Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Two Ends Of The Same Stick

 The stick, or baston, is probably the item most often associated with Filipino martial arts.  So much so, in fact, that many beginners and laymen think FMA is really just "stickfighting" and fail to grasp the comprehensive depth of the what FMA systems encompass.  Still others fail to realize the dual purpose the baston occupies in FMA training.

Very often we are told that FMA are blade-based arts.  This is truly the case since when we study the daga we know that our flow is the same as our empty hands/kadena de mano.  In fact, it must be said that kadena de mano derives from the blade, and not vice versa.  Thus, good traditional flow in kadena de mano visualizes a blade in the hand of the practitioner.  As an example, the gunting we deliver in kadena de mano mirror almost exactly the gunting we deliver with the daga in daga y daga training.  The daga came first and was adapted to the empty hand application.  It is important to bear this in mind.

With the baston, we go one step further.  We must train the baston in two distinct ways:

1) Baston as Blade Proxy
Here we use the baston as a proxy for any medium-length blade such as a barong, kris, ginunting, or the like.  The movements of the baston are flowing, and energy is generated mainly by the turn of the hips.  We rely on smooth motion and flowing mechanics, since very little impact power is needed for the blade edge to cut.  Similarly, we are concerned with the location of the "imaginary edge" on the baston, since we are using it as a proxy for the blade.  For beginners this is often done by extending the thumb along the body of the stick (something you would not do in live combat) in order to remember where the edge would be if it were a blade.  In the Japanese sword arts, students often use wooden (bokken) or bamboo (shinai) swords as proxy for the live katana, with various training benefits associated with each.

2) Baston as Baston
Here we appeciate the baston's utility as an impact weapon.  We see many uses of the baston for locking and choking (which arguably can also be done to horrific effect with edged weapons such as the barong, but that is not the point here).  The power generation for these techniques includes not only the hip rotation, but also the strength of the wrists, especially for staccato movements like abanico.  In this style, we want to have a snapping feeling in the stick, and concentrate striking power on the ends of the stick, rather than along the body, as we would with a blade.  The wrist power "flicking" motion is of far less value using a blade, and is a movement exclusively associated with impact weapons.  With the blade, this "hacking" movement would be considered poor application and beginners are frequently corrected on it. 

In training, the baston (and foam sticks) allow for different levels of contact with the partner, and can greatly improve focus and timing.  These help avoid injury during the training, especially for beginners, and are an important tool for developing spatial awareness with the blade.  So, too, the steel blades are important at some point to develop the reality of the techniques, but sharp steel training should wait until the students has high comfort with all other forms (foam, wood, unsharpened metal). 

Make no mistake, in a fight the baston as an impact weapon is every bit as deadly as the edged counterpart - it is just that the application has different mechanics than the blade.
These must be trained accordingly.  When training, it is important to practice both styles - visualization of the baston as an edged weapon, and use of the baston as an impact weapon.  They are different, and you should operate them differently to make the most of your practice.

See you in class.

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