• Jackie Bradbury

Sinawali: Getting the Most Out of It pt. 2

Sinawali, the Filipino Martial Arts training drill, is SO MUCH MORE than just "patty cake with sticks".

It's so much more I wrote two posts about it. Click HERE to read Part 1 if you missed it. Here's Part 2.

We covered targeting, we covered chambering. Here's some more things you learn in Sinawali.


Generally speaking, my style prefers to work at medium range.  This means that if I step forward with a strike, I can hit my opponent's head or body as opposed to only his hand.

There something on your forehead... here, let me get that for you.

I mentioned in the section about targeting that we use a long range to teach newbies Sinawali. That is, they are close enough to hit each others' hands, but not each other's bodies (or heads). This is partially due to safety reasons, but also to help them target well so they aren't afraid of accidentally hitting their partner.

However, once you get used to playing, we'll often move into medium range. Sometimes we'll use footwork that moves you in and out of long and medium and sometimes even short range (and back).

In order to reach the target, one must be in the proper range.  A high forehand strike to the head does no good if it's too far away.  It's even more obvious on a low strike, as that's even harder to hit than the head in terms of range, depending on the stance the opponent has.

Sinawali gets a student used working with and understanding range quickly.


Another thing we emphasize with our students learning Sinawali is the footwork.

You've seen about a million Sinawali videos on YouTube, and one thing you'll notice is that many of them are standing like this:

Now, one reason you see this in video is that the players can't move around too much because they'll move out of frame. That certainly could be the case here.

But another is that for whatever reason, some people just aren't doing the Sinawali footwork.  Some people are never taught it.  Some people are focusing in on the strikes and thus not doing the footwork because of what they are emphasizing.  For whatever reason, others start getting the impression that this is how it's done - you stand squared up and strike at each other, similar to what you see in the video above.

It's a stance we've affectionately started calling the "dummy stance", as it's a great way to get bowled over.

This isn't how we teach it, and you shouldn't, either.

We begin by teaching our students to step forward with the same foot as the hand making the initial strike.  Thus, in single Sinawali (high-low), the initial strike is with the right hand, step forward with the right foot. When you strike with the left hand, step with the left foot, and back and forth.

Once they are good at that, then they start moving around - they do the footwork basically the same way, which is weapon foot forward.

Over time, they can move in and out,  stepping to the right and left, circling... again, getting all the benefits of high repetition at a good speed.

This is the basic footwork - there's others that we do for other reasons - but the reason we emphasize weapon foot forward is that it's a reach advantage (you gain several inches when you're weapon foot forward) and we teach the principle that it's safest to keep your weapon between you and your opponent's weapon.

If you have ONE good habit with footwork, we really want you to have this one.


Finally, one reason Sinawali is generally taught very early in ones training in Arnis is the need for students to get past their fear of the weapon.  Respect is one thing we should all have, but fear is something else.

You cannot do any weapons based art and be afraid of the weapon.  You just can't.

And now I'm going to do my unicorn impression!

Look, nobody wants to get hit - or hit someone - with the weapon in a training environment.  Yes, it hurts when you get clocked with the stick, or smashed on the hand, or poked in the face.  The fear of it happening is instinctive and realistic and honest, and it takes time (and trust) to conquer the fear.

Sinawali is one safe way for students to get used to having sticks coming at them, and to gain confidence that they can block them. There are, of course, other drills for this, but Sinawali is a simple introduction to getting used to handling and blocking weapons.

One more thing about the fear of weapons - which is really the fear of getting hurt.

Truly, most of the weapons-based injuries I've had (and I've had many) has taught me one thing: the fear of the injury is worse, in many ways, that the injury itself.  That's especially true with strikes to the hand - it hurts, but not as bad as you're afraid it will.

I know it sounds crazy, but it's true. Once you get past your first "purple knuckle", you'll see.

If you've dropped working on Sinawali because you didn't see the purpose, I hope you'll give it a second look.  Work on range, work on targeting, work on chambering, work on footwork, and above all, work on getting used to weapons coming at your head.

Oh, there's one more benefit I should mention... IT'S FUN! There's nothing like the smell of burning rattan when you get working Sinawali, I tells ya!

Did I miss a benefit to training Sinawali? What are some of your favorite Sinawali patterns? Let us know what you think!

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