Making a Living with Your FMA, pt II

For years, the Filipino Martial Arts had been marketed as the “ultimate add-on art”. This is not the words of men who thought highly of Filipino arts as stand alone systems. Sure, I have heard that it was a way to “convert” new students who already have backgrounds. But for the vast majority of new arnisador and eskrimador, Philippine arts were just that—add-on styles—incomplete, easy to learn and become certified to teach, and unworthy of 100% of a man’s martial focus.

This hurt growth for the Filipino arts, not because of the overwhelming number of unqualified teachers that came from it but because of the way the teachers treated the arts. Those who were certificate-carrying, directory-listed Guro did not feel the art could draw enough interest to support a commercial location unless they provided the art in bite-sized pieces and made certification easily within anyone’s grasp. The three major ways FMAs are passed on in this country (USA) are through seminars, video tape, and seminar and videotape-trained instructors. I admire the few full-time masters who taught the art full time, in a school:

  • Gaudiosa Ruby (The “Queen” of FMAs)
  • Dong Cuesta
  • Amante Marinas
  • Leo Giron
  • Angel Cabales (the first to do so on these shores, btw)
  • Bo Sayoc

They resisted the path of easy income to teach full-time, limiting their arts’ exposure to the masses. I dealt with this issue myself when I made the decision to become a full-time teacher. While I also was a qualified Jow Ga Kung Fu sifu, I did not have enough background in any easy-to-learn style to be able to teach the masses. Everyone tried to dissuade me from attempting a full-time traditional school. No one believed that my dream would work. On the contrary, today I own two schools (at this time, I am working on a third location on the East Coast). We do not accept children younger than 10. We separate the genders, and we separate the age groups. There is no “After School Karate” program. We do not bind our students to contracts. We do not charge promotion fees. My students do not receive their first promotion for almost a year after joining. In our FMA program, we do not teach forms or drills. In our Kung Fu program, students learn to fight first, and do not study forms until 9 – 12 months after they join. I’m not rich, but I am far from broke. We have been in business since 1992, and my location in Sacramento, CA has been a pillar in the local community since 1999.

I would like to share with you how I did it.

First, I began planning my school when I was 16 years old. I was teaching kung fu as a part time job for my Si Hing (older brother), Jow Ga master Raymond Wong. Jow Ga, under my late Master Chin Yuk Din, was a very personalized, informal process and the best information was taught behind closed doors—away from even other students. I decided then, that I wanted a more public school, and being close to my grandfather, wanted to teach his art. So, at the young age of 16, I wrote in the back of my spiral notebook, for French class (the best class for me to goof off in… hey, new languages come easy for me!), what turned out to be my mission statement:

I will make sure the whole community knows that the Filipino arts are the best fighting arts, and my school will be the place known to build the best fighters.

I kept this notebook all my life, as it contained almost all the ideas I formed at that age, notes from conversations with my Grandfather about his philosophy of how the arts should be taught how the Guro should conduct himself, and my own (rudimentary) marketing and operation business plan. It accompanied me through 5 States and 3 countries, and nearly every word I wrote in it is memorized (including the French). Your mission statement is going to be the commitment that drives you and the light at the end of the tunnel that guides and colors everything you do from your marketing, your curriculum, your image, your students, your teaching style, to your relationship with your community (local and martial arts community, that is). 1 to 3 sentences that can be specific or idealistic, but they will be the goal of your role as martial arts teacher as well as businessman. Without a mission statement, you will have no direction and no area of specialization.

This is a must-have, and is a must-be-first.

Once you have your mission statement, it must be plastered everywhere around you. On scribbles of paper, captioned in notebooks, on yellow stickies on your computer, mirror and the dashboard of your car. The goal is to keep you focused in only one direction, and to never forget.

Next, you will have to determine what you are best at, what you truly have a passion for, and who will be the best candidate that would be interested in that specialty AS LONG AS THEY FIT IN WITH YOUR MISSION STATEMENT. What you are good at must be included in your mission statement. Don’t arbitrarily stick something in there that you wish you were good at. Pick what you can really do—or make a commitment to develop what you would like to do into a specialty. And it must also be something you really like to do. Then, your target market must fit in with your mission statement. In my case, I wanted to produce good fighters, and for my school to have that reputation of the gym for fighters. Obviously, my target market won’t be the 7 year-old market, or stay-at-home moms. It is important to have three circles: All the things you are good at; your mission statement; and those things you love to do—and the people who will fit into the area where these things intersect. It’s no use recruiting Military types if your mission is to help the weak protect themselves. One thing you don’t want to do is to fall into the stereotype of an FMA guy and become an FMA cliché: tough-talking, weapon-hiding, drill master who aligns himself with ex-special forces and ex-con hand-to-hand experts. Trust me, these things are so dime-a-dozen these days, you will never stand out, unless you really were a Navy SEAL. Plus there aren’t too many people, other than 35 year old comic book readers living with their mothers that would really sign up for something like that. Remember, the title of this article is “How to Make a Living with Your FMA”, not “How to Follow the Crowd Pimpin’ Your FMA”. Trust me, it isn’t an easy-to-follow recipe for success… But it works.

In case you are having a Brain fart, here are a few ideas you can kick around:

  • Street fighting for professionals
  • Gentleman’s fight club
  • A TRUE women’s empowerment/anti-mugging/anti-rape specialist
  • Pure, unadulterated traditional FMA for enthusiasts
  • Tournament stickfighting technician
  • Martial arts and fitness alternative for adults with knee/back/joint problems
  • Blade experts for street survival
  • Urban self defense

Can you combine several elements? Of course you can. The idea here is to identify what you are good at, what you like doing, and what you are going to do. My FMA brothers and sisters, there is no way around this step. If you like hustling videos and seminars and don’t care about molding and cultivating martial arts students, then skip over this article. But if you love the Filipino arts, and want to find a way to teach at the level of a Mas Oyama or Wong Fei Hung, you need to do it full-time. Not one day a week in your garage. Not bouncing from location to location because you can’t pay bills. Not part time after your job with the county. But full-time, with an unlimited portion of your day dedicated to perfecting the arts, and the peace and calm of knowing you can feed your family by doing something you love.

In Making a Living with Your FMA, part III, we will discuss developing your image and devising a teaching plan.

Making a living with your FMA, part 1

As a child, I never had a chance. I was destined to become a martial arts teacher. There were a few interests: politics, football, boxing, magic, even journalism. However, the one thing I have always said was that I would be a martial arts teacher.

When I got older, all the masters I knew were poor and I started to doubt that a real martial artist could feed himself off of traditional martial arts. Sure, there were some making tons of money, but those guys had lousy students, short classes, easy promotion exams… and I would never do that!

Then I discovered the tournament prize.

I learned that if I trained really hard, I could make between $100 – 500 per tournament for a first place or grand-champion placement. Following the footsteps of Sifu-Guro Billy Bryant (and many other great martial artists), I passed up the opportunity to get a “real job” and made the martial arts my full-time job. And it was a hustle. In order to make this work, you have to compete at every tournament that comes your way. Sometimes, you don’t make enough to pay rent, buy groceries, or even have gas money to get to the tournaments. We even paired up to attend tournaments with friends–with the agreement that if either of us won, we would split the prize. We had to endure the displeasure of our family and friends, who saw us as “karate bums”. We did it, and reaped the benefits of pursuing a passion with a level of skill many of our peers wished they had. Some people simultaneously achieved skill in the arts and finished college degrees. The rest of us just stuck with the martial arts.

The great thing about the tournament was that it was great for networking. I met Apolo Ladra, who introduced me to Jae Kim (owner of Kim’s Karate), who introduced me to Han Kim (owner of US Tae Kwon Do College). All these men taught me that one could make a living from teaching good, pure martial arts. Apolo taught me that teaching kids was not tantamount to pulling your own teeth. Jae Kim taught me how to handle large classes, quality control management, and development of a good teaching plan. Han Kim taught me how to sell, market and operate a martial arts school.

Around the same time I learned from these gentlemen, Billy Bryant introduced me to the seminar. A product of the FMA seminar, he learned how to “hype” oneself and taught me just how lucrative the seminar was. I did a few on my own, made a few thousand dollars, but learned that I hated teaching this way. There is no skill development, quality control, and dedication demanded from the students. Yes, you can reach large audiences, but mass consumerism never resulted in good martial arts. Sadly, Billy, as talented as he was, never made enough to feed himself off his full-time school, and had to sell certificates through seminars to make his living. I walked away from this experience committed to prove that traditional Filipino Martial Arts is marketable in its pure form, and that it could support a full-time school.

Let me add this note: In order for this to work, you must have a high degree of skill and accomplishment. By “accomplishment”, I am referring to a reputation built in combat with other martial artists. Combat is through tournaments, or friendly or unfriendly sparring. You must be known for good skill and your students must be known to possess above-average skill. In this, my first rule of marketing your martial arts:

#1. good marketing spreads the word. good skill signs them up

Without good skill, all you’re doing is talking a good game, and you will have to constantly keep new students coming through the door because there is nothing motivating people to stay. And remember what I mean by “skill”… I am talking about fighting ability and all its attributes–power, speed, sparring ability, knowledge. Part of your work week will need to be, at a minimum, enough training sessions to keep your skills functional. High reps of strikes, strength training, shadow boxing to keep techniques ingrained into your hands’ muscle memory. Without decent skill–good skill–your school doesn’t have a chance.

Where you find martial artists with poor or mediocre skill, you will see things that barely matter being emphasized:

  • lineage
  • rank
  • easy, frequent promotions
  • entertaining drills (that distract you from the fact that this guy hits like a woman)
  • tough talk and posturing
  • addition of “bulletproof” arts that they hide behind–BJJ, Krav Maga, blade arts, etc.
  • Kiddie Classes, afterschool karate, Tae Bo
  • memberships and organizational affiliations–i.e., strength in numbers
  • de-emphasizing the importance of fighting skill

The bottom line is that in order for your school to grow without the use of fluff and bells and whistles, you will need to make sure that your own physical martial arts skills are above average. Now, I told you about my pre-teaching experience because I believe that the best martial artists are full-time martial artists.

Some of you may be saying, “Not everyone can do this full-time.” True that, but teaching and mastery of the art is not for everyone. So you will have to make up your mind–are you put on this earth to be a great accountant/government worker/whatever, or a career martial artist? Just because you wish you were master material doesn’t mean you can just do it part time and think that you’re equal with those who have made this their life. I do believe, however, that anyone who wants it and is willing to do what he has to do to pursue it can achieve it. But you will have to decide whether you will truly make the martial arts your life, or will you just make it an exaggerated hobby?

In closing, the first key to making a living with your FMA is to be good at it, and dedicate your life full-time to teaching and practice of the arts.

In Part II, we will discuss your mission statement and building your organization.

The Martial Way: Fighting Art, Martial Art, or Way of Life?

Are you following a fighting art, martial art, or martial way?

Is it possible to follow more than one?

 

I must admit that I am guilty of blurring these lines myself when speaking of the martial arts. Many would think that the martial arts, the fighting arts, and the martial way are interchangeable. Not true. For many who pursue these arts, the study and practice of the arts (notice that I use “arts” in its plural form) can be simply a form of self defense. For others, they are a form of streetfighting or hand-to-hand combat (there is a difference). For others, a healthy way of living. Then there are those who do this to learn how to kill, after being the victim of a crime.

 

I could go on.

 

There is a section of the Asian (any Asian) community who pursues the arts as an expression of cultural pride–to recapture a piece of one’s heritage lost over generations or over the ocean.

Some men practice these arts because they are married to a Filipina, and they love her so much they appreciate everything… even her culture and its arts.

Some live with fear-fear of being a victim, fear of being beatable, fear of being seen as weak-and the study of the Filipino Martial Arts becomes a self-contained concealed handgun. (The opposite of fear is self-confidence and security, by the way. Many would think that cockiness and overconfidence are the opposite of fear, but I disagree: they are the traits of men with insecurities. The FMAs are the weapons of choice for insecure men who are too afraid to face them; so they mask it with a new attitude, tough talk and seek out those who are more afraid than they are.) This is a major reason people study the arts–weak men who want to hide their fears can “hide” behind the Filipino arts… we train to kill, we use blades, we use sticks–who would want to fight us?

Some follow the arts because they do not believe in a religion and lack a moral code. The martial arts, for them, is a replacement for a good spanking for both kids and adults.

Then there are those who see the opportunity for wealth, and choose teaching the martial arts over going to college or opening a franchise.

Others want to give local children a safe haven, an alternative to the streets. The martial arts, for them, is a way to serve the community.

There are some teachers whose arts are taught to arm citizens against criminals and invaders.

Finally, you have those who turn to the martial arts because their willpower is too weak to turn down a doughnut. So, the arts, for them, is the alternative to dieting and Tae-Bo, lol.

So where do the categories of the arts fit into the reasons for studying them? Let’s first define the categories of the arts, as not all martial arts are created equal:

  1. The fighting arts – a system of combat arts, designed to stop, injure, or kill an opponent. At its heart, the fighting arts are weapons of war. One may add a moral code or rules of conduct, but the purpose of the fighting art is to hurt people.
  2. The martial arts – an art intended to be used to combine the principles of the fighter and his teacher, in order to train others to become teachers and keep an art alive. The philosophy of the martial artist is often bound by cultural or religious customs at its foundation. The moral code of the martial artist is basic and mostly related to his role of martial arts student and teacher.
  3. The martial way – a strict way of life for the martial artist who transcends the “artist” and becomes a modern-day martial warrior. The art of a “way” becomes more than just a tool of combat or occupation. It is a complete change of lifestyle. While some martial artists have chosen to leave professions in order to teach full time, the life of the martial warrior attaches nothing to his pursuit of a martial lifestyle: money, fame, widespread exposure for him and his style, or ego. Most in this category live a simple lifestyle, and have rejected academic or other career goals. They often die penniless, yet leave behind a few people who hold their martial knowledge and skill in very high regard. The most valuable things the warrior wants for his art is to change lives and to leave behind a legacy that is greater than the teacher himself, and his art and teaching will outlive him. The martial warrior has done more than just learned to fight or make a living teaching; he has given his life over to being a living, breathing warrior. In this, he combines all the reasons and disciplines of the arts. He things about and reflects upon the art 24 hours a day. He rejects income, students and pursuits that are not aligned with the perfection of his art. In the same way  martial arts master has mastered his art by applying his art against any style or style of fighting, the martial warrior who has master the art, has learned to adapt his art to all facets of life–and all situations he and his students may encounter.

Many may disagree, but in order to become a true master of the art, you do not have to be a martial warrior. It is a romantic idea, but this way of life is not suitable for all men. A master can be one who perfects only the fighting in the art, one who has perfected teaching and fighting in the art,  or one who has perfected the life, teaching, and application (ahem, fighting) of the art.

 

And, yes, there is a hierarchy in this, and I’ve listed them in order.

 

As a martial arts teacher, you will have to choose a specialty and a target student market. But as a master, you should be able to teach any student, regardless of why he wants to study the art. I did not say you have to take the student, but you should be capable of teaching those students.  The path to full, complete mastery of the arts must follow this design. At the center of each level-if you notice-is fighting. You cannot avoid it. One can write an entire “Bible” of rules and moral codes, but without combat, you are a philosopher, not a complete martial artist or warrior. He can live in the mountains for 10 months out of the year, and without fighting skill, he is not a master. He can have taught 10,000 students, but if his skill in combat is weak, he is no master.

Do not allow yourself to be one who confuses “the way” with an alternative to a career in law, or being a philosopher, or simply one who knows how to kick someone’s behind.

Difference between American FMA and Filipino FMA

Here is a quickie:

An unedited post from defend.net. It was actually on a thread entitled “Current State of FMA in the U.S.”, found here  I’m calling it “Difference between American FMA and Filipino FMA”. Notice that he pokes fun at those who teach the FMAs but can’t even spell Filipino. May ruffle some feathers, but there’s a lot of truth in this short, insightful post!

mixing art that you know well is very different to mixing arts that you have little knowledge about. what i think sumbrada is talking about is, men who have little martial arts knowledge, and then they made there own style, when they know only the basics of many systems. so few of them go to the philippines, and when they go they spent only a few days or weeks there, and they come back as a “representative” of some teacher from back home. now, how much do you think he learned in this time?

but about lameco, bahala na and estalilla, the big difference about those styels is that the creators spent many years studying different methods before they made there own. now, on one hand you have a man with 20 years in the PHILIPPINE art (not 20 years in the arts, and 5 in the philippine arts), who makes his own style, and then you got another man who has less than 10 years. the man with 20 studied everyday, and probably had many matches. but the guy with 10 years (or less) did 4-5 seminars a year, and no matches. there is no comparison.

here is a list of differences from philippine fighting arts, and american FMA.

phil arts: teacher has the phil arts as his main art, some studied foreign arts, some did not.
amer art: started out in another style, like kenpo, kung fu or JKD. has been studying the FMA for the last ____ (you fill it in) years.

phil art: teaches attacking and counterattacking strategys for there “secrets”
amer art: never-before seen, ancient and authentic “philllipino” drills. guaranteed you cant fight if you dont know them.

phil art: teacher has no curriculum he uses, you just learn whatever he feels like teaching you. ex: a fat man will learn differently from a skinny guy.
amer art: everybody learns the same things, that you will probably get from his videotape also. you might get it from another teacher of another style to. (oh yeah, in my “xyz” style we have that too)

phil art: teacher will make you spar in tournament or against another school.
amer art: sparring is unrealistic, we are too deadly, we train only for street, do you carry your sticks everywhere you go, etc…

phil art: teacher will tell you that XYZ style sucks and his own is superior. do my technique and you can beat anyone. oh that style? one of my boys beat them before. likes to brag and has a puffy chest. we call it “confidence”
amer art: can we all just get along? my style isnt better, just different. you chose your own path. this is my expression. you cant go around challenging people. calls the phil teacher “rude and arrogant”

phil art: satisfied with his 2-3 weapons and a few techniques.
amer art: offers “complete” style with 12 categories.

phil art: students perform 100s of strikes for a workout.
amer art: what i call “filler”, drills and more drills.

phil art: you have to study with the teacher at his house or school.
amer art: take seminars 4 times a year or more.

phil art: you get permission to teach, if it matters. for most teachers it doesnt
amer art: get a certificate, but then you have to “renew” your teaching certificate. some teachers will get a certificate for every seminar.

Liberate Yourself from Classic FMAs…. Introduction

I will be releasing a chapter of my book–paraphrased–one section at a time, in 5 separate posts (excluding this one).

 The reason I wrote the chapter:  to break the Philippine Martial Artist out of the habit of taking another’s words as gospel and think for onesself. This is a major problem with the Philippine Martial Arts. In the last 20 years or so, the FMAs have undergone a major reconstruction (DEconstruction?) because of the introduction of FMAs into the media, the need to be “complete” as a martial arts style, the idol worship that began with the martial arts icon, Bruce Lee, and the chosen method of transmitting the art.

Philippine martial arts were nice and pure when they arrived to these shores in the early 20th century. Unadulterated, non-commercial, honest, and practical. In the last 30 years that the world began to learn that the Philippines even had a martial art, what happened? Why has the simple, practical and deadly arts of Arnis, Eskrima, Kuntaw and Silat become the new “McDojo”? How did we end up going from Southeast Asian Killers to the art of choice for middle -aged fat guys and has-been martial artists? Why have the FMAs become the recipe for monetary success with shopping center dojos–along with Tae Bo, Krav Maga, Tai Chi and After School Karate? Today, one can learn entire systems for a few hundred dollars, get certified with fewer than 10 seminars, and recognized as a blade/stick/street defense expert without fighting a single round?

The answer is that the Classical Filipino Martial Arts have become “classic” FMAs. Before I get into why I make this distinction, let’s define “classic”. When Bruce Lee wrote his famous article “Liberate Yourself from Classical Martial Arts”, I believe he had Wikipedia’s definition of the word “classic”:  

The word classic has several meanings. In general, these meanings refer to some past time. Something that is classical is a classic, but the word classic has more meanings, often more closely associated with popular culture and mass-produced goods.

Basically, the Philippine Martial Arts have sold out. Too many generations of Filipino Martial Artists have learned impractical arts, incorrect and completely fabricated styles/histories/techniques/philosophies, and been told to look down on the rest of the martial arts community that doesn’t do their version of crap-maga. Excuse the bluntness, but the FMAs are failing most of you, and you are too blinded to see it. So a few of you step outside of the box and actually do some real fighting, and believe that this is giving your commercial, drills-based theoretic hodge-podge some credibility. So, actually engaging in fights gives the martial artist credibility for being a fighter, but connecting the fighter to the methods of training and other practices does not. The Philippine martial artist needs a functional, logical method of training and instruction that will build strong fighters by the merit of the system–not just the courage level of the fighter himself. Without the proper martial philosophy, the system is a failure and will continue to fail future adherents and proponents of the style.

The Filipino martial arts has become a mass-produced machine. An income-generating tool for shopping center dojos to add to their bottom line. A multi-level marketing business venture for Filipino masters to get rich. We certify the old, the young, the weak and uncommitted faster than a Tae-Bo certification course. We join Krav Maga and CQC as arts that you can be certified in a day, in masse, and you don’t even have to prove you can fight with it. It has been tailored so that anyone can learn… despite the fact that the real thing in the Philippines is not for just anyone. Arnis masters at home would put money on any of their advanced students any day, anytime. Does your FMA grandmaster have that kind of confidence in every Black Belt certificate he signs? I don’t think so. Half of your grandmasters can’t even name every damned certified instructor he’s taught.

So, why did the Philippine martial arts of today fail? Let’s take a look: 

Influence of the Media onto the FMAs

So little was known about the Filipino Martial Arts, that even most Filipinos were unaware that their country even had arts. I will spare you the myths about secret family arts and techniques hidden in dances, but limited information allowed most of the knowledge we had about the FMAs to come from mainly one source:  Dan Inosanto’s The Filipino Martial Arts. From this book came waves of stories and magazine articles that aligned their “facts” with the “facts” presented in his book. The problem here is that most of the history and traditions passed down through the martial arts are oral traditions, and that Master Inosanto’s book presented inaccurate information that he was given–inaccurate information he acquired through oral tradition. When Remy Presas arrived in America to bring his Modern Arnis, he used Inosanto’s book as a springboard to build his organization, along with the misinformation. This pattern repeated itself over and over, as each new FMA leader arrived, he read “facts” about the Filipino martial arts that he most likely did not have in his own style–and added them to his own style and story in order to look more “authentic”.

The truth is, that Dan Inosanto was, at first a Kenpo Black Belt. Later, as Bruce Lee’s partner and co-founder of his Jeet Kune Do, Master Inosanto saw and expressed his FMA through Kenpo eyes and JKD hands. Future generations of FMA teachers would mimic Inosanto’s template and style, until this became the “accepted, authentic” FMA history and curriculum. Those who dissented were seen as jealous or less knowledgeable… or even–dare I say it–frauds.

The 1970s and 1980s saw the martial arts magazine become the second most influential force in the spread of information about the martial arts. Reputations as credible martial arts masters were built in these magazines. Teachers who appeared in them were seen to this day as “experts” regardless of their level of skill. New systems and ideas in the martial arts needed only to be seen in the magazines to be accepted as authentic. Almost no attempts were made by the magazine editors to verify claims, as frauds such as Ashida Kim and Maung Gyi were able to carve a place for themselves simply by being seen regularly in the magazines. The same applied to claims about the FMAs. As articles such as Paul Vunak’s “How to Recognize Authentic FMA” circulated, authentic FMA teachers from the Philippines who knew nothing of Inosanto’s version of FMA scrambled to add the qualities the article (and similar articles)  claimed they must have:

  • All phases of the FMA:  Single Stick, Double Stick, Knife, Sword and Dagger, and Empty Hand
  • Limb Destructions/Gunting (which does not mean “limb destructions” in Tagalog, btw)
  • Dumog grappling
  • Kinomutai / Biting and scratching (Does not exist in the FMAs from the Philippines)
  • Empty Hand “translates” to stick, which “translates” to knife, etc.

Other FMA groups and authors contributed to the misinformation; however, as the most influential character in American FMA history, Guro Inosanto certainly led the pack as the originator of most of the information presented. I will add this: Inosanto has not been to the Philippines and received his information from other older masters who were from the Philippines. The information is not to be blamed on him; he was merely the messenger. But as the presenter of this information, and the teacher of most of the people who presented more in the future, he is seen as the “Father of American FMA” and must be seen as responsible for its growth–the good and the bad.

 

Is Your FMA Complete?

During the Golden Years of the Martial Arts in America–1960s through the 1980s–“authentic” became the word of the day. No martial artist wanted to be seen as unqualified and anything but the real deal. Few martial artists dared to venture into the world of creating new styles and presenting new ideas. Perhaps because Americans were the foreigners to the arts and Asians were the gatekeepers, instructors in America would strive to appear as Oriental and connected to the Orient as possible, to authenticate his position in the martial arts community. In the Filipino martial arts community, waves of Philippine-trained American military members arrived home with their new skills and began teaching their martial arts. Most learned from small schools and relatively unknown Filipino masters. Without a doubt, after reading about some unique biting style among other training methods they had not even seen in the Philippines, many of these American arnisadors connected with a more popular American FMA group. Most abandoned what was learned earlier for the more seductive, sophisticated style packaged so well in America. Most likely, the ex-Navy or ex-Air Force member learned a single stick Arnis style that consisted of not much more than a few drills and fighting techniques. Perhaps after seeing the “complete” arts presented in our FMA community–stick, knife, stick and knife, and empty hand–the GI felt the art he learned in the Philippines was inferior to the simple, single stick art learned from the guy in the province…

Now enters that Filipino guy from the province. However he did it–daughter marries an American, saves his money to come to the US on his own, he is sponsored by a relative–the Filipino arnisador arrives and shortly thereafter reads that “every FMA style must have these characteristics…”  He begins to believe his art is baduy (country, unsophisticated) and feels he needs to take on the characteristics he sees in the magazine. Rather than teaching in an actual school, he compacts all his information into several two-hour seminars and certifies new arnisadors in a short amount of time. Hey, he may even start calling his art “Kali” to make it sound more “authentic”…

After twenty years of magazine articles fantacizing about a version of Filipino Martial Arts that does not exists in the Philippines, there is a terrible division between those who accept the alternate reality of the FMAs and those who know the truth. Much of this has damaged the integrity of the arts and those who were misled by the misinformation–causing them to choose between standing by the inaccuracies or turning one’s martial world upside down. The poison has spread to even the Philippines, where Filipino masters who want to capitalize on the Western market will assume and adopt these traits and practices in order to play the part for unsuspecting foreign students looking to validate their version of FMA. A good example is the great Master Leo Gaje, who has capitalized off the image drawn by Inosanto’s book of the “mother art”. Take a look at this video:

Yes, I’m sure Filipinos back home are laughing, saying, “WTF?”

I apologize in advance, my PTK brothers (many are friends of mine), but let’s call a spade a spade….

 

Idol Worship in the Martial Arts

One of the main principles of the Philippine Martial Arts is that the fighter can only stand on the exploits of his own experiences. Where teachers of other cultures tend to speak about lineages and tell stories of past generations, in the FMA the teacher pays homage to his teacher but possesses a wealth of experiences of his own. Because of the Chinese connection to Dan Inosanto’s JKD/Kali (these two arts are often paired, as is Kali and Silat), the practice of quoting Bruce Lee as one quotes biblical verses is commonplace in Western FMA. While JKD/Kali members tend to worship Bruce Lee and Dan Inosanto and their philosophies, FMA people today give this same level of idolatry to their masters.

FMA were taught hand-in-hand with JKD for so long, their principles leaked over into each other to the point that Jeet Kune Do technique is almost synonymous with Filipino Martial Arts, and non-Dan Inosanto FMA is often dressed up to look like his version of FMAs.

Question:  Is this a bad thing?

Not necessarily. Dan Inosanto was the boyhood hero to many a young Filipino martial artist. He is still one of the most skilled martial artists around–of any style. However, he has made some inaccurate claims and generalizations about the Filipino arts that actually hurt public opinion about many authentic Filipino arts that do not resemble the arts he describes. In addition, many of the aspects of his art and tradition have actually hurt the growth and effectiveness of the Filipino arts. And finally, his influence has changed the arts to the point that FMA teachers can no longer guarantee potential student that their arts will make them a force to be reckoned with on the street. AND he is not alone. The late Master Remy Presas and his practices had contributed almost as much to the detriment of the Philippine martial arts, and to fix these problems will take a major revolution and overhaul of the FMA community. The emphasis on drills and quick certifications, and the motto “the perfect” add-on art, has pushed the Filipino arts over the edge of the cliff of instant, just-add-water “partial” arts. Students and teachers today hold their teachers in such high regard, many are not capable of improving their art–even when faced with the brutal reality of how their arts have failed.

 

How the Art Is Passed On

Finally, we reach the worst problem plaguing the Philippine Martial Arts–the preferred method of obtaining the art:  video and seminar.

The explanation 20 years ago why we did not see Philippine-only style schools was that there was not enough interest in the FMA to warrant the opening of a school dedicated to the FMAs. The students’ excuse was that there were no full-time schools around to study full time. The answer was that teachers would teach by seminar. It was the “logical” thing to do:

  1. No overhead expenses
  2. Reach a large audience
  3. We just want to introduce the art to people; they can search out a full-time master
  4. Spreading a little-known art to the masses

Teachers passed on trying to open a school, hang his shingle and accept students. Students could then pick and choose who to study with and what arts to add to his or her resume in a one-day class. A teacher could hit a city, teach two or three seminars in a weekend, make $1,000 or more, and move on to the next city. HERE’S THE PROBLEM:  Who is training these students in the art full time? At what point during these periodic, one-day seminars does a student advance his level of knowledge and his rank? How many seminars do you suppose will be attended before this student becomes a certified teacher of the art?

Come on, you know!

Student of the seminar arts learn bits and pieces of the FMAs, and most of the time, the teacher is performing a song-and-dance in order to entertain students and maintain their attention, classes are generally pretty easy in order to make students want to return, and very little serious training is taking place! The learning, then, become academic learning, and students are simply learning a few tricks to add to their collection, and everyone from the teacher to the students to the students who become teachers–to their students–become drill masters and master demonstrators of the art. That’s right, exhibitionists. It becomes such commonplace, that when one or two students breaks away from the mold and (God forbid) fights with his sticks, he is seen as different!

Okay, I am getting emotional.

So, the bottom line is that the Classic Philippine Martial Arts have become commercial–yet those who study them believe they are (lol) hardcore. Hardcore posers. They are bypassing striking power to see who has enough coordination to ad-lib a pre-arranged drill. Who has the neatest, coolest way to disarm an opponent. Who talks the toughest on the internet, strikes the toughest poses on his video cover and magazine articles and websites. Who has the biggest muscles, can take the most licks during sparring. Who has the most students, the biggest organizations. Who lookest the cutest in those army fatigues/traditional moro costumes/streetfighting gear. Who has the best connections with prison guards, military units, and law enforcement agencies. Who gets into movies and magazines. Who has the most articles and videos out. Who has the grandest titles, the best whoppers about knife fights and secret family secrets and special ops missions. Who had the ear of the dead grandmaster, his wife, his successor. Who has the most complete, unadulterated pure art passed down from generation to generation and only I have it. Who has the balls to fight to the death… or at least till one of us has broken a bone or requires stitches.

The Philippine arts have become this generation’s Ninjitsu. So bad, that even the McDojo Tae Kwon Do guy down the street requires more training out of his 9 year-old brown belts to qualify for instructorship than the 10th degree Punong Guro who is teaching the secret art of Kali Take Yer Do Jitsu in this weekend’s seminar at the same Tae Kwon Do school.

Liberate yourself from this classical mess, FMA people. Your art is failing.

I don’t believe in your fighting techniques

AKA, “My style is better than yours”.

Learn how to say this, or at least learn how to say, “Hey I would like to try my technique against yours”. This is how you become a better fighter, build your reputation as a fighter, and gain confidence with the techniques you know.

I look down on 95% of the Arnis/Eskrima I come across; many FMA people I know understand this about me. The way to change my view is to spar with me, or have one of your students fight my students. Because I have this attitude, I can say to my students, “this is how you beat so and so” and can look him in the eye when I say it. Do my students win all the time? No, but they have no fear around other fighters. If one has no confidence, what good is your martial knowledge? The more you engage other fighters, the more your confidence (as well as skill) will increase. Sparring erases fear, and this is a very real statement.

One thing I notice in the “FMA” community is that people will demonstrate techniques and drills, and if it’s something the other person doesn’t know, he will be “impressed” and will now want to learn it. Everyone is doing what everybody else is doing, and no one knows who can beat who. So I will say that they are good at demonstrating and drilling, because who saw them do anything else. In 1999, I taught a “seminar” at a university, and a visiting Arnis teacher asked me can he give me a suggestion. He said two things: teach more techniques and forget the sparring. “Sparring can be done at home (which I doubt will be done) and they came all the way here for something new.” Technique collectors. Show me something I can show my friends. Every time I teach, I guarantee that you going to do at least 500 hits. And if I am not going to see you for a long time, we are going to spar, period. Don’t like it? Keep your money.

When you meet somebody from another style—if you miss the chance to fight them—you miss both the chance improve your skills and learn about another style. Regardless of what he showed to you.

When somebody tells you what you’re showing him doesn’t make sense, smile, pick up your weapon, and then show him.

This is not about being “big headed”, showing off, egos, or bragging. I am talking about believing in your fighting style, and training to make your belief a reality. When you are so easy to convince that another way of fighting is better than the way you were taught, you will never elevate yourself to the higher levels of skill in the fighting art. So there are many other styles out there. Do you have to learn them all, or do you develop your own knowledge and skill to a level where you can beat someone using those other techniques? It is children’s thinking that all one needs is to know this new technique and you will become unbeatable.

By the way, “knowing” a technique is a relative term. If someone shows you a technique at this very moment, do you really “know” the technique? I beg to differ… you know the technique when you can use the technique.

One of my friends, who teaches me to wrestle, likes to joke about the video and seminar junkies who call themselves “grapplers/mixed martial artists”, yet they do not participate in the sport. They have a background in Tae Kwon Do or some other martial art but they abandon it; they learn all these ways to fight on the ground, and now think they know how to grapple.

To “know” a technique good enough to use it in a fight, you have to be “good” at it. For many Arnis players, they only “know” how to demonstrate a technique from the limited exposure they’ve had through seminars. Yet they never develop proficiency at it, so in reality they are beginners of many styles. Even with 10-15 years or more in the arts, they are at the beginner level.

The challenge approach to the martial art is this: If you see another technique that you are unfamiliar with, and you are able to fight with someone from that style, you should do it. This way you advance your style by learning how to use your system against another method of fighting foreign to you. And if you lose, so what? You can figure out why you lost, and find a way so you don’t lose that fight again. Before you know it, you are using the same 30-50 techniques against many different styles, and become a true expert at your style. This, my friends, is one of the secret of the martial arts—what constitutes advanced martial knowledge. Only a few martial arts experts understand this.

I once met a student who is not my own student but one of Eddie Chong, a Wing Chun teacher in my city. This young guy (about 25, but he was young in the martial arts) told me that he believed Wing Chun was not effective because they used only hands. He rented some video from our local martial art supply store on Dan Inosanto’s “Kali” tapes, and was now convinced Wing Chun is incomplete without the Philippine fighting arts. I asked him how long he had studied with Mr. Chong. He said 3 months. After talking to him I helped him realize that what a beginner of three months knew wouldn’t be effective against a person who was doing intermediate techniques and skill that he saw on the Inosanto tape. I talked him to going back to Wing Chun, and give it a chance. Since he knows the stuff on the tape and if he can use it to beat his master, who is a long time sifu of kung fu, he would be right and I would take him as a student (personally I think Master Chong would have killed him, lol). I don’t know what happened, (if he was courageous enough to fight with the kung fu teacher) but I’m willing to bet the next time I see him he would swear to me that kung fu is unbeatable.

The martial artist should not be convinced that his art inferior after he is beaten by someone using another style. He can only believe that he is not good enough at his style to beat that person in his style. Keep hopping around, and you will end up as a “forever beginner” with beginner skills. Train hard in whatever you know, and try yourself out against other people frequently, and then train some more. You will find that moving around is a waste of time. Of course I am not encouraging beginner students of the art to go around fighting and sparring outside your circle, but as one becomes Intermediate/Advance in the arts, it is a necessity. Hopefully your teacher would not have a problem with that, since this is an important part of a future teacher’s training.

Mike Tyson was in an interview in Japan, why he did not accept a match with a judo champion there. He said he might fight on the street, and was then asked if he could deal with the take-down of the judo man. Mike Tyson, said to the guy (I’m paraphrasing here), “The question is, can he get past my punch. If he can, I deserve that ass whipping.” Excel at what you do, so you will not have to fight the other guy’s fight. Even if you know a little about his style and you fight his style, do you think you can beat him at his game?

Challenging is how we move our understanding and our skill to a higher level instead of trust in our fantasy and dreams.

The time to get your experimenting out of the way is as a student. Tournaments and matches—that’s the only way. If you don’t have a career of matches and tournaments under your belt, then you are not a martial arts teacher, you are a seminar teacher.

Duels are why the Philippine martial arts today looks like it does instead of like kung fu or Silat. Duels are not necessarily life or death fights like people tend to think: those are just the stories told by old Pilipino men.

The use of the title “I don’t believe in your style” is not meant to be disrespectful. But it is suppose to be intimidating. What is meant is if you make another martial artist (or any other person) feel a little uncomfortable, then you have just accomplished one of the goals of the martial arts fighter. Just like a thug will act a certain way to see if you have any heart, or to take it away from you, the martial artist has to be the same way. He cannot be peaceful and too nice… especially to another martial artist. Sure, they can become friends, but you will lose some of the benefit of sparring with a stranger when you smile and say hello before your match. The purpose of having this attitude is to frequently (and as frequently as possible) test your skill and prove to yourself that what you do works. At the same time, you are helping your opponent by forcing him to prove himself to…. himself. You both grow as martial warriors.

We are preparing for the idiot out there with the gun or knife, or brick, or two and three friend, etc. My point is that what people are missing from their training is the “adversary”. It is better for you to learn from a match with an opposing opponent than a “respectful” one. Of course you stay in the rules, remain respectful, and treat the opponent like a human because you are just having a match. But your intention should not be to just learn but to actually BEAT him, and you will certainly learn from your win or loss.

Sparring in a tournament can be fun, but if you are serious about your goal of preparing for life or death fighting, then the tournament has to be “business”. You are not there to exchange pleasantries and make friends. You are building your reputation as a teacher and your students’ reputations as fighters. You are helping them develop and test their skills. This is where they will develop the “self confidence” you put in all your brochures. This is where style/teacher loyalty and mastery is made and tempered. Always keep this in mind.

The goal is to reach the level where people can become a teacher, where you can show other people what you’ve learned when you were young. Martial arts teachers of today don’t have enough experience to be teachers, and they don’t have their own fighting experiences to teach from, only movements. When someone’s fighting “career” is over, or close to over, then they are experienced enough to become teachers. Any teacher who gives the title “Guro” to a man who did not have matches is adding water to the pools of inferior Philippine martial artists.

People today think techniques and strategy and hard training is enough to make a street fighter. But they have to have strong will, pain tolerance, courage, mental capacity to be destructive to his opponent, fighting experience and no fear of getting hurt. And most of all, they cannot even let their feelings get hurt easily. This is where many martial artists today are the weakest. Arguing and dispute is healthy for the martial art fighter, it teaches him to always be ready to defend himself. The current community has our students thinking you must be a people-person to be a good instructor. The result of this belief are martial artists afraid to offend, afraid to invite others to spar, afraid to admit superiority.

But back to my first point. Do what you do, and don’t chase after every strange new technique you see. If someone shows you a new technique, then see if you can find a way to beat it, and beat that person. If you fail each time, only then may it be time to try out a new technique, but only to adjust your own style. A young man from Stockton once came to my place, because he wanted to see if the Philippine martial arts would add to his fighting skill. So we all had a short warm up, then sparring for 45 minutes. After class he said he was disappointed because he wanted to see technique, not spar. He should have opened his eyes, because he got to see more of what we are about than if I just did a bunch of pre-arranged technique. He was looking for drills and pre-arranged technique. I asked him if he thinks our boys are decent fighters, he said yes, “but….”

For a person to be the best at the fighting method chosen, you have to test yourself as often as you can. Too many martial artists see another style and switch over, without really knowing if it really is a better method than the current one. I once met a guy who did tae kwon do, then switch over to jkd/kali. He told me he converted because his tae kwon do would not make him a good fighter. This is a beginner’s thinking, because learning strategy, training hard, and getting experience will make you a good fighter, not what style you learn. If he is right, then there are no tae kwon do good fighters, and all jkd are good fighters.

Martial artists try to find every way to substitute for fighting, so they don’t have to actually fight. This is okay if you study for appreciation of art, or fitness. But for those who say you want to be a fighter, or self defense (aka, “fighting”), you have to fight. When I say “I don’t believe your technique”, I am not asking you to make enemies. I am saying when you see another martial art style, don’t just convince you it’s effective. Use the opportunity to test it out.

When the old manong met each other as young men, do you think they said, hey, what sinawali do you know, let bang sticks? No, they had a friendly match. It helps their skills improve. Then they have a true respect to each other, not just a false one. Yeah, it looks “un-masterly” to say, my technique is better than those other guys, but in the Philippine martial arts, every teacher (not counting the ones with foreign ideas) believes his style is best, and tells his students that. If you want to walk the street as a fearless man, you have to know; at least think you can beat the next guy. This is what the Philippine martial arts can do for you.

Sparring is not real fighting, not even full contact sparring and no holds barred. But they all help you prepare for the real thing, and the one who has the most, he is the best prepared. when “realistic surivalist/combatives/whatever” with the fancy names, train, with the fancy names for techniques and styles, people with the long lineages and pictures and stories of his masters, and people with their neat new ideas and drills for fighting. When they train, and they just practice there techniques and spar to each other, these guys are setting themselves up to get hurt in a fight. Yeah, it all sounds good in your own backyard, but you need to have someone you don’t know to try and discredit you. Good teachers and their students need to prove themselves to other people. This is good for the students’ confidence too. They need to know how they do against other people, not just to each other. They need to try their stuff against many other styles and people who are unfamiliar to them. And what better way than matches in competition? No one is going to do it in a seminar.

Each kind of competition is good for some part of your character as a fighter.

  • point fighting: speed, timing, reflexes, sense of urgency
  • full contact (any style): speed power, reflex, dealing with pressure, how to fight when your are nervous, how well do you take a good hit, sizing yourself to another style, and planning your strategy quickly.

Sparring is not the end-all-be-all, but you cannot ignore it. But you use it as a tool. And like someone once said, that if someone has a different view to yours, you cannot just agree with him, you need to see if your way will stand up to his.

This philosophy is absolutely a must-have for martial arts development, and dare I say it: THE PURPOSE OF THE MARTIAL ARTS.

Finding a good Martial Arts class

Here are a few things that can help you find a good martial arts class.

-the practicing of striking should be fast paced and hard. after you learn where to hit, a good school will train you on how to hit. Learning how to hit can only be done when you are striking strong and fast. This can be done in the air or against targets. Avoid a school where everything they do is slow (I call this demonstration speed) especially the countering practice.

-during sparring, does the teacher stop them often to give pointers? Or do you see him observing one fight at a time to give advice to each guy? Lazy teachers put the whole class in sparring together, and don’t really coach anyone in their fighting styles. So, really–either they are just killing time or they have little to offer by way of instruction in sparring.

-a good class can be a learning class, where the teacher is explaining things and gives each person a chance to figure techniques out on their own (slow pace, lots of explaining). Or it can be a training and developing class (fast pace, lots of repetition, and little explaining). Or a self development class (everyone at his own pace, with a few breaks to show something new). The best way is if each of those classes are basic (the slow one to learn a new technique), intermediate (the fast one after they learn it), and advance (once the skill is developed, they make it into their own style). The best classes have just a few things covered in each class. The worst ones try to cover everything… if your goal is to be a developed fighter.

Now this is only my opinion of a good school. Dont take it too strongly, because understand that as a beginner, you cannot really judge if a teacher is qualified or not or if he can teach you well or not. Its like a guy who doesn’t speak spanish, but he wants to see if his spanish teacher is any good. You won’t know until you now more than him or just as much. I’ve seen teachers who were very overweight, had a boring personality, but these guys were excellent teachers. I know a lot of guys who are in very good shape, they look good when they train, even they are good fighters and they suck as teachers. But you can learn from anyone. The point is that if you find a teacher you like to learn from, and soak up all the learning he can give you. If the style you end up with is not what you wanted you can always learn another one, but you have to give it time to develop inside of you.

My last advice, dont school-hop. Guys who don’t have the discipline to stick with anything for long…no matter what the excuse is (style is not for me, dont like the teacher, looking for more “realistic” combat, whatever) those people never excel in anything. Stay with one long enough to be an expert in that. At least you will have the discipline to excel in the next place if you move on.

Edited from an original post from 2001.