I was recently invited by my friends at Cambridge Kung Fu to an “Escrima concepts” seminar run by master Steve Tappin. Escrima is a martial art originated in the Philippines and it’s predominantly a weapon based system that teaches fighting by using sticks, machetes, knifes and daggers in various combinations of one of two weapons handled at once. The same concepts, moves and drills are applied regardless of the weapon used by the practitioner or his opponent in order to develop automatic reflexes that would work in any situation, at least in theory. If you heard of Kali, Arnis, Doce Pares or Cadena de Mano they are all similar styles: in fact I was told by an instructors that in the Philippines there are literally hundreds of different flavours of this styles, some of which are kept secret and developed among single families.
I heard great things from different sources about master Tappin’s skills: he is one of the (if not the) biggest experts of weapon based martial arts in the UK, with a large number of followers around the world and his seminars are always fully booked. This was an opportunity not to be missed, in order to improve my limited experience of weapon handling that is mostly limited to nunchakus, katana and sai, weapons used by Okinawan styles. When I first saw him I could not believe to my eyes: master Tappin is a large stocky men in his fifties that looks more like a large door security person rather than a martial artist as I was used to think of one until that day. In any case, within a few minutes into the seminar it was obvious that appearance is some time misleading.
The first exercise we were asked to perform was to face, armed with one stick, an opponent with two: the concept was to attack first, one stick at the time, to create space and allow getting close to the opponent and eventually disarming him. We then carried on working in various possible scenarios of one person with two, one or no stick facing another that as well can be armed or bear handed. All concepts explained were amazingly interesting as they could always be transferred across without thinking in what situation our opponent was attacking us. Master Tappin, with his 36 years experience of weapon handling, pointed out and repeated many time that when you are facing a weapon the correct technique makes the difference between walking out of that situation and being killed. A stick or a bottle can break your skull while a knife or a machete can seriously injure you or kill you: the quality of the concepts and the techniques practiced is vital.
It is obvious that a four hours seminar cannot teach stick fighting or defence against weapons: in fact I believe that fighting against a weapon cannot be guaranteed safe in any situation even after years of training. At the same time I was impressed by how many important concepts can be learnt in such a short time and by how many things can be overlooked unless you are taught by a real expert.