Hatchet Men by Richard H. Dillon.

My research for my last blog have resulted in me locating and reading a copy of “Hatchet Men” by Richard H. Dillon. This is proving to be a fascinating book, with scope far greater than just the Tong wars. Dillon includes an account of the psychological and sociological factors that contributed.

On one side, we have rampant bigotry. On the other, unhealthy isolationism. Thrown into this are some all too familiar factors. Sensationalist and mendacious journalists. Self-serving and opportunistic politicians. A greatly understrength, and often corrupt, police force that the law-abiding could not trust. Cosmetic, politically-motivated, laws that only penalize the law-abiding. Courts and lawyers used as weapons by the criminals rather than the victims. The innocent with no protection and unable to protect themselves. Good people trapped between parasitic criminals and prejudiced mobs.

There are sparks of inspiration too. Thousands of normal San Franciscans took to the streets as the “Pickaxe Handle Brigade” and prevented the anti-Chinese sand-lot mobs burning Chinatown. Or the tenacious, often dangerous, crusade of Donaldina “Lo Mo” Cameron to rescue Chinese women from slavery.
This is a story that has many lessons for both the present and the future. Many of the conditions and problems described still exist in our societies. Within the major cities of America and Europe thousands of women have been enslaved as prostitutes.
I recommend reading “Hatchet Men”. It is a book that should be required reading in schools.

Highbinder Hatchet.

A few months back I binge-watched the excellent series “Warrior”. This once again stirred my curiosity about the Tongs and the weapons they used. 
The footsoldiers of the criminal tongs were the “highbinders” or “boo how doy”, which means “hatchet sons”, but was more commonly “hatchet men”. The term “highbinder” supposedly derives from the members of the fighting tongs wearing their hair in a style which made it difficult for an enemy to grab their queue. In fact the term was used for non-Chinese hoodlums long before it was applied to Chinese (Hatchet Men p.52-3). The rationale behind “hatchet men” is usually that this was the favoured weapon of the highbinders, being useful for both dispatching an enemy and disposing of the body. One would think that the cleaver would have been a more readily available implement in Chinese communities. Indeed, this often seems to be the choice of modern Chinese criminals.
Interestingly, while displays of confiscated highbinder weapons do include hatchets, knives and firearms seem more common. Some writers like to paint the picture that the tong fighters preferred mêlée combat, but reports from the time as well as photos make it clear modern firearms were used. It is possible that blades were favoured for intimidation. Police chief (1866-97) Pat Crowley was probably exaggerating when he said “Nearly every Chinaman in the city is the owner of a pistol, and we all know how handy he is in its use.” However, it is clear firearms use by Chinese criminals was common.
This extract from a US Congressional report also makes interesting reading:

Q. They have a common habit, I understand, of carrying the pistol in the hand stuck up in their voluminous sleeve, and going up to a person and shooting him through the sleeve. Is that true?
A. They generally take out the pistol when they shoot, although they carry them very often in their sleeves. Highbinders seldom carry pistols. They are generally accompanied by another person, whom they call " jury," and who belongs to the poorer class of Chinamen. He follows the highbinder and carries the weapon. When caught, we would search the highbinder for a pistol, but would not find anything of the kind on him, and the ' jury" would have disappeared with the weapon. The only time the highbinder has a weapon is while leaving his quarters, but on the street you will not find one. 
Q. Are they not oftentimes called "hatchetmen"?
A. The hatchet is a great weapon and the blade is about 6 inches long 
Q. A regular cleaver?
A. A good deal like a lather's hatchet. 
Q, When you said that there were 30 men killed in the streets, you meant men who were shot; that does not include men who were killed by hatchetmen, does it?
A. They do not use these hatchets very much now; they use knives more, because knives do not make any noise.
Also notable is that most of the knives displayed do not appear to be Chinese in origin. Indeed, the leftmost in the photo below appears Japanese! The middle example appears to be made from a broken (American) sabre. According to “The Complete story of the San Francisco Horror”, “The favorite weapon of the Highbinder is a long knife made of a file, with a brass knob and heavy handle. The other weapon in common use is a 45-calibre Colt’s revolver.” Many American knives would have been forged in Sheffield or Solingen! There are very few “martial artsweapons. A weapon of actual Chinese pedigree in these pictures are the paired butterfly swords (Woo dip dao/ hudiedao) that appear in each photo. These may be the bowie knifes two feet long in the blade mentioned by Price on page 288 of Hatchet Men.
The Wikipedia article on Tong Wars makes the following statement:
“The hatchet that the highbinders used was somewhat modified from what one usually thinks of a hatchet, as they would cut much of the handle off just enough to have a good grip, and cut a hole into it.”
This is attributed to “Hatchet Men” by Richard H Dillon but the page reference given (p.107) is incorrect, the correct reference being the testimony of Officer Michael Smith on page 163. The actual passage is: 
“A great many of them carry a hatchet with the handle cut off. It may be about six inches long, with a handle and a hole cut in it. They have the handle sawed off a little, leaving just enough to keep a good hold…”
Shortening a hatchet may make it easier for it to be concealed in the sleeve of a Chinese garment. I have been unable to find any images of shortened hatchets that were used by highbinders, nor of any corroborating references.
One idle weekend, I decided to make a shortened hatchet as an experiment. I worked on the premise that “cut a hole into it”  referred to the handle, not seeing any easy way that myself or a highbinder could bore a hole through any other part.
The tool I chose was a low-cost hatchet that I think was described as 1.25 lb. Even with much of the handle removed it seems surprisingly heavy, and the modification makes it seem even more top heavy. On the other hand it is still a pretty sturdy tool and still feels like it could break through an interior door, let alone discourage an aggressor. It can also serve as a hammer for applications such as breaking windows. As you can see, I painted the head to make it less visible.

Snap-links Galore!

Recently I was talking about carabiners. Specifically, I said: Carabiner: A carabiner makes a very practical keyring and has a number of uses. Several of the items listed above can be conveniently carried on your keyring. If your gear has loops or rings it can be temporarily attached to the carabiner when you need your hands free. I sometimes use mine to carry shopping bags.”
I always try to pay attention to good advice, particularly when I am the one giving it! I decided to make sure that all my rucksacks have a carabiner or snap-link positioned where it can serve as an extra pair of hands when needed. Since I am right-handed then the left shoulder strap seems a logical position.
Several of my packs have loops or D-rings in these locations, so adding a snap-link to these was a simple affair. Other packs needed minor modification. For these I took a short length of badge lanyard and sewed it into a loop.
Here are some photos:
Two daysacs I have. For these I opened up the sticking and then resewed with the loop in place.
This is a large pack I have used for much of my travelling. It is an excellent design that has six large external pockets. It converts into a suitcase so the straps are protected while the pack goes through baggage handling. For this pack I made a closed loop and sewed it into position.
Lastly, we have my Northern Ireland patrol pack. Fitting the snap-link to this one did not involve any sewing. I had already sewn a length of paracord to each strap for attaching the camouflage, so the snap-link attached to this. The detachable side pouches attached to this pack have their own harness, so this got a snap-link too.
Just for good measure, I also added a snap-link to my knife belt

Nitecore Thumb Flashlight.

When it comes to the field of flashlights we have, perhaps, a little too much choice.
Firstly, we have the tactical lights designed to mount on firearms. Since they must endure the pounding of recoil, these have to be good quality, and have a price tag to match. Very nice if you are being equipped from someone else’s budget.
Next, you have the class of flashlight that was once typified by the Mag-lites. Robust, and waterproof to conditions under which the user has long ceased to function.
The above use conventional batteries, and have the limitations inherent with these as a power source. There are a number of survival torches that use “exotic” batteries intended for a very long shelf life and/or long use. The problem with these is finding replacement batteries when these eventually run out. Typically they are not the sort stocked by a village store or gas station. This is not to say that some such flashlights do not have a place. A little Photon light should be part of your “every day carry” (EDC). Carry it on your keys or with your dogtags I even have one as the zip-pull of my lock pick kit.

“Batteryless” flashlights have become more widely available in recent years. Some use solar panels, some use a variant of a hand-powered system and some a combination of methods. Sadly, the majority of these do not have the durability or water-resistance of more conventional survival flashlights. On the other hand, some can be obtained at very low prices, and if their limitations are understood and accepted can prove very useful. I have one hanging up in the cupboard under the stairs, where it often proves useful. More capable models are beginning to appear on the market, some claiming to be water-resistant. Some models include radio receivers and/or the ability to charge phones and other devices.
The final class I will look at are that of rechargeable flashlights. Up until recently rechargeable flashlights needed a special charging cradle or you had tounload the batteries into a charger. Now we are seeing rechargeable flashlights that charge by USB in much the same way as a mobile phone.
While I was writing about EDC it became apparent that my personal kit could use a little more capability in the field of illumination. I decided to treat myself to a USB-rechargeable Nitecore Thumb.

This is quite an impressive little device. It is a little bit bigger than a USB-drive and thus small enough to add to my EDC without any noticeable penalty. It comes with a large strong clip that can be unscrewed and removed if the user desires. The clip is quite tenacious and is ideal for securing it to the top of my right cargo pocket, where it can easily be accessed. It would have been nice if an option to reverse this clip had been included. I would prefer to carry my Thumb with the bulbs inside the pocket.
The primary light source is a pair of white LEDs. Usefully, these are mounted on a swivel head. In needed the flashlight could be clipped to a headband or shirt pocket and the beam directed forwards.
The body of the flashlight has two buttons. There is a lockout mode should you find yourself accidentally activating the flashlight. The button nearest the white LEDs activates the main beam. Pressing the button once triggers the high power setting, which is claimed as 85 lumens. Repeated presses cycles through high, mid, ultralow, flashing (high) and standby. Waiting for three seconds or more and pressing the button will deactivate the beam without having to go through the cycle. The orientation of the flashlight can easily be determined by touching either the ends or the clip.

A second button is mounted towards the other end of the flashlight. This activates a red LED light positioned between the two buttons. Hitting the button twice in rapid succession causes this light to flash. If walking a dark country road at night hanging a red light on the back of your rucsack can be prudent.
The red LED panel also serves as a charging indicator. When the flashlight has fully charged a green LED shows. The USB port is a “micro” I think, so you should be sure you have compatible lead. Being behind the curve most of mine are minis, but luckily I have at least one micro, due to my pack-rat tendencies. When not being used the port is covered and plugged by a rubber fixing.
Two sizes of split-ring were included, the larger of which seems to be quite substantial. The packaging claims a twelve month warranty.
The Thumb is made in China, which may automatically turn some of you against it. It is not the sort of flashlight that will survive a nuclear blast at the bottom of the Marianas trench! For what it is, and the role I want it for, it seems to be good quality, and some intelligent thought has obviously been put into the design. Shop around, since price varies considerably. I found mine for nearly half what most other outlets were asking.
I had occasion to use it the other night when looking for something dropped in a gutter. It was certainly bright enough for the purpose! And I can charge it for free when at my computer at work!


Bowls for Backpacking.

Decades ago I had the pleasure of visiting Vancouver, Canada (both the city and the island). In the middle of the city I visited an art exhibition. One of my recollections was that the artist had a kitchen based around dozens of half-litre glass (pyrex?) bowls. Half a litre, she maintained, was good for a sensible portion of food, a coffee for the parched or an entertaining margarita! When washed these bowls formed a well-aired pyramid on the draining board. Their size and shape allowed them to be nested so they took up little cupboard space when not in use. The bowls could be used for both hot and cold foods and drink, and presumably could be used in a microwave too.
It was an interesting concept and I am usually reminded of its simplicity whenever I see a Buddhist monk with his bowl. Unfortunately it is not an idea I have been able to put into practical use myself. There are always other priorities for my money, and I have yet to come across a really good bulk offer of bowls.
This brings me to the subject of “tableware” for camping and backpacking. As I have discussed recently, if we are really travelling lightweight our only cooking vessel will be a canteen cup, and this also serves as our coffee cup, soup-bowl or similar. Other situations may warrant a more extensive cooking kit. With the possible exception of the old US Army mess kit, most military mess kits do not offer you many more options than a canteen cup. Most civilian kits are less than ideal too.
Today’s blog is not about cooking kits, however, but how you eat the food once it is cooked. You can, of course, eat your food direct from the pot or pan, taking care not to scratch any non-stick coating, or burn yourself. If you have company, or a third party is cooking for you, you will need some bowls and/or plates.
There are a variety of camping tableware kits available, although to my mind many of these appear somewhat expensive for what they are.
Ideally, we need some kind of bowl, made from a material that will withstand the inevitable knocks and bumps that transport in a pack can involve. Root around you local discount store and see what is available in the shape of sandwich boxes. I got particularly lucky, since they had a whole shelf of boxes similar to this:
The lid locks such for extra security. In addition, the 1.1 litre box comes with a 0.5 litre smaller box inside. The inner box also has a locking lid. Size and shape of the larger box is well suited to carriage in the side pocket of a rucksack. You may prefer a squarer or smaller item, so shop around. The box bottom can be used as a bowl. The lid can serve as a plate for foods that are better suited to plates than bowls. The shape of the inner box is not ideal as a drinking vessel, but this can be replaced with something else. Many designs of plastic beaker could be fitted inside the larger box, and plastic mugs or cups are fairly easy to acquire at a reasonable price. And you should be carrying your canteen cup, anyhow.
The interior of the sandwich boxes can be used to carry additional items. A spork seems to be an obvious choice. Teabags and other food items can be carried. Don’t use the interior of your eating vessel to carry items such as hexamine fuel, or anything that might taint your food. The box itself might be used for stoveless cooking.

Thai Swordplay.

The other night I watched a movie called “Paradox”. This was described as a “neon noir”, and given that it was set in Thailand, made me think of the goddam awful “Only God Forgives”. Paradox was actually an entertaining action film, and is worth a watch.
In one notable scene we see a fight with Thai swords (daab/dhaab/krabi). At least I think they are all Thai swords. Given the scene is set in a meat processing plant it is quite possible one or more of them is actually a butcher’s tool. 
Much that I respect the katana, it is rather overused in action and superhero movies and it is nice to see something else for a change. I tend to favour shorter blades anyway. Long swords have a lot of momentum, which can be hard to manage if you are not a full-time swordsmen. Shorter blades such as a wakazashi, on the other hand, tend to be swift and highly agile. Come the apocalypse and I will probably reach for one of the shorter swords or machetes in my collection. 
I found these interesting videos:

In the first video we see some inversions and hand-switching, the latter of which is not a tactic you usually see with swords. This gives some rationale to such long grips on single-hand weapons. Flips, swaps and inversions are covered in Attack, Avoid, Survive. In the second video we see these techniques used in some sparing. As well as switching we see good use made of the empty hand, as well as elbows and even kicks, which is to be expected from Thai fighters. Such techniques can also be used with knives, nightsticks or riot batons.
Siam Blades have some very nice looking Thai-inspired designs, which are sadly way beyond my budget. Cold Steel has a Thai-inspired machete that looks to be more affordable (but I am still skint. Buy more books!). There is a rather fun review of the Thai machete here:


My Left Pocket: Epilogue

An amusing little endnote to my previous post. Last night I walked into my local takeaway. My ipod is hanging around my neck.
“That is exactly what I need!” enthuses one of the staff. “I am always losing my phone.”
“It’s a shoelace.” I explain.
“Where did you get it?”
“Er, my pocket.”
I have to explain that one day my headphones had broke. The only replacements I had had too short a lead for me to use them and place the ipod in a pocket. So I had fished a shoelace out of my pocket, tied it into a short of net around the device and hung it around my neck with another shoelace. The only later improvement was replacing the second lace with a badge lanyard I had in a drawer.
I end up reaching into my left pocket and demonstrating that I really was the sort of person who walks around with old shoelaces in his pocket.
I explained the technique was very simple, and was actually just a modified bottle hitch or parcel tying method. (even though it looks like my ipod is into Japanese bondage). I informed the lady there were doubtless lots of websites that could show her the knots, and also lots of interesting decorative knots too (for her phone that is, although that statement is also doubtless true of Japanese bondage too). She suggested she could use ribbons, and that is a nice idea.