28 March 2017

Weapons to Empty Hand Transition in the FMA

The Filipino martial arts (FMA) are highly conceptual in nature. Understanding the underlying concepts of the FMA is the key to mastering the transition from weapon to weapon and to empty hand fighting. 

In the following excerpt from his letter published in the September, 1990 issue of Inside Kung Fu magazine, Filipino master Rene Latosa expounds on the conceptual nature of the FMA, it reads, “The key element to the Filipino arts is the concept to make transitions from weapon to weapon and to empty hand. The remarkable feat ultimately unifies the Filipino martial arts. The common denominator in the Filipino martial arts is its concepts not its techniques. My goals are to preserve my cultural heritage by not allowing the Filipino martial arts to get so convoluted with techniques that people forget the Filipino martial arts are more than just techniques.”

The most common way of translating FMA weapon techniques into empty hand applications is through the basic angles of attacks. In this scheme, you retain the angle but substitute the blade or the stick with your limbs. Take for example angle number one – a downward diagonal blow from left to right common to many FMA styles. The gist of the whole thing is it doesn’t matter whether you’re using a baseball bat, a kitchen knife or your hammer fist; a downward diagonal blow is a downward diagonal blow. It won’t take much practice to identify what empty hand technique would fit best a particular angle of attack. One could fit hooking punches and roundhouse kicks on horizontal angles and uppercuts and knee strikes on upward angles.  

Even grappling and joint locks could be learned and understood by observing how an escrimador dislodge a weapon out of his opponent’s hand. A joint lock occurs when a joint is manipulated in an unnatural way, twisting it beyond its range of motion or putting a fulcrum under it (a fulcrum could be a limb or a foreign object such as a weapon) and pulling it on the opposite direction of its natural bend. A lock can be applied on any joint – the fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck, spine, knees and ankles. Strangulation can be done using a stick or your bare forearms. Proficiency is further gained by developing the physical attributes that would make the techniques created more effective such as sensitivity, speed coordination and strength. 

Knowing the scientific basis of FMA concepts would broaden a practitioner’s option on its uses. The concept of limb destruction (commonly referred to as “defanging the snake”) for instance can be interpreted with or without weapons. Categorically, there are two ways to destroy a limb: through joint manipulation or by using strikes.

Understanding the concepts behind FMA weapon techniques is the key to translate it to empty hand applications.

Under the light of modern medical science, one would learn why the ancient Filipinos chose the limbs as primary targets. A bone shattered to pieces resulting from a blunt instrument hit poses grave threat to nearby nerves and vessels depending on the location of the break. Bone slivers can pinch and tear surrounding structures resulting to hemorrhage. Even if the bone survived the impact and there was no external bleeding, a direct blow on an artery could rupture it causing arterial blood to leak. If not treated fast, both conditions could lead to gangrene and may require amputation.

An adept Filipino blade fighter knows that he does not have to stab the torso to kill his adversary. Without immediate medical treatment, a knife slash that severed the brachial arteries (located inside the elbow crooks) would result to hemorrhagic shock in 15- seconds and death in one-and-a-half minutes. A similar deep cut on the radial arteries (located at the inside portion of the wrists) would cause unconsciousness in 30-seconds and death in two minutes. The femoral arteries that run along the inside of the thighs up to the groin area are also lethal targets in knife fighting.

An escrimador could easily destroy his enemy’s upper limbs even without a stick or blade. The nerve-rich areas at the base of the arms, the shoulders and the armpits are excellent targets. The armpit areas are so vulnerable that the improper use of crutches could damage the nerve networks underneath it causing paralysis to the triceps and wrist extensors. A grappling move that dislocated the shoulder joint may press the arm bone on the nerve of the armpits paralyzing part of that limb. Any hits on the various points of the arm could damage the median, ulnar and radial nerves that run along its length. The effect may range from pins-and-needles sensation to temporary motor dysfunction to permanent paralysis, depending on the force of the blow.

The offensive mindset of the FMA, which preferred to hit rather than block whenever possible could also be interpreted with or without weapons. This particular concept can be interpreted as interception or stop-hitting where you smack your opponent dead on his track using your limbs, a stick, a blade or even a projectile.