By Jay de Leon
Originally published in WorldBlackBelt, 2005
Weight Machine The last decade has seen an explosion of training equipment in every kind of sports, especially high-tech gadgetry calculated to increase performance levels. You see them in fitness centers, professional team training rooms, schools and even home gyms.
Martial arts is no exception. While the progression might not be that dramatic or high-tech, still I have seen the changes from makiwaras and regular heavy bags to training mannequins like “Bob” and fancy heavy bags, filled with everything from water to sand to cotton.
Utilizing training equipment in Filipino martial arts (FMA) has many advantages, just like in traditional martial arts. It is a good way to develop attributes (power, speed, stamina, etc.). It is a relatively safe way to train, considering the inherent dangers associated with weapons. It is a fun way to train, especially when a training partner is not available or you simply want to work solo drills.
In my case, most of the training equipment I have employed can probably be described as homemade, crude, cheap yet unbelievable effective and loads of fun to use. A couple of them were the result of my fertile imagination. Most of them, though, are versions of equipment the old time practitioners used. For purposes of this article, we will not include protective armor and training weapons; that’s an entirely separate discussion and article.
Here then, are some effective yet fun, and very cheap training equipment you can build to supplement your training in FMA.
This item is the cheapest training equipment in all sports, and it has become associated with FMA. Yes, we are talking about discarded auto rubber tires, so the cost to you is zero. The simplest use is to tie one and hang it from a tree or a strong beam, and you whack away with your sticks to your heart’s content. You can hang two or three of them upright, one on top of another, freely hanging, and now you can practice your power drills, hitting high, medium and low. One instructor I knew must have had an abundant supply of them, so he stacked them flat, one on top of another, up to a man’s height, with a thick heavy pole in the middle anchored to the ground to hold them together. One bit of advice—use your old sticks, because your sticks will get black streaks from the tires.
An indispensable training equipment for kung fu practitioners is the mook jong or wooden dummy—a wooden representation of a man with arms and legs. Kung fu practitioners practice empty hand blocks and strikes as well as kicks on the wood, developing amazing strength and power in their techniques. Well, I devised my own mook jong for my FMA, except of course it was no wooden dummy. It was a wooden and steel dummy. The body was wooden, just a normal square beam, but the arms and legs were made of steel pipes, covered with industrial foam and duct tape. I am the most “unhandy” man around, yet I was able to build this dummy by myself over a week’s time, with a cost of about $100.00. My students and I have used this dummy for single stick, double stick, espada y daga, live blade drills, live hand drills and many other drills. My dummy is about 12 years old now, still has a lot of mileage left in it, and in spite of the beatings and death blows I have dealt it, will no doubt Wooden Dummy out live me.
Bladed weapons posts
These are literally wooden posts or beams, anchored to the ground and sometimes atop as well. At one school, I had four of these posts, of different sizes and thickness, because they were leftover material. One post was bare, except for the painting of a face at the appropriate level. The other three had varying amounts of padding and duct tape. We used these posts for live blade training. We practiced back cuts (we broke Ka-Bars, Bowie knives and assorted knives on them), knife throwing, (be ready to have your walls, floor and other weapons gouged by errant missiles), testing how deep our folder carries could slice through thick padding of different materials, how quickly and how much distance we could cover and deliver a slash or a thrust, and other drills. We found out that, contrary to what Bruce Lee said in one of his movies, boards sometimes hit back—your bladed weapon could turn Bladed weapons post against you and cut you.
I mentioned knife-throwing in the previous section. For you serious knife-throwers, you need a serious target. Buy or get a wooden pallet. I have actually seen an ad wherein somebody was giving pallets away. Reinforce and cover the target side fully with wooden blocks, planks or leftover wood. Paint your target on the wood (bull’s eye, human silhouette). Make sure you have a good backstop. Let her rip. True confessions : A long time ago, I bought shurikens from a mail order company which came unsharpened. We sharpened them and had a blast throwing them at such a target. Our backstop was one side of a detached garage, which eventually became pockmarked from errant shurikens launched Targetby wanna-be ninjas that could not throw straight.
Swinging Rattan Sticks
This is again another simple training device. Simply tie two rattan sticks together at their center, so that they form an X. Just like the tire, hang from the branch of a tree or a beam in your dojo or garage, at around eye or head level. Perform sinawali drills or similar drills. Depending how much space you have, or how much challenge you want out of the drill, you can hang two or three of these around you, forcing you to pivot or close the distance. Again, you can make this drill as simple or as challenging as you want.
Swinging Tennis Ball
All you need is a tennis ball, a metal or aluminum pipe about a foot long, and some rope. Just draw the ball through the rope at one end, draw the rope through the metal pipe and hang the contraption from a branch of a tree or a beam. The object is to hit the tennis ball with your single stick. The trick is to adjust the timing of the return of the ball such that the interval is not too long and you have too much time to hit the ball, or the interval is so short that you cannot hit the ball. Once you get the right timing and the hang of it, it is really fun. At the very least, it is an excellent hand-eye coordination drill and you can make the drill more complex by doing witiks (snaps or flicks), thrusts, twirls, etc.
The cost of this equipment is zero, because the equipment is a dead tree. You can do this drill only if you live in the Philippines or a tropical country, or you live in a plantation here in the U.S. First of all, you practice on a dead tree or one that is not expected to bear any more fruit.& Please do not hurt a living tree. Second, it has to be a soft wood or pulp tree. Example of trees I have slashed to ribbons include banana trees and papaya trees. Again, depending on the weapon you have and the thickness of the tree, it can be a fun drill in how to slash and thrust. How did you think those Filipino farmers with bolos around their waist get to be so good slashing and thrusting?