Is The Weapon An Extension of the Hand?
When empty hand people are introduced to weapons training, there is a maxim that is often used to help explain how to use weapons. It's this:
"THE WEAPON IS AN EXTENSION OF THE HAND"
On a fundamental level, this is true. When you train empty hand, you've learned a lot of the same movements, techniques, and concepts that work just fine with a weapon.
The important part to remember, though, is that it's a basic, introductory concept to get you going. To put it bluntly, it's a white belt concept.
It's not the whole story. In fact, once you get deeply into training with weapons, you realize that while there's lots of similarities between fighting unarmed and armed with a weapon, there's just as many differences.
Those differences are important to know, as it can mean the risk of serious injury or even death.
Some (but not all) of the differences that matter are target choices, range, stances and footwork, how much power is needed with the weapon you're using and why, edge awareness, point awareness, and what works versus OTHER weapons. You HAVE to understand these things if you're going to do more than dance with a weapon in the air as a performance.
Not only can you not do, say, empty-hand 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 dual-wielded (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. There are things I wouldn't hesitate to do with a staff but would definitely think twice if all I have is a stick or a knife.
Defending against each of these weapons requires modification of your technique also. Sometimes it's minor, but sometimes it's major. But that's another nerdy post for another time.
Let's get back to picking up a weapon and doing empty-hand techniques with a tool in your hand.
We went to an open tournament a few years ago as an Arnis school. At that tournament, a high ranked taekwondo 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.
Here's me performing the Anyo.
Just like you see me doing in the video, our student performed his form with a bolo, not a stick. The motions in this form is for a sharp, edged weapon, so you are slashing opponents. You move smoothly through strike to strike, demonstrating blade awareness throughout and keeping the edge against the opponent as long as possible in order to make a long, deep cut.
This requires movement that 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 sword or knife work. You're not chopping wood.
Thus, 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.
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.
That's why you simply can't skip kumite as well as do forms with weapons, and you have to look at it with a critical eye. Being wrong has much bigger consequences when there's weapons involved.
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 in his empty hand style).
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 see this misunderstanding when people stay on the line versus a bo and try to block it with an overhead x-block with their BARE HANDD (I saw this on a TKD black belt test once and my jaw dropped) or when, they start twirling katanas around as if they are Conan the Barbarian.
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 (and I don't mean just in a fight, I mean in training too).
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!