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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

Let's Talk About Chambering

Awww yeeaaah, it's another one of those nerdy Arnis posts!

Chambering in the martial arts is where you place your hands (or feet) in a position ready to "fire" a strike or a kick.  The term is, of course, derived from firearms, where a bullet is placed in the chamber, ready to fire.

Most martial arts understand and use the concept of chambering, and how you do it is based upon your strategy.

I'm known in my teacher's school as being a stickler for proper chambering (as we do it in our style, of course), so I wanted to discuss different methods, and pros and cons of each in Arnis.

For this discussion, I'm going to focus on high strikes using "open" chambers only, which is hand placement in preparation for high strikes. Of course we chamber in other places, but for the point I want to illustrate here, the high chamber is the easiest to discuss.

I'm also assuming, if you're armed, that you are using  one-handed weapon(s) (versus two-handers, like a long sword or staff).

Generally speaking, there are three fundamental ways to chamber high strikes.

Method 1: Shallow Chamber

Shallow chamber is where your hands are placed in the front of the body, at or just below shoulder height.  

Method 2: Medium Chamber

Medium chamber is similar to shallow, but the hands are held higher, near the jawline or head.  This is another common way empty hand fighters place their hands when sparring.

Method 3: Deep Chamber

Deep chamber, for us, is where your hands high above the shoulders, still in front but not as far as in the other two chambers, fists most often in line with the ears.

There's an even deeper version of this, where the elbow is raised high and the stick is basically flat on your back (again, assuming the high open chamber). In my linage of Presas Arnis, we don't use it, but our friends in Kombatan certainly do.

So what are the pros and cons for each?

A major advantage of the shallow chamber is that it places the hands to be in the best position to strike very quickly.  It also does a very good job, when squared up with an opponent, of hiding the "tell" of when a linear strike (a jab) is coming.  The hands are also in place to help protect against inside strikes to the torso.

A disadvantage of the shallow chamber is that it places the hands so that it's easy to parry, trap or check for your opponent, and it leaves the head wide open (that is, you better be fast to protect the head!).  It also means that you cannot engage the large muscle groups of the shoulder to deliver maximum power (it would take to long to re-chamber to do that) and that's especially important for people with less upper body strength.

Medium chamber has some of the same advantages of the shallow chamber, but allows the hands to be in an optimum place to protect against head strikes.  However, it has similar disadvantages.

The deep chamber is great for delivering power strikes, because you can engage the large muscle groups of the back and shoulder (much like a baseball player swinging a bat to hit a home run). Much like the medium chamber, the hands are well placed to protect the head. However, a deep chamber will telegraph the strike very clearly and if a trained opponent sees that you prefer a deep chamber, it's not very difficult to jam the chamber (at the elbow) and prevent the delivery of the strike.

Both shallow and medium chambers have a striking speed advantage over the deep chamber, mainly due to the fact that the distance you have to cover is shorter.  However, the medium and deep chambers have an advantage when it comes to protecting the head (again, due to shorter distance covered).

So, each chambering method has very good pros and cons. So which to use, when?

Are you unarmed?  It might be best to sacrifice power in order to hide the tell and use a shallow or medium chamber.  Here's a great video about how that works:

Are you armed?

If you are working with a blunt weapon, the need is to engage large muscle groups in order to deliver maximum power, for crushing.  So you might want to use the deep chamber.

If you are working with a blade, speed and contact with critical or large surface area is more important than power, as the edge does the work, so a shallow or medium chamber is perfectly fine to use (although you can use a deep chamber just as effectively).

So, what do I recommend?

For me, personally, I generally train with a deep chamber. Deep as we do it, not Kombatan-style deep. This video shows that very deep chamber (and some badass Arnis which you should totally watch anyway):

I like our deep chamber because I do not assume I am always working with a blade, and I need to compensate for the lack of upper body strength by engaging every muscle I can get into my strikes when needed.  I've also noticed that as I speed up in drills, the chambers naturally become more shallow, and if I start shallow, I'll end up leaving my hands out in front of me in space as big fat targets for an opponent.  I think it's easier to transition from deep to middle and shallow versus the other direction.

I also think it's critical business to protect the head.  When I play empty hand, I use the middle chamber for the most part.  I rarely, if ever, use the shallow.

And finally, as far as jamming the deep chamber goes - that's one of those things that if you are aware of it, can be developed into a bait (as I do know what to do if jammed) versus just being a plain disadvantage.  People who chamber shallow will say the same thing about leaving the head open (using it as a baiting strategy) and I have seen that work many times.

So, that's my thoughts on the matter of chambering in Arnis.  How do you chamber in your art?  What are the pros and cons?  What do you prefer to do strategically?  I'd love to know!

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