Archive for September, 2010

Beer Steins as Weapons

Posted in Commentary, Weapons with tags , , , , , , on September 30, 2010 by bigstickcombat

Traditional German Weapon

In Germany during Oktoberfest there has been a rash of assaults with beer steins. 32 assaults, in fact.

And not just any beer steins –we’re talking about one-liter beer steins. In eight cases the beer stein has broken. In many other cases, someone’s skull was fractured. In the words of one German police officer, “…every hit is potentially fatal. In our institute, we have just performed an autopsy on someone who got a beer stein to the head.”

A beer stein is not designed as a weapon. It’s designed as a utility.

A beer stein does not handle like a rattan stick, so we must ask to what extent FMA techniques can be applied to the beer stein. Can you do an x block? Can you do a wing block? Can you do an abaniko strike? Can you do sinawali if you have two beer steins? Can you do hubud-lubud (trapping hands) with it?

If you can do any of these techniques with a beer stein, do they make sense? Would they be effective, powerful techniques?

Can you do this strike with a beer stein?

Try this block with a beer stein.

Would this wingblock work with a mug?

What if we thought of direct techniques that a person could learn and use with a hammer, beer stein, coffee mug, tire iron, and so on? Such a style would be simpler, because we would have to cut out the more complex techniques.

I suppose the disadvantages are that there would be fewer, easier techniques, and so DVD sales would drop. After all, who’s going to buy “The Death Master Series: Coffee Mug Basics, Vol I, Coffee Mug Counter Tactics, Vol. II, Advanced Coffee Mug, Vol III”?

Maybe it would help if I called it “Baso ng Kamatayan,” and talked about how ancient Filipinos in Mindanao made tuba steins from hand-blown glass.


Pete Gray: Baseball Warrior

Posted in American Arts, Princples and Theory with tags , , , , , , on September 21, 2010 by bigstickcombat

Pete Gray was a professional baseball play despite the fact that he only had one arm! In the minor leagues Pete stole

Pete Gray Bats One-Handed

63 bases and had a .333 batting average, which earned him an MVP award.

Pete is amazing for overcoming the disadvantage of batting with just one arm. Think how hard it would be to bat with just one arm. How many Filipino martial artists are handicapping themselves by swinging the stick with just one arm?

One unexpected difficulty Pete had in batting was an inability to hit a breaking ball. Because he only had one arm, Pete could not check his swing. One of my discoveries as I explored the two-handed method of stick wielding, holding the stick like a baseball bat, is that the second hand adds an extra element of control. Having a second hand on the stick helps you to redirect the stick, to brake it, and to exert greater control on trick strikes that change direction. The second hand helps you to control the opponent’s stick at contact, like a live hand.

“Gray also proved himself an accomplished bunter. In order to bunt, he would plant the knob of the bat against his side, and would then slide his hand about one-third of the way up the shaft of the bat.” This ability to move from stick grip at the end of the bat to carry grip at the middle of the bat just might come in handy against a closing opponent.

Above all else, Pete Gray is a great example of what all of us are capable of if we push ourselves to overcome our limitations.

The Panabas

Posted in Other Stick Methods, Resources and Product Reviews, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , on September 19, 2010 by bigstickcombat

Check this out from Cold Steel:

Two-Handed Panga Machete from Cold Steel

This webpage also has a video of the machete in action.

According to GM Giron, this weapon (which although it’s billed as African, has counterparts in the Philippines) is the inspiration behind the “kabaroan,” or “new” styles.

This is basically a machete on a stick. Given the weapon’s greater length, new techniques had to be originated to adapt to the weapon. Remember, you adapt to the weapon, you become an extension of the weapon, not vice versa.

This is simply the bladed form of Big Stick Combat. For the person who cannot own a firearm, I don’t see how you could do better than to have one of these for self-defense in the home. If nothing else, the deterrence factor (Do you really want to mess with that blade?) would be formidable.

Broken Bats

Posted in American Arts, Weapons with tags , , , , , , on September 18, 2010 by bigstickcombat

Reader Old Dave sent me the following:

Hi Darrin,

I’ve been musings on some of the aspects of the Big Stick, and have a couple of questions about baseball bats.

First, why would you use a typical wooden bat instead of an aluminum bat…given the pictures attached?

And second, where do you keep your bat so that it is handy in case you need it?

And given the thump value of a bat, how do you practice mamo-a-mano a without serious injury?

Keep up the good work…I enjoy visiting your site.

Best regards,

Ole Dave

P.S.  I’m a hiking staff (jo) stick guy, about 51 inches long and 1-1/8 inch diameter.


I realize wood bats can break, which is why I prefer a good aluminum bat. It’s just that it’s hard to find aluminum bats that are both long enough and light enough. I find softball bats tend to have the right characteristics.

The problem with some bats, and we must realize this up front, is that they are not designed as weapons. Yes, they make good weapons, but they are not built from the ground up with that purpose in mind. Bats tend to be too heavy and lightness is sometimes achieved by taking mass from the handle and putting it at the striking end, resulting in a weak handle. There are some interesting articles here and here about a rash of bat breaks (and not just splits, but multiple breaks in which the bat just fell to pieces) and how the league investigated and solved it.

I’ve also taken to making my own bats. The key is to keep the weight light, and to narrow down the handle while still keeping it thick.

I keep the bat in my car, and have others throughout my house. When I go for a walk I take a stick with me. Eventually I will design a nice-looking walking stick that I can take into a store, yet will still be solid enough to dish out punishment.

I think the plastic bats are a good deal for training and sparring. (here and here)

Let me add that the longer short staff, the hiking staff, that you mention is an excellent weapon, especially if you live in an open environment (e.g. field, farm, mountains) where you can use the weapon’s length.

Thanks for reading and contributing!

Styles in the FMA

Posted in Masters and History, Origins, Other Stick Methods with tags , , , , , , , on September 16, 2010 by bigstickcombat

James posts the following, and I thought it was something I should address as a separate post.

“When I first learned about FMA I could not understand how they could call long range a style or Elastico a style, to me all ranges and all strike styles should be within the context of a style and not a style unto themselves. I just believe in being a complete fighter.”


With regard to “styles,” the late GM Giron taught 20 or so of them. GM Giron can be seen holding “the master’s fan”

El Abaniko del Maestro

El Abaniko del Maestro of GM Giron

here. Each rib of the fan is a style in his system. This page also has a full listing of the styles. According to GM Estalilla, the 21st, unwritten style on the back of the fan was kabaroan.

Some of these styles on the master’s fan might be thought of as tactics, many of them based on environmental considerations. For instance, “De Fondo” was designed for times when you can only plant one foot solidly.

I remember meeting guys from one art that did multiple  “styles,” Disalon and Decampo (Literally, “of the parlor” and “of the country.”) among them. Desalon was a tight, close-quarters style designed for indoors. Decampo was a broader style designed for the outdoors.

Another style was “tinulisan” (“to make like a bandit”), which was hit and run. In other words, a thief doesn’t have time to trade blow for blow, because the cops and enraged neighbors are coming, so he’s going to get in a quick hit or two and take off.

Some of the old Filipino stylists knew only one or a couple of “styles,” others might know multiple styles. While our goal is to be proficient at all ranges and in all environments, I try to give people “full faith and credit” for their system.

I’m careful to avoid the snobbery of some people, who if you don’t do single stick, double stick, wrestling, spear, knife, double knife, bow and arrow, empty-hands, rope, nunchaku, staff, etc., then you aren’t a “real” Filipino martial artist and your art is somehow lacking.


Posted in Other Stick Methods, Princples and Theory, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 14, 2010 by bigstickcombat

Reader Hernan asks about the role of evasion in Big Stick Combat.

The greatest application of evasion with the big stick is the late GM Giron’s larga mano style. In his style the

Larga Mano with the late GM Giron's Son

proponent  maximizes the reach of the long stick by long stances, and stretching out to hit the opponent’s closest target, usually the weapon hand. The larga mano stylist may oppose the attack or blend/merge with it. Correctly applied, the attacker is trying to get at the long stick stylist, but can’t get anywhere close to him, and gets hit as he tries to get near. The lara mano stylist will pop in and tag the opponent, then fade back out of reach (retirada style).

I believe that the larga mano style is best understood in the context of a long, bladed weapon. GM Giron poses with a panabas, a machete mounted on a stick, and GM Somera’s larga mano video features him using a long sword. With a long blade, a hit at a distanvce can create a crippling injury, such as slashing an opponent’s wrist. The long blade cannot be grabbed.

Larga Mano, with Bahala Na Multi-Style

GM Somera. Note the long blade.

With a long stick, though, the same dynamics of the long blade larga mano stylist may not apply. Strikes with the stick may not be incapacitating at long range, and the end of the stick can be grabbed.

Although larga mano is a valid style, I decided against including it in Big Stick Combat, for several reasons:

1) Larga Mano needs space, which may not be available in the city or indoors.

2) A long stick can be grabbed at a time when the larga mano stylist is stretched forward.

3) Larga Mano requires leg flexibility and strength (which makes it great as an exercise), which some people may not have.

4) Larga Mano adds a degree of complexity to a style. I opted for simplicity.

To the extent that I evade, I step out to the right or to the left, in what Filipino stylists call the “female triangle” (V).

GM Estalilla’s concept is not to evade, but to move right into the teeth of an opponent’s attack and merge with him while blasting him in the head. This is audacious, and certainly takes guts to execute it. My concept is typically similar –move directly into an attack, smothering it with overwhelming power.

Man Tries to Choke Out Bank Robber

Posted in Real Life Combat, Videos with tags , , on September 11, 2010 by bigstickcombat

Check out this video of a customer trying to choke out a bank robber. The robber got away. 

Where did the customer go wrong?

(First, I should point out that the photo on this page of a bank robbery is not the same one as in the video.)

But James is right, in that the guy who tries to stop the robber makes two potentially deadly mistakes:

1) He does nothing to control the gun. As the bystander gets the robber into a choke, nothing is stopping the hoodlum from pulling the trigger, even if accidentally. An easy counter to the choke is to reach back and shoot the guy in the leg, foot, abdomen, etc.

2) He does nothing to control the robber’s base. As long as the robber can stand, and has the full use of his legs, he can try to shake off the choke, or even run out the door carrying his would-be subduer or stripping him off at some point.

I’ve seen other video of a guy choking a bank robber, but in that case the robber had no visible weapon (even though it’s always a good idea to assume that he has one hidden). Trying to choke a guy with a gun, without controlling the gun, and with as little training as this guy apparently has, is foolish and dangerous in the extreme. Only if he has reasons to believe that someone’s life is in immediate danger, let’s say the robber yells that he’s going to start shooting people unless he gets money, should he try to intervene.