Handling and Training with Weapons

Handling and Training with Weapons
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My collection of SOGs

We live in a very safe world, and generally we have not seen violence and conflict on a global scale.

That’s not such a bad thing, for obvious reasons, but safe has made people staid.

Violence are still aplenty but living in constant peace has lulled the most of us into thinking that we no longer need to fight, and we can refrain from violence, or leave violence to the hands of ‘specialist’ such as soldiers and law enforcement folks, to take care of and deter violence.

That is how a civil society ought to be no doubt, but as martial artists, we must constantly acquaint ourselves with violence and the tools of violence.

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An Oriental Scimitar

Tools of Violence

Anything can be used as a tool in the application of violence, a hammer, fork, newspaper, mobile phone, keys; anything can be improvised as a weapons. More specialised ones such as firearms, knives, nunchakus, batons and others, are of course dedicated to the sole purpose of maiming and killing.

Aikido is primarily an empty hand art, we do train with bokken, tanto, and jo. These are mostly wooden training aid that helps us understand how Aikido moves in relation to the weapon’s design and integration to our body, and geometry of movement.

It does bring about an awareness of extension of striking range, the cutting edge of a blade, the design of a sword; it cuts, of course, but the hilt can be used as a striking surface, in the hands of a skilled and innovative swordsman.

Remington 870 shotgun used by SAF

Familiarity breeds respect

Peace has brought about a more aloof approach to weapons. People these days are alien towards what a weapon can be, and no one sees a gun, except in a Hollywood action film, or in Singapore’s context, handle an actual one (unloaded of course!) an Army Open house, or in a typical adult-age Singaporean taking national service with the military or the police. So we are very limited in our exposure to how firearm or weapons work, we are not sure nor will we be confident about how to handle them when we actually need to use one.

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A Sniper rifle used by SAF

It doesn’t mean we need to own a firearm to know how to deal with one, we just need to be constantly aware that we will one day be at the receiving end of a firearm, no matter how remote that possibility with be. We might be dealing with a knife welding crazy person (with a higher probability!!!), someone might charge at us, at random, with an ice pick, a hammer, a chair, a beer bottle, a brolly, you are free to imagine what improvised weapons one can use to inflict harm on you. What do you do?! WHAT DO YOU DO???!

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H&K 416 used by SAF

See one, know one

I happen to have an aligned interest in knives, and collect a few of them. This also helps me understand what a blade is capable of, while I cannot say that I am very trained in using one, nor disarming a knife assailant. Owning one, (in my case a few), helps me build confidence and respect for it.

Knives obviously have blades, and are build for a purpose of cutting. A kitchen knife has its obvious place, but it can still be used as a fighting knife. A purpose build fighting knife, on the other hand, is designed not for the kitchen but to withstand the rigours of penetrating a moving living meat which is very unwilling to die or get injured. In short, it is less likely to break under duress.

  • Ice pick, sharp in front, so we need to know what to avoid.
  • Hammer, well, that is something else.

Of course we cannot specifically train against each and every known weapon out there, it is not the reason for our training, or weapons training. We have weapons training to ensure that we orientate our mind towards a weapon when we see one, and apply the appropriate measures against it. We are also training ourselves to handle one, so that we can be advantageous in our fighting.

Knowledge is insurance

Statistically, we most likely will never encounter an armed attacker, so why train with knives? As martial artist, we must always ask ourselves is the art we are in limiting our dimension in fighting? Sure, there is no perfect art out there, but we must seek to perfect our art, and always be open to the potentials of other kinds of attack. Aikido as an art, is limited in its repertoire of locks, throws, and pins. There are some limited application in weapons training, and as an Aikidoka, we must use what little we know about fighting and combat, and expand that experience and knowledge so that when the time comes for us to count on our martial arts for combat and survival, we will not be caught in an ‘Oh Shit!’ ala Deer in a Headlight moment.

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blunt ornamental blades, still deadly in trained hands

My Bokken, 木剣

Any decent Aikidoka will own at least one bokken, 木剣. Or two; or more.

I have two, and each has its own story, well, perhaps the later one.

my first bokken at the bottom, the second bokken on top

The one at the bottom was my very first one, made in Taiwan, bought in Liang Seng. Anyone who is a decent martial artist fanatic in Singapore, will know about this martial arts shop, still located at Marina Square. It was a casual purchase, and since everyone who is ‘on’ enough in Aikido, will get one of these training weapons.

I also have a jo, of course. But with any Samurai influence, the bokken, a wooden representation of the Katana, is the ego status of any budding Japanese martial artist.

Choosing a Bokken

There is no special way in choosing a bokken. really, nothing special. Wood is wood. Of course, these wood are carved, very often by a machine to take the shape of a practice sword. And other than checking for surface crack, there is really no way to ensure that the one you have is going to be the one that last.

So it is very much an economic purchase, which comes with a need. I needed a bokken for practice, which is why I got the ‘Made in Taiwan’ type. What is the difference anyway?

My Second Bokken

The darker coloured one was my second and a very expensive carved, curved wooden stick. but it reaffirmed the way I looked at a bokken, because it felt like a very different bokken.

I bought it when I went to Japan in 2000, for the 8th IAF congress, some kind of once-every-four-years pilgrimage most devoted Aikidoka will go, at least once in their life. I was out with my fellow Aikido friends, and we walked into…a martial arts shop in Tokyo!

We were just browsing and didn’t really thought of buying anything. Sunny, my friend and I went up to the weapons rack and ‘toyed’ with some of their bokken and jo. They have some big-ass bokken for some really heavy-duty training. But it was this brown looking one, that I serendipitously picked up; that caught my attention.

It felt…right.

The bokken feels solid, and balanced in my hand. It got me excited, and I let Sunny held it, he nodded his head, agree in assessment that the bokken was balanced and felt good. It gives a kind of assurance and confidence when you held it, very skillfully crafted.

I was in Tokyo, on kind of a shoestring.

I didn’t plan to buy anything from that martial arts shop, maybe a good set of Japanese Gi, hakama, perhaps, certainly not a bokken.

I bought that bokken.

It was a happy purchase and it felt right in my hands. And to affirm my happy purchase, Sunny said he’d have bought it, had I not buy it first.

My made in Taiwan bokken on top, and the made in Japan bokken below

When I brought it back home, and excitedly pit it against my first Taiwanese made bokken, it really felt different. The Japanese one really does have a certain balance when you swing it.

It is a very precious purchase, and of course, I’d bring the Taiwanese one out for training, I wouldn’t want to damage my ‘silver bullet’!, but that was my mindset back then.

These days

Although that Japanese piece of wood has been with me for the past 18 years, and I liked it fondly, I’m not so attached to it so much as to not want to use it. In fact nowadays, for combined training, where the school says bring your bokken/ jo for weapons class, I have the tendency to use those already in the dojo.

It is not that I won’t like to scratch or damage, or worse, break my precious Japanese one, it is a matter of pragmatics. I have to train myself to be able to use any weapon, not just my own personal one. so my mindest these days is to use any bokken available, never mind if it is made in Taiwan, old, banged-up, I’d use it, I’d train with it, being less selective, is to be less judgmental. It is just a bokken, why get so attached to it?

On the other hand, I’m also lazy to carry 2 wooden sticks out, especially when the place of training will provide for those who didn’t have it, or didn’t bring it.

the Japanese bokken on the right have some carvings on it… the Taiwanese… just have my initials for markings
a close-up on the carvings.

The Japanese bokken

It is a valuable training tool, having the proper one, because it does help correct my swing, and balance, and you know it when you got it right, the sound of the quiet ‘whoop’ as the bokken cuts through the air. The Taiwanese one, or any bokken for that matter, will make the same sound, if you swing hard enough.

The difference is, the Japanese bokken, you don’t really have to swing it that hard, you just have to swing it correctly, and when you hear that sound, you know you are corrected.

(I have a blue band around both bokken, as it is a universally accepted colour, especially in the military to represent dummy, training, inert equipment. Besides, it is quite signature, and provide me with easy identification, in a mass training classes, with too many bokken and jo mixed together.)