Are martial arts weapons practical for defense or are they relics only relevant in sport karate and preserving tradition? When I train martial arts whether open hand or with weapons, I train for combat. I want my technique to be relevant in defense. I use weapons that I feel can be used in defense as well as kata. I treat kata as shadow boxing, not just a demonstration of moves or an act for competition.
I do not train much with bladed weapons. Right now the only bladed weapons I train with regularly are kamas. I train those because they are part of the curriculum of one of the styles I study. I have not studied the katana or broad swords. I do some knife drills to increase my hand speed for sparring. I do believe bladed weapons are effective. However, the results of sword, kamas and knife attack are too severe and can be considered excessive force even in dangerous situations. The police may not be sympathetic to a victim of a home invasion if the homeowner took off the attacker’s hand with a katana. The homeowner would probably be looked upon more favorably by the authorities if they used a legally owned firearm. Using a sword or knife is more up close and personal than a gun. A gun even at close range is farther removed than a knife or sword. With a bladed weapon you need to make physical contact and sever flesh whereas the bullet is projected. In reality the intent of both is the same but the perception of defense with a bladed weapon especially a martial arts weapon can be looked upon negatively.
Watching television or the movies would lead one to believe that a more positive defense weapon is the baseball bat. People in movies and TV shows that use the bat seem to be normal and positive people. Even though this method of defense is more accepted in our culture, I am not a fan of the baseball bat. Although, I do prefer wooden weapons like the bo, escrima sticks and tonfa. With escrima sticks or tonfa, one can inflict high pain with little damage, contain a threat or inflict serious injury. I like the flexibility of being able to escalate a response with a single weapon.
For home defense I prefer the escrima sticks. When my son was younger he was walking home after a class. My wife said that she saw him surrounded by a group of teens. I took my sticks, concealed them in my jacket and went to take a look. He was surrounded by about ten boys, a couple bigger than me. As I approached, I went over strategies in my head to get him out. It turns out that they were some of his friends, no harm, no foul. The sticks stayed hidden and I went home. If I did need to use them, I am confident that I would have been able to do enough damage to get my son and me out safely without injuring the boys too badly. The same cannot be said about a knife or gun. If they needed to be used, the damage would be much more severe and threatening with those weapons (especially the gun) is more likely to attract the attention of the police.
I train for defense. I do not like flashy kata or simulated weapons. A bo should be more than a cheerleader’s baton. Flashy, open kata can be entertaining but I have trouble considering those kata martial arts. I am not sure how twirling a bo 20 feet above your head will help defend you against attack. I believe that martial arts weapons can be used as defense. It is fun to participate in sport karate and it is important to preserve tradition but if we are training with these weapons, we need to remember that they are weapons and not toys to be twirled around.