Dacayana UK

FIST FIGHTING.                By David McGoldrick.

Eskrima is often described as a "Weapons first" Martial Art. It tends to attract people who are very interested in learning to fight with weapons. Often, this is because they are very experienced in empty hand combat and feel that they want to fill in gaps in their repertoire of skills. In Dacayana Eskrima we have a great mixture of people who both practice Eskrima as their main art and people who have huge amounts of experience in other arts. 

Because Eskrima is the only art I can think of that teaches weapons before empty hands it is often thought of as an "upside down art". The other (non Filipino) arts teach empty hand combat first and usually only teach weapons at an advanced level. But was this always the case? I don't think so. Upon closer examination, it looks like FMA's way is by far the most traditional and original approach to combat.

Martial Arts were either designed for warfare or as folk arts. Nobody in their right mind would go into a battle unarmed. So it would make sense to prioritise learning to use weapons. On the other hand, folk arts were designed for one to one challenges and were far more likely to be hand to hand combat (but not always). Arts of war were far more likely to be recorded in manuals, taught to more people and have a standardised approach. Interestingly, the vast majority of Martial Arts manuals written before the mid 1800's concentrated on teaching weapons, with very little or no emphasis on unarmed combat. Then in the later half of the 1800's there was an upsurge in interest in unarmed combat. Nobody knows why. But this seems to have happened in both the East and West within a few decades. Although the folk arts (such as wrestling, pugilism and Savate in the west and Sumo and Taekkyon in the East) had been around for a while, they had not been very well recorded or systematised. So, a lot of the unarmed arts then became based on the principles and techniques of armed arts. Does this sound familiar? 

That is exactly what we do in Dacayana Eskrima (and other FMA's). Many of the principles, strategies, tactics and techniques that we learn in armed combat apply perfectly to unarmed combat. Many can be applied with some adaptations and of course there are some things that just do not cross over at all. Much the same happens when we adapt to different weapons. Some weapons characteristics are shared, some are not. 

In Dacayana Eskrima we refer to fist fighting as Sumbagay. This is a direct translation of Sum meaning "fist" and Bagay meaning "fighting" in Cebuano. Other FMA's use different terminology, but our style is from Cebu. As you might expect, we learn to use weapons first before we adapt what we have learned to empty hands. Some adaptations are more direct than others. 

The 12 angles of attack apply to nearly all weapons or empty hands. The main difference is the way you strike. When we initially learn them, we make a cutting motion, so this must be changed to a hitting motion. This can change the body mechanics and there is more follow through with a cut than a hit, but the basic angles stay the same. Our close range balla balla drill, as the name implies, is easily adapted to shorter range weapons and empty hands with very little alteration. Sword and dagger is perfect for empty hand adaptation, because it works with a dominant weapon and a supporting weapon. It teaches us well constructed combinations. A right handed person uses their right hand to do most of the damage in a fight and their left hand for control or back up. In our solo olisi tapi drill, we learn to use tapi and bira tapi (inward and outward parries) in combination with forehand and backhand strikes (angles 1 & 2). We also learn to cross our opponents arms, which will become the basis of our empty hand trapping skills. Our Tapi tapi drill, is actually taught first as an empty hand drill, before it is adapted for short range weapons. How conventional is that? In this drill, we learn one defence and counter to cover our right side of the body and another two defence and counters to cover our left side. This is an extremely efficient structure. 

These drills introduce us to some of the basic skills of Sumbagay. As we start to study Sumbagay as one of the alone arts within Dacayana Eskrima, we train to build a rock solid defence, use workable striking combinations, elbow strikes as well as our open and closed hand techniques, trapping techniques, limb destruction and low line kicks, foot traps and trips. We also integrate locking techniques, many of which we have taken from the Combat Judo syllabus. As you can see, Sumbagay has a wide scope of techniques, many of which are derived from already established Dacayana Eskrima skills and techniques, many of which are specific to unarmed combat. 

The main differences are, in my opinion, extremely important and need to be considered seriously when studying Sumbagay. If you are ever going to use Eskrima skills in real life, you are far more likely to use Sumbagay than any other part of the syllabus. Normal (?) people rarely carry weapons. You are far more likely to be attacked when you're unarmed. Therefore, of all the skills to be practiced, Sumbagay has to be the most practical. So, what are the most important differences?

First, having a weapon can give us a (false) sense of security. If you are used to having a weapon between you and your opponent, the reality of being unarmed can be a huge shock.

Second, unarmed combat takes place at a much closer range than armed combat. If you are used to armed combat, the closeness of unarmed combat can be, psychologically, quite intimidating. Remember, you also have to do your techniques in less space and therefore with less time.

Third, in armed combat, your weapon gives and takes impact. In unarmed combat, you do. If you are not trained and conditioned to give and take high impact, all of your techniques are less than useless. 

Fourth, targeting in unarmed combat is very different from armed combat. 

And fifth, grabbing is a lot easier and far more likely to be a significant factor in unarmed combat than in armed combat. 

So, if you wish to study Sumbagay as a means of self defence, here are some suggestions that will help:

Train a lot. Be as used to having someone who is "in your face", as you are to being able to keep people away. Get used to fighting without the psychological prop of having a weapon. Train with as many different types of people as possible. Different size, strength and movement is far more relevant when there are no weapons. Train with people who are well trained in unarmed combat and people who are untrained. Remember, you are now the weapon. 

You need to hit the pads. If you can't hit the pads hard, you will never hit a person hard. You need to be able to put your body behind your strikes. When we cut with weapons, we often lead with the body and pull the weapon through the target. The body mechanics look similar but the timing is different when you hit and when you cut. Hitting hard toughens up your punches, hammer fists, palms, chops and elbows, on the right and left sides. For this reason, I personally don't like wearing hand or wrist protection. I know that many instructors disagree with me on this point, but I agree with me. 

You also need to be able to defend against hard strikes. When we learn techniques and drills initially, we tend to train softly. This makes sense when we are learning. It also makes sense when we are training with people who are not as tough or experienced as us. But, if we are to take self defence seriously, we cannot get into this habit. Otherwise we end up playing pat-a-cake. We need to block hard strikes. We can't rely on subtlety in a real fight. It takes high levels of experience to be able to rely on high skill techniques. So, if we want to be good, we need to train with people who will challenge us, not feed us "easy to defend" punches. This fools nobody. If you have very little combat experience, you need to build up to this slowly. But make no mistake, this is the direction your training needs to go if you ever wish to have the confidence and attributes to defend yourself in a real confrontation.

Learn about targets. The targets that you hit with a stick or cut with a blade are usually different to those you would hit with hands or feet. You should understand what strikes are best to hit which targets at the optimum angles. In what positions are these targets exposed? How is your opponent likely to react? What damage should you expect? Which targets best suit your agenda? Is your strike appropriate for the level of defence? Will your opponents clothing effect your choice? Are you too squeamish to hit certain targets? Or maybe you are a bit too keen to hurt people and learning unarmed combat  is really not for you. With power comes responsibility! There are many theories about pressure points and vulnerable targets out there, but in a real fight, stick to the ones with which you are most familiar.

One of our first instincts is to grip. In armed combat we usually grip a weapon with our right hand, but in unarmed combat, our hands are empty and we are close, so grabbing with either hand is very instinctive for both attacker and defender. This can be a game changer. Weapon training is actually quite good at giving us a decent grip on your right hand, especially if you are used to training with heavier weapons. Marcie convinced me to train with bigger heavier sticks when I first started Dacayana Eskrima and the benefits were more than I could have imagined. But remember that in a fight, you are more likely to be gripping with your left hand so that you can hit with your right. Separate grip training, therefore, can be hugely beneficial. It is also worth remembering that there is a difference between a strong grip and a firm grip. It may require a strong grip to hold onto a barbell, but it requires a firm grip to hold onto a wrist. There is a difference. 

This may all seem like second nature to people who have significant amounts of experience studying unarmed martial arts or combat sports. However, if your main experience is in using weapons, you could get into habits that would be detrimental to your survival in a real fight. Of course, you could just study the technical skills of Sumbagay, and that may be sufficient for you. Ironically, the only people I know of, who can rely solely on their technical skills in an actual fight, are really experienced fighters. Otherwise, if you wish to be able to apply Sumbagay in a fight, other training, knowledge and attributes are necessary to make the techniques work. So, in an armed fight, it is a lot easier to win if your weapon has superior attributes. In an unarmed fight, you are the weapon and therefore you need to develop those superior attributes. 

As usual, these opinions are based on my own knowledge and experience and I always enjoy hearing from people who disagree with me. D