and Better Hand Technique
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Have you ever attended a
tournament and carefully observed the forms competition?
You've probably found that Kata and Forms were split into
two generic categories, hard and soft. Likely, both
categories contained competitors from many diverse styles.
Even casual observers can identify the Okinawan forms as
something apart from the Chinese or the Korean. A
trained observer might observe that a competitor is
executing a form that has its origins in Northern China or
in a specific style, such as Hap Ki Do, Shotokan or Kenpo.
Later in the day, you check out the Kumite (fighting
competition). The differences that were so evident in
forms competition are completely gone. If the fighters
are wearing protective equipment, you'll note that after
a short while each fighter starts looking like the next.
It's clear something is happening here. Fighting under
tournament rules has resulted in major dilution of the
traditional fighting styles, producing a composite
"style" common to the point fighting arena.
Though instructors continue to debate the merits of
tournament fighting, even the staunchest supporters of
tournament competition agree that much of what
constitutes the "pure", or "traditional" approach to the
martial arts, has eroded in recent years.
There are still instructors who can describe their
early training as years spent mastering a handful of
stances and techniques. The question that presents
itself to the modern practitioner is, "Why is it that so
few of the moves and stances found in traditional
practice find their way into tournament fighting
Instructors who have invested the years necessary to
master Kata insist that each form is a "filing cabinet"
for techniques originating during periods where all
fighting, in the countryside or at the training hall was
"for real." In that context, a missed block meant a
slash from a sword or a bone crunching kick to the rib
section. The masters of that era perfected the dynamics
of power, movement, balance, timing and coordination.
Mistakes meant defeat, injury and perhaps even loss of
life. Realizing their "secrets" could be lost in the
transmission from teacher to student, or during the
course of time, these teachers "packaged" their
knowledge into patterns or forms. If practiced with
proper attitude, and indomitable spirit, these exercises
guaranteed the dedicated student would be able to move
freely, while maintaining knockdown power at all times.
In an era where life and death confrontations are rare,
and fighting is normally done under a tightly controlled
protocol, how does the modern martial artist uncover the
"secrets" of the masters? Should he or she commit
himself or herself to a spartan program of forms
practice? Would it benefit to find some partners who are
willing to practice "no holds barred", and perfect their
technique through "reality" training?
Though some very fine practitioners have successfully
adopted these paths, the vast majority of modern day
students cannot make the commitment to practice forms
for hours each day, or risk walking into the office with
a broken nose or blackened eyes. The challenge for
instructors today is to find new approaches which
guarantee modern students will have the same level of
fighting ability as their historical predecessors. One
such approach is the incorporation of Arnis or Filipino
stick fighting into the training format.
A spokesman for this approach is Sensei David Bird of
Tacoma, Washington. In addition to having mastered
Arnis, Sensei Bird holds advanced dan rankings in
Shotokan Karate, as well as Tae Kwon Do, and has also
spent periods of time working with established Masters
throughout the Pacific Northwest. Sensei Bird explained
he had taught empty hand fighting for several years
before he had opportunity to study Arnis with the late
Cui Brocka, a Filipino master living in Tacoma. "I
immediately noticed that my empty hand fighting began to
have more of a flow. Things like joint locks, throws,
trips or breaks which existed in theory but not in the
practice of my empty hand fighting became an integral
part of my arsenal." Enthusiastic about his discovery,
Sensei Bird plunged into the study of Arnis and, after
becoming certified as an instructor, incorporated it
into the regular training program established for his
"It's one thing training
for competition," explains Sensei Bird, "but quite
another thing to take the concepts or philosophical
foundation of a particular style and meld it into a
personal approach to self defense." Sensei Bird's
students begin class by working the empty hand
techniques. Once that is accomplished, they spend up to
an hour each class in Arnis training.
Sequence #1: Attacker strikes at
Sensei Bird's left temple. Bird
"flows" to the right, away from the
circular power of the strike.
Simultaneously, he "checks" the strike
with his own right hand, and counters with
a back fist. The final photograph
shows Bird using left hand leverage to
pull opponent off balance and into the
According to Sensei Bird,
"We've all encountered trapping, blocking, parrying,
sweeping and flow in our traditional training, but once
people put on the fighting gear, where does it all go?"
One of Bird's senior Arnis students observed that,
"Concepts such as flow, joint locks, throws, trips and
breaks have a place in real world fighting, but the only
place most students are exposed to them is at the
movies, where fighting scenes are carefully
Early in his
stickfighting training, Bird learned that trapping,
blocking, parrying, sweeping and flow are at the core of
Arnis. "The reason is simple. It doesn't work without
mastering those concepts and integrating them into your
movement. We're not playing tag out there. Being hit
with the stick means end of fight! Arnis means that when
your opponent attacks, you instantly neutralize the
threat, gain control of your opponent, then terminate
Sequence #2: This attack is
directed at Sensei Bird's right
temple. Again, he responds by
"flowing" away from the attacker's power
while he checks the attack with his right
hand. Next, he parries, or redirects
the blow with his left hand, as he closes
the gap with a right hand counter.
According to Bird, there
are many families of movement within Arnis. Foremost
among them are Solo Baston, incorporating one
stick while the empty hand parries and traps; Sinawali,
using two sticks in complex striking patterns; and Espada
y Daga, or sword and dagger. A beginning student
will learn basic striking patterns, appropriate parries
and the most efficient block for each strike. Though
there are no stances per se (the student is free to use
the foot positioning he or she is most accustomed to),
an integral part of early training is mastering flow.
Essentially, this means to always be moving away
from the opponent's power, and like a wave of water, to
engulf the opponent when he is fully extended. The
advanced disarms, come later, combining parries, traps
and sweeps in dynamic but efficient responses to
attacks. As one of Bird's Black Belt students relates,
"What can make this art difficult for some people is
that it's so direct and simple. Because of the way most
of us have trained, we've lost that simplicity and have
trained ourselves to always carry a lot of 'excess
baggage'. The principles of Arnis help the martial
artist to 'unload' and get back to the core of his or
her style, whatever that style is."
#3: Demonstrating just how "direct"
Arnis can be, Sensei Bird executes a
simultaneous "check" and counter attack to
Once several months are
spent learning the basics of Arnis, students will learn
the empty hand responses to opponents armed with a
stick. "For the student interested in perfecting his own
fighting style, this is the icing on top of the cake. By
this point, the Arnis student has learned enough about
flow, trapping, parrying and redirecting the opponent's
force to incorporate these concepts into empty hand
responses to attacks, in essence effecting a bridge
between the study of Arnis and the martial artist's
#4: Executing a complex sequence,
Bird responds to a left temple strike by
simultaneously "checking" the attack and
stunning the opponent with a driving
upward palm to the head. As opponent
is being hit, Bird's left arm "snakes"
around opponent's right arm, "trapping"
the arm and weapon. A strike to
opponent's arm rips the weapon
loose. Bird lets the weapon drop
from under his arm into his left hand,
then strikes at opponent's head.
It wasn't long before
other martial artists and instructors took notice of
what was happening at Bird's studio. Sensei Bird,
realizing that training in Arnis could benefit his
contemporaries as it had his own students, created the
Northwest Arnis Association in August 1984. When this
article was first published (September 1987), the
organization numbered in excess of 200, representing a
virtual cross-section of all martial arts. Sensei Bird
conducts seminars at member schools, stressing low cost
and bringing the knowledge to as many martial artists as
possible. Once the techniques are presented and refined
at seminar, they are practiced and further refined under
the direction of the respective home school teacher,
ensuring they are incorporated into the respective art.
All involved testify the study of Arnis has brought
deeper understanding to the core concepts of their own
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The benefits of the "Arnis
Connection" are best summarized by the head of one
associate school who states, "My people are doing things
they've never done before. They're more fluid but at the
same time, are penetrating openings with more authority.
As far as we're concerned, Arnis is the 'missing link' in
modern martial arts education. We're delighted to have