New Thoughts on the Live Hand

Tony Aguirre (on left) and GM Vasquez


The “live hand” is a term commonly used in the Filipino martial arts, which describes the non-weapon hand (usually the left) playing an active role in parrying, checking, locking, etc. In other words, instead of just swinging the stick wildly, the stick hand and the empty hand work closely together. This is the opposite of what I call “dead arm,” something that is seen in unskilled martial artists with weapons, who swing a sword or a pair of nunchaku with the right hand while the left arm hangs limply at their side as though it were dead.

Typically, the left live hand is placed at the chest or held up high along the left side of the face like a boxer’s guard. I have seen video of long stick stylists who keep their live hand in the same position. When I trained in the long stick, I was also taught to swing one-handed and use the left hand as a backup to help lock, trap, disarm, or to grab the other end of the stick for staff (bamboliya) strikes and blocks.

This is wrong. The long stick is a two-handed weapon, and the live hand belongs on the stick or club.

Darrin Cook and GM Vasquez in Bacolod, Philippines

The Live Hand and the Short Stick

The short stick is a one-handed weapon. Because of its short length, there is little advantage to hitting with both hands. For example, if I give you a foot long stick, you won’t hit any harder if you grip it with both hands. The most effective strategy is to strike with the stick while keeping full use of the empty/live hand to hit, grab, check, disarm, etc., especially because most short stick fighting happens at close range where you can hit the opponent with the live hand or reach his stick. This is the strategy of all of the short stick masters.

The Live Hand and the Long Stick

In contrast, the long stick is a two-handed weapon, which is obvious when you look at a baseball bat. I don’t know why most of the long stick masters fail to see this. You will have more power swinging the big stick with two hands, and in blunt weapons, power is everything. (On the other hand, in knife fighting, a fighter who stabs more powerfully is not much better than someone who stabs less powerfully.)

Furthermore, fighting with the big stick often occurs at long range, where the opponent is too far away for you to hit him with your empty hand, so why not put that second hand on the stick?

But the live hand doesn’t just sit on the long stick. When I studied Tapado I realized that the live hand, even though it was gripping the stick, was not just holding the weapon, but was actively steering the stick and performing the same checking role as the free live hand. This concept is called “pigar” in Tapado. In Big Stick Combat the live hand is also in contact with the stick, sliding along the weapon to increase power, to brake the weapon’s momentum, to change course, and to tighten up for close range strikes.

And if the fight moves in close (and every opponent facing the long stick who doesn’t run away will try to move in) you absolutely must have both hands on the stick in order to hit effectively as well as to prevent your stick from being ripped out of your hands. It makes sense to have your second hand already on the stick so that you are prepared for an opponent who closes, instead of waiting for the opponent to close and grab your stick, then trying to get your other hand onto it.

GM Vasquez and Darrin Cook


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