and in today's world where Wing Chun is a highly sought discipline wholesale houses rapidly send poles worldwide. The long pole also comes made from various species, each with their strengths and weaknesses. Everything from oak, wax wood, to exotic hardwoods like hopea, iron bark, iron wood, and the highly sought “quan din� wood is used. The work to be done depends on the wood. Most pole builders will use a Janka rating for the wood, which determines if it is suitable for heavy smash training [using the tip of the

weapon to hit floored objects, i.e., coins, bottle caps, etc.]. If the janka rating is too low, you will run the high probability of shattering your pole, especially if it has a taper towards the tip. The quan din wood is perfect for smash training as is hard hickory, especially if you forgo a heavy tapered tip. Woods that are not good for smash training are African sapele wood, cherry, birch, and some wax woods depending upon the taper. The best advice I could give a perspective buyer of a long pole is, ask for a janka rating of the pole that interests you. If it is a custom order, discuss the taper and its advantages, and disadvantages. With every long pole comes user responsibility. One must keep the pole straight and oiled. Being such a long item, and a porous wooden object, it runs the risk of warping if not stored properly. If you lean the long pole against a wall at an angle consistently, the pole will slightly bow. If the pole is left in moist areas while leaning, the bow will quickly become significant. The proper way to store your pole is on the floor or a shelf that has the same length or greater than the pole itself. In this way, you assure that no weight of the pole is unsupported, thus containing any potential bowing issues. The long pole

must also be oiled to keep its suppleness to avoid any dry rot that may occur. Dry rot of wood usually occurs on items that are unkept and stored improperly, moisture being one of the worst culprits. Another consideration on your long pole is the taper; some people like a finer taper while others prefer none. I fall in between the two. With my personal conditioning/smash pole, I use no taper whatsoever. With my form pole, I use a slight taper. The key is finding a pole that encompasses both aspects of the two types mentioned above, tapered or not, and finding a pole of suitable material for your needs. If your pole is far too heavy, you will forgo any pole training as it will be extremely cumbersome and painful to use. If your pole is too light, there will be little challenge, leading to its limited usage. Smash training will become a moot point as you will consistently break your pole and lighten your wallet. A cheaply made pole is still expensive. My advice to all long pole buyers, do your homework, research online, and buy from reputable companies. CAVEAT EMPTOR! (Buyer Beware!)

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Long Pole Conditioning With good reason, The Wing Chun long pole is the first weapon taught in the Wing Chun curriculum. The pole, as I view it, is a central point of Wing Chun; it is a weapon but also the catalyst for Wing Chun power and precision. To understand the pole is to understand Wing Chun and the necessary simplicity of the system that makes it a highly effective combat discipline. Before one undertakes the long pole form, we must first address a series of precursor conditioning sets. These exercises will not only build the proper strength in one’s appendages, but also develop the necessary back, core, and leg strength needed to drive the pole with speed, power, and accuracy. While these physical manifestations begin to take hold through dedicated effort, the pole exercises will start developing the necessary focus one must commit to for overall development in not only the long pole work but also within the entire Wing Chun curriculum. In any strength conditioning routine that one undertakes, common sense must prevail. You do not want to choose an exceedingly heavy pole, neither

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an extremely light pole. To do either will cheat the practitioner of the advantages that a properly weighted pole will bring. As stated earlier, if the long pole is too heavy, the practitioner will struggle with the core strength building exercises and quickly lose interest in proceeding further. If the pole is too light, the challenge will become a moot point leading to a potential placebo effect for the practitioner, i.e., what he perceives as gains are genuinely not. My suggestion to people is to purchase a pole, no longer than nine feet in length, with a minimal taper that weighs no more than four pounds. While the weight may seem light, I assure you it is anything but when utilized with the precursor exercises. Due to the length of the weapon and the toll it places upon the body trying to wield it with precision, the pole may feel much more cumbersome to the practitioner. As one gains in strength, it is natural to switch to progressively heavier poles. I started with a four-pound pole and slowly graduated to an eight-pound pole, which creates an excellent strength building body that facilitates Wing Chun

across the board. Any strength work we do must be to the betterment of our Wing Chun. Ask yourself, “Are you a Wing Chun practitioner, or a weightlifter?”

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Leg Exercises


Wing Chun, like any martial art, is built from the ground up. Knowing this, the first exercise to master is the leg builder. The practitioner assumes the Wing Chun stance (keep your toes forward) and grabs the pole with the over/under grip [rear hand palm down, front hand palm up] pulling the pole close to the top of the chest. The practitioner will then do squats while maintaining control of the pole tip, so it does not dip and sway. Start with shallow squats and build up to deep squats. Once you have increased your strength, you can up the dynamic by pressing the pole straight out while maintaining control of the tip while doing the same exercise. You will then see how the legs and back work together when engaged.

Back Exercises


The back is an essential part of the human body as it pertains to Wing Chun; it is the source that allows for the generation of “close-power.� Sadly, it is rarely coveted or trained as such. The exercise needed for back development comes with the forward pole press. The practitioner will now assume the Wing Chun stance and once again grab the pole and bring it to the high port position. Once stable, the practitioner will slowly press the pole out to a locked armed position for a four-second hold. Once the hold is complete, the practitioner slowly lowers the pole with straight arms to his upper thigh area, from there, while straight-armed the practitioner raises the pole back to the shoulder level and then curls it back to the start position at the shoulder level. This exercise, like all others, is to be done slowly, for no less than ten repetitions per set. Notice how the biceps are now engaged as well as the front deltoids.

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3 Pole Punches The long pole is versatile in its weapon form. It not only smashes, but it also pierces, and as a piercing weapon, the thrust is crucial. To develop thrusting power, one must now engage the care of the body along with the back and deltoids. The practitioner will assume the Wing Chun long pole guarding stance with the butt of the weapon and hand appropriately placed by the practitioner’s hip, and the forehand set accordingly. The tip of the weapon should be higher than the rest of the weapon, and the weight of the stance will be rear foot heavy. The lead foot is kept very light and movable.

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To produce the long pole punch, the practitioner simultaneously steps out with the lead foot while propelling with a rearfoot push thrusting the pole forward, pushing his lead hand forward, which will then open the hips and engage the back. The rear hand placement will be at chin level; the thrust must be straight ahead to a target you choose. Once the thrust is complete, the practitioner then snaps back to the starting position for another repetition. The pole punch exercise will build your Wing Chun power quickly; it is the key to long bridge hitting in the empty hands.

These are but three exercises I utilize in my training. All three exercises contribute to building the supple strength required for a Wing Chun body. The pole is a fabulous developer of strength and overall fitness, but in truth, it is so much more. I am a firm believer that the long pole makes everything better. The empty hands have a direct correlation; the knives have a direct correlation; the chin-na aspects are all developed via the pole. All it takes is work and an open mind to see it. Wing Chun is conceptual; the pole is a fantastic tool to build and guide conceptuality in those who dare to take their Wing Chun into the deep end.

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Pole is Knife In most martial arts, there is a weapon component. In Wing Chun, the two weapons are the “luk dim boon quan” or “long pole,” and the “baat jam do” or “knives.” Both the pole and the knives transpose into the empty hand components of Wing Chun. The Wing Chun long pole, in my opinion, transposes directly into the knife usage. If you look at the various work in the long pole, you will find similar postures and hand placement with the knives. The same mechanics in

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the pole thrust are the exact mechanics of the knife thrust, especially in the long bridge position, as well as the downward striking where the guarding stance once again comes into play for both pole and knives alike. With the long pole, there are manipulations such as “bong quan,” “hun quan,” and “jum quan.” These applications are highly usable in the knife work. The empty hand component also benefits significantly from these manipulations. The same mechanics apply across the system lines; dif-

ferences distance, timing, even the length of the weapon, or lack thereof. Wing Chun is conceptual; one must access the weapons and all elements of Wing Chun with that approach. To not is to cheat yourself of what could be, and to stunt your development in the art truly. Transposition is the key; if our conceptual methods are transposable throughout the system, there is no compartmentalization; with no compartmentalization, everything we do under duress will come out nat-

urally, no matter if it is weapon related or empty hand. Compartmentalizing causes overthinking, overthinking leads to tension, tension is slow, and in a violent situation where your life or the life of a loved one is in danger, slow can get you killed.

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Long Pole Combat The long pole in its combat usage date back to antiquity, back to a time where a man was able to figure out that a big clubbing object was a good way to defend themselves or a means to wage war. Things did not change in 2018. A long pole is still a long pole, and in the right hands can be an extremely effective weapon against various forms of weaponry and attack. In the long ago, long poles were used to dismount mounted soldiers from their steeds and used as pikes against attacking cavalry. These usages once again transcend any individual culture as a long pole is a long pole no matter where in the world it is wielded. As previously mentioned, the long pole was, at times, fitted with spearheads and other times had fire-hardened tips to use as skewering weapons against infantry and mounted cavalry. It was a fantastic weapon due to its length to keep swordsmen at bay. After the melees, the poles were often transformed into stretchers to carry off dead and wounded — a versatile tool to be sure. 64 | The Immersion Review

In non-military usage, the long pole was an excellent choice of tool for the traveler. It not only could ferry a boat along, but it could also be used to carry goods, etc., and under dire times, the long pole sufficed as a go-to weapon against marauders, thieves, and thugs. When you view a Wing Chun long pole form (there are many variances), you will see direct and straightforward counters and attacks that make the pole an excellent choice. The thrusts are simple and designed to cause deep concussive force into vital regions allowing for simple smashing finishes. The smashing finishes target any portion of the adversaries’ body made available. The one that I prefer and the one I find easiest to get is the toe smash. Once that foot is smashed, it opens the adversary to thrusts and subsequent smashes. In truth, the foot smash will often time end it. The adage holds if you can’t stand, you can’t fight! The long pole is a weapon that should be sparred in training,

under supervision, and with extreme control and caution while donning protective gear. What appears to be a cumbersome weapon can quickly turn into a fast nightmare if disrespected. Long-range sparring under control allows the practitioners to feel and find their way through various attacks that may press them. Thus, they can find the

counters through their footwork and mechanics. Once a practitioner gets to the point of live sparring with the long pole, he or she will understand the significance of the precursor mentioned above strength exercises. To grab a long pole and think you are going to wield it successfully is foolish.

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Crossover Effect The long pole, while useful, is also a hindrance in today’s world. You do not see people walking around with an eight-foot pole. If one has an open mind, then one can easily pick up and transpose one’s skill with the long pole into a much shorter object, not deem able a weapon at first sight. A walking stick or walking cane are just two possibilities; both are viewed as everyday objects, dependent upon the context. A walking stick is not to be

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scoffed at when you see people out and about walking or hiking in parks or the woods. The same goes for a walking cane; nobody scoffs at a person walking with a cane; they are in truth, a legal weapon. The long pole motions and tactics are easily transposable to both walking cane and walking stick. In many ways, the long pole tactics are supercharged when placed into a much shorter, denser, faster object. A smash

is still a smash, and thrust is still a thrust; the only difference will be in the distance and timing due to the length of the weapon. The footwork and body mechanics to drive the weapon will remain the same.

to avoid at all costs, primarily when that knowledge works in a shorter weapon delivery system such as a walking stick or cane.

With proper long pole training (strength development, form building, and sparring), the pole becomes a hard weapon to beat. Once ingrained in the practitioner, he or she then becomes a very serious adversary, and one

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Like most traditional martial systems, Wing Chun is highly misunderstood by many. In my honest opinion, it is over-thought by its practitioners. It is a straightforward system that, in my opinion, was designed to get good people skilled in all facets of combat, quickly! Perhaps if people started opening their eyes to what’s real instead of trying to find what’s right, then Wing Chun will receive its due respect. In the capable hands of people more interested in results than fiction, Wing Chun will flourish. – Michael Blackgrave

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Michael Blackgrave @michael.blackgrave THE LONG POLE • Michael Blackgrave | 69


STOCKTON, CALIFORNIA, known for its productive agriculture and immigrant population before the turn of the millennium, thrives today as a city trying to survive post-bankruptcy, the homeless population, and the cycle of impoverished families that continue from generation to generation. The notoriety of the nation’s city with the most homicides in a single year, the city with the nation’s most foreclosed homes and still there are signs of optimistic hopes for the city, a new hockey arena and now a basketball team, a new baseball park in downtown, food festivals, community events, and the efforts of local groups trying to preserve the little positive history Stockton is proud to hang on to.

The Port of Stockton, once the most inland deepwater port in California, was a major hub point for many Filipinos in the 1900s through the early 1970s and a significant employer for longshoreman workers, the surrounding military bases were also a significant source of employment, but agriculture is where many of the first Filipino laborers found work. As the surrounding communities and families became established, pockets of economic differences became apparent, and Southside Stockton (West) and south of Charter way a sizeable Filipino community had developed. Filipino lodges and organizations thrived on helping each other in times of uncertainty or hardship and as a resource for guidance to new families arriving or individuals looking for work. Fast-forwarding to 1978 out of high school and attending Delta Community College, I discovered my own Filipino culture has a form of martial arts called Escrima. Because of the boom of popularity that Bruce Lee brought to the movie screen at that time, martial arts was a trendy thing to do. But what is this Escrima? Meaning to skirmish or fight, it

is the name given by the Spaniards that occupied the Islands nearly four hundred years. My sister asked if I was interested in learning Escrima because her friend Thomas Bernardo needed a training partner in the “Leo Giron School of Filipino Arnis” Escrima located on San Joaquin Street, Stockton. I was told to go to the school to talk to the teacher (Leo Giron). The address was close by on San Joaquin street. So I went over, walked up the stairs and knocked on the door, and while waiting for someone to answer I looked aroun. It was hard to tell where classes were held. I later found out the lower portion of the house, though above ground, was considered a basement where classes were taught during the winter, and then in the backyard in the summer. After the interview to see if I would be accepted, I was told to return for class on a Monday. I became curious about this Escrima, some of what Leo said to me about the war (WWII) sounded like what my father went through in the U.S. Army, piquing my interest even more.


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Day 1 School of Giron Arnis Escrima October 1978 The class was inside the basement, I was early, and Leo gave me a clipboard, with several sheets of paper attached that was his teaching or learning sequence he developed. He used a rubber stamp to log your attendance and progress on the sheet. He had for purchase birchwood dowels twenty-four inches long that was your training tool sort of like a pencil you would bring to school, and without a pencil, you couldn’t learn the lesson of the day, but this dowel was always meant to represent a bladed “bolo” or “sword.” To know how to defend is to learn how to attack, and the twelve angles of attack are introduced as fundamentals of Escrima in the Leo Giron School of Arnis Escrima. I would later discover this to be a common practice in many schools of Escrima. From here, I began my study of a coded language between escrimadors, something us American born Filipinos can now relate to our heritage and each other. Because most of us were not taught even our native language - it was our parents’ desire that their children become as American as possible to achieve a successful future in America.

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My 200 Hours Leo required a minimum of 200 hours of physical training to be considered to graduate from his school. My classmates in that time Thomas Bernardo, Ray Munoz, my brother Mike, and Dave Arnaiz were the consistent students. There were a few other students that started later during those hours and were able to help accelerate the learning process because when you trained with a student at a lower level of skill, you would be helping the student learn what you learned previously. The training was intense because of the uniqueness of this martial art, and there wasn’t any reference to be found in books or magazines until Dan Inosanto and Rene Latosa published their books. The repetitious movements started to make sense; the angles of attack could be instinctively detected as the art helps one to develop the ability to determine the next possible direction of attack. Leo’s core curriculum

to graduate consisted of LargoMano, DeFondo, In-Fighting (lock and block), block counter sparring (Sumbrada), Sinawalli, Sonkete, and Abanico. There were also many other methods he kept listed on the wall that he let us know were there for us to learn should you decide to continue to train after graduating. The year 1979 was Leo’s first public group demonstration with a large group of martial arts at the Barrio Fiesta Stockton, CA. Thinking back, this was a historic and exciting time to be in Escrima martial arts. In the winter of 1979, the elders of Escrima in America came together to make sense of the organization to unite all the styles beginning to expose themselves to the western world. In 1980 the West Coast Escrima Society (WES) was born.


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Graduating 1980 Together with my brother Mike, Thomas, Dave, and myself were tested in February 1980 by Dentoy Revillar, who today is the founder of the SLD system (Serrada, LargoMano, Decuerdas). Leo always often mentioned that DeFondo was introduced to give the student more exposure to the short weapon 24 inches and less. From his experience in war he suggested the best style for combat is the style of LargoMano because of the concept of no blocking and direct cutting or hitting which means a simultaneous defense and counter in 76 | The Immersion Review

one movement. Leo also insisted that your bolo should always be sharp especially in combat and don’t forget to bring a spare. At this stage, it felt like only discovering the tip of the iceberg, as Dan Inosanto mentions in his first book. I decided to enlist into the U.S. Air Force, and fortunately, stationed to a nearby base called McClellan AFB, and in October, I was back in California and commuting to Stockton to continue training and learning the list of methods and styles Leo kept on the wall. During the

next two years, it was intense advance training with anyone who showed up to class no matter what level of skill. A collaboration to understand the styles and concepts that Leo considered essential to know or at least be aware of. Like “bolonte” the up and down striking, “asad,” the short-pointed weapon on both ends used to hook and thrust, “de salon” fast-shifting footwork, “redondo” the repeating circular striking, approx. Twenty techniques total were on the list. He often reflected on his emphasis of how to respond to what one faces in a combat situation, this started to make a lot of sense because of his military background and now my military focus emphasizing the same criteria in a cold war era is to know your enemy so you may know its capabilities and respond accordingly. This was a time now to learn what techniques to use to counter LargoMano, DeFondo or Abanico. We started collaborating with Leo that emphasized defending against group attacks, triangle formations used in hand to hand combat in WWII, and the teamwork to watch your left and right to protect your comrade. The guerilla warfare tactics used on assignment with local Philippine guerilla fighters taught him more than the ba-

sic movements shared in military training among the 1st and 2nd Filipino American Infantry Army. Reflecting on the defunct WES, I believe in 1987 was the one time of hope that the original ‘Bladed Bolo’ generation could maintain unity for the future generation that now struggles to keep identity of heritage and culture because of those that have focused efforts more on making profits and exploiting the Filipino martial arts culture especially in Stockton CA. They have fragmented the Filipino community of martial arts. Such sadness, those that continue to thrive on profits, especially making claims to trademark rights and preventing individuals whose heritage and culture enriched the growth and popularity of Filipino martial arts in Stockton, CA. One of the good things to come from Stockton has turned into another case of greed, ego, and human hate. If only Leo Giron, Angel Cabales, Narri Babao, Mike Inay, Den Revillar, Max Sarmiento, Dan Inosanto, and others could have established a strong basic declaration of structure, things might be different today.


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Cross-Training In my advanced training with Leo through mid-80s early 90s, we were able to develop a very successful demonstration and tournament team. Leo always told me to gather up the boys and get them ready to go to whatever tournament was upcoming as if General MacArthur was commanding orders before coming to land in Leyte (WWII). Maybe in a sense, he was reliving those proud moments of the war. Commemorating his units old war cry “Bahala Na� as a slogan for his school, Leo said it was the battle cry in the fight against the charging enemy, letting them know come what may. As the school was starting to gather a momentum of presence in Stockton, other local schools like Serrada and Decuerdas were also growing in popularity as a source for Escrima classes. We became well respected, and more importantly, we began to meet others in Escrima from all different schools from many places around and out of California. To me, this was a good thing to

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meet others that appreciated the art. The enrichment we contributed in the demonstrations and tournaments in Escrima catapulted Stockton into the mainstream of martial arts, and most of the practitioners now from Leo’s school were graduates or advanced students and freely contributing their time to these community events. It was our expression of repaying Leo for his sharing of knowledge, heritage, and culture. By the mid-1990s, I became proficient in the SLD system and awarded a teaching certificate by Maestro Den Revillar, and as I continued to support both Leo and Dentoy, I began to see the difference, but also at the same time, I saw the similarities within the Filipino martial arts. Through this time I was also able to attend workshops or seminars from other teachers like Dan Inosanto, Max Pallen, Ramiro Estillilia and privately from Juan Iliab and Gilbert Tenio. I have come to discover that the Fili-

pino martial arts is an eclectic form of discipline, and no matter what fundamental background you started in the FIlipino martial arts, if you train with an open mind, you will discover that all disciplines are worthy and have a place in the moment of combat. To sum up the differences in general, what I learned over the decades is that every martial arts system has a preferred method of teaching and a specific range of comfort that makes their teaching discipline effective. In my opinion, the animosity between the schools in Stockton arose out of a lack of understanding of one another’s concept and philosophy behind each other’s style or discipline. I honestly would say that in my experience between Leo and my time with Dentoy can be compared to the progress of a child passing through elementary school to High school and then to the SLD Dentoy school as a finishing school but if it wasn’t

for the efforts of Juan Iliab and Den Revillar to seek understandings from the other core disciplines surfacing in Stockton, CA the reality of their concepts and philosophy would not be understood today. There are Escrima practitioners that remain in silos of a single discipline of martial art today and that it may satisfy their needs for self-defense and it is their prerogative to do so because one must also remember that the Philippine region or islands where these Escrima disciplines came from suited their environment or purpose. To understand this one must truly immerse themselves open minded, for in today’s world one must agree that a multi-style would be the best approach in any combat encounter today because indeed no matter what form of martial art you practice there will always be the long, medium and close range of combat.


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Estillo Matador or the Killing Style, and LargoMano or the Long Range style The “LargoMano” style is tough to beat in my opinion, and while everyone has an opinion, over the years from practicing full contact and various disciplines, this is one statement I hold firmly. The test is when in combat or simulation combat, the focus is on the weapon and the simplified zones of attack called “cinco tero” or “five strikes.” Coming from the Leo Giron school of Arnis Escrima, it was so simple that it could be learned in just a few days down to a few hours, depending on the individual’s current level of experience and weapon control. The choice of weapon can be bolo or stick but preferably the 32-inch length and with some weight that can easily cause tissue and bone damage with minimal force. After participating in many full contact Escrima tournaments I have seen fighters from schools that train mainly in close to medium range that by default start

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in a long range position. This is because of human nature for self-preservation or safety, and the default is to stay out of or away from harm’s way. If the individual could not close the gap to reach their preferred range of effectiveness the LargoMano practitioner would always be first to make direct contact. The best analogy I can give to this LargoMano style is the Mohamed Ali boxing style, where he maintained just enough distance to stay out of the opponent’s reach and then stepped in to sting like a bee, always floating on the outer edge of his opponents reach. In my opinion, this was Leo’s true core style he lived during the war. He often talked about moves that would get you killed in a battle that was being practiced publicly for flashy demonstration purposes, and so during in-depth discussions on theory and combat strategy, he would often clarify the difference of the stage style and killing style.

Decuerdas or the Winding, Tightening, Constricting Style This style is the gap-closer to counter LargoMano when practiced thoroughly. If not properly timed, the LargoMano man will always get the better of you, and you will have to reset your next move. It is like slipping between the gaps of opportunity and redirecting the attacking strike and then closing in to constrict the attacker’s ability to strike again. To close in with strong vertical or shielding type positions and then blocking against or with the attack, redirecting the opponents’ weapon to harness or tie your opponent’s movements while slicing or cutting and then monitoring to continue to take advantage of every move presented in the Decuerdas range. Gibert Tenio was the man who exposed this Escrima concept, and Juan Iliab was who taught me the insight into the philosophy behind it, but Dentoy taught me how to put it all into perspective. (medium-close)

Serrada or the Close Range In the Serrada system, the close quarter superiority is the espada y daga aspect I learned from the SLD system. The time spent in this phase of discipline opened so many windows to the possibilities of close quarter encounters. By replacing the empty hand with a dagger and in the strong hand a bolo, though when we practiced, we used stick and dagger employing the same routines as you do in serrada basics but now with the dagger created a new dimension of awareness and the emphasis with being touched is the same as being cut. This training made the empty hand much more dangerous now with the dagger because once in the medium close range, the dagger is much more deadly and can deliver a thrust or slice quickly. The teaching method that Dentoy used to accelerate the learning was called “de cadena,” the meaning of the chain or like the links of a chain that connects each link to the next, understood as never-ending set


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movements to address any angles of attack. Typically starting from a single strike up to an average set of three random strikes and up to five or six strikes. This was a progressive sequence of learning for one that has reached a skill to see what was coming next. Dentoy was able to break down the movements in Serrada and gave each step in a sequence of counter movement a meaning and not just a flurry of follow up sequences because to choose a technique to defend against whatever angle of attack at close

quarter should be a technique that can respond in mid-flow to a change of attacking angle without disrupting the flow of movement first chosen by the defender. This level of training will also induce an intuitive mindset of being able to read your opponents’ body language in close quarters in that watching every muscle twitch or the body position of the person will place you in a pre-state of reaction to be able to choose the most straightforward technique in order to deal with the possibilities of multiple angles of attack.

The When-it Happens, not the What-if In retrospect, it is nearly impossible to be able to learn multiple systems or styles in short durations; you should have a solid foundation in some style or system to communicate effectively like the numbering system. Individuals that attend seminars and workshops will gain more informed knowledge of Escrima but without a foundation will end up with an uncertainty of choosing the appropriate self-defense technique to respond to an attack, but I guess something is better than nothing. More often, the curiosity of the constant “What if” questions arise, but in reality, it is more of the “when something happens” question. When I heard this statement from Dentoy, he fundamentally changed my perspective on how to look upon such a question. Challenging to understand when first hearing this; it takes many hours of work to understand the profundity of this observation and become able to recognize what can happen next. One analogy to help understand this is the ‘angle number 1’ attack, there are many techniques to choose so which one will you choose, in a millisecond your mind will have to assess, decide and act, muscle reflex might initially help get

your weapon in place to block or counter but at that moment of touch what comes next is what you should be concerned because if you have not trained properly it will be difficult for you to recognize the window of opportunity to respond to prevent that next thing and this is one reason there are so many defense techniques against the obvious heavy striker, the snap hit striker, the light feinting striker, and so on, but if you recognize the type of attack, you will be better prepared. To know how to employ a style is much harder than to use a technique. At first read, this may seem to contradict to what I had just written, but if you are only able to employ a style as a defense and fail to recognize its weakness in the moment of engagement what choice will you have except to receive the blow as intended and whimper those last sounds of air. Keeping an open mind to all martial arts and its core of unique deadliness to even cross-train in one art you may not agree with may gain you some insight into the concept and understanding of why such a style of martial art even exists.


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What's Next? As the sun approaches the horizon, in the span of 30 plus years I have enjoyed learning the complexities of my Filipino martial arts heritage, it is a very deep and profound discovery of how much it has impacted the history of the Philippines and what the early Filipino migrant workers brought with them to America just to escape poverty and how they contributed to the libera-

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tion of the Philippines during WWII. They must have been so brave or desperate to travel such long distances to a new world or that this new world could not be as dangerous coming from a place where carrying a bolo on your hip was common in the Philippines. A disclaimer of preferred terms and usage of the first-name basis in this article is because my jour-

ney and those that have shared my path in this know it was a time when all of our teachers all preferred to be called by first name basis, and after many years we called them ‘Uncles.’ So please do not judge me for that unless you have grown up in this place and you are Filipino you will not understand this level of cultural heritage. We can save that story for another time. As for now, it is sad to see that greed and ego of this generation who have learned the Filipino martial art from Stockton are now manipulating the freedom and heritage of the Filipino American culture that made Stockton great at one time, claims of ownership and rights and no others. Apparently, for-profit and greed have metastasized like cancer, and these individuals take advantage of the misinformed and practice movements that are far from the original bolo generation only to have created a fragmented community of Filipino martial artists in Stockton.

Many experts of that generation have grown from the tiny mustard seed into a strong oak tree and practice in private places away from spying eyes as it once was during the Spanish occupation in the Philippines. It is only natural that evil will eventually turn inward and devour itself, but for now, only those with the honor of heritage and culture and those who respect that foundation will endure. Honor and respect to the memories of GM Leo Giron, GM Angel Cabales, GM Gilbert Tenio, Master Juan Iliab, and huge thank you to Maestro Den Revillar, who still resides in Stockton, CA. Come What May! Let God Sort Them Out! - Maestro Dexter Labonog, Stockton Filipino Martial Arts

Dexter Labonog BRIDGES OF RATTAN, BOLOS AND DAGGERS • Dexter Labonog

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"... it is about developing consistency in your training and using various methods to combat boredom and familiarity in training. The more methods you layer into your stick, or for that matter, any weapon training, the better will be your chances of learning a new skill and amplifying the results."

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IT WAS A LONG DRIVE from the High Sierras back home where we had spent a long week training. During the drive home during a long bout of silence, somewhere in the back seat came an overly exaggerated sigh “Sensei; these drives can be hard and take a toll. Also, the connectivity is so bad in the mountains.” “Forget the phone. Forget the world. Leave it all behind. These trips are a pilgrimage, a Haj, a Teerth Yatra”, I said as we drove through a forest of burnt and blackened skeletal trees; all that remained of an Oregon forest after a fire a couple of months previously. “Even Emerson and his disciple Thoreau spoke about the hiking in the mountains as a pilgrimage. The pilgrim culture is a spiritual embrace that is core to an American experience. And think about it, this is what a Shugendo is... the mountains is the way. One must disconnect from this known world, to go deep into the recess of one’s inner world. True ‘Magick’ dwells in that House of Belonging.” They have heard me ramble many times about the mountains, con-

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necting with nature, and leaving the known world behind. Fearful of hearing another rant about the benefits of nature, one of the students quipped, “Sensei, how do we train to retain all the material we learn?” “Sun, moon or rain,” I said, and they completed my favorite simile with “We train, train and train.” “But Sensei, we can’t be in the dojo all the time, how do we continue to grow?” he asked somewhat exasperated. “Hermit Training,” I answered. There is a reason the great swordsmen of Japan were called “Kensei.” “I was introduced to the term ‘Hermit Training’ by the reclusive Master “JC” Caberio. He captured the essence of training alone with that term. It means you get to work on yourself, diligently, and consistently. Like a hermit in the mountains, working on his Magnum Opus - himself, you got to work on your way into yourself through your art, and from these first steps emerges the beginning of liberation.” “If you want to pursue mastery,

you got to follow the 10000hour rule, meaning do more repetitions than most will even dream. You got to do it until you can’t get the methods wrong, even if you tried. For this, you need to create opportunities to train everywhere possible. And, most importantly, training by yourself.” “But how?” he pleaded. Let me answer this by saying most of my teachers have taught me various methods of training alone. Let me share some that have worked wonders for me. HERMIT TRAINING • Mahipal Lunia

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1. Kata

2. Whole Form Training

While studying Japanese arts, there was a significant emphasis on kata. Solo training of this type requires a specific way of learning to break things into smaller components and delivering them with precision.

I used to complain to my two Senseis about not having training partners close by. Especially in an art such as Jojutsu and Kenjutsu, most if not all forms are two-person as such, presenting a unique challenge.

There are many ways to work the kata including:

Both Sastri and Vilarie Senseis instructed me to work both sides of the two-man katas that form the backbone of our system. They told me of stories from back in the day when a few high-level tests had the tester showing both the Tori and Uke’s form for each technique. The reasons ranged from everyone else had died in recent wars, and only one person was left alive who knew the entire system, to the secrets of the system had been passed down to only one person. Nevertheless, when done correctly in context, following the Tori/attack part followed by the Uke/defender part, it brings an entire form of understanding of the system. It will help create a symbiotic circuitry and expand your awareness.

• Varying speeds • With dynamic tension/isometrics (look below) • Changing each set



• Blindfolded When trained right, kata becomes an enacted ritual, opening one up to true initiation into the secrets of the system. And done right, they always lead you beyond the system. The kata is the boat that can be used to cross the stream. Learn how to ride across and afar at will, and it can even take you to places you never imagined. While it is fashionable these days to laugh at kata, you will do so at the cost of your growth. Beware.

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I utilize this extensively, not just the Aiki arts but my other pursuits as well, with significant effect.

3. Component Training In this method of solo training, break down very complex techniques into segments/components. Drill them until you have smoothness in the technique and transitions. Now move to the next section. Once you have the components worked, tie them up together and go into complete form training.

50%, 75%, 90%, 100%, and then a few reps of shooting for 110%, yes, you heard that right, aim for 110%). b) change the rhythm of the training, use the beats of one technique to work the other. In this way, you will develop a whole new way of learning the technique and learning YOU. The beginning of true liberation can begin here.

4. Vary Your Speed

5. Carenza/Shadow Boxing/Aerobic

Beginning students often try to do things very fast, and this is to their peril. If you cannot do something slow well, it is highly unlikely you will be able to do it well at all.

All arts have some form of shadowboxing. During shadowboxing is when you get to express yourself fully, perhaps even transcend your mother system.

This lesson is often highlighted in the shooting world. If you have seen Mark Wahlberg’s movie ‘The Shooter,’ you hear the sniper’s creed, “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” There is a lot of truth to it. There have been so many occasions that Maestro James Keating has instructed me to “slow down some more, smoothen it out. Change the beat, the rhythm, the pace. Now do it some more.”

“Carenza” or the Filipino term for “shadowboxing” is only limited by your imagination. Some ideas include but not limited to a) hand skills b) legs only c) weapons (let your imagination soar) d) weapon in non-dominant hand carenza e) working patterns in different levels of balance and resistance

With this in mind, take your techniques and run them through a) various speeds (25%,


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6. Resistance Training in Technique Not a very big fan of this, as many times it is performed incorrectly. For example, adding weights on wrists and ankles changes the motion, feel, and timing of the techniques.

If you are ‘old-school,’ use bicycle inner tubes. If you consider yourself a ‘new-school’ kind of practitioner, take a look at the Stoops and Python striker aid tools.

However, there are some delightful resistance methods one could employ. One drill I learned from martial brother Chris Charnos (an original Ed Hart and Jesse Glover student) is using cycle tubes to work on sticking practice. One advantage of this type of training is that it offers resistance throughout the motion and allows one to ‘feel pressure’ and be able to apply ‘educated pressure.’

Remember, these tools will only do what YOU intend to do; in other words, you are still responsible. Choose the drills and corresponding resistance systems carefully. The most important rule for me is ‘whole body, not parts.’

The trick IMO is to have a type of resistance that does not isolate any particular muscle but employs the whole body in every motion.

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7. Aerobic and Anaerobic/Tabata Training/Insanity No gas and all your fighting goes down the drain. One does not rise to our aspirations; one sinks to the level of our training. Consequently, this means working on all forms of aerobic and anaerobic training. Aerobic training entails working in the presence of oxygen to metabolize fuel. Anaerobic exercise involves working in the absence of oxygen, where muscle cells must rely on another process to fuel contractions. Aerobic training provides the body the fuel to power your rocket ship. Best to work this with sustained effort over time like running, doing multiple sets of kata, and maintaining a constant heartbeat.

during these situations will result in the body resorting to anaerobic forms of quickly metabolizing energy over short periods. During these scenarios, it is also crucial that one executes techniques in a controlled and deliberate manner. The Best way to cultivate this attribute is through a regime of sprints and techniques done to a Tabata methodology. 20 seconds of ultra-intense exercise (at an intensity of about 170% of VO2max) followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated continuously for 4 minutes (8 cycles). Now pick your favorite technique combinations and run them through the cycle.

Most fights will get into high-intensity scenarios. The high adrenalin rush that occurs

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8. Methods

9. Stretching the Movements

Beginning with the advertisements in the back pages of a comic book where Charles Atlas promised he could with turn a 98-pound weakling into a new man with his proven method, two other men’s programs shaped my thinking of physical conditioning. As a teenager, I came across Harry Wong’s book, ‘Dynamic Strength.’ (Unique Publications, 1982). Both systems provided a solid base. Yet, it wasn’t until I began learning the ‘Morris’ method of conditioning. Even at 70, his punches pack a solid wallop. He is truly a pioneer who is super hard to describe. Don’t take my word for it; look him up.

If isometrics forms one side of the spectrum, the other side would be what I call ‘feeling the stretch.’ In this method of solo training, I focus on the stretching/relaxation part of the drill. For example, when training punches, I focus on the full stretch of the biceps rather than the contraction of the triceps.

Rather than reiterate what I have learned from Mr. Morris, I will post the link to his excellent article here. method/posts/886476784715396

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Run all your drills on this spectrum a few times if you want to introduce a new way of moving into your training. I learned this from Manong Ron Saturno. The full effect of this type of training is especially evident when working with weapons.

10. Inhabit the Opposite In the most basic sense, this entails cross-training in the exact opposite contexts of your favorite methods. If you primarily train in a soft Aiki or Chinese Internal Art, then sign up for lessons in Muay Thai or Boxing. If you are an empty hands person, go work for a while only with weapons. If you are a graceful art person, go workout in the functional effectiveness spectrum. AND VICE VERSA.

Not only will this will enhance your understanding of your movement and perception theory, but it will also cause the body to develop new mechanosensory neurons in your muscles expanding the range and variety of the potentiality of movement.

11. Train with the Mind Srini Sastri Sensei hammered into me the habit of working the techniques in my mind every night as I was about to fall asleep. Neuroscience research has long confirmed that this kind of training triggers the same portion of the brain that you would during actual movement and is proven to be a quick way to double your workout time by only using any time you have to ‘run with the mind.’ To get a fuller understanding of these methods look at the work coming from the former eastern bloc. An excellent place to start is the book ‘Super Learning’ by Sheila Ostrandler (Mass Market Paperback, 1982). In many ways, autogenic training is similar to someone undergoing self-hypnosis. - Lie down and don’t move a muscle. - Start from your legs tense the whole body and then relax, move with this from legs to the top of your head, progressively relaxing each muscle. - Once fully relaxed, bring your consciousness to the front of your head (where your third eye is) and start to project movies of what you want to learn.

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- Watch these movies from three perspectives. First, watch a film one where you are the star of the film and experiencing it first hand. Perspective two: you are viewing the movie of you performing correctly. Perspective three: you are watching you watching the movie of you doing the methods. These tend to code into the body-mind in exciting ways. This particular method is what worked best for me to move from a predominant Japanese movement metaphor to a SE Asian metaphor. Try it, and you might amaze yourself with what is possible. (For a detailed understanding of these perspectives look up ‘Perceptual Positions’ and how to use them.)

12. Environmental Training

13. Learning Control

Work your forms in all weather and environments. If you cannot make it work everywhere, there are some serious reconsiderations you will be forced to make.

In my early training with Manong Saturno on ‘Lock & Block,’ I would make frequent contact and leave marks. Every time I hit him, I was both embarrassed at my lack of control and a little worried about his patience as my feeder. Manong maintained his composure and continued to feed me attacks in a kind manner.

As a starting point, take your favorite techniques and work them in a) water b) slippery ground/grass c) mountains d) informal work clothing (not your gi) with formal shoes e) snow f) the dark You get the idea. See where you are least capable and figure out how to overcome the inadequacy.

One day he said, “maybe we get you to skip lunch every time you hit me,” and we both laughed. That evening based on a conversation with him, hit upon the idea of striking my lunch literally. String my lunch fruit by a string and practice fast strikes to it, with one catch. Do not touch the food. Trust me; if you hit that apple or banana with a strike, you are not eating it. Very quickly, this taught me good control with a weapon. And guess what you can do this anytime with any number of techniques.

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14. Training for Distance and Timing The pendulum rocks it for this. One of the critical innovations of Maestro Sonny Umpad was shared with me by one of his students Maija Soderholm. Hang a small weight by a string such that it swings with ease. Now swing it as you execute your strikes/cuts against its while being in motion. Maintain your distance and manage your timing. Exceptionally cheap to build. Fabulous return on investment. Here is a clip of Maija flowing with the pendulum

15. Tennis Balls or Coconuts M-San was a hardened Kenpo teacher who grew up in the ‘grey world’ of post-war Taiwan. As such, his survival on the streets depended on solid skills. One of the ways he would teach evasion was to have us stand against a wall and throw full-size coconuts and tennis balls at us. Our task was to avoid the ball and punch the coconut. Now I am not sure I would whole-heartedly recommend this strategy, but it makes you one hell of a ‘headhunter.’ Every member of the training group got thrown out of more tournaments than I can remember. The reason being that everyone became skilled at evasion and good ‘headhunters.’ You can use a modified method to handballs and coconuts to a double string (like a speedball) and then work on evading and striking with your stick/knife. If you are seeking the headhunting game, this will amplify your game many folds.

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16. Ready State Triggering

17. Handicap Training

Ready state is what I call being in the zone, ready to fight. In other words, a state of mind where your senses open up fully and the body is super relaxed, prepared to respond in the best possible way.

Handicap training revolves around getting one, two, or three limbs out of the game. And then performing with what is left. It is surprisingly tricky, and if you don’t train it, you will not be able to perform.

It is also about learning to control the fear/fight/flight state and being able to direct the body’s ability to perform under tension.

This drill where we would tie up limbs and then fight came from Sastri Sensei. He taught us that “a samurai could lose a limb or two, but still has to perform. In his mind, he is already dead, but he still must perform. To protect and serve those who he loves.”

Although this state will not be attained magically after a lot of work, one will finally come to understand the syntax or how the body comes to arrive in this relaxed state. Syntax. That is the secret.

Remember, you don’t rise to the occasion, you drop to the level of your training. And for this reason, don’t ignore it.

Pay close attention to how you get to this state. Which muscles relax in what order, and what thinking/language brings you to it. Create a chain that can be brought out on command. Want to learn more? Study State Control from a top-rated NLP teacher.

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18. Sense Deprivation Training Take one of the senses out of the game as you train. For example, if you are working with your stick, some options are - work blindfolded - block out your breathing to 20-30% (various pieces of equipment help with this) - shut out your hearing completely - go into extreme weather and clothing to remove any ‘felt sense’ of the world These methods will get you to move and use your proprioception in interesting ways, and improve your overall body-weapon connections and maps.

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“If you want to pursue mastery, you got to follow the 10000hour rule, meaning do more repetitions than most will even dream. You got to do it until you can’t get the methods wrong, even if you tried. For this, you need to create opportunities to train everywhere possible. And, most importantly, training by yourself.”

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19. Big, Strong, Fast and Light In working with Mushtaq Ali Ansari, he shared a method of training from the Indonesian systems. He often said for you to learn how to wield the walking cane or the blades follow the four-fold rule of learning. - Make your movements with the new principle/form big and slow to code the movements in - Once you have the movement down, add power to the movement with coordinated breathing - Next layer in speed to your form - Finally, make the whole movement light This particular syntax worked well for me as I worked with the walking cane and kampilan training. Steal it, make it yours, and see the beauty of this old Cimande method to all your training.

20. Autosuggestion, Subliminal Training, and Clear Intentionality When working on a new skill set, clearly state in writing what you seek to achieve. Once you have done this, make it a point to mark out clear times in the day when you make this intention explicit via autosuggestions to self and moving the body into a state of all possibility. When you have reached this open state is where learning happens generatively. We all have this state where a glyph like unfolding is possible, and thoughts cease. Those who have trod these paths before us practiced moving meditation as part of their training. And like those who came before us, we have to discover our unique syntax to this state. Lastly, create your subliminal track with binaural beats to hammer these suggestions into your subconscious mind. These are methods used by the super-elite athletes around the world, so don’t deny yourself.

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At this point, my students asked, “where do we start?” “Whatever is most accessible to you, and calls you forth. For, it is about developing consistency in your training and using various methods to combat boredom and familiarity in training. The more methods you layer into your stick, or for that matter, any weapon training, the better will be your chances of learning a new skill and amplifying the results.”

Conclusion They all nodded as they kept taking notes, and it would be another few hours before we got home. This article was meant to shed light on some methods of personal solo training with your sticks, knives, or anything else. Use this as a starting point. Experiment and research what works best to unlock your unfolding in a glyph like fashion. From this unfolding will your trust and expression emerge. May you offer the most beautiful of emotions into the world. Swing away. - Mahipal Lunia

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SINCE THE DAWN of time when two untrained human beings have picked up sticks and attempted to grievously harm one another, the resulting bludgeon-fest has always been predictable. They put the stick hands behind them, lower their heads, and step in with repeated forehand strikes to the noggin. Not pretty. Have two seasoned stick fighters spar, and you will see unique approaches unfold. Some styles will stay relatively stationary, some will circle on the periphery, and others will cut distinct angles. Certain styles call for a fighter to stand tall, and still others to crouch or kneel — all depending on environmental factors, such as the slope or the slipperiness of the ground beneath them. Methods from areas with a high rate of rainfall often prefer lower stances and simple

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footwork to mitigate slipping and falling, which can prove to be fatal during combat. The characteristics of the weapons used will also influence the style. Weight, length, and balance determine how the sticks are most efficiently wielded. One swings the massive Samoan “nifo’oti” war club with different body mechanics than a short Irish shillelagh. Cultural values also make an impact. In some regions, standing your ground “to battle it out” is the most fearless approach. Another group may esteem simplicity and efficacy, so movement and subterfuge are valued and emphasized. The range of possible factors give us distinct arts from which we can all appreciate and learn. But there are specific aspects common to traditional stick fighting systems, regardless of where in the world they originated.

There are two fundamental aspects of martial expression found worldwide ‘war-dances’ and ‘the fight.’ A war-dance may be choreographed or spontaneous. Sometimes it is both, where practitioners are free to rift off a learned pattern as they swing the sticks impressively or delightfully and sometimes both simultaneously. War-dances are done solo or with a partner in a manner where there is no actual attempt at dominating each other. Many war-dances have an indigenous musical accompaniment creating a rhythmic motion that is pleasing to the eye and beneficial to the body. Dancing brings people together so an entire village can socialize and strengthen familial bonds. The fight is where each partner does their best to dominate the other. The intensity varies between types of fighting. Fights can take place in many ways. They may range from relatively safe sparring, where controlled strikes or protective armor minimizes injuries. On the other end of the scale, they may engage in extreme sparring where the combatants have only their skills to protect themselves from serious injury. Traditionally, both dancing and fighting were emphasized in most stick fighting arts because it produced the chief desired result: an efficient, functional warrior.

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Let’s examine two arts from vastly different cultures, which are oceans apart to highlight similarities in their approach to stick fighting. The art of Kalis Ilustrisimo from the Philippines is roughly 7000 miles away, from the South African Zulu practice of “Nduku.” I had the privilege of training in both methods in their homelands. With Tatang Ilustrisimo in Manila, I was able to train with him for a total of one month over two trips. In South Africa I trained with the Zulus for a total of three weeks over four visits. The training in Manila was typically six hours per day, while in Qua Zulu Natal,

it was roughly three hours per day. The training was rigorous, but, in my experiences, devoid of malice. The practitioners trained me hard because they wanted to help me to be my best. I should note that Kalis Ilustrisimo is primarily a swordbased art, but there is a robust stick-specific emphasis as well. Before delving into specifics, allow me to relate my first experiences of how these masters treated a stranger from a distant land who asked them to share their method of stick fighting. In 1994, I went to Manila as a fight choreographer for the shooting

Group photo at the Binondo gym in 1996. From right is my student Levi Bussanich and Master Tony Diego. In the middle is Master Christopher Ricketts. To Ricketts's right is current Grandmaster Tom Dy Tang. Far right is the great fighter Dodong. 112 | The Immersion Review

Tatang working outside my backhand strike. 1996 in Luneta Park. He rarely gave a full backhand himself because this check is so powerful and leaves one vulnerable.

of an American film project. (I had made two previous trips in 1980 and 1990.) By this time, I had 14 years of training with Guro Dan Inosanto in Los Angeles and was also training with Punong Guro Edgar Sulite. Edgar knew Manila well, so I asked him if he had any suggestions for training. He immediately told me to train with the great “Tatang” Ilustrisimo. Remember, this was a time before the internet went mainstream, and there were no yellow pages in the Philippines, so Edgar instructed me to go to

Luneta Park. He assured me that I would find Tatang there most days of the week. A few weeks later, I woke up in Manila, shook off the jet lag, and headed outside my hotel. I had a week before cameras started rolling, and I was going to make the best of the ample free time. I did not know where Luneta Park was, and I did not care how far away it was. I was determined to go there and search for Tatang. I got in a taxi and said, “Luneta Park, please.” The driver turned

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Tatang applying a painful wrist lock after a disarm. Note that he is holding my thumb for a secure grip, and is using his body to apply tremendous pressure to my wrist.

Tatang doing a classic Ilustrisimo technique of intercepting my backhand sword attack with a simultaneous forearm to forearm redirection and neck slash. Luneta Park, 1994.

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Discussing the intricacies of the art with, from left to right, Master Christopher Ricketts, Grandmaster Tatang Ilustrisimo, and Master Tony Diego. After Tatang's passing, the Grandmaster title was passed to Tony. Luneta Park, 1994.

around and looked at me with wide eyes and said, “Luneta Park?” His animated reaction made me think the park must be extremely far away. I said, “Yes, please.” He faced forward and pointed out ahead of him and exclaimed, “It’s right there!” Sheepish, I tipped him and exited the vehicle. My Dog Brother name wasn’t Lucky Dog for nothing. How fortunate to be right across the street. I soon discovered that Luneta Park is enormous, upwards of forty acres. So, I jogged all over the park. I didn’t find him the 116 | The Immersion Review

first day, but the second day I saw a man in the corner of the park doing empty hand forms on a cemented area. It wasn’t Karate or Kung Fu. It looked like Kali. I approached the man and, after a few pleasantries, asked if he knew of a man named Tatang Ilustrisimo. He replied, “Tatang? He’ll be here any minute.” Then his eyes looked out beyond me, and he said, “There he is!” And there he was. A slender man in his late 80’s ambled toward us. I introduced myself, telling him that I was a student of Guro Dan Inosanto. He smiled kindly, and

Working counter for counter with Master Christopher Ricketts. He was highly skilled and very intense, but we laughed hard and often during our training. Luneta Park, 1994.

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the training commenced, just like that. A few hours later, Tony Diego arrived, and he immediately helped train me too. The next day Christopher Ricketts showed up to help in training ‘The Americano.’ I trained six to eight hours a day the entire week, spent several weeks on the set, then delayed my trip home so I could spend more weeks training with Tatang and his crew. They held nothing back, feed-

ing me information and working me until I was able to duplicate the movements. As soon as they felt I had it, they moved on to the next principle or technique. When I finished that first day with Tatang, I went straight to a Sony shop around the corner from the hotel and bought a video camera. It was one of the best investments I ever made. I captured a lot of my training for further study. Tatang wanted me to learn, as did Tony and ‘Topher. It was very touching.

With Grandmaster Ilustrisimo and Levi Bussanich after another amazing training session. Even at 92 years of age, Tatang would train us for hours at a time. He would get up and demonstrate, then sit down and coach from there. When something wasn't understood, he would stand up and go hands on. Every session was magical.

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Two of my favorite sparring partners. These two men spent a lot of time sparring with me, and never injured me once. They always were laughing and having fun while applying their art.

Less than a year later, I was in Johannesburg, South Africa, to choreograph the fights on another film. As the production neared an end, I engaged in an ongoing discussion with the producer, director, and star of the movie about where we would visit after we wrapped. All three of them ended up experiencing the splendor of Victoria Falls. I opted to go into the heart of Zulu territory in the hopes of finding warriors who would share their stick fighting methods with me.

It all worked out exceptionally well. I found a Zulu man named Blessing who spoke English well. He gathered several young men together and told them that I was there to do some ‘Nduku stick fighting. They looked at each other quizzically, not sure what to make of this, but they relented, although not entirely enthusiastic. I left the first lesson with some minor bruises, but with a great appreciation for the art.

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An impromptu sparring session with a Zulu. He was explaining aspects of the large shield, usually used with a spear or an axe. That turned into playful sparring. Note how much fun he is having. That was typical of the sparring sessions.

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When I showed up again the next morning, the young men were still puzzled, but when I arrived for the third session, all barriers fell, and they embraced me like a brother. As in the Philippines, they held nothing back, working with me to improve my skills as quickly as possible for the remainder of that week. I went back to the same village unannounced a few years later, and you would have thought a long lost member of the tribe had just returned. There was a joyous celebration. Like in the Philippines, they not only shared their art; they gave me their hearts. I hope that gives you an idea of the spirit in which these traditional stick fighting aficionados passed on the information. Both groups' method of sharing was filled with generosity and goodwill. Now let us compare some technical aspects. Kalis Ilustrisimo, like many Filipino systems, uses a rattan stick or “olisi,” “baston”, etc. in the dominant hand that is usually 3/4 -1 inch in diameter. It is generally 28-30 inches long, but there are styles that use significantly shorter or longer sticks. The other hand is empty or carries a knife for support. When facing an adversary, if the stick is in the right hand, the right

foot is usually forward, closest to the adversary. ‘Nduku generally utilizes a hardwood stick in the strong hand that flares to a head at the end. At times spherical, other times, the sphere is bisected to create a sharp edge around the diameter. The stick or “sagila,” “isikhwili,” “iwisa” is either natural, i.e., cut from a straight branch that has a natural gnarl, or a fabricated stick carved from a piece of hardwood. Finally, a fighter will grab ahold of the “ubhoko” a long defending stick nearly the height of the fighter. If the sagila is in the right hand, the left foot is usually forward so that the defending stick can create a formidable barrier to the opponent’s strikes. Since the defending stick is closest to the opponent, a small cowhide shield or “ihawu” covers the defending stick hand to protect it from strikes. As you can see, both the implements and basic stances of these two methods are very different. But there are similarities. Each of these systems has a dance portion. In Ilustrisimo, the “sayaw” is moving the sticks in a free, smooth, and elegant manner. At times it is performed with full power and speed, the sticks buzzing through the air. Performances

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This man made the stick fighting shields that protect the hand which holds the defending stick. It is a long process, but the resulting product is extremely durable.

This is a bruise from a sparring session in the early 2000's. I felt it when the blow landed, but it wasn't terrible. But, to my surprise, my calf remained discolored for over three years. 122 | The Immersion Review

of the sayaw can include swords, double sticks, single stick, stick, and dagger, etc. In Zululand, the stick dancing is usually very vigorous and war-like. Accompanied by drumming, singing, and whistling, the dancers engage in group choreographed dances, or they break out into freestyle movements where the dancers swing their sticks accompanied by high kicking and stomping. There is a definite flavor to the actions that are distinctly Zulu. The dances are graceful, explosive, and impressive, all at once. There is another similarity often omitted in modern stick training- the fight. From light sparring to hard sparring to all-out fighting; all include unscripted, free form ritual combat as a vital element of the system. Free form ritual combat is an important and traditional training method handed down from their Zulu forebearers. It is a very scientific approach. You have a technique you think will work? Then prove it against someone who is fighting you. The mentality is that simple. But the fighting element has fallen to the wayside in many modern systems of stick fighting. I have concluded from my observations and experience (I used to do this myself) that modern systems tend to confuse the dance with the fight. If we

remember that a fight is characterized by attempting to dominate an actively resisting partner or opponent, then we see that many conventional drills performed with a compliant partner are martial dances designed to improve coordination, target acquisition, and flow. When one partner stands with his arm outstretched while the other goes through a series of techniques, they are engaged in the form of dance, regardless of how fierce the combatants look. They are developing attributes used in fighting, but they are not fighting. The traditionalists say, “You want to get good at combat? Then engage in combat!� There is nothing wrong with the dance, as it enhances athletic attributes and is good for the spirit. Tatang Ilustrisimo emphasized moving the stick in an extraordinarily fluid and tension-free fashion. I shot video footage of him wielding a sword that is pure magic. When he practiced application, he displayed the same velvety smooth qualities that he did while moving the weapons solo. A problem does arise when practitioners erroneously think that being proficient in dance and cooperative drills directly correlates to fighting proficiency. Frequently, this leads to practitioners who

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know a lot but can apply little under pressure. Many traditional stick fighting systems, like Kalis Ilustrisimo and Zulu ‘Nduku, ensure that this error does not befall their practitioners. How? By having them regularly engage in various forms of non-cooperative combat. Imagine that first day in the Zulu village. How do you think my first lesson went? You might assume that the first lesson taught was how to hold the sticks and how to stand. In time, the lesson would progress to exploring the primary offensive and defensive tactics, right? Not at all! My non-English speaking teacher placed a stick, defending stick, and shield properly in my hands, picked up his accouterments, faced me, and made a universal gesture for “come on, let’s fight!” I was sparring within the first minute of training. Why did they choose that route? Because this was genuinely traditional training, and they assumed I wanted to learn how to fight with the stick. So, we fought. With excellent control, I might add. I must say I wasn’t sure just how bad it was going to be, but they were kind enough to go at a moderate speed but hit lightly. They also covered the sphere of the stick with light padding wrapped in electric tape. That made the

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blows more bearable, but the ever-motivating pain factor remained. How about training in Manila with Tatang Ilustrisimo? The first day was getting to know me, basically determining if they wanted to teach me. They shared quite a bit, but it was day two when the training started. Early into the second day, an experienced student who had been practicing with an instructor from another style returned. The other instructor had changed this student’s posture, so he hunched over as he warmed up; a big no-no in the Ilustrisimo system. Having the head up and as far away as possible from the opponent’s weapon is very important. Ilustrisimo’s actual combat experience in many sword to sword encounters in his youth, during WWII, and afterward bore out the methods of the family art that passed down to him. The hunched over posture was not viable. So how was the student’s posture corrected? Explanation? Debate? Elucidation? No, they went directly to a scientific, evidence-based method. They had him spar with ‘soft’ sticks and no protective gear against a very athletic Ilustrisimo devotee. I can tell you; those soft sticks were not that soft! They had a rattan

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core with a thin foam covering encased in thin nylon fabric. After a few minutes of moderate intensity sparring targeting only the hand and leg, the returning student did not make the desired adjustments. He continued to bend forward, which put his head closer to the opponent’s weapon. A sharp command informed the men the head was now a target and to up the intensity- all the way up! There I am witnessing a full power stick fight with no protective equipment save a thinly padded weapon. After just a few sharp head strikes, guess what? The fellow straightened his posture. But this man received a severe beat down from the younger, athletic fighter. The bout concluded with the returning student giving up after a barrage of strikes that were punctuated by a brutal leg kick. After being lectured, the beaten man was instructed to hand the stick over to me. That’s right; it was my turn to take on the young athlete. We went at it quite hard, but with a good spirit of competition and camaraderie. He only tried to hit me in the head once. Why would they subject me to that? Simple. They wanted me to learn how to fight well, so they made me fight. Not out of malice and neither to

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prove dominance. Only with the intent to enhance my skills. That is how the traditional arts do it. They developed out of the need to fight, so engaging in fighting is the core of their training. All other aspects of the art, including the dance, serve to improve the sparring performance. You find this method in Zulu stick fighting and other African systems, such as Ethiopian “Donga” stick fighting. You find sparring still present in some of the Filipino martial arts, although the majority have moved away from it. Traditional Portuguese “Jogo Do Pau” is sparring based, as is French “La Canne.” There are newspaper accounts in Brazil from the early 1900s of Portuguese stick fights as entertainment alongside Catch Wrestling, and Jiu-Jitsu matches. I was able to see a little authentic Egyptian “Tahtib” stick fighting when I was in Cairo. I asked the father of the young man who took my wife Sarah and I on a camel tour about stick fighting. He told his son to get the sticks. The young man had a look of dread because he knew it was going to hurt. But that is combat preparation. Another trait shared by Kalis Ilustrisimo and ‘Nduku is that their methods of sparring emphasize the use of intelligent tactics. When people practice

fighting, their defense becomes formidable, so feinting and drawing attacks become highly developed. These set-ups are what allow a fighter to score on a similarly trained opponent. As in chess, each skillful player has the same tools. It is the strategies employed that determine the winner. In addition to the laughing and joyful practice, the most common thread I have experienced during my travels and study boils down to one thing. All truly traditional stick fighting systems include the element of unstructured learning through sparring or fighting. They don’t take a linear, Western school system approach to education. This type of approach guides the student from memorizing a system to experiencing the realm in which the system must operate. Individuality is encouraged if the creativity eventually leads to success. This pragmatic mindset bases itself on the need to prevail in combat. To paraphrase Bruce Lee, memorizing every stroke of

swimming on dry land is not going to save your life in the ocean. You must get in the water! In our day where we have a very low likelihood of stick-to-stick forced combat, sparring provides another advantage. Because sparring requires the approach to be practical, the wisdom we gain relates to those battles we face in everyday life. If you know how to stay calm and deal with someone coming after you with a stick, you will be better equipped to deflect life’s assaults and create solutions that are beneficial to all involved. Developing a comprehensive problem solving ability is probably the most significant benefit that we can derive from our traditional stick fighting experiences. Then life becomes easier. Maybe that’s why the fighters from Manila, Philippines to Eshowe, South Africa were so joyful. Enjoy your training! - Burton Richardson

Burton Richardson @JKDUnlimited

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The effectiveness of the cane can only derive from a broadly developed movement that launches it with vigor. Tightening the moulinet would mean depriving the sport of the cane of its substance. - Bernard Plasait, French savate champion and politician

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Stick Fencing and Canne Italiana Known in France as “la canne” and in England as a cane, the walking stick was a self-defense discipline practiced in Europe from the time of the Romans. Throughout history, the walking sized stick contests enjoyed a popularity between the end of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. Particularly widespread in Italy and later in France, only from the second half of the nineteenth century was it practiced as a real regulated discipline. At first, it was restricted to military training in the Italian sale d’armes, as preparatory to the study of the saber, later spreading to the military barracks of France, Belgium, and Hungary. The diffusion of the French “la canne” in Italy was made by Maestro Zerboni who introduced it at the Andrea Doria Gymnastics Society in Genoa and by Maestro Manusardi in Lombardy. It should be noted, however, that the French canne was nothing more than the Italian stick fencing imported into France by the Italians during the Renaissance period and later revised by the French, though solely in terms


of vocabulary: several historians recognize this fact including the preeminent French authority on Canne and Savate, maître Sylvain Salvini. Stick Fencing thrived until the beginning of the twentieth century, despite many edicts prohibiting its carrying in public. Only those persons with disabilities or those having real work-related needs were granted an exemption. Around the 1930s, with the decline in the fashion of walking sticks, the art risked disappearing altogether from the salle d’armes. In France, cane fighting continued to be practiced, but for the most part only by devotees of French savate by men such as Roger Lafond who had begun to practice French savate and fencing with his father in Paris. Roger Lafond served in the army from 1933, and from as early as 1937, he trained with the Joinville battalion. With the start of WWII in 1939, Roger Lafond was

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sent to the front, subsequently captured by German forces he interned in a P.O.W. camp where he began teaching canne and fencing to fellow prisoners. When he refused to teach his art to the Nazi guards, they banned him from further practice. After the war, his fame as a canne master spread, and in 1960 he taught his art to Patrick Macnee, the actor of the hit T.V. series The Avengers. Following the Second World War, the sport of canne underwent a new development in France, becoming “Canne de Combat,” an alternative to the Lafond method. Instead, in Italy, cane fighting, known as “Canne Italiana” inspired by the precepts of traditional fencing, continued autonomously under the guidance of maestro Italo Manusardi and his nephew, Lorenzo Ravazzani Manusardi.

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The Milanese Cane School and Canne Italiana Milan is the city that, by the middle of the 19th century, saw the publication of the first Italian articles on “Bastone” or stick fighting and Savate. Savate, also known as Le boxe française, savate boxing, French kickboxing, or French foot fighting, is a French combat sport that uses the hands and feet as weapons, combining elements of English boxing with graceful kicking techniques. Only foot kicks are allowed, unlike some systems such as Muay Thai, which allow the use of knees or shins. “Savate” is a French word for “old shoe or boot,” and Savate fighters wear specially designed boots. The “Trattato teorico pratico di Scherma col Bastone” (1854) by Giuseppe Cerri was the first publication to describe the use of the two-handed staff in Milan, with lessons and exercises. In 1869 the manual “Trattato di Box-Libera ossia difesa personale di Luigi Carmine, Maestro di sci-

abola, bastone e ginnastica, già istruttore di stato maggiore” was published. This book, according to French historian Sylvain Salvini, is a plagiarism of the “Manuel de la boxe française et anglaise” by Louis Leboucher, even if maestro Carmine had a verifiable and documented knowledge of fencing, gymnastics, wrestling, and boxing. Gianluca Zanini, in his re-edition of the famous Treatise of Master G. Cerri, points out that in Milan there was familiarity with the use of weapons, as confirmed in the “Guide di Milan” that noted that between 1827 and 1889 there were up to 22 fencing halls, with 42 Maestros teaching.


First Half of the 19th Century From the time of Luigi Carmine of the late 19th century to the second post-war period in Lombardy, and specifically in Milan, only one other treatise on stick fencing was published. Master Giannino Martinelli wrote “Trattato di scherma col bastone da passeggio,” a book in which he adapted the saber technique to the stick. The part of the publication dedicated to personal defense targetted officers of the Milan municipal police, who regularly armed themselves with walking sticks. The book covered the use of the stick both for sport and self-defense. Another book published in 1930s, “La difesa personale” by Carlo Volpi, dealt with self-defense using weapons such as walking sticks, knives, Savate and Jiu-Jitsu, cannot be considered as original, as it is merely a translation of Jean Joseph-Renaud’s “La defénse dans la Rue.”

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Second Half of the 19th Century, the Birth of Canne Italiana Emerging from these historical roots, the Manusardi Academy was born in the 1950s, later developing its style of walking stick fighting called “Canne Italiana”. The founder of the academy, Arrigo Manusardi, continued his family military tradition of combat, gymnastics, and wrestling, and then established relations in France, to increasingly spread the sport of savate which was already practiced in Genoa and Milan. Arrigo Manusardi wrote four books, published by the Milanese publisher Zibetti, on the disciplines he taught: “Jiu-Jitsu e Savate per difesa personale. Manuale pratico” of 1958 followed in 1959 by “Ginnastica educativa. Manuale pratico” and in 1960 by two additional texts, “La boxe francese (la Savate). Difesa personale e sport" and then “Lotte olimpiche. Greco-Romana e stile libero”. In 1968, following

the death of Arrigo Manusardi, the eldest of his three sons, Italo Manusardi, founded E.N.B.F. - I.T.A.L.I.A. (Ecole Nationale de Boxe Française d’Italie) to continue the work of his father. March 7, 1969, was the historic date of the first international Savate match between France and Italy. The most famous Italian sports newspaper, the Gazzetta dello Sport, commented as follows: “Nice Italian victory in Paris. An interesting match of French kickboxing took place in the Wagram Room between the teams of France and Italy, won by the latter 2-1. The Italians, led by Italo Manusardi, beat the French at one of their favorite combat sports”. On this occasion, Italo Manusardi attended a high-level cane match, which he already knew about having seen it practiced several times in Genoa and partially learned from his father Arrigo who, before becoming the founder of the Lombard school of Savate, had been a brilliant student of the famous cane master Roger Lafond. Italo was so impressed by the match that he decided to improve on the sport and spread it throughout Italy. The handling of the cane, whose technique was in some ways like that of the dueling sabre, was

made easier for Italo Manusardi thanks to the fencing techniques learned from the famous master Wolfram Werner at the German School of War during WWII. Attending the prestigious Genoese school of master Lazzaro Delfino, together with maestro Mario Pavani, allowed Italo Manusardi to further refine his skills as a maestro and fencer. At the same time, thanks to contacts with France and having access to historical manuals to study the history and evolution of the cane, Italo Manusardi was able to carry out personal research that gave further impetus to his passion, leading him to create an original Italian method for the interpretation of the cane, or the Canne Italiana. The inspiring principle of this new discipline was to consider stick fencing not only a sport but also a perfect introduction to traditional dueling with metal weapons: Canne Italiana represented the perfect fusion between traditional canne and saber dueling. Italo Manusardi thus began to teach Canne Italiana to his Savate students, including his young son Renato and his grandson, Lorenzo Ravazzani Manusardi, who learned all the secrets of his style from his grandfather. Subsequently, grandfather and grandson began to avidly spread the sport of Canne Italiana, strictly based on


the traditional system of Roger Lafond and different from modern Canne de Combat. With the birth of the “Sala d’armi e codice d’ onore Lazzaro Delfino”, the study of Canne Italiana was extended to the two-handed staff: the result was a style of its own, a fusion of Canne Italiana and French canne, thus arriving at a unique way in the handling of the two-handed weapon. Canne Italiana in the New Millennium In 2000 the synergy between the Manusardi Academy and the historic gym S.G. Pro Patria 1883 - Milan, led to the creation of a real structure dedicated to Canne Italiana. At that time, the “Academia Canne Italiana” introduced its full-contact version: as “Full Contact Canne Italiana” where the fencing technique of Canne Italiana blended with the fighting techniques of Savate, with stick grips, disarms, direct shots without the need for a moulinet and the two-handed grip. In just a few years the Full Contact Canna Italiana style became unique in its genre for its elegance and effectiveness, giving rise to a period of very intense activity: a national network of practitioners and stick experts emerged, international introduction seminars and

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Canne Italiana courses were held in Paris, thanks to Maître JeanPierre Julemont, European savate champion and great friend of Italo. Television and newspapers were also interested in Maestro Italo and Canne Italiana: in the academic year 2004/2005 the station TV SKY SPORT 1 broadcast a television show where the head of the school Italo Manusardi and his nephew Lorenzo, interviewed at the S.G. Pro Patria 1883 Milan gym, described the history and the technique of Canne Italiana and demonstrated exercises and fights. Master Italo Manusardi, still working at the age of 80, was then interviewed in the spring of 2009 by the national T.V. channel R.A.I. 2 to talk about his longevity. In the interview, Master Manusardi described Canne Italiana while his nephew Lorenzo demonstrated some sporting and defense techniques.

Research and Development of Weapons The development of Full Contact Canne Italiana, with its potential significant degree of physical impact, led to a need for research and development of equipment and materials that offered adequate protection to practitioners. A new arrival made a significant contribution in this sense: Guido Caporizzi, savateur, in completing the entire academic path leading to his attainment of the black ribbon in Canne Italiana, began to passionately devote himself to the weapon of Canne Italiana, with a special interest in its safe practice. Wood Treatments Together with the laborious job of working with scarce and fragmented written documents was also the significant obstacle of overcoming the barrier of confidentiality of the most orthodox masters of the various stick disciplines, protective of the secrets of their weapons. However, due to the seriousness and commitment of Guido Caporizzi, he succeeded in convincing them that their precious technical knowledge would not be passed on to self-taught or undeserving laymen: Guido learned from the masters the woods to choose

and the ones to avoid, the proper phases of the moon and the season to cut the sticks. Additionally, he learned to strip, straighten, and temper them by fire. Finally, he learned how and at what temperature and humidity to season and store them. Other information handed down from master to pupil, included “oiling sticks once a day for a week, once a week for a month, once a month for a year and then once a year forever.” Soft Sticks for a Soft Approach The constant work in the salle d’arme also highlighted the need to create suitable sticks for novices who wish to approach Canne Italiana without immediately purchasing expensive and complete fencing equipment. Guido thus designed soft sticks that, although slower and not high performance, allow beginners to try their hand at Canne Italiana without protection, but in total safety. Alternatively, an inflatable stick, which could be inflated and then deflated after use, became another option for easier transport of otherwise long and bulky sticks used in public demonstrations. Rubberized Cane A key creation was the invention of a “rubberized cane,” completely covered with a natural


rubber particularly suitable for Canne Italiana. Thanks to this technical cane created by Guido, in the event of the cane breaking upon impact, especially during Full Contact Canne Italiana, any dangerous, resulting splinters are retained by the rubber. Master Italo Manusardi, wishing to reward this achievement, decided to give a special mention of honor to Guido Caporizzi, who had created it. An exemplar of one of these rubberized canes is in the section dedicated to stick fencing at the Agorà fencing museum in Busto Arsizio, a renowned Italian museum dedicated to fencing. Technical Peculiarities of Canne Italiana The characteristics that distinguish Canne Italiana are: The circumduction of the wrist: derives mainly from the saber technique and has the function of giving additional strength and fluidity to the movement of the weapon, initially triggered by the arm, at the time of making specific strikes. The “moulinet” or cane twirling: the cane being a light blunt weapon and unlike the saber, which is a heavy, sharp, and powerful weapon, its effectiveness derives, almost of necessity, from a widely developed large rotary move-

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ment that lends energy to it. It is, therefore, the sum of speed and centrifugal force that gives an effectiveness to the strike made with this light weapon. Tip thrusts: these are mostly thrusting like we do with the saber, are made at different heights and different targets. Whipped strikes: consist of the ability of the fencer to use the fingers in cutting blows to provide a further push to the weapon after the moulinet, a split second before the weapon impacts the target implying the development of considerable sensitivity of the fingers for the so-called “snapping” and sensitivity in timing. Arguments in Support of the Italian and French Cane Systems There are arguments, of equal value, in support of both the Italian and French systems. The Canne Italiana organizes itself around moulinets, and its blows are predicated on a moulinet because we believe, as also claimed by French savateur Bernard Plasait, due to physical reasons the power of the blow derives from the moulinet. Tightening the moulinet to increase speed would mean depriving the cane sport of its substance. Modern French canne de combat

has instead almost eliminated moulinets, believing that blows carried without a moulinet are faster and efficient. In Canne Italiana, we believe the speed of execution derives instead from intense specific training, as proven by master Lecour who, as we read in “Traité de Canne, boxe et baton” (anonymous), was able to deliver two hundred strokes per minute.

Modern French Canne de Combat employs six strokes “brisé/ coup donné en tête,” “latéral extérieur,” “latéral croisé,” “enlevé,” “croisé tête,” “croisé jambe” thus excluding the thrust, believing that these slow down the action. In Canne Italiana, on the other hand, thrusts are still present and considered very effective, particularly in Full Contact Canne Italiana.

STYLES OF CANNE ITALIANA Canne Italiana Accademica (Light Contact): Is the academic version of Canne Italiana, limited to the use of the cane only, with blows carried out with full control and light contact. The practitioner must be able to use the canes equally with the right or left hand, without distinction. Canna Italiana Contatto Pieno: Full Contact Canne Italiana combines the fencing techniques of Canne Italiana with savate strikes. Strikes can be carried out with or without moulinets, at all distances and heights, as would potentially happen in a hypothetical street brawl, though concerning some basic safety rules. Doppia Canna: This consists in the simultaneous use of two canes (one for each hand) mainly as an academic exercise in dexterity, in order to increase one’s manual ability. Studied and further developed by Sergio Rallo, savateur, instructor and one of the managers of the Manusardi Academy, the guiding principle is to achieve total control of the independence of the two hands, where one cane parries and protects while the other carries out offensive strikes: all dynamic parries or strikes are preceded by a moulinet which is the distinguishing feature of Canne Italiana.

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Two-Handed Staff: Is a heavy weapon is used mainly with strikes preceded by a moulinet, giving even more energy to the strikes thanks to the centrifugal force and weight of the arm. Moreover, due to its weight and length, it is almost exclusively handled with two hands. Vertical moulinets from bottom to top and vice versa, forwards or backward, are reminiscent of a kayak stroke. One does them using horizontal circular blows, slippage of the stick in one of the two hands, and by lateral strikes that give the two-handed Canne Italiana a peculiar style and elegance. The manner of holding the stick is one of the ways to identify the Italian and French styles.


DEGREES/LEVELS One-Handed Levels:



Canne Italiana has three grades or levels, called Ribbons, with the colors white, red and black in progression where black being the highest level is granted after passing an examination before a commission: White Ribbon involves the knowledge of basic techniques and training in semi-contact fighting, called touchĂŠ combat. The matches have into one or more rounds and paused upon each successful strike of one of the two opponents. Red Ribbon instead requires full knowledge of the Canne Italiana technique and training in light-contact fighting. The matches are without interruption and divided into two or more by-the-point rounds. Black Ribbon, as the highest martial level, requires knowledge and the practical application of Canne Italiana for self-defense. The matches are full contact, with no regulatory restrictions, and are entirely free, with judges and referees who assign points

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based on the real effectiveness of the techniques used. To reach this level, adequate knowledge and the practice of savatè is necessary as Chausson/Savate techniques are used. Two-Handed Levels:



Three degrees or levels, called Ribbons, with the colors white, red, and black in progression with black being the highest level is achieved after passing an exam: White Ribbon involves the learning of the techniques of the Italian method. Red Ribbon, involves the study of French techniques and combat in the two different styles. Black Ribbon instead involves the practical application of the two methods in mixed schools, Italian versus French and vice versa, and the technique of both systems in the handling of the staff.

WEAPONS One-Handed Canne Italiana

Protective Gear

One-handed Canne Italiana for novices - a soft padded or inflatable cane that allows beginners to approach Canne Italiana without protection and in total safety.

Stick fencing mask following F.I.E. standards (mesh steel resistance 1600 NW) with the protection for the nape in plastic (both for academic style Canne Italiana and Full Contact Canne Italiana).

One-handed Canne Italiana for academic practice – a cane of chestnut or nutwood or other similar wood, made from a young barked and unlathed sucker, having the following characteristics: Length: 90-95 cm. Weight: must not exceed 160 grams, including wrapping. Wrapping made of rubber or other material suitable for containing splinters from breakage. Two-Handed Staff Two-handed staff: a staff of chestnut or nutwood or other similar wood, made from a young barked and unlathed sucker, approximately 140 cm long and weighing 400 grams.

Upper body armor, such as martial arts, riot control, hockey, and biking armor, is mandatory for Full-Contact Canne Italiana (use of a fencing jacket under armor is optional). Athletic supporter and cup in P.V.C. or hard plastic, to be worn under pants (both for academic and Full Contact Canne Italiana). Elbow, knee and shin protection for martial arts, riot control, hockey, rollerblading or biking (both for academic and Full Contact Canne Italiana). Gloves suitable for martial arts or ice and field hockey; (both for academic and Full Contact Canne Italiana).


WEAPONS (cont.) Valid Strikes and Targets: Strikes made with a moulinet of the wrist or elbow, or with at least half a rotation of the cane except for point shots which reach the targets with the tip of the weapon, are considered valid. One-handed thrusting strikes are permitted to valid torso targets at all levels; mask thrusts are valid to the front of the mask. Targets: Head: with mask (thrusts and slashes). Torso: with padded (thrusts and slashes).


Right/left arm: entire arm. Right/left leg: entire leg. Hands: with a glove (back of the hand). Invalid Strikes and Targets: Strike to the groin and feet are forbidden. In academic Canne Italiana, uncontrolled strikes are prohibited; strikes must not be heavy-handed but delivered to the target without excessive force.

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EXTERNAL LINKS Video Canne Lafond: Interview TV SKY SPORT 1 Interview TV RAI2: Canne Italiana slow motion: Sparring with no armor: Black Ribbon: Disarmament: Canne full contact: Acknowledgments Special thanks to Ms. Luana Hegglin, a professional translator: without her precious support for the preparation of the Italian documents, this article would not have been possible (

Guido Caporizzi @guidonair STICK FENCING AND CANNE ITALIANA • Guido Caporizzi | 147




RECENTLY I HAD the honor to sit down with my oldest martial arts teacher, Sensei Srinivasan Sastri. Sensei has been guiding me in my martial arts practice since I was 19 years old. Now at the age of 85, he has been practicing martial arts for nearly six decades, training in the samurai arts for more than 40 years. I find it best to ask simple questions and let Sensei do what he does best - teach.

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Jeevan Gowda: So, what is the advantage of staff training? Sensei Sastri: Well, first, it will help with the coordination of your body. If you train with no other weapon, or if you are from an empty hand art it improves the coordination. When you pick up any staff, it becomes an extension of your hand and body! Your legs, your hand, your breathing all these work together to move your staff. Moving everything together dramatically improves your coordination. Secondly, a good art will teach you various aspects of using a stick/staff. Striking to different parts of the body, using various types of strikes. Then there are several techniques you can use, such as throws, chokes, and sweeps. All these various aspects of “Jo” training are improved. The staff will improve your coordination in life. Also, all the techniques you use. Be they striking or throws. How to reach a moving opponent and adapting to the situation. Even if you do not have a traditional staff, then you can use whatever is at hand to protect yourself with your art At least that is what a proper staff training means to me!


JG: How does energizing the stick help with your striking and blocking?

turn the force. Then you can move on into your next strike or block.

SS: Energizing the stick is something I can tell you about and show you, but it’s up to the individual to pick up the stick and feel it. They must learn it and know it. To make the staff a part of themselves.

This may sound like a very simplistic way of explaining this principle. Some people may have objections to this, but that’s the principle. The energy of your body becomes part of that weapon. If you don’t understand it and think it’s hocus-pocus - so be it! I guess I’m full of it like so many others (he laughs at that last comment).

What do I mean by that? Well, it’s the same as any good Karate instructor would teach you. When the punch comes, the hand is not stiff. It starts loose and at the end of the movement it tightens. The hand relaxes and retracts. That’s energizing a punch. When you’re holding a staff, don’t let it be dead. Cultivate a feeling as if the staff is an extension of your hand. In this way, the energy flowing from your hand must flow through the stick to be effective. The energy flows from the center of your body. In empty hand styles, it’s also the same. The power comes from your center, and at the last second, you’re throwing that energy. The same way the energy is going through the stick and causing more damage. When you’re blocking, this energy helps you feel the force of a block, unlike a dead stick, which will only help you absorb the force. A live staff will help you 152 | The Immersion Review

JG: Sensei, what is better - footwork or speed? SS: Well for us, footwork means “Tai Sabaki,” or “moving the body out of harm’s way.” So, if you’re going to fight speed against speed, then you are depending on your own speed. If you’re not faster than him, you’re going to lose. You cannot depend on speed. You must use an intelligent way of negating that speed and not follow your opponent’s way of fighting. Being the follower and your opponent, the leader. He expects you to defend or go back. With Tai Sabaki, we don’t stand and defend; we go around! So which techniques do we use to negate speed? In our system, there are three modes: 1. Block and counter 2. Move out of range 3. Moving into attack Let’s discuss the second one, stepping out of range. The attack is coming very fast. Moving back for a fraction of a second and then going immediately on the offensive. You are focusing on the strike coming for you, just moving enough to avoid the strike. To be able to do this, one must practice exhaustively.

back in a defensive mode for a billionth of a second and the next billionth of a second your stepping in on the offensive move. Once you’re there, there are hundreds of things you can do. You need to practice millions of times to get the timing right. I’m not an instructor who says a few months of my class, and you’re an expert. You must pay your dues! When the strike is coming, if you’re not inside the strike, inside the working end of a sword or a staff of a knife, if you’re not inside the working end and close to the body, then you will lose. So, you must get inside. Why inside? Because his body is the one throwing the fist. The body is the one holding the weapon. So, you must hurt the body. Of course, a knife fighter wants to cut your hands; a stick fighter wants to hit your hands. Everyone wants to hit your hands. That’s fine, but when you move in close enough that you’re almost kissing him, then you can strike his center. Then you’re unbalancing him!

For instance, you’re stepping


JG: Even with a longer weapon/ staff Sensei? SS: Yes, you go in with a longer weapon! Yes, even with a longer weapon, let’s say a gun. The first thing you have to say is “I’m dead”! I want to get that fear of the gun out of me! YOU won’t be able to do it by just thinking about it. I practice it and tell myself I’m dead every day. YOU must pay your dues! YOU must learn it! YOU must make it a part of your thinking! Because once you consider yourself dead, you have nothing to fear. Because fear will hold you

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back. For example, a guy with a gun (is) standing eight feet or more away. Unless you’re Superman, you can’t cover the distance. You must be smart. He is pointing at the enormous mass of your body. In response you take a long diving roll at a 45-degree angle. Then change angles and move in again. He must follow your movement. By the time he realizes the changes, he will most likely miss you. If he doesn’t miss, well I can’t protect you from a hundred different situations! You have put in the effort, the thought when facing a gun. How do you get out? That comes with learning and training every day. So, figure it out!

Staff Versus Blade JG: A lot of my teachers would teach me the staff and the blade separately. They would tell me they were separate philosophies. So, what are the similarities and differences, and how does staff training help your blade work? SS: Well, I’m not a great believer in learning weapons one at a time. There is nothing wrong with learning the staff one day and the sword the next. I don’t care if it’s a sword or an axe or a machete. Because if you look at it, there is something common to every one of these weapons. If you learn a block from your empty hand form, then put a stick in your hand, that’s a block too. So, you can also use a longer stick or a sword and block that way. So, the basic principle of a block with a weapon of any kind is the same. The only difference is the length of the weapon in your hand.

you must break that bone before you can cut. So, the same with a knife. It’s chopping. You need to take out that person’s shoulder, his hand. Completely destroy it by cutting it off. So, everything has a common factor in it. You must see that. If you’ve been taught to learn one art first and then another later, I’m sorry. I don’t agree with that! Of course, it’s a good idea to learn empty hand fighting Because that builds a lot of coordination. So maybe if you practice empty hand for a year. You have that coordination and weapons become easier.

The similarities are always there. Whether it is a staff or a blade, it’s always chopping. If you take a stick and stop right before the moment of contact, then it’s like a dead blow. But if you strike through the body, it is a more effective strike, a more painful strike. You’re not here to scratch that person. You break that bone. Even with a knife, AN INTERVIEW WITH SENSEI SASTRI • Jeevan Gowda | 155

Future of Martial arts in the Modern World JG: You were talking about fighting someone with a gun. That’s a modern-day interpretation of an ancient battlefield art

other thing coming! So, do not be overconfident. Always accept the fact you will be struck, shot, cut!

SS: Well, once again, when you talk about facing a modern-day weapon. I fall back on the techniques I have learned. You must know your Tai Sabaki. How to step out and back in. So, you have moved yourself out of harm’s way

I’ve said it from day one to all my students. Accept it! Don’t say, “nothing’s going to happen to me.” Don’t say “my martial arts are so good I can face a guy with a gun, and he’s not going to shoot me.” In my previous example of taking a roll, you may get shot, but the damage will be minimal. So, when facing any weapon, the other guy can get lucky. Sometimes in a boxing match, the guy who’s not so good gets a lucky shot, and they go down. Anything can happen. There are so many variables

Let’s not forget as a martial artist, as I have always taught my students: Be prepared every day when you go to class to say: I will get hit I will be knifed I will get shot

I will get kicked

So, there’s no hard and fast rule. To get out of a situation, use your mind and body to help yourself to minimize the danger.

But your movement is going to minimize the pain. Minimize the damage. If you think you’re never going to get hit because I’m so super good, you have an-

Modern battlefields skills cannot compare to those taught in an ancient art because they didn’t have the same weapons they have today. Take, for instance,

I will get punched

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a missile defense system where you have a low level, mid-level altitude, and a higher level. Like ancient Japan there would be three levels. Soldiers kneeling with swords, behind them would be a row standing. Behind them a row with long spears. So, three different levels. So, there are many levels of “ryuha,” “battlefield techniques”. I should say battlefield ideas. Because I’m sure generals today study the old battlefield techniques The first and foremost thing is not to get encircled. Regardless if it is ancient or modern warfare. The only difference being the weapons. I cannot say much more about modern and ancient battlefield weapons. Though I’m sure there are many universal ideas and philosophies.


Regarding the Future of the Art JG: How do you think our art is going to advance? Especially as now we teach a varied group of students. They are all very educated and a very different group. SS: Well as you said, most of today’s students are high school and college students. So, I always treat them as highly intelligent people, and I talk to them in that manner. Secondly, I do not teach the old way (which is not going to work), where you must believe everything and not question me. “Just do what I tell you and respect me.” I do not ask for that. Modern students are not going to do that. Because their philosophy, the way they’ve grown up, and how they’ve studied in school or college is completely different. So, they’ve learned to think in this environment. So, you can’t force them to respect you, force them to learn. You must earn the students' respect. The students must have an exchange of information. If they have doubts you have to answer it; you must show them.

Modern day teaching is not the old way. Teach them honestly. Try to teach a certain amount of information. If it goes beyond the hour of class, say “Hey guys, I’ve got to do another 15-20 more minutes. I hope you can stay.” Show them that you’re more interested in them learning, rather than your time. Because no kid today must learn martial arts, they don’t need to. They are doing it voluntarily, giving up their time. So, as they respect your time, you should respect their time. If they don’t stay, deal with them accordingly. You might not do this again, or you might not ask them. Bend a certain amount and no more. As an instructor, don’t bend back so much that you’ll fall. Students must be in class to learn if they are yelling out questions. “I saw something in a movie.” Well then go somewhere else, don’t bother me.

Srinivasan Sastri httt:// 158 | The Immersion Review

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Does Grappling Happen in Stick Fights When our instructional series came out in 1993, one of the most controversial aspects was our use of BJJ influenced grappling. We heard things like, “You didn’t see that in the death matches in the Philippines!” or “Your grappling only happens because of your head and hand gear!” The first assertion is in error. Grappling did happen in stick fights in the Philippines. For example, I remember when GM Atillo of Balintawak Eskrima came to teach an evening seminar at the Inosanto Academy. One of the things GM Atillo was famous for was a fight in Cebu, which he lost to GM Cacoy Canete of Doce Pares.


One of the first things he did was show us a copy of the rules for the fight the two had signed. One of the rules clearly stated, “No grappling.” The question presented by this duel is both clear and obvious— if grappling does not happen in a stick fight, why the need for the rule? The answer was this: GM Cacoy was a black belt in Judo and had blended his Judo with his Doce Pares Eskrima into a system he called “Eskrido” with the last two letters being the last two letters from the name Judo. The other eskrimadors of Cebu knew of his skills in bringing Judo to bear, and so, in search of a test of Balintawak Eskrima vs. Doce Pares Eskrima, it was agreed to exclude grappling from the fight. The next thing GM Aillo did was show us a picture from the newspaper the day after the fight wherein GM Cacoy had him bent over in a reverse headlock while whacking him with the stick. “You see! He cheated!” In short, I think this story clearly shows that grappling can and does happen in stick fights, even at the highest levels in the Philippines. So, this brings us to the other 164 | The Immersion Review

major criticism in this regard of our fighting: “Your grappling only happens because of your head or hand gear! Without them, you would be defanged with ‘hand hits’ and ‘stopped shots’ to the head and face!” Of course, in many of our fights, particularly with less experienced fighters, this is quite true! That said, our hand gear is far lighter than many appreciate. Indeed, we now have many fighters whose gloves are leather with no padding whatsoever. Broken hands are not rare at ‘Dog Brothers Gatherings of the Pack’ ®. It should be noticed that this usually does not stop the fighter from continuing. So, why then wear them at all? The answer is to protect the hand from being ‘cheese gratered’ on the opponent’s fencing mask. Concerning the fencing masks, the first thing to note is that they are masks, not helmets. While they do diminish the impact to the head, people can and do get dropped. Concussions do happen. As a result, people quickly learn to protect their heads. What our gear does mean, however, is that the fighting part of the learning process can be un-

dertaken and survived to the point where one has the genuine ability to fight without any gear at all. Of course, this is more dangerous than would make sense for a combat sport ritual fight but, the proof is in the pudding — One can regularly see skilled fighters in Dog Brothers fights entering into and establishing grappling as part of the fight without getting hit. (For the record I do note that Top Dog, Salty Dog, and I were all willing to do so when the UFC approached us about being a special event between the semi-finals and the finals back in the early days when its format was ‘Eight men enter, one man, leaves.’ Concerned about the potential for political backlash, the UFC backed off with a gracious letter saying we were “just too extreme for the UFC.” | Doing this has two parts—getting to the stick grapple and knowing what to do when there. Let us look now at the first of these. DBMA SEVEN RANGES & STICK GRAPPLING • Marc Denny | 165

Getting to the Stick Grapple As a fighter and a teacher, I developed what I call ‘the seven ranges of weapon fighting.’ In the West today, most Filipino Martial Arts systems and styles teach the concept of range by breaking it down into the three ranges of Largo, Medio, and Corto. These are usually translated as long-range, mid-range, and close range. For most teaching purposes, these three ranges suffice. In the early days of my Dog Brothers path, I noticed that many people with highly developed skills were not showing them when they fought. Indeed, they often looked a little different from rather untrained fighters. Often this led them to doubt themselves and the Art. I began to think about this. What I realized was that most people train in two-man drills and that the drills are principally in either Media or Corto range yet WHEN THE FIGHT STARTS IT STARTS OUTSIDE OF LARGO and most people, beyond trying to be quicker and/or more powerful, haven’t a clue as to what to do out there or how to get to the ranges where their skills lie IN COMPOSED BALANCE. Thus, often, little or none

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of their cultivated skills show up in their fighting. This thought was the beginning of the understanding that led to the seven ranges. It was, and is, my great fortune to have been trained by some of the greatest FMA teachers such as Guro Dan Inosanto and others. From them I learned to appreciate that some schools in the Philippines organize their teaching methodology around more than three ranges. For example, a cover story in ‘Inside Kung Fu’ magazine in the early 1980s showed Guro Inosanto demonstrating much more than the three generic ranges. Similarly, in my very brief but valuable training with Grandmaster Ramiro Estalilla of Kabaroan Eskrima, I have been exposed to a concept of range very different from that of the three generic ranges. I mention these examples because I wish to make it clear that although the Dog Brothers Martial Arts expression of seven ranges may be distinctive, and, we hope of value, there is no claim to be the only one with more than the three basic rang-

es, nor is there a claim to be better than those with three. So, let us look at them. Two of the seven ranges lie outside of Largo-Medio-Corto, and two lie inside. These ranges do not bump up against each other like bricks; instead, rather like the links of a chain, they overlap. Understand too that this is all only ‘a manner of talking’ and should not be taken too literally. To use the JKD metaphor, once the canoe gets you across the river, you do not need to carry it on your back as you continue on your way. Fights are dynamic, and in the application, the ranges blend freely. Stick Fighting Hurts


Snake Range As I studied and was hit by Top Dog over the years I have come to appreciate that he has a unique way of moving before contact is made, both in stickwork and footwork, that distinguishes him from all other fighters I have seen, even ones trained in the same system as he is (Pekiti Tirsia). Recently I have come to attribute this to his time in high school playing the sport of Lacrosse. If I have my history right, Lacrosse was an already well-established sport amongst the Native American Iroquois Confederacy at the time that the English first arrived in North America. In a rare moment of historical accuracy in a Hollywood film, this was acknowledged in one of the first scenes in the movie ‘Last of the Mohicans’ wherein at a settlement the Native Americans can be seen with sticks with a small net/basket at one end playing a game in the field. The game today is played principally in the schools of the northeastern states of America, but in the last few years, it is beginning to spread further. In its modern sport incarnation, the players wear a helmet with a mask that is something like a hockey helmet. There is upper 168 | The Immersion Review

body protection similar to, but decidedly less protective than that of American football. There are elbow pads and gloves similar to those of ‘street hockey’ (i.e., dramatically lighter than ice hockey). The game allows strong frontal checking and use of one’s stick to strike the stick of the man with the ball to knock it out of its basket. The protective gear is for the errant strikes that are a normal part of play. Players with the ball learn ‘to cradle’ a continuous movement of their stick to protect it from being hit. Or if the stick is hit, to protect the ball from being knocked out of the basket while running/crashing through the opposing team towards the goal. Cradling is also used to fake defenders into committing too soon, thus enabling passes to teammates or shots on goal on other lines. The speed of the game at the high school, university, and now professional level needs to be seen to be truly appreciated. My theory is that the evasive and crashing running of Lacrosse done in conjunction with the cradling motions of the Lacrosse stick is the origin of Top Dog’s distinctive stick movement in the range before contact is made.

The fencing masks are not helmets, KOs are possible

Anyway, I like putting nicknames to things, and to the sinuous, flowing quality of Top Dog’s stick movement, I put the name ‘the snaky stick.’ The term has nothing to do with ‘snake disarms.’ This is the Filipino Martial Arts after all, and consistent use of terminology is prohibited! Haha. In DBMA, we define ‘The Snake’ as “the skill of moving your stick to protect your hand, hide your intent, create your opening, and mask your initiation.” Although the starting point is based upon what Top Dog does, we also draw upon the movements of several other quality fighters as well. No one structure, even that of ‘the best, works best for

everyone, and no one structure solves all problems. The material of the Snake range in our curriculum also includes how to analyze and solve your opponent’s structure. If you can quickly recognize your opponent’s structure and already know its underlying strengths and weaknesses, you have fewer choices to make and hence can react more rapidly and confidently. It is also important to remember that there are times in a fight, as well as situations in the street, that one wants to avoid engagement and to keep the opponent(s) away. This development of this skill is also part of our curriculum for Snake range.


Weapon Range Weapon range is still outside of Largo. It is the range where the weapons strike each other — the shorter the weapons, e.g., pocket knives, the less relevant this range. In your basic stick fight, depending upon the dynamics, this can be a critical range in the hands of a fighter who understands it, but even then, not necessarily so. However, when the weapons are longer, it is likely to be essential. For example, when two men of roughly equal skill face of with staffs, it is probable that the weapons will make contact with each other before anyone is hit. Within Weapon range, there are three basic sub-categories: meet the force, merge the force, and follow the force. The meaning of ‘meet’ and ‘follow’ are obvious enough; but then there is to ‘merge.’ My awareness on this point was triggered by Grand Master Ramiro Estalilla, whose fascinating Kabaroan system has many longer weapons, some of which are projectile weapons. A merge is, as we use the term in DBMA, where the force of my strike on my opponent’s weapon is approximately at an angle of 90 degrees to the line of force of

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his strike, i.e., halfway between meet and merge. The purpose of a merge is to knock your opponent’s weapon off course and disrupt his control of it to create an opening for your follow up strike. There are even angles where the mere impact on the weapon can accomplish disarms. A scientific understanding of this range can open the door to a composed, balanced entry into the hitting ranges (Largo/ Medio/Corto) and is very valuable. Now let’s take a look at the ranges inside of Largo/Medio/Corto.

Greater fighting measure and different dynamics of the fight due to the weapons

The complimentary download of The Grandfathers Speak:

Hand is a major target

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Clinch/Standing/ Grapple Exactly as it is named, this is where both fighters are tied up while standing. As defined in DBMA, Corto can be a similar distance, although it is usually a little bit further, it has a very different dynamic; there, apart from the possibility of trapping, the fighters are not holding on to each other. Here, by definition, they are. In Real Contact Stick Fighting, almost all entries to the clinch/ standing grapple are on the high line. To try to shoot low from the greater distance of a stick fight is to expose the top or back of one’s head to a full force stick shot. Because of the requirements of coming in with one’s head protected, the arm positions of the tie-up are often somewhat different from empty hand standing grapple. There are important differences in the dynamics as well, as anyone who has gotten cracked in the head with a punyo (butt strike), thrust in the belly, whacked in the third leg with the stick, ‘fang choked’ with the stick, or thrown with the stick can attest. Furthermore, in a stick fight, it is not uncommon for a standing grapple to open out back into the striking ranges. These differences do not change the fact

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that the skills of a stick fighting standing grapple must be on top of a good base-though it may be tempting to do so as you explore what can be done with the stick, you ignore the empty hand standing grapple game at your peril.

Techniques for closing tend to be on the high and mid lines


Ground Grapple The name is self-explanatory. In the next section of this article, we will examine it more closely. As a teacher as well as a fighter, it has been my experience that this concept of seven ranges is of great practical use. A fighter trained in these additional ranges AND THEIR INTEGRATION will have both the skills and understanding of these ranges. He will not be baffled at how to get to where his Largo-Medio-Corto skills apply. He will have a more composed mind and a more definite sense of mission of how to get into these ranges technically and with the composure necessary to make his opponent feel ‘the wrath of the rattan.’ Similarly, when the fight gets tied up, he has the skills and understanding to respond more fluidly and spontaneously. The ability to integrate these ranges is key. For this, in DBMA, we have ‘ the triangle from the third dimension.’ The three points of the triangle are the weapons, the limb, and the head/ body.

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To apply the concept, we have three basic modalities: Combinations. Attacking Blocks. Occupying Strikes. All three of these require a high level of integration of footwork and weaponry; typically, in what we call the ‘one for one’ relationship—for each strike or block with the stick, there is also a step. For those who like to impress themselves and others with how they can blaze with a stick, this means they will have to slow down the speed of their stick to the speed of their fee and can be extremely challenging to the ego—people are confronted with the fact that they are not as good as they thought they were.

Once on the ground, the stick can be used to hit, for leverage, and for choking, often provoking unsound reactions that a MMA-BJJ fighter would never otherwise do.


In 1990, three years before the UFC, Marc began training BJJ with the Machado Brothers, principally with Rigan Machado and brought BJJ to Dog Brothers Real Contact Stick Fighting

The Stick Grapple Perhaps it will be of interest if I begin with a bit of history: The Dog Brothers came into being in 1988. Though this was well before the BJJ revolution, at my suggestion, grappling was allowed. Previously Top Dog, ‘the Fighting Force’ around whom we coalesced, had avoided it for fear of scaring prospective playmates away. At 6’4” and 215 pounds with a background as a defensive end for Columbia University football and a background in Lacrosse, this was a legitimate concern! However, with the “After Midnight” group at the Inosanto Academy from which the bulk of the original Dog Brothers came, we had a group that psychologically was up to it. Our thought process was that 176 | The Immersion Review

what we did was a fight that starts with sticks, not a stick fight. It would have been artificial to rule grappling out when our experience was that it happens. As Top Dog would say, “There’s no way around it; it just does.” However, for the next couple of years, except for Top Dog’s discovery of the fang choke, we did not have a clue as to what we were doing. Carl Franks, a student of Relson Gracie of Hawaii, had fought with us in 1987 and 1989 at the Inosanto Academy, and I had seen what was then the underground Gracie footage. So, when Chris Hauter (now a 5th degree under Rigan Machado) introduced me to the Machados (nephews of Carlos Gracie) in the summer of 1990, I was ready to

act. As the oldest and the smallest of the three of us at the core of the pack (Top Dog, Salty Dog, and me), it seemed to me to be a good idea. Without telling anyone, I went off and began training with the Machados. In this pre-BJJ era, the results were as electrifying for us as the UFC was soon to be for the unarmed martial arts world. Top Dog was impressed and began with the Machados too. (I also introduced Guro Dan Inosanto to them. He went on to become a black belt under Rigan Machado). Salty Dog, however, was bummed. There was no BJJ in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1990. So with the goal of surfing over the grappling wave coming at

him he built on his base as an instructor in Muay Thai under Ajarn Chai Sirisuite by going into Krabi Krabong, the military weaponry art from which the sport of Muay Thai is derived building on his natural talents he became a man against whom it was formidably challenging to close. His lead in this was to become an important strand in our fighting. DBMA Stick grappling is like a game of pinball when three balls are released at once. If you pay too much attention to one ball, you lose track of the others and down the chute they go. Similarly, in stick grappling, there are the three simultaneous games of Kali, empty hand, and stick grappling-and just like that pin-


ball game, you can rack up some huge scores if you can keep track of all three. You can use Kali to make your opponent make a jiu jitsu mistake that you finalize with stick grappling. Conversely, you use jiu jitsu to make him make a kali mistake. For example, if the man is in your guard and seeks to post as an initiation to a pass of your guard as he would in empty hand, play Kali and just crack him in the elbow with your punyo and bring him to you, where you can play stick grappling and choke him with the stick. A stick grappling guard can be very aggressive. It is exhilarating and a good game for an older fighter to have in his bag of tricks. Is this FMA? I leave that for others to say, but IMHO the FMA has always integrated foreign influences—its “open architecture mindset is an important reason why they are so good! For example, the espada y daga or sword and dagger strand of the art was heavily influenced by the Spaniards. So, while I recognize the validity of the question “Is-it-still-real-FMA-ifyou-bring-in-BJJ?” I feel that it is if you do so in a way that builds upon the core understandings of the Art. - Marc Denny

Marc Denny @marc.denny1

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Part 1 As a child growing up in Pretoria South Africa during the 1970s and 1980’s, formal martial arts training was quite limited in scope. Unlike firearms, this was particularly evident when it came to edged and impact weapons training. After a year of proverbially having my face up against the dojo window, watching the adults-only Japanese Kobu Jitsu weapons classes, my Funakoshi instructor vouched for myself and one other student, both of us 12 years old. He had allowed us to attend the Kobu Jitsu classes on a trial run basis, and this it turned out was my introduction to formal weapons training. During this time, I was also ‘playing sticks’ with the local gardener, a kind and caring Venda man named Joel. A few times a week, when he had a break, we would try to ‘tag’ each other for around 15-20 minutes at a time. We used lightweight PVC rods as makeshift knobkerrie’s (attacking sticks) and a lightweight piece

of willow plus a t-shirt wrapped around our shielding stick and hand for protection (he never used the African terms). During school holidays, my forays into fighting extended to ‘stick fights’ with the neighborhood kids using sticks for striking and dustbin lids or for shields. Many times these games have begun in a spirit of fun devolved into frayed tempers, the odd cracked knuckle, and sometimes broke out into rock-throwing fights. As for Joel, after a couple of years, he moved back to what was then called Venda Land. Looking back, I think I was his practice dummy. I never considered or had any clue as to the heritage of African stick fighting. I did not experience this as training like my Kobu Jitsu classes, this was just fun and play fighting. Little did I realize that my path into adulthood would be influenced by both my formal training and informal playing to develop a training regime for dealing with violent criminal attacks.


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A Modern Combative Look at Stick Fighting in South Africa Before leaving South Africa as a young adult, I had added a few gradings to my martial arts repertoire, completed a degree in sports sciences and military mustering as a Biokinetician. Completing this varied coursework helped me immeasurably in understanding the psychology, human mechanics, timing, and recognition skills needed to succeed in close-quarter combat. After six years of living, training, and working abroad, my wife Kelee (she had been away from South Africa for fourteen years) and I returned to live in Cape Town in 1998. We were both ‘armed’ with a good martial arts background and practical experience in the field. South Africa had plenty going for it, but violent crime had started

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to become a genuine part of daily life. Within no time, we were drawn into training and problem solving to deal with violent criminals. Our first substantial training contract was with a company responsible for stopping cable theft along the railway line on the most dangerous stretches of a track just outside Cape Town. Response units would face firearm, knife, machete, and impact weapon attacks. Our job was to train team members in close-quarter firearm retention and use. Along with firearms training, we were tasked with presenting training and use of tactical batons and OC (pepper spray) to counter edged and impact weapon attacks and to effect arrest procedures.

To make a real difference, we realized that we couldn’t overlay our pre-conceived ideas onto a dangerous environment, where simple mistakes could cost a life. We had to understand the mentality and anatomy of those with whom we were regularly engaging. Time spent working in the field with teams to affect arrests and understand what they were facing would ensure that our training was congruent with the training programs we would develop. The Cape Flats gang and informal settlement areas that bordered the tracks meant dealing with these threats was part of the daily routine. We formalized early threat recognition and linked the appropriate skills to pre-empt ambushes. Along with training and skills, a large part of the success of this

program could be attributed to the fact that staff were brought in from ‘outside areas.’ As a result of the team living outside the area, they did not have to worry about returning home or leaving families at home in gang-infested territories. Previous situations had made us aware the outcome could be severely compromised if team members were part of these communities, but that’s another story all on its own. One thing was glaringly evident when the element of surprise was removed, and these criminals had to fight, regardless of the weapon in their hands, their skill set often resembled the attributes common to African stick fighting. We were also fortunate enough to have many team members that had grown up in the middle of the stick


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Early days playing sticks and knives putting things to test

fighting culture, with some still participating in informal township tournaments on weekends. We would take every opportunity to ‘play sticks and knives’ with them during training sessions. (something we still do as part of training whenever the opportunity presents itself). These experimental bouts would be instrumental in understanding how to deal with these attributes when occurring in the field. Because of time restraints available to transfer understanding and skills to team members, we

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would have to breakdown the skills and attributes of a complex challenge into an easy to understand and effectively countered threats. We analyzed and dissected the ability and attributes criminals were using in the field. From this point, we developed an easily remembered set of intensive pre-emptive and countermeasures. More importantly, we could provide team members with, on the job effectiveness, and bring them back safely after their shifts. Our team members would have

to be taught to recognize, match, and deny their enemy their skill sets. I must admit that, for the task at hand, I was indifferent towards how the culture or heritage of African stick fighting had permeated the world of criminals and gangs over the last century. In any case, I am sure most of the gang members and criminals could not care less about this heritage any more than you or I would be concerned about how cream filling gets into doughnuts.

1998 and regularly provide training for various teams that face criminal and gang violence in the course of their daily duties. Skills are used effectively in the field by park rangers, Mountain Men Security, response officers, and civilians.

We have come a long way since APPLYING STICK FIGHTING SKILLS • Mark Human

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Life-Saving Tools of the Trade Firearms are a prominent and important part of the solution to dealing with violent criminal attacks. Still, for numerous reasons, they are not always the best first-line option and many cases not freely available to all members of security teams. Standard equipment for many is often OC Spray (pepper gas), a collapsible tactical baton, and a pair of handcuffs. Tactical batons are used to effect arrests. In South Africa, they are used effectively to pre-empt and counter one or more violent attackers armed with small blades such as the Okapi’s and kitchen knives, machetes, pangas, hammers, and longer impact weapons. Long weapons

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Medium weapons

Small weapons


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An understanding of these violent attacks and the effective use of these tools can mean the difference between life and death. The range of threats faced here in South Africa daily means the content structure of baton training differs in both mindset and application to the curriculums presented for the use of tactical batons in first world environments. If the current patterns of formal and informal transnational migration persist, threats to civilians, security and law enforcement officers will become an increase. Consequently, sooner or later, first world countries will have to adapt their mindset, skillset, and even legal constraints that limit effective personal safety. It also suffices to say that good combat skills are universal, and many of the skills and tactics in African stick fighting are common to many of the stick and blade arts around the world.

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Park rangers - baton and OC spray application for arrest procedures


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Thrusting Strikes

Power striking utilizing the whole body is necessary to generate enough force to stop life-threatening attacks by disrupting a violent attacker’s structure, limiting their mobility and ability to continue to grasp their weapon. Targeting large muscle groups does not provide consistent stopping power when dealing with committed, adrenalin or “Tik” (a local variant of Methamphetamine) fuelled attackers with intent to kill. To stop these attacks, we target the following areas to disrupt structure by breaking joints and bone. If it sticks out, we hit it.

Thrusting strikes with the collapsible tactical batons are used when distance management is compromised. These are thrust into torso, throat, or face areas to create space between the threat and team members.

• the Wrist • the Elbow • the Knee • the Shoulder (Acromion and Scapula) • the Head

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Highlighting effective striking targets


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OC and Baton used in synergy to counter blade threats

Simple Tools Working Synergistically (Baton and OC spray) Depending on the nature of the threat and the level of force necessary to stop attackers, the baton and OC Spray are utilized and prioritized interchangeably.

spray, which serves to manage distance as well as disorient attackers to set up and safely deliver targeted power strikes with the baton.

Because of the short periods to transfer skills, the use of the baton as a blocking tool is not emphasized. Targeting with power strikes and thrusts with baton is used in combination with OC

OC Spray can be a very effective tool, yet results and reactions are too inconsistent to be relied on as a tool on its own consequently, team members may be required to utilize their batons should the

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OC and Baton used in synergy to counter blade threats

results not be effective. With the use of OC, we have categorized five key reactions to OC Spray that our team members have to recognize and deal with when defending themselves or effecting arrests.


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KEY ATTRIBUTES (cont.) MDW Multi-Dimensional Warrior (MDW) Classification for Reaction to OC Spray and Appropriate Use of Batons 1. Effective compliant: The typical reaction to OC Spray is to cease resistance and comply with instructions. It is not necessary to use any other force to gain compliance. 2. Effective non-compliant, non-aggressive: When attackers are sprayed with OC Spray, their response is to cease resistance yet not comply with instructions often curling up in a fetal position. This can be a dangerous situation for our team members as it requires empty hand control tactics that can expose them to concealed weapon threats. However, any use of force such as striking with the baton viewed as the use of excessive force. 3. Effective, not compliant, and aggressive: It is not an uncommon reaction for attackers even though OC spray has a painful effect on them to continue to launch aggressive attacks. In these situations, the use of the baton is necessary to disrupt and stop attacks to avoid injury to team members. 4. Ineffective or delayed response: Should an attacker not be affected or have a delayed response to OC spray that the baton should be in a position to disrupt the continued attack. 5. Trained response: Overall, we find that an overreliance on one tool will not adequately deal with all the types of situations we encounter. Instead, we should be mentally and physically prepared to draw upon other tools to ensure the successful resolution of an encounter.

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Stick fighting is still a common part of the lives of many those we come across in our line of work in South Africa. For us, this means that we often run up against those who resort to the body mechanics and weapon manipulation of traditional African stick arts when employing other weapons. To this end, I have included a section on Zulu stick fighting to give a brief overview of how this traditional pastime persists.


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Nguni stick fighters in traditional dress

Part 2 Here I provide a simple background of Nguni stickfighting and highlight some of its most common attributes. The reader should beware of falling prey to the idea of thinking that what you read here is an exhaustive description of the art. There are many individual styles and subtleties beyond the scope of this article. Before we go any further, I would like to thank Jacques Sibomana Chief Executive from the Ultimate Stick Fighting Championship (USF Championship) project and a promoter of indigenous African stick fighting

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for sharing thoughts, debating concepts, providing information and stock photographs for this part of the article. The modern roots of Nguni stick fighting in South Africa can be traced back to the mid-1600s, in the Umhlatuze valley in Natal (There are differences in opinion as to the exact origin.) The legendary Shaka Zulu was a fierce competitor as a child and formalized stick fighting that incorporated the use of a spear and knobkerrie as part of training for his warriors.

Mark Human meeting with Jacques Simbomana to share ideas on stick fighting


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Kids playing sticks

By the late 1800s, stick fighting was less of a warring art and was being used as entertainment at celebrations such as weddings and to settle personal or local disputes. Well embedded in black South African culture, stick fighting was, and still is, a part of the coming of age ritual in many rural tribes. With a steady rural to urban migration of people, stick fighting has moved into the townships and city life. It is not uncommon to see laborers in areas like the dockyards of Cape Town or kids in the street ‘playing sticks’ when they get some free time.

Jacques Simbomana with Nguni sport fighting competition sticks

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‘Underground’ tournaments with rudimentary rules are regular events in township areas, a source of income, and betting opportunities. These underground tournaments often lack experienced fighters, judges and are, in part, are responsible for injuries and deaths that taint a proud cultural tradition. There have been recent attempts to formalize Nguni stick fighting as an exciting cultural sport with precise safety precautions and rules designating explicit tar-

geting, scoring, submission, and knock out guidelines. Although popular, it has failed to become a structured mainstream sport or formalized martial art like the Filipino stick fighting arts. An example of this is The Ultimate Stick Fighting Championship (USF Championship) project, whose aim was to develop and promote indigenous African games while positively impacting and contributing to the well-being of various communities across the continent.


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A BREAKDOWN OF THE MOST COMMON ATTRIBUTES OF TRADITIONAL NGUNI STICK FIGHTING - THE BASICS The Use of the Lead Hand The use of the lead hand with a shielding stick, a protective wrap such as a jacket or t-shirt. The lead hand (shielding hand) serves the following functions: 1. Shielding and blocking incoming strikes 2. Probing and attacking 3. Ranging, distancing, and timing 4. Redirecting and distracting 5. Pinning your opponent’s arms In summary, it serves to protect the fighter while setting up openings for backhand attacks. The back hand (Weapon Hand) serves the following functions: 1. Striking and counter striking 2. Redirecting and distracting 3. Secondary blocking options

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Front shielding stick and rear striking stick


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High guard position protecting the head area

High Guard A high guard is used to protect the head area, with both striking stick and shielding stick held above the head as fighter’s close the distance. They with clash shielding sticks while trying to land blows by flicking strikes around or over their opponent’s guard. Stretched Guard or Open Guard The stretched guard is more common when fighters are separated by more than the length of their striking sticks.

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Stretched or open guard position

Open guard application in JNR Divisions Ultimate Stick Fighting Tournament


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Opposite extremes on foot work

Blocking and counter striking

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Footwork For the most part, the lead foot and shielding stick match with the striking stick held in the back hand, there is seldom a lead change in hands or feet. Stances range from less than shoulder-width right to very wide stances when delivering overhead or power strikes to the legs. Unlike many empty hand arts, and because of the weapons reach, fighters are not overly concerned with kicks to the legs or knees, so it is not uncommon to see a ‘straight knee’ on the front leg. Most footwork involves linear shuffling for distance management and timing, both for attack and evasive movement. Although less formalized and with higher variances in stance length, this resembles basic boxing footwork or Kali retirada footwork.

swinging the front leg back out of the way and then back forward again, setting the leg firmly on the ground in the lead position. Timing and Targeting The knobkerrie’s primary design function is to smash a skull so, although not limited to targeting the head and neck area, this naturally dominates most serious engagements. Targeting the joints and limbs is also common, especially in sporting events. As the knobkerrie is an impact weapon, it requires force to smash bone. The whole body is used to generate force and the knobkerrie with its hefty ‘knob’ tip used for powerful strikes and counter/recounter strikes - generally with a one for me one for you timing. - Mark Human

A fighter will often use what we call a ‘rock step’ or a back step with a hanging leg to evade an attack to their front leg and follow up with a powerful counter strike. This involves placing the weight on their back leg and

Mark Human @mark.human.9

@mark_human_mdw APPLYING STICK FIGHTING SKILLS • Mark Human

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MOST MARTIAL ARTISTS are familiar with the work of the Dog Brothers and their dedication to full contact stick fighting or the various Filipino martial arts and their use of sticks in combat. Another lesser-known form of full-contact stick fighting has and is continuing to evolve across the world, this one with a medieval flavor. In Berkeley, California, on the first of May, 1966 a themed party was thrown, and a medieval tournament held. From that tournament, an entire martial art and culture grew. It is likely that right now, as you read this, on a field in a camp-

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ground or perhaps a public park or even someone’s backyard down the street, two people circle and stare at each other through the ocular openings of heavy iron or stainless steel helmets. Their breath even and controlled. Narrowed eyes measure the slightest movement or shift in weight. A gauntleted hand tightens against the grip of a 36-inch long rattan baton with markings to represent the edge of a sword. Wooden shields adjust fractions of an inch to cover a leg better. A foot shifts and sinews tighten. The tension in the air is palpable.

Photography: Tim Tyson

In a fraction of a second, one of the combatants explodes forward with speed surprising for a 200-pound man in 30 pounds of armor. Shields and bodies clash with a sound reminiscent of two cars in a head-on collision. One of the combatants nimbly sidesteps to gain position on the unprotected flank of his opponent. A baton lashes out. Its tip moving faster than the strike of a rattlesnake. The blow finds its target. The crack from the impact,

as loud as a gunshot, explodes through the air. The struck opponent shouts in a loud voice, ‘Good!” He then bows his head, takes a knee, and offers his baton, handle first to his opponent as an acknowledgment of defeat. The winner salutes the loser as the next contestants make ready. Or perhaps the two combatants reset for another pass.

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Photography: Tim Tyson

Part experimental archeology, part costume party, the Society for Creative Anachronism, or SCA, has quietly expanded across the United States. It is now a worldwide non-profit educational organization with thousands of participants and chapters across the globe. At last count, one in five participants take part in martial activities, and many of them pursue it with a passion and ardor that most martial arts organizations would wish their members had. It would be easy to dismiss the SCA fighters as a bunch of silly weirdos in homemade medieval-ish armor playing children’s

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games. However, at this point, with over fifty years of research and pressure testing of techniques and tactics through unscripted, highly competitive, full force tournaments, SCA heavy combat has evolved into a legitimate martial art and combat sport with a philosophy, jargon, styles, ranks, and schools of thought. It is also, only until recently, the one organization where you could take part in battles with near, if not surpassing, a thousand combatants on each side. The SCA has grown large enough that entire industries have sprung up to support the need for equipment.

I found the SCA in 1988. It was summertime. I was an 18-yearold private in the United States Army at my first duty station. I had been studying martial arts at that point in my life since I was eight or nine years old. I was obsessed with all forms and styles of martial arts from all cultures, particularly the sword and blade arts. One Friday evening, my barracks roommate invited me to a “fighter practice.” When he explained what he planned on doing, I will admit that I was dubious. It sounded ridiculous. Intriguing but ridiculous. He showed me his ‘suit of armor.’ It was an amalgamation of conveyor belt and poorly hammered sheet metal with hockey gear

and volleyball pads. It seemed to me to be more Mad Max than Lancelot or William the Marshal, but I was game. I downed the last of my drink and said: “Why the hell not.” It was close to payday, and I only had enough money for maybe a pizza in my bank account, so going somewhere, anywhere that did not involve the outlay of cash, was better than hanging out in barracks. Besides, he told me I would get to see people fight. We left the fort and made our way to a suburban house in a culde-sac filled with more cars than meant to park there. My roommate grabbed a duffel bag full of his gear out of his hatchback and led me to the back yard.

Photography: Tim Tyson


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The back yard was full of people. Some were running a BBQ grill. Others were in various states of getting into gear. My first thoughts were of a gladiator ludus. I suspect the training grounds of ancient Rome had a similar atmosphere. Everyone was joking and talking with each other, but there was an underlying seriousness. Not a single kit looked like an actual suit of medieval armor. The roots were there, but the Mad Max flavor was omnipresent. A couple of guys put on their

helmets picked up their shields and sticks, and gave each other a knowing nod. One of the combatants wore a red belt around their waist. I would learn later that the red belt marked him as a squire of a knight. They made their way to a barren circle of dirt in the center of the yard. I heard one of them say, “let’s warm up with some slow work then pick it up when we are ready.” They started moving and swinging their duct tape covered sticks at each other in slow motion. The pace increased with each pass. Finally, one of them asked if the

Photography: Tim Tyson

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other was ready. With a wordless nod, they reset to the center of the yard. You could see the gears shift. The body language changed, and they began to fight in earnest. They swung at each other with speed, control, intent, and power. Every time a blow was blocked with a shield, the sound would echo off the neighborhood buildings. Throughout the exchanges, they would shout “Light!” or “Good!” or occasionally “Flat!” as their opponents’ weapon struck home. I saw

immediately that this was not some adults play-acting as I had mostly expected, but two committed martial artists practicing their art. The fighting continued throughout the evening. When it became too dark to see, large floodlights continued to illuminate the backyard. Various people answered my questions, explained the rules, and in general, tried to give me a much better understanding of what was going on. Their enthusiasm was contagious.

Photography: Tim Tyson


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While the SCA has many and varied activities within its boundaries, the current article will focus on the martial aspects. In theory, the heavy combat within the SCA replicates the foot combat tournaments of the Middle Ages with all its honor, chivalry, and pageantry. The reality is that it is a 20th-century

Photography: Tim Tyson

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stick combat sport flavored with the trappings of medievalism. There are one on one tournaments as well as mass group battles. As time has progressed, the gear and equipment have improved significantly from the early days of conveyor belt armor and freon-can helmets. Because of the rules, other influences, and rattan weapons, it cannot

be called a re-creation of medieval European martial arts. SCA heavy combat must be looked upon and judged as a modern combative sport. The ruleset of SCA combat is unique on many levels. To compete in the SCA as a ‘heavy fighter,’ a person must first undergo a period of training. Then at a sanctioned tournament, the fighter must pass through an authorization bout. This bout is not to show skill, but instead, demonstrating that the fighter is not a danger to themselves or others in the competition. Initially, the fighter faces a significantly more skilled fighter that can control the fight while two referees watch and evaluate. The fighters move through three phases. There is an inspection of armor and weapons, and a quiz to determine if the new fighter understands the rules. From this point, two fighters go through several passes where the more experienced fighter takes a mostly defensive posture, and the new fighter is allowed to go full-out. Once his abilities are recognized, the new fighter can strike with proper power and accuracy and display a controlled aggressiveness; he moves to the next phase. Here the more skilled fighter takes on a more active role, attacking and pushing the


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newer fighter into what can be uncomfortable positions. At this time, the fighter is evaluated in his ability to understand how to ‘call’ the blows he receives and not react poorly to being struck with force. If struck in the head or body, the fighter has lost the bout. If struck in the leg or arm, the fighter must give up the use of the struck limb for that fight. In the final phase, the two combatants enact a full tournament round. The combatants fight until one of them loses. Once the third phase of authorization is over, the marshals and the experienced fighter discuss the new fighter and their performance. If found satisfactory, the new fighter will be registered as an authorized fighter and will be allowed to fight at any SCA event. The first or most obvious thing that stands out for many is that it is up to the defeated person to declare that they are defeated. A ‘Marshal’ will supervise a fight for safety, but they are not in the ring to appoint a winner. Personal honor, integrity, and proper behavior in the competition are significant. When struck by a blow with sufficient force from their opponent, the struck person will call out ‘Good’ and usually either fall to the ground or take a knee to show the crowd that they have lost. If the blow

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was not of sufficient force, the struck combatant would call out ‘light,’ and the fight continues. In keeping with the idea that the rattan batons are sword simulators, fighters judge blows as either incapacitating or fatal. A well-placed blow must strike with not only the proper amount of force but also with appropriate edge alignment. ‘Good’ or ‘telling’ blows possess enough force that if the participants were not wearing protective armor, bones would easily break. There are no divisions for heavy combat. Men and women of all sizes and weights compete on the same field against each other. Because of this rather egalitarian approach, grappling and striking with anything other than a weapon is disallowed. It allows the maximum number of people to compete safely yet still have the same level of intensity that any different weight rank bracketed.

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Photography: Tim Tyson

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Within the SCA, there is a medieval based hierarchy that denotes mastery. In the fighting community, those of a masters level are referred to as knights. Knights are awarded a white belt, gold chain, and spurs to denote their title and rank. To become a knight in the SCA takes on average about as long as it takes to become a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Less than three percent of all fighters in the SCA reach the level and rank of Knight. Knighthood is awarded when the circle of knights decides that a fighter

Photography: Tim Tyson

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is their peer. In other words, the candidate must show that they are at the same skill level as the rest of the knights. There is a saying in the SCA, ‘ Knights are not made. They are recognized.’ A knight is expected to not only show skill at arms but also embody the chivalric ideal and follow the chivalric code. It is part of a knight’s duty within the SCA to pay attention to the fighters and encourage their progress and guide them along the path. Knights take squires. Squires are

Photography: Tim Tyson

personal students of a knight. The knight teaches the squire the chivalric code as well as how to fight. In turn, the squire serves the knight, often taking on classical duties such as maintaining the knight’s armor and gear. A person does not have to become a squire to become a knight, but like in all sports, it is more comfortable with a good coach. The batons used by SCA fighters are at a minimum one and a quarter inches in diameter. The average baton is around one and a half inches in diameter. The average length is 36 inches approximating the length and weight of an actual steel broadsword. Over the years, SCA heavy combat has developed its techniques. Many of them would be very familiar to an escrimador or practitioner

of any other blade and stick art. The mechanics of the blows vary slightly to compensate for the heavier weight of the rattan used by SCA fighters. There are only so many ways a human being can swing a stick or sword. Forehand and backhand weapon strikes are as you would expect, but because of the use of a shield, the fighters become skilled at hitting with power from odd angles and in ways that would be surprising to many. One of the more unique techniques is a ‘wrap.’ Similar to a back cut with a saber or Bowie knife, the wrap strikes the opponents back with the back or inside edge of the baton when in extremely close range. At medium range, the leg becomes a primary target. It can also be used at long range to strike around a block.

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Photography: Tim Tyson

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Footwork for the SCA heavy fighter takes on the familiar angular patterns of the Filipino martial arts or, in some cases, a style of movement similar to a modern boxer. The primary goal is almost always to move to the opponents’ flank and take up a dominant position whereby one can strike the opponent yet remain protected by your shield. The more skilled fighters even seek to position themselves in such a way to their opponent that they are using the opponent’s shield to cover themselves as well. SCA combat is not just limited to sword and shield. There are multiple weapons forms that people practice. All of them are analogous to weapons that existed in medieval tournament and war, such as two-handed sword or spears or various forms of halberd type weapons. For safety, all weapons are of rattan except for spears made from a specific type of fiberglass. To go into much more detail about the SCA and its martial arts would take a much longer study than this space would allow. I do hope this article gives you a bit of insight into a thriving martial art and sport that is not often talked about outside of its participants and encourages you to take a bit of time and explore. STICKS AND CHIVALRY • Bryan Cannata | 223

Photography: Tim Tyson

For many of the participants, it is just a weekend warrior hobby, much like those in strip mall dojos across the world. But to many others, it is a ‘way’ in the philosophical sense, a modern approach to the chivalric ideals and warrior culture ethos of the past. Within that way is found self-improvement, self-understanding, and perhaps eventually self-mastery. For more information on the SCA, they can be found online at - Bryan Cannata

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Bryan Cannata @bryan.cannata.5

TAPADA STAFF William McGrath

IT WAS DURING the summer around 1979 or 1980 that my Pekiti-Tirsia teacher, Leo T. Gaje, came back from one of his frequent trips to the Philippines with an interesting staff style he learned during his visit. He called the art “Tapada” and said he had learned it from an old man in a rural part of his home island of Negros. (Sorry, I don’t recall more than this. As a kid living in NYC, I wasn’t much interested in the staff at the time, and these techniques were from a different art than the main one I was training in).

Note: Tapada is a different art than the better known Tapado” from Romeo ‘Nono’ Mamar of Negros. Tapada uses a flexible rattan staff the same overall height as the user, while tapado uses a stiff hardwood staff that comes up around the height of the user’s elbow. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any information on Tapada through a Google search; but here are the techniques I learned.

The Staff Rattan is a vine and, therefore, tapers over its length. The most pronounced taper is near the base, where the vine exists the ground. You will need a rattan pole, a bit thicker at the base than the one you would use for one-hand use in Pekiti-Tirsia (for my XL size hands, this equals approximately 1/ 1/2 inches at the thickest end for a Tapada staff).

The staff should measure the same height as you and have some flex in it when you swing it quickly up and down-maybe not quite as much as a fishing pole-but pretty close to it. It’s the spring of a bending rattan staff that adds extra velocity and, therefore, the power to the uppercut portion of your strikes; and these uppercuts are the focus of this system.

Spacing - end

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The Grip Hold the Tapada staff with your left hand at one hand length from the bottom. Your right hand should grip the staff just high enough so that your hands will be on either side of your thighs when you bring the staff down in front of your legs.

The Stance Stand with your right leg forward, feet about shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent. Chamber the staff on your right shoulder (I’m going to assume that most of you are right-handed and not, as they say in Latin, among the “sinister” folk :-).

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Space between hands

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Basic Strikes 1. Technique one is a basic forehand diagonal strike that hits downward, stops when the left hand is even with your left hip, and returns using the loading of the bending rattan to power the return upward. 2. Here we have a double bounce version of the number 1 strike. You use the flexible nature of rattan by stopping the strike at hip height and doing a short “double bounce” which loads the staff twice as it moves at speed in short, quick strokes in the short-range between the height of your hips and heart. 3. Hold your left hand by your hip, with the tip of your staff pointed at your opponent’s heart. Bounce the tip horizontally back and forth about the width of a man’s shoulders. You can do this in a straight line back and forth, or if it is easier for you, in a tight figure eight. 4. I find this one an interesting strike and a preview of the rest of the set. You strike downward as in number 1, but on the return, you use the loaded bend to power through a clockwise circle with the tip of the staff.

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The Footwork The footwork used in Tapada is simple and based on the length of your opponent’s weapon. If it is shorter than your staff, then simple forward and back shuffle steps will do. If your opponent’s weapon is the same length as your own or longer, use the following: If the opponent’s lead hand is to your left side (i.e., if his right hand is forward), then step to your left with your left leg and strike on the left side of his weapon (left when viewed from your side. From his point of view, you will be striking on his right). If your opponent's lead hand is on your right side (i.e., if he is left-handed, with a left forward grip), then step to your right with your right leg and strike on the right side of his weapon (right when viewed from your side. From his point of view, you will be striking on his left).

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Point Guard


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THE SET A. The downward strike is the left side line of the A; you bounce part way up and drop again to the right side line, uppercut and then return to the chamber. B. The uppercut has two circles. C. The return has a half-circle, then strikes up. D. Same as C, but moves counterclockwise. E. Three horizontal hits, then the return strike. F.

Two horizontal hits, then the return strike.

G. Half circle with horizontal. H. Your uppercut is blocked, so move horizontally to escape blockage, then an uppercut. I. Downcut, then two horizontals to block counter-attacks, then an uppercut. J. Instead of your down-up cuts looking like a straight line, it looks like an elongated loop. (good for when you need to go around an opponent’s weapon, instead of powering through it). K. Do the right side of the K (like a sideways V). Useful for countering leg attacks. L.

Vertical then low horizontal.

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M. Two double bounces moving left to right. N. One double bounce moving right to the left. O. Clockwise circle. P. Clockwise circle, then two uppercuts, one short then one to the chamber. Q. Two clockwise circles, then uppercut. R. Circle then “K” cut. S.

Clockwise then counterclockwise circles.

T. Vertical, high horizontal. U. Like “J” but moves counterclockwise. V. Like “U” but sharper bottom. W. Two double bounces moving right to the left. X. A forehand down, then come up halfway to the chamber, backhand down, uppercut. Y. Half a backhand, full forehand. Z. Backhand, forehand, horizontal block leg.

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Technical Stuff The remainder of the strikes in this set rely on the ‘alphabet’ as they call it in pekiti tirsia. The first movement of most of these techniques will be the same, a diagonal downward forehand strike, but your return will be different and describe a capital letter. My opinion is that most of these techniques were just an excuse to make you practice a variety of angles to make you more mentally flexible and unpredictable in a fight. You could probably cut these down to eight or ten main movements and do just as well. (Note: please remember that I learned these techniques 40 years ago. Add in that I haven’t shown these to anyone in about 20 years. Therefore, my memory is fuzzy on all the details, and you should not take my description of each technique as written in stone.)

Remember, it’s this uppercut during the return to the chamber that is the main strike in this set. The various things you do during the ABCs are what set up the uppercut. You will also notice that there is no thrust in this system, which makes sense if you are using a flexible rattan staff that might bend during a thrust and, therefore, not transfer all of its power into the opponent. The last time I showed this material to someone was to a Kung Fu practitioner, and he did several things that looked similar to his flexible spear but finished using the thrust as the primary attack: which of course, made sense with that sharp blade on the end of his weapon. - William McGrath

The directions in the set are for what is done after the downward strike and during the return to the chamber. Therefore, read most of these as “downcut-counter his response with this letter-uppercut and return to the chamber.” William McGrath @william.mcgrath.92372


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