December 2012

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by Raymond Horwitz, partially adapted from a Black Belt article by Robert W. Young

Julius_Melegrito_sticks_150px-OPTIn this exclusive look behind the scenes during a kali sticks photo shoot featuring Black Belt Hall of Fame member Julius Melegrito, you’ll learn how to engage a single-stick combatant and disarm him quickly and definitively. The technique is direct and focused, which fits with the approach classical approach to combat with Filipino fighting sticks.

“Your whole purpose in classical Filipino stick fighting is to hit your opponent until he’s out of the fight,” Melegrito explains. “In practice, you use your stick to his stick as close to his gripping hand as you can manage while staying safe, but in a real fight, you’d hit the hand. It usually makes him drop the weapon. Of course, in a fight, an attempt to hit his hand might miss, which is why you must practice follow-ups.”

KALI STICKS VIDEO Filipino Fighting Sticks Master Julius Melegrito Shows You an Effective Single-Stick Disarm

Follow-Ups in Fighting With Kali Sticks

Julius Melegrito’s approach to follow-ups involves using an empty hand — assuming, of course, that the opponent is not holding a second stick — to check the opponent’s hand right after it’s hit.

This move serves as “insurance” in Melegrito’s take on fighting with kali sticks: If the strike doesn’t work, he can prevent his opponent from bringing the weapons hand back into action. The Filipino fighting sticks instructor then has the option of immediately following up with a stick strike to the forearm, elbow, face, neck or some other available target.

A Modern Approach to Fighting With Kali Sticks

“In the modern arts, it’s OK to touch the stick,” Julius Melegrito says. “When the guy swings at you, you intercept his strike with a strike from your stick — aimed at his hand — then you grab his weapon close to his hand if he doesn’t drop it. Grabbing it allows you to use it against him or take it away.”

Part of the modern methodology for fighting with kali sticks is separating your opponent from his weapon, Melegrito explains. You can hit the hand holding the stick with the intention of making him drop it. You can also leverage it out of his hand using a twisting motion. Or you can use your stick to push his stick out of his hand in such a way that it goes flying!

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by Eric Oram and Robert W. Young
Photography by Rick Hustead | Lead photo provided courtesy of William Cheung

William_Cheung_wing_chun_wooden_dummy_1981_150px-OPT“I fear not the man who practices 10,000 techniques once, but the man who practices one technique 10,000 times holds my respect.”

The gist of that old Chinese saying is obvious: The key to reaching the highest levels of any martial art is practice. Only by executing thousands of repetitions of your style’s blocks, kicks and strikes will you be able to use your strategies and techniques in a natural and spontaneous way. Without that kind of preparation, in a fight you’ll be forced to think about what you should do next when you ought to be doing it.

Traditional wing chun kung fu instructors address the need for practice by emphasizing to their students the importance of developing their reflexes. They stipulate, however, that you cannot rely on just any set of repeated movements to hone your ability to defend yourself. To ensure that you respond with optimal timing, balance and accuracy, you need to learn the lessons of the wooden dummy and integrate it into your wing chun training.

Enter the Wooden Dummy

For more than two millennia, the fighting monks of China’s Shaolin Temple have used clever training devices to supplement their martial arts education. Legends tell that the old southern Shaolin Temple in Fujian province featured a unique collection of man-made warriors.

William_Cheung_wooden_dummy-150px-OPT1“There was a corridor that consisted of 108 wooden dummies representing 108 different attacking techniques,” says wing chun training expert and Black Belt Hall of Fame member William Cheung. “The monks would move down the hall and practice their defenses and counterattacks on them.”

After the Manchus razed the temple three centuries ago, one of the few surviving masters, a nun named Ng Mui, constructed a training device based on the principles of those dummies. “The positioning of the three arms and one leg of the wooden dummy was designed for 108 specific techniques parallel to the 108 techniques performed on the original dummies,” William Cheung says.

In the old days, dummies were built using a large central trunk — sometimes as long as 9 feet — with a tapered bottom, he continues. “A hole would be dug in the ground, and the dummy would be buried about three feet or four feet deep with gravel packed around it,” William Cheung explains. “The gravel would give way slightly when the wooden dummy was struck in order to soften the practitioner’s contact point.”

In traditional Shaolin kung fu, hard contact with a training dummy was used to condition the practitioner’s arms in preparation for combat. Although some martial artists still aim for that goal, wing chun training does not focus on making direct contact with the device’s wooden appendages. Instead, it uses the dummy to instill the ability to deflect or release an opponent’s force. This principle is particularly important for people who must fend off a larger or stronger assailant or who simply wish to employ a more efficient and fluid method of defense.

Wooden-dummy workouts help you develop all the attributes needed to actualize wing chun’s avoid-using-force-against-force principle: correct angle (of deflection), balance, accuracy, timing, mobility, positioning, speed, flow and power. But the training also endows you with numerous other skills and abilities.

Perhaps the most obvious is toughness. “Because wing chun uses the palms and forearms to block kicks — for example, the rolling block and the cross-arm block — it’s necessary to toughen these weapons, and that’s what wooden-dummy training does,” William Cheung says.

Wooden-Warrior-285x285Even though the dummy is an inanimate object, it can still help you polish your visual and contact reflexes during wing chun training. It does so by teaching you how to execute blocks and strikes in concert with each other, thus making them almost simultaneous parry-and-counter combinations. Just before you execute your counterstrike, there’s a moment of contact when your parry deflects the incoming blow — or the arm of the wooden dummy that represents the limb of the assailant. This contact is your cue to unleash your strike. To an observer, however, your full-speed block and strike appear to arrive simultaneously.

Over time, making contact with the dummy becomes your trigger to launch a counterattack. The result is the development of your contact reflexes, which constitute an essential element of real-world combat proficiency.

Using the wooden dummy in your wing chun training also builds your visual reflexes. It requires a little more imagination and focus than does the sharpening of your contact reflexes, however, for you must pretend not to know what comes next in the form you’re doing. By allowing yourself to be surprised by the next strike, you force your eyes to visually lock onto your wooden opponent before following up.

Stay Safe During Wooden-Dummy Training

Because wooden dummies are usually made of teak, it’s essential to practice all your offensive and defensive moves slowly and softly at first to minimize the impacts your body is forced to absorb. Then, as your accuracy and technique improve, you can put more energy and intention into it.

“In wooden-dummy training, the blocking areas of the arms are the palms and the inside and outside of the forearms,” wing chun training master William Cheung says. “With the lower extremities, it’s the outside and inside of the legs just below the knees.”

Whichever body part you use to make contact, care must be taken to minimize the impact between your body and the wooden dummy — especially your bones and pressure points.

“When striking with the hands, your primary weapons are the heel of the palm, the side of the palm, the knuckles and the phoenix knuckles,” William Cheung explains. “With the feet, the ball of the foot, the side of the foot and the heel are used. If the wooden dummy is adequately padded, the elbows and knees can be trained, as well. However, without proper padding, serious injury to the arms and legs may result.”

Always remember that the deflection of the incoming force is your goal. You are not out to meet an opposing force head-on. According to William Cheung, if you take pains to implement that principle before you try to gradually build your speed and power, you’ll heighten your ability to deflect while reducing the risk of injury.

“Beginners can benefit from the wooden dummy without unnecessary risk of injury as long as they are patient and cautious during the early stages of their training,” William Cheung says. “The key is to make light contact until the body is sufficiently conditioned.”

The ultimate goal of wooden-dummy training is the establishment of a good basic skill set you can tap into when you train with a live partner. That will enable you to respond with the right movements and principles without undue thought. Then, no matter where your martial arts journey may lead, you’ll be as prepared as you can be to handle any contingency that emerges — with an old wooden friend as your guide.

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by Raymond Horwitz and Bram Frank
Photo by Robert Reiff

Bram_Frank_150px-OPTBram Frank was inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame in 2007 as Weapons Instructor of the Year in recognition of a career that’s spanned hung gar and wing chun kung fu, as well as jeet kune do, hapkido, jujitsu, shuri goju-ryu and aikido — not to mention exemplary proficiency in the practice and teaching of knife-fighting techniques.

A disciple of the late Remy Presas, Bram Frank has trained in numerous Philippine fighting arts and designed blades for Spyderco and other companies. Bram Frank has also created his own knife-fighting system, which has proved popular in, among other places, Israel, where they know a thing or two about close combat.

In this exclusive knife-fighting techniques video, Bram Frank demonstrates a variety of concepts and practices — including left-handed knife fighting!

ADVANCED KNIFE COMBAT VIDEO Join Bram Frank for a Mini-Seminar on Knife Combat Theory and Techniques!

Things to Remember

Bram Frank recommends keeping these concepts in mind as part of your training in knife-fighting techniques:

  • One of the most important teachings of the Philippine martial arts is “defanging the snake.” Also known as attacking your opponent’s weapon hand, it’s designed to destroy his ability to hold his knife.
  • When you use knife-fighting techniques to attack your opponent’s weapon hand, you eliminate the threat posed by the weapon. It’s relatively simple to do — fingers are easily damaged.
  • Often, the opponent’s hand is the easiest part of his body to reach during knife-fighting techniques. After all, when he’s holding a knife, chances are he’s extending it toward you.
  • In a life-or-death struggle, it’s a perfectly valid strategy to cut the inside of the adversary’s arms. In fact, it’s the most effective cut you can do during knife-fighting techniques. Eliminate the flexors, and your opponent has no ability to hold anything — including a weapon.
  • To guarantee the effectiveness of a cut to the outside of the arm, slice up to the biceps or down to the thumb.
  • Adhesion makes cutting effective. Cut and stick to the cut. Steel seeks flesh.
  • Lead with the edge of your weapon; thrust and rip with the tip. Keep the edge on the opponent.

  • Disengage by cutting through the enemy. Retreat with your body, not with your steel.
  • Strive to eliminate your adversary’s mobility. If you hamper his ability to maneuver, you remove the danger.
  • Aim once, cut twice. Now cut again. Cut one more time just to be safe.
  • Shoulders, especially the deltoid muscles, make easy targets. No deltoid means no arm mobility.
  • If the opponent’s blade is high, your blade is high. If his blade is low, your blade is low. In jeet kune do, it’s the intercepting fist; in knife fighting, it’s the intercepting blade.
  • Stabbing is for screwdrivers, shanks and ice picks. Knives are for cutting and thrusting.
  • Cutting takes no strength. Always cut with fluidity and intent. The longer the edge is in contact, the deeper the cut.
  • If your body is out of reach for your opponent, his weapon hand may be in range for you. Cut it.
  • Knife combat (or any form of edged-weapons combat, for that matter) is never the same twice. To maximize your chance of prevailing, hone your attributes (the skills you need for self-defense), your footwork (how you position and move your feet and legs), your timing (how you react within the motion of combat, using the full beat and half-beat), your concept of distance and range (gauging how far away your opponent is and determining which tools and techniques are best for that range) and defanging the snake.
  • The preferred way to develop all those attributes and abilities is to spar. Sparring with training weapons is the best way to safely practice combat.
  • Each sparring session should be 95-percent soft and 5-percent hard. If you go hard all the time, your attempts at attribute development will fade into chaos. Gross-motor skills will prevail, and fine-motor skills will be lost. In contrast, soft sparring locks in the fine-motor skills you need so they can be used in the 5 percent of your sparring that’s considered hard.

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by the Black Belt Editors

Think of a martial arts weapon — what do you see? A pair of nunchaku, a flashing blade, a Chinese spear?

Chances are, you didn’t think of karate weapons like the tonfa. The tonfa hasn’t been gIamorized in films, and it’s one of the less dramatic of the better-known karate weapons. Yet these ancient karate weapons are well-established in the art of kobudo (weapons use).

In application and training, the tonfa provides a vital link between kobudo and karate.

“Kobudo and karate are like the two wheels of a bicycle. They are separate, but they work according to the same principles. To be useful, they have to work together,” says karate weapons and karate techniques expert Fumio Demura, an instructor of both arts who teaches the use of the tonfa.

Fumio Demura holds advanced-dan rankings in kobudo and karate; he has trained in kendo and iaido; he was the All-Japan karate champion in 1961 and a Black Belt Hall of Fame inductee in 1969 and 1975. He sums up his perspective on the tonfa as follows: “lt doesn‘t have the popularity of the nunchaku, the sai or the bo. But I’m sure this is only temporary because the tonfa is an important weapon in kobudo. lt’s a very effective weapon for fighting and extremely valuable in training, as well.”

How the Tonfa Became One of the Most Versatile Karate Weapons

The tonfa originally did not exist amid the world of karate weapons but rather was an agricultural implement common throughout Eastern Asia. It was the “handle” by which a millstone was turned, so its basic, functional shape was repeated independently in many areas. The long, heavy end of the tonfa (or tui-fa, as it was also called) was fitted into a hole in the side of the millstone, and the smaller, handle end of the tool was used to turn the stone to grind rice.

It was in Okinawa that the tonfa first developed into full-fledged karate weapons. The Ryukyu Island chain (of which Okinawa is the largest island) has always suffered a dearth of workable metal, leading the inhabitants to experiment with various kinds of wooden implements.

During the 17th century, the islands were conquered by the Japanese. The invaders forbade native Okinawans to carry weapons — which made spear guns, swords and other “ordinary” weapons that much more difficult to obtain. Even empty-hand combat training was outlawed for a time in the interest of subduing the populace.

In response, the people of Okinawa developed new weapons — weapons that could be disguised as innocent tools. The tonfa was one of these early karate weapons. Any fairly large farm was likely to have a number of millstone handles available, so they could easily be explained away as tools of the trade (in case some Japanese soldier got curious).

On the other hand, the tonfa could — with training in the karate techniques of early Okinawa — easily be put to deadly use.

In those days, the tonfa was simply a convenient, hard and rather sophisticated club, used for striking or throwing. The farmer, trying to defend his fields or his family from occupation forces, might have carried three or four tonfa so he could throw some of these karate weapons at his enemy from a distance while remaining prepared for close battle.

Karate Weapons Today: How the Tonfa Figures Into Karate Techniques

Today, while there is no hard-and-fast rule, the art of kobudo generally uses two tonfa — one in each hand.

The powerful blocks and the straight, penetrating blows of karate all are strengthened by the tonfa, which can be used in simple adaptation of empty-hand techniques. These karate weapons are held in the hand, their long ends parallel to and under the forearms.

When holding these karate weapons, each hand becomes, in effect, as hard as the solid white oak or cherry wood of which tonfa are generaly made. One can strike at an assailant with karate techniques such as the punch, using the tonfa almost like a large wooden brass knuckle.

The heavy part of the tonfa also can be whipped or swung with great velocity, simply by keeping a loose grip on the handle, using the handle as a swivel and letting the tonfa build momentum by swinging it in a circular path to strike the target.

“You can’t swing the tonfa as fast as the nunchaku,” karate techniques expert Fumio Demura says, “but remember it’s a much heavier weapon, too. Nunchaku seem almost like toys — they’re small, but their momentum gives them power. Tonfa are quite a bit heavier, so with less motion you get the same or more impact.”

Using two tonfa, swinging them both in figure-8 patterns, the defender can set up a confusing and dangerous defense with these karate weapons.

Or he can change his grip, grasping the tonfa by its long end, and use the handle to trip, strangle or apply various joint-locking techniques to an opponent. Locking techniques are not a major part of the traditional kobudo applications of the tonfa.

But with the emergence of a new, extremely effective police baton, the PR-24 (which is based on the tonfa), these techniques have become more common. (Editor’s Note: Please remember this article about Fumio Demura and the tonfa was originally published in the February 1982 issue of Black Belt.) The PR-24 — essentially a normal police baton with a handle (sometimes a swivel handle) at one end — can be used in a number of ways in police work. If the suspect seems dangerous, the traditional striking techniques of the tonfa can be employed with devastating effect. lf the suspect is less dangerous but needs to be physically arrested, the shape of the tonfa is useful for grappling and controlling moves.

“It looks simple, but really it’s a hard weapon to use proper|y,” Fumio Demura warns prospective students. Fumio Demura stresses that karate weapons in general are not for the beginner. Karate weapons depend on a solid knowledge of empty-hand karate techniques.

Karate techniques and the integration of karate weapons such as the tonfa rely on good form, good body condition, perfect control, according to Fumio Demura. Otherwise, it can be hard to tell, from the injuries and so on, whether you’re learning to defend yourself or trying to commit a ritual murder-suicide. Fumio Demura recommends at least a few years of training in karate techniques before undertaking karate weapons.

But despite the warnings from masters such as Fumio Demura, the tonfa is a superb training device. The weight and length of the weapon alone could help most people develop stronger, more focused karate techniques. And the special uses of the tonfa are ideal for strengthening the hand and the wrist, essential for power in certain types of strikes.

The Physicality of Karate Weapons: The Tonfa and the Human Body

Swinging the tonfa requires a snap of the wrist not unlike that used in the last instant of a punch.

Developing control — for which you must be able to stop the circular movement of the weapon by gripping harder on the handle — is very much a matter of hand strength. The muscles of the hand and wrist become greatly developed through training with the tonfa.

“Many people think the key to powerful hand technique is having strong, invulnerable knuckles,” says karate techniques master Fumio Demura. “So they try all kinds of conditioning methods for the knuckles. People even break their own knuckles, hoping the fist will become stronger. But the key to a strong fist is the strength of the hand and the wrist, not the knuckles at all. A backfist or a vertical fist punch should end with a strong snap of the wrist, which can be enough to send an opponent fIying.”

How Competition Training Affects Karate Techniques and the Use of Karate Weapons

Fumio Demura believes that American-style competition may discourage using the wrist in hand techniques. In full-contact competition, padded gloves and the general denigration of technique detract from proper wrist use. And in point karate the idea is to score, not to garner every last bit of power. So with a combination like this, Fumio Demura believes, it’s not surprising that use of the wrist is a little neglected in American karate. But Fumio Demura — an All-Japan karate champ and Black Belt Hall of Fame member — certainly doesn’t underrate the value of competition.

“Competition is good,” Fumio Demura says, “but it should only be about 10 percent of karate training. People who train mostly for competition are going to lose the mystery of the art, and they could miss out on technical knowledge, too.”

But training with the tonfa is a valuable accompaniment to competition training or sparring for improvement of karate techniques. Many tonfa techniques are the same as empty-hand karate techniques except that the weapon projects a few inches in front of the hand and along the length of the forearm, increasing the strength of strikes and blocks.

Training in karate techniques with this kobudo weapon not only develops the muscular strength of the hand and wrist but also aids in developing good form in karate techniques. In that sense, it is a crucial link between kobudo and karate — it accustoms the student to karate weapons while it also contributes to his empty-hand karate techniques.

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