22 January 2006

Masaaki Hatsumi's Stick Fighting Book: A review.

I practice three martial arts. One I do regularly, the other two just enough to be able to perform effeciently should I ever find myself in a real, though statistically unlikely, dust up. The one I practice regularly has street applications but I am mostly just into the sporting aspects of it. The art is Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (a ground fighting art derived from judo), and I hit the mat two or three times aweek for about 4 to 5 hours at a stretch. Pretty goddamn time consuming. The other arts are not related to ground fighting, and they are, Kickboxing (my version of which has been parred down to a combination of Boxing and Muay Thai Kick-boxing) and Filipino stick fighting. These arts I practice because in the street I will not be able to work my infamous "x-guard," or hold an opponent in kesa gatame for a minute while I try to set up a kimura (this is also called a hammer lock and was used with some success by Beouwulf to tear the arm off of Grendel. I have never ripped anyone's arm off but I have secured a number of submissions with it.) The point is not all of the sporting aspects of Brazilian Jiu-jistsu have immediate street application. But a right cross, a thai low kick and the ability to wield an every day object or walking stick as a deadly weapon are all very efficatious in those situations where heads must be cracked.
I picked up Hatsumi's book on the subject of stick fighting because a friend of mine told me it was easily worth the 17.00 bucks it would cost. So on his say so, I gave amazon.com 17.00 bucks and bought a book.
Was the book worth it? Yes. Is it the best book on stick fighting there is? I don't think so. But I do think it is easily one of the best books on the stick as a weapon of self-defense there is. This is good because the subtitle and the foreword of the book set instruction in self-defence as its goal. It is not a stick fighting book per se. You may be saying to yourself, self-defense? Fighting? Its
all the same isn't it? The answer is a not so simple no.
Most martial arts are predicated on the assumption that you and your opponent are in a situation very much like a duel. Most arts are practiced in pairs with opponents facing each other, learning techniques that apply to one on one, hand to hand or weapon to weapon combat scenarios. Such arts truly are about fighting, specifically they are about dueling and the various forms in which dueling can occur. Being a good boxer doesn't mean you will be good at defending yourself in a real "self-defense" scenario. It can mean that. But such transitions typically require some thought to apply what is essentially dueling skill to the random, un-orthodox self-defense situation.
Hatsumi's book, Stick Fighting: Techniques of Self-Defense, is not a dueling book. So consequently almost every review of this book I read coming from those who practice Filipino stick fighting have totally hated it. Calling these reviews negative would be something of an understatement. They are wrong of course. And much of that wrongness comes from the fact they misunderstand what they themselves do. They are duelists. To use the stick as an escrimador against an assailant who was accosting them with only their bare hands would not be considered self-defense. It would be oh-so-brutal felonious assault. The other reason for the less than open minded reviews come from the the fact that Hatsumi's style of fighting is more akin to quaterstaff fighting than the filipino hold one end and hit with other approach. There is no view of the world quite so comforting as the one you see when you look through your blinders I guess.
Hatsumi's book is in that category of fighting style "X" for self defense. In my opinion this a much neglected category in martial arts literature. It, the book, is much different from the filipino version of stick fighting. It is a decidedly Japanese approach to the use of a stick anywhere from 3/4 of a meter to a meter in length and maybe 3-5.5 centimeters in width as tool of self-defense. The art from which these techniques are derived is Tai-jitsu, and the techinques illustrated in the book survey a wide range of self-defense scenarios. These scenarios appear to assume that your attacker is not a martial artist specialized in some approach to combat, but rather just a thug intent on clumsily, but with determination, inflicting harm on you for some nefarious end. As such the book does what it sets out to do.
Did I like every technique I saw? No, not really. But I could say that about nearly every martial arts book I have read. It is easily as good as Leo Giron's book on a different aspect of stick fighting and I loved that book. So I don't like all the techniques in the book. For instance, Hatsumi is very partial to dealing with any grabbing of the chest area by looping the stick over the top of the wrist(s) of the attacker so that it forms a plane across the radial bone(that is the bone in your forearm on the thumbside) and grabbing the other side of the stick with the other hand. If you do this correctly, yourwrists will form an X, the top of which will snuggly bracket the ulna(that is outer bone of the forearm), each hand will be clasping the stick, which forms the top bracket. This will effecetively trap the fist. By pulling down with your arms and bending at the waist, you can generate quite a force which will drive into the wrist where stick and radial bone meet. This is terribly painful. But it would be a rare occasion that I would try it. And Hatsumi also uses this as a counter attack against a punch. Which I would also never do. But I am biased. As Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu stylist I am used to pressure. Furthermore to me all punches should be the quick, powerful, dynamic attacks of boxing. So when I see a technique that requires I do something fairly dexterous and complex to a punch (which remember I am thinking of in terms of a boxing style punch) I am skeptical. But the fact is such techniques are probably quite effective against clumsy unskilled, untrained and un athletic attackers. And lets face it, that is what most of them are.
Hatsumi has put together an excellent work on the self-defense aspects of the stick. Anyone wishing to broaden their ability to use the stick as a weapon of self-defense would benefit from picking it up.

19 Comments:

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Excellent points. I would like to see a greater emphasis on self-defense books.

 
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