Why use Rattan?

Discussion in 'Pekiti-Tirsia Kali' started by TuhonBill, Jan 18, 2015.

  1. TuhonBill

    TuhonBill Member

    Most blade based martial arts have included wooden swords as part of their training.
    The samurai had oak training swords called "bokken" and European swordsman of the Middle Ages and Renaissance used hardwood wooden swords called "wasters".
    The Martial Arts of the Philippines are no different, but the most common wood used for training traditionally is a vine-like species of palm known as rattan (one of 600 species of Calameae)

    Rattan has several advantages over hardwood when using it as a training tool. It is much more flexible than hardwood and therefore does not transfer as much vibration into your hand on impact. Repeated direct impact with inflexible hardwood weapons can cause the equivalent of "tennis elbow" (tendinitis) in your joints and interfere with your training. Both the Japanese and European martial arts avoid this by not making hard, direct "edge to edge" contact with their training weapons, (the Japanese by deflecting, instead of directly engaging, the opponent's weapon, the Europeans by engaging the edge of the opponent's sword at a slight angle and then sliding down the blade). However, it is still difficult to safely spar or do reaction drills at full speed and power with hardwood weapons. The Filipinos get around this problem by using durable, flexible rattan.

    You should keep in mind that rattan was used traditionally for training and sparring, not for actual fighting. For real fighting, if a blade was not used, then a hardwood weapon (preferably shaped in a diamond cross section to inflict more damage) was preferred.

    In addition to Pekiti-Tirsia, I had five years of training in Pentjak Silat under Suryadi "Eddie" Jafri. As proud as Eddie was of the Indonesian martial arts, he considered Filipino sword work superior to what he had learned in Indonesia. I have long suspected this advantage is due to the Filipinos training mainly with rattan (or more accurately, by the Filipinos being forced to use rattan by the Spanish banning their carrying of swords). Being able to train at full speed and power without the danger of having your arm chopped off if you made a mistake is a huge advantage over more restrictive training. It helps you develop an understanding of distance control as well as the overall timing of the fight. Something that is difficult to master if training at partial speed with real swords.

    Training with tools of different weights will help develop different attributes. Want to develop muscular endurance? Then do high repetitions with a heavy stick. However, if you want to improve your reaction time, then use light weight rattan sticks in your sparing and work hard on not getting hit, while still being able to hit your opponent.

    Want to do "iron palm" training, FMA style? Train hard contact, stick on stick drills with rattan. The vibration from the sticks hitting together will travel down your stick and into your bones (but not so much as to cause tendinitis, as hardwood would). This vibration draws calcium into the bones, increasing bone density, weight and tensile strength.

    Want more power in your weapon strikes? Then spend lots of time hitting "force on force" with your rattan sticks; because this is the equivalent of a boxer hitting the heavy bag. (And just like a boxer will use special bag gloves to protect his hands, you are using training sticks made of rattan to protect your joints).

    Is there a downside to rattan? Aside from its cost in western countries (free from the jungle beats whatever you may be paying for it), the biggest problem I see with rattan is people staying with the same beginners’ weight stick their whole career. Beginners are going to make mistakes when first practicing two man timing drills and hit each other a lot unintentionally, so it makes sense for them to start their training with lightweight sticks that are less likely to break bones. After this "training wheels" phase though, students should be moving in the direction of using practice weapons that are the same weight and length as the tool they actually carry (be that a bolo in the Philippines, or a machete in the Americas, or a police baton).

    What I see in classes in my travels though, are experienced students still using beginner weight sticks. That can make sense if a senior is practicing with a beginner to help him along (a heavy rattan will eat up a lightweight beginner's stick pretty quickly in drills), or when sparring with friends (especially if those friends want to be fully functional at work the next day); but for the most part, advanced students should be using combat weight sticks when practicing among themselves. That is one of the reasons I suggest advanced students invest in a pair of Cold Steel polycarbonate Escrima sticks. These flex on impact like rattan (and so protect you from tendinitis) but have a similar weight to the tropical ironwoods commonly used for fighting sticks. They also last a lot longer than rattan.

    Here’s the PTI store page where you can get these polycarbonate sticks:

    Tuhon Bill McGrath
  2. jspeedy

    jspeedy Member

    I'd hesitate to call a light stick a beginners stick, it comes off as a pejorative term. I've met some experienced masters that seem to prefer a light stick for regular training. Maybe with your approach to fighting this is the case but this is not the case in every FMA. Not to mention "light" is a relative term. Additionally, rattan might not be the first choice as a battlefield or self defense weapon but it is still a weapon in its own right. Many friendly and less friendly challenge matches have involved rattan sticks and used properly a rattan stick can be quite dangerous or lethal. I do agree it's good to use different weights and lengths of stick regularly to develop different attributes. If your aim is to get good at bladed weapons or heavy bludgeons use a stick that closely resembles what your ultimate goal is. My point is different arts have different ultimate goals, and some arts favor different attributes and thus will prefer different weights of stick. You can't judge a practitioner's ability or understanding of FMA by the weight of the stick they use, at the end of the day all that matters is what you can do in real time when it counts.

    Also, the cold steel sticks aren't bad. I've heard of a few guys breaking them during routine impact work to reveal an air bubble in the stick. "Stickman" Jeff Finder makes some great synthetic sticks or you could just buy some industrial delrin rods from a place like this http://www.professionalplastics.com/PLASTIC-RODS
  3. Pittsburgh Arnis

    Pittsburgh Arnis New Member

    Thanks for the nice information! I checked cold steel's website and their polypropylene sticks are 33 3/8 inches long and weigh 15.6 oz. Not sure if they still sell polycarbonate sticks. I was only able to find polypropylene.

    For comparison, a typical rattan stick (26" lenght, diameter = 1 inch) would be around 6 oz for rattan that has a density of 0.5 g/cm3.

    So the real issue is density. Polypropylene has a density of approximately 0.9 g/cm3. Whereas rattan is usually 0.4-0.6 g/cm3. The density of polycarbonate is even higher and usually around 1.2 g/cm3.

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