Alive hand positioning
In stickfighting or bladefighting tournaments, I've seen a lot of different positions that the alive hand/off hand/open hand (usually the left) is often used in very different ways. To keep it simple, let's say that the non-weapon hand is the left hand unless otherwise noted. I thought this would be a productive use of the FMA forum as a technical forum to discuss the how and why of what's out there. I'll share a few examples of things I see, the how I approach it.
First of all, I think this discussion is more complex than "where should I put my left hand?" because an arbitrary position may be useful for the beginner, but may hinder a more advanced fighter who seeks a functional use rather than an arbitrary one, but more on that later.
In studying these, I've split up left hand positions into hand forward, and hand back positions. First, the hand forward ones:
One of the most common things I've seen is to take the left hand and place it palm-in against the chest, around the sternum or left pectoral. This seems to be commonly taught as a generic position when learning basic strikes etc. Part of the logic behind a fighter doing this is that its keep the left hand away as a target for a stick, yet keeps it up in such a position that it can still be brought into play in a checking motion. The downside to this is that you're practically trapping your own left hand to your body. Some eskrimadors are quite adept at using a pinned hand against its owner.
Similar to this is a centerline guard, like a wing chun stance. I feel that this one has all the benefits and drawbacks as the last one described, with the caveat that if I saw an opponent in a tournament start like this, I'd be more wary of them trying to throw a straight left if we get close.
Another common one is to bring the left fist up to the chin with the elbow pointed down, just like a boxer's guard. This can be used to throw the left hand as a cross, usually after a backhand strike or block, as a means to maintain distance. The problem here, though, is when it is used as a shield, to cover the head against stick strikes. Although it is better to take a strike on the arm than on the head, a good strategy should not involve sacrificing yourself at all. In combat, the weapon is probably something you can't just shake off (a metal tool or a blade), and in sport stickfighting the arm strike will count against the person being hit. And besides, being hit with rattan sucks.
When you're boxing, you can keep your hands up high and defend bodyshots by tucking your elbow in and using the waist. Stonewalling like this isn't a great tactic against bodyshots with a stick, since it'll be hitting bone much harder than a fist would. If you have to use your left to defend against a stick strike across the abdomen (tigbas), you're better off using the forearm pointed down, the way one would be using a weapon to intercept.
One other arm-forward stance is with the left hand near the right shoulder, across the centerline. I used to not like this one, since the hand positioning means that you can't throw a straight punch non-telegraphically since your arm is across the centerline. After working with more advanced FMA people and getting exposure to double weapons, I'm coming around to liking it. It often puts you in a good position to check or pass an incoming strike, and the backhanded strike you can do from here can have good power if correct footwork is used, and set up various other things. This is my default position I use during a vertical downward strike (#5) or a forehand sak sak/thrust. This guard is good to play with if you want to try applying sinawali actions with or without weapons in both hands.
The hand-back guards are:
hand behind: the fighter puts their hand on their left hip or behind them near their left kidney, swashbuckler style. The idea here is twofold- to ensure that the body is sideways and to take away the left hand as a target, thereby leaving the narrowest target possible to defend. The downside is that the left hand is totally out of play, but I guess this could be used by someone with a strictly long range game.
Hand up: the fencer's guard. The left hand is held above the left shoulder with the palm facing down. Ideally, the hand is thrown back on the thrust. This fanciful looking move is used to counterbalance the body on a thrust to achieve slightly longer reach. When this is internalized, the hand can be moved in other similar ways as a counterbalance. It also ensures the correct fencing body structure- if the hand is above the shoulder and the elbow is pointed back, then the body is bladed.
So, another way to say it is rather than hand-forward and hand-back guards, is to say that one can use their non-weapon arm as a counterweight/balancing device, or as a device to strike, shield or redirect.
I'm of the opinion that you're better off using the hand forward, alternating between a high guard and a crossed guard. Using only a standard boxing guard will only make it useful across a few lines of attack.
Another approach I like is to use your left hand the way you would use another stick. This doesn't entail one certain guard but builds consistency across weapons. The problem here is that generally one will start sparring single stick and develop their singlestick style and left handed habits by the time they're sparring with double sticks (depending on the training style).
So, what's your take on what your left hand should be doing when you're sparring with sticks? Is it the same or different when there's a knife instead, or espada y daga, or empty handed?
First, when learning the basic strikes/forms/twirling sets etc we're taught to alternate the live hand between the bicep of the striking arm and the hip of the live hand side. - This is apparently designed to encourage "tapi-tapi" or checking with the live hand.
Second, in sparring I've been taught a few approaches:
* One of our seniors who has won several times at national level favours the hand-behind approach for juniors who don't have checking down yet. His advice is usually along the lines of "just keep it out of the way or it will get hit".
For himself, being a very large man, he favours an extremely mobile and extended forward guard, constantly pushing, checking and trapping the opponents limbs - the general consensus is that this would probably not work so well for those of us who are less physically dominant.
* My instructor favours a low, mobile forward guard with the live hand mobile around the chest area between shoulders and navel (a note here, he uses a very low, almost crouching stance). This enables him to easily check and trap, as well as keeping the live hand nearby, in order to move the stick to it.
* I've also seen some people use a hand behind and above guard, I'm not sure what the idea is here, beyond showing off.
I try my best to emulate my instructor's guard since we're similar height/build, but I do tend to adopt a boxing style guard under pressure (damn that muscle memory) and often get a good smack to the hand or forearm for my trouble.
As for espada y daga, that's not really on the curriculum for juniors, only being really taught/examined towards Brown belt, but in the little bit I've done the guard seems pretty similar, with stabs being used instead of checking. I've sparred stick-and-knife with the senior I mentioned above, and he kept the knife against his chest until he saw an opening and then shot it straight out into my chest or throat.
Also, in knife-to-knife sparring we're taught to use a similar guard to my instructor's guard above, again very low, but possibly with the hand a little bit further out in front than in stickfighting, this seems to be to promote parrying before the opponents blade reaches your body.
Bottom line is you should keep both hands moving when within striking range, unless you are doing some sort of deception/lure/etc. Anything stationary may as well have crosshairs on it.
I originally kept my hand against the chest, just below the neck as in Dan Inosanto's book. I'm not sure at what point I started changing that, but over time it has changed to basically the left hand of a boxer's guard.
Always liked Hock Hochheim's term for people who always kept the hand on the chest, which he referred to as "epoxy hand"
While that "narrowest target" idea might work for a thrust-only sport like foil or epee fencing, it's not true for any situation where you can swing a weapon. It's actually generally the opposite.
Originally Posted by Permalost
I often keep my left hand behind in largo, and I've never had a problem getting it 'into play' when I need to. I've yet to meet the person who can change the range from largo to corto before I can move my hand.
Originally Posted by Permalost
In the cinco teros of Garimot arnis, we learn some basic largo stances that teach where the weapon and the other hand are positioned. There's a different hand position to each one, some hand forward, some hand back, but all are near the body.
I generally think that the alive hand should be forward to strike or check, but at largo range, it seems that the left hand back could actually be better, since its out of the way and could be used to assist body dynamics.
I think the live hand placement is key to the range you are at. For medio to corto range a centralized live hand is important. Positions i've used and seen are palm flat on chest, the hand with fingers together almost like a "karate chop" with the thumb against the chest and pinky out, and a "c" hand held against the chest. For close range the hand static against the chest is most basic, other options are to float the live hand behind your weapon slightly outstretched to check your stick in case a powerful strike causes your weapon to rebound toward your face. At corto one optimal place for the live hand is on the opponents weapon to constantly control the enemy, only releasing to check attacks from the opponents live hand. At Medio the live hand should be used more cautiously and overreaching can lead you your hand being a target.At largo the game seems to change completely but i'm new to largo and i'm starting to question the importance of staying centralized at longer ranges.A Tim mentioned in the time it takes to close from largo to corto the hand can easily move to a better position.
I try to keep my left hand somewhere on a line between my right shoulder and my left hip. As I understand it, this is pretty standard for Pekiti Tirsia.
We tell the new guys to imagine that they are wearing a sash that runs from the right shoulder to the left hip. The left hand should be somewhere along that sash. This keeps the hand in decent position for secondary striking, "counter offense", or trapping.
This goes for single stick and stick and knife. Double knife is a little more involved, since the "off hand" is constantly changing.
I like this.
Originally Posted by Honey Badger
Thinking about it, this is the line created by the tapi-tapi (shoulder-hip) that we do in drills, interesting.
Originally Posted by Honey Badger