The Yantok weapon goes by many different names, including baton, Filipino Fighting Sticks, Rattan Sticks, Escrima (or Eskrima) sticks, and Kali Sticks. These names all refer to the same weapon; a stick a little over two feet in length made from a relatively straight piece of rattan vine or hardwood. This weapon is widely used and practiced in many Filipino martial arts.
Rattan is a member of the palm tree family, but grows as a vine instead of a tree. Because it is generally quite strong and stable it is often used to make rattan furniture and is widely used for martial arts weapons, including the Yantok.
On the outside rattan looks somewhat similar to bamboo. But unlike bamboo rattan is solid on the inside, not hollow. Rattan has the characteristic of being very forgiving of impact and can take significant abuse before it begins to deteriorate. However it does not splinter and break like wood might when it deteriorates. Instead rattan begins to fray and become fibrous, making it easy to notice when it is time to retire the weapon. This makes the weapon very safe for contact use.
A Historical Perspective
There are many different art forms that have evolved in the Philippines. These arts are often referred to as Escrima, Eskrima, Kali, Arnis, and a vast number of other names. Some individuals have espoused different origins and stylistic elements related to these different names, but from all I have been able to determine, these are essentially generic names often used interchangeably to describe this family of arts. There are individual styles, systems, and schools that use these names to describe their art, but each of these tend to have their own unique characteristics. They do not claim that they represent the entire art of Kali or Escrima, or Arnis. They generally mean that they have a unique art form within the Kali and Escrima family of arts. Today all of these arts are typically characterized as being Filipino Martial Arts (FMA).
The FMA evolved principally throughout the various islands of the Philippines, often with significant regional variations. These arts were influenced periodically by various cultural exchanges with other nations including Malaysia, India, China, Spain, and others.
These arts train with weapons and with bare hands. Weapons commonly include the Yantok and other stick weapons, knives, swords, projectile weapons (blowguns, bow and arrow, etc.) and a great many unique weapons popular in smaller regions of the Philippines. Bladed and stick weapons are by far the most prevalent weapons used in these arts. Students of these arts typically learn to use a weapon first, and then learn bare hand techniques and strategies.
A Yantok normally measures between 24 and 28 inches in length with most being toward the upper end of this range. Most Yantok are approximately one inch in diameter. There can be significant variation in the diameter however since vines naturally grow to variable thicknesses.
A shorter Yantok has a speed advantage, but it also has a reach disadvantage. Longer weapons have better reach but may move somewhat less quickly. In practice however, these small variations are not that consequential.
The Yantok may be used by itself or with another weapon. It is often used with another Yantok, a knife, or even a sword. There is some merit to using the Yantok with other weapons, but you will want to become extremely practiced at using the Yantok alone or with another Yantok. Few people carry an arsenal of different weapons around with them. A simple stick will be easier to locate in an emergency than a stick and a knife. You are unlikely to be legally carrying around multiple weapons in anticipation of a sudden surprise attack.
Nomenclature for the Yantok is fairly limited. There are not very many parts to a Yantok. In traditional Filipino Martial Arts the end of the weapon furthest from your hand is called the Punta or the Dulo. The end nearest your hand is referred to as the Punyo or Punya. With the similarly sized Japanese Tambo, these same ends might be referred to as the Zen Atama and the Ushiro Atama, respectively.
The Yantok can be used much like a Hanbo, but it is much more flexible and versatile than a Hanbo. But it can also be more demanding.
There are several ways in which you might grip a Yantok. The most common is to hold the weapon near one end. Your hand might be very near the Punya, or you might place your hand so that there are several inches between your hand and the Punya. In the first case the weapon is more readily spun and has greater striking range and power. In the second case the Punya can be used for striking, hooking, trapping, or disarming an opponent. You will want to become practiced at holding the weapon in both positions.
A single Yantok is seldom used with both hands. While you may occasionally find it useful to use a second hand to support the weapon during blocking, this is quite rare. This occupies your hand and limits your abilities. What you will often find is that your opposite hand will be used in conjunction with the Yantok. The Yantok will block or manipulate the opponent’s weapon or arm and your opposite hand will then be used to grasp the opponent’s arm or weapon to strip his or her weapon or initiate some further manipulation. And naturally your free hand might be used to strike at the opponent while your Yantok holds the opponent’s weapon in abeyance.
When gripping the weapon place it in the palm of your hand and wrap all four fingers around the shaft. Now wrap your thumb over the index finger to securely lock the weapon in your hand. This hand grip reduces the chances that the weapon will be knocked or pulled out of your hand during contact.
When spinning the weapon you should not change this hand grip. Practitioners often slacken this grip and may hold the weapon with only the thumb and one or two fingers during a rotational maneuver. While this makes spinning easier, it also makes it much more risky. If your weapon is contacted during the spin it is quite likely you will be disarmed.
When you first beginning spinning the weapon you will probably feel like the weapon or your wrist binds or is restricted during rotation. This is an issue with wrist stretch and flexibility. Your wrist stretch will naturally improve with repetitive use of the weapon, provided you do not rely on a relaxed grip while spinning or rotating the weapon. It is important to maintain a firm (not exceedingly tight) grip on the weapon at all times. If you feel your wrist binds then slow down and focus on wrist turn exercises. You may also wish to explore various wrist stretching exercises to improve your wrist flexibility. Avoid subjecting your wrist to excessive stretching and manipulation. Allowing things to progress at a natural pace is best. We provide numerous drills that will help you develop better handling skills, greater arm and hand strength, and improved flexibility.
As with any weapon you pick up it pays to spend time working on general Yantok familiarity. While there are not many parts to a Yantok, there is a feel and flow to the weapon that can be best appreciated by simply moving it around for extended periods of time. This should be done before you start working on specific drills. Just be familiar with how the weapon feels and moves in your hand when you grip it at various locations.
Naturally you will want to do this familiarity training in a location where you will not smash lamps, dent furniture, send your family pet to your veterinarian, or anger innocent bystanders. You will drop the weapon with some regularity initially – though not as frequently as you did when learning to use the Tonfa. Be aware of your surroundings and limit practice to times and locations where others are not going to be injured by an errant strike or stick that has somehow escaped your grip and is now a flying rattan missile.