Realities Created, Maintained and Destroyed, WHILE-U-WAIT!

Saturday, January 01, 2005

African Lessons, the Fimbo

"When told that you may not be armed, it is best to be armed"

You see them everywhere in East Africa, a stick about a meter long, tapered, made from any number of local hardwoods.


In Kiswahili they are called "Fimbo" which means a staff or club. It is a walking stick, a cattle prod, a back scratcher, a tool for self defense, a snake killer, it is an "everything stick". Rural Tanzanians grow up with them, The Maasai use them every day pretty much from the time they can walk.

One of the Nice things about the Fimbo is that it is a "non-lethal" weapon, unlike the panga, (machete) rungu (war club) or sime (short sword). So if one has to use it for protection there is a spectrum of force that can be applied.

This is something that some people do not understand about weapons. Take for example the pistol, it has only one propose, to kill whatever you shoot at. If someone uses a pistol in an attempt to wound, or even worse intimidate, it is very much like trying to use a pair of pliers to drive nails, but often with more dire consequence.

A knife can wound, but trying to use it to wound or intimidate will also get you in trouble. A knife is used in a combat situation to incapacitate, which usually means that the bad guy will die unless he gets quick medical attention. (Often that will not even help).

A "cane like" stick can however, incapacitate with a greater likelihood of the attacker surviving. This can be important in some places, and is good for peace of mind in others.

Even more importantly, given the efforts by governments all over the world to disarm their citizens, the cane is the only self defense tool that is available to law abiding people in many places.

Just recently, England has taken steps to make carrying a pocket knife a mandatory five year sentence, and I have heard that there is talk (I do hope that this is not true) of putting a ban on potato peelers because they are carried by gangs. I am told that in Hungary there is a waiting period before you can buy a baseball bat. What we see more and more around the world is that if you abide by the laws of whatever place you are in, you are often very limited in means of self defense. (A problem that criminals never seem to have for some reason, go figure)

But a cane, or walking stick, is universally recognized as an orthopedic device. You can even take one on an airplane. (Though a cane would not be my first choice for an in-flight weapon, but we will save that for another article). You can even get your doctor to write you a prescription for your cane and keep it in your wallet if you like.

While a walking stick is not as effective as a 12 gage pump loaded with #00 buck, it is quite useful in a pinch.

There are a number of martial arts that can be useful for learning walking stick self defense. French Savate has skills specifically for the cane, as does Korean Hapkido and Indian Lathi. The Filipino and Indonesian martial arts are easily adapted to a walking stick, and African stick fighting skills are second to none.

Me and my friend Mashaka Uthman sparring Fimbo

In Tanzania, the most skilled people with a fimbo are the Maasai, but there are good stick fighters in every group I encountered.

As I mentioned before, one reason that the Maasai are so good with their fimbo is that they are using them constantly from as soon as they can lift one. The Maasai method of using the stick makes use of one and two handed grips and is very rhythmic and full body in its movement, you really need to see it to appreciate it.

A couple of notes on canes and walking sticks.

First, if you want to use a cane as a self defense tool you need to practice with it constantly. It needs to become a part of you, and that will not happen with a few lessons or working out with it once or twice a week. Secondly, you will not get really skilled with one unless you work against someone who is not cooperating, in other words you need to spar with your cane.

There are a few people who are making "Combat Canes", I recommend that you stay away from them, they look too much like a weapon, and you don't want that.

Personally, in the US or Europe I carry a plain "stockman's cane" made from hickory. A stockman's cane is a bit thicker through the shaft that your basic cane, and its hook is a bit wider, but it still looks like nothing more than a cane, and that is the important thing. When I am in Africa I have a fimbo that is a constant companion, and because they are so common there, no one thinks twice about it.

Another good choice is a stout umbrella, like a "golf umbrella" with a solid Fiberglas shaft, no one looks twice at them but they are a good self defense tool if you practice with them.

Why should you care? Because it is a fact that an armed citizen who is competent with his or her weapon is much less likely to become the victim of a violent crime.

Yes, I know that there are people who say that this is not true, but they do so from superstitious rather than scientific reasons. All one has to do is look at crime rates in States that allow concealed carry of a handgun and contrast them with states that do not in order to see that this is true. (Criminals are predators, and predators prefer to attack the weak, an armed citizen is not usually seen as weak). It is also true that all attempts by the State to disarm its citizens are only effective for the honest, law abiding ones. Criminals, by definition, tend to ignore such things.

So if you want to get around the often draconian weapons laws found around the world get yourself a good, stout, orthopedic device and learn to use it, because Machiavelli was right.


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