Best practice, if you will, in the martial arts suggests that for any martial art to find out its usefulness, it must be pressure tested.
That means working against resisting opponents.
Often, we do so in a sporting context. This would include everything from light contact point sparring all the way up to hard contact fighting we see in promotions like the UFC.
Even with resisting opponents, we aren't 100% recreating the experience that fighting for real would entail. We have rule sets and equipment that helps keep the injury factor down. There's also the matter of intent - most of us are not fighting with the intent to do deadly harm.
So while sport martial arts are pressure tested, they're still not 100% recreations of real-life violence - it can't be.
It gets a lot more difficult to pressure test when we're talking about weapons.
Most martial artists these days learn weapons arts as an add-on to their empty hand art. The vast majority only learn a weapon in a form (or kata or poomsae or anyo or whatever you want to call it - a prearranged set of motions, often done solo in the air). The exceptions are people learning Filipino Martial Arts, Silat, HEMA, and other arts that don't rely on forms to teach use of weapons. Instead, they tend to learn with various drills. But even then, drills don't quite recreate the pressure testing necessary to answer the following question: "Will this work in a fight?"
Groups such as the Dog Brothers have worked hard to try to answer this question using lots of different weapons in an FMA-based context.
I surely wish, though, that we had similar groups for other weapons most of us martial artists are working with - such as the Okinawan weapons, the Japanese weapons, and the Chinese weapons. Maybe we do, and I don't know about it (always possible, certainly, so if you know of someone doing this, please, let me know in the comments).
Sure, there are Actionflex versions of many of the Okinawan/Japanese weapons being sold by Century here in the USA, and we have used them in weapons sparring, and those are pretty useful to figure out what can and can't be done when the opponent is moving and trying to hit you.
That's how I learned out how useful a jo is, for example, even with the limitations Actionflex has (and there are many).
This is often on my mind when I'm practicing kobudo forms and one-steps.
What am I doing here, and why?
What or who am I supposed to be fighting against?
Would it work?
Often, I'm not sure I can answer that last question with any kind of confidence. It's hard to recreate, sometimes, the situation where a specific move or set of moves would work without having a lot of doubt. The recreation must happen, though, because without that mindset, all I'm really learning to do is to move around with a weapon as a prop, and nothing more (and y'all know how I feel about that).
I always have doubts, though, and I'm always thinking about it.
One thing that helps, always, is hitting stuff, even if it's a stationary target. If you haven't done this, you learn really, really quickly about things like grip and stances making a huge difference.
Here's where FMA drills are really helpful. My teacher has adapted a pretty common drill lots of people call "sumbrada" (there's other names for it) to different weapons. Here's bo vs. tonfa:
As you can see, there are all sorts of holes in this pattern to exploit in later training, and when you perform this sumbrada, you definitely feel each and every one when you have this weapon coming at you.
Of course, this is not pressure testing with resistance. But it's better than dancing with a long stick in the air.
So, those of you are there training in any weapon tradition - how are you thinking about, and solving the problem? What doubts do you have about things you're doing, and how are you resolving them? How do you introduce resistance into what you do?