Saturday, 18 August 2012

Making Indian Clubs

                Did you know that Dumbbells were once exactly that? They were bell-shaped weights designed to let bell ringers exercise without keeping the whole village awake.
                Indian clubs are something that has interested me for some time. The current name probably originated with the Victorians. Club shaped weights had been used in India to train wrestlers and other athletes. The British Victorians were very familiar with India and many of them were interested in sports and fitness.  One of the reasons the Indian club was of interest was that it was a very good device for sword training. To have a whole troop or squadron of cavalry recruits swinging swords about needed lots of room and was potentially lethal. Using clubs needed less room and any likely injuries were easier to treat. A bonus was that the club could be made a little heavier than a sword, making handling an actual sword faster and less tiring. It is possible that most sword using cultures had something like the Indian club but what they were called before they were called Indian clubs I don’t know.
                Recently I have been attempting to trade some of my body fat for muscle, which has been going very well and has proved easier than I expected. My girlfriend has taken to buying me smaller Tee-shirts so she can show me off. It wasn’t long before Indian clubs entered into my exercise routine. Indian clubs are a very good first exercise. Their relatively moderate weight means they are a good warm-up and the swinging action is very good for opening up the chest and expanding the lungs ready for further exertions.
                If you try to buy Indian clubs you will probably be in for a shock. Both antique and modern examples are sold at very high prices. Another problem is that many of the examples you will see are too heavy for a first time user. Clubs have a lot of leverage and momentum working  for them so generally you want a club of under four pounds for single handed use.
                The solution is to make your own clubs! This is actually very easy to do. Look on-line for a set pair of plastic juggling clubs such as these. 

               Once they have arrived you will have to fill them. What you use will depend on what you have available. If you live near a beach use sand. Mine got filled with Potassium Chloride Salt since there was a load of it going spare at work. This has fused into a single mass inside the club which suggests materials such as cement or plaster of paris might be good choices for fillings.
                Cut off the top of the clubs or bore a hole, fill with the required weight of filling and reseal. I used high strength epoxy, a generous length of electrical tape and varnished it for good measure.  A more elegant approach would have been to drill a hole and seal over it using plastic from a container such as a shampoo bottle.
                An alternate approach would have been to use suitably shaped plastic bottles. These have the advantage that you can fill them through the bottle neck. The complication is that you will needed to improve the what will be the butt of your club so it does not slip from your hand and take out a window. One way to do this would be to acquire something like a pair of golf balls. Drive a woodscrew up through the bottle cap, smear it with glue and screw the golf ball down onto the screw until it contacts the cap. Smear the threads of the cap with more glue and screw it in place on the bottle. Wrap with a foot or so of tape for good measure.
                You now have a pair of Indian clubs for a fraction of the price you could have paid! With the money you saved you can buy a copy of my book!.

The Books

When a dog goes to lay down it first turns in a circle. Supposedly this behavior was originally to flatten stiff grass that might have dug into the dog. The dog still makes its circle, even though it is now intending to lie on blanket a soft blanket or your best chair. We mustn't mock the dog, however, since humans are just as prone  to continue with ideas when they are no longer in context, despite our reasoning minds and other advantages.

Knife fights are fortunately fairly rare in our culture. Perhaps what is not so fortunate is that when I knife is used it is often in a situation when there is an armament disparity. Either on party is unarmed or faced with a much more potent weapon. This is why no education in self-defence is complete without some knowledge of how to use a knife or how one may be used against you, which is why my book includes quite a long section on knives. As I remark in the book, there is a considerable variety of opinion on how knives should be used, so schools of technique building on unarmed skills, others drawing inspiration from sword fighting. John Styers' book "Cold Steel" very much draws from the knife as a sword tradition. While the book has some very good ideas there is one sequence that stands out as a discrepancy.

Even if we allow for the common practice of distance being exaggerated to make the photo clearer, the idea behind this is not. Why would lowering you knife cause the enemy to lower his guard? Isn't it more likely that dropping your guard would cause an enemy to attack? If Styers is trying to stab the knee or shin for some reason the more likely response is for the enemy to withdraw the leg and counter attack the head or arm, either with his knife or using the leg to riposte with a kick.

This same technique appears in William Cassidy's "The Complete Book of Knife Fighting" where we are told  that lowering your guard will cause your opponent to do the same? Why? With no trace of irony the following picture (fig 66) tells us a low feint will put your opponent's head and arm within reach. In Fig 65 it seems more likely that Randall would naturally flinch back and slash at Loveless's arm.

Styers drew on the techniques of another marine, Col Biddle, author of "Do Or Die". Biddle based his knife fighting techniques on swordplay but the weapons shown used were GI-issue Sword Bayonets with blades of about 17", so techniques such as parrying were more practical. Interestingly, Biddle's book does not show the technique above.

The sequence both Styers and Cassidy show might have actually worked with swords. A sword would be long enough to threaten the leg and parrying it by lowering your own sword would have been a practical response. It might have worked with a machete or sword bayonet. With shorter bowie knives it no longer seems practical and even becomes foolish. Like the dog circling on the smooth floor we see the same actions being used even though the context no longer applies.

What is interesting is that no one involved in the modeling for either Styers' or Cassidy's books actually stopped and said "Hold on, this doesn't make sense!" That perhaps tells us a lot about human nature.