In the 1984 feature film “The Karate Kid”, Daniel Larusso all but begs his mentor, Mr. Miyagi, to teach him how to punch. Again and again, Miyagi tells him, “FIRST LEARN BALANCE!” This came to mind when I spoke with one of my mentors a few months back, explaining to him that I am running out of steam with training and do not know what directions (if any) to explore. His response to me was “Robert, when I look at the classes you’ve taken, what’s really missing is learning more about what violence really looks like and just learning to be comfortable with violence. And the person who can teach you this stuff the best is Kelly McCann.” First learn violence!
This coming from the man who has yet to steer me wrong, who sent me to a shoothouse class, to VCQB, to Force-on-Force, who has killed and almost been killed in places all over the world. And, this is also someone who knows Kelly and has even utilized skills Kelly taught him in order to get out of hairy situations.
I had been familiar with some of the teachings of Kelly McCann for some time, having slowly acquired most of his DVDs over the last few years. And, in addition to my mentor mentioned above, several others from my training group have trained (and continue to train) with Kelly. It just so happened that Kelly dropped his 2021 schedule in early January complete with sale prices good for a week, so I jumped all over it and signed up for several. I have never, EVER signed up for multiple classes with an instructor without at least trying one course to begin with. Such was my confidence in my mentor and in Kelly’s reputation that I decided to go “all in”.
I am not going to go into a long biography about who Kelly McCann is. There is plenty available online, from a Wikipedia page to YouTube videos to his own Kembativz Brand website. Suffice is to say that he is the epitome of a “been-there, done-that” guy (indeed, HE trained many of the “been-there, done-that” guys that everyone raves over!) in terms of both his boxing and fighting experience and in terms of what he has done for his country in various world hotspots.
This class was entitled “ASP/Stickfighting Clinic, and it was held at the Renegade Combat Sports Club in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Cost of the course is typically $125, but the sale price knocked that down to $100. Here is the description of the course off the Kembativz website:
This one day clinic prepares students to use sticks, bludgeons and impact tools effectively. Based on FMA with a decidedly western spin, you will learn how to best use a collapsible baton, employ a pocket stick to “bend” a fight, improvise everyday bludgeons and utilize longer tools (canes/walking sticks) to defend yourself.
Requirements: Mouthguard and groin protection. Optional equipment includes lacrosse/street hockey gloves, forearm protection, shinguards and other protective equipment you choose to bring.
That’s it. Not necessarily a lot of information, but certainly enough to go with. While stickfighting may not be what our readers would expect someone such as myself to take, I had my reasons for starting with this course.
1. It was the first course offered this year!
2. It leads naturally into Defensive Knife, which is the next clinic I will be taking with McCann.
3. I was going to “learn violence”, so in essence the specific coursework did not matter much.
4. Despite the “Civilian Gunfighter” name, I have described in many articles that, because of my career choice, I am not often actually carrying a firearm. Thus, learning how to utilize other “tools” is of particular importance to someone such as myself.
5. Taking a class such as this was in keeping in line with what I outlined in this article about training options during an ammunition shortage.
Following the “requirements” outlined in the course description, I brought lacrosse gloves, a mouthguard, soccer shinguards, my son’s old soccer shinguards up my sleeves inside of soft elbow support braces (like you find in a pharmacy) as forearm protection, and a cup. I also brought my Asics wrestling shoes, figuring they might be necessary on the mats. I wore just regular street clothes: jeans, undershirt, long-sleeve T shirt, and a hoodie.
The Renegade Combat Sports Club is located in a small business park on the outskirts of Fredericksburg, Virginia, conveniently located just a few hundred yards off Interstate 95. I arrived a bit early and just chilled in the parking lot while awaiting arrival of the rest of the class. We entered the building just before 0900, and those of us (me) who had never been there before signed a combination of the usual waivers along with a “I do not believe I have Covid” waiver.
The class was more of an informal clinic and after waiting a while for some students who ended up not showing up, we met in the bar (yes, the gym has a bar inside, appropriately named “The Final Round”). There was Kelly McCann, behind the bar and ready to begin class. There were no introductions of students or staff, no attendance taken, just, “hey, let’s get started.”
Kelly began the day with a PowerPoint presentation that went for 30-45 minutes. It was quite comprehensive in explaining the “why” of stickfighting, the different types of sticks (pocket sticks, short sticks, standard sticks/canes), the pros and cons of the different types of sticks (longer is not always better!), and then we got to watch a series of videos of stickfighting from various sources (Filipino, Indian, Zulu, Irish, English, French, etc.). The main thing to glean from the videos was the commonalities between these different stickfighting disciplines. We also got to see some videos from some classic Los Angeles County Sheriff training sources along with some U.S. Army/Marine Corps instructional content. Goofy dialogue and the black and white film notwithstanding, the videos themselves were quite instructive and further illustrated key points Kelly was making.
We took a 15 minute break to hit the restroom and don at least some protective gear (at this point, I just went with cup, shinguards, and forearm guards fashioned from kids’ shinguards). We were told to grab a stick and meet on the mats.
From the bucket in the photo above, I selected a wooden stick about 18 inches in length. The ten of us gathered in a rough circle around Kelly, and he proceeded to go through the basics. We began with how to hold the stick (an inch or two up from the bottom, which allows the short end protruding through the bottom of the fist to be used to strike or hook an opponent), and then how to build up our ready positions (passive and active). Though we were all using “plain” sticks, Kelly was careful to explain his philosophy on how to open an expandable baton upward rather than downward, which sets up the user for an immediate blow without having to first wind up.
Next, we moved through the different angles of attack. Kelly keeps things simple here, with only six angles of attack. From 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock would be a #1, a 45 degree downward forehand would be a #2, the same but in backhand form would be a #3, a forehand sideways swing with a slight upward cant would be a #4, and the same in backhand form is a #5. Finally, a #6 is a straight thrust with two hands, usually to the midsection of an opponent.
The ready positions and striking angles are covered very well in the following YouTube video that Kelly put together in the early days of Covid lockdowns in 2020:
Next, we moved into instruction on blocking against the above angles of attack. Here, one key element was to use two hands to effect the block. Stick meets stick, and then the hand of the defender not holding a stick hits the stick hand of the offender. A second key element is to block with the stick at 90 degrees across all planes, which is to avoid having the attacker’s stick slide down or otherwise move through the defender’s stick. The final key element was to step into the attack to effect the block. This delivers power for the block and also helps the defender avoid the fastest moving part of the attacker’s stick: the long end.
Kelly put together a video with his partner, Michelle, showing off how to execute the various blocks:
Now that we knew the angles and how to block, we were able to partner up and begin taking turns attacking and defending. I partnered up with a young guy much taller than myself, and I am most grateful to him for his patience in dealing with my uncoordinated self. We took turns delivering the different angles and executing the different blocks. Kelly gave us plenty of time to work on these, switch partners, work some more, etc. My partner and I were able to start out slow, calling out the numbers (so no one got surprised and took a shot to the head!), speeding up and/or going without verbal warnings only when we were both comfortable. A few times we mistimed things or a stick slid down a stick, and the result was a few bruised knuckles and the like. Not a big deal, but it was evidence that even a casual hit with a stick hurts like a motherf***er.
This was the routine for much of the rest of the day. New elements would be introduced (such as a combination, or a block/counter combo, or some other new twist), it would be demonstrated by Kelly and his assistant, Rod, and then we would get some practice time. We broke for an hour lunch right around noon.
The afternoon proceeded much along the same lines as the morning, with new elements or techniques introduced and then time to work on them with our partners. I will say here that if Kelly or Rod saw us doing something wrong, they immediately stepped in to correct it on an individual basis. If they saw several pairs of students struggling with a concept, then then would reteach the whole group. It was clear that they did not want us reinforcing incorrect techniques with bad repetitions.
In the afternoon we also worked a bit of stick versus knife techniques. Kelly is on record in numerous places saying that if he had a choice of stick or knife, he would take the stick EVERY time. After working some drills against partners trying to “tag” us with training knives while we were armed with a stick, I must say that I see the logic. Even with hockey gloves on (which I only put on for this segment of the course), the beating I took when I had the knife and my opponent had the stick was tough. Even with a stick only about 18 inches in length, it was quite easy to keep the knife away and really make the knife wielder pay for every move toward you.
Another segment we worked on in the afternoon was developing power. Going at each other, we were more concerned with angles and such and could not really blast each other without WAY more protective gear. So we moved to the heavy bags and B.O.B. dummies and got to wail away. Corrections to technique were made on an individual basis, but it was interesting to see how even a blow with a stick that did not have the benefit of a full wind-up could really impact with gusto.
The last hour or so was spent on two final segments. One was how to deliver a few different combinations of blows/chokes with the mid-sized sticks we had been using all day. I really liked this part and did comparatively well with it. Some of this was geared toward more of a law enforcement application, but I could see how it could apply in the civilian world as well if someone is threatening and really encroaching on your space. The ability to deliver some quick combinations and then execute a takedown with the stick was definitely eye-opening, especially since everything we did to our partners we got to have done to us as well. Nothing like being on the receiving end to feel the efficacy of the techniques (Kelly demoed for my partner on me a few times during the day…..Kelly hits hard! There are a lot of what he calls “incidental” strikes mixed in with grabs and such, so on the receiving end, you are always responding to something.)
The final segment of the day was devoted to the pocket stick. This could be anything from a dedicated Kubotan to a small flashlight to a Sharpie marker. This was a segment of particular interest to me since this is much more easily carried for someone in my own situation than a folding baton or longer stick. Kelly refers to these items as fight “benders”. They may not be enough to truly subdue someone, but they can “bend” the fight in your favor and set you up for success.
While these pocket sticks can be used in many different ways, in keeping with the short “clinic” format of this course, Kelly focused on a few key uses for these items. To me, they seemed particularly useful in the “get off me” or “let go of me” mode. As with everything during this course, we got to be on the giving and receiving end of the tools and techniques. All I can say is: jugular notch, clavical notch, forearm muscle, and between bicep and tricep. Over a week later I can still mentally feel the pain of being the recipient of these techniques.
We ran out of time (1600) before we got to use of the cane, so we wrapped up, packed up, and then……hit the bar! There, Kelly acted as bartender and served whatever everyone wanted, with just a tip expected in return. Figuring I would hang out and chat with some classmates before hitting the road, I enjoyed a beer to help deaden some of the pain in my fingers, arms, and kneecap. I hit the road around 1730.
I should note here that we did a LOT more than what is covered in this review. Some information on targeting, and more on techniques including witik, redondo, fanning, etc. I was actually quite amazed at how much Kelly was able to pack into what amounted to a six hour day, all this while working at a comfortable pace with plenty of time to work out some of the kinks.
While I was driving to this course, an event occurred in Montgomery County, Maryland (right outside Washington, D.C.) that attracted a lot of attention on the various gun forums, but in my opinion it was for all the wrong reasons. I will link to the video, but these have been getting taken down by various hosts almost as soon as they are put up, so it may not be here for long.
In this case, a Montgomery County Sherrif’s Deputy responded to a call for a man deliberately ramming his car into other cars and possibly attacking someone with a bat (I have a friend on a nearby police department who shared with me what the original call was on his scanner/computer). When the deputy arrived, he deployed his taser (failed…..surprise!) and then backed up as the man swung what appeared to be a tree branch, striking the deputy before the deputy shot the man about a dozen times.
Many were shocked at the lack of “stopping power” of the handgun, saying that the man looked like a zombie who would not go down. The fact is, the assailant was down and incapacitated within 5 seconds of the first shot.
While I do not doubt the legality of the shoot from the deputy’s perspective, I must say that, even with only about six hours of training in an ASP/Stickfighting clinic with Kelly, I feel like, armed with an ASP, I could have relatively easily dealt with this guy and his attack. I realize it is easy to leave a class and feel like an expert, but after an honest self-assessment, I really do believe that the things I learned in that clinic would have allowed me to handle this situation, and while the assailant may have had broken fingers, clavical, etc., I feel like I probably would not have had to shoot him. Obviously, we will never know, but let us just say that I have a newfound respect for “the stick”.
Overall, I really liked this class, and given the cost, the proximity to my home, and how the class was run, I could easily see myself repeating it in the future. I achieved a few of my goals of learning more about fighting with a stick, putting into practice a lot of what I had already learned (in an academic way) from Kelly’s DVDs that I had watched many times, and also got to do what my mentor said: learn violence.
I am scheduled to return to Fredericksburg to train with Kelly three more times this year, and this course reinforced for me the good choice I made in signing up. Now that I have “held up”, albeit with a few bruises, through my first course with Kelly, I am genuinely looking forward to the rest. Until then….
As always, thanks for reading. If you have any questions or comments, please post them below, as we always welcome civil discourse. I can be reached privately at firstname.lastname@example.org.