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Not Breaking Your Hand
The First Step To Surviving A Stick-fight
I have suffered a nasty boxer’s fracture to my right hand, an enlarged middle knuckle, and a sprained thumb, by way of punching my fellow hard-headed man. I have thankfully never been able to generate enough power with my left hand to break it on anyone.
In engaging in over 200 machete duels and over 600 stick-fights I have had 5 injuries to my right index finger, the worst being a broken tendon. A broken thumb was my worst injury to that hand. Numerous episodes of severe bruising and tendon strain have generally rendered my right hand unfit for combat 20% of the time in any given year. My left hand has suffered less, though my pinkie was cleanly broken, and the hand has been swollen and bruised to the point of uselessness for about 10% of my active stick-fighting years.
I am pleased to report that my hands have not been broken in years, and that I am taking less debilitating hand shots than at any time in my contact weaponry experience.
If you are looking to get into competition, or just wish to preserve your hand in sparring, I offer the following hard-won advice.
1. Grip your weapon more strongly with the bottom three fingers than with the index finger and thumb. The index finger and thumb are the precision side of your hand, with the smaller fingers constitution the power side. This fist-making advice has been promoted by men as different as Musashi and Dempsey. The thumb and index finger are more likely to be struck, and will be most severely damaged, when smashed between your weapon and his weapon. Leave some looseness for shock absorption.
2. Do not hold your weapon vertically. This allows the opponent’s weapon to slide down your weapon and smash your thumb and forefinger.
3. Do not hold your weapon horizontally. This permits a quick vertical strike to smash any of your knuckles or four fingers against your own stick from a plunging trajectory.
4. Make certain your weapon is held in a diagonal guard.
5. Do not present the hand. The hand should never be as far forward as the weapon while in guard.
6. Avoid using your thumb or forefinger as a guide for accuracy or to insure an edge-on cut. The thumb and forefinger, if extended along the weapon, are easily broken.
7. Keep your hand back under the cover of your shoulder, by pulling the elbow behind your ribs.
8. Never reach with a stroke.
9. Although your hand should begin moving before your feet, do not extend the elbow beyond your body until the last possible moment.
10. Permit yourself a diagonal default setting. When doing your counts, bag work, and shadow-stroking, practice aborting strokes that have been read by the opponent into a diagonal pulling beat, so that your hand is never smashed between two perpendicular objects.
11. Sacrifice your empty hand if need be, to intercept a stroke intended for your weapon hand. The empty hand is less important and less likely to be damaged than the weapon hand, as it is loose and will not be smashed between two sticks, rather hit by one. The empty hand is also hit less hard because the opponent’s stroke will hit untimed, before attaining maximum velocity.
Never wear light hand-gear when sparring with bruised hand bones, as these bruised bones might have small fractures which can easily be made worse. For sparring you want wrist protection—being a strapped down glove cuff, or a wrap or brace under a free turning glove cuff. Hockey gloves with solid thumb splints are preferable. The splints when hit usually offer total protection. The loss of sensitivity makes disarms harder—which is okay, as it forces you to be more precise while sparring—and also provides a distinctive sound, so that you know when your thumb would have been damaged.
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