By Krishna K. Godhania

It is easy for practitioners of the Filipino martial arts to take for granted the manner of holding and gripping the stick. Consequently, the effectiveness of one’s strikes is not maximized and quite often one is in danger of losing his weapon.

This essay identifies the various grips available to the eskrimador and identifies the most advantageous holds when fighting in different ranges. The actual manner of holding the stick will ultimately depend on personal preference and convenience. The style practiced will also influence one’s choice. As one progresses in his training, he will gain the feel, experience and insight on the most efficient and effective way of holding the stick for himself.

Holding the Stick

Irrespective of style used, there are two basic ways of holding the stick. They are the normal hold and the reverse hold. The normal hold is the one where the long end of the stick is on the thumb portion of the hand holding it. The reverse hold, as the name suggests, is when the long end of the stick is on the smallest finger portion of the hand holding the cane. This position is usually a result of a successful disarm of the opponent’s stick and is a most-versatile grip in close quarters.

Risk of disarm

Holding the stick involves placing it in the palm of your hand and simply wrapping your fingers around it; however, one should be aware that there are three possibilities regarding the placement of your thumb.

The first method is to place the thumb along the stick so that it is pointing toward the tip. This was the favored grip of the older eskrimadors and helps when using a sword because it adds direction to the cuts and makes them remarkably more severe and derp. It also increases the power of a thrusting attack, because the grip stops the wrist from bending. It is best used at largo mano (long range), which is the safest range when fighting with the long blade. However, if used in close quarters this grip can leave the eskrimador more volnerable to disarms.

Early practitioners of the art placed a loop in their stick whereby they inserted the middle finger. This prevented the cane from slipping from the hand and was popular when eskrimadors used heavier sticks. Today, many practitioners frown on this practice because of the risk of dislocation to the middle finger when the opponent uses disarming techniques.

Making a Fist

The second method features wrapping the thumb around the index and middle fingers as if making a fist to punch. This is the most common grip and is particularly effective in the corto range, because it facilitates the witik or curved strikes.

However, it is not recommended when wielding a heavy sword. The added weight makes it difficult to execute a true cut with the edge and results in chopping strokes which will cause no more than superficial scratches.

The third method involves placing the thumb over the middle finger and then wrapping your index finger over it. This makes it more difficult for your opponent to disarm you. It is a preferred grip for styles employing the medium and close range, whereby the risk of disarming via controlling the thumb is used.

Then there is the issue of where to position the hand when holding the stick. Some styles have an allowance of two inches at the bottom of the stick, but this can vary up to an allowance of six inches. The butt portion of the stick is called the punio. Conversely, some systems advocate having no allowance for a punio. There are advantages and disadvantages to each method.

Long and Short

The short punio, which is up to two inches, is the preferred grip for close-range stylists. In this range the punio serves various purposes. It can be used effectively for striking, especially for setting up the various curved strikes. Furthermore, it allows the eskrimador to execute a number of disarms, while also setting up locks and throws.

The long punio, about four-to-six inches, is preferred by eskrimadors who participate in tournaments. The reason is that the stick, which is gripped by a gloved hand (worn for protection),- tends to slip during the duration of the bout – therefore, to not disarm oneself- this grip is advocated. However, one disadvantage is that it reduces one’s reach considerably and allows the opponent a chance to disarm the stick via grabbing the punio. However, while training with grandmaster Fortunato “Atong” Garcia on my last trip to the Philippines, I noticed that he used the long punio. This helped him change holds or transfer the stick from the right hand to the left with great efficiency.

The styles that use no punio give several reasons for it. First, by holding the stick at the base, you maximize your reach. This is a preferred grip for largo mano stylists who have no intention of closing and hence no use for the punio. Their principal method of disarming is to hit the opponent’s weapon hand with long-range strikes such as slashes, as opposed to the close-range stylist who uses the punio to “eject” the opponent’s stick when disarming.

Risk of thumb dislocation

The limitations of not having a punio are that you have taken away one of your close-range weapons, and it is not safe to assume that you can always keep your opponent from closing. Secondly, if you do not have a good grip, you run the risk of your weapon slipping out of your hand. This brings us to the issue of gripping effectively.

The grip is a fundamental and highly important aspect in the practice of eskrima. It must be firm, not too tight nor too loose. Too tight a grip restricts wrist movement and reduces speed and power. Too loose a grip and you run the risk of disarming oneself. The optimal pressure one should apply in his grip is something one learns through experience and long practice.

Mastering the grip is the secret behind generating speed, power and force, as well as control. The proper way of gripping the stick is to use the middle and ring fingers to securely hold the stick, while the forefinger and index fingers are used for control purposes. The thumb serves as a lock and provides additional control when executing the witik. The grip should be light and flexible. The wrist should remain flexible so the hand can rotate as one swings the stick.

When executing full-extension thrusts techniques, use only three fingers – thumb, middle finger and ring finger. Holding the stick with five fingers is disadvantageous – especially when you thrust forward at full extension – because it will be difficult to hold the cane straight, and result in a weak strike when the wrist is bent excessively. This action weakens your wrist and could cause damage in actual combat.

When delivering curved strikes, the index and small finger check the momentum of the cane while the thumb acts as a lock. To focus the power of the blows, one must tense and tighten his grip at the moment of impact. This action adds momentum to the strike and increases acceleration of the stick. It also allows the force to be focused at the point of impact. The practice of gripping the stick tightly on impact also prevents the accidental slippage of the stick from the hand.

If the eskrimador understands the art of holding and gripping the garote correctly, he will find considerable improvement in the power, control, accuracy and speed of his strikes.