Of the many styles of Filipino martial arts (FMA), the most known for fighting with paired weapons is the Sinawali double sticks fighting style of Pampanga (sometimes called the “Estilo Macabebe”). The name Sinawali came from word “sawali,” a woven split bamboo mats used as walls of nipa huts. The crisscrossing movements of Sinawali weapons fighting mimic the pattern of these mats hence the name.
The high-speed nature of Sinawali drills is good for developing fast reaction. The rapid-fire contact of sticks in these drills will sharpen one’s awareness of motion. It’s like the experience of getting used to driving a car at 90 mph and then suddenly lowering the speed at 55 mph. Fifty five mph is still fast, but if you’re used to 90 mph, it seems to be a lot slower.
Developing the strength and coordination of both hands is another benefit of Sinawali training. Most of these drills teach the practitioner to relate the movement of the weak hand to that of the strong hand hence promoting ambidexterity.
Fighters who possess a very high degree of skill with fighting with paired weapons seem to have hands that function independently of each other (not the weak hand merely relating to the movement of the strong hand).
In a fight with paired weapons, the better fighter displays the ability to strike and defend with either hands at will while the inferior fighter would most probably settle with using the weapon in his weak hand as a shield and utilize the weapon in his strong hand for hitting.
Acquiring ambidexterity in wielding weapons has been the goal of serious fighting men through the ages. The reason for this is that in the battlefield, no matter how good you are, there is always that chance that your strong hand would be injured. If that happens, your survival now lies in the ability of your other hand to use a weapon. With that said, training your weak hand to a functional fighting level cannot be over emphasized.
Illustration by Perry Gil S. Mallari
The ability to fight with paired weapons is a coveted attribute among FMA practitioners
Fighting with paired weapons demands a very high level of skill. An escrimador who have not still polished his ability in wielding paired weapons to perfection is better off just using a single weapon in actual combat.
Amante Mariñas offers a sound advice on this matter in his book “”Pananandata: Dalawang Yantok (Arnis Double Sticks Fighting),” it reads, “Your second yantok [rattan stick] will be a very useful weapon if you are able to coordinate its movements with the movements of your other yantok.
If you are not able to, your second yantok can interfere with the movements of your other yantok. Thus, physically, you will have two weapons. In reality, however, you might have available only a fraction of one yantok.”
In a fight, it is logical to assume that your opponent would lead with either hand hence your first consideration is to deal with the weapon nearest to you. You can take this barrier away with a forceful strike with either of your weapons before inserting the killing blow.
In the same book Mariñas said, “Ideally you should not allow the opponent’s second yantok to participate in a fight. If you are not able to close the distance and are not able to gain control of the opponent’s first yantok, you will have to contend with his second yantok. If you fail to stop the opponent’s second yantok, then you will have to deal with his first yantok a second time.”
Dan Inosanto, in his classic book “The Filipino Martial Arts,” offered a useful advice in the practice of paired weapons in relation with the “alive hand,” it reads, “If he was wielding a single weapon, the alive hand should be the one that didn’t have a weapon.
If he was wielding a long and a short weapon, the alive hand should be the one with a shorter weapon. If he was empty-handed or wielding two equal-sized weapons, the alive hand would generally be the one that come into play second.”
Fighting with paired weapons should be practiced in various positions, different terrains and with variable weaponry. Sinawali drills for one can be practiced standing, squatting and even with one player lying down.
It is also good training to shadow fight with impromptu weapons on each hand. For example, experience how it feels like to shadowfight a tire iron and a kitchen knife. You’re only limited by your imagination.
The ability to wield a weapon with either hand is a rare ability among escrimadors and those who possessed this talent is highly esteemed among his peers. Inosanto in the same book mentioned that one of the teachers of Leo Giron was capable of this feat, he wrote, “One of his instructors, a man the people called Mr. Delgado, used to travel from camp to camp to fight their best escrimadors. He was good, Giron remembers, and he could fight with either hand.”