Thursday, February 01, 2007

Weapons and Extreme Fighting

Let me just preface this entry with a little history about myself.

I grew up training martially (primarily kung fu with cross training in Japanese and European sword arts as well as a bit of muay thai). I got my first sword at the age of ten, but I was training before that point.

Suffice it to say that I know a little bit about martial arts and weaponry. It’s not something I go out of my way to point out, and I don’t show off. It’s just a part of my life and has been for a long time.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get to the two related topics for the evening.

For the last several years, extreme fighting has been all the rage. People seem to be really enthralled by the whole thing and try to bill it as some kind of knock down, drag out, no holds barred affair.

I’ve met several people who participate in matches. Most of the ones I’ve known are loud mouthed and more ego than skill. They’re very cocky and like to throw their weight around.

I found out that this isn’t just limited to the area ones that I’ve met. Flipping through the channels a few days ago, I came across one of their televised fights. I could only bring myself to watch about a minute of the first round.

No holds barred my foot. It basically boiled down to Americanized kickboxing with a bit of grappling and a little bit of submission based moves. In the first minute, I counted at least three times for each fighter when his opponent could have easily broken the person’s arm or leg due to the absolutely sloppy attacks. There were also several opportunities for faceplanting one of the two on the mat.

The kicks were too high, the punches were too slow and lacked power, and almost all of the attacks looked like they’d been performed by someone who had only been training martially for a month or two.

If this is “extreme” fighting, what the heck was I doing as a kid while training with my sifu?

Here’s the truth about fighting – most real fights between two people don’t tend to last much more than a minute or so if even that long. If they last longer than that, one of three things is usually the cause:

1) Neither party involved is very good.
2) Both parties are either really good or evenly matched.
3) The person who actually knows how to fight is trying not to hurt the other person.

The reason that these matches last so long (and why they have weight classes) is because there are so many rules concerning what you aren’t allowed to do. This, by its very nature, throws the “no holds barred” thing that a lot of people talk about out the window.

In an actual fight it doesn’t really matter who is bigger if you actually know what you are doing (in fact, little people can have certain advantages), and there are no rules preventing you from doing things like grabbing your opponent’s hand when he throws a clumsy punch and, using a grip on his thumb while applying the properly directed force, turning it so that it locks his wrist, then his elbow, in turn his shoulder, and then continuing the motion until one of those joints breaks like a matchstick (usually his elbow – it’s just the way that the leverage tends to work out).

I’m not advising that you do this. I’m only saying that it can be done and is a whole lot simpler than a lot of people seem to think. It is completely possible (and generally advisable) to stop at locking his shoulder or elbow because you’ve basically got him incapacitated at that point; especially if you can force him into a wall, or put him face first on a table in that situation. A little bit of pain can do great things like turning people who would otherwise want to knock your head off of your shoulders into your best friend who doesn’t want to hurt you anymore (at least until you let go).

Trust me. I know. On the whole, I don’t like to fight and I don’t really like to hurt people, but I like people trying to hurt me even less. I’d rather we all be civil and enjoy our lives, but I figure a little temporary pain on their part is okay if it can prevent lasting pain on my part.

I’m weird like that.

The point is that the people who do these sorts of matches have to take way too many things for granted (oh no, my opponent won’t hit me there). While this may not seem like a big deal, it turns into a real disadvantage in real-life situations. It causes your body to become accustomed to certain movements or not having to worry about certain defenses. This means that, in a real fight, not only do you not take advantage of a lot of openings that you’re presented with because you’ve trained your body not to, but you also leave yourself wide open for someone who doesn’t fight “fair” and isn’t above exploiting your muscle memory.

They’re really not as extreme as they try to bill themselves.


Okay, now it’s time for part two – weaponry (hey, I made the point about training with a sword for a reason)

While surfing the web last night, I ran across a site where people were talking about their armories.

Don’t look at me like that. Chances are that, if you train in a martial art that involves weapons, after a while, you start to amass a collection of your own. Besides that, a lot of people just like to collect them because they think that they look impressive, or because they love the history behind them, or whatever other reason they may have.

The thing that got me about this site was that these people, many of whom claim to actually use theirs for training, were discussing the quality of their various pieces. This in itself is not weird. What was weird was the way they were assessing the quality.

Their main points were how the weapon felt (which is important), and how it looked – specifically how the furniture (guard, pommel, etc) looked. Almost none of them commented on the quality of the blades themselves at all.

I’m sorry, people, but I will tolerate a guard which isn’t perfectly shiny or which has a small cosmetic imperfection a looooong time before I will tolerate a poorly made blade or one which has a bad temper. A lot of my swords are now far from shiny in the furniture department because I actually train with them (to the point that the grips of some of them are polished smooth from use).

I can tell you that, if that blade snaps, you and everyone around you are at risk for getting hurt.

One of the really great ones that I saw on there was one person who claimed that the last time he bought a weapon from one of the places that I prefer to get my blades from, it was total and utter crap. The catch is that the last time he got one from there was 15 years ago (by his own admission) and that he started hearing that they were improving, so he decided to get another piece from there to see for himself.

He had complaints about the cosmetics of the furniture, and that the grip wasn’t perfectly symmetrical (grips very rarely are unless they are either cast, done by computer or perfectly round). Another of his complaints was that the scabbard was not perfectly snug, so the sword might occasionally rattle when sheathed (scabbards should not be perfectly snug. If they’re too tight, it takes too long to draw the blade and you can damage the blade by trying to force it into a scabbard that is too bloody tight). These were big deals to him.

This is the sign that you’re dealing with someone looking for something pretty and not something to actually use. The truth is that this company makes very good blades for the price and that they stand up to actual use. In fact, one of the period style axes that they made has become a favorite of mine to take camping because it works wonderfully (throws well too).

He then went on to say that he tried to use it for a while, and the pommel shifted. Folks, if the pommel screws on, it’s going to shift a little with use. All you do is move it back into a proper position. It’s part of the typical repairs which you make.

His solution? He used loctite to hold it in place.

Let me say that in a different way – he used a permanent or semi-permanent adhesive (which is a pain to break free and gums up the threads. Yes, even the blue stuff) to stop a part that is made to be occasionally moved from moving.

The reason the pommel was threaded onto the tang was so that the sword could be worked on a bit easier (and this company doesn’t just weld a piece of all-thread onto the end of the blade. It’s all one piece, they just thread the end). Trust me, if you ever break a grip, you’ll be glad that you can replace it easily (well, as easily as carving a replacement can be, anyway).

The people on there also went on about how superior custom made blades were compared to the ones that you can just buy. In some respects that’s true. However, there comes a point where the expense isn’t worth it.

All swords break after they’ve been used for so long. It doesn’t matter if it’s a well made $250 sword or if it’s a $5000 custom job. If you use them, there will be a point in time that they will break. You take care of them, and make sure to not abuse them, but they will eventually break, and then you will have at least two pieces of metal.

Sorry, I’m not into status contests over who paid more or which is shinier. I buy mine to use. For me, the blade quality and temper, balance, weight, and functional quality of furniture are important. Shiny doesn’t matter because, while I keep the blades oiled and well cared for, they do eventually darken a bit.

Considering that most of the people there were just looking for pretty things, somehow I’m not surprised that most of them thought that really expensive and shiny was better.

Current mood: my head hurts
Current music: Kim Ferron – Nothing but you

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