By Crafty Dog
As I sit down to write this, I realize is has been 25 years since a vision came into being over three days in Ramblas Park in San Clemente, CA. It is from this perspective that I would like to share some thoughts as a prelude to the invitation to this year’s “Euro Dog Brothers Gathering of the Pack” in Bern and the “DB Open Gathering of the Pack” in Los Angeles
There is a reason the stick fights with no protective gear in the Philippines were called “death matches”—death and very serious and lasting damage were very real possibilities. We the Dog Brothers are for Life and not for death and destruction, we are for “Higher consciousness through harder contact” ©DBI. As such, “Our goal is that no one spends the night in the hospital. Our goal is that everyone goes home with the IQ with which he came. We fight to prepare each other to stand together to defend our land, women, and children.” ©
Thus we seek a ritual space version of reality, a space which unavoidably has a “moth and the flame” quality to it. Too little reality from too much protective gear and too many rules and we degenerate into martial arts and crafts with delusions of functional competence. Too much reality and we damage each other (or worse). As a result the Clans and Tribes from which we come would have too few people willing to forge themselves into something more and too few left undamaged to step forward when necessary outside the ritual space.
With all this in mind I’d like to discuss the gear and the tools we use.
When the Dog Brothers began, we knew of no one else doing what we were doing. We had only legends and myths handed down through many mouths from the homeland of the Art to guide us. Unlike those who fight today, to a considerable extent we were leaping into a great void, not quite sure of what awaited us.
Naturally as we and those who have joined us have accumulated experience over the twenty five years since then, the fighting and the gear evolved.
HAND PROTECTION: When I began my studies in Kali in 1982 the idea of the hand being a target was a revelation: “Defang the snake and the snake is harmless”. Even a moderate tap on the hand was enough to persuade us that a stick could break a hand a wrist, or even an arm without much ado. Understandably, as we began to spar and then to fight, our choice of hand protection was informed by this understanding; a hockey glove at the lighter end of the spectrum was quite typical.
Naturally this diminished wrist and stick mobility –leading to the hand getting hit more!– and so began the search for lighter and more agile alternatives that still offered some protection. Foremost amongst these have been various models of street hockey gloves—and to this day these are the standard.
Bolder yet, a goodly number of people have evolved to what can fairly be said to be no protection at all from impact. Indeed the only reason for these gloves is to protect the hand from being “cheese gratered” by the fencing masks.
In summary, the current situation is exemplary.
STICKS: When we began, the typical stick in an FMA class was something about which the kindest thing could be said was that it was “a demo stick” i.e. light and fast and often quite short too (some were as short as 24-27”). However as revealed by our sparring in the pre-Dog Brothers phase at the Inosanto Academy that we call “the After Midnight Group” it was immediately apparent that when it came to stopping power, these things were a joke.
And so the evolution to something longer, heavier, and more substantial began. Of course before finding a happy medium it was necessary to go too far I remember one day in Santa Fe where Eric and Arlan each had a small log. Nothing happened, as each, wisely respecting the power of the other and its potential consequences, warily circled the other until the round was over. I suggested to them that maybe it was time to return to sticks of a size where people were willing to actually engage and they readily agreed.
I would add that there is no fixed standard in this. I remember one day where I was banging sticks with Grand Tuhon Gaje in a drill designed to test and promote power. I was surprised at how slender and light his stick was in comparison to mine as stepped together to begin the drill. I was even more surprised as the contact began and I could barely hold on to mine! He certainly gave me something to think about!
HEADGEAR: This brings us to the matter of headgear. When we first began the After Midnight Group we were using some helmets that Eric had forged. Eric had previous experience using fencing masks, but after an absence of willing play mates he made these helmets. They were very heavy– indeed they were a challenge to neck strength—and they offered complete protection from the impact of a stick , , , and danger of lasting damage to the neck during grappling which we had just begun to allow.
One night one man was using repeatedly the protective quality of his helmet to crash entry head first like a tackling linebacker, not caring that he was taking major shots to the head that would have dropped him but for the helmet. Eric was getting irked and I spotted some old “pre-Ralph Nader” fencing masks on the shelf and pulled them down. Eric put one on and we put one on the would-be linebacker, who instantly lost his desire to be a linebacker—mission accomplished! Also, there was the added benefit of much greater safety for the neck in the stick-grapple.
These Pre-Ralph Nader masks are what we now call “first generation masks”. FGMs were not much more than a screen door shaped around the head. They served to protect the eyes, nose, and teeth (usually!) but did very little to diminish impact. All of us Original Dog Brothers fought in them and no one was willing to “take one” in the head wearing one in order to close to stick-grappling range. Combined with the stick skills that most of us had from our traditional training, much stick skill was shown.
My own experience with the FGMs is there for all to see. I do not like discussing this but I feel I owe my honesty to all of you. In return I ask that you not bring it up in conversation with me.
In the Power tape of the first series there is a fight where Eric drops me with a tremendous power backhand to my right temple. As I rise from the ground to one elbow, you can literally see my left eye spinning.
Here’s the thing: It still is. It was subtle for the first few years but over time it gradually has gotten worse. Most of the time now it no longer is in alignment with the right eye; instead it looks up and to the left—sometimes more and sometimes less, but now it is always there.
This is no small thing.
Not only does it mean that I sometimes get tired and sleepy easily when reading or driving, it also means I don’t pick up incoming as well as I should. Not a good thing for a stick fighter or when I spar MMA! When played lacrosse catch with my son, I sometimes would miss balls in embarrassing fashion. I hate it when I see it in photos and now when I have to pose for a photo (which is often in my line of work) I often squint my left eye so it shows less or I wear sunglasses.
For many years I did not connect the blow to my head and my wandering eye. The only reason I am aware of it now is that I went to an eye doctor about my eyesight and the possibility of eye glasses. The tests drew his attention to just how much my eye wandered and he asked me if I had ever been hit hard in the head.
The next time I saw him I showed him the footage and he had no doubt about that power backhand being the cause. He warned me of increased risk of a stroke due to it. As should ANY warrior, regardless of his health, I have my will in order. Tomorrow is promised to no one.
Since the era of the FGMs, there have been two important changes:
First, the fencing masks have become heavier and more protective to the point where we can speak of Second Generation Masks (SGMs) and Third Generation masks (TGMs).
Second, scientific medical awareness of the consequences has evolved as well see e.g. http://dogbrothers.com/phpBB2/index.php?topic=1315.0 The NFL is undertaking changes in response. So too is our military in response to the tragic consequences of the percussive effects of IEDs and other blasts that our troops receive in our defense. Considerable effort is being put into improving helmets that our soldiers wear, and those that football and other heavy contact sports wear.
One the one hand, it is a good thing that we can swing with full power. It is a good thing we protect the brain more now that we better appreciate the lasting consequences of a good shot to the head. Even with the greater protection of the SGMs and the TGMs people still get dropped (a.k.a. concussions) and lasting consequences still happen. At the “Dog Brothers Tribal Gathering of the Pack” this year we had one man in a TGM dropped with diminished hearing in one ear for a number of weeks after. This is no small thing.
OTOH we have some people, especially in the Third Generation Masks, now willing to take shots on the way in that they would not be willing to take in a FGM. As a result at the Open Gatherings we now sometimes see two fighters relatively unskilled with sticks swat their sticks a bit. Out of the natural fear of a stick fight one then opts for the relatively safety of clinch and ground fighting. He takes one or three to the head, and the two fighters then engage in MMA (often rather badly) all the while thinking “I’m a stick fighter in a Dog Brothers Gathering!”
This sort of fight gives unrealistic feedback to both fighters and to those witnessing the fight. It encourages heavier sticks than a fighter can handle with skill and it discourages the development of stick skills relative to MMA skills.
WHAT TO DO?
First: we need to really work on developing our anti-closing skills. This most certainly includes developing our stick skills!!! In this regard count me amongst those who believe that some of us have thrown out the baby with the bath water with the traditional training that has been abandoned. Watch Eric’s carenza at the beginning of the Power tape and you will see what I mean.
Second: those who take a tap to the face or shot to the head should acknowledge it to themselves, their opponents, and all present that without a mask the fight might have gone differently.
Third: if you are the one who was closed upon despite your delivering stick shots to your opponent as he did so, just say to yourself “In a real fight what a man can take can be quite surprising. Maybe it would not have stopped him even without the mask. I need to work on my power and my anti-closing game more, and my clinch and ground game too. After all, this is why we have no judges and no trophies in the Dog Brothers experience. The whole point is to learn and grow, not to keep score.”
Fourth: Take advantage of events such as one developed and guided by Growling Dog and Dirty Dog of the Toro Clan: “Beat The Crap Out Of Cancer”. These events allowing for a wide range of understandings and intensities and in addition to raising money for good works also allow all concerned to explore and grow under conditions of lesser risk.
Fifth: As most of you have noticed, over the past several years I have been guiding the Open and Tribal Gatherings towards the greater use of knives. One of the main reasons I have done this is to compensate for the TGMs and restore proper balance towards stick skill. Clinch and ground fighting are quite a bit different when knives are in play!!!
With this in mind, some words about the knives themselves.
In the beginning, we used rattan dowels for some “sport knife dueling” as a warm up for the real purpose to the day: Stick fighting. There was a code of “treating it like a rational person would treat a knife” but admittedly there was a bit of cognitive dissonance with this formulation—a rational person in a rational state of mind avoids knife duels! In the real world a bad and/or crazy person may say, in the memorable words of someone with whom I once had a conversation, “I pump him until he’s dead, then I bind my wounds”.
However in our sport knife dueling this tends to lead to a meaningless experience. Both fighters “die”. This has not stopped many people from doing exactly that however!
Thus the search has been on for something more painful sport dueling knives. For a time we tried the Shocknives. Though they remain a valuable tool for anti-knife training they weren’t quite up to the rigors of a Dog Brothers Gathering.
Over time what we came up with was aluminum trainer knives. They have the advantage of really hurting , , , a lot! Hands, wrists, and even arms can be broken. A thrust to the torso or head can be a fight ender. However, there is the risk of penetration, particularly with some of the pointier ones out there. We posted on youtube a penetration that did occur at the DB 2012 Tribal Gathering, but youtube took it down for being too bloody. My explanation that it was to show our people the risks involved went unanswered. Regardless, KNOW THIS, the consequences of penetration could be really severe.
Thus we now offer some “DBMA Sport Dueling Knives”.
As always, “This is dangerous. Don’t do it unless you agree to no suing no one for no reason, for nothing no how no way.” These knives have round tips and are thicker—with both qualities having the purpose lessening penetration, but remember “Only you are responsible for you”!
Sixth: As your skills and those of your opponents improve, consider going to an Original Dog Brother and asking to borrow his FGM or find one of your own via one of the websites.
Seventh: Some have suggested going to no head gear at all.
Here is why:
I must begin by admitting that when the UFC came to us to be a special event Eric, Arlan, and I were all willing to go without headgear. The why of this is another conversation for another day, but for now it suffices to say that to stick fight without head gear is not “Friends at the end of the day” fight.
I am aware of three occasions where stickfights were done without headgear.
In two of them, to my eye there was no intention to take full power shots to the head—properly so!!!. The third one (which occurred before the other two) was a tournament in the interior of Negros that I witnessed in 1997. The fighters were all doing real contact stick fighting for the first time and were inspired by their teacher to do it without headgear. One of them took a nasty shot to the cheekbone, quite close to the eye. It swelled up mightily and can be seen in the closing footage of one of my DVDs (Staff was it?)
For me, the message of no head gear is both confusing and unsatisfactory.
If there is no intention to really hit the head, then the truth of what is going on is at variance with what it is taken by others to be. If there IS intention to truly hit the head, then it is not a matter of “Friends at the end of the day.” It is not Dog Brothers. It is Icarus, falling to his death in the sea as the wax on his wings melts from flying too close to the sun.
“The greater the dichotomy, the profounder the transformation. Higher consciousness through harder contact!” © DBI
Guiding Force of the Dog Brothers