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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

Getting Dirty (with Disarms)

One thing we in the Filipino Martial Arts are really big on, generally speaking, is being able to disarm an armed opponent.

There are literally dozens of disarming methods - everything from smash the guy's hand to wrapping them up to levers and wedges to fancy set-ups and locks.  We disarm knives, and sticks, and what have you.

Datu Dieter Knüttel disarms Mr. Chick using our "standard" #2 disarm, vs. a backhand, with sai

Most of the time, when you see us working disarms, you see the mechanic of whatever disarm we are working on in isolation.  That is, you typically see an uke strike, and then someone doing a disarm technique. There are no set up strikes, they typically aren't moving around much, and there's no resistance.

Given you rarely see disarms with setups or resistance online, you might think that's how we believe that disarms "work", and then think to yourself, "Wait if I do (x), that disarm won't work."

And you'd be right, much of the time!

Many of our disarms are ridiculously easy to counter or make ineffective.   Indeed, sometimes your partner inadvertently "defeats" a disarm while you are trying to learn one. They'll turn a shoulder, they'll step to an angle that defeats the disarm, they'll "death-grip" the stick... all of a sudden your fancy-pants disarm isn't worth the effort to learn.

Check out this nice video from Brian Johns on this very subject:

Easy peasy, right?

So does that mean learning disarms is a waste of time? Heck no!  As I said above - I've pulled them off in stick sparring successfully against a resisting opponent who didn't give it to me.  I've actually pulled off the exact disarm Brian is showing above.

So how did I do it?

I did what my teacher Mark Lynn calls doing a "dirty" as opposed to a "clean" or "naked" disarm, which is what you typically see in videos online.

Being "dirty" in a disarm means you have to soften up the opponent.  Hit them in the face or the hand or the leg, or make them think of something other than countering that disarm you are trying to pull off.  My teacher emphasizes this point to us and I have found this to be true when I'm training with resistance in sparring.

To illustrate the point, let's talk about using an entry with a strike to help you make a disarm work.

Here I am demonstrating the abaniko corto entry with a disarm.

I am able to pull this off on my partner because the abaniko strike (the second "move" you see me do in this technique, a fan strike to his head) is enough to distract him for a split second, so I can wrap him up and disarm him.

There are tons of ways my partner can counter what I'm doing here.  After all, there is always a counter (and that's what I will spend the rest of my life in Arnis figuring out - counters to the counters to the counters), and no technique is perfect or foolproof.

In fact, one of my favorite counters to this exact technique is for the uke to step and grab his own stick in his left hand (after I've wrapped him up) and hit me with it.  I will do this nearly automatically if you don't step correctly (off to the side, vs. staying right in front of me) or soften me up to prevent it, because it's that easy.

I won't get that opportunity to counter you if you hit me in the face, though!

My point is, being "dirty" in your disarms will help increase your odds of pulling off that fancy disarm.  I have found my teacher's emphasis on this point helping me when I train against resistance.

I think learning the disarm techniques "naked" or "clean" - and being able to pull them off - is important, and I'd never skip that part.  Spending time working the details of disarming technique is how you make them work. 

But after, learning the setups and "dirtying up" your disarm is, in my opinion, how you'll make them work versus resisting opponents more reliably over time.

What methods do you use to help prevent counters to your disarms?  How do you set up an opponent with "dirty" techniques to do what you do?  Let me know in the comments!

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