“A fear of weapons is a sign of retarded sexual and emotional maturity” ~ Sigmund Freud
Weapons have always been part of human culture throughout recorded history and beyond and our computer age makes no exception. Violent attacks with knifes, bats, machetes, bottles, etc. fill the headlines more than ever and although medical care has much improved over the decades, still way too many people die from knife wounds every day.
Several traditional martial arts styles incorporate various weapons as part of their curriculum, many more useful and practical than others.
The so called Butterfly Knifes of Wing Chun are considered the highest level of training in this martial art. It is said that the Bart Jam Dao “cuts the umbilical cord” between the student and the teacher, meaning that once the student has learned and mastered the ideas of this form he is ready to be a master in his own right.
The reality is a little less romantic, particularly if the weapons are indeed the final chapter. In my own experience it takes years of practice to grasp the seemingly endless details and finer points of weapons training. But more than just an extension of ones hands or body, weapons function as an educator of the body that wields it. Every weapon, no matter how large or small teaches the body something, as you have to adapt to the weight, range, number (single or double) and nature of the particular weapon, i.e. whether it’s sharp or blunt.
When it comes to effective and efficient combat less is certainly more, but you have to have more in order to do less. Weapons are the ‘more’ that will give you the ‘less’, our ancestors, irrespective of culture and origin, knew this all to well. This hard found knowledge was ultimately driven by necessity, but once they had what they needed to survive an armed attacker they started to realise that there were many other benefits of training with weapons.
Wing Chun in particular strives to be purely functional and economical in motion and almost minimalistic, except perhaps in the desired result of defeating your opponent.
Many believe that it emerged from the southern Buddhist monastery of Shaolin and the century old martial arts practise the monastery is known for. One of the hallmarks of Shaolin Kung Fu is the vast array of martial arts weaponry. But European fighters also knew of the benefits of training with weapons and it was a long held tradition to master weapons like staff, sword and daggers along side with boxing and wrestling (MMA eat your heart out). In fact it was the practice with those weapons that enhanced and perfected the unarmed fighting abilities by highlighting areas of incorrect range, balance, footwork, power generation, etc. It was their ability to transition the skills acquired through the practice with weapons into the unarmed arena that made them truly great and dangerous fighters.
Another common problem with approaching weapons training at a later stage is that by the time the trainees are actually allowed to handle any weapons, they might see themselves as masters of at least their unarmed system.
The perhaps natural assumption that emerges at this point is that weapons are seen as an extension of the unarmed applications. This is a colossal misconception. As mentioned before ‘less is more’, but you can’t have less from less, you have to have more to get to less.
Training with weapons is much more demanding and a lot less forgiving than unarmed training. Naturally this kind of training needs to be staged and progressive as not only the risk of injury but also the rate of brain freeze is much higher. You might argue that this would be the exact reason why it should be reserved to higher levels of ability, but my experiences have shown me that the benefits outweigh the involved risks and I have yet to meet someone to tell me that training with weapons (at least the way I teach them) hasn’t improved their unarmed, irrespective of style.
So, another approach is needed to get those weapons into the hands of students (not children) way before they are black belts if they where to have any chance to make a difference in the development of the learner.
In some ways this is already happening as more and more martial artists are cross train including in weapon oriented systems like Escrima / Kali / Arnis . This has several reasons, one as described above, another is due to the fact that nobody seems to train with weapons in Wing Chun (not just going through the super short forms, I mean train as part of your weekly regime, including sparring and practice of applications) is that they have become largely abstract and seen by some as even obsolete.
Another important reason to reconsider weapons training is the rapid increase of random and unprovoked violence in many European towns and cities, which often involve some kind of weapon. The United Kingdom is sadly leading another embarrassing league table here. Recent figures indicate that in the year 2007-2008 there where some 277 deaths from stabbings in England and Wales alone, which is highest recorded figure for 30 years. This represents an average death toll as a direct result of stabbings of over 5 for every week of the year!
One way to be able to deal with an armed attacker is to learn how to handle a weapon yourself. People tend to argue that they are not very likely to parade the streets armed with sticks and knifes, but I think they are missing the point here. Training with weapons highlights all areas of vulnerability and helps the mind to recognise the type of attack and the intention of the attacker. If someone wants to warn, frighten or cut you is a very different matter if that someone wants to kill you, but how are going to know the difference and how are you going to react? What are the stress/fear factors as well as the unknown factors that influence a fight? Training with weapons can answer these questions.
Sadly there are only too many martial arts “experts” who delude themselves and others with entertaining weapons drills that will almost guarantee to get you killed as well as others who refuse to teach any such applications for similar reasons. And just in case you where wondering much (not all) of Special Forces training does not fare much better here despite all the hype they have received via books and movies in the last few years. This is not to say that Special Operatives couldn’t have a ‘tear up’, it’s for the simple reason that, compared to your regular infantry man, these specialists are very expensive to train in special weapons and tactics. Their field of operation includes special reconnaissance and military intelligence as well as counter terrorism actions. Fighting hand to hand against an armed combatant is really the very last resort for a Special Forces operative and would only be considered once dispatching the enemy with a gun or other implement has failed altogether and that’s not even mentioning the team mates they can rely on.
In conclusion; training with weapons is not simply some luxury icing on the cake that should be left for the hardcore practitioners or master levels.
Functional and effective fighting and/or martial arts training requires weapons schooling not only to become a more complete martial artist through the benefits this practice offers.
Not only is it great fun it is a further must if you ever fancy surviving a mugging or random attack involving a knife or worse (two knifes). Miss it at your peril.