Sunday, December 12, 2004


GM Angel Cabales taught three basic variations for the outside block (there are more, such as grapples). There is the “punch block” to the arm, the center thrust (estocada in Spanish knife work – ref. “Sevillian Steel”, James Loriega, pg. 79), and the knee strike (which I call “the Kerrigan” for, ahem, historic reasons). I group these together in a training block to remind my students to practice them. I call this "the baseball variations" because the order we practice them is like a baseball inning, from top to bottom. No other reason, but then Filipino arts are very descriptive. Angle #1 is often called San Miguel because St. Michael is always depicted with an upraised sword. Many styles have "caballero" references, even though I know of no Filipino techniques actually designed for use on horseback (maybe against horsemen, though?) Anyway, "baseball variations" is just another shorthand to tell my guys "practice these."

Now, to get technical here. There are several ways this technique gets done. The wrist is a good target, but it isn't the one Angel emphasized. What I was taught (and what I make sure my students see watching him on video) is that his strike went to the inside of the arm, tip of his weapon angled up, always in an edged cutting position even with the stick. The target was usually the inside of the elbow or the inner nerves of the bicep, and as he pointed out, “in for real" you could be hitting to the face. (However, practice is always done with safety first.) Angel seemed to disfavor the wrist strike. I can think of a couple of reasons.

· First, it often crosses the hands.
· Hitting high inside the arm does not, and your hand is deep enough to avoid the opponent's weapon.
· He also didn't care much for the stick hitting under the wrist held at a horizontal 90º angle. He didn't think it that strong a hit.

Like I said, there is some interpretation here, this is just how I learned it.

From the strike the hand comes up, looking like a shoulder (wing) block, but Angel was adamant about NOT rolling like a shoulder block, though it certainly looks like one. However, the weapon is not parrying here, it is simply being held out of the way and makes no contact with the opponent's arm. Granted, one could simply check and roll into a spin hit using speed, but Angel didn't teach that method. He detailed this hand-raising move as a way to protect the neck against a counter, especially against a blade. After the hit to the arm (or in any of the "baseball variations") where your weapon hand is coming up from underneath, he performed a "quick-check" (he used this term, so I’ve named this move accordingly) which I will try to explain.

In the "quick-check," the right hand comes up to the outside of the opponent’s right arm, holding the weapon loosely and letting it hang vertically (why it gets confused with a shoulder block). In a shoulder block, we want the weapon facing the opponent’s weapon or arm, and as with a blade, the edge is oriented towards him. Here, though, we hold the weapon out of the way, so it is very different.

The technique actually is to cup your right hand so you can check the opponent's arm with the knuckles, using exactly the same surface area as for a karate punch. This provides a powerfully leveraged position to keep the opponent from countering with a horizontal slash to the head or neck. When you lift the right hand for the quick-check, keep your left parry in position; don't take it off and then try to place the quick-check, because that creates a gap or opening for his counter. If you do it fast, you may miss. The idea is to maintain pressure and control, so you want to get securely in position first, always protecting yourself. Practice against a knife and you'll immediately see why (better to lose the "sacrifice hand" than your life!) Once your quick-check is in position, press the opponent's arm straight away from you (horizontally), which will take it off your left parry. Don’t use body rotation yet, but keep your feet grounded; you are still in a passing position, so you are pressing to your outside right. If your opponent resists, his body may actually rotate from the leverage; watch to see if his front foot turns. Your push creates distance between his weapon and your head so as you step back to complete what is basically now an outside block, you have time and space to re-check with the left.

Hope this makes sense. It's a very cool detail, one I haven't seen anywhere but in Serrada.


Post-Colonial Eskrimador said...

For identification purposes, Guro, I've now been your student for 12 months, exactly.

That out of the way, I'm amazed at the synchronicity of our trains of thought in Serrada. Recently, I've been discussing the details of the "baseball" variations with a fellow serrada practitioner. Specifically, our perplexity begins where your quick-check blogpost ends. How do we transition from the quick-check push to movement 3 of the outside defense, angle 1?

From your instruction, I know enough to chamber (angle 1) before rotating/realigning and live hand checking. From a detail gleaned from training with Terry in your class (Hi, Terry), I saw that this rotational motion to chamber can be performed immediately after the quick-check push, while maintaining knuckle contact on the opponent's weapon arm.

And now the dilemma that my fellow practicioner and I have been contemplating: Which method is "proper" for practice/muscle-memory purposes (especially for when it comes to "for real")?

I prefer an abaniko rotation to chamber before the live-hand check, while my serrada fellow posited that, in a real situation, he envisions himself performing a spin hit that results in chambering (for speed and perhaps as a permutation of "killing the fang").

As we practiced, we believed we saw proper situations for both approaches. Sometimes my rotation into chambered position resulted in my weapon "snagging" on the opponent's outstretched weapon. My partner's spin hit method seems to leave relatively more openings (if only for fractions of a second).

Compounding our confusion in the details are complications such as the jari technique (using the extended index and middle fingers during the quick-check to monitor upward movement of the opponent's weapon arm) and use of weapons longer than about 22 inches.

To paraphrase two Zen koans: "May the dust settle as I clean the bright mirror of perception."

Thank you, Guro Jeff, for creating this blog.

Stickman said...

"I know enough to chamber (angle 1) before rotating/realigning and live hand checking. From a detail gleaned from training with Terry in your class (Hi, Terry), I saw that this rotational motion to chamber can be performed immediately after the quick-check push, while maintaining knuckle contact on the opponent's weapon arm."

OK, I'm a bit unclear as to your understanding here, so I'm going to simply describe the technique for the timing I use. The opening is the left outside step against a right handed attack, with a counterstrike of choice (one of the variations). Your right hand then comes up into the quick-check and presses the opponent away towards your right, which more or less should push his arm in towards his centerline or rotate his center of mass.

At this point, and here is where we get to your question, you step back with the rear (right) foot to realign yourself SIMULTANEOUS with withdrawing your weapon hand and checking with the left. Remember the Tai Chi precept I always quote: "Hands and feet move together, stop together." As your right hand withdraws, simply close the grip which will pull the weapon into the upright position by the time it is chambered back near your shoulder. The power comes from closing the ring and pinky fingers. Think of the actions of your arms a bit like drawing a bow and arrow. When I do this, my weapon doesn't actually spin; it's more like a counter-clockwise rotation to a #1 position. This is shorter than a spin.

Putting a quick hit into the withdrawal of the weapon feels cool, but it isn't a serious hit worthy of consideration. Angel specifically told me to cut that out. The goal is to deliver a powerful "killing the fang" blow, so just set up that strike with the chamber.

If your weapon contacts your opponents (such as with a longer stick), you might end up spinning through from the impact. Your body rotation can move you safely a bit inside the arc of his weapon, maybe lean in a little, and keep the movement going; you can bring the right shoulder forward to do this. Basically, what I'm saying is that if you can't chamber cleanly, just keep going!

You know how I say there is more than one way to skin a cat. Don't lose sight that we practice basics to develop good balance, focus and directness for speed and power, but in "for real" we adapt as necessary, using as much of our training as possible. The goal is survival, and the only mistake is getting hit. If you get hit, just keep going anyway, because stopping is a bigger mistake that compounds the effect of the first one. We correct mistakes by making the next move the right one; anything that gets us through a jam is better than the alternative.

I hope this answers you, but if I see you in class, we can go through it there.

ohme said...

it's amazing how this ancient filipino martial art found it's way in the U.S., while its not that popular in Urban Centers here in the Philippines. If this is what i think it is... this is the martial art using two wooden sticks made of 'yantok' wood. i'm not certain, but i think we call it here 'arniz', which i took some lessons when I was little. although i know the word escrima refers to spansih words or rapier fights. i also believe that the caballero references you say are non-existent, since riding horseback wasn't the popular choice of transportation by ancient filipinos and other malays. (were a sea-faring people generally.) it is probably a spanish variation... since they were the only true horsemen when they arrived here.

just to share, it was believed that the chieftain of mactan island and his warriors, datu lapu-lapu, warded off the spaniards headed by Ferdinand Magellan using indigenous and malayo-muslim designed swords, together with the 'arniz' or if you prefer to call it escrima.

i hope to learn more from you, Guro, or teacher, more about the history of this art, since i am an urbanite here in the philippines, its nice to know that there are people out there who appreciate our ancient martial arts. i have a minor in western and asian civilization, so i'm very much interested in its history.

Stickman said...

Escrima is a term used in the Visayas; the art I do comes from Cebu, so that's what it was called by my teacher, Angel Cabales, and his teacher, Felicissimo Dizon. Most Filipinos recognize the name Arnis, also a Spanish word. While it can be done with two sticks, most of the grandmasters I've met (quite a few) say the single stick is the heart of the art. You are more likely to find one stick than a pair if you are on the street and get attacked. The art also includes espada y daga (or baston y daga), knife, empty hands, etc.
There certainly is footwork in some styles called "caballero" and Derobio claims to be a name referring to horsemanship, from the French general who moved to the Philippines and created the style (grandmaster Pedoy brought it to Hawaii many years ago). Whatever the origins of the terminology, it is used to denote aspects within certain purely Filipino styles.
If you can find Vic Hurley's "Swish of the Kris" and "Jungle Patrol," these are good historic references about the art. Hurley was an American officer in the early 1900's in the Philippines, and though it is a bit culturally slanted, he does have a lot of respect for the Filipino fighters. These were published by E.F. Dutton in 1936/1938 and reprinted under Marcos as part of the Filipiniana educational series (#10 and #4 respectively).

Guro Jeff Finder