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Lightsaber Arnis
FMA Wand Strikes Examined
Many FMA instructors stress retracting stick strokes as part of their curriculum. These are sometimes called ‘witicks’ [I’m not an FMA person, so don’t know how to spell it. That is a phonetic guess.]. Barbarian stick-fighters call these strokes raps or taps. These are sometimes fanning blows, wherein the fighter bounces the stick from ear pad to face cage and back again. This fanning ‘aboneeka’ [Again, I’m making a phonetic guess at the spelling, as I am merely a lowly American barbarian, and not an FMA buzzsaw]. This fanning combination stroke does have practical applications, though it is usually used to score points with light sticks against heavy armor. It is not my intention to discuss fanning. I am answering a question put to me this past Tuesday by a fighter I train.
His FMA instructor teaches a finishing blow which is a retracting vertical backhand stick stroke to the top of the head, delivered as the stick-fighter steps into the pocket and brings both feet together. The velocity of the blow is enhanced by grabbing the stick arm at the bicep with the empty hand to trigger a momentum switch. As done by the instructor this stroke does have more pop than the typical tap, but not as much as a slash.
Of the many retracting blows used by FMA practitioners, this is the most extreme I have seen, so I will stick with critiquing it. First, I should note that most FMA guys out there seem to have a gee-whiz move like this to wow the American karate community. The FMA student base in the U.S. is still largely based on converted karate and kung fu practitioners whose idea of weapon handling is vested in flowery and flashy forms, not combat. I can’t fault the FMA masters for giving these people what they want if it keeps them coming to class. Besides, most FMA practitioners will never fight with a stick, so what is the harm?
Also, the stick tapping drills that have served as the basis for FMA curriculum in the U.S. since the 1970’s encourage retracting blows in order to facilitate these drills. For instance, major FMA figures who still tour the U.S. have taught defenses against retracting back hands to the flank for decades. As a veteran of over 600 stick fights with minimal gear, I can tell you that anyone—even the Stick God himself—who wants to hit me in the side with a retracting backhand with a stick can have that shot while I readjust his headpiece so he’s looking out the ear hole. Hell I get most of my disarms by letting guys slam pretty heavy sticks into my side.
The Forensics of the Stick
It takes years of intense training before a fighter can develop enough velocity on their stroke to stop a tough man wearing a light fencing mask and light gloves with a single stroke. A stick is not technically a ‘weapon’, as it has not been shaped, weighted, or had blades or spikes or studs implanted. This does make it a legally defensible survival tool and a reasonable contact competition implement.
Strokes to the top of the head with police telescopic batons, pinewood batons, and bats wielded by gang members, have, as often as not resulted in a bent or broken weapon as an incapacitated antagonist. Debt collectors and cops avoid the side of the head so as not to kill and the crown because it just causes a lot of bleeding and does not defeat the skull. Short strokes to the jaw, and the joints, are the order of the day in real encounters by serious clubbers.
FMA Excuse #1: But the Stick Represents a Blade
Okay, quite aside from the fact that sword fighting is not a practical modern art, let us consider the blade. The blade, particularly a long sword blade, is designed to either shear through the target in a slashing motion [curved blade], or cleave throw the target with a chopping motion [wide straight blade]. The edge of the blade is the embodiment of the wedge principal in combat. To tap a body or head with a blade and pull it back is to avoid cutting as much as possible short of slapping with the flat of the blade. Indeed, against bony targets, a light stick tapped vigorously is almost as likely to cause bleeding as a tap with an edged weapon.
FMA Excuse #2: But the Stick Represents a War Club
A retracting blow bounced back and forth from the wrist with a heavy weapon, will injure the wrist, and will minimizing the crushing potential of the heavy weapon.
Pit Falls Of Retracting Stick Strokes
Look, raps with the stick work. I once fought Chuck Goetz with a half-inch thick 28 inch rattan escrima stick. He had a 32 inch hickory baseball bat. I beat him with rapping attacks against his hands, which were forever exposed when he tried to swing the bat. He ended up resorting to using the bat like a short spear and trying to stab me to protect his hands. Raps are effective if you are on the move laterally and at angles.
Most FMA practitioners that use raps do so to steal a point in armored wand fighting bouts. Striking a WEKAF head piece with a hollow padded plastic wand, results in a loud popping noise, enhancing point recognition by the judges. If you are to use a vertical tap attack, do know that that stroke would not stop a tough man even if he had no head protection on. Also, if you decide to fight outside of armored wand bouts, you have to find a way to deliver this stroke from the outside, while on your toes and moving at angles. The light stick or wand tap to the top of an opponent’s head is, in essence, the farcical equivalent of a leaping back-fist to the top of the head in karate point fighting.
Countering Tips
Always follow the retracting blow.
If he hits you in the face cage with a lateral backhand and then retracts it, just step, shift, or lunge in and pin his retracting arm with your empty hand, while you chop into his body or shoulder, or fan the head, with your stick.
If he taps your stick hand roll your wrist and counter with a vertical slash which is double the power of his tap.
If he likes to tap with high verticals from the outside target his forearm with lateral slashes, or just enter under a roof block.
If he likes to fan, step to the side with a hard lateral stroke, striking his ulna bone perpendicularly.
If he does the elaborate lightsaber blow described above, in which he steps in, drags his rear foot up to add some force, and applies his empty rear hand to his weapon arm as a momentum switch, then do whatever you want. After all, he is in your wheelhouse, with both of his feet together, his checking hand pinning his own weapon arm, and his stick bouncing back his way.
As for the specific stroke taught by the FMA instructor above, I have had a standing offer of $20 to any fighter who can score on me with that stroke in a bout, or in full contact sparring, since 2011. I haven’t paid up yet.
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Add Comment
Adam SwinderFebruary 20, 2014 4:30 PM UTC

I am sorely tempted to practice this for the sole purpose of earning $20.
responds:February 21, 2014 11:30 AM UTC

I will have a $20 on me the next time we spar young man. Remember, it only counts if you grab the bicep of your stick hand with your empty hand as you score.