Real Contact Stick Fighting:  Rules, Points and Trophies

by Colin “Point Dog” Stewart

So, how do you win in a stickfight?

This easily ranks in the top three questions asked of any Kali practitioner once people find out that you fight in Real Contact Stick Fighting (RCSF).  It’s definitely up there with:

“Are you crazy?” – Probably (we hit each other with sticks, it’s hardly normal)


“Does it hurt?” – Only if you don’t get out of the way

The bulk of my experience in RCSF comes from my membership and association with the Dog Brothers Tribe.  There are many other Kali/Eskrima groups out there (and a growing number of Western Martial Arts groups) doing similar things, and I hope that the members of these groups have experienced the same sense of development and brotherhood that I have with the Dog Brothers.

The purpose of RCSF, or at least as is practiced by the extended Dog Brothers tribe, is to develop and improve the participants (though it started as a method of determining the validity of what was being taught, which is a topic for another day).

To develop the practitioner spiritually, mentally and physically is the mystical promise of most martial arts. Whilst most truly address the physical, few spend time addressing the mental or intellectual side of combat (be it sport or reality) and spiritual development seems to fall into one of two camps.  The first is that it is frowned upon in the macho endeavour of martial arts (“What’re you?!? Some kinda hippy!?!”).  The second camp is where the martial has totally given way to the art, and you have a group of people who wax poetically about the harmony and balance that the martial arts have given them.  The shame here being that the martial aspect of the training is all but neglected and we are left with a form of moving meditation.

So, if the goal of RCSF is to improve the participants, how is it controlled?  There has to be some kind of safe guard to ensure that neither of the participants is permanently hurt or crippled.  There has to be a complicated set of rules governing what can and cannot be done with those sticks.  There must be a referee and maybe a panel of judges to determine who has ‘won’.

The first ‘pre-rule’ is:

“No suing no-one, no way, no how.  Only you are responsible for you.” – Marc Crafty Dog, co-founder and Guiding Force of the Dog Brothers.

Less of a rule and more of a provision of entry, if you can’t agree that you are responsible for the more reckless things you do in your life, you should get used to just watching others doing it.

The comprehensive Dog Brothers Gathering rules:

1)   Be friends at the end of the day.
2)   See (1).

That’s it.  The usual guidance notes, as they are known in legal terms, are that “nobody spends the night in the hospital” and that “everyone leaves with the IQ with which he came”.

Okay, so who ensures that this rule is followed?  Who is the official on the ground that prevents or penalises overzealous actions?  Who ensures that neither of the two fighters ends up in hospital?  That would be the two guys, in the adrenal state, trying to beat the crap out of each other.  With no rules prohibiting certain techniques and with sticks swinging faster than the eye can follow, something really bad can happen much faster than a referee’s ability to intercept.  So whilst trying to beat someone up, you’re also trying to take care of them (think Julie Andrews rather than Al Pacino).

We have a situation where if fighter A can execute a crippling shot, he has to pull it.  If this then leads to fighter B double legging A, smashing him into the floor and knocking him out, then A has to have enough control over his ego to let it go.  All of the fighters present watching know this, so this removes a large element of the fear of embarrassment, of ‘losing’ in front of your friends.

The experience, and ability, to switch from full charged aggression to caring friend in the blink of an eye is a powerful thing.  This is where you start to see the beginnings of that promised spiritual development!

The third man present is a Ringmaster and not a referee.  His purpose is primarily to ensure the safety of the fighters; so that they do not crash into anything dangerous, land on discarded fencing masks, impale themselves on wall mounted obstacles or plough into the crowd.  I’ve seen numerous times at RCSF events where the Ringmaster has had to order an oblivious crowd to move out of the way of incoming fighters!

The Gathering environment is one where only you are responsible for your own safety, but where the aggression is controlled and you know that none of your Brothers are going to maliciously damage you.  With the credo of ‘no winners, no losers’ the fear of embarrassment in losing is gone, and there comes the freedom to experiment with different weapons or strategies. This atmosphere also allows for the young dogs to fight with the alpha dogs, with the experienced fighters monitoring their own behaviour so as to not just destroy the novice fighters.  This allows the experienced fighter to help develop the novice, the idea being to push them and encourage development.

Don’t think that this personal monitoring of behaviour makes RCSF easy or soft.  The fighters are trying to hurt each other; with fights ranging in time from 2 – 4 minutes the quickest way to end the fight is to KO or submit your opponent.  In RCSF submission can also be achieved by breaking bones and rendering your opponent unable to defend himself (broken hands are reasonably common).  Experienced fighters may decide to ‘test’ a novice’s ability to take a beating, and incidents (rather than accidents) do happen.

So are these really all the rules?  Well, no.  There are some ‘unwritten rules’ which have developed within the tribal culture itself and are policed by the members of the tribe themselves.  But if I told you what they were then they wouldn’t be unwritten!

So how do you win in a RCSF?  You survive, learn and make new friends.  The bonds of friendship that can be created through sharing such an emotionally charged experience can be incredibly strong and extend far beyond just hitting each other with sticks.

Manhug, friends at the end of the day.