Dog Brothers fights feature stick fighting, knife fighting and using other weapons
There are about 200 members of the Dog Brothers pack
This form of combat arts originated in the Philippines
Two men circle warily in the center of a colorful gym mat. Each holds a three-foot long wicker stick in one hand and a blunted aluminum knife in the other.
A sudden rush and surge of adrenalin. Both are engaged in a swirl of weapons. The air rings to the sound of sticks striking each other and the duller whomp of sticks striking legs, arms and torsos.
The battle is engaged at full speed and full power. Punches aren’t pulled. When the grueling two-minute bout is over, both combatants display an angry array of bumps, bruises and welts. The fighters embrace and depart the battlefield. Neither has been declared the winner or the loser. The idea of winning or losing is not what the Dog Brothers are about.
“We don’t keep score,” says Marc “Crafty Dog” Denny, one of the Dog Brothers’ founders. “No judges, no referees, no trophies. That would be contrary to the way we do things.”
In 1988, Denny and 10 other martial arts enthusiasts formed the loose tribe they called the Dog Brothers. They were all drawn to an obscure form of the combat arts that originated during times of tribal warfare in the Philippines. This form of combat is primarily hand to hand using weapons that were available in the forests and jungles of the Philippines. It is a fighting discipline known in different parts of the world as Arnis, Escrima or Kali.
“In the past it had been a very, very secretive art,” Denny said, “a weaponry art that originated in tribal warfare in the jungles.”
Dog Brothers gatherings feature bouts of stick fighting, knife fighting, fighting staffs, even the occasional use of chains and other weapons. Punching, kicking and wrestling also come into play. Combatants wear a fencing mask to protect the eyes and gloves to protect hands, but there is no other padding. Their motto is, “Higher consciousness through harder contact.”
“There was definitely a part of me that said, these guys are way out there,” Roan Kalani “Poi Dog” Grimm said with a laugh.
At the same time, Grimm found the Dog Brothers’ form of extreme martial arts exciting.
“They were applying it in real time and real speed and real power, ” Grimm said. “A part of myself said, I really want to do this. I want to test myself at this level.”
There are perhaps 200 full-fledged members of the Dog Brothers pack. Members receive a “Dog” nickname after they are voted into the pack. The nickname is meant to describe each member’s fighting style or personality. However, to become a full member, other members must reach a consensus that the individual has developed his skills and represents his true potential as a martial artist. There are many who have more than a passing interest in the extreme form of martial arts the group represents.
That is what attracted Tobias Gibson to a recent Dog Brothers gathering in Los Angeles. Gibson is a 39-year-old political science professor from Missouri’s Westminster College. He is a studious looking guy with a scraggly goatee and more than a few extra pounds. Although he had trained for eight years in martial arts, Gibson had never engaged in this kind of all-out combat.
“It’s really scary,” Gibson confessed before his bout, “I was trying to untie my shoes and I couldn’t. My hands were shaking.”
Gibson’s bout lasted two minutes. He had been paired with a much more experienced fighter who took care to look after the newcomer’s safety. Even so, the professor emerged with a series of welts on his arm and back, a bleeding knot on his forehead and at least one broken finger. The injuries did not dampen his spirits.
“Once you get into the ring it’s all good, ” Gibson said. “I’m in the moment. I was in the moment.”
To Marc “Crafty Dog” Denny, the idea is to push your fellow members to be their best but to also know when to stop.
“In a fight of this nature, things can go wrong too quickly to count on a referee to jump into it. And so fighters are within the code of the tribe,” Denny said. “We could make this a padded pillow fight but then it would lose its meaning. The danger and risk are necessary to the transformative nature of the experience.”
Denny said he realizes this form of fighting involves a concept that is not for everyone. He said it’s not something everybody understands.
Grimm certainly understands the calm that can exist at the center of a storm.
“It’s never malicious. And people who display that kind of temperament are very quickly weeded out, ” he said. “I’m completely aware of everything that is going on. Nothing beyond the exact moment exists.”
Grimm laughed at the suggestion that it is a moment of Zen, with an added element of pain.
“A lot of pain if you find yourself a little too Zen and not paying attention to your opponent’s stick,” he said.
Whatever the attraction is to this form of extreme fighting, Denny said safety is still paramount.
“The underlying rule is to be friends at the end of the day,” Denny said. “Which means that our goal is that no one spends the night in the hospital. Our goal is that everyone leaves with the IQ that they came with.”