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The Brutal Salsa
Bag Drill for Stick-fighting
© 2012 James LaFond
The most frightening stick-fighting opponent for myself and many others was Rico Arus—a certifiable badass. The interesting thing about this big Puerto Rican wrecking machine was that he liked to incorporate his salsa dancing into combat, and he had a lot of skill. Conditioning wise his forearm muscles were so well developed that he could generate really sick power with minimal arm movement. I found Rico to be most dangerous when advancing behind the following combination, which I am now drilling in a hopefully not-to-late attempt to inculcate it into my combat biology.
Stylistic Notes
If you like the backhand and have a good checking hand you will be at home with this drill. If you are a forehand fighter perhaps developing this as an escape or pass is the best attitude.
Mechanics
Step 1
From the guard throw a forehand with a step and drag.
This is as basic as it gets. It is just an entry. Rico liked diagonals, rising and descending, as this is really just an entry shot that does not have to hit to be effective. Think in terms of advancing under cover of suppressive fire. The forehand is just a way to get closer without getting hit, by causing your man to go on the defensive or just by sweeping through the strike zone with a beat.
Vary the angle of this forehand stroke. Envision some as counters, some as entrees and some as scoring power shots, before proceeding to the next and final step in this drill. Keep in mind that if you are actually trying to score on a forehand entry without a preceding sweep [beat], that you are open to a power hand hit, and maybe a flattened finger. Practice this stroke as a sweeping beat that does not actually reach the bag, and as a scoring stroke. If you have a bag cover, also try slashing the bag with the tip, to simulate an attempt to get your opponent to move off defensively. Rico liked the rising diagonal forehand for this.
Step 2
From a backhand shoulder-load [with an assisting rear hand perhaps] or a hip-load [with a guarding rear hand before your throat] throw a power backhand in sync with a forward shift, terminating in a close [bent-arm] check or stiff-arm check with the rear hand.
This is a twisting power shot. As you do your forward cross-step [shift] your position drifts slightly to the outside, giving you the angle. Whether you are assisting the backhand with the empty hand or not, shoot the empty hand over the path of the stroke as it rips through the bag and your rear foot completes its shift and lands to the outside of the bag. This results in a power twist. You will find yourself throwing a backhand with the power of your core rather than your relatively weak rear deltoid.
As a largo mano [long-range] forehand fighter I like a lateral backhand to a stiff arm.
For a simbrada [mid-range] backhand fighter, who likes to mug people Rico Style, you may be better served with a diagonal raking backhand or double body/head retracting backhand with a close check.
Application Notes
This is a way in through the pocket with something nasty to show for it. If you are that Rico-like mugger on the stick-fighting scene it is an end unto itself. If you do well in there and the opponent does not clear out then close combinations behind a checking hand should serve you well.
If you are more of a long-range fighter I like this as a pass. In this case stay on the move and continue the shifting game that got you through the pocket in the first place, not neglecting the stiff-arm.
When I practice this left-handed I go with one of the above applications. When I drill right-handed my tendency is to shift too far out with a check that does not quite reach the bag. I attribute this to my longer range right-hand orientation which is built around a heavy lateral forehand, which is something I do not have as a left-handed stick-fighter. I drill this as a check to an imaginary hand or stick, rather than the check to the elbow, shoulder, chest, head that empty hand contact with the bag represents.
The Brutal Salsa is just an aggressive two-step with two or three strokes. It does, however, set you up for a two-step four-stroke drill from the clinch if you are a simbrada man. If you are a largo mano man this gets you a pass to his outside behind a power backhand. After one session drilling this, my long knife sparring went much better, with the backhand being used to slash a countering knife-arm. I was also pleased with the stick and dagger application.
Have fun with it and see where it takes you.
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