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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

The (Weapons) Blind Spot

I am a Modern/Presas Arnis "native". That is, unlike most people, I did not seriously study another martial art for a long period of time before I picked up the Filipino Martial Arts. It's my FIRST style, my MAIN style, not an add-on thing.

Me & Mr. Chick training in our early Arnis days, circa 2008.

So all of my instincts - assumptions, stances, strategy, targets, etc. - are formed by Arnis, and I tend to have a weapons-first focus, in that I assume there's a weapon around, even if I can't see it.

Most of the people around me - and most of my students over the years, too - came from another martial arts style, often empty-hand. It's karate or taekwondo or judo or aikido or boxing or kempo or something like that.

One thing almost all of them have in common, so I've noticed, is a very specific blind spot that I don't have in Arnis.

That blind spot is pretty obvious, once you think about it.

So let's say I'm stick sparring or drilling with a skilled empty hand martial artist. I attack, and the empty hand guy responds.

What do you think the odds are, that the person has either trapped or incapacitated the weapon hand without being told to do so?

In my personal experience...

You see the same thing in drills. My empty-hand primary friends see the incoming weapon hand as a obstacle versus a target it its own right.

It's something to get around, versus something to attack or incapacitate.

And that makes a lot of sense in an empty-hand context.

You see, when you are empty hand and striking or kicking, you don't have to control the arm or hand once you've intercepted it and gotten it out of the way.  You deflect it somehow, then you move in to attack the torso or head, or you move in for a lock or take-down, or what have you.

The risk of that arm being a lethal problem for you is relatively small.

It's not as super important to monitor and control an empty hand attack, as it is to counter-attack to the center mass and head.

In sparring, especially point sparring, it's also not important to do much more than block or deflect empty hand strikes and kicks.  You earn points, typically, by attacking the head and torso.

You get no points for attacking the arm, so you train to attack the head and the torso.  The arm and hand is again more of a obstacle to get past versus a target in its own right.

Thus, training this way, you develop a blind spot when it comes to the arm or hand.  There's no feedback or reward or risk in your training methodology to address it as a target in its own right.

As an Arnis player, I see the arm and weapon hand as something that I have to deal with and control.  I can try "defanging the snake" (where we attack the arm in order to destroy its ability to attack) or at very least, my block of that arm better include me grabbing onto and trying to manipulate or trap or pin the arm so it can't do me any more damage.

That's because my assumption is always that there's a weapon there somewhere, and it's probably a knife, and I do not want the hand with the knife free and able to cut me.

If I guess wrong, and I attack an empty hand coming in, well, that's just some extra punishment to deliver as I work my way in to the more useful targets for an empty hand.

Of course, there's problems with our strategy, too.  It's not easy to capture a weapon hand of someone seriously trying to hurt you, especially if it's a low poking stab.  Trying to smash or slash a small, fast moving target like an arm or a hand is difficult and must be trained a LOT to get good at it.

This post isn't a knock on empty hand striking and kicking arts, I promise.  Because while I was thinking about this blind spot, I then started thinking about the blind spots in my own style, and wondering where they are and how I need to address it.

We all have blind spots!

The trick is to figure out where they are, right?

So what blind spots are you spotting in your training or in things you've seen online? What assumptions do you make that you think should be challenged?  Let me know in the comments!

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