Dacayana UK

FLAWED THINKING.  By David McGoldrick.

I think we would all agree that there is much flawed thinking within the Martial Arts. Many people have delusional ideas when it comes to history, lineage, self defence, forms, what works, grades and pressure testing. We could spend the rest of our lives laughing at how people twist reality to serve their agendas. But a true sense of humour is not the ability to laugh at others, it is the ability to laugh at ourselves. So, let's turn the spotlight on flawed thinking in Eskrima.

Firstly, if you're teaching, never try to cover up errors. You actually look more stupid. It is far more human, mature and honest to laugh at them and move on. On the (few?) occasions when I made a mistake teaching, I like to say "Clearly, this stick doesn't work", or "Do it like that, only a lot better" or "When I said 'left', I obviously meant 'right'". Making a joke of your mistakes usually gets a laugh. They have to laugh at the teachers jokes, it's the law! Only idiots assume they can cover up their mistakes without anyone noticing.

Now, there are some interesting lines of thinking that are often used in promoting Eskrima. Because most people take up Martial Arts for fitness and self defence, I have seen it claimed that Eskrima is the answer for either or both of these. Really? You do not have to be fit, strong or well conditioned to do Eskrima. It's actually quite a technical art in comparison to most others and many people take up weapons arts because they know it is an "equaliser" against more athletic fighters. You could argue that Eskrima done well is quite a lazy art and the first principle of Dacayana Eskrima is: Learn to relax. So I would argue that whilst Eskrima is not as fitness orientated as many of the combat sports, it is great for your general health. Is it healthy to drag yourself away from the telly in the evening? Absolutely. Is it healthy to meet up and train with friends who share a common interest? Definitely. Is it healthy to be involved in an activity that exercises your mind as much as your body? Undoubtedly. Is it healthy to go for a pint of beer and a packet of crisps after training? Probably not. But people have different attitudes about what is good for them. 

I know of one very successful Eskrima teacher who adds fitness training into his lessons and therefore he can reasonably claim that his classes are a great workout. He has quite literally aligned his actions with his thoughts.

Let's turn our attention to learning Eskrima for self defence. Probably 80% of what we practice is for a stick vs stick or blade vs blade fight. When was the last time you were walking along a road with a stick in your hand and you were attacked by someone with a similar length stick in their hand. That has never happened to me or anyone I know. It may have been a common thing in the Philippines back in the days of the "Death matches", but it doesn't happen in Torquay. So the vast majority of what we are doing is not self defence and I believe that it's dishonest to say it is. To counter that argument, you could say that many of the principles and techniques learned and many of the attributes developed can help you to defend yourself. However, if we don't practice self defence applications from the start, then it's just theory. In Dacayana Eskrima specifically, we have Combat Judo, Sumbagay and Saguidas, all of which were actually designed for self defence but they are usually taught much later. Because there is so much emphasis on stick and blade in the earlier stages of the syllabus (which is to be expected in a "weapons first" system), we as Instructors could prioritise it over the self defence needs of our students. IF we are advertising Eskrima as a form of self defence, then we need to put class time and effort into applying the longer range weapon techniques to shorter range self defence techniques because gradings don't require close range self defence skills until higher up the syllabus. Longer range techniques don't always work in close range as well or as often as we would like to think. It is vital to understand when principles don't apply, as well as when they do. This probably does not apply so much to more experienced fighters or Martial Artists, but it definitely applies to the beginners or less experienced. It is wrong to advertise that students will be learning self defence and then rarely practice it. Once again, I would remind you that principle number 12 of Dacayana Eskrima is to align your  actions with your thoughts. 

Another very strange argument I have heard is that "we need to learn how to use weapons in order to defend against them". Really? Do we? We are fortunate in Dacayana Eskrima to learn both Dacayana knife and Combat Judo. One uses a knife and the other defends against a knife. The two arts couldn't be more different. There is very little overlap and you don't necessarily need to learn one in order to learn the other. We just do. Also, psychologically, having a weapon to defend against a weapon, is both a huge comfort and equaliser and it in no way prepares you for levels of fear and closeness of unarmed defence against a weapon. But it's surprising how many people still believe that statement. I used to believe it until I gave it some thought. I encourage you to do the same (before you tell it to your students). 

So for many of us, we are perfectly happy to practice Eskrima in preparation for our next duel or the upcoming zombie apocalypse. Whilst the fear of zombies is currently at an all time high, the actual number of zombie attacks has consistently remained very, very low. And I'm pretty sure that duelling is still illegal too.

So, if we are practicing Eskrima in order to learn to use weapons (which we do), preserve a cultural art (which we are) or because it is great fun (which it is), does it still need to work? I would argue that it does. Otherwise we could justify all sorts of ridiculous techniques and we may as well be playing pat-a-cake with sticks. So even if being in a stick or sword fight may not be realistic now, it was and our art is based on realistic solutions to the very real problems of the time. Thinking in that way helps us to think like warriors and half the challenge of Eskrima is truly understanding what we are doing and why.

So, here are a few pieces of flawed thinking that amuse me greatly from the world of Eskrima. The first concerns distancing. There are many things you can do at long range that you cannot do at short range (and vice versa). At long range, you may have more time and space to react, side step and block. You don't have to worry about the back hand grabbing or hitting you and you rarely have to worry about being kicked. At closer range, you don't have the time or space to side step and only minimal blocking movements can work. You may also be close enough to be kicked or punched or grabbed with the back hand. It is a very different fight and therefore not all of Eskrima works equally well at different distances. Experience teaches us this very quickly.

The second area of flawed thinking concerns your weapon. There are some things that you do exclusively with a blade and some you do with a stick. As an example, it's  ineffective to slash or do one handed thrusts with a stick and futile to do an "abanico" with a blade (I refer to fan strikes from Kali or sport Arnis that are done with the side of the stick). I have actually seen someone demonstrating abanicos with a blade on YouTube. His teacher must have been so proud (NOT!).

Secondly, you attack by choice. You don't always defend by choice. Therefore, if I'm unarmed, I wouldn't attack someone who was armed (unless I didn't know they had a hidden weapon, such as a pocket stick or a knife in reverse grip. That's feasible). If I had a stick and was sane, I wouldn't attack someone with a sword. I'm not sure we should be advocating stabbing as a solution to mental illness. On the other hand, it is far more likely that you would have to defend yourself against someone who is better armed than you. So apart from hidden weapons, you won't be defending yourself with a superior weapon. Also, you don't change weapons in the middle of a fight. I have seen numerous internet examples that start off as stick techniques and finish as blade techniques (or vice versa). So think about each part of a technique and if all parts are suitable for a stick, it's a stick technique. If all parts are suitable for a blade, it's a blade technique. If some parts are suitable for a stick and some for a blade, it's rubbish. 

Also, whilst it's feasible that a defender might produce a weapon in the middle of a fight, an attacker will always start a fight with a weapon, if she has one. I remember a video on YouTube that was designed to discredit BJJ. It looked quite real until the attacker took out a knife when he was loosing to the ground fighter and stabbed him. If I have a knife, it's the first thing I'm going to take out. I won't wait until I'm losing. It's a totally unnecessary risk. Now, if the attacker was the BJJ practitioner, that's a different story. He got what he deserved. But the video was trying to discredit BJJ as a form of self defence.

So, 40 years ago, I got Dan Inosanto's book on "The Filipino Martial Arts" (I bought it long before I was born, lol). I think it was the first Eskrima book produced in English. One of its main themes was that the same Eskrima techniques and principles could be applied in various situations with various weapons. This can be the case and it is an interesting idea, but it is lazy thinking. There is a huge difference between attacking and defending, between long and short range and between a stick and a blade. Thinking about the differences is a far superior and more realistic mental exercise than thinking about the similarities. 

I would like to clarify that I have always had a great love for the Dacayana Eskrima system and I am not trying to criticise it in any way (or indeed any style of FMA). The first time I picked up a rattan cane, I got the "stick bug" and I was hooked. I have just learned over the past 25 years (?!?!) on this planet to be more critical of thinking that agrees with me, and more understanding of thinking that disagrees with me. Otherwise you find yourself agreeing with weak arguments, just because they support you. Surrounding yourself with "Yes Men" makes you weaker, not stronger. My way, it's harder to be fooled. 

As usual, these ideas are based on my experience and I always welcome the opinions of those who disagree with me. D