Many thanks to Jackie Bradbury, eskrimadora extraordinaire, for her assistance in revising this article! Follow her on Twitter!
Weapon Name: Eskrima Sticks, Escrima Sticks, Yantoks, Arnis Sticks
My beloved eskrima sticks.
Description: Rattan sticks the length of your armpit to the tips of your fingers. Some have notches carved into one end to make it easier to grip. Typically held about one fistlength above the bottom of the stick, though some practitioners prefer a lower grip. You can use one or two. Three might be tricky. The fighting style described in this post originated in the Philippines and is known as Eskrima, Kali, or Arnis.
Where Can You Get One (or two or three)? They’re sticks, so you can pick things up off the ground and use them the same way. You can get ones designed for martial arts from most weapons suppliers, in traditional rattan as well as plastic or other synthetic materials.
Most fighters will use one stick and one empty hand, for grabbing, trapping, etc. The choreography gets more complex and less realistic with two sticks vs. two sticks, so if you’re new to writing scenes with these, start with one stick per combatant.
Natural Genres: Fantasy, historical fiction, military fiction, street brawls, anything set in a forest
Unnatural Genres: Things with projectile or energy weapons. Again, hand-to-hand weapons don’t work so great against long-range weapons. I would list science fiction here, but Stargate Atlantis had some pretty cool stick fighting and made it work.
What’s It For? Smacking things.
How Long Can You Fight With It? A good long while. They’re more flowy than a staff, so each impact with an opposing weapon doesn’t jar your hands as much. A string of blows could last a couple minutes, and a full fight could go longer than that if there are breaks. Although it’s likely that somebody would lose far before then. This fighting style is intended to end the fight quickly.
What Muscles Wear Out First: The hands. The muscles go all jelly-like after enough impacts against the stick, and it makes it hard to hold onto them.
Jackie Bradbury says the shoulders and elbows should wear out first, since the entire body should be behind each strike.
Lethal: If used for head strikes or chokes, yes.
Can it leave enemy debilitated but alive long enough to deliver a monologue? Yes, via broken limbs.
Learning Curve: Swinging a stick around is easy. Swinging a stick around and not looking like a drunken caveman is hard.
Nifty Fact for Authenticity: The first few days of training will raise blisters at the base of your fingers. These hurt a lot, but you have to push through them so they turn into callouses.
Will You Hurt Yourself With It? Yes. Often. Particularly in the knuckles. Those will get hit many, many, times.
Things Your Characters Can Do With It:
1. Strike from a bazillion different angles.
2. Poke things. This hurts more than it seems and can damage organs if done at the right angle. It’s also effective against eyeballs.
Always hug your training bag after beating it up.
3. Choke opponents.
3b. Trap other parts of the body to perform joint locks and disarms.
4. Trip opponents.
5. Use the butt of the weapon (the punyo) for strikes.
Yup. This is a trend.
6. Do awesome training flow drills.
7. Spin the sticks to strike several times in a row. Some claim you can form a shield this way, but fighters who know what they’re doing can get an attack through it. The “shield” tactic would probably freak out an untrained opponent, though.
You may have noticed that you can do this with pretty much any weapon.
8. Play baseball.
Seriously, martial arts baseball needs to be a thing.
8.5 Or the drums.
Things Your Characters Cannot Do With It:
2. Block a sword’s sharp edge head-on. We went over why this is a bad idea last week.
This is still not a real sword. Don’t try this, ever.
3. Throw it. Don’t throw non-ranged weapons. This can’t be stressed enough.
Insert the cartoon “wah-wah” sound here.
4. Fight forever. Rattan versions of these will break after enough strikes. (I’ve broken five or six of them just through regular training. We weren’t even fighting zombies or anything.) Hardwood lasts longer.
5. Lift yourself off the ground. They are too short to provide a good base for jumping.
This just looks silly.
Sticks are awesome for fight scenes. They look cool, provide great versatility and flashiness, and are easy to work into a fictional universe. (Seriously, they’re sticks. Unless you have a world without trees, your characters can find them.) You can also use similar moves with pipes, umbrellas, or anything with a similar shape. In training, sticks often stand in for swords and other weapons, so many of the techniques are transferable to blade work. Sticks themselves fall short against ranged weapons and heavy blades, but are a good tool for adding pizazz to other types of fight choreography, particularly small group fights, fights in enclosed areas, or one-on-one duels.
This information is provided for assistance in writing fight scenes only, not for real-life application.