Basic Stick Fighting Techniques for Self-Defense

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Here are some basic stick fighting techniques for self-defense. It covers stance, stepping, strikes, and defense.

There are many stick fighting styles from around the world. This stick fighting training is a mixture of Filipino stick fighting forms.

I use the terms Kali, Escrima, and Filipino stick fighting interchangeably in this article. They all mean the same thing - fighting with a stick.

Stick Fighting Stance

When Escrima fighting with a stick the first thing to learn is correct stance. It is one of the most important stick fighting basics.

When stationary stand with your feet a bit wider than shoulder width apart.

Hold the stick in your strongest hand and have your strong side as your lead. The bottom of your weapon extends between 1 and 2 inches below your little finger.

Unless striking or blocking, hold your stick over your shoulder. Your hand is near your ear on the same side and the tip of your weapon points to your rear. Doing this will:

  • Keep your hand out of range from your opponent’s strike. If he hits your hand you might drop your weapon.
  • ​Give your strikes the greatest power and speed for attacking your primary target, i.e., your opponent’s head.

Your rear hand is a back-up for defense or secondary attack. Keep it close to your centerline most of the time.

Stick fighting stance

Stick Fighting Eskrima Stepping

Now you have a good kali stick fighting stance, you can learn to move.

The "spring semi-forward stepping" is a good stick fighting technique to close distance.

Your back heel is up. This turns your calf muscle into a double spring. One behind your knee and one at your heel. When you release these springs, it projects your whole body forward.

Step a small step forward with your lead foot and use your rear foot to take up the original position of your lead.

Spring semi-forward stepping

Your stance never exaggerates too long or short.

Keep most of your weight on your rear leg. The heel of your front foot lands first and then the toes from both feet land at the same time. This keeps you grounded and ready for the next move.

Stick Fighting Elementary Strikes

The next thing to learn in this stick fighting tutorial are basic stick strikes.

When practicing self taught stick fighting you want to stick to the basics. Here are the single stick elementary strikes.

The King Strike

The best strike in stick fighting by far is the "king strike". In Filipino stick fighting drills this is the number 7 strike and is a one of the most important stick fighting lessons

The number 7 strike comes straight down between your eyes. With it, you own the center-line, and who-ever owns the center-line has the advantage. This is what makes it one of the best stick fighting moves.

When striking, target your opponent’s face or the top of his head. In a defensive capability, it protects you from any angulated strike.

To do the number 7 strike, start in the basic stance. Bring your stick straight down the center into your target.

As the stick comes down your other hand comes up. This helps keep you balanced/symmetrical and is also a backup defense.

The king or number 7 strike

Practice this from a stationary position, with forward stepping, and as double hits.

You can make combinations along the number 7-axis. Here is one example:

  • Double hit, straight thrust, and step through with an uppercut using the bottom of the stick.

You can experiment by making up your own stick fighting drills.

Straight thrust and uppercut

Cutting Strikes Drill

In this single stick training drill you will practice cutting strikes. It is based on one of the traditional Escrima stick fighting drills.

Cutting strikes are those that you follow through on. Like a slash with a sword.

This is as opposed to stopping or bouncing off when you make contact.

When practicing these kali stick fighting strikes, stand a little wider than shoulder width. Lead with your strong side and have your body at 45° to your target. Point your feet toward your enemy.

Practice using circular forces. Roll your strikes using your waist. The power comes from body motion, not your arm.

Using your arm and wrist lacks power. It is good for the sport to get fast points but not very effective on the street. Big hits end fights, and these stick fighting exercises capitalize on that.

These martial arts stick fighting techniques are short range. Do not extend your arm too much. You may get more distance but it loses power at your shoulder. It will also make it easier for your opponent to manipulate/grab your stick and/or arm.

Aim to hit your target with the top couple of inches of your stick. The strikes go through your opponent in a cutting motion.

Backhand to the Head

Start with the stick on your left side to the top of your left shoulder. Strike diagonal and down across your body to your bottom right.

Backhand to the head

Forehand to Knee

Bring the stick up to shoulder height and squat down to lower your body. Strike down at your opponent’s knee.

Forehand to knee

Backhand to Knee

Raise the stick up to your left shoulder. Stay low.

Backhand to knee

Do a backhand strike to your opponent’s knee.

Aim for the knee

The above stick fighting for self-defense drill is a good stick fighting routine to add to regular training.

Learning defensive Escrima stick fighting techniques is important.

Stick Fighting Blocks

Learning defensive Escrima stick fighting techniques is important.

The following are practical and easy to do.

King Block

If your opponent uses an angled attack, your number 7 will win.

When you both use king strikes then whoever is first to the target has the advantage. If you are not the first, you must turn your attack to defense.

Note: If both fighters use king strikes at the same time then the tips of the stick will clash. In reality, this is unlikely because doing a perfect king strike is rare. In most cases, it will angle a little to one side.

To make the king strike defensive place your rear hand behind your stick as you do the strike.

If needed you can turn a little toward the angle your opponent’s strike is coming on. Do not turn over 10°.

Creating triangles makes the defense structure strong.

Do not turn over 10°

Stick-Fighting Parry

Use the stick fighting parry when both you and your opponent strike but his timing is ahead of yours. You deflect your opponent’s attack (parry) and then counter with a strike or snatch.

If your opponent attacks with a number 7 strike you need to get off center to parry it.

To parry on your right side, take an angulated step forward and raise your hand a little. Your bent arm and stick form a triangle. This triangle will cause your opponent’s attack to glide off.

Do not angle your arm out. It will weaken the structure.

The parry glides the attack away

Once you have deflected the attack, counter-attack (left picture below).

You can use your other hand to help guide his stick out of the way (right picture below), or if you are ahead of his timing, your sticks may not even come into contact.

Disarm your opponent with a snatch technique

When you need to deflect on your left side point your stick over your left shoulder. The triangle is still there.

Use triangles as strong frames for deflecting

Stick Fighting Locks and Disarms

In this section you how to stick fight by taking your opponent's stick. This stick fighting instruction uses snatches.

These Eskrima techniques are not stick fighting locks, but you can adapt them to be.

When you learn stick fighting against another stick, 90% of the time using the king strike will beat your average opponent.

When your opponent knows what he is doing, using a snatch is your next best option. This is because most stick fighting martial arts do not grab the stick. So if you learn single stick grabbing techniques you will have a major advantage.

In these Eskrima techniques there are 3 base snatches:

  • Twist
  • ​Lever
  • ​But strike

Once you know these 3 base snatches, you can make endless variations. How you do them will depend on circumstance, the angle of incoming strike, etc.

All snatches begin with the 7 defense. Once you have blocked your opponent's attack use your free hand to take control of his weapon.

In the following demonstrations, all the attacks are forward or backhand downward strikes.

With slight adjustments, you can apply these snatches to different angles of strikes.

Even if your opponent uses a perfect king strike, you can turn it into an angled strike. All you need to do is lean to one side as you block it.

Unless otherwise stated, in all these demonstrations "you" are the person on the right.

Twist Snatches

Stick on Stick

Your opponent attacks with a forward downward strike. Block the strike.

Block the strike

Grab the top of your opponent's stick with your left hand. Use an overhand grip (palm facing down).

Pull your opponent's stick down towards the outside of his guard so it is horizontal.

Your two sticks form a cross. Your stick is close to your opponent’s hand.

Pull his stick down

Push your opponent's stick into his face using a vortex motion. Pry it out of his hand by pushing it past the outside of his shoulder using a waterfall action.

Place your stick on his

Finish with a butt strike (the bottom of your stick) to your opponent’s face.

Take his stick and strike

Fist on Fist

Your opponent attacks with a forward downward strike. Block the strike.

Block the strike

Grab the top of your opponent’s stick with your left hand. Use an overhand grip.

Place your fist on his

As you pull your opponents stick down into the cross place your right fist onto the back of his right fist.

Push your opponent’s stick into his face and then pry it out of his hand by pushing it past the outside of his shoulder.

Pry his stick out of his hand

Finish with a strike to your opponent’s face.

Strike him

Lever Snatches

Hit and Twist

Your opponent attacks with a backhand downward strike. Block the strike.

Block the strike

Grab your opponent’s stick and push the top into his face.

Push his stick into his face

Twist your opponent’s stick anti-clockwise to your left using your stick as a fulcrum.

As you do this, you need to let the stick “spin” in your right hand so you finish with an overhand grip. Once your opponent’s stick is towards your left side tighten your grip.

Keep twisting until the stick comes out of your opponent’s grip. Aim the bottom of the stick towards his groin. Not only will this hit him, it also makes it easier to get the stick out of his grip.

Use your stick as a fulcrum

Arm Lever

Your opponent attacks with a backhand downward strike. Block the strike.

Block the strike

Grab your opponent’s stick and then lower it down so you can thrust the tip of your stick into him.

Thrust your stick into him

Do a second thrust past your opponent’s head. This may also be unintentional if you missed the first thrust. Next, use your arm as the fulcrum point to disarm your opponent in the same way as snatch 8.

Thrust again past him then use your arm as a fulcrum

You could also punch your opponent as opposed to the thrust.

You can punch instead of thrusting

But Strike Snatches

But Strike

Your opponent attacks with a backhand downward strike. Block the strike.

Block the strike

Grab your opponent's right wrist using an underhand grip.

Grab his wrist

Use your forearm in a downward strike to knock your opponent's stick out of his hand.

Basic Kali Martial Arts Techniques Conclusion

Stick fighting is a big subject with many techniques and strategic lessons. This article only covers the stick fighting basics you need for self-defense.

If you want to learn more, Sam Fury's Vortex Control Self-Defense is a good start.

You may also want to take stick fighting classes. And if you want to learn from the grand-masters, you can try stick fighting in the Philippines!

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