Eskrima Broken Rhythm Attack

I would like to offer some fighting advice I think you will find valuable, regardless of style or method of fighting you do.

A young man who studies with my Kung Fu brother Sharif Talib has recently taken an interest in the Philippine martial arts. Although he is a beginner, he is Sharif’s top student, so when I see him again (he lives in Washington, DC) I decided to teach him Jow Ga’s Sern Bei Sao (Double Daggers) technique–which is normally reserved for advanced students. Upon telling Sharif my intentions, he asked me if I planned to teach him strictly the Chinese style of dagger fighting–or the Filipino. My answer was that I would teach him the Chinese system, with some FMA strategy behind it. I’m sure this goes against much of what I preach, but I have my reasons for doing so–as rare as I do these sort of things.

In Eskrima’s knife fighting, we have possibly half the number of techniques in the Chinese arts. What makes Eskrima’s knife fighting superior in my opinion is the fact that the FMA man has such a small number of options, including the a fewer number of weapons in his repertoire. This lack of options give him more time to specialize in the skills he has. I know how to use more than 20 weapons, but with four–the small blade, the hacking sword (regardless of style), the single stick, and the staff–I claim expertise, and am confident that I can beat almost all men I encounter with those weapons, shy of a firearm. (And given the right situation, I’ll murder a man with a gun lol)

Most of my articles concerning Eskrima on this blog deal with this stick, but this tiny piece will be on the knife, although like I said, the rule is universal.

Regardless of the style you do, envision your system’s bladed technique as you read this article. Also, put aside Jeet Kune Do’s definition of “broken rhythm attack” as well. I am not well versed on JKD, and I don’t want to pass this off as the same thing although they may be similar.

The Broken Rhythm Attack works this way:  1. You understand through practice and fighting how much time you have to block various attacks. 2. You understand how much time you have to deliver various attacks. 3. When your opponent reacts to your attack, you know how much time you have to deliver a follow up attack to the first you attempted. This goes for both combination attacks, as well as the traditional follow-up to a single, blocked attack. 4. When your opponent attacks, you should be able to recognize if it is a single attack or a combination attack, and 5. When the non-bladed hand touches you/you tie up both the opponent’s hands/one of you have grabbed the other, you know the speed that anything may come. This is known to Chinese martial artists as the skill called Chi Sao/Sticky Hands, but in the Filipino art we simply call it Sensitivity. It is the martial sixth sense. Not all martial artists believe in it, not all martial artists know it, but regardless–if you put together a fighter who knows it and a fighter who doesn’t, someone is going to get their behinds handed to them.

Now, if the above 5 keys are foreign to you–this article may not make sense. Feel free to comment or exchange with me, and I will help guide you to getting what I consider “knife fighting basics”. I do understand that most systems do not have well-developed knife fighting strategies. Or find an FMA man, regardless of style, he can probably explain the above.

You could probably use the above to restructure your system’s knife techniques to mirror this. Now on to the technique.

Once you understand how much time you have to react or execute your attacks and counters, you will then have to learn to break that rhythm in half and do something else. Let me illustrate with a favorite game of mine. Hot Hands. (Go ahead and click it, it’s a link) We are playing Hot Hands. You have your hands on top of mine, I go to slap your hands, you know it’s coming, so you snatch your hands away but I always seem to get you. Is it because I’m faster than you? Not always. Sometimes, I know how much time I have to slap your hand, as do you, but I don’t go all the way through with my slap. Why? Because if I miss, you will be allow to slap me back. Now imagine if we played hot hands, but the person is allowed to pull his hands away and slap me in my face when I go for his hands. Would that change the dynamic?

Of course it would. And this is the challenge of the knife fight. The way most people play the knife, you assume that if you cut, I will block it successfully. They assume that if I block the knife, the follow up cut or the counter will arrive with perfect timing for the prearranged counter to that counter. They assume that if I slap check your attacking elbow, your attacking hand will stop attacking. And in a real knife encounter, none of these things will happen. NONE. Instead of prearranged sequences, I treat knife fighting like I treat hot hands with the face slap, and so should you. Because if you miss a block, or you successfully apply a block but the opponent is more determined that your previous partners in those drills you’ve been doing–you’ll get a much more painful punishment that a slap in the face. You could die.

EDIT:  The main idea to this technique is that when the opponent expects your attack to be there, it shouldn’t. When the opponent expects a target to be at the end of his attack, it shouldn’t. Anything your opponent expects, that relies on timing and anticipation, you should condition yourself to disappoint him. That is the Broken Rhythm Attack, and this is the science of dueling with the knife–not prearranged sequences. Fighting is too frenzied to be rehearsed and predictable. Your training should reflect this philosophy.

So to utilize the Broken Rhythm Attack, you attack your opponent, and when he reacts with a counter or block that you most likely know yourself–break that rhythm and change your attack to a different target, a different attack altogether (like punch instead of stab), or change the speed of your attack. The inverse to this is when your opponent attacks–execute your block and instead of block-then-counter, how about block-and-counter simultaneously? Or double your attack (stab-retract-same stab again). Or check and slash at the same time, or stab slow and then cut the opponent’s attacking hand. Be creative.

Then take those possibilities and make a list. One list for counters. One list for attacks. One list for counters to attacks. And one list for follow ups to attacks. Then train each one 500 times. Then spar with them while varying the rhythm that they are executed and used.

If this article was confusing, please post your comments or questions, and I will do my best to explain. If you are in the Northern California area and would like to exchange or test this technique or anything else on this blog, please email me and I would be glad to oblige. Thank you for visiting my blog.

By the way, the holidays are coming, so make sure you check out my books! They make great stocking-stuffers!


Author: thekuntawman

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

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