The Bando Weapons Systems Division is one of the units of the American Bando Association. Weapons systems techniques are generally built on the basic movements and postures developed in the empty hand systems of Bando. The weapons systems come from military, temple and civilian sources. Through their tumultuous history the various civilizations in the China – Burma – India area have had to deal with military conquest, fighting against bandits, defense against wild animals, police actions, guarding of convoys of Buddhist and other pilgrims traveling between India and China through Burma and other challenges that required tools to extend the capabilities of individual fighters. Weapons are the tools of combat.
In ABA schools across the country, the Weapons System Division supports training in Dhot (stick weapons) and Dha (edged weapons). Typically the stick systems are introduced at green belt level (about two years). Edged weapons are introduced with the kukri at brown belt (about three years). New weapons are added in each rank as the student progresses. Dagger and sword systems are usually introduced above black belt rank (about five years). Although other weapons categories are part of our tradition, as detailed below, these are the primary systems covered and required to earn rank in Bando.
The Weapons Systems Division provides:
- Standardized descriptions of specific weapon systems
- Clinics in specific weapons systems
- Practice weapons recommendations
- National Bando Weapons Tournament
- Certification of Achievement in specific weapons
- Evaluation of weapon systems knowledge and competence toward promotion in Bando
- Historical information on weapons systems
- Shared information on sources to purchase weapons
- Competition in weapons under systems of rules for safety so that practitioners can test their skills.
Weapons systems are supported with:
- Knowledge of the composition, construction, maintenance and repair of weapons
- Instruction in the techniques of using weapons
- Sparring with weapons under safe rules
- Hitting of training targets with weapons
- Learning the formal routines that contain the knowledge of weapons systems
- Documenting weapon systems
- Learning of the history and development of weapons and the contexts of their use
- Understanding the science of the weapon and its use
- Connecting with the spirit of the weapon and of the warriors who have used the weapons in battle
Dhot or stick based systems include impact and control weapons in nine or more lengths and a variety of combat and non-combat functional uses:
- Long Sticks
- Pole Arms – These are very long staff weapons that may have blades, hooks, points, paddles or other attachments on them. They are typically taller than one can reach, about 8 to 12 feet long.
- Long Staff – These are flexible or semi-rigid staffs that range from about 5 feet to 8 feet in length.
- Walking Staff – Hiking or carrying sticks range from about 4 feet to 5 feet.
- Medium Sticks
- Medium Stick – These are about 2 - 3 feet. Rigid police batons are axe handle length and rely on mass for impact, while flexible wands are thinner and rely on speed to create impact energy.
- Canes – Canes have hooked ends and come in 3 foot lengths for walking and 5 – 7 foot long farmer’s or Sheppard’s canes for managing and protecting herds of animals.
- Sticks – These are arm length weapons as are used in Escrima and Arnis, about 2-3 feet long.
- Short Sticks
- Clubs and War Hammers – These are short sticks about 1-2 feet long; primarily held at one end. They may or may not be weighted or have hard impact points.
- Pocket Sticks – Fist sticks are held in one hand with protrusions at each end that may or may not have cord attached to them. They are about 6” to 8”. Larger than the width of a fist and about as long as the span between out stretched thumb and little finger.
- Spikes and Slivers – These are shorter and thinner than pocket sticks and are used for puncturing.
Dha or edged and point based systems include a wide range of lengths and styles of cutting and puncturing weapons. These include:
- Long Sword – This is a two handed 4 foot or longer sword as might be used by royalty or the military.
- Single Dha – Bando includes a variety of tribal systems using a short sword with or without a point. Some tribes “disdain the point.” A farmer’s dha may not have a point as it is largely used for slashing in agriculture.
- Double Dha – There are systems that use two swords simultaneously that travel in parallel or sequential paths.
- Medium dagger – This is a short sword about 18” long.
- Military dagger – The K-bar and similar knives are about 10” to 12” long. Also called the dha dagger and may be on the same sheath as a longer dha.
- Hand knife – This is a short knife that protrudes from the fist such as an eagle claw or a thumb knife. The accessory knives that accompany the kukri are in this category.
- Regimental Kukri – a heavy 3 foot long weapon used for ceremonies
- Officer’s kukri – smaller kukri about 12”
- Enlisted kukri – larger and heavier, about 12-16” long
The Gurkha Kukri is of special interest to Bando. The ABA teaches Gurkha kukri systems that were passed down during WWII. These were outside of the British manual of arms and were passed through various masters in military units. The crossed kukris represent the meeting of the ancient west (Greece) and the modern east (Burma, India, China, and Japan). The kukri has nine parts that are systematically taught as weapons, including the scabbard and accessory knives. Members of the ABA have continued this tradition by training modern Gurkha units in the nearly forgotten uses of the kukri. Gurkhas have used this terrifying weapon in wars throughout history and gained the respect of enemies and allies.
Coming from a history that covers thousands of years, Bando weapon systems include many types of weapons. Some of these include:
- Stick Weapons: Long staff, short stick, riot baton, pocket stick, cane, oar, etc.
- Edged Weapons: Dha sword, dagger, kukri, spear and miscellaneous edged weapons
- Projectile Weapons: long bow, short bow, cross bow, slings, thrown objects, etc.
- Flexible Weapons: rope, sash, flexible sticks, wire, chain, etc.
- Firearms: rifle, pistol, shotgun, military weapons, artillery, explosives, etc.
- Poisons: herbs, waste products, irritants, intoxicants, insect toxins, etc.
- Traps: animal traps, camouflage, man traps,
- War Animals: dogs, horses, elephants, birds, etc.
- Improvised Weapons and Tools: weapons in the above categories made from available materials
The ABA does not systematically support skill training with all these weapons. Other organizations offer training and competition in firearms and archery. Private agencies train some animals such as dogs for security and protective use, birds for hunting or communications uses, and horses for transportation. Scouting and hunting organizations offer training in hunting, trapping and outdoor survival. Historical reenactment organizations offer combat-like training in some of these categories.
There are some categories of weapons that are of historical interest only. These include psychological weapons, poisons, psychic weapons, explosive weapons and artillery or siege weapons. Aside from trebuchets built for fun to hurl melons, we do not systematically work in these historical categories.
The ABA Weapons Systems approach is practical. We expect to learn how to use the weapons in real world conditions. We will test our techniques against real targets. We will safely test them against each other. We are more interested in effectiveness than artistic or spiritual value. The origins of our systems comes out of war, battle, civilian combat, police work and other real world conditions. We usually practice with the weapon as part of the physical conditioning so that handling it becomes second nature.
ABA weapons’ training requires a more serious attitude by the student. Weapons are dangerous to the student, their partner, and to people and property nearby. Students must increase their precision and accuracy. They must increase their control over the weapon. Weapons give a mechanical and energy advantage to the warrior, but this must be controlled so that the weapon only does what its user intends.
Part of the mission of the ABA is to respect the warriors of the past, to connect with them and to respect the pain and suffering they experienced to achieve their goals in battle and in the struggle for life. Weapons are the tools of combat. To understand combat we work with these weapons to master them as we seek to master ourselves.
Dr. Geoff Willcher
Director of Weapons Systems