Author Topic: 2007 Article: The Seven Ranges of Stick Fighting  (Read 6893 times)


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2007 Article: The Seven Ranges of Stick Fighting
« on: October 17, 2018, 12:43:40 PM »

The Seven Ranges of Stickfighting by Guro Crafty

In the United States today, and perhaps in the United Kingdom as well, most Filipino Martial Arts systems and styles teach the concept of range by breaking it down into the three ranges of Largo, Medio, and Corto.  These are usually translated as long range, mid-range, and close range. Some systems prefer one range, some prefer another, some prefer to work all three equally.  For example the very name of the Lameco Eskrima system  was derived by taking the first two letters of each of these ranges: LArgo; MEdio; and COrto.

Largo is usually defined as the distance where you can strike your opponent's weapon hand or he yours. Medio is usually defined as the distance where you can strike your opponent's head or body and your live hand (the empty hand when fighting with single stick) can check/trap the opponent's limb. Corto is the distance where the butt of the stick and the live hand can strike the opponent's head/body.

For most teaching purposes here in the US these ranges suffice. Yet it is known that some systems in the Philippines organized around more than three ranges. Unable to imagine anything else, the general assumption here in the US seems to have been that these ranges must be subdivisions of the basic three and as such, possibly too nitpicky.

Those of us a bit longer in the tooth may remember a cover story in Inside Kung Fu on Guro Dan Inosanto in the early 1980s in his capacity as a teacher of Filipino Arts. In the article, there are fotos of him demonstrating much more than the three generic ranges. Similarly, in my very brief but valuable to me training with Grandmaster Ramiro Estalilla of Kabaroan Eskrima I have been exposed to a concept of range very different from that of the three generic ranges.

I mention these examples because I wish to make it clear that although the Dog Brothers Martial Arts expression of seven ranges may be distinctive, and, we hope of value, there is no claim to be the only one with more than the three basic ranges, nor is there a claim to be better than those with three.

In our first series of videos "Real Contact Stickfighting" featuring Eric "Top Dog" Knaus, our best fighter and in my opinion the best stickfighter of our time, I organized the tapes around a concept of "If you see it taught, you see it fought." We did the fights in those tapes several years before the UFC. At that time, most of the FMA being taught in the US had drifted away from the "martial" and more towards the "art" end of the spectrum. I believe that this was necessary for the art to take root in the US. As my teacher has pointed out when he talks to us in class, most Americans will not last under the teaching style of many of the teachers from the Philippines.

But what happened when our tapes came out and I began to travel around a bit was that I became aware that many people had concluded that because they did not see the "artsy stuff" in our fights, that as far as application went everything they had been taught was malarkey. Many of those who brought considerable training skills to their fighting without much success also blamed their training. Many people concluded that this was also was the Dog Brother message. Although I readily understand how some people came to such conclusions, I feel that these conclusions are mistaken, especially that regarding the Dog Brothers message.

All of what we call "the first tier fighters" of the Original Dog Brothers (Top Dog, Salty Dog, Sled Dog, and myself) have considerable training from some of the finest Filipino teachers in the world: Grand Tuhon Leo Gaje of Pekiti Tirsia, the legendary Guro Dan Inosanto, and the late Punong Guro Edgar Sulite in particular. The message of the first tape series was directed at what we perceived to be the weak link of most FMA practitioners in the US at the time that we made the videos (1992) which was a lack of hard work on the basics done with a fighter's understanding.

This matter of "the fighter's understanding" also explains the matter of skill in training not necessarily yielding skill in fighting. In the Philippines, people understood the meaning of the training because they had at least SEEN stickfights-often on Friday nights after the cockfight pits, there would be stickfighting after the cockfights were over. Just as someone can practically benefit from training in Muay Thai without getting in the ring for a full bore Muay Thai fight, so too in the Philippines training in the art could benefit those who were not actually fighters/warriors.

In contrast however, when the art came to the US, virtually all practitioners had never even seen a stickfight, let alone been in one. Football (i.e. American football) players benefit from walking through plays, but if you went to somewhere they had never seen football (Outer Mongolia?) and had them walk through some plays from the Denver Broncos playbook and said "If you are ever in a game, then this is what you do," then that first game may not go too well. We need to remember that THESE TRAINING METHODS WERE DEVELOPED IN THE PHILIPPINES BY THOSE WHO ALREADY WERE WARRIORS TO TRAIN WELL AND SAFELY. HERE IN THE UNITED STATES MANY HAVE TRIED TO USE THEM TO DEVELOP WARRIORS, WHICH IS AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT TASK, AND BLAME THE METHODS INSTEAD OF OURSELVES WHEN WE STILL CAN'T FIGHT.

Thus, in organizing the first Dog Brothers' video series, I made a deliberate decision to organize the material principally around solo training and communicating something about the essence of fights with sticks. This does NOT mean that the plethora of two man training methods of the various FMA are not relevant. It just means they weren't in the videos!

But still I thought about why people can have good training skills but not have them appear when they fight.  What I realized was that most people train in two man drills and that the drills are principally in either Media or Corto range yet WHEN THE FIGHT STARTS IT STARTS OUTSIDE OF LARGO and most people, beyond trying to be quicker and/or more powerful, haven't a clue as to what to do out there or how to get to the ranges where their skills lie IN COMPOSED BALANCE. Thus, often little or none of their cultivated skills show up in their fighting. This thought was the beginning of the understanding that led to the seven ranges.

So lets look at them. Two of the seven ranges lie outside of largo-medio-corto, and two lie inside. These ranges do not bump up against each other like bricks, instead, rather like the links of a chain, they overlap. Understand too that this is all only "a manner of talking" and should not be taken too literally. To use the JKD metaphor, once the canoe gets you across the river, you do not need to carry it on your back as you continue on your way. Fights are dynamic and in application the ranges blend freely.

SNAKE RANGE: As I have studied and been hit by Top Dog over the years I have come to appreciate that he has a unique way of moving before contact is made, both in stickwork and footwork, that distinguishes him from all other fighters I have seen, even ones trained in the same system as him (Pekiti Tirsia).   

Recently I have come to attribute this to his time in high school playing the sport of Lacrosse.  If I have my history right, Lacrosse was an already well-establish sport amongst the Iriquois Confederacy at the time that the English first arrived in North America.  In a rare moment of historical accuracy in a Hollywood film, this was acknowledged in one of the first scenes in the movie "Last of the Mohicans" wherein at a settlement the Native Americans can be seen with sticks with a small net/basket at one end playing a game in the field.

The game today is played principally in the schools of the northeastern states of America, but in the last few years it is beginning to spread further.  Indeed I am delighted that here in Southern California that there is a league in which my seven year old son has begun playing.

In its modern sport incarnation, the players wear a helmet with a mask that is something like a hockey helmet.  There is upper body protection similar to, but decidedly less protective than that of American football.  There are elbow pads and gloves similar to those of "street hockey" (i.e. dramatically lighter than ice hockey).  The game allows strong frontal checking and use of one's stick to strike the stick of the man with the ball so as to knock it out of is basket.   The protective gear is for the errant strikes that are a normal part of play.

Thus players with the ball learn "to cradle" a continuous movement of the their stick to protect if from being hit or if it is hit, to protect the ball from being knocked out of the basket while running/crashing through the opposing team towards the goal.  Cradling is also used to fake defenders into committing too soon, thus enabling passes to team mates or shots on goal on other lines.  The speed of the game at the high school, university, and now professional level needs to be seen to be truly appreciated.

My theory is that the evasive and crashing running of Lacrosse done in conjunction with the cradling motions of the Lacrosse stick, is the origin of Top Dog's distinctive stick movement.

Anyway, I like putting nicknames to things, and to the sinuous, flowing quality of Top Dog's stick movement, I put the name "the snakey stick". This has nothing to do with "snake disarms"-- this is the Filipino Martial Arts after all and consistent use of terminology is prohibited!

In DBMA, we define "The Snake" as "the skill of moving your stick to protect your hand, hide your intent, create your opening, and mask your initiation." Although the starting point is based upon what Top Dog does, we also draw upon the movements of several other quality fighters as well. No one structure, even that of "the best", works best for everyone and no one structure solves all problems.

The material of Snake range in our curriculum also includes how to analyze and solve your opponent's structure. If you can quickly recognize your opponent's structure and already know its basic strengths and weaknesses, you have less choices to make and hence can react more quickly and confidently.

It is also important to remember that there are times in a fight, as well as situations in the street, that one wants to avoid engagement and to keep the opponent(s) away. This development of this skill is also part of our curriculum for Snake range.

WEAPON RANGE:  Weapon Range is still outside of largo. It is the range where the weapons strike each other.  The shorter the weapons, e.g. folding knives, the less relevant this range. In your basic stickfight, depending upon the dynamics this can be an important range in the hands of a fighter who understands it, but even then not necessarily so. However, when the weapons are longer it is likely to be essential. For example, when two men of roughly equal skill face of with staffs, it is probable that the weapons will make contact with each other before anyone is actually hit.

Within Weapon Range there are three basic sub-categories: meet the force, merge the force, and follow the force. Most readers probably understand meet the force, and some will already appreciate that a follow the force is not so likely on an initial strike of an exchange, but may be unfamiliar with what we call "merging". My awareness on this point was triggered by Grand Master Ramiro Estalilla, whose very interesting Kabaroan system has many longer weapons, some of which are sometimes thrown.  Simply put, a merge is, as we use the term in DBMA, where the force of my strike on my opponent's weapon is approximately at an angle of 90 degrees to the line of force of his strike, i.e. halfway between meet and merge. The purpose of a merge is to knock your opponent's weapon off course and disrupt his control of it so as to create an opening for your follow up strike. There are even angles where disarms can be accomplished by mere impact on the weapon. A scientific understanding of this range can open the door to a composed, balanced entry into the hitting ranges (largo/medio/corto). This is very valuable.

Now lets take a look at the ranges inside of Largo/Medio/Corto

CLINCH/STANDING GRAPPLE: Exactly as it is named, this is where both fighters are tied up while standing. As defined in DBMA, Corto can be a similar distance, although it is usually a little bit further, but it has a very different dynamic; there, apart from the possibility of trapping, the fighters are not holding on to each other. Here, by definition, they are.

In Real Contact Stickfighting almost all entries to the clinch/standing grapple are on the high line. To try to shoot low from the greater distance of a stickfight is to expose the top or back of one's head to a full force stick shot. Because of the requirements of coming in with one's head protected, the arm positions of the tie-up are often somewhat different from emptyhand standing grapple. There are important differences in the dynamics as well, as anyone who has gotten cracked in the head with a punyo (butt strike), thrust in the belly, whacked in the third leg with the stick, "fang choked" with the stick, or thrown with the stick can attest. Furthermore, in a stickfight it is not uncommon for a standing grapple to open out back into the striking ranges. These differences do not change the fact that the skills of a stickfighting standing grapple must be on top of a good base-you ignore the emptyhand standing grapple game at your peril.

GROUND GRAPPLE: Again, the name is self-explanatory. DBMA Stickgrappling is like a game of pinball when three balls are released at once. If you pay too much attention to one ball, you lose track of the others and down the chute they go. Similarly, in stickgrappling there are the three simultaneous games of Kali, empty hand, and stickgrappling-and just like that pinball game you can rack up some really big points if you can keep track of all three.

For example, if the man is in your guard and seeks to post as an initiation to a pass of your guard as he would in empty hand, play Kali and just crack him in the elbow with your punyo and bring him to you, where you can play stickgrappling and choke him with the stick. A stickgrappling guard can be very aggressive.

In stickgrappling in is very common for one or both fighters to be disarmed or to lose a stick and then regain it by picking it up from where it lies. Thus there is a often dynamic where only one fighter or the other has a stick. Ambidexterity is also highly useful. And, as in the standing grapple, ground grapple often opens back out into the striking ranges too.

As a teacher as well as a fighter, it has been my experience that this concept of seven ranges is of great practical use. A fighter trained in these additional ranges will have both the skills and understanding of these ranges. He will not be baffled at how to get to where his Largo-Medio-Corto skills apply. He will have a more composed mind and clearer sense of mission of how to get into these ranges technically and with the composure necessary to make his opponent feel "the wrath of the rattan." Similarly, when the fight gets tied up, he has the skills and understanding to respond more fluidly and spontaneously