Learn to Fight First; then add Weapons

Often times beginning students have asked to learn weapons that we start during the brown belt levels. They reason that having weapons skills are better than not at first.

I’ve always responded that one has to learn to crawl before they learn to walk, learn to walk before they run. The beginning students did not understand until later, why it is so important to first learn to fight before learning weapons.

Take a look at this video starting at around 2:30 to see a form with fighting and weapons (Chinese Saber in this case) to see how much one has to learn before adding the weapon. Then I’ll give my views.

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Side Kick or Slip your Side Kick – That is the Question

When I was a teenage boy without formal lessons, I learned from books, TV shows and movies how to throw kicks and punches. One of the main kicks I learned early on was the side kick. The side kick was easier to hit a target than a snap kick because the striking surface was larger (and I saw Bruce Lee kicking people over with the side kick).

One of the things I noticed in my early Kenpo and Lima Lama training before Kenpo, was it seemed to be hard for me to hit opponents with my side kick. It was not that I did not know how to do it, nor was it that I did the kick slowly, but rather an unintended consequence of not knowing fighting strategy yet.

You see learning the basics are very important in the beginning but one has to also learn how to use the new kicks, and eventually advanced strategies. Well as the saying goes – you have to walk before you run but if you learn fighting strategy – you can use all methods of this kick, so long as you mix it up, and keep your opponent guessing!

First here is a good video of my friend, Master David Hays, demonstrating a couple of methods of throwing a side kick. I appreciate Dave’s video being out there – his is one of the better ones.

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Partisan and Rotella (or Spear and Shield) Duel

It is the late 15th century and you’ve been asked to be a second for your friends duel. The other party picked a partisan and rotella as the weapons of choice to defend his honor. You as the average high-middle-ages gentleman have been to a few battles in your time and are acquainted with all maner of weaponry. But your choice would have been a sword and dagger!

Well no worries as one of the Bolognese Italian fencing masters, Achille Marozzo, has taught this method of play in his fourth book Achille Marozzo/Fourth Book, Capitolo 179! As this is the 21st century I was able to find a video interpretation of these plays for your persual.

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Snapping Twig; Study the Body Mecnanics

You are walking home in a dark alley and all of a sudden, unbeknownst to you, a guy steps out of the shadows on your right side and pushes you back with his hand while cocking his right! Really there could be any number of set ups but you get my gist.

Someone got inside of your distance and you have to deal with him. If you had a choice you would have rather seen the attacker from outside your distance and let modern fighting strategy take over (you know keep him at bay until you are ready to strike with an overwhelming attack).

This is an ideal Kenpo (mixture of Chun Fa, Jiu-Jitsu, and Karate) scenario because one will have to rely on their training to pull them through. Kenpo (many styles) but predominantly came to the United States by way of China, Japan, Okinawa and Hawaii, is composed of basics, self-defense techniques, kata, and modern sparring (sparring to teach a dumbed down version – but safer method of tournment fighting).

I’ll go into more details about the defense but here is one of Ed Parker’s students, Larry Tatum, showing his Snapping Twig defense for this type of attack.

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Imbroccata (Thrust)

For those new to Bolognese sword techniques, they are typically listed in the Italian names. An imbroccata or overhand thrust is interesting to me as it can be thrown from one of the high defensive guard positions, guardia alicorno (unicorn guard). This guard is one of the high guards that have the point forward towards the opponent, thumb down with palm facing out – overhead on the right side.

This type of guard can defend against a downward cut (reverso sgualembrato) from the right side. To get to guardia alicorno, the tip of the sword rotates down and up in a circle motion to the outside of the body – effectively blocking a cut (the reverso sgualembrato.

So many time one will find himself in a position (guardia alicornio) where he just blocked a cut and can then start the downward thrust (Imbroccata) as one passes a step and lunges as the point thrusts into your opponent. At this point it is common to then recover into a porta di ferro stretta (narrow iron door) or a low guard with the hand pivoted to the left side.

Here is a video reference to an imbroccata thrust at the 5 minute mark.

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Why Kenpo Karate and Bolognese HEMA?

Hi – A quick introduction is in order. I’m a life long Kenpo Karate practitioner and fairly new to the Bolognese HEMA tradition. So with Kenpo I learned to fight without weapons. I’m good at fighting and in my youth I enjoyed competitive tournaments.

I’ve tried Bolognese Sidesword and Buckler, German Longsword, and some English Military Saber. The Bolognese tradition especially is rich in weapon choices, everything from spears, rotella (sheild) to great (long) swords.

So I’ll write about armed and unarmed fighting methods but likely will not cover modern firearms as my main hobbies include how to defend one’s self in a modern era without formal weapons.