Misconception No. 2: Sinawali Will Make You Ambidextrous
The idea that a beginner should practice with his off-side hand to become ambidextrous, or the idea that the double-stick sinawali exercise (as taught in the United States) is going to make someone a good fighter with his off hand, is ridiculous.
The fact is, to learn to fight effectively with even one’s strong hand takes years of instruction and practice. To make the claim that one can be a better fighter by taking practice time away from the strong hand is silly.
Some people ask, “What happens if your strong hand is injured in a fight?”
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Think about this: If your opponent is good enough to injure your strong hand or disarm you, what makes you think your weaker hand would have even a remote chance against his attack?
A practitioner's time would be better spent working on empty-hand techniques that work against weapons, since they at least have applications of their own. The idea that the skill will transfer to empty-hand fighting is flawed because in any style of fighting, there are strong and weak sides, and a good fighter will always adjust his style to take advantage of his strong side.
Even in the Philippines, double-stick fighters are very rare. Among those who do use double sticks, the style often consists of using one stick strictly as a blocking tool while fighting with the other.
There is nothing wrong with doing the sinawali drills (or the broken-six drill, heaven-and-earth drill, or whatever a particular style calls it), but it should never be presented to students as training to fight with double sticks. The drills are helpful for beginners because, among other benefits, they help ensure that muscular development in both arms remains relatively even.
If a practitioner wants to become a double-stick fighter or wants to be able to use either hand to fight, he should first master his strong hand, then let his strong hand teach his other hand. He can, of course, train hard for many years and learn to use the off hand just as well as the strong hand.
Once both hands can execute techniques well, he can try to integrate the two hands to work as a team. Unfortunately, apart from tournaments and forms competition, the escrimador may find that the practical applications are few and far between and that his training time might have been better utilized. But that is for the individual to decide for himself.
About the author: Steven C. Drape has practiced escrima for more than 17 years. He is the U.S. representative of the Institute of Filipino Martial Arts in Cebu, Republic of the Philippines.
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