Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Bird in the Hand

Read an article the other day about an FMA practitioner who sells Rattan sticks. He described how folks would come in, spend a while rolling the sticks, sighting along them and feeling the balance before either rejecting of buying. Everyone likes a weapon that feels good in the hand.
However, he also pointed out that back in the day, his grandfather, and Eskrimadors in general, would often just cut a weapon straight off a tree to use - adapting to whatever curvature, balance points or unevenness was naturally present.

A machete, golok, bolo, broom handle, iron pipe or tree branch all have quirks that must be felt. The recycle time is different, the grip and weakness of handle play a part, the weight of the weapon and how it's held when not in use, the weight of the tip, or the lack of a tip. The sharpness and length of the edge, or lack of edge all contribute to how it's used.

The way a weapon is used derived from what it is, and how it feels in the hand. Straightness, and good balance are a luxury. Weapons specifically designed for fighting and not for work, were generally not daily carry, so this ability to adapt to circumstance was key to being able to defend oneself.

Even for weapons specifically designed for fighting there are differences depending on manufacture, quality, personal preferences and physical size of the maker compared to the user. Style of blade shape (culture), length, weight, balance, thickness, handle length, and purpose (battlefield, skirmish or duel), etc etc.

I watched many times when Sonny was handed a gift of a new weapon - many people would bring him gifts from around the world. He'd hold it, shift his grip around the handle, test the tip weight, flourish, and start to move with it, often flowing with whoever was there at the time. I wish I had video footage of all the times to compare now, but I know each time was different depending on how the weapon felt.
Sometimes the comment after was 'Nice. I like that'. Other times a few weeks later that weapon would be transformed into something completely different.

Sonny spent much of his free time fabricating training weapons, and redesigning and altering these live blades that were given to him. He would rework the shape of the blade, change the handle, make new sheaths and essentially create works of art - eminently practical, form following function perfectly.
All the 'flaws' would be manipulated to create a weapon with perfect balance, that moved amazingly well in the hand and in space, with small design features contained in the curvatures in the blade and the handle that would become apparent when you started handling the weapon and using it for the purpose it was meant for. The thought that went into each piece was amazing .... though probably completely natural to one who could see all the possible pros and cons of each shape and alteration.
Everything you see in pictures or video footage on the walls of his living room, was reworked, or made from scratch by him.

This was also true for his Aluminium and soft style training blades - everything had great balance and the different designs he came up with, he used to teach different parts of the system.
What was amusing to me was that Sonny would always make his training blades in pairs, but because each was made by hand, the slight variation between the two would mean that he would have a favorite that he would always choose over the other. Even there, he could tell the difference between 2, ostensibly identical, blades.

So yes, given the choice, why not choose the most comfortable weapon to suit your body type, personality and context of the fight? But I guess the thing is not to get too comfortable with 'perfection', ass you must be able to adapt to anything put in your hand - an unbalanced piece of crap, a weirdly bent tree branch, an overly long broom handle or someone else's sword. A rock on a piece of string or a rolled up newspaper, a Barong, a Pinute, a Katana or a Rapier. They all have a personality, a distinct way of moving that can be used to your advantage if you learn to understand it.

If I have an ambition in training, it would be this understanding.
That would be cool.


considerphlebas said...

i printed out the weapons continuum chart from

as a guide in pursuit of this. although I think it also need a checkbox for guard/no guard and maybe for hooked.

Maija said...

Thanks for the link.
Perhaps 'curvature' would be a good generic term to cover hooks, but would also cover single curve like a katana, through some of the crazy double curves in the Filipino sword designs, to sickles, hooks and kerambits.
Also perhaps symmetry/asymmetry - Can you hold on to both ends, only one, or use each end differently?
Guard vs no guard also makes sense.
Perhaps there's more comparisons .... though I guess in the end it's more about feeling it in a kinesthetic sense than as an intellectual comparison.
Fun though :-)