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An Introduction to Arnis November 13, 2014

The arnis sticks were, like many things in my life, an accident. I picked up three sets in a gift shop in the Philippines – two as gifts and one for myself. Handmade from fern wood, they had a nice look and feel to them. They also gave me an excuse for learning to expertly smack someone with a stick. (A bit like Rafiki or Yoda, but with more class.)

Since my small town doesn’t offer a large variety when it comes to marshal arts, I knew that I would have to find a way to train online. And, since I didn’t have a Dave Ramsey envelope labeled “stupid ideas that I get in foreign countries”, that training would have to come free of charge. Translation: I would look to YouTube and its many “experts” for guidance and direction.

Much to my delight, I did fine several videos on the subject. (If you’d like to view my favorites, check out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0XSkdcwt_A and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMWGz7Mi-QU) I was able to put together the basics based upon commonalities from each and began my practice. Holding the sticks loosely in my hands, I walked through the motions: simple sequences of strikes and blocks. It felt almost like dancing.

Indeed, some of the videos I’d seen made the use of arnis sticks appear to be more of an art form than a combat skill. The twists and spins (all of which were clearly so far beyond the skill of a beginner as to make me shy away) seemed more like an effort to show off than to actually defend one’s self. (My best guess as an amateur is that they serve the purpose of distracting the opponent and disguising one’s next move.)

After several repetitions, I began to feel comfortable with the motions and sped them up. I could feel the weight of the sticks shift with each smooth movement and the looser my grip became, the smoother the motions grew. I was reminded of the words of Princess Leia in “Star Wars: A New Hope”: “The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”

Unfortunately, the same could be said to hold true for loosening your grip. I made a forward thrust, felt the stick slide… and noticed that it was pointing directly at a lamp. In fact, everywhere I turned, the stick was pointing at something.

Uncomfortable with the combination of fragile items and my own less than perfect YouTube acquired skills, I silently packed the sticks away. There would be more skills to learn, but they would have to wait until a nicer day presented me with an opportunity to practice outdoors.
Despite my disappointment at having to quit, I had to admit that there were some perks to moving my future training to the yard. After all, the only thing better than being able to expertly smack someone with a stick is for your neighbors to know that you can expertly smack someone with a stick! (A little fear never hurt anyone!)


NBC’s Olympic Gold Map March 6, 2014

As I write this post, I’m sitting in front of my television set watching the Men’s Skiathalon beamed not-so-live from the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. I admit that I’ve always been fascinated by Olympic sports… or, more precisely, by Olympic athletes. Like many people, I’ve wondered what it would be like to be that strong, that fast, and that skillful. I’ve wondered how it feels to push one’s body to the very limits and reap the reward while standing atop the podium as the flag is raised. And I’ve puzzled over the path that Olympians take as they make their way towards status as truly world class athletes.

That’s why I was particularly interested to hear of NBC’s initiative to get youth involved in sports through their new Gold Map website. Featuring 19 different Olympic sports, the site offers an opportunity to learn more about the rules of each sport, what it takes to succeed, and how to get started. Since I’m not likely to become a great long-distance skier (previous cross-country efforts have proven that there are limits to my physical endurance), I thought I’d take a look at another sport which interests me: the Biathlon.

A combination of short-track cross-country and shooting (both prone and standing), the biathlon skills were originally used by Finnish and Norwegian hunters and date back over 4,000 years. The tactics and techniques involved in this subsistence “sport” were later adapted for military use. In 1930, they played an instrumental role in the Finnish victory over would-be Russian invaders… just six years after their debut in the Winter Olympics. (This information, along with the official rules for the sport, is available through the Learn More link on NBC’s Biathlon page.)

Confident that I was still interested, I checked out the Try It link. Much to my surprise, there are a number of locations where one can try the sport as well as a proliferation of individuals who can assist with such an endeavor. Similar information was available for Bobsled and Skeleton (the latter of which seems far too dangerous for my taste), Ski Jumping, and Luge.

I admit that I have never been a particularly “sporty” person. I was the kid who consistently got trampled on the soccer field or hit in the head while playing softball. I could hit the “T”, but not the ball that sat atop it. I wasn’t very strong, was never a great runner, and, in general, lacked the coordination necessary to be an Olympic quality athlete. But that’s never stopped me from trying something new. Turns out, there’s an opportunity to try out the biathlon not far from where I live. Maybe I’ll give it a shot. Just so I can say I did.

In the meantime, if you do think you have what it takes to be an Olympic quality athlete, I encourage you to check out NBC’s Gold Map. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll be watching you stand atop that medal podium!


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