It is a lethal disgrace for an escrimador to lose his weapon in the heat of combat. Even in sports arnis, a point will be taken off a player who dropped his stick during a match.

The weapon hand is considered a primary target in the Filipino martial arts (FMA) hence weapon retention should be a major concern of its practitioners. This is particularly crucial to the duellists or juego todo (all-out stick fight) fighters of the olden days.

Looking at a photo of the late juego todo champion Grandmaster Jose Caballero with his collection of fighting sticks, I noticed that some of the weapons have a cord drilled through and tied near the handle.

The purpose of the attachment is self-explanatory and that is to prevent the fighter from losing his stick in the middle of a duel.

Being whacked on the hand in a stick fight comes with serious consequences. An excerpt of an anecdote on one of the duels fought by the late Grandmaster Angel Cabales published in Dan Inosanto’s book “The Filipino Martial Arts” perfectly made this point clear, it reads, “Stick fights never last very long and this one ended when Cabales broke open the man’s knuckle. The blow lacerated an artery and the blood pumping out of the man’s hand kept him from continuing.”

The best disarm is always a direct hit on the weapon hand therefore this is something that every escrimador must watch out for.

Awareness and optimum grip

There are specific FMA techniques designed to counter disarms and to prevent an opponent from snatching your weapon away from you but these things stand on flimsy foundations unless the escrimador has developed optimum grip and keen weapon awareness.

An optimum grip is soft on the outside but hard in the inner core. The importance of optimum grip cannot be over emphasized particularly in a real fight where one’s hold on the weapon may be affected by several factors like sweat, blood or the elements.

Keen weapon awareness is evident among escrimadors who have had depended on their art for survival. Another portion of Inosanto’s book describing the World War II exploits of the late Grandmaster Leovigildo Miguel Giron reads, “But something about the way he listens, his careful movements and the casual way he watches the periphery around him without turning his head or eyes, says a lot about him. He grips his stick differently too – the result of encounters with men who would like to have taken his weapon away.”

Functional weak hand

The desire to be ambidextrous in wielding weapons is not an uncommon goal among warriors throughout history. The greatest motivation for gaining such ability is the desire to survive combat in case the strong or dominant hand got injured in a fight.

In the FMA, the weak hand receives training during double weapons drills like sinawali. This happens because in sinawali, the weak hand learns how to borrow the movements of the strong hand.

For FMA systems that exclusively employ a single weapon modality, special effort must be exerted to train the weak hands. In such a case, it is good to occasionally devote an entire training session to develop the capabilities of the weak hand. Among the attributes that must be developed are dexterity, power, speed and accuracy.

Back-up weapon

The FMA in general espouses the use of weapons in combat whenever possible. Within this context, weapon retention means not only preventing an opponent from taking your weapon away but deploying immediate substitute arms in case you’ve lost your primary weaponry.

In both ancient and modern warfare, the knife hasn’t lost its effectiveness as a back-up weapon. The warriors of yore resort to the dagger after they’ve shot all their arrows or have broken their swords to engage the enemy in close quarter combat. Today, the tactical folder is the popular back-up weapon to the handgun.

Substitute arms would rarely equal the capabilities of the primary weapon but being smaller carries the advantage of the element of surprise. Whether employing a martial art, law enforcement or military framework, the factors that must be considered in choosing a back-up weapon are good concealment, speed of deployment and stopping power.

As mentioned, the successful use of a back-up weapon rests on the element of surprise hence the importance of good concealment. But concealment of a weapon, no matter how good is useless and even dangerous if it gets in the way of the draw. Finally, a back-up weapon with questionable stopping power is but an excess and useless baggage.

The location of the carry and how it affects the draw is crucial to the deployment of the back-up weapon. In FMA practice, a good exercise is for training partners to begin sparring with double sticks, then without stopping drop the other stick to proceed fighting with just a single weapon. Finally, one of the two must drop his stick and deploy a dagger to defend against his partner still armed with a stick.

The late juego todo champion Grandmaster Jose Caballero
with his collection of fighting sticks (Photo from the book
“Secrets of Arnis” by Edgar Sulite).