Sunday, March 1, 2009

Fighting with Traditional Weapons

Fighting with traditional weapons was part of the Federation's training events. For some, it was the highlight of the event. For others, including myself, it was great to watch. The session was only open to black belt students. We had the opportunity to gear up and work kobudo against an opponent. The gear was massive and was jokingly referred to as Robocop. There were several layers of padding...think a cross between hockey gear and sparring gear. Weapon fighting was optional and not surprisingly the same group would participate at each training.

Then one session, my class instructor, wait...I meant to say encouraged me to participate. It took fifteen minutes to put on the gear. The gloves made the weapons hard to hold and there was a full helmet. The weapons were padded and modified to reduce the chance of injury. A different class instructor helped design a suitable helmet. He was a member of the Society of Creative Anachronism, Inc (SCA) and had experience designing modified armor. SCA is an international organization whose members are dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe. Check out their web site FAQ page for more information.

It was time to choose a weapon. I picked up a bo and my opponent (my class instructor) had a bo. The match lasted only two minutes before exhaustion set in. The gear was heavy and the helmet made it hard to breathe.

I participated in this session one time over ten years ago. What did I learn from a two minute session of weapon kumite?
  • I am slightly claustrophobic. When I put the full helmet on my head, I felt a moment of panic. I had to take a few breaths in order to calm down. The helmet was heavy and hot and it made it difficult to breathe. I should have known this before I put the helmet on. I do not even like to wear turtlenecks.

  • Hands are a great target. I know this because during my two minute session, the other bo found a chink in my so called armor. The bo smashed down on my thumb and I actually saw stars. I could not bend my thumb for weeks. It was swollen and bruised. I never went to the doctor to have it check but I should have.

  • Angles, angles angles.

  • I held the bo in thirds with one hand palm up, the other palm down. This allowed me to use both ends of the bo fairly quickly. There was no time for hand changes as seen in our kata.

  • The exchanges happened faster and at a closer range than I expected.

  • Go for the disarm.

Certain lessons make a huge impact on your training. The difficulty is recognizing those lessons when they are happening. I did not realize it at the time, but this two minute session impacted my subsequent kobudo training. I am glad my class instructor encouraged me to participate because this session is no longer on the schedule.

Is there any particular session that made you look at your training differently? Did you know it at the time? Or did you realize it days, months or even years later?

Disclaimer: Do not mistake this blog as advice or instruction. This is a personal weblog. I am merely documenting my karate training experiences. The weapon fighting described in this post was performed under the supervision of an Internationally recognized kobudo instuctor with over thirty-five years of experience.


John Vesia said...

Freestyle with a bo. Interesting. Supposedly the opponent's lead hand is the target of opportunity in a bo fight. You mentioned holding the bo in thirds, which is the way I was taught for kata. Somebody once showed me this trick where if you move the hands in a bit closer, you can gain some speed with certain strikes. It works, but there's obviously a downside to using that same manuver with a cross-block.

Were there any bouts with other weapons? I'm wondering if techniques for mixed matches have been worked out (sai vs tonfa, etc).

Rick said...

You may find this of interest:

Michele said...

It was mainly bo versus bo or bo versus tunfa. The tunfa were lightly padded...usually with pipe insulation to soften the blow. The sai were more difficult to pad but I do recall someone trying it.

In most of our bo kata, the lead hand is at the center of the bo. This allows for use of the maximum range of the weapon. In the kata Ko Bo, the hands are held in thirds which feels like a more natural sparring grip.

Michele said...

Rick: Thanks for sharing the link.

Littlefair said...

I'm intereted to hear that you used mixed grip-palm up / palm down. I always manipulate the bong (bo) with both palms down. The only change I make is direction: forward or back or up and down.

Was it noticeably easier for you?

Interesting (if somewhat tangential) link:

Michele said...

Littlefair: Thank you for the video link and your comments.

This morning, I got my husband up off the chair and told him to grab a bo. I wanted to look at my on guard position with the bo (front hand palm up...back hand palm down).

In Okinawa Kenpo, the bo is over-rotated at the last six inches of the strike. By holding the bo with my front hand palm up, I am able to rotate the bo. At the completion of a strike, my hands are both palm down.

However, my husband's on guard position was different. He held the bo with both palms facing down. His front hand was in a reverse grip. He was holding the bo in thirds. He worked inside to attack the hands and head.

My husband felt the reverse grip was stronger. Using a mixed grip, I felt like I have control of both ends of the bo. We both were adjusting our hands front and back.

During the seminar I discussed in the post, the gear was heavy. The thick padded gloves made the intricate hand changes with the bo impossible.

It looks like there are benefits to both. In the kata Ko Bo, the bo is held in thirds and both grips are evident in the kata.

Thanks for the question. It started of my day with a excellent discussion on bo technique! :)

Littlefair said...

Glad to be of service :-)

I also had a play with the bo(ng) on Saturday and tried mixing the hand positions up a bit. Very useful!

elizasmom said...

Interesting discussion — I'm a bit late to the party, but in my style, we use the one-thirds rule too, and we have the mixed grip as a default. One of the things I used to teach students when I was our dojo's bo instructor was not to strangle the bo — a lot of the beginners hold on so tightly that they reduce their range of motion because they're so nervous about dropping the thing. It also enabled us to do what I think John describes, which is that you are able to slide hands closer together for certain strikes to increase speed. As he noted, not appropriate for everything, but there are certain techniques where we found it quite helpful.

Michele said...

elizasmom: Thanks for joining the discussion. We discourage a "death grip" on the bo because it limits the movement. Okinawa Kobudo has thirteen bo kata. Hand transitions are common...single hand change, double hand change,or adjusting hand position. In many of our kata, the lead hand is center of the bo with an over-rotated grip. In Okinawa Kenpo, the bo rests on the outside of elbow. Thanks again for your comments.