Monday, September 07, 2009

In Search of Decent Sticks

My little “fact-finding” trip south of the Philippines was not martial in nature, but thanks to that, I knew I’d need new sticks in the near future. And yes, a bunch of (wooden) knives to complement and replace the one I already own in case it broke. I resolved to fill part of that need with a quick trip to Quiapo yesterday.

What I should have done was pay more attention to what Jeff was telling me about where exactly he’d previously bought my training gear. Get on a Quiapo-bound jeep, he’d said. Get off a little after you clear the tunnel. The rest of it was a blur. Still, it didn’t faze me: it was a cool late Sunday afternoon and I had time to look around.

Too bad, I didn’t have company. Sunday afternoon shopping excursions— even if for only for anti-riot gear— should really be a shared experience. Seeing how your companion’s eyes light up at your latest mutual discovery (brass knuckles, steel and wooden knives, telescoping batons) takes away the annoyances of aching feet or the heat of the day. Days like this, with companions like that, you’re going to want to part with your money.

Sadly, each shop I wandered into had the wrong kinds of sticks: too thin, too thick, too light, too heavy, sticks that threatened to stick a splinter in your fingers and palm. I’d peered into alleyways full of shops festooned with faux military-grade bags, shirts, shorts, belts, and combat boots. I spoke to seedy-looking men in my search for sticks with the right thickness, length and finish. I’d gone round the area as far as Raon, where I used to buy cheap electronics for my old Practical Arts classes. What galled was that I knew I wasn’t searching the Quiapo area deeply enough, because that place is like any market in a Neil Gaiman novel: if you knew where to look you will find everything you need, even your elusive rattan canes.

I used to know this place at least as well as anyone who studied in the University Belt was reasonably expected to. Yet every scary man in a tank top who stood outside these shrines of macho was pointing to bundles of all the wrong sticks, tied together with plastic twine. Where were my sticks? Times like these, I really missed company: my feet and my head were beginning to hurt.

Finally, at the recommendation of a not-so-scary gay shopkeeper who knew nothing about sticks, I settled on a pair made from lacquered hardwood. I had little choice: none of the rattan canes passed muster and all the other hardwood sticks were cracked or bent. My acquisitions were way too smooth to be handled properly and too heavy for my standard training needs. If I’m not extra careful, they’re as likely to break my wrist or slip out of my sweaty grip and bean someone on the head.

I took out my hardwood cudgels and went through a few of my exercises –slowly— when I arrived home.

Diagonal strikes, horizontals, half strikes: I didn’t trust myself with verticals, not yet. I shuffled, trying to get used to the weight and the increased and potentially more painful mass I was twirling in the air. One stick resting lightly on each shoulder: aim for your opponent’s head now. Lean left, attack with the right-hand stick. Lean right, attack with the left-hand stick. Arms crossed: lean right, strike right. Lean left, follow with left. Arms open now— keep your opponent from moving in!— strike with the right...

Shampoo, rinse, repeat.

I’m rationalizing right now, keeping the buyer’s remorse at bay. And as I tell myself that my find will be useful, I also tell myself that I will consult with Jeff and listen more closely the next time I go hunting for sticks.