How to Train Your Students


My primary role as instructor and leader of the Gatdula’s Fighting Cobras clan (now called Typhoon Philippine School of Martial Arts) is to develop the most effective, efficient and experienced fighters possible. Regardless of the type of student I accept—whether he is a meek and educated man, or a physical fitness-minded, aggressive jock—the end result must be the same: a strong man confident to face anyone and capable of defending himself against anyone. As a Guro, I should not hesitate to act nor should I have to guess the skill level of any visitor or challenger before I allow any of my students to fight a match with him. If I do not have full confidence in any student who has trained with me at least a year, it cannot be his fault, but mine, as I have failed him as a fighting arts instructor. To accomplish this lofty goal, I must focus his training to develop the highest level of skill and physical ability as quickly as possible, as effectively as possible, as efficiently as possible. With more than 20 years of teaching experience, and as many as 500 students, perhaps I can help you and your students benefit from using my training method as a model for teaching.

Effective Technique vs. Variety
GFC fighters must be patient, diligent, and dedicated. Technique is taught slowly, as it must be mastered before more is taught. Just as the average street thug has a limited but reliable number of tactics, your fighters must rely on the few tools he knows will work when he needs it. Therefore, giving him more than he can chew and digest will actually slow his progress. He must, like the streetfighter, be limited to only those things he knows will work in the fight. A street fight is the wrong place to experiment with new material; mistakes can have permanent results. When my students are given skill-building tools that later translate to fighting technique (for example: bobbing and weaving) I do not emphasize the fighting application nor do I allow them to experiment with it until they are skilled enough to develop good use of the technique. Before then, he is limited to perfecting the few techniques he knows until he is ready to add on to his arsenal. After all, he may have to utilize his skills that night after training, and I want his mind focused on those things he is best at for this “show”. Of course, this training is not good for the over-anxious and impatient; that is why we do not accept and keep all who inquire about my Kuntaw lessons. My style is not suitable for everyone, and not every is suitable to learn from me.

In order for the slow-teaching approach to have the same success, you should emphasize the training over the learning process. A fighter can learn as many as 100 techniques in one day from a video, but effective fighters may only develop 10 to 20 in six months! How we get our students to maintain their interest in the training is to give “killer” workouts where the fighters strive to increase power, maximize speed and improve accuracy and timing. They gauge their progress by fighting matches; thus, keeping in mind that they are training to FIGHT, not to learn drills or hundreds of new techniques or complete curriculum requirements to acquire the next rank. The only thing that stands in his way is the amount of dedication, intensity and session time he devotes to his training. Mindset is everything between a roomful of ringmasters and roomful of ring fighters.

Efficiency and Effectiveness
If you trained a boy and then had to visit him in the hospital, would you feel guilty? Most likely, on your drive there, you might worry that your training was not sufficient preparation for a near brush with death. His mother’s worried voice on the phone may have created doubt in your teaching abilities—even in the material you taught him—and made you want to stop teaching. Perhaps you would worry that you were an inferior teacher.

I had such an experience years ago in Baltimore, with a young man named Hector, who was slashed on the hand and stabbed in the thigh. However, he injured his two opponents, one of whom was taken to the same hospital. I did not find this out until I arrived, but this experience would have made me close my school in shame if I discovered that I had failed him.

As a fighting instructor, you should simplify your teaching curriculum—especially for beginners—so that your students are developing the most simple and destructive skills. More complex techniques are fine, but only after he has proven that he has acquired an arsenal he can rely on should the new ones fail. I use a maximum of 20 techniques in a six-month period, with a limit of six skills trained during a one-hour workout. Often, GFC/GFE fighters may only train two or three numbered strikes in one class—individually, in sequence, and in combination. By the end of the class, they may have executed over 1,000 hits; they have blistered palms and fingers, and can’t move their wrist. Yet, when the pain goes away their power and speed have increased, and their knowledge and confidence in those three hits have improved. In one class, they have seen an improvement in skill level, where they would have seen none if I had trained 10 to 15 different techniques that day (many people train for years and increase knowledge while skill level stays the same). When you send your students home, you should know they are at least stronger than the average man on the street. When he is fast, stronger and more skilled than the next man, the fight lasts shorter; his chances of being the one to walk away increases—thanks to you.

I was once told by a fellow Arnisador that all he could do is teach the art to his students. Their toughness and will to fight must come from within, and he could not control the student’s level of actual fighting experience. I pity this man and his students, as his teacher failed him, and he will fail his students. First, the difference between a Guro who builds his fighters and one who sells rank and knowledge is in the ability of their students. A teacher who is selling knowledge merely passes on movements and uses logic, theory and soft application to explain the moves. When he graduates his students, he only knows if the student can regurgitate the information he learned, and is convincing only by staging a demonstration with a cooperative assistant. However, the teacher who builds his fighters tests them regularly by witnessing their performance in matches. This teacher can correctly predict the outcome of his fighter’s match with any size, style and skill level of opponent—with any technique or power level restricted, or any other controlled or real situation. Although he has not seen his student in a real fight on the street, he should know if his fighter would choke with fear, if he can take a punch or if he is confident enough to talk his way out of the fight. When a teacher does not give his student enough chances to test his ability and his courage, he is allowing this student to lack confidence or develop false confidence in skills he is not sure if he has.

A teacher who develops his fighter will find suitable opponents for his student through competitions, matches with neighboring schools or clubs, or within his own school’s walls. By the time that student graduates, he should have far more tricks up his sleeve. Even if his experience was not on the street, he has a technique the streetfighter has not seen and will be stronger and more aggressive than the streetfighter expects; and this will give him a great advantage over his opponent. The fighter should have confidence because he has seen many situations and should know what level of effectiveness he possesses.

In my Instructor workshops, I tell my fellow Guro that his job is as important as a doctor, if not more important than a doctor. The product he provides may save his student’s life… or someone else’s life. By contrast, a doctor’s treatment of his patient does not affect the family and friends, while martial arts training can be passed on to others, or used to protect them. When your students train, train them. Keep in mind the combative applications of everything they do. Make sure they master it, and then make sure you test their ability. Most importantly, don’t be a hypocrite. Award them the prestige of advanced rank only when you are confident enough to bet your own life on them, since that is what you ask them to do when you graduate them. When you train your students, rather than simply teach them, you are not only passing on information, you are passing on skill.


Author: thekuntawman

full time martial arts teacher, full time martial arts philosopher, and full time martial arts critic

One thought on “How to Train Your Students”

  1. Excellent write up! I think teachers sometimes get too focused on drills an techniques, that they forget what the art is all about…fighting! Teaching only a few techniques and making sure a student is not only proficient at those techniques, but make them natural will not only make them strong fighters, but more confident.

    A lot can be said about the old saying “i fear not the man who has practiced 1000 kicks once, but i fear the man who has kicked one kick 1000 times”. Look at Bill “SuperFoot” Wallace…kicked only with his left foot, everyone knew it, but they couldn’t stop it!

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