Dacayana UK

TREAT THE STICK AS A BLADE.     By David McGoldrick.

I really shouldn't get involved in arguments with people on the internet at 2 in the morning, but it's one of my weaknesses. My brother says "Who is the bigger fool? The fool or the person who argues with a fool." Of course, he is right. I am stupid to waste my time. But I'm not perfect.

So, an enquiry came through to Exeter FMA from someone in South Africa. It simply asked "How would someone with an Eskrima stick fight someone who does Jiu Jitsu?" Now, Andy deals with enquiries. He has far more patience with people than I do and he's a lot more diplomatic. On this occasion however, I don't think he had seen the enquiry, I thought the question lacked sincerity and it was highly unlikely that he was going to come over from South Africa to train. So despite the fact that I should have been going to sleep after a long day (like a normal person), I answered as follows: "In Eskrima, we only train with a stick so that we can fight with a blade. So the real question is; What would someone who does Jiu Jitsu do against someone with a machete?" I then happily went to sleep, knowing he could never answer (which he never did). Job done!

As a couple of side notes, I used the term machete because it is known worldwide, rather than pinuti, which is better known in the Philippines. Also, I know many excellent practitioners of Jiu Jitsu (both Japanese and Brazilian styles), so I am not picking on Jiu Jitsu. Every style has it's limitations, so if you think your style is the best, you have been brainwashed into a cult.

This brings us to Principle number 8 of Dacayana Eskrima: "Treat the stick as a blade." As stated, we train with a stick so we can fight with a blade. Why? There are 3 main reasons that I can think of. Firstly, it is more socially responsible to give someone a stick rather than a blade. When you give someone a blade you are giving them power. The blade needs to be treated with respect. Some people are just not mature enough to handle power responsibly. If you give a student a live blade and they start to swing it around like they are in an action movie, they are probably not ready. It is better to teach them the physical and mental control to handle a stick first, before you put a blade in their hand. This is, ultimately, the teachers responsibility.

Secondly, from a safety point of view, a rattan stick will do a lot less damage than a blade. Whether you are a beginner practicing basic skills or a black belt practicing more advanced skills, things can (and probably will) go wrong. Even training blades will probably do more damage than a rattan stick. No martial arts insurance policy that I know of will permit the use of live blades, they are just too dangerous. I have seen some of the most experienced Eskrimadors use real blades and even they will train with each other at about 80% of combat speed. You just lose too many students training with real blades, and there is no more space under my patio to hide the bodies. 

Thirdly, it is far more economical to use rattan sticks rather than blades. In the Philippines, rattan is readily available and in plentiful supply (usually). You can easily get a rattan stick and start training in Eskrima. If you damage the stick, just get another one. Metal, however, is more costly and must go through more of a manufacturing process to turn it into a live (or training) blade. This takes a lot more time and effort. Acquiring or replacing a stick is far more economical than acquiring or replacing a blade.

It can be noted that many stick fighting systems throughout the world were developed as training methods for sword or spear combat. This is sensible. 

So, principle number 7 of Dacayana Eskrima tells us that "The 12 basic strikes are the building blocks of the system". Apart from angles 1, 2 & 10 (which are chopping movements), the other strikes are cutting movements rather than hitting movements. The 12 strikes were never designed for a stick, because you can't cut with a stick (I've tried, but I just made a mess of my dinner). This important point sometimes gets lost in FMA because one of the first lessons that is often taught is that the basic strikes apply to any weapon. I have even heard of Eskrima teachers claiming that this idea is unique to, or was developed in, FMA (it isn't and it wasn't). So, to clarify, many of the angles of attack can apply to many weapons, but the techniques themselves were designed for a long blade, not a stick.

What is the difference between hitting and cutting? Simply put, "You hit TO the target, you cut THROUGH the target". Essentially, a hit's effectiveness is determined by what you do before you make contact, a cut's effectiveness is determined by what you do after you make contact. On a superficial level, the angle can be the same, but the intention, body mechanics and technique are very different. When I hit, my body weight goes forward and once I have gone a few inches into the target, I bounce back again. When I cut, I slice through the target pulling my body weight backwards (to drag the blade). Most of the 12 strikes have this "follow through" movement that was specifically designed for blades. I guess that if the 12 strikes were designed for sticks, they would be in a very different order.

Another very interesting difference between hitting with a stick and cutting with a blade is the targeting. A very wise man I know is fond of saying "Stick seeks bone, blade seeks flesh", (I can't say who it is, because I don't want him to get uppity). Sticks (especially heavier sticks like Bahi or Kamagong) do a lot more damage to bones than flesh, whereas blades do more damage to flesh than bones. Remember principle number 5 of Dacayana Eskrima is to "Visualise the targets".

The next thing we look at is Sword and dagger. The name speaks for itself. This is clearly designed for blades. Spanish records of the combination of the longer sword in the right hand and the shorter dagger in the left hand go back 500 years (just before they came to the Philippines). Although there is a lot of evidence that Filipinos were well versed in bladed warfare before the arrival of the Spanish, they easily absorbed the Spanish methods. The earliest technical sources of Eskrima (Arnis) are from the 1950's and both show the use of the sword and dagger. One source is a French documentary where each of the practioners spar with a long and short stick (it can be found on YouTube). The other source is the earliest known Arnis book by Placido Yambao published in 1957. This teaches sword and dagger cuts and combinations. I believe that in order to understand the principles, techniques and tactics of Eskrima, you must understand the use of sword and dagger.

As another side note, when I see how quickly and easily competitors go into short range when doing sport Arnis, I wonder if they would be so eager to close the distance if their opponent had a dagger in their left hand. I strongly suspect that it would be a much longer range fight. Just a thought.

So, apart from the sporting aspects, the Filipinos have greatly developed Eskrima into the unique arts that we see today. In Dacayana Eskrima we have both disarms and Pu-an  Tomoy techniques which are obviously designed for a stick and not a blade. The pocket stick is clearly a self defence weapon and not a training tool and there are many things we do in Sumbagay (fist fighting) which are designed for unarmed combat. Some Eskrima styles use much shorter baton like sticks and integrate a lot of  grappling techniques.

In conclusion, Eskrima had come from a mixture of foreign and domestic influences that have been blended in a uniquely Filipino way. In order to understand it, you have to treat the stick as a blade (but remember that sometimes a stick is just a stick). D