Archive for Dan Inosanto

Does the X Block Work?

Posted in Commentary, Princples and Theory, Real Life Combat with tags , , , , on January 9, 2011 by bigstickcombat

The Oft Maligned X Block

Reader James posted the following,

In Dagger Disarms part 1 they show only two blocks that “should never” be done in the real world. Note that they show only one photo for each and do not show or are aware of the follow through of these techniques they say not to do. The X-block in Jujutsu is a soft block, it does not hold the arm there but merely receives the arm and then moves it to the side as the force is coming down.

You see, in the Filipino martial arts, the X block has got a bad rap, probably even worse than that of the maligned judo chop. I think the Dan Inosanto Filipino Martial Arts book helped to bury the X block. The average Filipino martial artist can show you a dozen counters to the X block, especially when used against a knife.

Years ago in the Philippines I met Perry Gamsby, an Australian who had moved to the PI. He was telling me how on his first day on the job as a security guard, he ended up chasing a thief through the market. The thief suddenly whirled, drew a large knife, and thrust it up toward Perry’s stomach.

“I blocked the knife with an X block,” Perry told me with a laugh. “The one they tell you never works.”

Now one possibility is that the story isn’t true, but I believe it. But how do we explain the fact that an X block, which isn’t supposed to work, did in fact stop a knife attack?

I think the reason may be that when we train we are fencing. When I have the training knife, I am light on my feet. I may feint, withdraw, then leap back in to “cut” your extended arm. As trained fighters we are both doing this sort of strategy. We are cagey, tactical, mobile, elusive.

X Block: Fact or Fiction?

But what happens when I see someone brutally attacking my mother and there is a knife in my hand? Tactics, feinting, double thrusts, evasion, etc., all go out the window. I am not thinking of counter moves. I now have what Amo Guro Blackgrave refers to as “intent.” The person in this frame of mind (enraged kill) is stronger, but also, his moves are more committed, and although they are more likely to be fatal, they may also be easier to counter.

How many people say the knife can’t be countered bare-handed? I certainly advise against it, because we’ve all seen how poorly real counter-knife scenarios go down in training. Yet we also know that there are people who have survived knife attacks bare-handed, so it can be done. Maybe the reason for the seeming contradiction is the difference between dueling in training and intent-to-kill on the streets.


Jeet Kune Do: Getting Down to the Essence

Posted in American Arts, Commentary, Princples and Theory with tags , , , , , , , on December 15, 2010 by bigstickcombat

What Does the Referee Position Have to Do with Jeet Kune Do?

I have talked earlier of wanting to see how GM Dan Inosanto boils down all that he has learned. Some have said that there is too much knowledge, it can’t be done. Indeed, if you look at all of the martial arts information available today, plus the ever-increasing goal of martial artists to be well-rounded in all phases of combat, then it all seems staggering.

That’s why so many styles are a laundry list as long as a Manhattan telephone directory of all of their styles and techniques. But too many styles are useless. There is a point at which too much technique becomes counterproductive.

Sure, it’s great for the owner of the school, because he’s got 15 years of material, and the checks keep rolling in. Student retention is high because there’s always something new, and there are plenty of “advanced,” “secret,” “black belt,” techniques that are being dangled just beyond the student’s nose, which he can get to with just 7 more years of monthly dues, mat fees, membership fees, belt fees, test fees, etc.

My teacher GM Estalilla of Kabaroan, puts it this way. “Suppose the student is going off to battle tomorrow. What would you teach?”

Let us look at the art of freestyle, high school/collegiate wrestling. There are literally hundreds of techniques. How could you sort it all out? How could you teach the essence in just a day or two? (I’m not talking mastery, but an introduction to the essentials, coupled with techniques a student could learn today and use in the parking lot on his way out if attacked.)

First of all, get rid of the referee’s position. In wrestling when the wrestlers go off the mat, they return and one wrestler is on all fours, with the other in a dominant position. We can calculate that the referee’s position is unlikely to happen in real life. Eliminating the referee’s position eliminates dozens of techniques, such as a sitout, switch, standup, etc., and the takedowns of the opponent on all fours.

Someone could argue, “Wait, but what if I get pushed down to all fours and the opponent is above me…” Let’s stick to what is likely. Let’s look for the high percentage moves and train those.

Get rid of pinning moves. On the street, our goal is not pinning. Furthermore, I don’t want to be on the ground. This eliminates the cradle, the tilt, the grapevine, Iowa ride, etc. If need be, I can use a choke or a lock in this position. 

No. I don't want to be on the ground. My goal is not to pin anybody. On the street I don't get points.

Next, look at the remaining wrestling moves. Which ones can be used if I hold a weapon, like a knife? Which ones lead into, or follow up from, a strike? Which would work against an armed opponent?

Which are the most effective? What are the techniques that champion wrestlers master, and use to help them dominate opponents?

With this sort of thinking, I think I can boil wrestling down to about 7 techniques. Am I going to beat a champion wrestler? No. (At least not at wrestling, that’s what the backup blade is for.)

Will everyone agree with me as to the 7 essential techniques? No. But at least we are now thinking about what is vital, what is the essence.

Nobody knows where Bruce Lee was going with Jeet Kune Do and grappling, but I have to think this was where he was headed: How can I strip it down, and strip the extras away, so that I get down to the most powerful, effective, direct, and essential techniques?


Posted in Masters and History, Other Stick Methods, Weapons with tags , , , , , , on April 1, 2010 by bigstickcombat

Like many martial artists my age, I got my start in the martial arts from watching David Carradine on “Kung-Fu” and Bruce Lee movies. Click here to see a young Master Dan Inosanto and I believe Ted Lucaylucay. (Also note that Dan is using larga mano.)

Of course, everybody had to have nunchakus. The problem is that nunchakus, like everything else, were illegal in California. So my friend and I made our own nunchakus out of pine dowel and eye screws.

Once I was swinging the home-made nunchaku around like crazy, spinning and twirling in front of my friend. When I let the nunchaku hang down at my side, one of the sticks fell off! We both let out a sigh of relief –if that nunchaku had broken just seconds earlier, I could have accidentally sent that stick flying right into my friend’s head.

Another friend of ours, a guy who was so cool that he wore Chinese slippers and the black kung-fu jacket to school, was practicing in front of a window in his house, where he could see his reflection. Like all cheap home-made nuchakus, one stick went flying off the chain. In his case the stick was moving so fast that it went straight through the glass, leaving a circular hole as wide as the end of the stick.

Lately I have been thinking about the nunchaku, but the problem is that nunchaku in some locations, like California, are a felony, and scream “WEAPON!” So I have been exploring using a padlock and chain, like you would use to secure a bicycle, as a semi-improvised weapon.

The idea is that the chain and padlock would be a hard-hitting flexible weapon like the nunchaku, but would not be illegal or out of place, particularly for a bike rider. It has been interesting to apply the principles of Big Stick Combat to the chain and padlock.

Tomorrow I’ll share with you the key principles of what I’m calling the Thunderbolt Chain.

What a Filipino Uniform Looks Like

Posted in Commentary, Masters and History, Origins with tags , , , , on February 25, 2010 by bigstickcombat
GM Carin. Note his "uniform."

GM Carin. Note his "uniform."

As I posted yesterday on GM Carin, I was struck by how his substance –raw, pure, fighting prowess– contrasted with his style, which is typically Filipino. I was thinking, “Gee, where’s his uniform?”

An eskrimador was asking online at the Stick and Knife Fighters Forum for help finding a “Filipino uniform.” The problem is that what he appears to have settled upon as a Filipino uniform is really just a dressed up kimono.

Now one of my teachers dresses in Japanese gi’s, which makes sense for him, because he is a black belt in karate. (In fact, GM Vasquez’a Modified Karate book can be found in every Filipino National Bookstore. One of his students is a high-ranking judo black belt. Out of respect for my teacher, I put on a gi and posed for pictures.

But I have a problem with Filipinos wearing Japanese gi’s, because of the Japanese brutalization of the Philippines in WWII. I know one Filipino gentlemen who as a boy in WWII threw a sharpened stick at a Japanese soldier. He and his friend were caught, and the parents were forced to beat their own children. Unbeknownst to the Japanese, he had padding under his clothes, but his friend did not. He survived, but his friend died from the ordeal.

Now this is not an anti-Japanese screed –I bear no ill-will to the Japanese, and the war is long over. But at least I can say for me (and I’m obviously not Filipino) that Japanese style clothing should not represent a Filipino art. Imagine a Tibetan style training in Chinese uniforms, or black martial artists training in Klansman’s robes.

I think that the wearing of Japanese clothing can also reflect a Filipino “colonial mentality,” in which Filipinos look down upon Filipino things as crude, provincial, and low status, while foreign things are held up as sophisticated, cultured, and high status.

"Filipino" vest.

When I first started training I tried to assemble on my own what I thought was a uniform representative of the Philippines. My guide was Master Dan Inosanto, with what I am calling the “maglalatik” look. (The maglalatik is a Filipino cultural dance with the dancers consisting of guys in short pants and barefooted.)

I had white t-shirts imprinted with “Laging Una” (“Always First”), the insignia of Filipino fighting units of WWII. I’m proud that the uniform was at least historical in that regard, and honored Filipino veterans.

But if you look at how guys really train in the Philippines, there is a shortage of uniforms. Look at Anciong Bacon…where’s his uniform? GM Maranga doesn’t wear uniforms. Look at GM Carin, training in a sleeveless shirt and a pair of shorts.

For me, I had to decide to stay with what I know to be true as an American. I prefer to err on the side of masters such as Carin, Maranga, Bacon, etc. (If I can be so bold as to include myself anywhere near these masters), rather than those with the robes, and sashes, and patches, and rainbow coalition colors, and the click-clacking sinawali, and twenty-step progressions from a single strike.

But if I were to go with a uniform, I might wear a camisa de chino (common in the Philippines), or a shirt that honored Filipino veterans by including their insignia.

What the Hell Is Kali?

Posted in Commentary, Masters and History, Origins, Other Stick Methods with tags , , , , , , , on January 28, 2010 by bigstickcombat

I’m about to get controversial. There has been a rash of people using the term “kali,” which was popularized by Master Dan Inosanto. As far as I can tell, the Ilustrisimo group were the first and only people to use the term “kali,” and of course Master Inosanto is a part of that group.

Kali has become something of a fad, because I suppose it sounds hip and cutting edge, while terms like “arnis” and “eskrima” sound like old school stuff practiced by old codgers. Some have alleged that kali is the “mother art,” (which according to Inosanto originated with Muslims in the southern Philippines) and have implied that other arts are watered down, pale imitations of the “real kali.”

I should point out that the old masters, like GM Giron, GM Estalilla, GM Cabales, GM Presas, etc. did not use the term kali. My teacher, GM Estalilla, a highly literate man who was on a Filipino Bible translation team and who speaks several different Filipino languages, could only hazard a guess as to what the word “kali” might mean. Since GM Estalilla doesn’t use profanity, other, more blunt masters might ask, “What the hell is ‘kali’?” And we are talking about the who’s who of Filipino grandmasters.

Ned Nepangue rightly points out,

“Fact #9 The suggestion that kali is the root word of some words found in different Filipino languages and dialects is not based on linguistics, in fact a study on this claim is yet to be made.

Important pre-Hispanic household words like diwata, Bathala, datu, ulipon are still understood by many and this same is also true with words associated with the warriors, like bangkaw, baraw, tameng. So what is supposed to be the ancient name for the Filipino martial art? Kali? If it is kali then, why don’t we find this word in dictionaries of the different Filipino languages and dialects? In fact this particular word was just “re-introduced” years ago. Kali is never a traditional name for the native martial art. If one goes to a secluded place in Cebu for example and ask those eskrima old-timers there if they know what is kali, the will probably say they don’t know. And these people are supposed to know better.

Bontoc Igorot. No Kali Here.

The most compelling explanation I have heard of the origin of the Filipino martial arts is from the Cebu Eskrima Society. Find the book here. In short, they argue that eskrima originated with Spaniards in the Spanish colonial era of the Philippines. Due to persistent Muslim (Moro) raids, the Spaniards raised a Filipino expeditionary force and trained them in swordsmanship and hand-to-hand combat. Rather than being originated by Muslims, the Filipino martial arts originated in a group of Filipino warriors who raided Muslim areas of Mindanao and waged a bloody war of retaliation and deterrence.

Now there’s nothing wrong with calling your art “kali.” The Ilustrisimo people rightly have a high reputation among Filipino martial artists. You can call your art “hubu bubu” if you want to.

My problem is with those who want to suggest that those who don’t do “kali” aren’t practicing the real thing. My problem is with those who want to jump on the kali bandwagon not because they have historically called their art kali, but because they’re making crap up to cash in on the latest fad. My problem is with those who don’t know better, who are looking for a good kali school and dismiss anybody who uses the terms “arnis” or “eskrima.”