Weapons Cross Training
by Peter James
It is evident, from the number and type of schools in Australia and the USA, that the bulk of martial artists are attracted to the empty hand aspects of the arts. Martial Arts mean at lot of different things to different people. Potential students join schools for a number of reasons. Whatever your reason, if learning a martial art for self defence is near the top of your list, then neglecting street weapons training means you are only getting half the story. The Marquis of Queensbury rules have long gone from the streets. It's a bad place if you find yourself in a bad situation. Read the papers, see how many attacks involve weapons, or start empty handed and end with a weapon. Cross training in weapons adds to your combat effectiveness, but the benefits of weapons cross training don't end there.
Weapons training is much more than self defence, martial artists can heighten their own ability in all aspects of the martial arts through cross training in street weapons.
Although self defence seems to be the first thing people say when asked "why do you learn a martial art?", it is evident that the 'self confidence' aspects attract people. Many students start in the martial arts to build confidence, and isn't that the first stage of you self defence program anyway? If they progress further into their chosen art, they begin to appreciate a great many more benefits including;
Body strength and conditioning
Maybe it was one of these elements that attracted a students in the first place. Whatever the reason, these aspects of the martial arts can be developed further through cross training with street weapons. Most importantly, cross training adds to your knowledge base. As Francis Bacon said in 1597 "Knowledge is power". However, if it is self confidence that you are looking for then it can be gained from doing something well, regardless of the activity. Empty hand or weapons martial arts will provide the self confidence you seek.
One of the initial and most powerful learning aspects of weapons training is: You can never allow yourself to be hit. Weapons training isn't a sport, and it doesn't depend on the bigger, tougher guy winning every time either. In empty hand fighting we toughen ourselves to be able to take a hit, or we accept that there is an area left exposed which can, and will take a punch, or a kick. Against a broken bottle of a pool cue, that luxury is gone. Let's take that aspect of weapons training to the empty hand training arena, how much better would your level of skill have to be to prevent anyone ever landing a hit on you?
Distance - Your ability to maintain, broaden, or close the fighting gap will improve. It has to! Your footwork and body movement for attack and evasion will also sharpen dramatically. Mobility is the key. If you think you can maintain the same fighting distance you would in an empty hand fight, you are gravely mistaken.
Timing - Any room for error has gone. Accuracy in reading the fight needs to tighten considerably, entry and exit moves need to be spot-on otherwise you will sustain potentially lethal damage.
Defence - Your accuracy in defending yourself has also changed dramatically. Throwing hands and legs out into no-mans land to intercept a blow is no longer a thoughtless task. Suddenly your defensive actions need to be accurate and effective. If you choose to stand and defend, it had better be good, having your forearm cut to the bone isn't an option.
Speed - Together with timing, is an essential component. You will have to move in or move out very quickly. Strikes need to be accurate and effective, any less and you'll just aggravate to guy with the knife. Mutual slaying is not a "win/win" situation.
These aspects of training are essential in any combat, cross training in weapons can only help improve your effectiveness in these areas.
When you face another person who is armed, and you are either armed yourself, or without a weapon, the stakes just went up. Making that conscious chose to defend yourself if you can't escape takes a certain confidence and attitude. Many people who find themselves in a fight (and I've thought it myself) think "the worst I'll get out of this is a beating", but introduce weapons and you'll be lucky to get out of it with your life. Training in street weapons, doesn't mean "taking on all comers". Having the ability to defend yourself with weapons brings with it its own responsibilities. However, it does provide you with a level of knowledge and understanding about a situation that can only work to your benefit. If you don't know what to expect when someone pulls a knife, or is armed with an iron bar, or chain, then you are one step away from disaster. Even worse, if your confidence lays in an outdated or ineffective weapons defence system, then you may not even have the sense to run away. Staying calm and in control is a combination of confidence, knowledge, and attitude. Staying calm under extreme stress is an ability you need on your side.
I read with interest the interview with Mr. Paul Vunak ,(AFA. Vol 18 No. 6). Mr. Vunak spoke about an improvement in trapping skills derived from weapons training with Mr. Dan Inosanto. The trapping and grappling skills are derived from the necessity to complete techniques safely against a weapon. In other words, if you can trap safely and effectively against an opponent with a knife it can only enhance your ability to do the same against an unarmed aggressor. Weapons training does enhance trapping and grappling skills. The Filipino martial arts are taught starting from weapons and working up to empty hand technique for that very reason. The ultimate level of Kenjutsu is being able to control a swordsman whilst unarmed. It is not something a master swordsman could learn without sword training.
Revisiting self defence, another aspect of weapons training revolves around your own ability to use real or improvised weapons in a life or death situation. So you're on the street and you've been cornered by 5 or 6 bad guys. Somehow you've managed to pick up something off the street to use in your defence. Do you know the most effective way to handle or apply that weapon? Are you more concerned about having the weapon taken off you and used against you rather than its effective application to assist your self preservation when unarmed self defence isn't the optimum option? Cross training in weapons can only benefit you if you're ever in a real bad situation, and they don't get much worse than having to deal with someone who has real intent to do you harm with a knife or a club.
In many ways weapons training mimics unarmed techniques. There are certain lines of attack which are the same regardless of what the offensive object is, be it foot, hand, stick, or broken bottle. However, in many other ways the use of weapons is not interchangeable with empty hand techniques. Specifically in the areas of handling the weapon, weapon orientation sense, body positioning and movement, distancing, and application. These differences need to be learnt, they do not come automatically to the empty hand exponent, regardless of how hard, or how long they train.
We spoke briefly about body conditioning for martial artists. For body condition training, weapons adds a new dimension. Additional weight on the arms builds muscle, adding strength and flexibility. Students who train in traditional Japanese weapons notice the benefits it has on their empty hand technique. Accuracy in performing techniques and speed are by-products of training if only due to the additional weight.
Weapons training demands a very high level of personal discipline. Things can't afford to go wrong, not even once. Students studying weapons appreciate the inherent dangers associate with training. Students need to apply strong focus to practice, and if they ever had a defensive application, that dedication and discipline may mean the difference between life and death. The very knowledge of weapons skills lifts the martial artist to a new level in society, as a warrior returning from war, they have a responsibility to the society in which they reside. This responsibility cannot be taken lightly. The men or organisation that gave them those skills are equally responsible.
Over the last two thousand years, many books have been written concerning strategy and tactics. The bulk of them have been drawn from armed encounters, serious empty hand training and fighting is less than 100 years old. To really understand the meaning in these old manuscripts, we need to put ourselves in the authors shoes. Train in weapons and understand why a master makes a statement like "students of the sword learn strategy very quickly". See it through the eyes of these long dead masters, Asian and European, who fought and died, learning their craft the hard way. Then apply those lessons to your own training.
Adding weapons to your training syllabus will change the way you look at your martial art and training. Speaking personally, weapons training has really opened my eyes to the broader word of martial arts, personal training and personal development. It has lifted me above one single style and allowed me to appreciate martial arts as a whole, to see the strong threads that bind all martial arts regardless of their origin, Asian or European. I appreciate that it is not to everyone's liking, however, there are a number of significant benefits to be gained. Even a short adventure into the weapons martial arts will at least broaden your knowledge base, and let you know what's out there on the street. With a little more dedication, weapons training can provide you with a devastating cross section of techniques and the ability, and confidence to apply them if absolutely necessary.