Weekend wrapup

Saturday, another stimulating cutlass class under the tutelage of N.B. The real meat of this style, from a martial arts perspective, lies in a sort of game that one plays with the opponent regarding level of commitment to a particular move. The attacker brings the trailing foot forward until it is abreast of the leading foot but then, rather than continuing the step, stands there stork-like, reserving the option to continue with the passing step or to reconsider and move backward into the starting position. The defender likewise executes half of a trailing step but then goes into stork mode: easier said than done since it requires good balance and steady nerves. If the defender continues with the rearward passing step and plants his foot, he has committed to a particular distance which the attacker can then exploit by shortening or lengthening his stride to land the blow. Conversely, if the attacker follows through and completes his step, the defender can lengthen or shorten his step accordingly to avoid being hit. There are many other aspects to the system, and many other drills that can be conducted, but the one described above lies at the heart of it, and is the most engaging from a sort of game theory standpoint.

Sunday, an Escrima master class with Rene Latosa, courtesy of Seattle Escrima Club. Escrima, among other fine qualities, is a useful corrective to typical sword-based martial arts. We sword geeks tend to be prissy about equipment. Swords have to be of such-and-such weight, made from such-and-such alloy, with a particular balance and geometry suited to the art in question. Our approach to learning those arts revolves around what T.W. would call system acquisition: learning by rote a repertoire of stances, steps, attacks, counterattacks, etc. All of which is well and good. Escrima, by contrast, has got to be the most pragmatic of martial arts, and the least fussy about equipment. In large part it is the art of defending oneself with found objects. As such there is no point in getting hung up in the system acquisition phase. Any overly refined system would stop being useful if you were not able to pick up the right sort of weapon at just the right moment. Accordingly, Escrima tends to revolve around development of certain principles and basic styles of movement that ought to be useful under just about any circumstances, and its weapon-based techniques tend to be extensions of fist-based ones, so that they are useful even if you find yourself fighting in an environment where there are no objects to pick up and smack the other guy with.

I may be misinterpreting the whole system, but that’s my perspective on it as a beginner viewing it from a Fiore-based standpoint.

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6 Responses to Weekend wrapup

  1. J. B. says:

    I think I told you once that I was practicing with a friend of a friend who was an Escrima practitioner, and he asked me, “Do you want to know what the secret to Escrima is?” Of course I said yes, expecting some sort of highfalutin’ philosophy. He said, “Don’t drop your stick.”

  2. T.W. says:

    “I would always say, commence with the foils and work hard, under some good master, for a year or so without touching any other branch. Then go on to broad-sword, and keep to alternate days with foils. Later on take up the single-stick, and then go on to bayonet-exercise, quarter-staff, and anything else you please.

    This extended range of work will give you a wonderful general capability for adapting yourself at a moment’s notice to any weapon chance may place in your hands: the leg of an old chair, the joint of a fishing rod, or the common or garden spade; any of these may be used with great effect by an accomplished all-round swordsman.”

    – R.G. Allanson-Winn, “Broadsword and Single-stick”

  3. AndrewS says:

    I think your assessment is accurate on the whole, though, some of it is more specific to Mr Latosa’s approach. There are branches of FMA that are really into specific drills, exact stick length, etc- his approach is the antithesis of that. The term ‘system acquisition’ is an excellent one for the approach of collecting techniques, and people who have developed underlying skill can acquire systems and use them skillfully, but that doesn’t mean that the system itself grants that skill. While there are distinctive mechanics within many systems (though all those in recreated systems are by definition modern add-ons, as opposed to say, fajing, in the IMA, long bridge force in the Hakka arts, etc), there are certain underlying truths of motion that are what comprise skill- timing, the ability to read or sense, power, speed- developing those skills allows easy transition between systems, weapons, and ranges, and their development is what leads to generalizable ability usable under combat conditions.

    One theme which Mr Latosa returned to throughout the weekend is that combat is by definition messy, chaotic, and awkward, and that most drills are highly sterilized environments built to ‘refine’ a few specific skills for use in the awkward mess- these drill are often used to define a ‘system’- though you will often hear advanced practitioners get pretty annoyed about that. While that approach is useful, one of the intellectually and physically distinctive things about his approach is the creation of messy and awkward situations from which to adapt, anticipating chaos. Navigating the mess requires control of your own body as a first priority (not letting the weapon control you), and refinement entails control under more and more awkward circumstance, and, eventually, recovery from loss of control.

    Sorry to ramble, brain’s still bubbling from the weekend.


  4. T.W. says:

    It sounds as if Mr. Latosa’s approach to teaching FMA is very similar to mine in teaching Bartitsu.

  5. AndrewS says:


    It wouldn’t surprise me- there’s a good bit of convergent evolution when it comes to successful methods of coaching. When I have some time, I’ll type up my notes for the weekend and ask E.W. to pass them along for your perusal. Incidentally, Mr Latosa’s fingerprints have been left on the European WMA community, as the EHCG folks spent a fair bit of time working with Steve Tappin and Bill Newman (two of his most senior students from back in the day), and a number of Danes, Germans, and British who learned under him developed a WMA interest and have been coming back for help from him in refining what they’re developing.



  6. T.W. says:

    Thanks, Andrew. I’m particularly intrigued by the references to training the foundational (mechanical, tactical, etc.) skills that transfer between techniques/weapons/systems, and to the practice of training to improvise in “worst case scenarios”. Those almost define my approach to neo-Bartitsu, with the exception that, as part of the aim is to preserve historical methodology, I also use the formal sequences recorded by Barton-Wright circa 1900 as a conceptual and technical base.

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