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Principle and Practice Part 2

If you read the first article in this series, you will know that one of the reasons I am studying Kalis Ilustrisimo, is that its structure and techniques define it as a truly blade-oriented art.

It’s not that other Filipino arts lack blade techniques, but that continual practise with sticks, rather than swords, inevitably alters the training and execution of both defences and attacks.  Often this happens as an imperceptible, creeping process so that even long-experienced (I’m one of the earliest generation of those studying Filipino fighting arts in the U.K.) practitioners can find themselves giving instruction that plainly describes a blade technique, but demonstrating it with a subtly, but still different, striking technique.  I know that I have certainly caught myself doing exactly this over my many years of teaching and studying.

There’s an old martial art maxim: you fight how you train, an expression my own student’s are almost certainly sick to death of hearing!  In my own art, Munen Muso Ryu, there is a strong emphasis on understanding the methodology of training, and so I naturally view this as significant, as does my teacher in Kalis Ilustrisimo Repeticion Orihinal, or KIRO, Guro Shamim Haque. 

Most Eskrima/Kalis/Arnis systems, for instance, drill espada y daga (sword and dagger) as one of the basic weapon configurations, usually after training in solo baston and sinawali or doble baston/dos bastones.  However, a careful examination of the technical performance of this combination reveals these drills and practices to actually be olisi y palad – that is, stick and knife.  Does this necessarily diminish the usefulness of this practise or render the techniques less valid?  Of course not; there are core lessons to be learned at the level of principle in the use of the long and short weapons, and striking weapons are a great deal easier to source at a moment’s notice. 

Nonetheless, when training for the use of, and defence against, the blade it is vital not to fool oneself – the blade is just too unforgiving.    There is no doubt that stick techniques can be formidable, even as a counter to the blade, but the latter represents a truly worst possible scenario, with the possible exception of automatic weapons.  I tell my students that some individuals can really take a hit, but regardless of how tough or conditioned you are, you can’t take a good stabbing or slashing.  In Ilustrisimo therefore, we are self-consciously practising blade techniques even when the tool we are using is a rattan baston.  To be touched by a sharp blade is to be injured, so to respect the power of the blade, it’s important to be particularly vigilant and effective in defence, and to utilise the full power of the technology the blade design represents for counter-aggression.

The technique/principle known as abaniko is a fine example of the differences in technique and mechanics when wielding a stick as against a sword.  As a stick technique it is performed as a double-strike to either side of a target, whether small or large, both strikes travelling in an arc in the same plane then, rebounding to the other side.  For a striking technique this represents an efficient and clever use of the energy in the recoil of the first impact.


Above: Stick application of Abaniko (fan strike): Hitting side to side


The sword version of abanko is delivered in broadly the same manner, except the two cuts are not in the same plane, requiring less isolation and rotation of the wrist but allowing more follow-through.  When performed as a cutting technique, the mechanics are less ‘wristy’; because a blade need not strike with equal force to that of an impact weapon in order to do equal damage.  This is just as well, given the typical weight of a Filipino sword of any design; I worked with blades of European design when young and they tend to be considerably lighter. 


Ready Position:                                        Counter and Abaniko to body:       Abaniko to head:


We do however utilise a combination stroke that appears very similar to the classical stick abaniko, called doblete.  This is composed of a vertical (upward) stroke that pushes forward into the target, and a short, downward stroke, bagsak that utilises the mass of the weapon, weapon arm and whole body dropping, powered by gravitational acceleration and a small amount of arm motion.  Like abaniko, this double technique is performed at speed and the transition is immediate without pause.

In KIRO, espada y daga training emphasises a pretty aggressive deployment of the short blade, more generally used – as it is in most European fencing systems also –as a ‘shield’ weapon.  Generally speaking, in olisi y palad usage, the stick is used to forcefully deflect the opponent’s weapons to open a clear line of sight so the knife can then make a committed thrust or strike.  Using the pinuti (a single-edged sword) in KIRO, the daga tends to be deployed simultaneously, but separately in a counter, or occasionally as a supplementary ‘paired’ movement against particularly strong attacks.  The daga is as likely to form the defence or the attack when used in simultaneous parry or block-counter combinations, but this versatility of role is a luxury afforded by the fact that the longer weapon is a sword and not a baton.

In the previous article I mentioned that there isn’t the same wide range of disarming techniques in Ilustrisimo as in most other Filipino systems, and this is predicated by the awareness of the danger inherent in attempting to take a blade, rather than a stick or club, from one’s opponent.  However, the main disarm we do use is called saplit, and it is in the espada y daga phase of training that it is most generally used.  Essentially, saplit is similar in structure to the gunting (scissor movement) used commonly in both daga and panantukan (boxing) training.  A combination of a push/pull and slapping action, saplit isolates usually the wrist – though it might also target the elbow – of the weapon-bearing arm and the weapon itself, directly levering the weapon against the isolated and immobilised joint.  This is usually performed by the defender with his weapons providing the leverage out in front of his or her body.  Executing the disarm in this manner reduces the degree of commitment by the defender – should his or her weapons slip from their points of contact and the disarming opportunity lost, then it is a simple matter to turn the failed disarm into a committed counter.  

Saplit can also be done using the triceps of the arm trapping the opponent’s weapon across the body, allowing the disarm to be effected by a simple turn of the torso and leaving the defender’s weapons free to simultaneously wreak further damage to the attacker.  Again, the defender is not over-committed as the hands do not need to release a grip in order to cope with an imperfectly performed technique.  When saplit is done in this manner, the capturing arm is usually delivering a cut at the same moment as applying the lever to the attacker’s weapon arm.

In the next article, we’ll explore the structure of the training methodology we favour in KIRO and why we do things as we do.