What is the difference between a weapon and a tool? Take a knife as an example it can be a tool to cut up food or a weapon to defend yourself. The definition can be found in the purpose of use and, I would wager, your familiarity with the item. How comfortable are you with handling it? Are you accurate, can you hit what you are aiming at? Do you know how to hold it just so to prevent developing blisters after heavy use? There is any number of little details that can only be gained with experience from using your weapon of choice. Many martial artists gain that experience through hundreds of hours of training. There is another form of training that is often overlooked, and that is how you can be selective in the type of tools you use for your everyday chores. During the quarantine, many of us have gone outside to get a head start on our yard projects. Here is a perfect opportunity to gain some experience and knowledge in using a sword.
I have had the privilege of taking a few knife training classes with Ed Calderon (or better known as EdManifesto on social media). Ed has over 10 years of experience working in the fields of counter-narcotics, organized crime, and public safety in the northern areas of Mexico. His study into the criminal culture, from occult practices to modern fighting techniques has lead him to be recognized as one of the world’s preeminent researchers and training in the field of personal security. He has had the privilege of sharing his expertise with federal law enforcement agencies, Navy SEALS, Indonesian Kapaska, Mexican and United States intelligence service agents, and members of special forces groups from all over the world (Calderon 2018). I mention Ed’s extensive background to add weight to the advice he gave me. He once told me that if you want to learn how to use a knife talk to people who use it as part of their profession such as butchers. Butchers know exactly how to handle a knife to process an animal to get the best cuts of meat with the least amount of wasted effort. To give you a perspective on this when was the last time you tried carving a turkey for your family’s holiday dinner? Was it hard? Do you have one of those nifty electronic knives to make it easier? The electronic knife makes the special occasion easier, but it’s also cheating.
That sounds well and good, but how would you get that same experience with a sword? That is where your yard work comes in handy. Go out and get yourself a machete from your local hardware store. Machetes are incredibly close to the size and weight of a single-edged, single hand fighting sword. In fact, they make wonderful practice swords. Now that you are armed with a machete find a pile of branches you need to process, maybe trees that need their branches trimmed, or bushes that are overgrown. Can you hit the spot on the branch you are aiming for? Can you hit that same spot repeatedly?
In this picture, I am working on processing a giant pile of felled trees, branches, and various debris. I’m also using a machete, which is very tip heavy. Machetes are the modern version of a medieval weapon type known as falchions. Falchions are very popular for close-in fighters in the sport of full steel fighting. The tip heavy weight makes them ideal for chopping at your opponent’s defenses, or in this case tree branches. There is a trick to making sure the front end of the sword hits first instead of the middle or back of your blade. If you swing wrong not only will you miss your target your sword will get stuck in your splitting stump.
This detail might seem trivial, but it can be bad for the blade to constantly get stuck not to mention this is about developing control and accuracy.
The next thing to focus on is your grip. Too tight and you will tire out quickly along with developing blisters on your hands. Too loose and you won’t have enough power to drive your blade through the branches you are trying to cut. I, like most Americans, have a cush indoor job spending most of my time on computers. As a result, I have baby soft skin on my hands. Outside of that, I blister incredibly easy, even wearing gloves. Last summer I developed 4 blisters on my hands digging ONE fence post hole. However, I spent 4 hours swinging a machete cutting up tree branches without developing a single blister. It all has to do with keeping a firm yet relaxed grip, and 100s of hours of practice.
Experience is the mother of all skills. With experience, you gain confidence, accuracy, stamina, and control. All of that can be gained with a single afternoon of yard work. Can you just imagine how skilled medieval woodcutters would have been after spending a lifetime swinging an ax?
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With all the exciting things happening this year, we would love to share this amazing training with our community to help inspire a love for martial arts. You can help support these programs by following and sharing our various social media pages. There is a Facebook Page, Instagram Account, and YouTube Channel dedicated to Ironside Medieval Combat. Check out these pages, share them, talk about them, and together we can make Martial Arts an inspiration for generations yet to come.
Calderon, Ed. “Ed’s Manifesto.” Facebook, 25 Feb. 2018, www.facebook.com/edsmanifesto/.