I ended up on a forum this weekend by way of clicking links in interesting articles. The article I ended up reading said that witiks or abanikos, as they’re more commonly known, were tournament only techniques. This is a less harsh version of the phrase it doesn’t work. The witik is a fanning motion where power is generated by twisting the wrist. It is a technique I love because it comes from crazy angles and adds a dimension to striking that increases the complexity of defense. Remember all of that for this next statement, but don’t stop there; be sure to read the whole article. I read and seen on videos in multiple places that the witik doesn’t work for self defense.
People that say witiks don’t work are correct. I’ll pause to let that sink in. Remember that I love the witik. If that is true, why would I say they don’t work? Let me simplify. Every technique and every martial art does not work. At the same time, every technique and every honest martial art works. Everything does and does not work. The martial arts are techniques and training methods only. They do not exist outside of human beings. We do not see witiks roaming free in the wild. It is humans that make the witik possible. We often compare martial arts techniques to tools, and this is apt. We are constantly talking about our toolbox, but we don’t carry the metaphor far enough. Tools also don’t exist outside of humans. We give them purpose. For me to say that a hammer doesn’t work is both correct and incorrect. A hammer is great for driving nails but is terrible for cutting a cake. It is only through use that we can say whether something works or does not.
Witiks get a bad rap because they are not the hulking, monstrous power shots that a linear strike can be. When padded up for sparring or tournament, the abaniko strikes can’t really be felt in the way that a caveman forehand can. So, it’s easy to understand why it’s said that witiks don’t work. But. But I can’t believe that a fast strike with a rattan stick to a body part where the bones lie close to the surface of the skin, i.e. hand, wrist, eyebrow ridge, etc., wouldn’t hurt. In fact, I can tell through personal experience that witiks to all of those regions hurt, even when hit with less than full power. Witiks can also attack soft targets like the eyes, the kidneys, and the groin. I believe those attacks would hurt as well.
Maybe the abanikos critics say it doesn’t work because it is not a knockout shot. Well, they’re right there, but we have to go back to the toolbox analogy. I don’t use a sledgehammer with finishing nails in the baseboards in my house. I don’t use a jackhammer when a fine chisel is needed. In terms of martial arts, a boxer won’t throw a power cross when a quick jab is needed. So, why would I use a witik when I need a power shot? Or vice versa? The jab has a different function than the power cross, and the witik is similar. It’s not intended to stop an opponent with one strike. It, like the jab, might stop an opponent, but it is unlikely. However, like the jab, the witik can quickly accumulate damage. If the power shot is a cannonball, the witik is a pellet. The pellet’s effectiveness increases with frequency. Or the more pellets, the more damage. This is how a shotgun works, and it is how the witik works. Increase the number of strikes, and you increase the effectiveness. Due to speed, the witik can strike more times per second than a power shot. When used with linear shots, the abaniko can create some truly frightening striking combinations.
If this is true and I believe it is, how can I still say they don’t work? Well, it goes back to the tool box analogy. If you gave a scanning electron microscope technician a hammer and asked her to frame houses alongside a master carpenter after only a quick introduction, would you expect the same level of competence between the two? No. A carpenter who spends his days framing houses is essentially practicing his framing skills. A master carpenter has spent many hours perfecting that skill, and the scanning electron microscope technician spends many hours perfecting her skill at producing visuals way beyond the capability of the human eye. The tools are different, and time spent working the tool matters. If someone thinks the witik doesn’t work and doesn’t train it, that person is correct. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy.
Personally, I believed that jumping front kicks didn’t work. Then Lyoto Machida knocked out Randy Couture with one. The technique obviously works, but I haven’t started practicing it, which means that the technique doesn’t work FOR ME. I think these last five letters are really what matter. You could even add the phrase: in my experience. Ultimately, this is what matters. What we practice is what we can do. If I do not practice a jumping front kick, of course it will not work for me. It’s not just the right tool for the right job; it’s the right tool with the right training for the right job.
How many remember when high kicks were said to have no place in mixed martial arts? I do. Pete Williams and Maurice Smith proved the naysayers, including me, wrong. They did so by practicing high kicks, but also their training was well rounded. Their focus wasn’t only on head shots. They could wrestle, box, and work on the ground. They had a diverse base set of skills with which to work towards the impressive knockout. This is why Filipino martial arts masters pass down the abaniko. It is one part of a diverse set of skills. It isn’t just one FMA master passing down this skill either. Many are doing it, and if it didn’t work, why are they teaching it? This is hard to fathom because FMAs are self defense arts that pride themselves on being useful. If Ciriaco “Cacoy” Canete, Supreme Grandmaster of Cacoy Doce Pares, teaches a technique, I’m going to pay attention. I might not have his attributes and skills to be able to use that technique, but I will think about that technique. I will attempt to figure out why it was successful for SGM Cacoy and not for me. If I can’t use the technique, the exposure to it will allow me to be familiar with it and try to defend against it.
So, how much time should you spend on techniques that you don’t think work? I can’t answer that question. It’s really up to you. As I said earlier, I spend zero time on jumping front kicks even though I’ve seen it knock someone out. Train what you enjoy. Train what you think is effective. Each of us dictate what our training priorities are. The point of this article is to have an open mind. The martial arts are too big for everyone to be an expert at every aspect. It’s just not possible. Smart practitioners pick and choose to create a well rounded toolbox, to maintain the metaphor. The Bruce Lee quote above is one of my favorites, and I think he chose his words carefully. He could have said absorb what works, but he didn’t. He said absorb what is useful, and the word useful points specifically to you. I read that quote as “Absorb what is useful [to you], discard what is not [useful to you], add what is uniquely YOUR own.” What is and is not useful depends on what you enjoy, what your goals are, what you have time for, and what your body is capable of doing. What works for me may not work for you, and what works for me may not work for you. But the key part of that phrase is for me. Remember, everything and nothing works. It all depends on you.