More Thoughts On Violence

Ah escrima.  It makes me so happy.  It keeps me calm.  I love learning escrima.

That said!  If I’ve been in tech for a while (and these last few months, I’ve been in tech a lot), when I finally go back to stick-hitting, I really feel it.  My lungs try their very best to pack-up under nearly all conditions.  In winter, the air is so cold that it feels like everything’s frozen up inside, and I can feel my windpipe trying to contract down to the size of a small straw in my throat.  In spring, all the pollen comes out and sets off the hayfever/asthma whammy, and in autumn, when it rains, the old inhalers come out as the colds come in.

However, my dubious lungs are at least zappable with ventolin.  (Which, by the by, our government demand I pay for because asthma is a ‘controllable condition’.  Sure.  If I don’t laugh, walk or breath during pollen season… sure it is, government… sure it is….)

My week and weeble arms, however, are something only I can fix – assuming I even want to?

A few months ago my teachers decided that as a ‘treat’ we’d have a ‘fun’ session where they bought in a wide range of eclectic weapons – buckler, staff, machette, palm stick, biro etc..  (I’m particularly a fan of knives; just saying.)  However, amongst all the awesome that arrived in our club, there also rocked up an iron bar.  Now.  Leaving aside the basically valid merit of being able to hit someone with something heavy, I had qualms about training with an iron bar.  Being barely able to lift it in one hand didn’t aid my enthusiasm.  The fact that my teachers couldn’t quite hide their sniggering, despite their best attempts at ‘professional face’ as I failed to be able to complete a strike without almost falling over, only rounded off my sense of doom, and in fairness after only five minutes of making me suffer with this implement they, in their own words, ‘put you out of your misery’ and let me train with something I could carry.

Since then it’d be lovely to pretend that I’ve been doing push-ups every day and practicing my epic strength regime of awesome.  It’d also be a total lie.  Frankly, I’ve got a lot on my plate.  What with theatre, books, some semblance of a social life and feeding myself, I don’t really have time to embark on a ruthless strength-training regime.  Nor am I entirely sure that I want to.  It’s a tricky debate, one on which I don’t really have a firm position or deep thoughts – do I want to get physically stronger?

I mean, yes.  Obviously I do.  Of course I do.  Let’s not kid ourselves, it’d be lovely.  It’d be convenient for more than simply escrima. It’d up my stamina, my ability to train with more and bigger things, and would probably also help me move fast while holding heavy things, all of which are bonuses.  It’d also make doing fit-up in theatres and moving furniture around easier.  Universal win.

However, it also looks like it could be a double-edged sword unless carefully used.  I watch a couple of people in class who rely on physical strength to get through lessons, and it seems that when you’re a six-foot-three dude built like a concrete breeze block, there may not be such temptation to move your feet as I, being a somewhat frailer creature, experience in the face of oncoming doom.  From some of the stronger members of the class you can sometimes sense an aura of ‘I’m coming… doesn’t really matter how… I’ve arrived!  You still here?  I hope not.  Because if you are you are crushed.’

And this is awesome, and indeed rather enviable, but I can’t help but wonder what our Strong Man will do when, on arriving, he finds the skinny dude has got a knife, or a steel-capped boot and an unchivalrous attitude to his future fertility.  Strength, I suspect, is nothing unless it’s fiendishly matched with dexterity, intelligence and speed, and relying on it too much looks like trouble set to come.

I say this partially to make myself feel better.  I think the obvious counter-argument now leaps off the page – that I could be as fast as greased lightning, but if I can’t hit to hurt, block with strength when my movement fails (and it shall and does – because I mis-read an attack or just get myself in a tangle, sooner or later I end up blocking badly, and awkwardly, and needing to have a bit of heff to do it)  – then really, I should reconsider my own position.

All this theory is well and good, but do we not then sneak back to the original problem – when exactly am I going to find time to get physically stronger?  Answer: probably no time soon.  And this is actually one of the things I like most about escrima – that it feels like a martial art that is vaguely helpful even after only a few months of training.  I have a sparring-partner-in-crime who knows tai chi as a martial form, and studied it for three years.  Three years is long enough for him to have a few tricks up his sleeve, but by his own confession, it would probably be another five or six years before he was truly devastating, and I mean devastating.  Do not be fooled by the slow turning of the hips, or the gentle flutter of hands… I have sparred with him long enough to find myself on the floor, on the other side of the room, without quite knowing how I got there, to have massive respect for tai chi.  But to get to where he is has taken years, and yes, it will take me years before I am anything other than a novice in escrima.  But even in my very junior state, I still feel that I can aim to get out of the way (rule 1) of an attack and have no qualms about hitting with everything I’ve got should things go tits up. I’m not yet good; I am better than disastrous.

When I dallied with jiu jitsu, we had horrific warm ups of push-ups and sit-ups and squats while being shouted at and… oh the horror… simply because there were things we couldn’t do in jiu jitsu without a certain level of physical fitness.  And yes: the boys had an inherent advantage. When it comes to a 63kg International History student at LSE attempting to throw a 6’5 muscle-bound, 95kg Economics student over her shoulder, sure, I can twist at the hips for all I’m worth, but I dunno… I just think he’s going to have an easier time of it…

It’s that, right there, that bothers me.  I want to be good at escrima when I’m 70 years old and have an artificial elbow.  I want to be able to kick up a stink even after I’ve spent three months in tech and my arms are limp from too much novel-writing.  I want to be able to use my brain and my understanding of bodies and techniques, even when having an asthma attack, and to win against any opponent of any size in preferably less than 5 seconds, then waddle home on my zimmer frame for a nice cuppa tea after.  Working in theatre, you do have to do a lot of heavy lifting, but as a woman you also learn methods of getting round it.  Strong male technicians who have invested heavily in Being Strong, may pick up a Mac TW1 moving light, one in either hand, but they look like right plonkers when they have to stop, put one down, gasp for breath, and have a quick tea break after moving only two lights because they’ve worn themselves out.  As a woman, I’ll lift one TW1 at a time, bending at the knees, putting as much weight as I can on my shoulders, rather than in my arms, and sure, I’ll be slow, and I’ll hurt after, but I’ll get it done not through being strong, but through technique.  And sure, in theatre, there will come a moment when there is something you can’t do.  I can’t rig a VL3k by myself, because it weighs a lot more than me.  However, I’d argue that a man can’t rig that by himself either – at least, not safely.  Two big words that so easily get forgotten in a fit-up, and alas two words which I think we could apply to that escrima student who charges in with strength, weight, and no sense of moving out of the way.

So here it is.  I would like to be strong, sure I would.  It’d be handy and it’d be nice.

But I have techniques for now that get me through life, and more importantly, I find myself wondering whether good technique, once learned, might not last a lifetime, whereas my limited strength is at risk of always coming and going.

Right now – I don’t know.


  1. Hi Kate,

    Cool post – as a lifelong asthmatic I empathise totally! As a techie (and now tech manager) I’ve also always lacked “get fit/get stronger” time. Would have been delighted if someone had pointed me to Neila Rey ages ago. She does some really cool plans for people with limited time (and comic / sci-Fi themed workout plans too for the real geek).

    Now, off to Amazon to look into Kate Griffin books a bit more! 🙂

  2. So, you say that …

    ” The fact that my teachers couldn’t quite hide their sniggering, despite their best attempts at ‘professional face’ as I failed to be able to complete a strike without almost falling over, only rounded off my sense of doom, and in fairness after only five minutes of making me suffer with this implement they, in their own words, ‘put you out of your misery’ and let me train with something I could carry. ”

    Did they now? Well, Bejabers! and also …

    Ah, Begorrah! …

    ” be•gor•ra
    [bih-gawr-uh, -gor-uh, bee-] Show IPA
    interjection Irish English .
    (used as a euphemism for by God ): It’s a fine day, begorra.
    Also, be•gor•ah, be•gor•rah.

    1830–40 ”

    What YOU need Kate is an Irish walking stick…aka a “Shillelagh ” as in the old Song …

    ” With me shillelagh under me arm
    And a twinkle in me eye
    I’ll be off to Tipperary in the morning.
    With me shillelagh under me arm
    And a toora loora lie
    I’ll be welcome in the home that I was born in.

    Me mother’s told the neighbors
    I’m going to settle down,
    Phil the fluter’s coming out
    To play me round the town.
    With me shillelagh under me arm
    And a toora loora lie
    I’ll be off to Tipperary in the morning.
    Pat McCarthy’s goin’ to have
    A party Friday night,
    I’ll be there, bejabers,
    ‘Cause there’s bound to be a fight.

    With me shillelagh under me arm
    And a toora loora lie
    I’ll be off to Tipperary in the morning.”

    Not impressed? …Then look here ..

    Or there’s always …I just KNOW that this is going to be held up in Moderations Suspended Animation Chamber of DOOM …

    “The History of Bartitsu

    When unarmed, William Barton-Wright would use his mustache as a weapon.

    Bartitsu was created by William Barton-Wright, an English railroad engineer. Barton’s work as an engineer took him to Japan for three years where he was introduced to jujitsu. He studied the art at the school of Jigoro Kano. Barton must have been excited about what he learned. When he returned to England, he quit his career in engineering and opened up a martial arts school where he taught jujitsu.

    In 1899, Barton wrote an article in the London based publication, Pearson’s Magazine, entitled “A New Art of Self Defense.” In it he set out his system of self defence that he called “bartitsu,” an obvious melding of his name and jujitsu. While bartitsu was based mainly on jujitsu, Barton explained in his article that the system included boxing, kickboxing, and stick fighting. ”

    Here is the LINK of DOOM!!!! ..

    It does occur to me that there might just might be people among your readership who haven’t come upon another of your Secret Disguises … This is Really going to kick this post, Rocket Propelled, into Moderation …

    Link posted because I think that the book is available at an absurdly low price, and also because I think that…and this is MY THEORY which is MINE… the enchanting Tseiqin, Lin Zi, is probably – way back then in the Age of Victoria – maskerading as a Swiss Martial Arts Mistress and is the real Originator of Baritsu ..Though she will only teach the hidden aspects of the combat form to Tess and Thomas and other such Humans who might be worthy of the Art.

  3. Oops..looks as if my post has had a ..” A hiccup (/ˈhɪkəp/ HIK-əp; also spelled hiccough) is an involuntary contraction (myoclonic jerk) of the diaphragm that may repeat several times per minute. In medicine, it is known as synchronous diaphragmatic flutter (SDF), or singultus, ” Still. were it not for this electroic hicup I wouldn’t have known – courtasy of spell check – that is also called a ‘ synchronous diaphragmatic flutter (SDF), or singultus ‘

    Plese ruthlessly crush the duplicate post with your weapon of choice.

  4. Cathy FitzGerald


    It occurs to me that the name, “Catherine” is synonymous with grammatically creative creatures such as ourselves (my name is also Catherine-an aspiring writer; albeit unpublished at this time).

    It also occurs to me that good word-smithing is in and of itself a great form of calisthenics/martial arts and has often served to get me out of jams and sticky situations (never mind it’s sometimes put me into the very situations of which I’ve had to talk my way out ). So I submit, for your consideration, that a third form of strength is the ability of well-timed, well placed words; a natural gift of ability which you have in abundance (may I say here that your blogs are as enjoyable to read as are your books; which I happened to come across quite by accident. ..or Providence.)

    That being said, a reasonably balanced interaction of all three; strength, technique, mind, would seem to serve best, though, I find I myself greatly lacking in the physical strength portion of this triad simply because I’m lazy in that regard. However, I generally come fully armed with wit as I fully subscribed to the philosophy to “never have a battle of wits with an unarmed man/woman.'” Or, as my brother succinctly puts it, “if you can’t wow ’em with wit, baffle ’em with bullshit!”

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