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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

Filipino Martial Artists: the MacGuyvers of the Martial Arts World

For those of you who don't know, MacGuyver was a TV show about a genius government agent who could solve complex problems using everyday, often complete innocuous objects - things like paper clips, gum wrappers, and hand mirrors. It wasn't a great show, in my opinion, but the creative ways MacGuyver would solve desperate situations using stuff in his pockets or found in the room was kinda cool.

A criticism often made of the Filipino Martial Arts is that we don't walk around holding a 28" stick or the bolo or short sword it's a stand-in for, even if we get some admiration for our knife training. It's also not unusual for gun owners (and concealed carry permit holders) believe they don't need to train in anything else, that a firearm is all you need for self defense.

Both of those positions display a fundamental lack of imagination.

I think most of us would agree that in a conflict, we'd rather have something to help us fight the bad guy than nothing at all.  This is especially true if we are smaller than most people, or disabled, or older, or have injuries... basically, we typically want some sort of of equalizer or advantage when a bad guy is coming for us.  Having something as a weapon provides that equalizer.

The fact is, there were no empty-hand warriors going into battle anywhere in history.  Weapons are, and have always been, something you want if your life is on the line.  If you train self defense, not training in weapons is deliberately hobbling yourself and giving the bad guy a huge advantage.

Filipino Martial Artists start off training with a weapon in their hands from day one.  Early on, we are encouraged to make the connection between the stick and the empty hand (that is, we train both, even when we have the stick in our hand).  Flexibility of mind is trained early and often.

Because we usually train with rattan sticks, we are already starting off with a relatively safe substitute weapon - the rattan stick in place of a sword.  So already, mentally, we start of having to imagine something that doesn't exist on the tool we are using (that is, we have to have edge awareness if the stick is a stand-in for an edged weapon).  That also contributes being mentally flexible.

And then, it's not unusual for us to start training with other tools - dulo-dulo (palm stick) and bangkaw (long staff) and even our version of the nunchaku, tabak-toyok (or chako).  So now the connection is also made with very short, very long, and flexible tools and weapons.

Thus, we have all of these things in our training that allows us to look around a room, pick up an object, and use it as a weapon, with some skill.

This is famously displayed in the Bourne series movies (the fighting choreography is from the Filipino Martial Arts).  There's so many scenes to pick out, but here's the one that's my favorite - the one with the rolled up magazine.

My teacher, Mark Lynn, made a video years ago demonstrating this exact same principle on Mr. Chick. He used a racquetball racket, a brush, and a ball point pen in an s-lock situation - things we actually found around the Rec Center we train at.  I promise that the grimaces of pain you see on Mr. Chick's face were absolutely real, and my teacher wasn't really going very hard on all this.  Watch his face specifically when my teacher uses the pen.  That one left a mark.

We also demonstrate this idea in our women's self defense course, to get them thinking about ways to help defend and escape an attacker.  We talk about the rolled up magazine - something you can carry on you no matter where you are (having something handy to read is just a bonus!).  We talk about the small compact umbrellas.  We talk about barrettes, and hair brushes, and pens, and this item right here:

Click on the image for the source (and to buy on Amazon)

You want the larger "D ring carabiner" - 3 inches (80mm) or more. Attach your keys to it, it's a flail.  If your hands are small enough - mine are - I can grip is so that the non-opening side is on the outside of my fist.  Yep, it's improvised "brass knuckles".

There are "tactical" pens selling for $30 or more, and some TSA staff have caught on to them and confiscated them at security.  So here's what we like instead - the steel Zebra ball point pen:

Click on the image to see the source (and buy on Amazon)

We found ours on sale at our local big-box office supply store.  But if this pen gets taken away at the security checkpoint at the airport - always possible - you're only out a few dollars vs. a huge investment in a "tactical pen".  Writes nice, too!  But we also think that the good ol' Bic pen will work very well - the one you can get at a dollar store 10 to a pack.  That one definitely will make it onto a plane with you.

So we talk about everyday objects you can have about your person and ready to use in a bad situation that you can carry EVERYWHERE.  I am not aware of any "pen free zones" or rules restricting the carry of a carabiner on a flight (or... anywhere).

We also learn about defensive capabilities.  My teacher is fond of showing the use of a backpack or book bag (or book) in self defense.  Here's working those techniques using my stick bag, which is a repurposed softball bag.

This is why we Filipino Martial Artists are the MacGuyvers of the martial arts world.  We train with all sorts of different lengths of weapons (even flexible weapons sometimes) as well as empty hand, so we have the skill.  But because we are often working with substitute weapons (a stick for a blade is the big example) we train to have the mindset of being able to translate what we learn to other objects.  Any FMA player should be able to find a number of weapons in just about any room or situation. 

We are never actually "unarmed", unless we're naked in an empty room.

If you're interested in self defense, training in the Filipino Martial Arts absolutely gives you mindset and the skills you need to be flexible and imaginative to cope with fluid situations.

It can make you a real-life MacGuyver!

Does your martial arts training include improvised weapon training? Let us know in the comments!

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