The mentality of a weapons man
Every martial art carries its own mentality and the Filipino martial arts (FMA) being a weapons based system has a unique one. An escrimador is a weapons man. The FMA was originally a battlefield art which explains its emphasis on weaponry. The main implements of war of a mandirigma are his weapons and he will only employ his empty hand combat skills when he broke his sword or spear, or run out of arrows. When a conflict arises, the basic instinct of an escrimador is to pick up a weapon and use it to end a fight quickly and unceremoniously.
The concept of one-upmanship is of paramount importance to a weapons man. When weapons are used in a fight, chances are only one of the two combatants will walk out of it alive and in that kind of scenario you want to stack the odds on your favor. One-upmanship simply means successively outdoing your competitor. In weapons fighting this implies that if your opponent pulls out a dagger, you pull out a sword. He pulls out a sword you pull out a longer sword and so on. I’ve seen this thing happened in a real street encounter. No fight ensued because the guy armed with the inferior weapon, guided with good sense, decided to back off.
A skilled escrimador is familiar with the characteristics of every hand-wielded weapon hence he can use each of them according to their capacities and limitations. The FMA is known for pragmatism and it is not uncommon for its practitioners to wield weapons from other martial arts just to show the universality of their movement concepts. The early Tagalog warriors had no problem using war implements from other cultures. “Those with access to foreign imports sometimes had Japanese swords (katana) or Chinese peaked helmets (kupya or tangkulog); but the Chinese evidently never shared their firearms, though Legazpi sent one to Spain which was taken from a Chinese junk in Mindoro. The Bornean arquebus (astingal) was also known, but the Spaniards seem never to have faced any in Luzon encounters as they did in Mindanao,” wrote William Henry Scott in Barangay: Sixteenth-Century Philippine Culture and Society.
In his book The Filipino Martial Arts, Dan Inosanto wrote, “Instead of thinking of a weapon as belonging to the Chinese or Japanese or the Filipinos or any particular martial art, instead of thinking of a weapon by its exotic name, look at the weapon. The performance of a weapon is affected by its characteristics, not by its origin or its name.”
Knowing these things will give the escrimador prudence in making the right choices during combat. A stick because it’s longer is not necessarily superior against the dagger. The latter obviously is the more lethal weapon because of its stopping power. You can survive a flurry of stick strikes but it could only take one stab wound from a dagger to put you out of commission permanently. This is a very important point to consider in understanding the nature of real world violence. In true combat for survival, the goal is to always totally shut down the other person.
Terrain and range will also affect the effectiveness of a weapon. In the claustrophobic scenario of an elevator fight, the kerambit has an advantage over the bolo. But if the encounter happened in an open field, the bolo with its longer reach is obviously the superior weapon.
The escrimador being a weapons man must also accept the fact that he can’t have his stick or knife with him all the time therefore he must also be a master at using improvised weapons.
Another important concept for the weapons man is that nearly everything can be used as a weapon. Found objects can be used as impact weapons (rolled-up magazine, heavy ashtray, bag loaded with books, a rock), cutting weapons (box cutter, broken bottle, plastic ID card), stabbing weapons (pen, pencil, fork), liquid weapons (hot coffee or any hot liquid) and projectiles (keys, hardbound books, stones).
And there are the so called structural weapons like the hard floor or the concrete wall. Definitely, you can create more damage by slamming your foes head on a hardwood table than punching him in the face. “There is only one basic rule of self-defense. You must apply the most effective weapon as soon as possible to the most vulnerable point of your enemy,” wrote Bruce Lee.
But through it all, the escrimador never forgets that the true weapon is the mind. He knows that it is a strong mind and not mere technical mastery that is required to survive mortal combat. The decision to use a weapon in combat also carries with it a heavier responsibility because it can deal more harm compared to using one’s bare hands. On the extreme level particularly when blades are used, such a decision is attached to a killing commitment. At this point the escrimador will realize that being prepared to kill also means being prepared to die. Indeed, the highest level of the FMA just like other evolved martial arts is not physical but spiritual.