Tuesday, August 29, 2023

So good it is...not so good

 Been a while, mostly due to moving home – another place in another country! And it brought an interesting insight a few days ago…

I went to do my regular fitness routine in an outdoors place, and there was a group of three guys, aged 18-21, also working out. We struck a conversation at one point, did some work side by side, in very good spirits, when they noted that it took me longer to break sweat and start breathing heavily then it was the case with them. The stumbling point is they I was definitely NOT in better shape than they were. And the exercises were not new to them in terms of technical demands. 

It then hit me – the reason was movement efficiency! With a bit more than 35 years of training behind me, I have acquired a certain degree of command of my body that allows me to perform with less energy expenditure then a lot of folks out there. Isn’t it great!?

Well, for the most part yes, it is. However, it occurred to me that maybe this efficiency is what leads to plateaus in one’s exercising progress. While it is a commonly accepted truism in the strength and conditioning circles that there needs to be periodical changes in training regime, it is usually ascribed to the muscular adaptation to the training load. But, how about neural adaptation? 

Now, we will probably all agree that good form in execution of a movement is desirable, particularly for injury prevention reasons. On the other hand, what happens when our technique becomes so good that it then requires the increase in training load, volume or intensity, which again increases the chance of injury? Hmm…it’s a thing of balancing on a line between these sides, as it seems. 

When it comes to strength training, especially lifting, it is not all that much of a problem, and the solution is fairly simple – adding more weight typically resolves the issue. Conditioning, however, poses some interesting challenges. If one is looking to enhance the specific endurance for their chosen discipline, they are well advised to work on it via the movement types that mimic the demands of the discipline, swimmers should swim and runners ought to run etc. And this is where the efficiency comes in like some kind of obstacle!

Let’s say we want to work on conditioning by means of hitting the pads or a bag. In the early stages of training the trainees look rather awkward and get winded pretty quickly, or course. But as the technique improves, along with cardio, there are some plateaus awaiting. What is the solution then? More rounds? That would entail longer training sessions, hence potential scheduling difficulties. Higher intensity then? OK, but how hard and fast you can go before your technique starts deteriorating and chance of injury looming? 

Admittedly, I have no good answers at this point. It is probably, again, the thing of balance and mixing it out. But let me tell you – things get harder to juggle with age. Well, certain age anyway… At this point in my life (getting 50 in a few months), with family and job obligations, time is a premium currency, especially if you are not willing to let some things go. It is possible that the problem is in unrealistic expectations from oneself. Like I sometimes say, the most harmful thing for a middle aged man is the memory of himself a decade or two ago. 

Sorry if this entire post comes over as a rant. I’d be glad to hear from anyone who has informed opinion or advice on the above questions. 

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Self inflicted violence

 Nobody likes getting bad news, even when they are not directly related to themselves. Sometimes such news wake up and put to the forefront those hard questions that we often seek to ignore or sweep under the proverbial rug. This time, it was the report of BJJ and MMA legend Rickson Gracie being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. And being that in this regard he joins other legends in the domain of combat activities, most notably Muhammad Ali, but other greats such as Freddy Roach as well, it made one of "those" questions resurface again...

I learned about this case via a report/commentary by Rodney King, who has already been featured a couple of times on this blog. His view of the situation (as shared on Facebook) is sobering because he also speaks from his own experience, which clearly shows that at issue is not an isolated case, or even a string of unrelated cases. These facts make the above question that much more uncomfortable to ponder. 

If take a stroll through my older posts, you will easily find out that dealing with injuries is one of the topics that are taken as important here, because they have at least a two-fold harmful effect - inhibiting further training; and essentially attaining a counter effect to that training, i.e. they makes us more vulnerable that being healthy and untrained. But, those are just the physical injuries. As a matter of fact, with regards to martial arts and combative training, if taken from the functional fighting perspective, they come with the territory, as a manner of speaking. Even when growing into chronic issues, such as arthritis, rheumatism etc, I am frequently inclined to think that it is worth the benefits one can reap from training. 

However, the neurological problems and conditions that may stem from them are a different can of worms. First, there is a huge quantitative difference in terms of the deterioration in quality of life, between various orthopedic issues on the one side and Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, or ALS on the other. The degree of a person's functionality in living their lives is simply beyond comparison. Second, and directly connected to the last comment, is how it affects our immediate social environment, i.e. the closest family and friends. Exactly...all of a sudden we don't just bear the responsibility for ourselves, as you can't simply say "it's my life". Because it is someone else's too. 

So, how do we tackle the problem? How does one stay active within his or her chosen field, especially when it is a true passion, while being more responsible in a long-term? Is it even possible to train in a way that is simultaneously geared toward functional effectiveness and personal preservation? The easy answer is - yes! But it is necessarily simple to achieve. Namely, there are many factors at work here, and a proper training environment needs to juggle many of them at any given moment. But that fact is by no means an excuse to neglect it.

The solution probably boils down to a good training methodology, depending on an individual's motives for and needs in the learning/training process. In your search for the good foundation, you might even start with some of the articles on this blog, and see how those suggestions apply to your current training situation. Or, you could go and consult any of those resources from Rodney King, because he has literally dedicated decades of his life and work to developing a paradigm that would successfully avoid or solve the problem we are discussing. 

Ultimately, from this perspective, it is not so much the question of what you do in your practice, but rather how you do it. Therefore, should you choose to keep following the same road, at least try to do it in the best vehicle available. 

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Dead end?

 What category of students is the hardest to teach? Yeah, as always, the answers depends on many factors, such as what are we teaching; for which purpose; in what circumstances; how often and for how long etc? Still, even with all these things in mind, I would probably not think of children as the immediate answer... Probably not even in the Top5. 

You see, I work as a schoolteacher in secondary/middle school, but used to work with elementary pupils, too. As a matter of fact, for a couple of years I even taught the physical education class and was given carte blanche to include martial arts in those classes. And it was always enjoyable for everyone involved! In all honesty, though, the whole point of those sessions was to be fun, provide some new movement patterns, keep the kids' attention to teach them focus etc. With goals like that, working with children can be a really rewarding experience. And I do truly believe that martial arts can be fantastic tool in building those kids to be better members of the society, under the guidance of good instructors. 

However, in a recent conversation with a mother of K-6 child, and myself a father of a 13-year old, I was asked what was the proper response to school bullying. And I couldn't give a good answer. You see, the local situation here has changed dramatically in the past month. Less than three weeks ago we had a first ever school shooting, nine kids and one adult killed, a few more wounded. Something that previously had only been stuff of unbelievable news from over the Atlantic. And it caused an avalanche of escalated school violence of  a degree unheard of around here. 

And everyone was dumbfounded... Institutionally (schools, judiciary, media etc), and on the individual level (parents, teachers, children). The thing is, it has been a tough issue for a while now. And here is why.

Namely, just like in the world of adults, any act of physical altercation could have consequences on several levels - physical (injury), emotional (trauma and stress), legal (kids in schools, parents potentially in court), social (how will other kids and families react). The main difficulty, then, lies in actually teaching all that to a pre-teen or even teenagers. Not even adults are always able to handle all those dimensions successfully, if at all, often because it involves too much time and effort (in their view) needed to gat a handle on it. 

The children, on the other hand, are often readier to learn but lack faculties in understanding the deeply interleaved nature of all the aforementioned factors. Heck, at that age they are unable to perceive most anything in terms of long-term views. Patience, attention span, commitment - those are all challenges that can be tackled; but social awareness, understanding of consequences, liability, finality of some deeds - pretty much insurmountable obstacles. At least in this culture. 

Do you teach a bullied child to stand their ground, without knowing how the bully will react? What if he or she pulls a knife or comes with gun next day? Hell, what if they come with an older criminal sibling or parent? At this point, we are moving from self defense to self preservation!

Do you tell them to report to school authorities and rely on their solutions? Yeah, right. Or maybe not even report at all? Do you teach the bullied kid to be first in escalation, use a knife? Join a gang? I hope you didn't even thing of the last two... 

If we have hard times dealing with these questions as parents and potentially instructors, how could we expect children who haven't yet fully developed their psychological and physiological faculties to get a grasp of it all? The answer is - we cannot, and they shouldn't!

What we have at hand is a cultural phenomenon where the society is not really a community, and folks turn their heads away from other people's problems...until they become everybody's problems. Well, that kind of problem demands much more macro-level solutions, and we all ought to take a deep, hard look into our own contribution to the problem and our possibility of contributing to the solution. 

Not an easy task, but a necessary one. 

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Blade Once Was Immediate End...pt.1

 ...or, in a word - Bowie! It is probably safe to say that my interest in combative use of the bowie knife comes from the same dimension as that regarding tomahawk. This time however, I will split the review of the materials into three categories: introductory; comprehensive course; and additional resources. In presenting them, the order in which the materials are presented is based on the alphabetical order of the authors' last name. So, without further ado...

James Keating's double video package titled Legacy of Steel is essentially the edited recording of one of his legendary Riddle of Steel camps that he used to run annually for a number of years. It was professionally recorded and edited by the good folks of the Paladin Press, so we all can benefit from this work. And benefits abound! The first volume of the pack is titled Left Hand Path and deals with the close quarters use of smaller knives, the method being strongly influenced by FMA approach, and as good as it is (more like awesome), we shall focus today on the second volume - the Right Hand Path. 

What we have here is roughly a 50-minute introduction to all the fundamental aspects regarding the usage of bowie-type, i.e. big knives. Keating starts with a spoken introduction to the specifics of this kind of knife, thus providing the context for the better understanding of the instruction that follows. He is than joined by another Comtech instructor, Rob Langford, who gives an excellent explanation of the timing that makes the bowie knife such a feared and respected implement. In practice, he analyzes and demonstrates teh mechanics of non-telegraphing striking, exemplified on this occasion by the straight thrust. Keating takes over the instruction to work on the topics of guard, with focus on the blind-spot targeting, and stance that serves as a mobile platform for the whole thing. Next, he shows the tactical maneuvers of in quartata and passata soto that allow you to place your thrusts as counters to the opponents initiative. In the last section, Langford steps in again to teach the functioning of the often mentioned but rarely understood specialty of of the bowie - back cut! 

All in all, this is a great video, which should give an excellent overview of what the bowie knife is about, and if you practice the material diligently, it should give you a fairly sufficient command of the tool in practice, in case you do not want to investigate further. 

The next piece is a book from Marc Lawrence, with a rather interesting take on the subject. Specifically, as indicated by the title American Bowie Knife Methods From the 1880s, the author takes a HEMA-type approach. Even the historical overview of the origins and popularity of the weapon itself is shown through a newspaper article from 1888, with all of the possible inaccuracies and bias, so the interpretation is left to the reader. When it comes to the fighting methods, he uses two newspaper articles from 1890 and 1888 (in that order for some reason), and then uses the information therein to formulate a couple dozen drills and exercises in order to put the material into practice. According to him, the goal here is to help the readers/practitioners to the level of skill demonstrated by the exponents, as described in the original articles. 

Now, this approach is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, most instructors teaching the bowie knife today are explicit in saying that there is no a sure way to establish the period-authenticity of the techniques and methods used, i.e. that we can't know with certainty how Jim Bowie himself or other exponents in the first half of the 19th century, presumably the heyday of this type of knife, fought or taught their craft. Lawrence attempts to get us as close as possible, using the information that is as close as possible to the historical period and geographical region concerned. Second, while most practitioners would use this kind of resource to maybe pick up a couple of techniques or tactics at best, he strives to look beyond mere individual nuggets and see a bigger picture, thus developing an actual training plan that would get us to a higher level of understanding and, consequently, skill. 

It has to be noted that the two articles used as mining source are quite similar, possibly a retelling of the same story.What are the implication of this fact to the historical authenticity and technical accuracy of the content...I leave that to the reader to ponder. 

Among these three resources, James Loriega's book Behind the Bowie Blade is the only one that offers some comprehensiveness in its historical introduction, regarding the origin of the tool, particularly with regards to the influences of other cultures and earlier blade designs that were present in the southern part of today's USA in 1830's, where the roots of the phenomenon are. 

Unlike the previous author, Loriega adheres to the subtitle - A Personal Method of Edged Defense - when treating the hands-on portion of the book. It means we get to see his own interpretation of how a big knife ought to be used for the combative purpose. While doing that, he covers all the bases required for a well rounded grasp of the situation: cuts, thrusts and related fundamentals; attack and defense; footwork and targeting; recommendations for safe training, including several suitable models of training knives for this kind of work. 

Now, the author offers a rather succinct sort of instruction, primarily relying on written descriptions and very few illustrations. In itself that wouldn't bother me much, if there wasn't for the fact that out of 100 pages of this book as many as 15 (fifteen!) are used for a selection of posters and pictures from the a number of movies and TV shows that dealt with the lore of Jim Bowie. Aside from a possible bit of nostalgia trip for some of the readers, it seems to me that this space would have been much better used for a somewhat more detailed coverage of the instructional portion of the book. That said, it is an expensive book, and probably goes in tandem with Keating's video better that the previous one, due to a more conceptual method of approaching the material.

If these resources succeed in awakening more interest for the subject matter, keep en eye on the following posts about it.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Down 'n' dirty shanking school

 When I first got interested in knife related combative issues, back in mid-90's, there were few printed resources available, and not all of them good. Having had a few years of traditional/typical martial art training under my belt, I was, naturally looking for methods that looked legit by having a more or less set curriculum and training progression to follow...and actually found a couple of training  manuals that fit in with such criteria. Then, I stumbled upon a small book that didn't, but instead it raised some uncomfortable issues and made me ponder difficult questions, which happened to shed a new light on the whole subject...

Obviously, it offered a look from the perspective we don't usually think of, thus painting a more realistic picture of the problem that one may face, involving blades. To be honest, I don't know whether the book is still available, but ultimately - it doesn't matter.

Enter the main topic of today's post - Medusa edged weapons system! The background story doesn't sound too uncommon: a couple of practitioners weren't exactly satisfied with regular, readily accessible methods of dealing with knife threats and associated problems, so they started looking for more practical solutions. The fact that they were a father and son combo of Mike and Seth Raymond  makes it a bit more interesting, but ultimately they turned to the US penal/correctional system, reckoning that most of today's reality blade users reside there. If you are interested into their research method, check this interview out:

Another key figure in the development of Medusa is its leading instructor Jason Schultz, a long time practitioner of martial arts and combatives, with an eye toward practicality and focus on the combative methods with roots in WWII. The thing is, Mr. Schultz really boiled the teaching down into a set of tools and principles that accelerate the training process, and then he wrote a manual about it. 

Now, it is a rather short read, but covers all the info you need in order to develop a functional skill in handling a knife (or shank) in a defensive situation. Besides, there is not much talking here about history, lineage, (pseudo)philosophy, or even knife related stuff like selection, carry or deployment (all of which are often predicated on individual preferences and environment), nor on the legalities of using blades in self-defense situations (variable from one locale to another). 

What the author does cover, on the other hand, are the topics of basic tactical protocol, grips and thrusts, stance, movement, target zones, some specific tactics (throttling, stick shifting), and a few sample sequences/combos to work on. Interestingly enough, the section on knife vs. knife type of encounter is very short. That is because Mr. Schultz stresses the importance of mindset and simplicity of technical arsenal as the foundation of the Medusa approach to fighting. 

The way I see it, the real significance of this manual, and Medusa system as a whole, is not in coming up with another "ultimate supreme" new combative recipe, but rather in helping you understand the problem, i.e. the kind of adversary you might one day have to face...and hopefully prevail. In that regard, this is probably the best source you can find at the moment, and I cannot recommend it enough. After studying the material in this book, and putting it into practice, that task should be easier to complete. After all, what use are the latest, cutting edge technology sights if you are aiming in the wrong direction? 

If you are intrigued, the manual is available as a PDF download, so you can "get your hands dirty" ASAP. If you are more of a video type of person and would like to learn more, make sure to find and follow the author on Instagram, where his profile is benkei_sohei.

Saturday, March 18, 2023


 Here is one of those topics in martial training that tends to be divisive, although it really doesn't need to be. See, in the traditional arts there is often a lot of emphasis on practicing any and all techniques on both sides equally, with the declared ideal of becoming ambidextrous in application. Let me state it right here -  I don't think you can ever become truly ambidextrous from training, no matter how many sinawali patterns you happen to learn...however, becoming bilaterally functional is another thing. 

But, let's take a step back. For the opponents of the idea of bilateral training, since most of us are not professionals in the field and don't have all the time in the world to only focus on training, the limited time we do have on disposal ought to be dedicated to developing the best possibly performance ability on the preferred side. Interestingly, the professionals, who can and do dedicate their lives to training, for the most part also firmly belong to this camp. After all, how many boxers do you know who can switch stances fluidly and box equally well on both sides? It brings to memory an old interview of Bill "Superfoot" Wallace, the legendary full contact champion, who only kicked with his left foot. Namely, asked about that he said that faced with a choice of having two good legs (if not mediocre) or one that is unstoppably phenomenal, he chose the later. And from the standpoint of a competitor whose belt is on the line, it makes sense. After all, symmetry is not even natural, right?


But, what about those of us who aren't high level competitors, so no big money or titles on the line? Plus, the self-defense oriented community resorts to the argument of defending when your strong/dominant side is injured. And before some of you laugh an point that if the opponent is good enough to eliminate our string side option, the other will be a joke, let me point out that not all injuries are incurred in an encounter as such. For example, I am currently boasting a bad case of tendinitis in my right wrist, unrelated to training, and I'd rather train with my left than not at all. 

That said, it is not even the main benefit I see in the bilateral approach. The biggest advantage there is to it, lies in the fact that such endeavor shows strong benefits to the maintenance and improvement of the overall neural and cognitive systems. Creating new neural pathways, firing synapses etc, it all has long term good effects on human health and functioning. 

Since the work on the non-dominant side essentially stimulates the "opposite" side of the brain, typically related to creativity and intuitive thinking, this might even enhance one's ability to find new solutions to the problems faced. The maintenance of the neural and cognitive networks as also VERY important in the advanced age, to prevent dementia and other degenerative issues. 

However, we don't even have to go into brain science to see other, possibly more evident upsides. Depending on the chosen training discipline, training exclusively on one side may lead to an unbalanced muscular development (particularly when training with heavy implements/weapons), which in turn results in problems with posture and movement patterns, further loading the compensatory joints and movements, and the injuries that will stem from that. 

By the way, if you also include regular conditioning work in your training process, such as weight lifting, roadwork, intervals and so on, would you approach that work with emphasis on the dominant side only? Yeah, I though so...

There is a kind of a third way, too! Years ago, I talked to a pencak silat instructor about this subject, nudged by his "don't care" attitude about whether the jurus of his system (forms) should be practiced in the mirror image as well, since they are not symmetrical on their own. His response was that that a practitioner could develop two different sets of responses for the attack coming on similar lines but from two different sides. I found it awkward at the time, but later it started making sense. Again, going back to weapon-based systems, you just have to work this way! Well, unless you switch the tool between the two hands or grips to deal with the stimuli from left or right. 

In conclusion, I'm afraid there is till no definitive answer to the debate, but hopefully you will find some information here that will help you organize your training better, according to your own needs and priorities. 

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Hawking time!

 As you should be aware by now, I have a healthy dose of respect for anyone involved with serious martial training, whether traditional or modern aspects of it, i.e. looking for cultural preservation, sporting applications or functional combative skills. One rather interesting subset of the first category is the HEMA (historical European martial arts) community, but with an interesting specific feature. Namely, while the majority of Asian declaratively traditional systems are based on some kind of "living, unbroken lineage from the founder, the HEMA approach is actually mostly founded on the efforts toward reconstruction - trying to revive what is for the most part lost legacy from the historical manuals about the methods of use of the weapons and armory characteristic for the periods of medieval time and the renaissance. 

Oddly enough, the period(s) after that, which means once the firearms got into regular and large-scale use, are not really in the focus of this group. As a result, that leaves an implement that I find very interesting and still relevant on the margins of interest among the enthusiasts - tomahawk. Fortunately, over the past couple of decades it got some serious treatment from a handful of some superbly dedicated instructors, and their work gives us some excellent material to work from. Now, as is the case with my path in the overall fighting domain, the emphasis is on the functional application of the tool, with not much attention to the historical accuracy of the methods of use. That said, I will split this post into two mediums...


The absolute giant in this category, and deservedly so, is the late Col. Dwight McLemore, and if you have any interest in the tomahawk. His two books are seminal works, and they try to address the historical context of the weapon too, but when it comes to the utilization, it is not the main criterion. 

In the first volume, titled simply The Fighting Tomahawk, the author very ably covers all the necessary building blocks that form a good handling skill - in the first section of the book those are grips, stances, guards, deployment; offensive use of the 'hawk (cut, chop, punch, rake); and the defensive use (deflection, interception, blocks). The second section introduces the complementary use of a long knife in conjunction with the tomahawk. The third section presents additional training methods of engagements sets, either solo or with a partner, as well the throwing fundamentals and applications with a war club. 

The thing that gives all of this author's book a particularly enticing quality is the use of his own hand drawn illustrations to portray how to perform the material. And to be honest, after almost two decades of having these book, I keep coming back to them for the sheer aesthetic enjoyment and beautiful writing style, as much as the solid information. 

With the second volume, McLemore takes a bit different approach. Unlike the first book, which was organized like some kind of a course in the use of a weapon, this one is presented as a sequence of chapters (called Letters) each dealing with an individual aspect of the material in the previous volume, as well as some new stuff, such as the addition of punching and kicking, with special emphasis on training methods. What strikes me as a positive feature is that what we have here is not necessarily advanced methods, but rather deeper understanding of the existing material, hopefully leading to the advanced skill in applications. There are, however, some additions of the original topics, my favorites being the rough and tumble integration of tomahawk with other natural tools as part of chaotic, messy combative encounter as it naturally is; and the use of a long handle tomahawk/hatchet with its specifics that stem from the physical characteristics of the implement. 

In an attempt at succinct comparation, I'd say that the first book is a basic course in the subject matter, possibly taught in a class setting, while the second could be viewed as a selection of workshops to be offered along the way for those interested in those details. 

Sadly, being that the author is deceased and the original publisher of all his books defunct, the availability of these books may sometimes be a challenge, and they are pricey. But, with the combined heft of 650+ pages, I cannot recommend these enough. 

A bit more modern treatise of the tomahawk comes from the hands of Fernan Vargas. Right from the beginning it is obvious, and commendable, that he wasn't trying to compete with the above works in any way, shape or form. Interestingly, although having a strong background in the native American knife combat methods, Vargas is open and clear in stating that his tomahawk material is not rooted in that tradition, but rather an amalgamation of various methods and training experiences he got from a number of instructors and personal development. 

His book is titled War Hawk and although visually not so lavish as McLemore's volumes, it is full of solid information, with some important additions, too. Namely, Vargas opens all his book with an overview of the legalities regarding the use of force and the levels of conflict escalation. He then proceeds to cover the essential technical elements of grips, stances, footwork, offense and defense etc, but also offers insights into the combative realms of grappling, solutions for the situations when your attack has been obstructed, and probably most interesting in terms of material not seen in other instructional materials is the chapter on training drills and methods.

The content is clearly demonstrated through the use of text and photos, and while it may not make you enjoy the aesthetics per se, the instructional value is still great.

For the full disclosure - this volume has a LOT of overlap with the first one! I am not sure what is the exact reason for that, but there is an upside to such decision. See, being that the overlap includes the most essential material, you may get this book as a standalone resource and gain the information needed to develop a fairly good skillset. When it comes the techniques and tactics that are new, compared to the previous volume, I would rather label them as secondary than advanced, with a view to prioritizing the training time and focus. 

Be as it may, unlike McLemore's books, these are still easily available at a price that doesn't impose the imperative of choosing one or the other. I would recommend getting the first first, to se if you like the material and the presentation, and if you do...it's nice to have the whole set. 


To me, the most natural choice of the first video to feature is, again, the set from Dwight McLemore. The short description would be "the book comes alive", because for the most part the video follows the layout of the book, but that's not all there is to it. Even if it were, it would be still an excellent source to have, especially in conjunction with the printed material. The additions make it superb.

Namely, the author takes the advantage of video format to better portray both certain technical and tactical aspects of the curriculum, as well as some historical ones. That provides a very nice contextual understanding of how he chose the material and why is he teaching it in that way. The content is essentially the amalgamation of the two books, with several interludes (his term) along the way, which discuss the topics that don't follow neatly in the progression of training. Like with the books, those interludes would cover some of the workshop-type approaches, some being historical, others practical. In that regard, there is a rather interesting, albeit brief, observation of the possible transfer of the material to other tools that are widely available in the present day. 

All of that is shown through phenomenal camera work and professional editing, and to make the watching experience even more enjoyable, some portions of the video are filmed with participants dressed in the costumes appropriate for the frontier era. That way, McLemore manages to give his stuff that extra quality, like it was the case with drawings in the books.

Our next featured author should be known to my regular readers. Marko Novakovic takes a similar approach to the Fighting Ax instructional as he did with his knife course. There are several things I like about the material. First, it is unapologetically practical, thus completely avoiding to be boggled in the issues of historical accuracy. As a result, it enables the second big plus - the author can bring in the technical and tactical elements from his previous experience in a few martial systems, but wringed through a lot of hands-on testing and experimenting. 

When it comes to the actual content, Novakovic touches all the necessary elements in the Intro section of the course (available here) - grips, stances and guards, angles and types of strikes, footwork, hand movement, targets, and ranges of fighting. He then proceeds to work on several solo practice drills in each of three ranges, where he also discusses defensive use; and finally the applications of the material, demonstrated with a training partner. 

The presentation is excellent! Although not shot with the budget and production level of the previous feature, the videos are well edited into bite-sized morsels of instruction, where efficient transfer of information is prioritized over aesthetic or entertainment value. Along with the author's avoidance of long rants and tirades, this makes the learning experience more focused and easier flowing than with other titles in this review, and in the day and age of tight time budgets, it is a huge advantage. 

Another highly recommended instructional package comes from Cold Steel knife company's head honcho Lynn Thompson, who made a 2-volume DVD set titled - surprise! - The Fighting Tomahawk. The fact that it is the same title as McLemore's could be a bit confusing, but it goes along with Cold Steel's other production in the series (Fighting Machete, Fighting Sarong etc.).

Besides, the overall layout of the material is also rather different. 

I mean, it is a VERY comprehensive source (over 4 hours in total), so of course it covers all the bases that the previous works do, but also includes some chapters not seen in the above titles. For example, the video starts with a very good overview of the advantages and disadvantages of tomahawk as a weapon, which is something one should have in mind. Also, being a manufacturer of some of the more popular 'hawk models on the market, Thompson's videos dedicate some time to demonstrate the ways to dismantle and put together your implement (with some quite interesting options, especially for the less than ideal circumstances), as well as how to (re)sharpen it after heavy use. Naturally being a Cold Steel production, there is the mandatory demonstration of the weapon's capacity for inflicting damage. 

Like I said, the authors strive to cover a lot of ground with this material, leaving no stones unturned, when it comes to the combative use of the tomahawks and light hatchets. It means that the historical background and accuracy are out of the picture as a concern, and the heavy stress is on all kinds of way that the tool can be put to use in an altercation. Such approach yielded a wider array of options shown than by other authors in terms of grips and holds, as well as the distance management options via footwork. A number of drills demonstrated will probably look more modern, borrowing from the sport science methods, and that suits the general atmosphere of the videos pretty well. 

The only downside to this set, compared to others is that the wealth of information might leave you scratching your head, wondering where exactly to start and how to follow the material in order to get a proper progression in training.

With that in mind, it is very useful to see how to make your own training tool required to take the full advantage of the training methods covered by the videos, which is another welcome aspect of this instructional product. 

Finally, the last feature in this category is the one authored by another of our acquaintances, Mark Hatmaker. His is a very well done volume titled Battle Axe Secrets, and unlike his RAW series, it is produced professionally by TRS (hehe, remember those Black Belt "report" type ads?), but available directly from the author

As you may expect, since this work deals with a somewhat heavier and bigger tools that your typical tomahawk, the instructional is a bit different, with much more attention given to two-handed manner of wielding the weapon, but don't let that discourage you. Namely, the training methods are readily applicable to lighter tools, too, but it is another dimension that is at play here. One of the main reasons I like Hatmaker's stuff is his focus on the precise mechanics of delivery, and when you are dealing with an instrument that could easily lead to self-inflicted injuries (whether from misuse or overuse) it should be highly prioritized in your work. Plus, you get a really good workout! 

Another good reason to check this package is that upon ordering from Hatmaker's website, he normally sends you a document that delineates a training syllabus for you, thus providing a solid foundation for any future work. 


Now, I know this seems like a lot of material, and there is the question of where to start. Well, if you are into the historical study, go with McLemore's works. Need a quick start with functional skillset? Then opt for Novakovic and/or Vargas. Should you want a single, standalone product that covers all the bases - Thompson is your man. In case of being an analytical person with an eye toward a sustainable practice that has a lot of carryover to other training field, you won't go wrong with Hatmaker. Be as it may, tomahawks and hatchets have a certain nature that one ought to keep in mind when engaging in this kind of work.

There, you have it. Hopefully this sheds enough light on the domain to help you pick the right source for your needs. Oh, and speaking of needs, if you may be asking yourself, what is the relevance of this kind of information and training, besides possibly professional operative deployment work, I will offer more insights in one of the following posts.