As much as I love BJJ, sometimes I need to stratch out and try something else. Thus is was that last weekend I drove to Dayton for Recrational Violence 2014, an all day series of classes for practitioners of Western martial arts.
The instructors were an eclectic bunch. Kirk Lawson studies classic pugilism, Bowie knife, Tomahawk, Bata (Irish stick), Military sabre, Bartitisu, and holds black belts in Judo and Aikido. Ken Pfrenger practices Boxing, Wrestling, Sombo and a variety of historical European stick and knife systems. Randal Gustitis has a martial arts bio long enough to make its own blog post, but his expertise ranges from Eastern arts such as Yang style Taijiquan and Pencak Silat Tanjung Sari to Western arts such as Jogo do Pau do Ilha Terceira and Highland broadsword and a whole bunch of other arts besides. Tim Anderson practices the AMOK! knife system and has a background in JKD Concepts, Filipino Martial Arts, Bowie and Tomahawk.
The field of Western martial arts (WMA) is often referred to as HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts), although technically the WMA moniker is a bit more inclusive. Most of these arts have been reconstructed by dedicated amateur scholars working from old manuals that cover topics ranging from armoured longsword fighing to bare-knuckle boxing.
The seminar started at 9:00 in the morning with Kirk Lawson covering the wrestling methods present in old-school bare-knuckle boxing. Before the 1860s, wrestling was an essential component of boxing technique and could be used either to throw the opponent or hold him in a advantageous position for punching.
Before we started on the wrestling, Kirk took us through the basics of old-school bare-knuckle boxing and why the stances and tactics were different from modern boxing. Rounds in old-school boxing lasted until one boxer was either taken down with a throw or knocked down by a punch. The fights lasted until one fighter could no longer stand back up and return to the mark at the beginning of a new round. Striking was generally done at a longer range than modern boxing because coming in closer quickly lead to grappling.
The actual wrestling was pretty basic – some basic clinches, hip throws, trips, and counters. The double-leg takedown which is the mainstay of modern MMA was noticeably missing. (I’ll have to ask Kirk if he knows why that is.) The interesting thing was the examination of the techniques in historical context.
At 10:30 we moved on to “Dirty Boxing” methods as taught by Ken Pfrenger. This continued the examination of Pre-Marquess of Queensbury boxing with a focus on some of the nastier striking methods which would not be allowed in modern competition but are very applicable to street self-defense. Once again, we spent some time learning some of the basics – stance, power generation, general theory – before moving on to the “dirty tricks”.
The “dirty tricks” were mostly things like elbows and groin shots. Nothing revolutionary, although I did pick up on a couple of variations I hadn’t tried before. Once again, the interesting part was the historical framework and the discussion of why certain approaches were used based on the rules of the time.
After lunch, we changed course a bit. Instead of continuing our study of the manly art of pugilism, we examined the methods whereby a gentleman of quality might use his walking stick to subdue those unmannerly ruffians who practice these “boxing” methods for the purpose of assaulting their betters on the streets. Single stick methods of the day were typically based on military sword systems. In this case Randal Gustitus built the class on the old Highland broadsword method of Andrew Lonnergan.
Maybe I’ve been spending too much time around ripped and heavily tattooed professional fighters, but at first glance you would not guess Randal to be the highly accomplished martial artist that he is. At first glance he would seem to be a nerdy, bespectacled couch potato IT professional. Once we got going, however, I was left with no doubt as to his knowledge and skills.
We started out with the basic movements of Lonnergan’s system. Next we examined a number of ways those movements could translate into defenses for sword against sword. Then we went through the sequence again using the same techniques for a walking stick against an unarmed assailant. The tricky part was the footwork. The concept of the angles being used was familiar to me from the Filipino martial arts, but the stepping pattern was different from what I am used to. By the end of the class I was feeling basically comfortable with the footwork, but I could tell that this was an area which would reward deep study and practice.
For the last class, we took a break from the historical European focus. Tim has studied historical methods for Bowie and Tomahawk, but this session was built around the AMOK! system, which is a modern American system. I’m not sure what the foundations of the AMOK! system are, but the techniques shown were familiar to me from my exposure to FCS Kali.
My favorite part of the class was a training exercise we did after the technical practice. Tim designated a strip along the gym floor about the width of a narrow back alley. One participant got the “fun” of being the defender. Two other participants were given training knives and instructions to gut the defender. Since the attackers were doing their best to “win” rather than feed easy attacks for a demo, this left the defender with no option but to flee full speed up and down the alley, parrying all the way. After the first lap, we mixed it up – one armed and one unarmed attacker, one armed and one unarmed attacker with the defender also armed, everyone armed. We got no pauses between laps, so my lungs were burning by the end. I really appreciated this drill because it did a lot to break practitioners out of the “dueling” mentality. In this scenario, if I spent time trying to fake out or score points against one opponent, the other would already be stabbing me in the back. The only option was to move continiously and try to survive.
After class I managed to score an extended interview with the instructors that I hope to get transcribed into another blog post or two soon. This may be the first time that I’ve had the chance to sit down with a group of people that love to talk about the martial arts in all their variety in as much detail and length as I do. If I hadn’t had other comittments for the evening, we might have carried on talking into the next morning.
I’d like to thank Kirk, Ken, Randal, and Tim for putting on a great seminar and S.W.O.R.D. in Dayton, Ohio for hosting the event.