Archive for FMA

Lessons from the Besh Wedge

Posted in American Arts, Masters and History, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2010 by bigstickcombat

Brent Beshara, Elite Soldier and Knife Maker

Yesterday I wrote about an innovation in knife design, the Besh Wedge. Beshara was inspired by the Fairbairn Sykes knife, and aimed to improve it. I think there are 3 different philosophies, or maybe just unspoken assumptions in the martial arts:

1)  The Old Ways Cannot Be Improved. Some would say that the old classics like “Kill or Be Killed” or “Cold Steel,” have the best combat knowledge. Anything “new” is only reinventing the wheel.

This view is common in the martial arts; Sensei X, Guro X, Datu X, Grandmaster X, has the world’s greatest system. Any attempts to “improve” the ultimate system are useless and counterproductive, not to mention an insult to the old masters. Often this view is supported by references to the style going back two thousand years, back into the mists of time, etc.

2)  The Old Ways Are Outdated. Some would say, “What could I learn from Fairbairn, some old guy from WWII?” After all, white guys don’t really know anything compared to all of the Asian grandmasters. “Hey, I study Ok-ok Kali, I could run circles around some old geezer like Cooper, Fairbairn, Applegate, etc.”

3)  Refine the System. This is a saying of GM Estalilla. We should as martial artists continually strive to refine the system, meaning make improvements. I would begin by respecting the old masters, whether their art was Asian or Western. All of us must acknowledge that we have a debt to those who came before us –we owe them for passing down to us a martial arts heritage.

However, acknowledging the contributions of those before while striving to improve the art does not disrespect them –it honors them. That is what Brent Beshara did –beginning from a place of respect for the old masters, he asked himself how he could improve their ideas.

The Besh Wedge shows that there are new ideas. The best ideas are those that are simple, yet simple in a way that no one else has ever thought of.

Rescue Knife with Besh Wedge


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.

James Brown, Martial Artist

Posted in Princples and Theory with tags , , , , on May 7, 2010 by bigstickcombat

The Immortal James Brown

Martial artists could learn an important lesson from James Brown.

From Wikipedia:

By mid-1960s, James Brown had developed his signature groove that emphasized the downbeat – with heavy emphasis on the first beat of every measure to etch his distinctive sound, rather than the backbeat that typified African American music.[6]

Brown often cued his band with the command “On the one!,” changing the percussion emphasis/accent from the one-two-three-four backbeat of traditional soul music to the one-two-three-four downbeat – but with an even-note syncopated guitar rhythm (on quarter notes two and four) featuring a hard-driving, repetitive brassy swing. This one-three beat launched the shift in Brown’s signature music style, starting with his 1964 hit single, “Out of Sight” and his 1965 hit, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag“.

Note the key idea: James Brown had his band come in on the first beat –Pow! I believe it was Bootsy Collins who explained in an interview how unusual that is. Most bands come in on the second beat or the fourth beat, but James’ idea was to blast right out of the gate.

This is in contrast to many (most?) martial artists and martial arts styles, who also want to come in on the second or fourth beat, even. In other words, many stylists block (one) then HIT (two). Or even in many FMA block (one), parry/check (two) HIT (three). Even worse, is step (one), block (two), HIT (three).

A key idea, hammered into me by GM’s Estalilla and Vasquez, is to hit on the one. Do not block, do not go to preliminary moves, set-up moves, etc.

As James used to say, “On the one!” POW!

GM Brown

Types of Sticks in the Filipino Martial Arts

Posted in Origins with tags , , , , , , , on November 29, 2009 by bigstickcombat

Here is some background on the various stick lengths used in the Filipino martial arts. I think it is important to understand why certain lengths of sticks are used. I will talk here in generalities to give the reader a big picture. Stick lengths are approximate and will vary.

The Short Stick -28 Inches

This is the most common length of stick in the FMA. I would guess that it’s used by 90% of Filipino stylists. I believe that the 28 inch rattan stick is designed to simulate the machete. No other real world item handles like a 28 inch or so rattan stick.

My contention, though, is that real-life field machetes are heavier than the typical “show” machete many FMA stylists train with.

The Very Short Stick -21 Inches

When I trained in Serrada with Jaime Cabiero the length of the stick was from the armpit to the palm. When I measured mine, it came out to about 21 inches (I have a hammer handle that I use for that length of stick.). Although it was never explained to me, I believe that the chief reason for such a short stick is that in close the stick is less likely to get caught in the defender’s arm or the opponent’s arms or weapon.

Some people believe that this length of stick is used because it is easier to conceal. GM Estalilla explained to me that Filipinos would conceal a short stick down the middle of the back to be used in the event of a brawl. This length could also be concealed in a sleeve.

Some Serrada stylists use sticks that are even shorter than the pit-to-palm length mentioned earlier. I once heard the late GM Giron refer to a very short stick as a “chopstick.” As far as I can tell, the only purpose of the extremely short stick is to increase speed, which I think is mainly done for show.

The Long Stick -36 Inches

This is used by the Ilocano styles, such as Kabaroan, Giron Arnis, and Marinas from lowland Luzon.

According to the late GM Giron, the larga mano styles are based on the “panabas” which is a machete- like blade mounted on a stick. There are other brush-clearing machetes of longer length than the shorter bolo.

GM Estalilla also explains that the Kabaroan stick matches the length of the European walking cane that was in vogue in the Philippines.

The Short Staff -48 Inches

What is interesting, though, is that GM Estalilla’s father used a stick about 46 inches in length, reaching from the floor to the “didi” (nipple). Traveling merchants used to carry their merchandise on a pole slung over the shoulder, with a basket on either end (“pingga”). This pole could be used to fight off dogs or bandits. Sometimes these vendors would engage in challenge matches, wagering their merchandise.

The founder of Tapado, the late GM Mamar, deliberately chose the longer stick (approx. 4 feet) to give him a greater reach advantage as well as a greater margin of safety against other eskrima stylists using the 28 inch long stick.