Sinawali for Combat, Not for Show

Look! I can cross my sticks!

Let us be honest that a large part of the appeal of sinawali, in which opponents fight with a stick in each hand, is that it is fun to practice and exciting to watch. Sinawali is practiced in rhythmic striking patterns that produce a musical clack-clack-clack of stick hitting stick.

Sinawali also looks great in the intimidating martial-artist-with-exotic- weapons-and-a-satin-gi pose that is mandatory for all aspiring Supreme Tahong Datu Puti grandmasters. You get your fancy uniform, or go shirtless, and pose with the two sticks. However, it is important that your stance is one that you can’t actually fight out of. So you need to drop down low. It’s also looks impressive when you extend your hand and hold it down low (even though you can’t really hit or defend unless you bring that stick back up where it should be).

Would you hit this hand for me, please?

It also looks impressive when you cross your legs in a deep cross step, and if you can cross your arms too, you look like an super-intimidating fighting pretzel.

Sarcasm aside, how can sinawali be used for real combat? What follows is a basic outline of a method I call “Double Barrel.” In short, the aim is realistic sinawali for self-defense.

  1. Ditch the Sticks. In real life, I am not going to find two 28 inch rattan sticks lying around when I’m attacked. If we’re talking about carrying weapons in my car, I’m better off carrying a heavier weapon capable of dropping someone, like a baseball bat. You can walk into a party or a mall with a walking stick, but try carrying two 28 inch hardwood sticks.My goal is a sinawali or double weapon method that can use everyday objects, like two beer bottles, or two hammers, or a hammer and a screwdriver, two minimag flashlights, etc.

    If you do use sticks, shorten them. I train with hammer handles. Two collapsible batons work nicely. But you may be asking yourself, “Hey, wait, I thought you said sticks were unrealistic?” If you are working security at a dance, a party, a nightclub, a fair, –anyplace crowded where you may be confronted with multiple opponents– two short weapons are ideal. A shorter stick enables you to hit in tight, and reduces the likelihood of your stick getting snagged or caught by either your opponent or yourself.

    Furthermore, use two clubs. Your weapons should be shorter and heavier.

    I'm so good I can lock myself.

  2. Stop Crossing Your Arms! It’s just not a good idea to cross your arms. When I studied knife/counter-knife with Guro Ed Planas, this idea wasdrummed into me, and further reinforced by GM Maranga. When you cross your arms you are setting yourself up to be trapped and locked.

    Ooh! Secrets!

    Furthermore, crossed arms set you up for backhand strikes, particularly low backhand strikes. These strikes are not going to drop a mugger on crack, or the drunk at the party. Fight from an open stance and use forehand strikes as much as possible.

    How it should be done. No crossed arms.


One Response to “Sinawali for Combat, Not for Show”

  1. sticksnblades Says:

    Nice article. I have found that the biggest issue that most people have with siniwalli and FMA in general is that they don’t look deep enough to find the strong conceptual element behind this system.Obviously, we could get our zen on and tie in all kinds of life lessons here, but let’s keep this under the microscope for a bit. Crossing or scissoring movements are simply open and closed chain movements that are performed on a regular basis in many other physical endeavors. Those sticks might be swords, knives, machete and dagger, a belt and a box cutter, a gun and knife, handcuffs and a baton, a rifle, left and right flank, etc. True, not all instructors choose to or know how to expose the conceptual elements in MA systems, but any average joe is capable of doing so, provided he first empties the cup. Life ain’t easy. Train accordingly.

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