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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

Sinawali: Getting the Most Out of It pt. 1

Updated: Nov 21, 2018

Sinawali is a drill that is very, very commonly taught in the early days of starting a Filipino Martial Arts style. Not all styles play sinawali, but I'd wager the majority do.

Sinawali means "to weave" or "weaving" and is often a two-partner, double stick drill where there's a pattern of strikes on various angles where the partners are mirror-imaged. You might be familiar with terms like "Heaven Six" or "Single Sinawali". These are just names for different patterns, but they're all Sinawali.

I've seen Sinawali play criticized as useless and nothing more than "patty-cake with sticks". Sure, if you've learned it off YouTube and haven't been taught it properly, it certainly can seem that way, or if you don't have training that incorporates skill-building drills and just goes straight to the fight, yeah, you might think that too.

Me teaching a friend how to play Middle 6, aka Double Sinawali Standard.

Y'all are wrong if you think Sinawali is useless patty-cake.

As my teacher teaches it, it's actually a critical early-stage drill that teaches students a variety of fundamental concepts in a flowing, efficient way, getting tons of reps in the space of a small period of time.

There's a lot to unpack, so this is going to take me two posts. This is part 1.

Here's some of the concepts we're teaching:


This is the number one correction we make with students doing sinawali - poor targeting.

This is a short clip of my teacher teaching Single Sinawali (among other things). Click on the image to see the full video clip.

High forehand, low backhand, right hand, left hand... over and over. That's what we call Single Sinawali.

That high forehand the pattern begins with is what we'd call a #1 strike - an angled strike to the side of the head, neck or shoulder. The low backhand is what we'd call a #8 strike - an angled strike to the knee. Ideally, especially with beginners, we start at a longer range, where the stick can ONLY hit each others sticks/hand, and not the rest of the body.

When doing sinawali, targeting should be on the opponents body - the goal is NOT to strike the other person's stick (what we'd call "chasing the stick"). So in the single sinawali, you deliver a #1 strike to the head and then a #8 strike to the head, targeted properly. Your partner does the same - and you meet in the middle.

Let me reiterate: your goal in sinawali is not to hit each other's sticks, it's to hit each other. Since your partner is doing the same thing (mirrored) - you meet in the middle, and can keep going without hitting each other.

Knowing more than one sinawali pattern allows for the same benefit for practice of a lot of different strikes, and you can "chain" different patterns to practice a bunch of them in the space of a very short period of time.

Another point on targeting - training this properly helps big-time with the problem of students aiming too high (both high, and low).

Most students do not want to accidentally hit their partners (even though we teach this at a medium-to-longer range for safety's sake, initially) so they aim ABOVE their heads. They will end up doing the same thing when feeding strikes for blocking drills (which makes it doubly hard to learn basic blocking when fed this way).

My head is down here.

On the low strike, they don't instinctively feel where the "knee" is, so they end up aiming high at the hip instead (because when we punch stuff low, we don't tend to punch THAT low, so it has to be learned with a weapon).

Feeding too high makes it much more likely for the feeder to get hit on the hand in sinawali on the high strike and for the other person to get hit on the low backhand strike. I get hit a by a lot of newbies in exactly this way.

Now, while all of us will join the Purple Knuckles Club eventually, this is a fast and easy track to early membership.

Done properly, sinawali is an excellent drill to work on targeting. With lots and lots of reps, you eventually learn to deliver proper strikes to high and low line targets without having to think about it.


I probably emphasize chambering more than most. In our school, our class awarded me a Sheriff's Badge over the matter.

Chamber up, Pard.

Chambering, just as it is with a kick or a punch, is the stage where you put your hands in a position to strike (much like loading a gun - you put the bullet in the chamber).

Sinawali can be played from an open chamber (center line open), half-closed (one hand crossing center line) and closed chamber (both hands crossing center line- think of hugging yourself). We generally start with the open chamber, as it's a little simpler for newbies to learn.

I often compare an open chamber (on the shoulder) with two sticks as being identical to the basic "fighting stance" of empty hand fighters - your hands are up, protecting the head, and you are ready to strike or defend. Other styles use other chambers, usually due to range or power concerns.

My style tends to be in medium range, so we use a medium chamber - think of where your hands are when you "put up your dukes" in a fighting stance, about in line with your shoulders. This compromise between speed and power allows me to engage the large muscle groups to deliver a hard strike but it's not so deeply chambered that it is slow to deliver (versus a low chamber, chambered below the shoulders).

Being a stubby middle-aged woman, I need ever muscle I can get behind my strikes if I want to deliver them with power. So I need to be chamber in the right place without thinking about it. Sinawali training gives me that "muscle memory" for the right chamber.

Another benefit of chambering properly in sinawali is that you practice placing your hand where it needs to be for the next strike, or, you learn what strikes are immediately available because of where your hand is positioned.

You learn this in sinawali - what's available and what isn't - as the pattern dictates your strikes for you. Later, you use this skill to learn how to chamber your hand where you want them to be in order to deliver specific strikes, vs. just doing the sinawali pattern.

Another benefit of chambering is that you deliver proper strikes and avoid leaving your hands out in space.

If you don't chamber, your strikes tend to flatten out.

On the high strike, instead of making a strike at the head, you'll push the stick out, much like a straight-line punch with a stick in your hand. On the low strike, instead of hitting the knee, the strike flattens out and becomes an abanico, or fan strike (click HERE for a fantastic video that includes abanico strike training, and you'll see how it's different).

If you abanico, you won't hit the person at all, and that kind of defeats the purpose of learning to target that knee as I discussed at length above.

Additionally, as you speed up in sinawali (and other) drills, what happens naturally is that the chambering gets more shallow, in order to speed things up. When you chamber very shallowly, the chambering disappears completely when you get to full speed, and your hands end up hanging out in front of them or to the side.

Hands out in space in front of you make excellent targets for a strike or a disarm.

So chamber those strikes. Don't make Sheriff Chick come after you.

There's a LOT more to say on this topic, so here's Part 2.

Do you play sinawali? What do you think about this so far? Let us know in the comments!

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