There are two immediate giveaways that show when someone is skilled with a parang – the first is that they don’t look as if they are trying very hard and the second is that each cut they make with the parang is both considered and safe.

When I watch a novice using a parang I often find I’m holding my breath, hoping they aren’t going to cut themselves and wishing they’d slow down and learn to use it properly.  But most of us, when handed a parang for the first time, believe that using it is intuitive (“you simply chop, right?”) and are so keen to begin slashing at the undergrowth that we forget all about safety.

Years and years ago, when I first used a parang, I  was on a jungle survival course in Malaysia: before we set off on the trail the instructors told us we should cut through a fallen tree so that they could “watch our technique”. We were all desperately keen to have a go with the parangs they’d handed us just minutes before and the instructors sat back and let each of us hack away at this log until we were too tired to continue… it was a clever psychological move – firstly it got rid of our collective desire to slash at every sapling in sight (and denude the forest), secondly it made us quickly realise that using a parang is tiring (particularly if your technique is wrong).

Three days later, on the same course, and I was hot, hungry, tired and sweaty.  I was cutting at some rattan when the parang slipped out of my hand: it whistled past my leg, missing it by about 6 inches.  This gave me pause for thought:  whatever discomfort I was feeling was as nothing to what I’d have felt had that parang hit my leg (it will cut to the bone).

…I’ve never let a parang slip though my hand since!

A couple of days ago I was clearing the jungle trail we use for the Rainforest Experience with my good friend Baha and shot some video of him using a parang.  He makes using a parang look effortless, and it’s all down to technique – using a wrist action with the speed and weight of the parang doing the work for you.   This is particularly  important in the tropics where the heat and humidity quickly sap your strength and you want to conserve your energy as much possible.

Watching someone skilled using a parang is a good way to learn or improve your technique – look for how Baha positions himself before cutting, the safe follow-through, the wrist action and speed, and the way he does all this is an unhurried and considered way.  Also note how he puts the parang back in its sheath as soon as he finishes using it – it’s good to get into the habit of doing this as if you slip and fall holding the parang a nasty accident could result, so put it away whenever possible.

In an earlier post I talked about using a knife in the jungle and their inherent disadvantages compared to a parang for jungle clearing – imagine doing the clearing you see in this video with, say, a Mora knife!

Traditionally Malays believe that parangs have a spirit that protects the owner, and Baha was telling me that, when he was a baby, his mother would put him in a hammock (made from a sarong) and place a parang on the floor beneath to guard him as he slept (I wonder what child services in the UK would make of this!).

I asked him if this was still the practice and he laughed..

“Hardly to see  a parang in the house these days”, he said “people don’t want to go into the jungle anymore, they work in factories now and want to drive around in cars and their children play with playstations”

… a sign of the times.