Admitting that you love weapons these days seems to draw a lot of negativity from people in general. I say “These days” because even a few decades ago, most people accepted that weapons were a part of life. 50 years ago, most people (at least in the countries that I have lived) had access to firearms and it was not considered ‘abnormal’ to show an interest in their use. In fact, the further back in time you investigate, the more weapons seem to be an accepted part of everyday life.
While I have always been interested in firearms, hand-to-hand or melee weapons have always been more interesting to me. A phenomenon that I have encountered in public opinions about weapons is that an interest in melee weapons, especially traditional ones, seems to be a bit more socially acceptable than an interest in firearms. It’s almost as if the average person finds guns more confronting and indicative of lethal intent than melee weapons. This is a silly perspective since both melee weapons and guns can be just as deadly in their own ways. Anyone who doubts the effectiveness of melee weapons can check out the video in this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=js0haocH4-o
As you can see, there are certain situations, even against firearm-wielding, trained police officers where melee weapons still carry the higher lethality.
I like the skill and physicality of melee weapon use as well as the speed with which they can be employed in close confines to bring a decisive conclusion to a combat situation. I think that one of the reasons for the modern social aversion to people who have self-confessed weapon interests is that there is an assumption that someone who likes weapons also likes the thought of hurting or killing people with those weapons. It may come as a surprise to the average person, but this is not necessarily the case. I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but I for one find weapons interesting for reasons other than the amount of pain, death or damage that they can inflict. I think I prefer melee weapons because the human operator is also the power source, so it is far easier to use a melee weapon to physically subdue an opponent without killing them than using a firearm. Firearm users who wish to subdue an opponent rather than kill them are fairly limited in options. The most common being to subdue their opponent psychologically with the fear of impending death.
Melee weapons give the wielder certain decisive advantages in a fight which is why they were used historically. Melee weapons improve your striking surfaces in order to maximise force delivery, increase the range of your attacks and open new types of attacks based on their specific physical characteristics. They can also be used as psychological weapons against your opponent. Someone wielding their fists may be imposing, but not at all as imposing as someone wielding a sharp, shiny sword.
Traditional Eastern martial arts most often include weapon-use as a significant part of the training. Even systems which endured through times when common weapons were outlawed due to oppressive governmental control developed the use of tools and common every-day objects as viable weapon alternatives. They did not concentrate solely on bare-hand combat. A famous example of this can be found in Okinawan martial arts. A government ban on the practice of martial arts drove the training underground and encouraged the use of weapons like the Kama and the Tonfa which were derived from farming tools. As a matter of interest, the Okinawans combined Chinese martial arts with their existing fighting arts to form what is known as Tode (China hand).
Of course, traditional Chinese martial arts are often characterised by the huge array of weapons that are used and practised as part of the training. In my own system of Chang Hong, there are various sword forms, pole forms, spear forms, umbrella forms, fan forms, flute forms, heavy pole-arm forms and even forms that can be performed with certain pieces of furniture. This was one of the characteristics which drew me into my system. I love weapons.
I have read many articles criticising the practice of traditional weapons training in martial arts systems insofar as this practice allegedly does nothing to improve self-defence response. I am going to challenge this attitude in this article because I believe that traditional weapons use is very relevant in terms of self-defence response training. One of the most regularly-encountered and simplistic arguments against traditional weapons use being relevant to modern self-defence goes something along the lines of: “We don’t walk around with swords/axes/spears/pole-arms anymore.”
Of course, this is true for the most part. We don’t walk around with swords anymore, so why would training in their use be of any benefit? I cannot gainsay this argument but what I can say is that this is an over-simplified argument and as we all know, oversimplifying an argument is a good way of losing resolution and relevant information. Take a look at some recent local news articles to convince yourself that if you are unlucky enough to find yourself in a self-defence situation facing a violent criminal attack, the most likely and best-case scenario for you to face would be multiple attackers and or attackers with melee weapons. The worst-case scenario would be multiple attackers armed with firearms. The first scenario is a horrendously bad situation to be in but the second scenario is such a bad situation, that I am not going to write any more about it in this article.
Why is facing multiple opponents armed with melee weapons so likely if you ever become the victim of a violent crime? Think about things in terms of the criminals themselves. Attacking someone is a risky and dangerous endeavour, even for a hardened criminal. A criminal will use whatever advantages they can in order to make the process safer for them. In order to increase the likelihood of success. They will have some kind of objective to achieve in their attack and this objective is unlikely to be proving that they are capable of beating you up in a fair fight. They will most likely get some of their associates to help, they will use some form of ambush tactics and they may bring a weapon or weapons along to give them as much of an advantage as they can get.
So by way of introduction to my counter-argument let’s assume a self-defence situation involving attackers who are armed with knives and/or baseball bats. Anyone who has a reasonable amount of experience in self-defence will agree that wielding some kind of weapon in this scenario will significantly increase your chances of survival (which are not good to begin with, I might add). Most veteran self-defence enthusiasts and/or instructors will be unlikely to suggest that they would adopt a gung-ho barehand approach by choice to react to this situation.
So, if you agree that weapon-use is a valid skill that should be learned by self-defence students, half of my argument is already won. But shouldn’t the self-defence student practice with the weapon that they are most likely to use in self-defence, not a whole bunch of hoary old traditional weapons?
This is true to a certain extent, but depending on where you live, carrying weapons around for self-defence may be illegal. Such as here in Australia (Tie me kangaroo down, sport). In this case, the only weapons that may be available for use may be improvised weapons that you pick up in the immediate environment of your attack.
How do you know what will be available for you to use?
Well… You don’t.
So it’s a good idea to train bare-hand combat extensively but also to train with as many weapons as possible to broaden your ability to use whatever is available at the time. If an improvised weapon is available for you to use in a deadly self-defence situation, it represents a survival tool that is hard to pass up in favour of a barehand approach. Practically-speaking, it is also a good idea to familiarise yourself with using the items that you may carry around with you on a daily basis as protective tools, such as articles of clothing and bags.
Because of the sensitivity and adherence to strong internal principles of force manipulation and structural awareness trained in Chang Hong WuShu, this system and other traditional martial arts can provide a student with advanced sensitivity and adaptability in weapon use.
As a basic guide to using weapons from the stand-point of Chang Hong, each weapon has its own centre, centreline and centreline plane. These points and alignments of the weapon need to be felt and referenced back to your own centre, centreline and centreline plane in order to maximise the weapons effectiveness. This is the true path to making a weapon an “Extension of your own body”.
Many of the exercises and application sequences that are practised in Chang Hong are specifically designed to make the student sensitive to the movement of the weapon and its connection to the student’s movement. This advanced sensitivity to weapon use develops the kind of adaptability in students which significantly improves their skill with improvised weapons. A student should work towards being able to feel an improvised weapon’s characteristics within microseconds of picking it up.
Written by Lester Walters, head of Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia
© Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia 2018. ABN 12 792 347 015