Protection training during Stay-At-Home

Most of the USA is now closed for business. For many of us, we have lost access to martial training and firing ranges. This doesn’t mean we should be putting our protective training on hold, though. Here are a few ways to adapt or develop new training methods.

Strength and cardio training

There are honestly thousands of books, videos, and other sources out there for this training. For protection, a definite balance between strength training and cardio is needed. Look for strength-increase and flexibility-increase videos, not just “bulking up” exercises. The same with cardio.

Strength and cardio training by “definitely not me” and “also not my wife”.

If you don’t happen to have any equipment at home, add “no equipment” to your google searches. There are still many exercises that can be done using body weight resistance, as well as stretches!

Practice the basics you DO know

There are a number of martial arts apps out there that show applications you can do from your screen. We advise against these because there is no instruction or critique to break you from a bad habit or incorrect movement. Without this, imperfections (vulnerabilities) can become ingrained and need to be relearned.

But, if you happened to have trained well before this self-distancing, AND if you know some moves well enough to have not been significantly corrected on, continue practicing them!

I can honestly say that when troubleshooting trainee technique at the dojo, most of the trainee issues stemmed from improper positioning caused by poor footwork. If your training includes footwork patterns or routines, do them over and over, taking care you are doing them well.

Punching bags and artificial targets

Percussion training is kinda hard to get wrong. With some basic combinations under your belt, train them, and train them hard. Work them into a cardiovascular workout. If you have the means, a torso target allows you to work on target selection far better than a punching bag, but be prepared to load it up with sand (they leak a bit, don’t use water) to make it stable.

Physically striking is far superior to “punch into the air” martial movement. there is no substitute for actual striking to ensure your fists or chopping hand strikes are resilient.

Another great tool are the Cold Steel line of melee training weapons and the Rings Blue Gun line of firearm training weapons. These can allow for great weapon manipulation and movement training. If your martial skills involve breakfalls and rollouts, practice going into prone, supine, and urban prone. This will not only improve your ability to obtain cover/concealment, but the large movements will improve cardio.

Dry fire dry fire dry fire

When practicing dry fire, set up a place that you know is safe, and keep it that way. The rules of gun safety are not suspended while doing this; they are more important than ever.

Safety steps:

  1. Pick a dry-fire location in the home free from others, including pets or important valuable. Establish that this sectioned area is an ammunition-free zone.
  2. Ensure the area you will be dry ‘firing’ into is safe, and what is beyond it is safe and will trap a bullet if all else fails.
  3. Read your owners manual and confirm that firing on an empty chamber is not detrimental to your firearm. Most modern semiautomatic and revolver firearms are able to handle dry firing. 22LR pistols are a notable exception.
  4. In a separate area, remove all ammunition from your firearm. This includes the magazine and chamber or the cylinder for most modern pistols. If you have a training barrel for your firearm, install it here. Confirm the firearm is empty through sight and touch.
  5. Move to your dry fire location. Ensure it is free of obstructions and people.
  6. Reconfirm the firearm is empty through sight and touch.
  7. If for any reason you must pause this training and leave the area, perform all safety steps over to ensure the firearm and training area are in known states when resuming training.

Dry fire for sight alignment and trigger congtrol

A training program I took emphasized that most firearm issues can be resolved with sight alignment and trigger control. After spending a full 8 hours on these two factors alone, I am in complete agreement.

Fortunately, these two factors can be practiced without ammunition. When dry firing, you can work on maintaining sight alignment and picture while manipulating the trigger. These items are the very fundamentals of superior marksmanship, and it can be done for FREE.

  1. Perform all safety steps noted above.
  2. Practice dry firing by squeezing the trigger while maintaining sight alignment/picture on a target fastened to the wall.
  3. Pay special attention to any movement in sight alignment that trigger actuation provokes. Correct it. There is no rush here, and each trigger pull can take as long as needed to perfect.
  4. Repeat until your trigger actuation does not affect sight alignment/picture at all. (This can take years!)

Dry fire for draw and acquiring target

Once the fundamentals of sight alignment and trigger control are well understood, it’s time to bring the drawstroke into play. Using ALL the same safety steps shown above, AND all the sight alignment/picture and trigger control exercises, practice drawing from holster, presenting the firearm, and getting on target with a proper sight alignment and trigger actuation.

Remember the fundamentals of a good drawstroke:

  1. Using support hand, remove concealing garments from the holster area.
  2. Primary hand acquire a solid grip on the firearm with thumb-forefinger webbing lodged firmly in the tang of the handgun and fingers in a solid grip. Trigger finger must be extended.
  3. Draw the firearm deliberately to the pectoral index point. Support hand comes to the chest.
  4. Rotate firearm to the front. Shooter may need to engage from this position and firing from this position should be practiced for close quarter engagements.
  5. Extend the firearm forward with a “punching out” movement. Support hand should naturally acquire a proper grip on the firearm during this extension. During extension, begin to acquire sight alignment and sight picture. Shooter should be able to put rounds on target during the extension action for close quarter engagement training.
  6. Once at extension, finalize sight alignment and sight picture.
  7. Actuate trigger during the drill at the appropriate time determined for your practice.

Dry fire with moving and shooting

Using ALL the above steps, and adding in objects, navigate to cover/concealment, move around obstacles to get on cover. Add partial cover to your target… the list is endless what you can do here, and it all builds in movement familiarity with the firearm.

By now it should be apparent that there is so much that can be done with dry fire. In fact, the only thing missing is recoil management and the assessment of shot placement.

Train the mind

Internet research costs little, and finding good sources doesn’t take that long. Train the mind with good information. Justifiable use of force, the laws of protection and firearm ownership, the anatomy of violence, and so much more. Go for depth, not breadth. Find a subject and truly deep-dive it. Surface smatterings of many topics are easily obtained. Focused knowledge in one thing leads to much more understanding.

Training beyond stay-at-home

Of course, ALL of this must be reinforced with this most paramount of paradigms: You are NOT PLAYING. This isn’t a tactical LARPing exercise, Mr. Wick. You MUST do all the above training as if it is a live-fire exercise, with the exact same mindset for training and consequence. Do not train in poor muzzle discipline. Do NOT train in a bad drawstroke. If needed, record your training and play it back and scrutinize as if it were someone else’s Facebook post that the world will nitpick into oblivion. You could even send it to your instructors for their review, or a close group of training friends operating in an ego-free way.

Most of us have been ‘gifted’ with extra time on our hands. Whether it be working from home and no commute time to actually being furloughed. These times are hard, and they will get harder before it’s said and done. In desperate times, the worst in some people comes out, and the best in others comes out. It’s up to us to ensure our best is greater than their worst. Train hard, train focused.

December 5 is Day of the Ninja

Originally published 02DEC2010 for

K&B, LLC co-owner and instructor Don Alley is a martial arts, personal protection, and emergency preparedness writer. Many of his articles originally appeared in As these articles are able to be retrieved from old web caches, they will be posted here.

Martial artists prepare for Velociraptor Awareness Day, April 18

Originally published on 18APR2012 for

K&B, LLC co-owner and instructor Don Alley is a martial arts, personal protection, and emergency preparedness writer. Many of his articles originally appeared in As these articles are able to be retrieved from old web caches, they will be posted here.


April 18 has been designated Velociraptor Awareness Day. The day was created not only to remember those who have fallen to these terrible beasts, but to raise awareness of how one can attempt to protect themselves from these dangerous and cunning predators. For those of us who are martial artists and personal protection personnel, we may be called upon to help save the lives of humans against these menaces. It is best not to answer this call, but to run. It is best not to run all manly as if you are merely ‘regrouping’, but to flail your arms and cry like a little girl. The velociraptor will see this as a sign of respect and seek out a different, less reverent target. If for some insane reason we find ourselves morally or ethically compelled to intervene between a velociraptor and its prey, the first thing we must evaluate is the main engagement styles martial artists have at our disposal; grappling, percussion, and weaponry.

Grappling techniques against a velociraptor are ill advised. The shoulders have more of a forward and down orientation compared to humans that will require major adjustments to grappling techniques to effect most types of joint locks. The rear-facing ankle bone also means that any type of leg controls will be utterly alien and unfamiliar to a similarly trained groundfighter. Equally distasteful is the proposition that the velociraptor has a long neck and sharp claws. While the diligent grappler is learning to adapt his technique to these new body mechanics, the velociraptor is using his face as a chew toy. If the grappler somehow gets in very close and can get under the raptor’s mouth, it will counter by lacerating his guts open with his rear claws. No, the skeletal structure and body mechanics are just too different from that of a human to make the grappling arts such as jujutsu and aikido effective, and create a dangerous “learn on the job” proposition.

Special hint: If you must grapple with a velociraptor, go for the figure 4 tail lock. Done properly, from a ground technique, the grappler uses his feet to push against the velociraptor’s back legs. This keeps his rear claws from lacerating you, and you’re sufficiently far away from his mouth and teeth. Its front arms are too weak to help it stand. Hope that your help arrives before its help arrives: They are pack hunters, and they don’t tap out.

Percussion techniques against a velociraptor are also ill advised. The primary target would conceivably be the creature’s head. Unfortunately, the majority of a velociraptor’s head is it’s mouth and the majority of its mouth is it’s teeth. Putting hands and feet inside the mouth of a velociraptor is inadvisable. To make matters worse, the body orientation of a velociraptor is advantageous in that it does not stand upright. Leaning forward in hunting mode, its torso remains well behind its formidable jaws, a very effective protection. Even barring the raptor’s primary weapon, its secondary weapons are its claws. These are sharp, and made for climbing and rending flesh. While the percussionist throwing a punch is thinking of hitting with the correct form, the Velociraptor rakes your face with its talons and watches your mandible dangle uselessly from your skull. If Wolverine saw the wounds, he’d be so impresssed that he’d log on to to see if he was somehow related to the raptor.

Special hint: If you must engage a velociraptor with punches and kicks, do your best to stay at the thing’s side. It’s forward sloped shoulders will cause it to have a hard time hitting you with it’s arms and claws, and its legs are so geared to running and hopping there is not as much side to side movement capability. Staying at the side towards the rear is the best flank to avoid its long neck and bite.

This leaves the martial artist with weaponry. Of course, the first thought is something along the lines of an AR-10 with the formidable 7.62×51 cartridge and a magazine with the shot capacity of a bad 1980’s era soldier of fortune movie. This is an excellent option if the shooter can score the hits. Velociraptors are fast and stealthy, though, meaning a protector must be fully aware and able to bring this heavy main battle rifle to bear very quickly. Too often, the velociraptor surprises its prey and is already engaged, making the rifle useless in close quarters. Remember, close quarters combat (CQC) to humans is within arm’s reach while CQC to a velociraptor is with your head in its mouth. It is likely that the best firearm for velociraptor defense is the 12 gauge pump shotgun with a sawed off barrel and some 3” magnum 000-buckshot , or a possibly a Magnum Research BFR Revolver in .45 Long Colt / .410 shotgun.

Aside from firearms, other weapons considerations are pepper sprays, and melee weapons. It is a little known fact, but oleoresin capsicum, the chief ingredient in pepper spray, has the same meaning in the velociraptor’s language as “mild sauce”. This is pure speculation on the author’s part, as no velociraptors have volunteered for pepper spray application, but I’m going to call this “ineffective”.

This leaves melee weapons, namely swords. Swords are noteworthy for their ability to do a significant amount of damage, as well as keeping the attacker at a slight distance. The sword equalizes the protector against a velociraptor if he knows how to use it. The best kind of sword for velociraptor defense is the katana. Its curved blade facilitates slicing, and the blade’s legendary sharpness will be needed to rend the leathery hide of this predator. Swords win against teeth and claw, because while formidable, the velociraptor risks taking damage on its person by attacking the sword wielder.

Special hint: It is important to note that dinosaurs are related to birds, and chickens are birds. Decapitated chickens run around like a chicken with its head cut off. That’s why that phrase exists. Velociraptors do the same, and their heads bite too. Decapitate, blend with the force of the body going by, then kick the head away. Weapon, grapple, percussion = WIN.

By the time the reader is perusing this article, it will be too late for many of you. For those that will live to see Thursday, please consider enrolling in your local kendo, iaijutsu, or other sword training curriculum so that you can be ready for next year. Also take up running. Jogging and distance running is good but remember the arm flailing and crying. The runners you see are actually preparing for this holiday, but often leave out this side of the training.

Everyday carried items

What a person carries with them every day says a lot about them. Make sure at least some of what is carried can serve a defensive role if needed. For the mundane items of everyday life, ensure they are safeguarded in some ways. Here are some Every Day Carry (EDC) thoughts.

Author’s note: This article draws upon previous articles about everyday items as weapons and items designed with tactical use in mind. Please consider adding a tactical pen, flashlight, kubotan, and training in them to your personal inventory and skill set.

A cell phone, car keys, and wallet are standard fare, and are generally needed in today’s society. Look at ways to ruggedize the phone, such as a sturdy case or picking a a rugged phone like the Casio G’zOne) Clothing should allow for easy access to key fobs and car keys, and likewise be difficult for pickpockets to get at your wallet. These things allow you to call for help, escape a situation, and in the case of the wallet, contain a lot of information about you.

Another precaution with cell phones, personal data devices (PDA’s) and GPS devices is to enable the power-on password protection. Yes this can be a hassle, but if these devices become lost or stolen, a significant amount of personal data can become accessible to others. The business trip for next week scheduled in the PDA and the “Home” address in the GPS tells a criminal where a target is, and when to hit it.

With the advent of the USB memory sticks, people are carrying around a significant amount of information. This digital information may be personal or professional, and can be damaging or dangerous in the wrong hands. If carrying data in this manner is necessary, consider looking into a basic encryption program to keep the data in an inaccessible format unless the intended user is the one opening it.

Several programs are available via freeware, such as Axcrypt. If the items become used again, the unintended user will be forced to simply delete  the files and use it to his own ends. None of the original owner’s data is available.

A simple point and shoot digital camera can be a very useful tool in an EDC kit. Whether integrated in the cell phone or a stand-alone device, it can serve as an in-field “scanner” (I have copied several notes by camera), or can be used to document car accident damage, video record events, etc. Of course, the same data precautions apply to the memory card as above. Keep the camera’s memory as cleaned as possible.

K&B, LLC co-owner and instructor Don Alley is a martial arts, personal protection, and emergency preparedness writer. Many of his articles originally appeared in As these articles are able to be retrieved from old web caches, they will be posted here.

Firearms and martial practice

Originally published on 26NOV2010 for

K&B, LLC co-owner and instructor Don Alley is a martial arts, personal protection, and emergency preparedness writer. Many of his articles originally appeared in As these articles are able to be retrieved from old web caches, they will be posted here.

One aspect of training in the martial arts is about personal protection for one’s self and his loved ones. The study of striking (percussion), grappling, and weaponry are hopefully all addressed at some point in the martial artist’s studies. The subject of firearms in martial practice is one that tends to divide the martial community.

The purists among martial artists believe that firearms are “the easy way” to self defense, and have no place in traditional martial study. They believe it takes little or no skill to pull a trigger, and true inner peace or mastery cannot come from such an easy path. These practitioners train hard so that they might never need such tools, and choose instead to rely on skill, technique, and awareness to obviate the need for firearms.

The “practicalists” see firearms as another martial weapon to be studied and mastered, believing that as weapons evolve, it is the martial artist’s duty to learn them and adapt or reinvent their technique to include them. They believe that if those brave souls of ancient times that developed the martial arts as we know them had access to this weaponry they would have used them. They believe in the hard training, skill, and awareness the purists do as well, but choose to embrace the evolution of weaponry.

In actuality, the practicalists are correct from a martial standpoint. If the samurai had automatic weapons, the katana would be symbolic or non-existent today. The armor of the knights of old were obsoleted by the earliest of firearms. In these cases, other types of martial study would have been developed and the arts we practice today would be different.

This does not mean the purists’ point of view is without merit. It also does not mean that one should not train under a purist. Both the purist and the practicalists have much to offer. The individual martial artist must decide what his priorities are in martial practice (personal protection, fitness, inner-peace), his willingness to embrace modern weaponry and spend the time and money to become proficient, and his comfort level in training with lethal weaponry.

Some modern weapons with ancient roots

Originally published on 24NOV2010 for

K&B, LLC co-owner and instructor Don Alley is a martial arts, personal protection, and emergency preparedness writer. Many of his articles originally appeared in As these articles are able to be retrieved from old web caches, they will be posted here.

There is an old adage “Fair fights are for idiots”. This is true. If one finds themselves in a self defense situation, every means at turning the odds on one’s favor should be evaluated. To that end, there are several mundane appearing products now on the market that are designed to function as excellent protection tools.

Tactical pens, such as the Smith and Wesson M&P pen, or the Cold Steel Pocket Shark marker have taken root with many people for their utility. They are a functional writing instrument, a commonplace object most people would not even question. Underneath their mundane appearance they feature reinforced hulls for rigidity and caps designed to stay on through the rigors of a fight. A blunted point on one end and a flat cap on another give the wielder some tactical options based on the nature of the threat.

Tactical flashlights have also become prevalent recently, and are an incredibly handy device to have around. Most feature a blinding amount of light output which can be used to temporarily blind an opponent, as well as a more battery friendly setting to provide longer term illumination. Like the tactical pens, they contain features to better withstand the shocks experienced in a fight, such as steel hulls, and LEDs instead of the more fragile incandescent bulbs.

The kubotan is a shaft of metal or wood about 7 inches long and designed as a key chain. With keys attached, it becomes an excellent striking weapon or even a flail-like weapon to help drive off an aggressor. If this item is chosen for daily carry, upgrading the actual key ring may be wise so it can withstand the abuse. Otherwise, you may find yourself without your car keys.

Look for the mundane items around the house or office. A folded pocket knife, rolled magazine, simple dowel rod, some lipstick tubes, or even an artificial dog bone (like Nyla-Bone) can be used as effective martial weapons. If it is reasonably rigid, it may do what you need in a pinch.

All the protection tools used above share similar characteristics as the yawara (a 5-8 inch stick weapon). They are between 5 and 10 inches long, cylindrical, and can be easily used by people with average strength. Training with one of them is equivalent to training in all of them. This means efficiency since one does not have to learn whole new movements or techniques for every item. And with this training, the means to get an “unfair” advantage are everywhere.

Everyday clothing and the martial artist

Originally published on 20JAN2011 for

K&B, LLC co-owner and instructor Don Alley is a martial arts, personal protection, and emergency preparedness writer. Many of his articles originally appeared in As these articles are able to be retrieved from old web caches, they will be posted here.

Martial artists tend to look at their clothing a bit differently than others. The practice in the dojo with a dedicated uniform (called a dogi), is a traditional rationale that ensures neatness, safety, and uniform training, such as lapel grab techniques. It also help ensure student safety in the case of jewelry or other accessories that may cause cuts, strangles, or other injury. Once off the mats, many martial artists look for qualities in their clothes that are similar to a dogi.

Allowing for a full range of motion is important, especially with kicking arts. Martial artists look for looser fitting clothing, pants with gusseted crotches, and durable but lightweight  fabric to withstand the rigors of a fight. When clothes become too restrictive, it can impede the ability to use a technique or throw a useful kick. One’s clothing should not be on the side of an assailant.

For footwear, light athletic style shoes are preferred, which will help protect the feet but still allow for the speed necessary to launch kicks or perform footwork. Of course, traction plays an important part of this. When dress shoes must be worn, it is beneficial to look for something that can serve as well as an athletic shoe. More and more men’s dress shoes are adopting athletic type soles and treads. Women, though, have a hard time finding shoes that offer function as well as fashion.

Many martial artists have a few items they choose to carry as well, and having extra pockets, or easily accessible compartments helps a lot.  Of course, having multiple pockets is a great way to ensure having multiple defense mechanisms, so if one finds themselves in some type of pin or hold, there is always something accessible. Carrying stuff in a bag, backpack, satchel, or purse is asking for trouble, as these items can be readily removed, or forgotten. It’s best to have one’s protection items on-body carried.

For men, cargo pants come in a variety of styles now, from very baggy and casual to an almost Docker-esque business casual style. Add in a regular polo shirt, and decent casual shoes, and the martial artist dressed as such can be ready for an altercation without fear he will be limited or restricted by clothing choices.

Women have it a bit harder, but dressier slacks and finding a decent flat style shoe is possible.

So, when clothes shopping, keep your requirements in mind. Ensure all the tools you train with are available to you, and consider what, if any, limitations the clothing considered will bring.

Time management and martial arts

Originally published on 04DEC2010 for

K&B, LLC co-owner and instructor Don Alley is a martial arts, personal protection, and emergency preparedness writer. Many of his articles originally appeared in As these articles are able to be retrieved from old web caches, they will be posted here.

Practice in the martial arts instills many qualities in its participants. One of the things that can be “inadvertently” learned is good time management skills. For the two hours on the mats, in the gym, or at the dojo, there is generally little time to think about anything else other than the here-and-now.

Learning a new technique with a sword, grappling an opponent into a pin that turns them into a human pretzel, or launching some new kick, the students practicing every day around the Detroit area are worrying about nothing other than the task in front of them.

After the workout, these same students reflect on what they’ve learned, how much they know now that they didn’t two hours ago, or are reveling in some new detail they just got enlightened on, and are grateful for the last session.

Then they get home, or they get to work. From out of nowhere, tens if not hundreds of tasks, deadlines or the dreaded “action items” hit them. Clean the garage, fix the computer, contact the supplier, go to the bank, etc.

The singular goal and focus they worked with on the mats has evaporated into a haze of “a pleasant memory”. But, why was this two hour session on the mats so productive, and the rest of life so chaotic?

It isn’t. The problem lies in the fact that all the other tasks permeate what is trying to be accomplished, and the whole effort devolves into a very inefficient multitasking session, or an emotional malaise sits in at the prospect of the daunting task list becoming insurmountable.

The solution? Find a task or group of small tasks, and set two hours aside for it. It doesn’t matter if it can be completed in two hours or not, just set aside the time and concentrate on it. If worry or distraction about other tasks begins to permeate your mind shut it down, because this two hours is for this activity only.

It may take some work developing the two-hour focus, but it is achievable. Once the first few sessions go by, task lists start to shrink because things are getting done. Anxiety and worry start to ebb because there is a mental assurance being instilled that you are moving towards your goals, and a confidence in the fact that every task will get its chance to be addressed.

If needed, establish a time at work where you get the two-hour session without interruption. Establish a night in the week or a time on the weekend with your family where you can be left alone to get some things done.  Break larger tasks up into sub-tasks that can be accomplished in two-hour session.

Then, that sense of accomplishment achieved at the dojo becomes a part of other facets of your life.

Challenge as a habit

Originally published on 23JAN2011 for

K&B, LLC co-owner and instructor Don Alley is a martial arts, personal protection, and emergency preparedness writer. Many of his articles originally appeared in As these articles are able to be retrieved from old web caches, they will be posted here.

In the martial arts world, students are regularly pushed to their physical limits. By pushing hard, those limits expand, and the student grows. The same is true in any curriculum. By pushing one’s self hard, whether it be in math, chemistry, literature, or physical arts, the limitations of the student are pushed further and further into the background. Nike calls it “Just do it.”.  Even more compelling is their Swoosh logo represents the Greek goddess of victory. The Japanese call the same concept “malobashi”, which means essentially the same thing.

Most of peoples’ personal limits are self imposed. Statements like “I’m no good at math.”, or “I can’t run a mile” are used to self-limit what we can accomplish. In some not so extreme examples, people evaluate their pitfalls before they even start a task, so that they have the necessary excuses to explain their failures. The truth is, though, that challenges make people stronger. The difficult test, the involved action item at work, or the challenging issue to cope with will make us stronger at the outcome, because we have gained experience. For many of us, accomplishing an involved task successfully has us looking back at the beginning of the task and thinking “What was I afraid of?” or “Why didn’t I start that sooner?”. After the procrastination, the waffling, the worrying, we finish the task with decent results and move on more confidently.

The best lesson to take from this situation is that the worrying and procrastination were not necessary. The task was accomplished with a little hard work, and there was no real doubt of the outcome. Thus, all the pre-task angst was useless. The people we all know in life as the go-getters, the get-er-done folks, and the accomplished professionals have one thing in common; they have learned to not waste time with the worrying, and delve into the new challenge as a welcomed and rewarding experience. Sure there’s planning and thinking things through to do it right, but no time is wasted on what is truly useless worry.

The interesting thing that happens after only a couple iterations of this is that a person learns quickly that they can accomplish things, they have the resources to do so, and people will help them to succeed. Just like a runner stretching out his distance to make that extra mile each day, a person’s personal limitations get pushed back further and further.

Eventually, the reputation is earned as the go-getter, the get-er-done guy, and the success story. Coworkers and supervisors grow more confident not in your abilities necessarily, but in your determination to succeed. All because you set the worry and angst aside and worked with a little determination.

So, if you’ve been putting something off, like entering a martial arts program, starting to work out, the big interior home improvement project, going back and getting the degree, malobashi!

Maintenance for martial arts tools

Originally published on 06SEP2011 for

K&B, LLC co-owner and instructor Don Alley is a martial arts, personal protection, and emergency preparedness writer. Many of his articles originally appeared in As these articles are able to be retrieved from old web caches, they will be posted here.

Many martial arts require the use of training tools, wooden sticks shaped like swords or knives, or the weapons are actually wooden, such as the staff, nunchaku, or tonfa. As training tools, we rely on these to both practice in techniques and stand up to the rigors of martial training. For some, the training tools are kept in the car during the day, as students go right from work to their dojo. So, these items may experience severe temperature cycling in summer and winter. To make our training tools last as long as possible, it is important to adopt an inspection and maintenance cycle for them.

  • Prior to each use give the item a once over visual and tactile inspection. Ensure there are no splinters or other irregularities, such as cracks, that might injure someone or be a sign of impending breakage.
  • After each class, ensure the item has not developed any splinters or cracks that will make it unsafe to use. If it has, fix it as described below, or replace it.
  • Twice a year, treat the wood of the training implement with linseed oil. The linseed oil permeates the wood, keeping the implement from becoming too dried out and brittle. This will help prevent cracking and breakage.

For the semi-annual treatment, consider using the following steps:

  1. Buy a container of linseed oil. This generally runs about $6-10, and will likely last your entire martial career. Buy vinyl or other protective gloves. Buy rough and smooth sandpaper.
  2. Look over the implement carefully, noting any splinters, rough spots, cracks, or other anomalies.
  3. Clean the implement to remove any contaminant.
  4. Sand out any splinters or rough spots. Resist the urge to use a power sander. One’s hand is what goes over this item’s surface over and over again, so it should be a hand that holds the sandpaper. This ensures an even, circular sanding surface, not the flat surface a power sander provides. Start with rough sandpaper if some major irregularities are observed, then switch to fine sandpaper to restore the wood’s smoothness.
  5. Wipe the implement down with a dry paper towel to remove sawdust.
  6. Put on protective gloves.
  7. Fold a couple paper towels on 1/4 so there is a thick “pad” of toweling.
  8. Pour a generous amount of linseed oil into the paper towel.
  9. Apply the linseed oil to the implement be stroking the paper towel along the full length and end of the implement. The wood has to absorb the oil, so generous coating should be applied.
  10. Hang the implement in such a way that the linseed oil can soak in well, such as on a couple hooks made from wire hangars. Avoid setting it down on a towel or paper towels, as this will wick some of the linseed oil away.
  11. CAUTION: Dispose of the linseed oil soaked rag carefully. Linseed oil heats up as it dries out, and can create enough heat to ignite a paper towel. Dispose of linseed oil soaked rags with this in mind, such as in a metal can placed outside and away from other things, or a water filled container.
  12. After a few hours (I usually let it sit overnight), wipe off the excess linseed oil still on the surface of the implement. A paper towel stroked over the surface of the implement is all that is necessary. Dispose of the towel as above.
  13. After a few more hours, repeat the above step, wiping away any additional oil that has not absorbed into the wood.
  14. Ensure grip areas are not slippery. Continue wiping away any extruded oils as necessary.

Once complete, the implement will likely have a more pronounced and vibrant woodgrain pattern, and the oil will help the wood resist becoming brittle, which can cause splintering and breaking. This will prolong the implement’s service life, as well as reduce the chance of injury to ourselves and our training partners.