French Grip and German Grip
I know what you’re thinking. Wasn’t this supposed to be a blog about Tanbo? Well, yes it is. But I wanted to talk about some theory on grip, specifically Oyata’s theories that he shared with me in that last few years before he passed away. I never could specifically place WHY he picked me for Tanbo. Was it because I was a drummer? Was it because I was a cop that used police batons? Or was I just a reliable student who was accessible to him, lived close, and he felt he could impart these tidbits of knowledge to? Who knows? Perhaps it was a combination of these or maybe none of them. I do believe that being a drummer has given me a bit of insight into Tanbo strikes and captures that I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t spent close to 4 decades striking drums and cymbals.
In the drum world, we call the grip Taika had me use on the sticks as MATCHED GRIP. There are essentially two variants of the matched grip when striking a drum; French and German. I’m going to use this terminology in describing the strikes and you can substitute whatever terms you want, it really doesn’t matter. And as always, there are gradually blends of the two.
French Grip (Power Grip)
On a drum stick, French Grip is essentially thumbs up or thumbs on the opposite side of the object you are striking. Just like in striking a body with a Tanbo, when striking various drums in a drum kit or cymbals, your hand turns at different angles. This is most like a milking punch. The pinky side of your hand is towards the striking side and if you opened your hand, your palm would be facing about a right angle away from the striking point. The thumb side of your wrist absorbs the impact and helps extend the stick into the object. It can prevent the bounce or recoil if wished. Most of the time in drumming, you want a bounce. But in striking a body, you probably want to penetrate and extend through your target. This grip, you could also think of as a Power Grip and Penetrating Grip. There may be times you want a rebound in a fight, but this grip is better suited for penetration. Unlike in drumming, you are going to have the pad of the wrist absorbing the impact which will be in line with your radial bone. Your pinky finger and perhaps ring finger will curl in to help pivot the stick into the target. Probably wouldn’t have my thumb in this exact position on a tanbo but you get the point.
German Grip (Pivot Grip)
German Grip, on the other hand, the stick goes into the webbing of your hand between the thumb and the index finger. I would call this a Pivot Grip. There is a noticeable lack of support for the stick when striking something. There is nothing on the back of the stick supporting it when it strikes an object. The stick will give way to the force. Essentially, if you opened your hand your palm would be facing towards the strike. You might be thinking, “Why would I want this?” This is one of the brilliant philosophical gifts from Taika. Using this grip allows you to use the opponent’s arm, neck, leg, or torso as a pivot point. The second you strike an object, the stick gives way to that object and starts to ‘fold’ through the webbing of your hand. If you hand keeps its forward motion, you can let the stick switch sides, roll around the object, and capture the object. This is the major benefit of this Pivot Grip.
The kata Taika was teaching me over his last few years was a Close Quarters Tanbo kata. The Pivot Grip is integral in capturing the opponent. Wrist, Elbow, Shoulder and Neck were the typical targets of the techniques from the kata. All of this was enabled by using these two grips on the stick. Additionally, the position on the stick has changed from the traditional Tanbo grip. Instead of holding the stick at the ends, the grip is at the natural and optimal fulcrum of the stick. This is identical to most drum stick grips.
Rule of Thirds – Approximately
In gripping the Tanbo like Taika showed me for this kata, or a drumstick, we typically use the rule of thirds to find the Optimal Balance Point for striking. I’m not talking about 100% true balance in the center, but the optimal fulcrum. The front end, and inevitably the back end when sliding to the reverse grip in the kata, should be about 1/3 of the stick to 2/3 ratio. There are other factors that might come into play like the type of wood (weight) and of course with a drum stick it tapers at the end and may have a small or large bead or even plastic weighted bead. We don’t have that with a Tanbo. Drummers call this isolating the fulcrum or finding the ‘sweet spot’. Finding this fulcrum point does two things; allows an optimal amount of energy transfer and balance when striking, and allows an optimal amount of strength when capturing with the long end.
First, let’s get the right sized Tanbo for our body. Not all humans are the same size, so not all Tanbo should be the same. The 1” thick by 24” length is rarely going to be the right size for anyone. Keep in mind, this is a close in, Close Quarters kata. If your stick is too long you will hit yourself in the face trying to do some of these techniques. If it is too thick you won’t be able to keep a good grip during impact as well as roll the stick during squeezes and captures. (See blog)
Since most of you do not have a drum handy, take a mouse pad and set it on a piece of wood or table. We are not going to be hitting it very hard, but don’t dent Great Grandma’s 100 year old dining room table that you inherited. Start by holding your Tanbo with a grip about 2/3 forward, 1/3 back. Try the French Grip shown above. Now a drummer is pinching the stick at the 1/3 mark usually with their index finger and thumb. That is a pretty weak grip when hitting a person. Fine on a drum that isn’t hitting back, but not fine for combat. A better grip, and the one we use will be essentially the same however we will use our middle finger at the point of assumed optimal fulcrum. Now, using your wrist only, locking your forearm in place, lift and tap the mouse pad. Let the stick bounce. This requires a completely loose grip. Let the stick pivot between the middle finger and the thumb. This is not how you’d hit someone, but we are finding the sweet spot. Count the times it bounces. Now adjust your grip up and down the stick a couple of centimeters at a time. The spot you find gets the most bounces, is the sweet spot and where your middle finger should go. Presuming your stick is a typical Tanbo and straight, then you can mark the stick and just measure it to match on the opposite side. Now you know the optimal placement of your middle finger fore and aft. This kata has a long end foreward position and a long end rearward position. Unless you are using a tapered Tanbo, which I don’t suggest, then these should match. If you are using rattan or bamboo, these balance points may be different on each end.
Power Grip Strike
Once you have figured out your optimum location for your power strike it is time to hit things. I would suggest a bag rather than brother, sister, spouse or your kid. Noisy neighbors are optional. When you strike something like a bag
Obviously, striking with your thumb on the back works on a drum but can be detrimental to your thumb when hitting hard.
Deliberately contacting or striking while using a pivot grip (or switching mid-stream) allows you to continue through the target and wrap around and capture the item you pivoted past. Naturally, with everything in these arts, much practice needs to be made. As your grip open slightly, the strength of the grip is weakened momentarily. You don’t want to take a full brunt strike from this grip. Developing your skill with this grip is what will help make your clickity clackity stick fighting turn into a close quarters capture environment.
I could type and talk for hours on the lessons Taika gave me in regards to this, but I’ll just stop now with this ‘beginning’ as it was the beginning he gave me that opened my eyes to a whole new world. Hopefully it gives you some extra things to think about and develop as it continues to do to me.