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Vol. I: Bandanna Defense Against a Knife
Vol. II: Bandanna Against Unarmed Opponents
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 an aside, I've embedded not one, not two, but three very cool videos of Mr. Keating teaching whip basics and sharing thoughts on flexible weapons training for attribute development here!)
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. Back in 1410 the 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? (Your dog will love chasing this too!)
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 it!
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 myself.)
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 heavily 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 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 different options they have depending on the object at hand.
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 to you,
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