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  • Writer's picturePSBN David

Why, yes! This IS my sword, Officer!

One of the oddities of martial arts is the use of weapons. Yes, some make more sense than others (like a knife), but some are just strange. How often are you going to be encountering a spear?

Many martial arts teach how to handle various weapons. The exact weapons taught will range quite a bit depending on the focus of the art. For example, military-based martial arts will focus more on knives and guns, whereas a traditional art will have things like staves and swords. Some arts, famously Kendo, will even wholly be around the use of a single weapon like a sword.

The obvious argument here is: which is better? You can find fiery defenses of both sides, but ultimately it always comes down to the individual’s goals. If you’re looking for a more strict self-defense focus in your martial art, it’s clear you’re much more likely to encounter a knife or gun over someone walking around with a giant sword (Highlanders aside).

Why do traditional martial arts even exist anymore then? Learning to use a sword will only really end nowadays with the police being called so why not just drop those weapons out entirely? As Kuk Sool Won is a traditional martial art, so I feel quite qualified to answer that question. I would break it into three main categories under a general umbrella of “diversified training”.


Training, Training, and More Training

The “boring explanation” is that learning to use a weapon is still a great way to train your body and mind. Learning to move your body around a staff brings you through a few different stages of training:

At first, you’re unfamiliar with it and are frequently hitting yourself with the staff. Think of this like a boxer practicing on a speed ball: the faster you move against it, the faster it’s going to come back at you. This stage teaches more coordination and reaction time as you’re your own worst enemy.

The next stage comes when you’re familiar with the weapon. Now you have a sense of how it moves, a better feel for the range of the weapon. You have an innate sense that you can’t just focus on the top half of your opponent’s staff because your shin makes for a terrible (yet effective) detection tool for the bottom half. And this leads into…


Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (if you're Superman)

The more exciting explanation: improvised weapons! Think of Jackie Chan in… every movie he’s been in! You probably won’t be carrying a staff around, but any pole (or ladder) uses similar principles. You won’t encounter someone with a sword, but defense against a bat will work exactly the same. Focus less on the weapon itself and instead look at the overall shape and principles behind using it. A chain, rope, cane, umbrella, pen, book, chair… Learning several different weapon types will give you a more general knowledge and with a little creativity, you can apply your knowledge to all sorts of things!


That's Old News

And finally, there is a high cultural value in learning these weapons. Again, this part will vary greatly, depending on the art and instructor. Traditional weapons all have an extremely interesting history behind them and their evolution of the years. This can become even more interesting when you notice that another art in a completely separate part of the world arrived at the same design, in a sort of “convergent evolution” of the weapon. Similar to how punches, kicks, and many other things will look the same or very similar between arts. Part of this is the thousands of years of cross pollination as martial artists travelled around, but there’s also just some basic principles behind things. Everyone punches this way because the people who did found they wouldn’t break their hand. Darwinism applied to combat!


I will concede that those who are looking for a modern self-defense class will likely not find what they’re looking for in a traditional art – at least not as quickly as they are hoping. Comparing a self-defense class to a traditional martial art can be likened to engineering versus pure mathematics; different uses of the same tools. And both borrow heavily from each other!

As always, I encourage people to explore martial arts, even if they don’t think Kuk Sool Won is for them! There’s so many things to learn, history to uncover, and friends to make in any art. The larger the community and the more “mystique” is broken around martial arts, the better everyone is!

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