Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Weapon Is An Extension Of The Hand - Except It Totally Isn't

Today I want to talk about weapons and the misconceptions I see and hear from martial artists whose primary training is empty handed.

It is very common, among martial artists, to say:

"The weapon is an extension of the hand."

My experience says that this is true, when you look at it from a certain perspective.  You already know many things from studying an empty hand art are applicable with a weapon, with adjustments for targets and ranges and whatnot.

However, once you get into the details, it becomes stunningly clear that weapons arts and empty hand arts are as dissimilar as they are similar.

What's the empty hand version of
nunchucks to the nads?
I think that the maxim's true meaning is that when you've practiced enough that moving with the weapon is as natural and as easy as empty handed.  It's not a literal claim that all you have to do your empty hand stuff with a tool in your hand and you're good to go.

Not only can you not do, say, kung-fu with a sword in your hand and call yourself a swordsman, but things change in important ways as you move from weapon to weapon, too.  A long blunt weapon is a different beast from a short bladed weapon, and a long blade is different than a short blade, and weapons held both hands (think two sticks, or kama, sai, tonfa...) is a very different thing than a single hand (nunchaku, single stick, one-handed blade or knife) and is very different than a single weapon that requires both hands (long swords, bo, jo...), and so on. Each weapon has its own strengths and weaknesses and best practice.

Defending against, and the use of, each of these weapons requires modification of your technique.  Sometimes it's minor, but sometimes it's major.

This is abundantly clear when you watch primarily empty hand martial artists - and they have a lot of skill in the empty hand - fumble around with and utterly misunderstand how a weapon is used.

At a recent tournament, a high ranked black belt told our yellow belt Arnis student - who did a blade form (a competition form we created based off several anyos created by Professor Remy Presas) - that he needed "more power" in his form.

Our student performed his form with a bolo, not a stick.  The motions in this form is for a sharp, edges weapon, so you are slashing opponents.  You move smoothly through strike to strike, demonstrating blade awareness throughout.  Therefore, the movement is smooth and flowing, as you allow the very sharp blade to separate matter (versus blunt weapons, which require power because they inflict damage by crushing things). It does not require a lot of power to make a blade work - you're not chopping wood.

 This primarily empty-hand art high-ranked black belt was not correct in this advice.

I think some of this comes from the lack of actual pressure testing of the use of weapons.  For some of us, it's a safety issue, especially if you own low quality weapons that can't take a beating, like the junk they sell for XMA exhibitions performance.  That stuff simply can't be used properly.

One of these things is not like the others.
Hint: it doesn't completely suck.
If you don't pressure test (for a weapon, that means HIT THINGS) is that you can't verify what you are doing/seeing in kata, which is how lots of empty-hand people I know learn weapons.  So you do things in the air, never critically examining how it might actually work, and make some critical errors as a result.

The empty hand  NOT being a simple extension of the hand is abundantly clear when you are defending against a weapon.

I was training with a friend and we were doing simple knife defenses (very, very basic). The attack was a classic hammer grip, coming in an arc that would closely resemble a standard hook punch. He would block the incoming strike with a flat, open hand (as he had trained).

This is fine with an empty hand attack - even if it fails, the risk of damage is dramatically reduced by the block slowing down the attack.

However, with a blade, it's a very good idea to control the weapon by cupping, passing,or grabbing the wrist of the weapon hand.  If  you do not, there is literally nothing to stop me from continuing my attack through and cutting vital points - if you do not grab or pass the weapon, it is very, very easy to change the angle and deliver a critical cut.

He didn't believe me when I told him this, so we did it several times- I would attack at a faster speed, he'd open hand block, and then completely fail in stopping the weapon from cutting him in a vital area.  Of course it was even worse in reverse grip, as it was very easy to cut the inside of the wrist, a strike that could be fatal within a minute or two.

You can also see very skilled empty hand martial artists make the mistake of blocking an incoming bo strike with an x-block to the weapon (yes, I have seen this done on a black belt test) or repeatedly grabbing the sharp edge of training blades, or trying to deliver high kicks when holding a long weapon, or as we've all seen, they start twirling katanas around as if they are Conan the Barbarian.

This single scene is responsible for more sword shenanigans than any other.
What you learn studying an empty hand art is good, and true, and useful.  Much of it absolutely applies to weapons.  But you can't just pick up a weapon and start using it with your empty hand techniques - you will make critical mistakes in understanding that would get you hurt or killed versus someone trained in a weapon.

So what do you think?  Is weapons work as easy as picking up a tool and doing your empty hand art with it?  Do people really need weapon-specific training, or not?  Let me know in the comments!