Applying the FMA Fighting Philosophy to the BIG Stick

One of the little-known about weapon arts in the Filipino martial arts is the BIG stick. Now, I’m not talking about Dan Inosanto’s 12 ranges or whatever he calls it. I am referring to the few systems of the FMAs that do not “translate” Eskrima to other weapons; what I am speaking of are the weapons of Kuntaw and Silat, Katatapado, and a few other styles whose weapons are staves, large sticks (between the nightstick and the staff), the spear, and the boat oar or axe.

I am also not referring to the few Eskrimadors, Arnisador, and Kalistos who are afflicted with the disease called “Oh, we have that too”.

There are many masters out there who have these large sticks and they specialize in fighting with them. Trust me, if you try to “translate” your patty cake to a broomstick, and get into a fight, somebody is going to kick your ass.

I was fortunate to have had a few lessons in Kendo from my old teacher, Ernesto Presas, in Quezon City back in ’89. To satisfy my curiosity, he taught me a few strikes, men, to, and another strike I can’t recall the name of–a few entries and counters, and about 2 hours of sparring with a few students. I never studied Kendo from anyone else, but for the rest of my life, I have been able to pick up a shinai and hold my own against other Kendoka as an equal in sparring. That said, I recognize bullshit, and I am going to help you avoid being one of them with this small article.

First, after you read my article, I want you to go over to Darrin Cook’s website, Big Stick Combat, and get a copy of his book. Take a look at his articles. He has a few good arguments for learning to use the Big Stick. If you have ever fought on the street with a stick (I have) you can understand the notion of “stopping power”, which is a terminology used a lot over on his site.

And now… my take.

Not everyone has had the fortune of learning from an expert on the BIG stick. However, if you’re the experimenting type, you can certainly come up with your own fighting style. And provided you use my method of testing (or something similar), your new style can be very valid. But you will have to do more than study youtube clips and post your own clips of the neat tricks you’ve learned. Chances are that if you have not been able to study from someone who can teach you from experience, that you can use the lessons you learned from the FMAs to come up with your own techniques and refine them into practical skills.

  1. Start with your fighting stance and fighting positions. How you should hold the weapons so that you can both defend an attack and launch an attack of your own while using that weapon to its full advantage. There is a difference between fighting stance and fighting position. Hope you can figure it out (that is the topic for another article and I don’t feel like elaborating at this time). Because of this part of FMA philosophy, I am not fond of things like “close quarters staff fighting”… it makes as much sense as “long range grappling”. Yeah, it’s kind of like internet sex. Defeats the purpose.
  2. Speaking of defeating the purpose, select a few strikes–but only the most practical, most damaging strikes you can deliver in the blink of an eye–for your arsenal. Don’t bother with trying to find as many ways to strike as possible. Nobody gives a hoot if you can throw an abaniko strike with your spear. It’s not efficient, and it damn sure isn’t the most practical thing to do with a spear. Save the neat tricks for the tap-dance Eskrimadors. You’re trying to win fights, not impress seminar attendees.
  3. Once you have chosen the weapons in your arsenal, you need to know the simplest way to stop those same attacks. Not the neatest way. Not the coolest-looking way. The simplest, most direct, most effective way. In Tapado, what I like so much about it is the powerful method they use to stop an opponent. After two years or so of combined learning about this art (I only know two strikes, btw), the one defense I know in this art is so effective I can honestly say I would never use it against a friend in sparring. When I met my good friend Master Emilio Labarcon and asked about the technique, he concurred, that except for a few changes–the counter I was shown is the number one thing he would do against 99% of his opponents. You don’t need a whole lot of options when the best tool in the toolbox beats most comers.
  4. Think of the targets you want to hit on the opponent, and what kind of damage you will be inflicting. Often FMA people think too much about the strikes and counters and their “options” and variations, without answering the most simple of the questions: What do I hit? and What will it do to the opponent?  Targets and vital points are just as important as choosing the right techniques to employ. This is extremely important in practice, and your strikes should be accurate to hit the places you want it to hit. example:  the downward strike with the eskrima stick. what are you hitting? the top of the head? really? what do you think it will do to the opponent? how about this–the collarbone, the nose, or the wrist. those are more fight-stopping than the top of the head, you think? now… how will you protect those targets? surely, not with an “umbrella” block…
  5. Power strikes with that stick. Hopefully everything in your arsenal has a powerful version of the same technique. Many of the strikes we practice cannot be employed with bone-shattering power. So, you must ask yourself–is it necessary? I wouldn’t worry too much about a strike with a big stick that is quick but not very powerful. The reason we even have a big stick is for its size and damage potential. Make sure that whatever you put in your arsenal can cause major damage, or if you can’t, you should question whether it is worth keeping.
  6. You must put these techniques together and perform them thousands of times in order to gain a full understanding of what you are doing. Every little detail of those techniques will make sense after you have completed this task. I would recommend practicing a minimum of 100 reps per workout for at least 20 – 50 practice sessions before you even consider teaching your “art” to someone else. Anything less than that is a disservice to your students. I don’t teach anything to my students I haven’t executed thousands of times. This is why I am so critical of seminar certification; people shouldn’t teach something they have only skimmed the surface of.
  7. Spar with your weapon. How, you ask? You can at least spar 50% speed and power. But you won’t really know a weapon until you have manipulated it many times under pressure. You must have at least several hours of floor time with your weapons to really understand it well enough to fight with it. You must have fought with it many times before you understand fighting with it well enough to teach it. You cannot skip this important step. Ever.

Sounds like generic advice, doesn’t it? Well, that’s because it IS generic advice. I told you, I don’t believe in teaching by blog. But you can teach yourself to use a weapon by following the FMA plan. Don’t bother will drills and defense and disarms. Don’t try to connect your empty hands with it. Just stay true to the model of the FMA style of fighting, and you will do just fine.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Author: thekuntawman

full time martial arts teacher, full time martial arts philosopher, and full time martial arts critic

3 thoughts on “Applying the FMA Fighting Philosophy to the BIG Stick”

  1. Kuntawman,

    Thanks for the mention. As always, your post is spot on.

    I would agree with you that the most basic counter in Tapado is sufficient for just about any encounter. There is also a depth to Tapado that can’t be seen from pictures.

    And if you know only 2 Tapado strikes, that’s good –there are only two strikes!

    Let me add that I also recommend heavy bag work, and that plastic baseball bats are good for training indoors, for light sparring, and practicing technique on a partner.

    Let me also recommend GM Estalilla, in the Fresno, California area to those who are able to train with him.

    I think we’re on the same page with regard to the big stick: Simplicity and Power

  2. What is the most basic counter in Tapado? I have Darrin Cook’s Big Stick Combat book and would like to know the BEST basic defense. I don’t have an enormous amount of training time and would like the best technique to practice to perfection so it becomes instinctive.

  3. Good advice. I am one of those who have cluttered my FMA with many useless techniques. Just when I was starting to doubt myself-I find this blog. Many of these things I wondered about myself. Thank you.

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