Practicality is a touchy subject in any martial art. A possible cause is that some martial arts instructors throw the responsibility of the materials effectiveness on the strict nature of the arts syllabus, and not on themselves as an instructor. All too often in the minds of many practitioners, if a person challenges one part of the syllabus, that person isn’t only challenging that one part, they’re challenging the entire art itself along with all of the time that person has put into studying it.
Thankfully, a lot of the fun in trying to understand how to best use a rope dart as a weapon comes from how uncharted the rope dart territory is. There isnâ€™t a lot of information to begin with and much of what is available is conflicting.
Let’s consider some questions that may help us determine if a flexible weapon (rope dart, chain whip, nunchuck, etc.) and its usage are â€œPracticalâ€ or â€œImpracticalâ€.
- Does my body need to be in a tactically disadvantageous position in order for me to hurt someone effectively?
This odd sounding question is really more of a challenge towards particular techniques that might try to pass themselves off as workable, rather than the weapon itself. You would be hard pressed to find weapons that by their design force you into juxtaposed positions. Examples of such positions include: Turning back to your opponent, acrobatics and ground tumbling, requiring consistent fine motor skill usage, letting go of your weapon at any time, or having to take a strenuous amount of time and effort to unholster your weapon. If any of these things are required outside of simple performance demonstrations, youâ€™re in trouble.
While the rope dart can be used in a variety of fantastical ways, the majority of these are simply not usable in actual combat. Spinning the dart alone can generate sufficient velocity to maim someone with a simple overhead or underhand strike. This serves as a boon in a way, because simplicity in function is absolutely what youâ€™re looking for in a weapon. Even further still, a meteor hammer, rope dart, or even a whip chain could easily be used as a garrote to strangle someone in a grappling situation, in what are referred to as â€œbindingâ€ techniques.
- Does what I’m learning work consistently in sparring?
Can you execute a technique efficiently and with consistent results during sparring? That alone is a ride or die question in the great debate of the practical. I would go so far as to argue that for any technique there are two versions: The static version we practice safely to simulate the second version, which is the Dynamic version. The Dynamic version I could best describe as â€œa technique defined by its gross functional requirementsâ€. Techniques like the hip toss are good examples. Yes, it can be done cleanly, but it certainly doesnâ€™t have to. It tends to have a high success rate even when hamfisted.
Sparring is a very â€œtrial by fireâ€ sort of thing. In martial arts something either works for a practitioner, or it doesn’t, with not a lot in between. When someone uses a wrong technique when sparring a possible result is getting punched in the face.
- Is the weapon I’m carrying concealable?
Another point to consider is the aspect of surprising your opponent. As hard of a reality to accept as it is, the punch you donâ€™t see coming IS the one that always puts you down. Thankfully, it works both ways. Surprising an opponent typically means the difference of you getting out of a fight with just a few bruises and a broken toe, or an ambulance ride and an obnoxious volley of questions from your grandmother.
The rope dart has most of its benefits derived from the fact that it can be incredibly well concealed considering its applicable range, which is theoretically between 6 and 20 feet at its farthest. While anchored on one hand, removing the loop handle and then releasing it at an opponent after building the necessary speed and trajectory is tricky. On the other, let’s assume the psychological factor involved in swinging something with so much range at another human being. Simply brandishing a shiny metal object thatâ€™s shaped like a dagger would likely be enough to send someone running off. Beyond that, swinging around a weapon that someone has likely never seen before? Well, imagine yourself in that situation.
- What are the maximum and minimum ranges that this weapon can be used?
Its the old â€œhand grenade in a phone boothâ€ adage. You wouldnâ€™t use a bow staff in a subway car, and you wouldnâ€™t throw a knife in an elevator. Harsh context needs to be applied before reasoning the capabilityâ€™s of a thing.
Yes, the typical 12 foot rope dart could in theory be used at 15 feet or so if the users arm reach is included. The aim of the practitioner would have to be near perfect to accurately strike from 15 feet away, even still the person being shot at is most likely not standing still. At 10 feet or so the variable would undoubtedly start to close. At 5 feet one could expect relatively high accuracy. Personally, I would say between 5 and 10 feet is where you’ll see the most practical usage for this kind of weapon, which is extremely generous in and of itself, all things considered.
- How much of a danger does this weapon pose to myself as I’m using it?
Weapons such as the three sectional staff, morning-star flails, and shurikens come with a nasty habit of ricocheting back at their respective users. All have reputations for doing just as much harm to the user, as to the one its being used on.
Notice that the more moving parts a melee weapon has, the more of a danger it presents to its user. Flails, nunchaku, multi-sectional staffs, whips of any kind, many throwing weapons, etc, all have a very high risk of whipping back and striking the holder of said weapon. This would probably be the rope darts single biggest flaw. The high capability and practice hours required to make it workable as a weapon easily make it a danger to those seeking to use it as a force multiplier in defensive situations.
To conclude, I would argue that the most combat practical rope dart techniques are ones which do not require you to turn your back, use excessive twining through the fingers, suicide wrap, or release the rope from both hands. I would also add that any technique which can be performed directly after unholstering it would probably have the most success, such as simply removing it from ones pocket and swinging it upward to someones groin or face, or swinging downward at the hands or face of your attacker. Using it as a binding or a stabbing weapon at close quarters would also be a far better option that attempting to shoot it at someone a foot away. Simply wrapping the rope once around someones wrist and pulling both ends taught would dislocate or break a persons wrist. All of these, of course, would have to be experimented on, and practiced through sparring.
After all is said and done, I would say that the rope darts practical application is somewhere between a knife and a whip.
Being able to defend yourself with it, on the other hand, is found in skill.