Archive for the Masters and History Category

The Filipino Spear –Bangkaw

Posted in Masters and History, Weapons with tags , , , on January 13, 2011 by bigstickcombat

The Filipino Spear --Bangkaw

Today I have something you’ve probably never seen before, no matter how long you’ve been in the FMA. File this under rural weapons of the Philippines.

Kuntawman argued for including other weapons besides sticks in Filipino Martial Arts competitions, including the bayonet:

Yes, the Bayonet. Maybe some of you from the province forget that our old men taught this weapon as part of the Eskrima we studied. Some of us are actually embarassed by this weapon, as if the Bayonet made our systems look “country” and unsophisticated.

This post raised the idea in my mind of spears or pole weapons in the province of the Philippines, particularly the Visayas (central Philippines) where I often travel.

In a rural home in Cebu I spotted a weapon that at first resembled a spear, a long pole about five feet long with two barbed spikes at the tip. I thought it was for fishing. It was explained to me that the late grandfather used to go into an abandoned house and catch bats!

The idea was not to spear bats, per se, but to jab the barbed ends upward as bats swirled around. The barbed prongs would ensnare the bats outstretched wings.

Why would you catch bats? To eat, of course. Filipinos will eat almost anything, and grandpa liked his bats adobo style.


When Congress Was Armed

Posted in Commentary, Masters and History with tags , , , , , on January 12, 2011 by bigstickcombat

Old School Congress

When Congress Was Armed and Dangerous is a surprising, informative article that sheds light on the way the American congress really was.

In the rough-and-tumble Congress of the 1830s, 1840s and 1850s, politicians regularly wore weapons on the House and Senate floors, and sometimes used them.

During one 1836 melee in the House, a witness observed representatives with “pistols in hand.” In a committee hearing that same year, one House member became so enraged at the testimony of a witness that he reached for his gun; when the terrified witness refused to return, he was brought before the House on a charge of contempt.

Perhaps most dramatic of all, during a debate in 1850, Senator Henry Foote of Mississippi pulled a pistol on Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri. (Someone eventually took it from his hand.) Foote had decided in advance that if he felt threatened, he would grab his gun and run for the aisle in the hope that stray shots wouldn’t hit bystanders.

Most famously, in 1856, Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina caned Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts on the Senate floor so brutally that Sumner had to be virtually carried from the chamber — and did not retake his seat for three years. Clearly, wielded with brute force, a cane could be a potent weapon.

By the 1850s, violence was common in Washington. Not long after Sumner’s caning, a magazine told the story of a Michigan judge who traveled by train to the nation’s capital: “As he entered the main hall of the depot, he saw a man engaged in caning another ferociously, all over the room. ‘When I saw this,’ says the judge, ‘I knew I was in Washington.’”

In Congress, violence was often deployed strategically. Representatives and senators who were willing to back up their words with their weapons had an advantage, particularly in the debate over slavery. Generally speaking, Northerners were least likely to be armed, and thus most likely to back down. Congressional bullies pressed their advantage, using threats and violence to steer debate, silence opposition and influence votes.

In 1842, Representative Thomas Arnold of Tennessee, a member of the Whig Party, learned the hard way that these bullies meant business. After he reprimanded a pro-slavery member of his own party, two Southern Democrats stalked toward him, at least one of whom was armed with a bowie knife — a 6- to 12-inch blade often worn strapped to the back. Calling Arnold a “damned coward,” his angry colleagues threatened to cut his throat “from ear to ear.” But Arnold wasn’t a man to back down. Ten years earlier, he had subdued an armed assassin on the Capitol steps.

As alarming as these outbursts were, until the 1840s, reporters played them down, in part to avoid becoming embroiled in fights themselves. (A good many reporters received beatings from outraged congressmen; one nearly had his finger bitten off.) So Americans knew relatively little of congressional violence.

Congressman Lincoln Davis Decides to Upgrade from a .38 Special Snubbie

As a practitioner of the big stick, I was especially interested by the comment, “Clearly, wielded with brute force, a cane could be a potent weapon.”

Of course I am not condoning threats and violence over political (or other) disagreements, but it is enlightening to compare and contrast the bold men of the past with the mealy-mouth representatives of today:

Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance Gainer confirmed on ABC’s Good Morning America this morning that threats to congressmen increased from 2009 to 2010, but he doesn’t believe more members carrying guns is the answer. “I’ve been a policeman for 42 years, and I don’t think introducing more guns to the situation is helpful,” he said. “I think we should leave the law enforcement and security to those professionals.”

Let us ignore for the moment that many congressmen are wealthy, and can afford to live in gated communities and leave only with their own armed bodyguards. In New York, which has some of the nation’s most repressive gun laws, wealthy residents could hire off-duty cops, who were the few people in town who could legally carry guns. (William F. Buckley Jr. was one of a handful to get a legally issued gun permit, and he was hardly a taco truck driver.) So the wealthy were protected, the cops had guns and extra cash, and who cared about some poor guy in Harlem trying to get home at night?

So here we have the same tired advice: don’t arm yourself; don’t fight back, just get raped; don’t carry a gun or a knife, carry a whistle and yell “Fire!” Leave it to the professionals, who are in no way responsible for preventing you from being victimized. Never mind that every hero at the scene of the Tucson massacre was not a professional (God bless them), but an amateur.

No congressman, nor any citizen, should have to live in fear. Denying gun and speech rights is not the solution to the acts of a madman.

Congresswoman Giffords–Wishing her the best.



Master Ted Lucaylucay

Posted in Masters and History with tags , , on January 11, 2011 by bigstickcombat

I met the late Master Ted Lucaylucay and spoke with him several times. One story he told me

The Late Master Ted Lucaylucay (on left) and one of my teachers, Tim Evans Sensei

stands out.

Master Lucaylucay lived in a very rough neighborhood in Los Angeles, in a home as part of an extended Filipino family. Next door were some neighbors who were fond of big parties. One night the neighbors threw a huge party and cars filled the streets, blocking off the driveway where Ted lived, so no one could get in or out.

Well, Master Ted decided he needed to talk to the neighbors next door so people in his house weren’t trapped. But there was a large crowd next door, the music was loud, and the booze was flowing (perhaps along with other illegal substances). It was a raw-looking crowd in a tough neighborhood, and there was no telling how they would respond to his request to move their cars.

So Master Ted came prepared. He was carrying his short stick and knife, in a Filipino style called “espada y daga,” which is Spanish for “sword and dagger.” Now only once at a seminar did my friend and I see Master Lucaylucay give a glimpse of what he was capable of, and I can tell you that it was jaw-dropping. I would not confront Master Ted with any weapon, let alone a stick and a knife.

Master Ted went up to the neighbor’s door, prepared for the worst. He wasn’t brandishing his weapons, but he wasn’t hiding them either. When the neighbor opened the door, the party was in full swing, and Master Ted politely asked if they would move their cars.

The Late Master Lucaylucay. Why yes, I'd be glad to move my car, sir.

To his surprise, the neighbors immediately agreed to move their cars, without any protest. As Master Ted returned to his house, he was thinking to himself how threatening he must have been, and how his mere presence and warrior’s self-assurance had caused the otherwise troublesome neighbors to fall in line.

It was in the midst of these thoughts of self-congratulation, walking back home with his stick and knife in hand, that he happened to look up.

“When I looked at my house,” Master Lucaylucay told me with an amused smile, “there was a gun barrel sticking out of every window, pointed at the neighbor’s house. I thought I was all bad with my stick and knife, when what the neighbors saw was my whole family and a house full of guns pointed out all the windows right at them.”

Like a true master, Master Ted had the humility to see his own failings  and to laugh at himself. This story has an important message for every martial artist –don’t believe your own press. And there’s nothing wrong with having a little backup.

“The Straight Lead”: Teri Tom and Ted Wong

Posted in Masters and History, Resources and Product Reviews with tags , , , , , , on December 14, 2010 by bigstickcombat

In the wake of Sifu Ted Wong’s death, I thought of the book “The Straight Lead,” by Teri Tom. It’s an

The Straight Lead, by Teri Tom

excellent book.

Now you might think that a book only about the lead punch would be simple-Simon dull and repetitive, but you’d be wrong. If you can judge a teacher by his students, the knowledge and seriousness of author Teri Tom speaks well of the late Sifu Ted Wong. Sifu Wong poses for several pictures and is interviewed, as well as being referenced and quoted throughout the book.

The most fascinating aspect of the book is how it goes into great depth about how Bruce Lee developed his lead punch. Bruce didn’t just get a punch from Wing Chun, or from boxing, or simply combine the two. Bruce Lee’s lead punch was the result of intense study and wide reading in the fields of both boxing and fencing, including legendary boxer Jack Dempsey and fencer Aldo Nadi. Regardless of how well you think you know Bruce Lee, I guarantee you will find something new in this book.

The book goes into great depth on the lead punch, on footwork, and on strategy. Teri Tom writes so intelligently and has researched her subject so thoroughly, that you can’t help but be prompted to think more deeply about the martial arts. Even if you disagree with her and Sifu Wong.

And you may very well find yourself disagreeing. The late Sifu Wong was a prime mover behind the “purist” Jeet Kune Do movement, and your view of GM Dan Inosanto may cause your blood to boil, especially in the comments and interview sections toward the end, which are less focused on technique.

For the serious martial artist, those interested in Bruce Lee, Jeet Kune Do, or the late Sifu Wong, I think this book is a must have.

Author Teri Tom and the Late Sifu Ted Wong

Grandmaster Ted Wong RIP

Posted in Commentary, Masters and History with tags , , , , on December 3, 2010 by bigstickcombat

I was just gearing up to write about Bruce Lee. If Bruce Lee were alive as of November 27, 2010, he would be 70 years old. It’s practically impossible to imagine a 70 year-old Bruce Lee. And now I hear the sad news that one of Bruce Lee’s top students and closest friends, Ted Wong, has died.

It seems like many of those who were close to Bruce Lee are slipping away from us all too quickly.

I remember years ago when I was studying JKD with Tim Evans Sensei, and we had one of Ted Wong’s instructors come and give a seminar. This teacher asked what we thought Jeet Kune Do was. “Freedom,” was one answer. The instructor’s answer was that JKD was Bruce Lee’s personal art. (Here I am paraphrasing.) Bruce Lee was Chinese, spoke Chinese, and that his art was inextricably Chinese.

Since the instructor himself was Chinese (as was his teacher, Ted Wong) and the audience was Filipino and Caucasian, the implied message seemed to be a twist on the old sign, “No Dogs or Caucasians Allowed.” Many people were upset, inferring racism or –at the least– chauvinism.

But in time I came to see the point that was being made. The place to start is with Bruce Lee’s technique. That is JKD. That is the essence. Those core techniques and teachings of Bruce Lee need to be preserved, especially in view of how many of those who had first hand personal experiences with Bruce Lee are fading away. This was the impetus for the Bruce Lee Foundation –to preserve the legacy while there’s still time. From the Bruce Lee Foundation:

“But, too often, people diverge from Bruce Lee’s JKD but continue to call it “Bruce Lee’s JKD” which only adds to the confusion. So, yes, there was a certain amount of individuality and personal exploration promoted by Bruce Lee in JKD but it was within the framework of the foundation he had already himself laid down. Anything that diverges too abruptly from that path (such as, teaching other arts and labeling it JKD, or altering the basic stance and front lead, or adding weapons training into JKD, etc) should be classified as someone else’s take on JKD and not ascribed to Bruce Lee. To think we know best what Bruce Lee wanted or who Bruce Lee is is pure hubris. Rather if we come up with our own innovations, we should stand proudly by those and label them with our own name, but keep Bruce Lee’s JKD pure.”

Of course, this could be interpreted as a slam against the Inosanto crowd. Yet I see GM Wong’s point, that Bruce Lee didn’t do weapons. And it seems that with GM Inosanto every week is a new art, whether Silat, Savate, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or Zulu warrior arts.

You can see Ted Wong in action here, and while the technique is nothing earth shattering, the execution is solid, fluid, and eerily like Bruce Lee. You can also hear an interview between Ted Wong and Bruce Lee’s daughter here. Every account I’ve ever heard is very clear that Bruce Lee had an incredible aura of almost nuclear charisma. Ted Wong describes Bruce as “a magnet.”

There is a memorial website for GM Wong here.

DeCuerdas Eskrima: GM Tenio and Master Eliab

Posted in Masters and History, Other Stick Methods with tags , , , , on November 15, 2010 by bigstickcombat

Grandmaster Tenio of DeCuerdas Eskrima

I read an article on GM Tenio and Master Eliab in the latest Filipino Martial Arts journal.

I was privileged to meet these two gentlemen in the early 90’s. The two of them drove from Stockton to Fresno to train me and my friend and training partner Ryan Osborne. They asked for nothing, but showed up to teach.

And teach they did. GM Tenio demonstrated pressure points on Ryan, who repeatedly dropped like a rock. The pain was so intense that Ryan literally threw himself to the ground. I’m glad I was the one watching.

The two masters then demonstrated DeCuerdas technique. It was very direct and economical. A key idea I learned from them, and it’s influenced my thinking ever since, is to keep the stick in an upright orientation. I had previously studied eskrima styles in which the stick sometimes pointed up and then pointed down, alternating constantly.

A constant upright orientation of the stick cuts down on needless movement. This was later reinforced when I studied with GM Maranga. Keeping the stick upright also is a strong defense against stick disarms, and anytime you drop the tip of the stick downward you leave yourself vulnerable to a disarm.

We trained all day that Saturday, and then we invited the men in to eat. When I referred to Master Eliab as “Master,” he disclaimed the title and denied he was a master. I was impressed by his humility. 

Master Eliab of DeCuerdas Eskrima

I had put a couple of slices of Filipino hot peppers (sili labuyo) into the homemade pickles to spice them up. I warned Master Eliab as he was about to bite into one, and we all had a laugh as his face turned red and he gasped. I told him they were hot!

We gave the two gentlemen some money to try to compensate them for their time and the teaching they had shared with us. They were surprised and grateful.

I never saw them again. But these two masters were class acts and I’m thankful that they so generously shared their art with me and my friend.

Maori Weapon: The Taiaha

Posted in Masters and History, Other Stick Methods, Weapons with tags , , , , on October 28, 2010 by bigstickcombat

Warrior with Taiaha

Reader Max posted the following story:

Bayonet versus Taiaha

“The old Maori weapon, the taiaha can be deadly when wielded by an expert. This was proved in a taiaha and rifle and bayonet duel at a small arms weapon training school at Maadi, the Middle East, in 1943. The school was an important centre in which soldiers of the 8th Army were given an intensive training course in every infantry weapon, from revolvers to bayonets. In this particular course there were Americans, Free French, English, New Zealanders, Cypriots, and Canadians.

In one of the bayonet fighting sessions, Major Don Steward, a New Zealander, remarked to his hard-bitten instructors: “This is quite a weapon, I only know of one to beat it!”

“What’s that?”Asked the instructor.

“The Maori taiaha.”

“What the hell is that?”

“A fire-hardened wooden stave and fending spear, “replied Stewart.

Derision and scorn followed this remark, which stung the Maori to the quick. As a result, he offered to prove his point. Immediately bets were offered at great odds that the man with a Maori weapon would be dead within seconds against an expert with a rifle-mounted bayonet.

The Maori champion, Lieut. Aubrey Te Rama-Apakura Rota, luckily had one with him. Rota was warned that he would have to take full risk of being wounded or worse, and that the incident was to be officially regarded as an exercise in the combat school, where ‘accidents ‘were fairly frequent. There would be no holds barred on either side.


Stripping off his tunic, the young Maori stood facing the grinning ‘modern soldier ‘in much the same way his forebears had faced the British redcoats a century before.

The signal to start was given. The soldier lunged in and thrust in perfect precision, but each move was parried by the light-footed Maori who bided his time and stood on the defensive. Failing to penetrate the Maoris’ guard, the other soldier grew increasingly angry as thrust after thrust was tossed aside by the stout wooden weapon. Sometimes it was repelled with such violence that the European soldier was flung sideways.

Finally, he crouched and charged in directly at the Maoris’ midriff. This was Rota’s chance. Grasping his weapon firmly, he sidestepped, tipped aside the blind thrust, and caught the lunging figure a smart uppercut in the stomach with the bladed end of the taiaha. In a flash he whirled the weapon about, to crash the business-end on top of his opponent’s skull. Down he went, to be out of action for some days in the camp hospital—another regrettable accident from the small arms school.

The effect on those present was profound. Money changed hands at great odds, as the jubilant minority collected. The story was repeated with almost unbelievable astonishment throughout the Middle East.”

According to Wikipedia,

A Taiaha (pronounced [taiaha]) is a traditional weapon of the Māori of New Zealand. Usually between 5 to 6 feet (1.5 to 1.8 m) in length, it is a wooden close quarters weapon used for short sharp strikes or stabbing thrusts. It has three main parts: the arero (tongue), used for stabbing the opponent and parrying, the upoko (head), the base from which the tongue protrudes, and the ate (liver), the long flat blade which is also used for striking and parrying. The New Zealand Army includes an image of a taiaha into its official badge.

Maori Warriors with the Taiaha

The taiaha has appeared on TV.  In the TV series, Deadliest Warrior, the Taiaha is one of the Māori Warrior’s weapons. It was tested against the Shaolin Monk‘s Staff. It impressed the experts as it could break cow spines (which is three times thicker than a human spine) and it was given the edge. It accounted for 151 kills for the Māori Warrior’s 308 kills in 1000 battles.

This weapon brings up the question of what is the ideal weapon. The taiaha resembles the short staff of Tapado, only with an added point. The question is, will a short staff wielded with two hands like a baseball bat be more effective than a weapon wielded like a staff? Or will the ideal weapon art use both techniques, depending on the situation?