Working with some new students last week at NWFA in Portland gave me the idea for this article: how to improve your Eskrima Striking Skills. I observed that the newer students held their sticks too loosely, something that could get them into trouble later on in their training, or worse yet, outside of the gym.
You can explain the how and the why of a proper grip for holding a stick, but the only way to truly get a sense of whether it is sufficient is to perform full contact, full power strikes against a real target.
I discovered that my grip was not sufficient in exactly this way, when Professor Jeff introduced full contact sparring to the Intermediate Eskrima class on a regular basis.
For safe, full contact sparring you must use padded sticks, and wear special protective gear that shields the head and neck, collar bone, forearms, and hands, at a minimum. It’s a bit like what a hockey player wears. The gear is bulky, heavy, obscures your vision, and slows you down. It’s difficult to maintain a strong grip with the thick gloves, and the weight of the forearm protection wears your shoulders and arms out quickly. In other words, it’s a great way to improve your Eskrima skills.
One of my first sparring partners was Russell, and he clocked my head so hard that I felt it through my head armor. When I attempted to return his strike in kind, I was embarrassed as my stick sailed from my hands at the point of impact. This happened far too often and I had to reduce the power of my strikes to avoid loosing my stick.
After years of training and thinking that I was doing fine, I discovered that my ability to deliver a solid strike was limited by my inability to hold on to the stick firmly.
After this, I supplemented my Eskrima training with drills focused on improving my striking. Here are five things that I have since incorporated in my training that you can incorporate into yours:
1. Visualization. Imagine trying to cleave through a watermelon with your stick. You would have to generate tremendous speed and power to do this, and relying on your arm strength alone would not be adequate. You have to use your shoulder, torso, hips, and legs too.
2. Isolation strikes. A lot of them. Every day if possible. The isahan and dalawahan drills from the curriculum are good starting points. Begin in a guard position, swing as hard as you can and as fast as you can while focusing on an imaginary opponent. Always return to a guard position. Increase your reps over time. After doing this for a while, graduate to wearing your forearm armor to make it even more difficult. Change it up by practicing the other striking combinations from the curriculum with equal intensity.
When you are swinging as hard as you can and as fast as you can, you are forced to hold on to the stick. I try to do this everyday I am at the gym. Remember to wear gloves to avoid blisters.
3. In class drills, step back and practice full power swings just in front of your partner. Use your partner to focus on your target accuracy: visualize his or her head or body part as the proverbial melon.
4. Practice full contact strikes on the heavy bag. Professor Jeff has said that it is ok to strike the heaviest, hardest heavy bag in the gym with soft sticks. This is the heavy bag that is the second one in from the west window. Set the timer to three-minute rounds and slowly add more rounds.
5. Practice full contact sparring. You will need to get yourself a full set of protective gear and soft sticks. You will also need a partner. This is a great way to assess the state of your training and also improve your Eskrima skills significantly and quickly.
I am constantly tinkering with different ideas on how to improve my striking skills, and change them up to avoid boredom. If you would like a hand with any of these, let me know. And if you would like to try a hand at sparring, I can help you there too!