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A Machete Martial Arts Master Shares His Secrets

Weapon based martial arts are exciting to watch, and fighters who train in these deadly styles are truly a brave lot, but there's something so cringeworthy about fighting with a machete.

Maybe it's because machetes are made for chopping through trees so they do nasty things to human flesh, or maybe it's because I associate machetes with Jason Voorhees and Central American drug cartels.

But in Haiti machete fencing is not only a popular martial art with roots in agriculture- it's an important part of history that dates back to the Haitian Revolution of 1791 to 1804.

(YouTube Link)

National Geographic spoke to machete fencing master Alfred Avril about Haiti's unique and deadly cool martial art, revealing how the machete became an important symbol of Haitian freedom.


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If giving a detailed criticism of why a hammer is a bad screwdriver, don't be surprised when someone doesn't rebut the details while saying you've missed the point.

Caribbean martial arts falls on a continuum between fighting style and dance, while pigeonholing it as either amounts to a severe misunderstanding. Efficiency and practicality is not necessarily the goal and can take a back seat, especially toward the dance end of the spectrum. You can criticize a training aid as being useless in a fight, but you end up looking like someone criticizing chess by saying how useless chess pieces are in a foxhole.
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Criticism is great. That's why I'm free to criticize what I believe is the misdirected nature of your criticism. I have a very different view of the point of the short documentary, based on the Kickstarter video, the Haitian machete fencing organization web site, and the essay from the film festival site describing the movie.

I feel no need to rebut irrelevant commentary. Speaking of rebuttals, you "criticiz[ed] the style because it is an inefficient and risky way to quickly kill someone", without demonstration that killing someone efficiently was the goal of this style. You also mention "as little risk as possible". Why is that relevant? I can easily point to the German academic dueling scar tradition as an example of a semi-ritualized fighting style where the goal was neither to kill nor avoid injury. Scars showed courage and the ability to take a blow, and a goal of the victor was to come out with a scar. Speaking of which, this film shows an example of ritualized scaring of one of the students by the teacher, though not as part of fighting.

I think you consider this only as a fighting style. My point is that the people involved seem to regard this more an expression of Haitian and Caribbean history and culture than a fighting style. As a loose analogy, it's like folk dancing. Each area has its own style, some are more interesting than others, and a few become internationally known. But you're not going to convince most Norwegians Tinikling is better than halling, because even if there is an objective reason like better health benefits, it's the subjective ties to Norwegian heritage which are important.
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Now I see you're just grasping at straws. Since you did not even rebut my post but rather engage in sheer surmise and red herrings, I'll leave it as it stands.

and also, why can't I criticize it? I criticize all other martial arts, and I don't mind if they criticize mine. What makes Haitian martial arts immune to criticism? Is it the new black?
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How do you know that Haitian Machete Fencing is not also constrained by rules? The description at https://www.haitianfencing.org/ says it's in part derived from saber, brought in by the French slavers. One of the development coordinators is an instructor of Historical European Martial Arts. I think my analogy to foil fencing stands. In any case, it's a nearly dead practice, as that film states. The point isn't that somehow an innovative fighting style, as you oddly think I feel, but that it's a connection to Haitian past and culture. "Professor Avril often expressed to us his hope that our project will increase the prestige of Haitian machete fencing as an art form, both at home and abroad, and give the younger generation a reason to retain this piece of their cultural heritage into the future."

That was the point of the film. Not some argument about its superior fighting style, unique approach, or historical primacy, which is what you seem to think it's about. Think of it as an heirloom. You don't go into someone's house and tell them that their bauble, handed down for 5 generations, isn't as nice or as good as your bauble, because that's not really the point. I'm certain that in your hypothetical match-up the Haitian style practitioner would lose. Then again, winning such a fight doesn't appear to be the goal for the Haitian style practitioners describe in this movie, the organization which trains people in this style, or the filmmakers.

I think you have misread the comment about flyers. Your Filipino ancestors didn't hand fliers, but a web search shows that modern practitioners certainly do. Neither was Avril talking about his Haitian ancestors. He was talking about his generation, and saying that even 10 years ago people in Haiti weren't promoting it with flyers or training sessions open to the public. It's certainly not the national sport and martial art of Haiti.
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"DannyJr: Isn't that like criticizing foil fencing because it only targets the torso, when real combat is not so limited?"

No. Because foil fencing is an artificial sport constrained by rules. I was criticizing the style because it is an inefficient and risky way to quickly kill someone. You don't "dance" with another blade wielding opponent, you end it swiftly and with as little risk as possible. Which is why you aim for the hands and arms. Which is also why most European fighting swords have hand protections on the hilt against such attacks. The machete is not primarily a weapon but a farm implement which is why there are no hand guards.

And BTW, true fencing as a combat style, not the sports versions, is very efficient. Quick strikes and slashes, parrying and blocks are de-emphasized. Fights end in seconds. It is nothing like the silly sword fights you watch on movies like Pirates of the Caribbean.

And this canard about secret styles is just crap. Every FMA style was at one time a "family secret". And so were every jujitsu style, every karate style, every kung fu style, etc. I have heard "bull-shido" for more than 20 years, so I just have to call it when I hear it. Don't worry, there's a lot of bull-shido in Filipino Martial Arts too.

Finally, if you bothered to study Filipino Martial Arts history, the comparisons with the Haitian arts is quite apt. Like the Haitian arts, it is rooted in revolution. When the Spaniards conquered the Philippines, they outlawed native martial arts and weapons. So, like the Haitians, the Filipinos started using farming blades like the Bolo knife and the Machete as makeshift weapons. There were many skirmishes between armed Spaniards with muskets vs Filipinos with bolos.

And since Filipino Martial Arts was banned, it was also handed down from parents to children in secret. This is not a Haitian innovation Andrew Dalke. My Filipino ancestors were not "handing out flyers" during the Spanish occupation either.

I'd like to see a Haitian style practitioner vs an FMA practitioner duel it out with rubber blades. See which style is better. I am obviously rooting for FMA as I am a former practitioner. But who knows, maybe the Haitian style has something to it.
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