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.

Author: thekuntawman

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

10 thoughts on “Liberate Yourself from Classic FMAs…. Introduction”

  1. Thank you for writing. This hits very close to my heart.

    I trained in Tat Kun Tao and Kali while living in South Cotabato. My teacher is not well known. He is certainly not affiliated with any organization that is known in the US, where I now live.

    I have since been to Guro Dan Inosanto’s seminars, studied his DVD’s, and I have tremendous respect for the man. His explanation and presentation of FMA have greatly influenced my own practice, and what I pass on to my handful of students.

    You have given me a new, fresh perspective. I especially appreciate “IS YOUR FMA COMPLETE?” It will definitely make me think twice about incorporating techniques into my practice just because it is popularly associated with authentic FMA.

    I will be training harder because of you.

    With all respect,

    Adi Purusa

  2. My teacher was one of the guys out of the Provinces, we just do single stick, knife and empty hands. Nothing fancy, some drills he and I made up for practice and a lot sparring. My family and I are Fil-Am and we fight hard core- I enjoy the fact that you are will throw stones at the myths. FMA is like Adobo, everybody makes it a little different, but proof is in the taste. Yes we are Fil-Am Fighters but that what makes us who we are..

  3. So what is the correct notion of the Filipino martial arts? Where are the empty hands for the provinces that mostly practice Eskrima or arnis as opposed to the Provinces that mostly practice kuntao or silat?

  4. There’s a book by various Filipinos, well-respected, on this very topic (including covering the topic of the word “kali” and whether it’s authentic or not). I forget the name but if anybody is aware please let me know as well as it’s apparently (second-hand info) a very informative read that sheds a lot of light on the issue.

  5. Great article I agree with you the arts have been watered down and are being taught using fancy looking crap techniques that will get you killed. It is sad that fma has gotten commercialized but I guess that is part of the growing process sadly the student may not know how to distinguish what is effective from what just looks good against a non resisting opponent

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