Heavy weapons

I should have known it. I really should have expected what happened.

So it’s about week 7 at kuntao training, the tasty exotic mix of south Chinese kung fu and Philippine weapons techniques my wife and I are now studying, and we’re doing fine. The drills are challenging, but we’re up to the challenge. Our one episode of sparring so far went very well, with Cathy and I both defeating our opponents decisively in knife duels. The other students and the instructors have accepted us and show a gratifying degree of confidence in our abilities. Our first test approaches and we are confident of passing.

The only fly in the ointment, the one silly damn thing I’ve had persistent trouble with, is spinning my escrima sticks. Last night I found out why…

Fast wrist spins are a move in several of the drills. The combat application, of course, is that a wrist spin is a way to put kinetic energy into the stick when you don’t have room or time to swing it. Intermediate-level students are expected to be able to do them casually and so fast that the stick is hard to see moving. Cathy, of course, picked this up like it was nothing – which means everybody in our normal classes can do it except me.

I’ve been working at this diligently, but making only slow progress. This is exceptionally difficult for me, and it’s not the first time I’ve had problems this way, either; there’s a similar technique in Western sword called an “inside return”, which you’re supposed to use to dissipate the reaction energy from a sword strike so it doesn’t injure your tendons, and I’ve never been very good at that one either.

A significant part of the problem is just that I have thick, muscular wrists – they looked like swordsman’s wrists before I was a swordsman. Usually this is a good thing, but the extra power comes bundled with minor range-of-motion issues as an unwelcome extra. Spinning escrima sticks is one of the few contexts where this actually matters.

Last night we’re doing prep for the upcoming test, and I’m working with the pair of escrima sticks they issued me when I joined the school. They’re relatively lightweight rattan, a bit less than an inch in diameter, 26in long. I’m having my usual troubles – I can strike with them, but I have the devil’s own time controlling them when I try to spin them. The move just doesn’t feel right, and it doesn’t work right.

We get to a point in the test prep where the instructor tells us we’re going to need a third stick (not for wielding, to lay on the floor as a marker). I hustle over to the pile of fighting sticks under the target dummy and grab one. It feels…different.

I look at it. It’s thick – easily a half-inch more outside diameter than mine. It’s longer, too, and finished in some kind of glossy lacquer. And it’s heavy, at least half again and maybe twice the weight I’m used to. I heft it experimentally, and think “Hey. This feels pretty good. I wonder if…”

It spins beautifully. All this time, what I’ve needed to make the move work was a heavier weapon.

And I could kick myself. The clues were all there, if I’d put them together. I remember what a miserable time I had trying to control training-weight nanchaku, then what it was like when I picked up a fighting-weight nanchaku and it was easier. I remember that I’ve changed swords twice, each time for a heavier and longer weapon, and my sword-handling improved both times.

Might be the larger diameter is part of it, too. I have to slightly clench my hands to hold the smaller sticks; my grip on the bigger ones is less tense, which makes it easier to move them fluidly.

In a state of happy excitement I went to sifu Yeager and said “Look at this!” and spun the stick. “Can I get two of these? They’re just what I need!”.

He contemplates the thing dubiously and informs me that it’s a master’s stick, far too heavy for a newb student to use in training. Bummer. I see his point – it wouldn’t take a lot of effort to crack someone’s skull with what I’m holding. Well, not a lot of effort for me, anyway, and that’s the problem – he reckons I could easily over-power the thing against a training partner in a moment of inattention. In fact that is highly unlikely – my force control is extremely precise and reliable – but he hasn’t been training me long enough yet that I can reasonably expect him to know that.

But he sees my point, too. The standard training sticks are clearly just too light and skinny for me to handle well. It’s not my technique at fault after all, something about the physics and physiology has been messing me over. He promises me a pair that’s thicker and longer, at least, and then grins and makes a John Holmes joke.

Now I’m looking forward to my new sticks. And wondering how common a problem this is.

35 thoughts on “Heavy weapons

  1. Makes sense.

    The transition to Sched 80 PVC core for Aegis is predicated on the Instructor’s confidence in the student’s control, not the actual control.

  2. “Our one episode of sparring so far went very well, with Cathy and I both defeating our opponents decisively in knife duels.”

    Don’t worry about Eric. It’s Cathy you need to worry about.

  3. Could you use (as a training stick) one that is thicker, and weighted in the middle – this would give the heft you need (maybe), without the angular momentum that the teacher doesn’t trust you to use (yet)?

    Or would that just not spin “right”? I’m sure it wouldn’t be the same as training with the proper thing, but as a stopgap?

  4. “And wondering how common a problem this is. ”

    Well, there was only one John Holmes …

    (hey, you set yourself for that … ;-)

  5. This post made me imagine a jumbo jet pilot who couldn’t possibly fly a kite if his life depended on it… downside is, if such a pilot did exist and he splattered himself all over a mountainside in a Long-EZ after ferrying hundreds of passengers at a time for ten thousand hours in transcontinental airliners, it would never make an Air Crash Investigations episode.

  6. >Or would that just not spin “right”?

    It wouldn’t, I fear. But it may well be that I don’t actually need a stick quite as heavy as a master’s to do smooth spins, either. We’ll see when I get my new pair.

  7. Now I’m looking forward to my new sticks. And wondering how common a problem this is.

    Back when I did TSD we incorporated some bo staff forms into the training, usually with a bamboo bo. One day, quite by accident I had chosen a thicker, heavier wooden bo and as I went through the form I was like “now THIS is more like it!”

    I think as we handle the weapon we use its heft and inertia for feedback, to let us know we’re doing the move right. And some of us just need more heft to get the right feedback.

  8. I agree, and this is also true in the aforementioned piloting situations. I’ve flown simulators far more than aircraft, and I’ve also come to fly simulators more with the keyboard than with joysticks. While I don’t prefer this, it does prove that I don’t need that inertial feedback in the context of a simulator. Jack Woodman was a pilot who did. The first aircraft that was fly-by-wire, with the controls in the cockpit having no physical connection to the control surfaces on the wing, and also the first aircraft to have a fully featured ground simulator (excepting floating cabin and canopy viewers, which are now standard on most high-end simulators), was the Avro CF-105 Arrow. Jack Woodman was the RCAF acceptance pilot and he had all sorts of problems with the simulator because it lacked feedbacks that he found to be essential. The moving stick (the late General Dynamics F-16 Falcon was even worse with a stick that didn’t move) lacked force feedback and, especially in the IFR-only simulator that didn’t have a canopy view to put the rotating horizon around you, didn’t seem like it was connected to the plane. This caused all sorts of over-control problems. Woodman and other pilots thus drove the simulator into the ground dozens of times. The first improvement was putting force feedback into the control column based on the forces the control surfaces were experiencing. This was obviously made to the aircraft as well. The second improvement was the actual aircraft. Pilots had a far easier time mastering the aircraft because they could feel the g-forces acting on them, even while heads-down in the instruments. The more famous pilot of this aircraft, Janusz Zurakowski, had a much easier time coping with the lower feedback properties of the aircraft. This probably helped him during a failure of the AFCS where the aircraft suddenly started porpoising on its own. One thing that should always be tried in aircraft with AFCS or static stability is letting go of the controls and seeing if the aircraft stabilizes on its own (most airliners today have both AFCS and static stability, but some have only the latter.) This didn’t work, so Zura grabbed the control column to try to cancel the porpoising (I think he also switched the AFCS to manual-proportional mode, which takes a significant chunk of the electronics out of the loop and has a good chance of isolating the fault)… unfortunately during a brief dropout in the telemetry to the ground. The engineers on the ground saw the aircraft transition from stable flight into an apparent pilot-induced oscillation. Zura’s a good pilot, so they weren’t fooled for long.

    Two days ago, I encountered a TED talk by Jill Bolte Taylor about left and right brain roles and functions and how they interact. One morning, she had a large stroke in her left brain and thus her procedural/language capabilities were badly damaged:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UyyjU8fzEYU

    The top comments are about how it is like a mushroom trip. While listening to it, I realized how both brains are essential in combat and piloting. The right brain handles your situational awareness, while your left sorts out what to do with it and makes the decisions. I think that a major part of martial arts, brisk walks, gaming, and operating vehicles, is the need and training to operate both parts at the same time. I think that the need for inertial feedback is probably something that is more attuned with right-brain function, but since Eric is a computer programmer, which is more of a left-brain function, his problem is probably as he says: all in the wrists.

    Terry

    I don’t belie

  9. And what is that crap after my signature?? I’m so glad I can laugh at myself!

  10. >Eric is a computer programmer, which is more of a left-brain function

    But I’m what you might call ambibraineous – lots of mad right-brain skillz, too. Back in the 1970s a neuropsychologist tried to measure this. I’ll blog that story someday.

  11. >>> But I’m what you might call ambibraineous – lots of mad right-brain skillz, too. Back in the 1970s a neuropsychologist tried to measure this. I’ll blog that story someday.

    I think you’ve commented about it before or something, because it sounds familiar.

  12. 26 inches long? That just happens to be the length of the standard-issue wooden nightsticks that the NYPD used to equip recruits with years ago. They were universally acknowledged to be too light; the first thing a new patrolman did was to buy a heavier stick. (That was after about 1972 – before that, the first thing they did was throw away that stupid rubber-coated billy club and get a blackjack.)

  13. >I think you’ve commented about it before or something, because it sounds familiar.

    Yes he did, in the comments to Breaking Free Of The Curse Of The Gifted I believe.

    – Foo Quuxman

  14. You might want to try using the heavier sticks to limber up a bit and then switch to the lighter ones, the way baseball players swing two bats or add a weighted ring to their bat when warming up while on deck. I have very large thick hands and wrists and, as a guitar player, it always taken me a lot longer to loosen up my fingers than others with lighter builds.

  15. @BPSouther

    Somehow your post produces in my mind Mike Wingren (i.e. Disturbed) warming up backstage by spinning nunchukas before a concert. I wouldn’t be surprised if he does, lol.

    Terry

  16. I usually train staff using a small tree (literally). Yesterday I trained using a shorter and lighter staff, and it was like taking a hot rod out for a ride where I am used to a Mack Truck.

  17. IMHO, programming is as well a right-brain activity. We never build twice the same code, and put a lot of creativity in finding creative solutions to new problems. It is especially linked to the fact that once something works, it’s easy to reuse it and forget it.

    I happened to work in the automotive industry. They value repetitivity a lot, and that’s a good thing. that’s a good thing, between you’ve got a lot of work to do the next car, and it has to be as similar as possible as the previous one, for performance and safety reasons. There is some creativity involved in car design & production line design, but after, everything is left-brained.

    Software programming is just “production line design”, IMHO. Once it’s good, you either try to improve it, or you forget it(because it’s good enough, or obsolete). In many circumstances, it also goes back up to “car design”. But repetitivity is not a needed quality. Software programmers as Eric(or me, but not in the same category) are nearly always using their right-brain to invent solutions to new problems, as old ones have already been solved.

    That’s one of the reasons why 100% of software projects led by Accenture end up as industrial disasters(others reason including their tendancy to make projects as big as possible) : those guys are gods of left-brain, yet are trained to keep their own right-brain as small as possible. They are some kind of smart fools, using their huge intelligence a totally misguided way (when they are not signing contracts; there they make no mistakes).

  18. >IMHO, programming is as well a right-brain activity.

    I agree. Sometime around 1980 I had a memorable conversation with a neurologist during which he told me that certain professions train their practitioners in the ability to switch fluidly between “left-brain” and “right-brain” function/. He said it’s people who (I quote) have to be creative under strong constraints”, and specified design engineers and musicians. He didn’t add software engineers. but I think he would have had it occurred to him.

  19. >Off Topic: I winder if GPSD is affected by the following:

    GPSD itself, no. It doesn’t treat the sensor take as “trusted data” in a security sense – it can’t, there are too man receivers out there that are plain buggy. And it doesn’t run as root after initializing, so there’s no privilege-escalation window.

    But in a larger sense, GPSD can only trust the data it passes along from the devices it listens to, many of which are likely to be vulnerable.

  20. LMAOs…

    “I usually train staff using a small tree (literally).” – Russel Nelson (funny context: think of new hires)

    “They value repetitivity a lot, and that’s a good thing. that’s a good thing” – el_slapper

    “Metaphor is still alive: It’s something meta between three and five.” – me (but it occurred to me in the voice of Patrick Troughton.)

    I think that coming up with the solutions needed to make things work is more of a right-brain activity to be sure. Lateral thinking is finding unconventional relationships in things, and in the three above, if you get them, you are thinking laterally. I think that putting the conventional relationships back together is more of a left-brain activity. So, coming up with the concept solution for a problem is more right-brain, while engineering and programming it is more left-brain. I think it goes back and forth a lot as well, especially in complex things. I think our right brain probably has that sort of hunch that there is more, and gets us thinking. (lefty) Yeah, that TMI is going to take 3933m/s… (righty) but er… do we have enough food to make it all the way to Mars?

  21. OOC: Did you ever get a chance to try warming up with the heavier stick and then switch to the lighter one?

  22. >OOC: Did you ever get a chance to try warming up with the heavier stick and then switch to the lighter one?

    No, the heavy sticks have not arrived yet.

  23. F’ing android ate my post.

    Note to ASUS/Android. The second mouse button on an android tablet should behave EXACTLY the same as the second mouse button on every other f* OS in existence.

    Basically I’ve got a tiny bit (about 9 months) more experience in this than you, and no, you should not be using a heavier (and by extension more dense) stick. There are a few reasons for this, and injuring your fellow student is only a minor one (not that likely in drills or with padding).

    First off the additional mass and the “give” of the harder wood makes pingy-pingy MUCH less pleasant for the student on the receiving end–the extra weight and lack of give (goes right to their wrists.

    Secondly the harder, heavier sticks do more damage to other students sticks. This isn’t a big deal for folks who can afford to replace their sticks whenever, but at least some of your fellow students are on more restrictive budgets.

    Finally you’re not fixing your problem, you’re patching over it. What you “need” to do (no, not in the strictest sense of the word) is work on your wrist flexibility and RoM. This will help greatly when dealing with joint locks and other more complicated techniques.

    Your instructor should be able to help you with exercises and stretches. Failing that find a win chung or bujinkan school in your area and ask one of the teachers there for advice.

  24. I agree with William. Heavier sticks won’t work with a partner who is using lighter sticks because you’ll bash the hell out of her wrists. Maybe they’ll help you push through RoM issues, but you’ll make your tapi-tapi partner unhappy with them.

  25. >Heavier sticks won’t work with a partner who is using lighter sticks because you’ll bash the hell out of her wrists. Maybe they’ll help you push through RoM issues, but you’ll make your tapi-tapi partner unhappy with them.

    They came in last night. Did stick drill with about half a dozen people. Lots of jokes about them, but no complaints or signs of unhappiness.

  26. > They came in last night. Did stick drill with about half a dozen people. Lots of jokes about them, but no complaints or signs of unhappiness.

    Ah, but did it correct the problem of the OP? Are you able to get easier, more controllable spins?

  27. >Ah, but did it correct the problem of the OP? Are you able to get easier, more controllable spins?

    Yes, they did. I think these may be too heavy, though – I may want to back off to a slightly lighter pair.

    The jokes sifu and the other students are making are pretty damned funny, I must say. There’s a significant risk these could become generally known as “the John Holmes sticks”.

    And, in the obscurely-complimented department; nobody has displayed even a smidgen of doubt that I have the ability to control these things, even when we were doing kob-kob with the sticks flying pretty fast near their very own personal bodies. It’s like everybody has concluded that Eric may be absurdly strong but he’s safe to play with anyway – both of which things are true on the objective facts, but it still makes me feel good that people have noticed and aren’t twitching.

  28. @William O. B’Livion
    >Note to ASUS/Android. The second mouse button on an android tablet should behave EXACTLY the same as the second mouse button on every other f* OS in existence.

    Check your settings. In Settings | ASUS Customized Settings | Touchpad/Mouse there is a “Right Button Behavior” option and it switches between “Show Context Menu” and “Act as a Back Button.”

    I had thought the default was “Show Context Menu” which functions as an android long-hold in most apps. I suppose they could have changed this after my TF101

  29. > They came in last night. Did stick drill with about half a dozen people.
    > Lots of jokes about them, but no complaints or signs of unhappiness.

    Neither my wife, nor I ever complained when working with folks who were using heavier and harder sticks, but it certainly wasn’t pleasant.

    It’s the same as when working wiht someone who’s speed and agression exceeds their control. You get your knuckles busted more, it hurts more, but frankly you’re there to learn to fight, so if you have to put up with a bit more irritation and pain than usual, well, butch up.

    That doesn’t change that it’s unpleasant.

    Now, you might be able to work heavier sticks with a really light touch, which the folks I worked with couldn’t.

    Which obiviates the first couple considerations, but it’s still not fixing the problem and you’re not progressing as much as you could. Your life, your choice.

  30. >It’s the same as when working wiht someone who’s speed and agression exceeds their control.

    Thankfully, that’s not a problem I have. Sifu has already noticed that I can be safely paired with newbies and has taken some advantage of this.

    >Which obiviates the first couple considerations, but it’s still not fixing the problem and you’re not progressing as much as you could.

    Dunno. Some people both here and at my kuntao school have expressed the theory that smoothing out my spins with the heavy sticks will actually help me get better with the standard ones. This may be happening already.

  31. Had a similar problem, with high abinaco spins. I’m large (6’4″) – though not as muscular as you – and the strikes just didn’t seem right. And then the school got a large collection of rejects, which we taped up and played with. I generally like weapons a little larger than standard, and tried some longer/heavier sticks. The difference was stunning. They just worked. Sad it took me a couple of years to find this out; glad you discovered it much sooner.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>