“Secrets” of the Filipino Fighting Arts
Words from a Modern-Day Warrior

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.

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One Response to “I don’t believe in your fighting techniques”

  1. To be honest, I could not understand the functionality of martial arts, if it was devoid of sparring. I have seen firsthand what that can do, and it is even more crippling for a student than a master who only promotes to blue belt.

    I think contemplating one’s art, often, daily, also produces as much growth in a martial artist, as actual training.


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