Saturday, July 17, 2010

Playing with Improvised Weapons

As a senior black belt, sometimes I want to do something creative in my training, something that stimulates the brain, something that makes me look at an analyze techniques I've practiced for years in an entirely different way. One way to do this is by playing with improvised weapons.

You can take any single item that you might carry with you or have on you in an defensive situation then try to use it in a way that enhances weaponless techniques you've learned.

At the orange belt level in our style of Jiu-jitsu, we introduce the concept of the yawara. In training, it is simply a short stick about 3/4 of an inch thick and about the length of a pen. But this item in theory need not only be a stick. It could be anything that is a similar size and structure, like a pen, small hair brush, a mascara container, etc. Students are taught a variety of strikes with the yawara and are encourage to improvise defenses that incorporate its use. At first, the focus is on more practical techniques involving strikes and simpler movements. Later, as students progress through the belt levels, they are encouraged to use the yawara to enhance joint locks, throws, etc.

When I get on the mats to train rather than teach, occasionally I'll pick out a random item and improvise defenses that incorporate that item. This week, I think I'll experiment a bit with the cane, which could also be a cane umbrella which is an item I sometimes carry on me. I have no formal training in the use of the cane, other than a few random techniques I was shown over the years, but that just makes my play time all the more creative and fun.

How about you? Do you incorporate improvised weapons into your training?


Anonymous said...

As for the cane: it’s very similar to a hanbo so basic striking and blocking techniques remain the same, it does have the added advantage of the hook so this does widen your options (hook the leg and pull him off-balance, hook the nek to throw or hook his groin to make him regret he ever laid his hands on you). I was introduced to the hanbo fairly recently and unfortunately we don’t really have a formal curriculum yet so I’m pretty much on my own here. Last training with sensei I was told he expects demonstration with the cane based on both Japanese (used as hanbo or in sword grip) and Filipino methods (cane used as stick): “throw in some abenico, flowering, sumbrada and segung and/or panasut”… Man, I really need to study escrima because half of the time I don’t understand what he’s saying. That’s the difference between years of training in the FMA and a few months of haphazard instruction.

It does surprise me you’re introducing weapons as early as orange belt: in a way it does make sense but in our dojo it’s only expected from shodan. Unarmed defenses against knife and stick are expected from blue belt on, brown covers firearm disarms and basic defensive use of stick and knife and black is kubotan and locking techniques with various weapons. How’s the progression in your style? I’d really like to sneek a peak at your curriculum but I know it’s not something that’s shared with just anybody.


PS: where does your yawara-system come from? (Japanese styles, Filipino…)

Anonymous said...

It’s certainly good practice to take everyday items and experiment with them to see what’s possible, what would make sense and what is plain awkward given the characteristics of the object. As you mentioned you’d need a certain amount of experience to make this exercise meaningful. personally I think at least basic proficiency with bona fide or regular weapons is needed to accomplish this since it is a fact weapons are foreign objects so to speak and in spite of all the talk of the weapon as a mere extention of the hand: unarmed you wouldn’t use the figure 8 striking patterns common in stick arts, the distance is completely different, absorbing blows becomes fairly dangerous (covering up as in boxing becomes suicidal when weapons are involved) and footwork is even more important.

For my test I’m required to show proficiency with the kobutan or yawara: blocking strikes, kicks and weapons and counterattacking and performing locks and throws on grabs, chokes and body locks. Our methodology is largely derived from the Filipino art of the dulo (or dulo dulo) and its cousin arts panantukan or Filipino boxing: strike the limbs to severly hamper his defensive efforts (I can testify this works: once when I was training with sensei he struck my biceps with the dulo and I had difficulty moving it for minutes after) and only then attack the body or head. The dulo or yaware is a great self-defense weapon: it’s legal, it’s easy to hide and it packs a lot of punch for such a small object. If you attach it to a keychain it offers even more possibilies (e.g flailing the keys in the assailant’s eyes) and if you attach a small lightsource it’s an even more potent combination since it can be used to illuminate the surroundings and scout for hidden enemies or alternatively blinding them before a strike. In contrast to the stick it’s rather easy to use and I believe the basis can be taught in only a few hours. For women and smaller men or boys it’s a great equalizer and if you attach it to your keychain you’re pretty much garanteed to have it on you at all times. One of the most interesting characteristics is that the size and shape makes it excellent for attacking nerve points and in sharp contrast to the knife it’s not meant to kill or greatly injure the opponent, not unless you really want it to and know where to strike. The basic striking patterns can be applied to virtually any object of similar size (pen, glass, cellphone) so it’s a great way to introduce improvised weapons to novice students. The pocket stick does seem to be taking the martial arts world by storm, at least in the self defense orientated segment: in a krav maga training session we were shown a number of very interesting exercises involving the use of a bottle (plastic for training of course) against a knife: hit the hand to disarm, smash the bottle in his face and finish with a strike to the knife (which would be quite lethal since it would involve using the sharp end of the now broken bottle)… I don’t think it’d go that far in reality (probably substitute the strike to the neck with a kick to the knee) but the instructor was a pretty sadistic bastard and krav maga is not for wussies. ...

Anonymous said...

After a weapons lesson, I asked one of my instructors, "So should we be cultivating a mindset of constantly looking around and thinking how we could possibly use the everyday items in our environments as weapons?" His response: "Why? Just *have* the actual weapon." So I carry my knives, I have a little metal tube on my keychain, I have a baseball bat in my car, etc.

Lori O'Connell said...

I believe our yawara system originated from Japanese styles but has police influence as well.

In my dojo, I start by teaching disarms of smaller, blunt weapons (i.e. bottles) at the green belt level. The next level covers defense against a club, the next level after that covers defense against a 2-handed club. After that, it's knife and gun defense. That being said, because of commonality of techniques, all the defenses against various weapons are very similar so when you start learning punch defense at the orange belt level, you're learning the foundation/principles that are used in all the weapon disarms.

As for carrying weapons, the heads of our style encourage carrying things on our person that can be used as a weapon of opportunity. Things like pens, a solid, arm-length ice scraper in a car, a solid umbrella, something that makes sense to us and our lifestyle and can be easily accessible in an emergency.

Anonymous said...

Weapon defenses do share similarities, however much depends on the distance and the nature of the weapon: short (knife, bottle, ashtray, pocket stick), medium (stick and derivatives) and long range (any two handed weapon) and firearms. The general principle is to always close the distance in order to negate his weapon advantage and control the weapon arm while delivering incapacitating strikes, what you do after that is fairly unimportant aslong as you retrieve the weapon. Knife and short impact defenses are identical (at least to me) since they both occur in short range and follow the same angles. The only difference is that with a knife there’s much less room for error and you must follow his energy or you’ll be cut badly. You also can’t afford to lose track of his weapon hand which is less of an issue with a bottle since he needs room to properly swing it.

What exactly do you mean by ‘two handed club’? Does this refer to a baseball bat or a staff? Personally I’ve never seen any good unarmed defenses against a jo or bo, other than rolling away from it. Defense against a baseball bat is virtually the same as a standard stick: in fact it’s even easier since his two hands are occupied and it’s harder to recover from a missed blow. Unless it’s a staff I’m not quite sure why you’d put the two handed club higher on the curriculum than the stick, at least when the standard is degree of difficulty.What I’d like to put into my own curriculum is defense against strikes with a barstool or a chair: these are impromptu weapons frequently used in barfights and while quite easy to deal with you still need to train them once in a while. A friend of my brother was hit on the head with one (all metal too, luckily he survived the assault) during a common argument in a local bar so it does happen and if you get blind sighted you could get hurt pretty badly. Another thing to practice dealing with would be thrown objects: while the odds of getting a bunch of shuriken lobbed at you are slim to none ashtrays or pints are fair game in a barfight and you’d better have some experience ducking them (whatever you do put up a boxing cover to protect your head, throat and eyes) when the shit hits the fan. This is commonly practiced in koryu JJ schools and what applies to shuriken most certainly applies to virtually any thrown object. Now we just have to find a use for those sword vs bow applications and the old arts are as practical as you can get. Maybe this would be an idea for the next Matrix movie: katana vs submachine gun?


Lori O'Connell said...

Thanks for your comments, Zara. You've given me an excellent idea for my next blog. I'll be covering the commonality of technique between various weapons that are used to strike or stab a person.

As for the two-handed club, it's basically a baseball bat or other similar implements. While the technique for closing is similar, if the distancing is mis-timed the results can be much more damaging due to the heaviness and follow-through. Because of this, the psychology of the person on the receiving end is different. People tend to fear being hit with a baseball bat more than being hit with a shorter stick. This can lead to hesitation that ends in disastrous results.

If people already have the confidence from having trained with shorter, lighter weapons though, they tend to do better when the heavy 2-handed club like weapons are introduced.

Anonymous said...

You’re welcome, I’m looking forward to the next blog. I see why you’d put the baseball bat later: at first I thought it was rather redundant to teach stick and baseball bat as separate weapons (or knife and bottle for that matter: if you can defend one you can pretty much defend the other) but now I see it’s probably easier for students in terms of pressure so there definitely is something to it. What do you think about the chair idea? As far as weapons are concerned they’re about as easy as they come since a chair or barstool is large and cumbersome but it’s also true that what you don’t train against will probably get you. Realistically speaking for most people what they’ll likely face, if weapons are involved, are bottles and chairs and the like and not usually knives (let alone double edged combat knives) or rattan sticks, let alone handguns (at least not western Europe). Baseball bats are a remote possibility (perhaps more so in North America since I understand baseball is quite popular there) but they’re more of a criminal’s and gangbanger’s weapon than something used in heated debate or domestic disturbance and as an honest citizen minding your own business you’re not likely to face someone swinging one at you. I don’t know how you’d deal with it but if I had the room I’d let him miss on his first strike and rush in before he has time to load up for the second. That is one of the reasons why I consider a common stick the more dangerous weapon: stick strikes are much quicker, it can be used to fake quite easily (something that’s virtually impossible with a bat due to the weight imbalance) and it can change direction fairly quickly (abenico or fan techniques: not as quick as a knife obviously but quick enough to deceive and get around a guard). In effect (i.e getting hit) sticks and bats are about as dangerous: while it’s true the bat will pack more of a whallop with one blow a stick strike aimed at the right place can be just as fatal and for the time it takes to swing once with a bat you can hit someone 5 to 6 times with a stick (at minimum), dealing cumulative damage. In any case and with any weapon you either avoid or you rush in and commit yourself fully (especially against fully committed strikes which are what we train against since defense against trained knife or stick fighters is a) very difficult and b) more suited to escrima training): hesitating is usually fatal and once you’ve taken the first blow it’s usually game over since he’ll just follow up with more attacks and your defensive capabilities (as well as your mental balance) will be severly compromised.

If I have to teach weapon defenses I think I’ll take your approach to the subject: first bottles, then chairs, then sticks, then bats, knives and guns. The end goal is to make students proficient in these techniques and whatever serves that goal is fine by me. For all practical purposes certain weapons maybe the same (we start knife defense training quite early in our dojo and we don’t practice defense against bottles) but if it helps people psychology wise to split them up and it accelerates their learning curve than it’s a good idea and I’ll try it.

Thanks for the exchange of thought,


Lori O'Connell said...

I like the idea of the chairs. It's an interesting thought. I'll have to consider it further. Thanks Zara!

Journeyman said...

I can't tell you the amount of pain and fun we've had training with improvised weapons. Some items we've used are canes (one of my favorites), the yawara, of course, pens, flashlights, sticks, leather jackets, lengths of rope and binders to name a few.

I've enjoyed reading the comments. My opinion on weapons is that there must be the commonality of technique. They are an extension of what you already know, to be used to make a technique easier and/or more effective.

From my own experience in Kali and Escrima, weapons techniques were taught first, open hand later, an opposite of many Japanese arts. The point? The techniques were the same and worked armed or unarmed.

I remember once learning some random weapons techniques that were significantly different from my normal training. When the stress was on in training and attacks were coming my way, I actually dropped my weapon because it felt 'in the way' and reverted to my unarmed techniques. Now I use weapons as an extension of myself. They become part of me as opposed to a foreign object.

There are more and more people with weapons these days. Training with improvised weapons should be part of every martial artist's training.

Great post.

Lori O'Connell said...

Journeyman, I feel the same way. The techniques should have commonality. Of course, each weapon lends itself to minor variations in use, but ultimately they should all come from a fairly similar base wherever possible.

Thanks for your comments! :)