Parrying with the flat or the edge...

geezer

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I while back I was watching a video by Tim Hartman in which he repeated the well known admonitions against parrying edge to edge when fighting with long bladed weapons (bolos, barongs, itaks , etc.) and cautioning the viewer that parrying with the edge could cause a stress fracture and your blade would break. Here's the video:


Personally, this seems pretty damned unlikely unless you are fighting with thin, brittle kitchen knives. Even cheap machete will bend rather than break, and a decent sword will take a heck of a beating. I know some HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) enthusiasts who have tested this premise and found that even a thin-bladed rapier is almost impossible to break. This was my own experience when I briefly tried my hand at rapier some years back. I went online and found a good deal to support this, for example:


Now none of this makes it a great idea to expose a treasured blade to unnecessary abuse, and there are good arguments for avoiding edge to edge impact when you can. In fact it's obviously best to avoid blade to blade impact all together ....in favor of direct blade (yours) to flesh (theirs) impact. However blade to blade impact will happen in a battle (duel, melee or what have you) and there are times when edge to edge defense may be the most expeditious solution, with survival being a more important objective than a knick-free blade.

This last point is also well established in historical sword fighting systems world-wide, and discussed in clips such as these by Matt Easton:

Edge & Flat in parrying, Part 4 - The sources are available and clear
Edge & Flat in Parrying, part 5 - parrying with the flat still damages blades

There are many more clips on this subject. It kind of makes those sweeping statements on the subject by Tim Hartman and others seem silly. Under certain circumstances, either by accident or by design, edge to edge parries must happen, and any decent fighting knife or sword will not break!

Any thoughts?
 
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Dirty Dog

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Well, since to PARRY is to redirect, it seems pretty unlikely that you're going to damage the blade.
I can imagine that if you did an edge to edge block with both ends braced (single edged sword, obviously, so as to keep your fingers attached) against a heavy two handed blow, you might damage the blade. But no matter how hard the strike, slamming your edge into a sword that's only being held by one end is simply going to move the unsupported end. These sort of beat attacks are common practice with rapier. I've always considered the best counter to a beat attack to be to simply drop your tip, avoiding the beat, and allowing the beater to kindly move their own blade out of the way, allowing you to attack unimpeded.
Can you chip the edge? Sure, especially if you both try to beat at the same time. But the blade isn't going to snap, and those little chips can be ground out later, assuming you survive. They certainly aren't going to stop you from using your blade.
 
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geezer

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DD -- I particularly liked the uncharacteristically brief clip #2 by Easton above where he calls attention to the orientation of the quillons or cross-guard on the medieval arming sword. The design is consistent with edge on edge alignment in defense. If you cannot evade, parry, or deflect, your defense will necessarily be a hard block, most likely edge-to-edge. Moreover, often your musculoskeletal alignment is much stronger with an edge to edge block if you are forced to receive the full force of a blow.

I teach PCE or "Practical Combat Eskrima". -- Honestly, I am not a soldier and do not engage in "Combat" ...that term is included in our system's name just as a nod of respect to my original instructor who used that term for his system in the seventies and eighties when it was, well ...stylish ...the way the word "tactical" is now. On the other hand we do take the term "Practical" to heart. Fancy moves and unrealistic admonitions to always take a blow on the flat do not seem practical to me!
 

Brian R. VanCise

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Obviously the preferred choice would be to have your opponent miss altogether and then counter attack or cut their attacking limb in motion. However if you have to parry and use the side this would be a preferred option. You would be protecting your edge from potential damage. However, as strikes happen in the moment edge to edge contact can happen and during an exchange will probably happen. What is most important in a situation like this is that you have proper musculature and skeletal structure of your body so that you can potentially withstand the shock of the hard contact and then you would have the ability to counter strike. If you have to parry, can your parry provide a wall, where the opponents incoming strike will not collapse it? If you do this then the force should continue on or stop and you will be able to counter. Where some people make the mistake is having poor skeletal and muscular structure and therefore a weak wall. Concentrate on your structure if you have to parry, is it weak? If your structure is weak then probably you are going to fail.
 

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In Lameco, which derives much of its bladework from Kali Ilustrisimo, we do parry with the flat, as is the practice in the Ilustrisimo system as well. It's an aspect of the system that I also call into question, and in regards to HEMA, I think is utter nonsense. But HEMA use of a sword, and Eskrima are very different animals. For now, I'll parry with the edge in HEMA, and the flat in Lameco, and merely posit some reasons why these differences might be.

I should start by assuming that both the methods practiced in HEMA (which unequivocally make use of edge-on-edge, as this is essential for leverage and binding properties at the sword, as well as being a natural consequence of simultaneously countering an opponent's cut or thrust with your own), and Kali Ilustrisimo are valid. Needed? Perhaps, or perhaps not.

A few concerns come to my mind that differentiate the use of the blade in Eskrima from HEMA:

1) A distinct lack of a guard on most filipino blades, which tend to have very little if any protection for the hand; this means that you can often just slide down on the hand and take the thumb or fingers off. This is something that Tatang Ilustrisimo employed in many of his duels, actually. So, we know that it is generally unsafe - or, at the very least risky, to bind in the same way that you do with a European sword - you have to be very cautious, and you can't simply work at the blade and remain there. Moreover, the length of filipino blades really make the kind of actions we employ in HEMA ineffective even if you do have a substantial crossguard. If you've ever tried binding and winding with particularly short blades such as (not so long) messers, for instance, you'll understand what I'm talking about; via the length of the opponent's arm alone, he can prevent you from thrusting you with his hilt; you simply don't have the reach to work on the weak of his sword and thrust him at the same time. And, since you're not able to threaten him with the point before your hand is well within range, things become even more difficult.

2) Given these considerations, passing and deflecting an opponent's blade, or else combining a defense with the offhand for control are more of what we see in Eskrima, and is a more logical method of using the weapon. Now, considering that we don't really want to bind and stay bound, and that we'd rather decrease the amount of time that our blade is in-contact with our opponent's blades, we might want to avoid meeting the edges where possible, as this will cause the blades to stick and potentially hinder our motion.

3) Unlike HEMA, where strikes are generally delivered in a very linear, push-cut manner, and heavy use of thrusts are made, many Filipino systems swing blades around bluntly, in large circles, and with much force - most likely as a carry over from stick fighting. While we don't do this ourselves in Lameco or Kali Ilustrisimo, there are nonetheless many who do, and that's something you have to contend with. Obviously, such strikes are more likely to damage a blade than the more limited/linear cuts utilized in European systems. So, you could argue that you are more likely to receive significant damage in this context, though I share your skepticism that the blades are likely to actually break. I don't know what hardness is common with filipino blades, but I don't imagine they would be very useable if they were that brittle. While avoiding damage is generally the most commonly cited reason, practically speaking, I think this concern is the least important in comparison to the rest.

Other considerations may also come into play. It doesn't seem an entirely bad thing to train - at least in our system, as it does also build awareness of the orientation of the opponent's flat and edge - and that's very important, as we sometimes pass the blade itself with our off-hand.
 
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Argus

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Obviously the preferred choice would be to have your opponent miss altogether and then counter attack or cut their attacking limb in motion. However if you have to parry and use the side this would be a preferred option. You would be protecting your edge from potential damage. However, as strikes happen in the moment edge to edge contact can happen and during an exchange will probably happen. What is most important in a situation like this is that you have proper musculature and skeletal structure of your body so that you can potentially withstand the shock of the hard contact and then you would have the ability to counter strike. If you have to parry, can your parry provide a wall, where the opponents incoming strike will not collapse it? If you do this then the force should continue on or stop and you will be able to counter. Where some people make the mistake is having poor skeletal and muscular structure and therefore a weak wall. Concentrate on your structure if you have to parry, is it weak? If your structure is weak then probably you are going to fail.

One important consideration against parrying with the flat is that it's actually a weaker structure and is more likely to collapse. That's why in European systems we're often explicitly told to turn the edge into the opponent's. Or, if it helps, just consider the concept of an I-beam, or a 2x4 placed vertical as opposed to horizontal. Having the edge against the plane of pressure will always be the superior structure.

So, I think the reasons that many systems parry with the flat in FMA must not be on the account of structure.
 

Brian R. VanCise

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If you parry with the flat with the thumb inside then yes it is weaker. Thumb opening on the outside and you have a very strong structure. Also most FMA utilize a very soft parry with immediate redirection of force.
 

Argus

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If you parry with the flat with the thumb inside then yes it is weaker. Thumb opening on the outside and you have a very strong structure. Also most FMA utilize a very soft parry with immediate redirection of force.

That's a good point. I guess we can consider blocks and parrys as not being much different than the other "passing" techniques / deflections that we employ.
 
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geezer

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'Wow. Really great responses. I defer to Argus on comparisons to HEMA as I have scant experience there ....so far. Certainly factors such a sword length, the presence or absence of hand protection (basket hilt, etc.) and presence or absence of a shield or second weapon (espada y daga) have huge impact on technique.

For example, our foundation for defense derives from the "box system" which I got from GM Latosa, and he, in turn, learned in different versions from his father Juan Latosa, from Angel Cabales (Serrada) and Leo Giron (Largo Mano, Bahala na). I've worked with a couple of Serrada people and also some OGE/Bahala na guys. Serrada has a very tight and compact "box" structure, the Bahala na guys have a far more extended one. Ours is in-between and in some ways similar to the cutlass defenses shown below:


Now one glaring difference is that, due to the well-developed hilt, the cutlass and saber wielder doesn't have to retract his hand, but as noted in the video, can leave the arm more extended almost use the basket hilt as a shield. By contrast, in our PCE system we strike and retract like a snake, or like a boxer, since we don't have hand-guards. Other than that, I believe that this kind of practical European sword work probably exerted a huge influence on FMA in the 16th -19th Centuries. When the Filipinos fought against, or alongside Spaniards, it was not dueling against aristocrats and officers practicing la Verdadera Destreza (Esgrima Espanola). It was fighting against soldiers and sailors with arms like backswords and cutlasses. When you adapt these techniques to native weapons and farming implements, of course they made adjustments. We call this ability to adapt and adjust to whatever weapon is at hand, in whatever situation you find yourself "Transition". It is one of the five foundational concepts coming from Latosa Escrima.
 

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'Wow. Really great responses. I defer to Argus on comparisons to HEMA as I have scant experience there ....so far. Certainly factors such a sword length, the presence or absence of hand protection (basket hilt, etc.) and presence or absence of a shield or second weapon (espada y daga) have huge impact on technique.

For example, our foundation for defense derives from the "box system" which I got from GM Latosa, and he, in turn, learned in different versions from his father Juan Latosa, from Angel Cabales (Serrada) and Leo Giron (Largo Mano, Bahala na). I've worked with a couple of Serrada people and also some OGE/Bahala na guys. Serrada has a very tight and compact "box" structure, the Bahala na guys have a far more extended one. Ours is in-between and in some ways similar to the cutlass defenses shown below:


Now one glaring difference is that, due to the well-developed hilt, the cutlass and saber wielder doesn't have to retract his hand, but as noted in the video, can leave the arm more extended almost use the basket hilt as a shield. By contrast, in our PCE system we strike and retract like a snake, or like a boxer, since we don't have hand-guards. Other than that, I believe that this kind of practical European sword work probably exerted a huge influence on FMA in the 16th -19th Centuries. When the Filipinos fought against, or alongside Spaniards, it was not dueling against aristocrats and officers practicing la Verdadera Destreza (Esgrima Espanola). It was fighting against soldiers and sailors with arms like backswords and cutlasses. When you adapt these techniques to native weapons and farming implements, of course they made adjustments. We call this ability to adapt and adjust to whatever weapon is at hand, in whatever situation you find yourself "Transition". It is one of the five foundational concepts coming from Latosa Escrima.

Haha. I don't know if I'm worth deferring to! My experience in HEMA is mainly limited to reading over the sources and experimenting with my equally inexperienced martial arts buddies. So, essentially, I'm a complete amateur, granted, one who is attempting to make a serious study of the sources.

That's a good point in regards to the European influence. I actually have a hunch that there's a lot of influence from the earlier Dussack material, which might be better to look at than say rapier, small-sword, or military sabre.

Edit: These are some examples of Meyer's Dussack, which may or may not be relevant, given their German origin.
This is however the kind of thing you would find on ships with the use of the cutlass and sabre prior to more modern military sabre methods.
 
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Danny T

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I believe there is a very strong connection of short bladed sword work to the type short blades the Filipinos used on a daily basis and on to knife and empty hand. The moves and action of the arm for parrying with the side of the blade and the back of the blade correlates directly to the same action as knife or empty hand vs a bladed weapon.
On a forward or inward parry with the side of the blade it presents the back of the hand/arm in the same manner one would be using to parry a knife attack with the same movement. Same with an outward parry. The practitioner makes the same basic motion whether parrying with the blade or the arm.
 
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geezer

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I enjoyed the input on this old thread so much, I thought I'd re-visit it and add this clip of Roland Warzecha demonstrating how in HEMA there are techniques that capitalize on the momentary bind of sharp edge to edge. He makes the point that if you never train with sharps, this would be lost on you.


Now here's Brady Brazil demonstrating a bit of FMA saber and buckler. At about 0:50 he shows some saber v.s. kampilan. As argus pointed out above, there is more cutting than thrusting with arcing swings, but it is a saber after all. In typical FMA fashion, there is a great deal of angling and evasion with little blade to blade contact except for some "soft contact" passing and following strikes.

 
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geezer

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BTW I believe that's an Indian tulwar (sabre) and not something from Filipino Sandata, but the technique is FMA.
 

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Interesting thread. This is a topic I have often wondered about when training different FMA systems. I have heard multiple people state that we don't want to go edge to edge for a number of reasons, to include not breaking the weapons to simply showing respect to the blade. On one sense this makes sense, as weapons were hard to come by (and good ones still are). Therefore, one would not wish to expose the blade to potential warping, breaking, or even major nicks and other blemishes, unless it was absolutely necessary.

In the traditional Doce Methodos structure of PTK, we start off weapon to weapon, with your own weapon being used to provide protection, by matching the timing of your opponent in opposition (e.g. 1 to 1, 2 to 2, etc.). We also have the counter-offensive strikes of the Four Walls method, which is also meeting force on force. This is particularly used when behind in timing. Later, this moves to where you are not really going to make contact, but it is recognized that beginners need a way to protect themselves if they are behind in timing and cannot get out of range. Later, in the advanced system of Contradas, this changes to following (2 to 1, 1 to 2), and weapon to weapon contact is not really emphasized from what I have seen.

Because of the manner in which the system starts off beginners, I believe it is expected that there will be contact between the blade edges of both person's weapons. It's interesting how different groups approach these problems and come to varying conclusions.
 

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I believe there is a very strong connection of short bladed sword work to the type short blades the Filipinos used on a daily basis and on to knife and empty hand. The moves and action of the arm for parrying with the side of the blade and the back of the blade correlates directly to the same action as knife or empty hand vs a bladed weapon.
On a forward or inward parry with the side of the blade it presents the back of the hand/arm in the same manner one would be using to parry a knife attack with the same movement. Same with an outward parry. The practitioner makes the same basic motion whether parrying with the blade or the arm.

I can definitely see this but in terms of using the flat of the blade as a rule I just have some concerns, especially with some of the lighter blades we may use in FMA.

First the blade itself is designed to strike with the edge, that is where it has its greatest strength due to its obvious design. While obviously an extreme example there is a traditional Chinese weapon that exploits the lesser strength of the blade when struck in the flat vs the edge.


Also, I would have a concern, depending on the type of cross guard the blade has. I would worry a smart opponent, upon seeing I use the side for parrying, would exploit that and use the side to channel their weapon down the blade, potentially injuring my hand and/or forearm.

This may be me being a worry wart though.
 

Danny T

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Why is one parrying vs attacking?
The way I learned to use a parry is as a momentary action to open an attacking line or it is an Oh S...!! I'd better do something or I'm going to be badly injured or worse. The parry isn't an attack in its self but is used as a momentary shield allowing the opponent's attack to be slightly deflected vs going direct force vs force and to get inside the arc of the attack.
 

Juany118

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Why is one parrying vs attacking?
The way I learned to use a parry is as a momentary action to open an attacking line or it is an Oh S...!! I'd better do something or I'm going to be badly injured or worse. The parry isn't an attack in its self but is used as a momentary shield allowing the opponent's attack to be slightly deflected vs going direct force vs force and to get inside the arc of the attack.

Agreed. I was only referring to the idea that using the edge or side is innately superior. I think they both raise enough concerns that it becomes a 6 of one, half dozen of the other kinda argument.
 
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geezer

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@ Charlemagne: I think more advanced practitioners in every system would want to avoid unnecessary blade on blade impact. But as fights are unpredictable, in that "Oh Sh--!" moment, worrying about a ding or knick in your blade is a low priority.

To put it another way, if you own a blade that's worth more than your life, maybe hang it on the wall? ...but never carry it for self defense!
 
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