Volume II: Bandanna Against Unarmed Opponents
bandanna, napkin, belt, rope, shirt, or pack-strap
can be transformed into a powerful defensive weapon
Snap, Wrap & Trap - Flexible Weapons of the World
When we look at the diversity of classical weapon forms around the world,
mixed in with all the blades, staves and projectiles are the often ignored
flexible weapons. There really are a lot of historical flexible weapons both
East & West when you start to add them up!
A partial list of flexible weapons would include the nunchaku, 3 sectional
staff, chain whip, rope dart, short weighted chain, sickle with weighted
chain, hook knife with rope and weighted ring, flail, leather whip, cloak,
bandanna, slung shot, knotted ropes, sarongs and even stingray tails!
As you can see, quite a diversity of forms worldwide and the list does not
end here. In the hands of an expert any object can be used in
defense. Medieval Italian Master Fiore DeLiberi said that you can use all of
the dagger techniques in his art with a hat or a pair of gloves if you find
yourself otherwise unarmed.
Why the popularity of flexible weapons? One reason is the added power! Try
this test yourself and see:
Take a tennis ball and see how far you can throw it. Then put the tennis
ball in the toe of an old sock so you have an improvised flail. Get it
spinning and see how far you can throw that tennis ball now! Pretty
impressive the difference, eh?
Another reason for their popularity is that flexible weapons also can wrap
around blocks to still strike a target. Try swinging your sock and tennis
ball flail at your buddy and if he blocks it, you'll see how it still
continues around to bonk him in the bean!
In trying to cut through the stylistic conventions, confusing terminology,
and get to the heart of the matter (the applications) let's break the
technical side into a few broad categories, shall we?
Improvised x Intentional - Is this something made specifically for
use as a weapon or is it an adapted object? A chain whip is clearly designed
as a weapon while something like a sarong is traditionally not. (At least in
it's native homeland - in modern day North America more sarongs probably are
sold for martial arts practice than anything else!)
Single Hand x Double Hand Methods - Does the weapon generally use
both hands or just one? A leather whip is usually a one handed affair while
the 3 sectional staff typically requires both hands. But at times the whip
will be used two handed in close range defense and the 3 sectional staff
will be used one handed in long range attack! Some weapons like the sickle
and chain are double handed and each hand plays a different role in attack
and defense. With others line the bandanna defense is typically double
handed and offense single handed.
Weighted x Unweighted - Depending on the weight and design not all
flexible weapons handle the same. A weighted flexible weapon has a mind of
its own once put into motion! Some can be used either way although it causes
a difference in techniques that are available to you. For example, a
bandanna with just a knot in one corner is quite different in how it moves
and choices available to you than one with a steel ball-bearing tied into
Weapon x Adjunct - This means is the flexible weapon in question
capable of stopping a man with a strike or will it be more of an add-on to
your open-hand fighting arsenal? Something like a cloak is more of an
adjunct while a pair of nunchaku would be considered a true weapon.
Hard x Soft - Is the technique hard-style, involving striking with
the weapon or is it soft-style, involving wrapping and locking? Many arts
use a blend of these two approaches.
So, what are the downsides to flexible weapons? Control! Unlike a stick or
knife where you can easily change direction and fake, with a flexible weapon
once you start an action you are committed to it. Controlling a moving
flexible weapon (especially a weighted one) can be difficult, especially
after striking a target, and can cause the weapon to even rebound on the
wielder. Not good! You need to take time and practice hitting various
targets with flexible weapons to learn about this.
Another difficulty is the level of training required to use many of these
classical flexible weapons. Either you need to have very solid open hand
skills because they are adjunct weapons or they simply require a large time
commitment to master. Unlike stick or staff skills that can be learned in
hours, something like the whip chain is a demanding mistress to learn and
that requires maintenance. (That's why I prefer the simpler flexible weapons
Finally, most classical flexible weapons take up a lot of space. You are not
going to carry around a 3 sectional staff or probably have room to use it.
Even something concealable like the rope dart still requires a huge amount
of open space to be put into action. This is why I think it's good to know
how to use the shorter ones.
We focus mainly on the use of the bandanna, jacket, and short whips (3-6
foot) in our flexible weapons training. These are all things that are easily
carried or improvised and still possible to employ in our defense in an
urban environment. Plus they all handle somewhat differently so it educates
the student about the various options they have depending on the object at
While the short whip teaches the true lines of attack, the bandanna and
jacket are more defense oriented. The short whip is usually a one handed
tool, the jacket a two handed affair, and the bandanna used with one or two
hands. The jacket has off center weight and considerable mass while the
short whip is balanced and nearly weightless and the bandanna can either be
end heavy or balanced depending if it is loaded or not.
We work to integrate these three tools into all of our regular drills such
as tapping or sumbrada. This is not always easy but it yields a deeper
appreciation for whatever the root drills is by being forced to work inside
the structure with this new weapon.
Why not try some of your favorite exercises from whatever art you practice
this way and see what you can learn! Even just basic block-punch drills can
be very educational to do like this.
All my very best
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