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

The Fallacy of Empty Handed FMA

Get ready to read something that will blow your mind! When I first heard Guro’s view on this, I thought: he’s wrong here. But after “testing” my theories, as he often advocates, and some serious reflection, I realize how right he is! Please read this article with an open mind, and if you still aren’t sure… test it out. Happy reading!

 

One of the things I believe hurts the Philippine fighting arts is the commercial influence on who we are as a style. I am speaking about all of this “information sharing” that FMA people like to do. You know, let’s have a “gathering”, take some pictures, smile and show off to each other what we know, etc. Or attend each other’s seminars, then present the other guy’s stuff as if it was in our style too. Or “cross train” into someone else’s system–whether the art is valid or not–and then teach that art to our students. It discourages standing alone on what you do, refining what you do, and testing out if what you do is functional or not–and especially, testing out if the next guy’s techniques are valid. And don’t give me that “well, it works for me” b.s. neither; either you can fight, and your technique is sound, or it’s garbage. Martial artists, especially FMA artists, are such sissies now, that they are afraid to hurt another Guro’s feelings or even to say that some other Guro’s techniques are useless because they might have to prove it.

So allow me:  99% of what you guys are doing as empty handed Arnis or empty handed Eskrima is doo-doo. I mean that with all the love and respect I can, because our Creator knows I love my country and my country’s arts. But what you guys put on Youtube to demo to the world is making us look bad, and making the guys who are serious about fighting look past the FMA teacher, because they have seen what most of have to offer, and it’s garbage. So there are a few tough MF’s out there teaching the art, like Paul Vunak and Dog Brothers (not all, just the main guys who started it all), and they give us a little bit of credibility, but if you look closer, you’ll see that even they rely on something else to make their empty hand combat-effective, rather than the same patty-cake BS most of us do. For Paul Vunak, he is beating up on his students so he’s using plain old big balls for his fighting, but the stuff he teaches is whack. For the Dog Brothers, its BJJ, and they don’t even touch the patty cake FMA for a good reason. Out of respect for the FMA community, they don’t say it, but they don’t have to. For the rest of the FMA people supposedly teaching effective empty hand fighting, they are just going with the wind and teaching what everyone else is doing, so they don’t count. And please don’t get me started on Inosanto Kali and Pekiti Tirsia; I have friends who do those styles, and they’ve heard my opinions many, many times, and I’m tired of repeating myself on that, and pissing off my good friends.  😉

First let me say this, the hand and arms are not sticks. They cannot be used as sticks as long as you are supposedly trying to kick someone’s behind. It does not feel the same as a stick, and except for a few raw movements, cannot be wielded the same way. The striking surfaces are completely different, and different levels of power are needed to inflict damage. The targets you will hit with the hand, the fist, the arm, and the stick are very different. If you don’t understand that, you might need to go back to the (different) classroom.

Second, the hand is not a knife either. Yes, it can move in the same pattern as a knife, but if you slap some guy up against the forearm as if it was a knife, he is going to kick your ass, because it’s obvious you’ve been reading too many Inside Kung Fu magazines and you’re not serious about fighting. All those drills are good for is to impress women and out-of-shape suburbanites. Try going into a boxing gym and showing them that crap. And please videotape it so I can add it to my “humor” playlist, because somebody’s going to catch a very funny big momma beatdown!

The problem is, that people are creating a system as they go. Half the time teachers are demoing “what you might be able to do without a stick”, they are showing you something they have not practiced, and certainly something they have not USED in a fight. You can tell just by the way they show it to you. There are some that have developed a “system” of this baloney too, but it still lacks the fundamental thing needed to call it “fighting art”:  to fight with it. If  they at least did that, they would have to go back to the drawing board over and over, and either of two things will happen. One, they develop it until those “limb destructions” would become functional (btw, limb destructions do work, but not the way 99.9% of FMA people do them). Or two, they toss the techniques into the “nice to look at but not use” pile, along with empty handed sinawali (yes, empty handed sinawali too!). The seminar format of teaching is the culprit for a lot of it. It took reputatable Eskrima styles, and made them want to compete with mainstream FMA by being forced to say “oh, we have that too!” and have to devote training time to some bullcrap that ain’t your specialty.

Let’s define the “Seminar Format of Teaching”, shall we?

Seminar Format of Teaching

  1. Teach to a group of people who are not serious students in your style
  2. Stuff as much “stuff” into the class as you can to make it seem “worth the money”
  3. Oh, we have that too!
  4. Don’t make the class too hard or intimidating, or they won’t come back
  5. Make the class entertaining
  6. Make the class sound “scientific” and “innovative”, rather than just plain old, hard work
  7. Talk about who certified you so that you will have credibility
  8. Oh, we have that too!
  9. Take lots of pictures
  10. Grant certificates at the end of class, teaching creds by the 10th class (10 easy lessons?  It never went away folks)

 

So, what about that “testing”? You test students by doing what? How hard is that test? Did they really prove their skill’s combat effectiveness? Can you test everything you do in this test? Or is some of that stuff “too deadly”? Come on, FMA people, you know darned well, that you think some of this stuff is too deadly for testing!

Since we are defining terms, let’s define what most people call a “test”:

FMA Testing

  1. Prepare certificates before the test
  2. Show them what you’ve learned
  3. I said “show”, not prove! Watch that contact sir, ‘we’re all here to learn’!
  4. Do some drills, some sinawali, some ad-lib techniques and “translations”… (yawn!)
  5. Smile, take pictures….
  6. Hand out premade certificates
  7. Shake hands, take more pictures, give a speech to the rest of the SEMINAR attendees that if they complete 5, 8 or 10 seminars, they’ll get one of these teaching credentials too
  8. Go on the website to add names, test takers go on the forums to announce the beginning of your new classes

 

Let’s do my version of a “test”:

Mustafa Gatdula’s “Test”

  1. Announce to the class that we are having a “test” today, or
  2. Have a student make an appointment for a private lesson and then ambush him, or
  3. Take student to a tournament and register him as a Black Belter
  4. Bring higher ranking students of another school to the “test”, or
  5. I suit up
  6. Push these guys to see what they can do, and how much they are capable of doing, then
  7. Ask them to do more
  8. Finish with a nice strength test (100 pushups, 30 minutes of hard sparring, 500 Abaniko strikes, etc), something I’m not sure if they can do at this point
  9. C ongratulate them and send them back to class

That’s it! Testing is something you should be doing all the time. You should not know if your fighters can pass, and in many cases, there is no pass/fail, just something for them to record the results in their heads for future reference. Don’t announce the test; ambush them. Streetfights are often not announced until just seconds before it happens, am I correct? Why should training be any different?

Well, now that you understand the TEST, then understand that you are teaching something that is not being “tested”. Those techniques and empty hand vs. stick have not been tested. And without it, you’re Karate’s Shit, Russo! LOL

Let’s visit some of the irritating FMA empty hand that will get you beat down in a fight:

  • Limb destructions–too much reliance on it. most of you have no idea how a punch actually feels coming at you to use it effectively. hands and feet often move too fast and are too unpredictable to spend valuable time searching for strikes when you can simply counter the opponent and cut out the middle man
  • all that pad-punching–how about developing those punches, waldo? learn how to hit, you hit like a stinking old woman. you have no power mechanics, no accuracy, no tactical use of those punches, but you want to make nice combos and patterns
  • backfist/finger jab–have you ever hit anyone with a backfist or finger jab? why are you doing so many of them? yes, its a modern arnis #2 strike, but how much power do you have in the stick #2? but you’re so eager to “translate” it into empty hand… sometimes, it is time to step away from “concepts” and enter the real world once in a while. that stuff looks neat, but it ain’t all that practical
  • hand as a knife–you’ve got to be kidding! I suppose you believe you can develop the “glow” too?
  • disarms–this is a whole ‘nother topic… I could write a book on it!
  • stick and dagger as empty hand–okay, the 70 year old man is impressive doing this, but not you. you’re almost as bad as those kenpo guys with all of that
  • trapping–yeah, maybe if the guy you’re fighting is drunk, in a wheel chair, and blind. plus, the wing chun guys are tired of you all ripping them off!
  • footwork–cute, let’s put it to music. maybe i can dress you up in a sarong and charge navy guys to come in and stuff dollar bills in your drawers. oh wait, you already wear sarongs…
  • fighting stance–will you please stop holding that Bruce Lee “Enter the Dragon” pose? you don’t look like Bruce, and speaking of which, STOP CALLING HIM BY HIS FIRST NAME AS IF YOU KNOW HIM… ESPECIALLY IF HE IS THE FOUNDER OF YOUR STYLE!!!

I’m getting tired of typing. I’d go on, and if I’ve missed anyone, it’s been a long day, I’m a little tired.

Can we talk here? Eskrima is good stick fighting and good knife fighting. That’s it. Sure, there are some, who have developed some good Karate, Tae Kwon Do, and Judo on the side. Some have even done an excellent job combining it. But at least they are honest about where their techniques come from, and the thing I can say about groups like Comjuka and Lanyada Kuntaw (Shorin Ryu rip off), is that, whether they have a stick in their hand or a gloved fist, those cats can give you a beatdown like you wouldn’t believe. Not too many Doce Pares guys can do it with empty hands AND the stick. Not many Modern Arnis can do with empty hand AND stick. Not many Kombatan guys can do with empty hand AND stick (Arjuken is a different animal, trust me. Maybe I’ll write an article about it, maybe not… out of respect to my former Guro. We’ll see). The bottom line is that you cannot use the hand like a stick or a knife and expect to win fights. FMA people must learn to separate them as weapons and develop those skills individually. We need to stop being the Japanese copy cat of the martial arts and trying to imitate everything under the sun. And finally, once we have developed something, we need to return to the FILIPINO tradition of proving to the world, proving to our local martial arts community, and proving to ourselves, that these techniques can hold their own. There is a reason you don’t see DP/MA/CSE/PTK/JKD-Kali guys in the Karate tournaments doing their “empty hands” against the Tae Kwon Do people they like to laugh at; they know that stuff don’t work, and it’s much safer to say your art is too dangerous for the ring, or tournaments are too unrealistic (yeah, punching pads or doing drills is more realistic, right?), or “been there done that” (as a Karate student) and there’s nothing to prove.

Okay, streetfighter, go on the street and kick someone’s ass then.

 

Oh, wait, your Guro has already won, like, what… 300 undefeated streetfights already? Gotcha.

 

Thank you for reading my blog, and whether or not you agree with my statements, please leave comments!

 

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70 Responses to “The Fallacy of Empty Handed FMA”

  1. Hello

    I see you have strong opinions on what you believe should be. Yes I too, believe kali and silat and Kuntao classes should remain tough. It is the essence , to be bred to withstand stresses and discomfort.

    Power and strength should be emphasized in training. Sparring should exist to teach oneself if what they may be lacking in technique or attribute, wether it be blocking , striking or stamina.

    Oh I beleive the reason no on has commented in tis blog is simply because it is difficult to find my friend. That means that it needs to be optimized, I can always show you how to do such a thing.

    Take good care and looking forward to more posting from here.

    Ignatius Lopez

  2. Great blog, lots of definite opinion and some home truths. I hold similar views in many respects, formed mostly after living in the Philippines for several years, teaching barangay kids and local Tanods and seeing actual fights close up. I no longer teach knife fighting, at least not under the excuse that to learn how to defend against a knife you need to know how to use one. I saw plenty of knife fights and they didn’t look anything like the You Tube FMA stuff. How much training do you need to stab or slash furiously? None. It is the intent that is the key, neither the type of knife nor the technique. All the fancy stuff is fun but those who profess to be experts have probably never killed anyone with a blade and so it is all just theory.

    Nowadays I teach one or two hard core men in the back yard. We spar with just helmets and gloves, a lot of the close in stuff, disarms and fancy ‘Kali’ stuff simply never happens. (Don’t get me started on the origins of ‘kali’. I have travelled the islands as the Editor for EZ Maps and I never found one ‘kali’ school).

    Keep stirring the pot, getting it said. If you would like a complimentary copy of any of my eBooks, let me know. Maraming salamat, Po. Sige na!
    Perry Gamsby
    Sydney Australia
    http://www.streetwisephilippines.biz

  3. Interesting article.

    You make some very valid points but rather than asking “What can the art do for you?” I believe you should be using your observations of the weaknesses and think “What can I do for / with the art?”.

    I am very fortunate to study under GM Yuli Romo here in the Philippines. I have seen instructors from other styles such as Wing Chun, Muay Thai, BJJ, Aikido, Karate come here and try him. He does not say “I’m just a stick man” instead he says “Let’s go!”.

    He then proceeds to apply the concepts of the art to empty hands. He is fond of saying “Without my stick – you become the stick!”. You really need to see (and feel!) this to understand. He does often say that many people can not apply their art to empty hands. That vice versa is true. If you are a Master of Empty hands you should be a Master of the weapon too!

    As for me I have prior experience of Wing Chun and Karate. One of my training partners is a Wing Chun Sifu with 25 years teaching experience and 40 years in empty hand Martial Arts.

    I am satisfied that I do not need to “bolt-on” another empty hand system to be effective.

    We are also taught “All martial arts are the same!” so my advice is to seek out a good teacher and spend time looking at what works and why it works.

    BTW – I also like the “Ambush” suggestion in your testing structure. It reminded me of Geoff Thompson’s “Animal Day”.

    I have no idea how finishing with “tests of strength” is a good idea for combat. You can leave that kind of stuff to health clubs. Sparring would perhaps be a better use of the student’s time.

    Thanks for the article.

    Simon.

  4. That post should be posted up at every seminar I have ever attended! 🙂

    Great post!

  5. When I trained in Kenpo under Sifu Al Thomas, every day was a test. In every class we did conditioning (pushups and situps), we worked the heavy bag, we sparred and we did techniques or katas. Group classes were only an hour, but we’d leave dripping sweat, and advanced students stayed for the second half. Private lessons were the same, and they were hell. We got promoted when our worst day was good enough to represent the next belt. That avoided the syndrome of gearing up for a test date and then backsliding in subsequent months. We had blood on the mats, and the heavy bags were repaired with layers of duct tape. It’s hard to find schools like that now, but every young martial artist should go through that kind of grinder to learn to dig deep and persevere.

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  7. I loved it!!! I trained in the sayas-lastra method under master Curtis Knight, and while we did some empty hand drills, the time spent was limited. We did not wear any type of pads, only eye protection for padded stick and live stick sparring, with no target prohibited. i I would not trade the sparring we did for any other that I’ve seen. We got our biggest compliment when visiting “Arnis” advanced students rejected politely to our invitations to spar with us, and quietly disappeared before we could offer them another invitation! Yes, I had some of my fingers broken and received cuts, bumps and bruises, but my belief is that when you wear pads to spar, you would not be able to react in an effective manner if you ever had to defend yourself for real.
    Thanks again for your article, I enjoyed reading it!

  8. True, cant be too reliant on Limb destruction. there might be a time but there should be greater focus on whats most probable.

    Backfist is a good tool but the finger jab you need to be super accurate if your aiming for the eyes, but aiming for the throat would be a better target.

    i believe everything works its just a matter of how and why. but i do see too much systems that develops students just with drills alone and no fighting, which in my opinion is incomplete. The only way to be a good fighter is to fight. drills help but fighting completes it.

  9. Oh boy, I love your guts. I should have written the same thing a long time. It takes a lot of balls and skills to write this stuff. I’ve met a lot of Manongs in the rural areas of Cebu – and asked the same thing about the empty-hands in eskrima, but what i got were boxing lessons…some just gold old judo and karate. enough said.

    • thank you! people don’t like the message but most of the best messages always made people mad. when bruce lee was alive his JKD mad lots of people mad, until he became famous. when mas oyama was a young man, people always cry, that he was disrespectful to masters. even jesus was a hated man when he gave his message. its always good to hear someone with open minds, thank you.

      • WOW! something must be playing with my eyes.. i just have read as though you have compared yourself to bruce lee, mas oyama, and jesus!…

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  11. This puts into question everything that I do; my intentions, the schools i’ve been to, the time and money I spend. It all points to how much effort I should push in. True, the childlike wonder is there, it sets in the mood to research-research-research, and I am thankful that I have stumbled upon your blog. Though I do not think that I would start a fight, nor drop that amiable attitude of mine in my dealings with the other schools, i cannot help but sense that what you are saying, perhaps most of it is true. I am truly in a conflict, since what you say such as locks and disarms are not as ‘applicable’ in a fight since, yes, the arms and limbs too unpredictable, then learning those things may be a waste of time.

    In our small school, we only meet once a week to train, no ambushes, not as extreme as that. It is scary. Still, knowing that, I still would want to dream and train Silat or Wushu, perhaps one day. For now, I’d better learn as much as I can from what I can find for less or free. Regardless, as long as there is something to learn, I should keep sticking into it…The question, perhaps is either move out of this FMA b.s. (the article about seminars) and move on to Wushu with its highly qualified mentors recognized by an International Organization. That way, I’m sure that i’m not being swindled into something so, fake.

    I’m not sure if there really is any truth to whatever I am doing now. But, I just cannot accept that all that i’ve went through were for nothing. Whatever my intentions are (even though immature for real fighters like you, sir, at least ITS A DRIVE TO LEARN AND THEREFORE A TOOL =) – Samurai X wannabe-self-defense from traumatic goons-show off stuff for myself and for others). Hey, that immature drive lead me to discover schools around my place, this wonderful blog and truths it unravels, and a dream to train, perhaps under you in the future. haha – i can never be sure of anything, as long as I can learn something, then it is all good. 😀

    – Paolo Jerome Cristobal

  12. I have used arm destructions and a basic punch to the bicep works but its not a system we box and add angles and elbows that arent normally taught in my boxing gym we do low line kicks and it looks like someone boxing dirty the sticks are good to get your feet moving with your hands and like hitting the speed bag or jumping rope it makes training better .i never trained with the big names but i did work a lot of clubs in boston and new york and did a couple of bids and a lot of the close quarter pattycake drills help my hands to move because they were trained to .theres a lot of backyard schools or clubs and it comes down to the person ,of course if you fight you can fight just like swimming or playing ball you have to do it .i have paperwork but its not certification its a release date ,or a parole date truth is all you badasses had all the fights you say you have you would have paperwork too.now i’m an old man and its behind me but the mentality of fma and who you train with makes it real .stay in a school and play around or get together with a crew to test what works sticks swinging at you into a clinch helped me a lot by the way nelson and Paulson seem to be on the right track or is that not real either.

  13. As much as I like some of the suggestions you gave out and the interesting things you pointed out (specially that seminar thing, I have no respect for “seminar masters” out there).

    Although I don’t agree on everything you said.

    Why not you go out do some empty handed challenges towards the other FMA styles and schools, Just to prove a point.

    I’m willing to bet that some of the schools/styles out there are open to the idea, or at least some of their members are.

    Let’s bring the “old school” way of fighting in FMA, just like when the duels/ death matches were allowed back then in FMA circles. Although this time we do empty hands instead of stick or knife.

    It can range from a simple sparring, to a real all out fight using empty hand techniques (ala MMA). Depending on what the participants agree on.

    That way we can test the techniques and also purge the individuals who are just in it for show or to make a money out of potential students (mcdojos), individuals who are the cause of watering down the FMA systems.

    I have always thought about this. As of present I am still in training, to give myself a better chance when it happens.

    This kind of things can only be successful when there are a lot of schools/styles participating. That would probably be the case, since a lot of egos and honor will be at stake once it gets rolling.

    I am in the Philippines.

    • I have been fighting since 83. I have fought against people of all styles, especially karate, tae kwon do, boxing and kickboxing. these conclusion I came up with was not guesswork–it was the result of many matches in the dojo and the competition ring and floor. the one thing missing from all my fights have been the FMA fighter. I could easily get a stick fight from an Eskrimador/Arnisador. But no empty hand.

      I don’t have any else to prove to myself. What I am trying to do is get the FMA man to prove it to himself. If you are doing FMAs back home, go and find people to do your empty hands against. My old teacher, Bogs Lao, can be found in Angeles City, and he is a good place to start. good luck!

      • I don’t think I understand your point in all this. You claim that eskrima empty hands only works in a specific case when weapons are involved, such as getting to a weapon by using eskrima empty hands.

        but…..

        You also talk about the FMA empty hands that don’t work (from your blog), but you never talk about the fma empty hand styles that do work, that you claim exists.

        whether or not your going to make a future blog about that, I’m sure your confusing a lot of people when they read your blogs concerning about the indigenous empty hand styles of the Philippines (Luzon and Visayan) like panantukan/suntukan/pagamot.

        I’m curious……if you were to suggest an indigenous fma empty hand art in the Philippines in the christian areas, what to you is effective in fighting unarmed?

  14. Have you ever assumes that maybe your just not good at using eskrima empty hands because of lack of emphasis on then compared to using other martial arts. Some people tend to avoid it because its to deadly or brutal for them which is why they take silat or Muay Thai.

    If eskrima empty hand isn’t for you, just take panantukan.

    • hello, i am a lifelong fighter, and i have done all kinds from point to full contact to stick even in dojo hopping. so these opinions came from crossing hands with many many people, and finding that Eskrimadors don’t participate, unless they are using some other style to fight with. I am not saying in this article that NO FMA empty hand is good. what I am saying is that moving that hand like a stick is not good for fighting, and in order to discover that for himself, the eskrimador/martial artist has to engage in fighting empty handed–real fighting, not drills–to discover for himself. I already done my research.

      when people get upset, they are usually missing my point and wanting challenge me on my theory but guess what. nobody ever wants to fight. on the internet, in the email, on the phone everybody disagrees with me, but in person that discussion can be solved in 5 minutes.

      and I agree with you, that much of the FMA empty hand is deadly and not for sport, but even knife fighting and stick fighting can be simulate, so that means the empty hand can be simulated too. if FMA empty hands will ever be respected, it must start with our own Eskrimadors going to the Karate, Kung fu and Muay Thai and proving it first to themselves.

      • Hmm, I’d that’s the case ill take another unarmed martial art and challenge an eskrimador to a fight using hands only and well see how we’ll I fare against a filipino using empty hands.

        However, it seems like fma has lots it potential, assuming it ever had any. Because stick fighting its very common in the streets and knife fighting isn’t exclusive to fma so there’s nothing special about it and from what you have said, it seems empty hands isn’t up to par with other martial arts. So to my conclusion it seems that I’ve discovered the falicies of filipino martial arts. So I guess it’s true that other martial arts like Indonesian Silat or or Thailand Muay Thai had surpassed fma, it’s no wonder why the Philippines was constantly raped so many times.

  15. The whole philosophy of KALI as taught to me is “to inflict the most severe injury to your opponent possible in the shortest possible amount of time.” Seems like the best REAL RIGHT information I ever received. Reality KALI is the one martial art I have participated in which is not a sport. It is a “weapon of opportunity” defense/fight. That means hands, elbows, knees, head butts, biting, clawing, grabbing n kicking n hitting groin in any manner availble with any appendages or weapon opportunity. Gouging eyeballs, smashing throat, choking, smashing knees n breaking elbows and fingers. You don’t back up, you attack. You never surrender. So, obviously, from what I have read here, my instructor is confused about real life combat??? I hold a black belt in karate, kickboxing three day a week, study BBJ, but KALI is the only true reality, kill your opponent combat martial art I have ever participated in. Will it work when the average street jumper makes his first looper or even a near straight punch—hell yes! I love it so much because it is real fighting that incorporates the best of MMA ( with street rules–NONE) that I have lost interest in sport sparring, except to keep the ability to take a tough punch or kick. Krav Maga is the only art that reminds me of KALI. You DO DEAL with sticks, guns, n knives and you better know how to attack, not run, whine, beg n die. I am not changing. I want to stay alive. Two deployments to FOBs in combat zones will quickly teach you the real rules of fighting. It AIN’T a sport. Rich

  16. Hi, do you suggest that kali empty hands is 90 to 100% useless when dealing with an opponent with out weapons? if thats the case, do you suggest that an eskrimador hands over is knife just to make kali empty hands effective? Or how about if he has no weapon and no other martial art backround that originate from other cultures/countries. Do you suggest someone like Lorenzo Saavedra to just raise his arms up and let himself die because kali/eskrima isn’t suitable for empty hand fighting?

    I’m curious, if kali isn’t doesn’t have very good empty hands, does that make that not make a it a fencing art that only works with a random weapon on your hand like kendo?

    • what I am saying is that too many FMA people are not properly learning to fight with their hands. prearrange drills and choreographed techniques is not “fighting”. we are spending too much time trying to make the hand too much like a knife or a stick and that does not work either.

      a good test of effectiveness is to fight with other people with those skills. the reason for this whole article is that nobody who does empty hand FMA has proven to me in person that those skills are practical. its a very simple test.

      • I see, but have you ever done kali empty hands by itself against other martial arts like karate or Muay Thai. If they don’t work then you have your answer and this blog is some what pointless because I’m pretty sure that you and other eskrimados know that fma is a fencing art.

      • no I don’t do Kali at all. but where I have seen “FMA empty hands” it is not practical. the only way to convince me is for me to fight against it, or to see someone fight against it. that is the point of the article.

        and you’re right, Eskrima is a fencing art–and there is nothing wrong with that!

      • of course theres something wrong with that, it just shows that fma is incompetent and needs to rely on other martial arts to get the job done. Silat and muay boran does empty hands well along with their weapons. Are Filipinos not good fighters, because they lack good marital arts, it seems so because I can go over to the Philippiens and take the people over using empty hands because eksrima/kali/arnis doesn’t work with out a stick.

        Not to mention that not everyone carries knives and sticks

  17. I don’t know what kind of fma school you learned at, but either it was a pretty bad one or you just didn’t understand what they taught. I have used arnis/escrima techniques against karateka, judoka and one taekwondo guy, both armed and unarmed in ruleless combat with minimum protection (padded weapons or gloves, sometimes helmets). lets just say that i won more often than i lost, even though most of them were higher ranked than me.

    a guy i know teaches a reduced version of arnis (amost no dual wielding, only the most effective levers and disarms) to the german police special forces which he also belongs to, they have the fewest casualities out of all the police forces in their state.

    besides, you seem to have some misconceptions about fma empty hands.

    -we don’t rely on disarms, limb destructions and the like. if they happen during the fight, its good, but if not, there’s still the next punch or knifehand (i guess this is what you mean by “hand as a knife”, however it is the same thing a a “karate chop”, just with a different name).

    -footwork: it alone is enough to fend of your average fighter. about a year ago i sparred against a larp guy (those fantasy nerds with padded weapons) who had also trained in some martial arts. the most basic footwork of fma (going in sideways) was enough to avoid his “sword” and get into knife range, where he lost to a redonda attack (also called “prison rush” by self defense trainers, basically stabbing and grabbing with the empty hand)

    -backhand strikes: they aren’t the #2 strike, hammerfists / knifehands are. backhands are nice for flashing (surprising him with a quick and weak attack to follow up with a strong one) the opponent, but are hardly used in fma. same with finger jabs.

    -sarongs: we have some techniques which originate from sarongs. however, we normally use towels, parkas and other flexible stuff for them. our combat clothing consists of pants, t-shirt and shoes, which is way closer to reality than the gi / skirt /barefoot stuff of other martial arts.

    so to sum it up, fma empty hands is by no means useless. it is just that many guys (mostly in the us, i’ve yet to see any of them in europe) teach some made up shit and claim it is fma.

  18. I agree with this article, it seems Arnis Instructors makes more money on it, they try to creat hudreds techniques wich is pleasing to the eyes, they told their student that “arnis is a complete martial art” and “the stick is only the extension of the arm”… I am a boxer, a judoka, and Arnis practitioner too.. I descover the secrets of sinawali and balintawak.. For me arnis is weapon base martial art… you don’t need to pay more to learn arnis, the only motion arnis that can be use effectvely in empty hand (strikes and blocks) is the back fist, hammer fist, upper cut, and the knife hand technique.. just know the basic, practice it a thousand times, and trust your instenct for your instenct will show you a thousand ways… by the way learn the basic of boxing, mou thai, judo, jiu jetsu, etc in order to creat your own arnis style and kick the ass of those expenssive instructor…

  19. I’m confused on how you view FMA. Do you believe that the way americans or Filipinos do fma empty hands is not effective ord do you believe that FMA empty hands is not effective AT ALL?

    Your not very detailed into addressing what empty hands is in the first place and most importantly what kind of empty hands considering that some systems like modern arnis use karate. You claim at one point that FMA empty hands do work and just not the way people use them and at another moment you claim that FMA doesn’t work at all, so than why do you practice it?

    Also, a question that’s some what off topic, I’m wondering what fma systems you believe are effective in using empty hand combat over their weapons fighting aside of sikaran?

  20. Your name is “KUNTAW MAN”…. the funny thing is, if you look at the techniques of KUNTAW and SILAT and KALI EMPTY HANDS…. they are more similar…. the only difference is that Kali empty hand have “Western boxing” blend in their art…..

    • There is a difference, which I said many times. It isn’t the choice of the techniques… It’s the way the art is taught (in seminar vs in the gym), and how they are use (in drills and demos vs FIGHTING). Same technique, different level of understanding. Take that seminar boxing into the ring with real boxers, and you’ll get murdered everytime. FMA people spend too much time with drills, not enough time fighting. But don’t take my word for it, test the thery for yourself. Challenge someone, or challenge me. I would not say this if I was not confident with my fighting skills. And guess what Topher? I get challenged all the time. I live near at least 30 FMA schools. Only karate guys show up to fight. There’s a reason for this.

      • Limb destruction concepts exist in Silat… In Kali Eskrima it is called “Gunting”… The same with Silat…. it is called “Gunting”… Kali Eskrima considers the weapon as extension of the arm…. Silat also has the same concept that weapons are extensions of the arm…. Testing the techniques are ok in sparring, but proving the efficiency of a technique base on competition is not a very sound principle… Even boxers in the ring lose, but that does not mean boxing as an art is inefficient..There are many factors to consider rather than just give a Generalization that these techniques and all these techniques are inefficient….. Kali Eskrima is more suitable for Women who merely wants to survive in case of an attack…. In the streets, you don’t need to prove your strength and win every street fight…. the important thing is to “Survive”…. besides, every confrontation in the streets will last for about 5 seconds… if you can find an opening to escape the fight, then escape…..

      • Topher, your comment shows everything I said about FMA people and fighting. i’m not even going to touch “gunting means limb destruction”, go find yourself a real silat player and tell them that.

        if sparring does not prove the efficiency of a technique, what does? a drill? are you really street fighting? how many streetfights have you had as an adult? are you willing to fight a match right here, right now?

        too many excuses not to fight in the martial arts, especially the filipino art. “win streetfights vs survive streetfights” = total BS. those are the words of a guy who has no dominance. fighting IS domination, and strength has a whole lot to do with it. no its not everything, but if you think you dont need it, i see a TERRIBLE ass whipping on the street for you, at the hands of a non martial artist, in your future. you should read my blog and stop listening to whoever is giving you your martial arts advice, because it sucks.

      • It’s because you don’t understand the philosophy behind the empty hand system of Kali Eskrima….. the empty hand was designed to “stun” the opponent “temporarily” for you to have 1) opportunity to Escape 2) opportunity to Save others and Escape 3) opportunity to grab a WEAPON or ANY OBJECT as IMPROVISED WEAPON….. before you criticize the art, you must understand the philosophy behind it…. between You against an MMA guy or Manny Pacqiao, I would put my money on an MMA guy or Manny Pacqiao because I know they have better body conditioning and I know they kick and punch well…. but Kali Eskrima is an art for Women and Older people who cannot punch like Manny Pacquiao…weapons and improvised weapons serve as Equalizers for weak people who don’t have time to work out and have big muscles and strong punches…..at the end of the day, It is the person who survives in the street who wins….

  21. What do I do? I have been training Modern Arnis for over a year. I have had this agonizing feeling . It’s just like you explained above. I never knew there would be so many finger locks in Arnis. I wanted to learn the deadly art of the blade,and stick, not pressure points and wrist throws.
    .

    • I can’t really say what you should do, it would be unfair for me to do that. If you were a teacher I would have some things to say. But learn what you can as good as you can develop it, then move on. All arts have a good side to them, but I can understand when you study and art then find out it is not what you thought. It is not easy, especially here in the west, to find non-commercial teachers. you might have to travel to find them, but they are out here. one suggestion is to go to tournaments and get to know people. some of the best teachers are hidden, but they will show up on a tournament to bring their boys to get some fights under the belt.

      good luck!

    • Those finger locks are because Remy Presas did so many seminars with Wally Jay and was influenced by his Small Circle Jujitsu. From what I’ve heard from friends in Modern Arnis, a lot of what is taught these days with weapons is more open and flashy, far from the Balintawak roots. If you aren’t getting what you want in that program, perhaps look around for something more aligned with your goals.

    • If you’re willing to say where you live there might be someone here who could suggest a different FMA club or instructor in your area. Or you could do a web search for FMA teachers. There are a LOT more folks out there now than there were 20 years ago.

  22. Kali ekrima empty hand is basically similar to muay thai and kick boxing…. and the “limb destruction” is not a “dogma” that you should always do…. if you can’t perform it in a fight, then don’t… but if opportunity comes in, then you can do limb destruction…. second is that… the empty hand of eskrima was designed in such a way that you “assume” your opponent has a knife in his pocket…. the Philippines is a knife culture so you must understand that the empty hand system of eskrima was not made in a tournament kind of thing where there is heavy contact with the opponent…. AS much as possible, eskrimadors try to distance themselves against their opponent and avoid very close contact with the enemy because you always assume your enemy has a knife hidden in his pocket….. The empty hand was designed for you to buy time to get to your “weapon”. That is the real purpose of the empty hand system of Eskrima….

    • I agree with everything you said there. this article is not to bash all FMA, which I even do as my main art. but it was meant to get peoples attention though. most FMA aren’t thinking like you, they look for entertainment in their art, and then teach the entertaining version as if it is a combat art. that is dishonest and dangerous. plus, it hurts the real FMA people who don’t get taken serious by people wanting true self defense and combat.

      now empty hand in Eskrima is just that, what you said. it is for the time you need to get to a weapon, or to combat the weapon when you are empty handed. it is not a replacement for a full hand to hand system.

      thanks for your comment!

      • you are right… it is not a replacement for a full hand to hand system if you are after the “tournament” game… but it is effective enough to defend you in a street fight since it has similarities with kick boxing and muay thai and it employs a lot of dirty tactics from spitting saliva to your opponent to attacking the neck and groin, eyes etc…..

  23. Thanks for the good information. I guess I’m disappointed because this was presented as a combat martial art. We are heavy on pressure points and finger locks,and light on blade training, unless it’s a stick used as a machete. I love my instructors, and I am doing well at Modern Arnis -but I’m blown away at this website. We do have a knife defense level,but it ‘s used as a teaser, on rare occasions, and knife offense is looked at with reluctance by the top brass. I will keep training, and discover the missing pages of Modern Arnis later. On the other hand, my instructor is very open minded and I can see him going more traditional. I don’t think we are Mc-dojo because sometimes students don’t get to test and are recycled back into the white belt group. It’s easy for me ,because I don’t make my living in the Martial arts business.

    • modern arnis is a good introduction for you to learn other styles that influenced it…. one great style is the Balintawak style of eskrima….. it is a very effective style in close quater fighting and the style focuses on building your attribute such as fast reflexes and speed…. i believe modern arnis is teaching this style to their senior students since I see a lot of website of modern arnis teaching this style…. watch the balintawak style of eskrima in youtube and see the different drills they have for fast reflexes and fast intuitive reaction….

  24. the empty hand of Kali eskrima arnis borrowed extensively from western boxing, muay thai, kick boxing, judo and Silat….. Example is the Doce Pares and Balintawak styles where you find boxing, kick boxing, judo, aikido…. In the Inosanto style , the empty hand borrowed extensively from muay thai, boxing and Silat….. I don’t know why you say that the empty hand art of Eskrima Kali Arnis are ineffective when these arts have been tested even in the MMA tournament…… you must instead look at your art “Kuntaw”…. I never heard of “Kuntaw” being tested in UFC…..

  25. The Balintawak videos Iv’e seen are similar to what we do . The rolling, breakouts,punyo thrusts. We do lots of footwork to the outside and joint destruction for nice, or headshots for a knockout. I’v’s gotten so much faster than I was a year ago. I’m not real fast but I’m faster than the average guy on the street. I train hard, and constantly think about tactics and situations.

    • if you are good in Balintawak style, you will survive in the streets… Balintawak style is designed for urban street fights…. most street fights happen in very close quarter range… it first starts with argument face to face and then a sudden punch…. or sometimes a robber comes to you close range and threaten you with a knife… or a thug would come to you and stab you through ambush assault…. This is where the attribute of intuitive reaction and fast reflexes come in which you learn in Balintawak style of Eskrima…..

    • The Balintawak style of Eskrima has great sensitivity drills…. they are in the form of controlled sparring where the instructor will attack the student “randomly” and the student will try to block and counter…. a lot of martial arts practice their techniques in a “cooperative” opponent…. The Balintawak style of controlled sparring is alive since you pressure your student by attacking at different random attacks at different angles and your student are pressured to defend and counter…. fast reflexes will be developed…

  26. I like some of the suggestions you gave out and the interesting things you pointed out (specially that seminar thing, I have no respect for “seminar masters” out there).

    However I don’t agree on everything you said.

    You don’t seem to talk about FMA unarmed styles that do work in as a replacement for a full hand to hand system.

    • anything that has a striking art such as boxing, kick boxing or muay thai can work in the streets….. if you look at FMA, all these 3 styles are incorporated in the empty hands system of Kali Eskrima arnis…. so I really don’t get it why he claims that the empty hand is a Fallacy…. LOL…. the beauty of FMA empty hand is that it can translate to Weapon system and interchangeable to empty hand…… unlike boxing and muay thai… give a thai fighter or a boxer a knife and they wouldn’t know what to do with it…..

  27. This is one of the most honest, refreshing things I’ve ever read!! Thank you!!

  28. This is a very interesting take, amidst a lot of clamoring from other teachers about “check out my mystical kung fu killing technique” or “let me show you how to rupture a spleen with two fingers”.

    I’m curious, though- for somebody who has a background in striking (like some good old fashioned boxing), do you feel like there’s anything truly worthwhile to be distilled out of FMA’s empty hand techniques to improve real life fighting skill?

  29. If boxing is a Filipino martial art, doesn’t that mean Filipino empty hands are effective?

    • ………You know, In one of kuntawman’s old posts, he talks about martial arts practiced by Filipinos are Filipino martial arts, that includes western boxing, karate, tkd etc. So it does make sense that Filipino empty hands would be considerably effective because all those other arts like boxing are proven to be effective fighting styles. Manny Pacquiao uses Filipino empty hands pretty well, so I guess he’s proof of how effective Filipino empty hands can be right?

  30. In the Philippines, you will see straight up boxing, and boxing in a streetfight always becomes dirty boxing. In Modern Arnis, there is a dirty boxing level. I trained hard on it, but never had faith in it. I’m not going to use a backfist if I can use a cross. I’m not going to reach over to a man’s left side and chop the carotid artery when I can just bash the right side of face that’s right there. I need an explanation for not using a powerful, simple move that’s got a good chance of working, and instead doing something that’s more complex, and more risky. There are a few traps and parry moves that are solid, but not a lot of stuff there that I would feel confident using for real. You also run a risk of injuries doing this stuff. The small benefit is not worth the time and risk.

  31. Using a knife hand without a knife is self explanatory. Hammer fists would be effective and can be compared to punyo’s or strikes made by a stick. Sipas, knees, and low kicks are indispensible in a real fight as well as elbows. Footwork pattterns derived from FMA are another self explanatory fighting tool. Also, just a cold FMA empty hand slap to the face would be effective. Stiking with the lower palms could also do damage. Parrying is mistaken for “patty cake” drills but, against a knife parrying is essential to gain an entry. Parrying is not the end all to the encounter just a way to gain entry through an opponents guard. Mixing FMA with ju jitsu adds another dimension.

  32. Modern wester boxing is far away from the traditional one, you could see it in antique eassys (italian’s masters wrote a lot, you’ll have a lot to read), full of hammerfist and evasive moves you could also see in FMA’s empty-hands, which of course took a lot from them even on unharmed side.

    Yes, traditional stiles wouldn’t work on a modern cage, so where our fathers dumb? The fighted for live every days, but was they too silly to understand how to hit properly? Or maybe fighting is a lot different when you don’t know if your opponent has a concealed weapon, when you don’t wear gloves, when you’re wearing slippery oxford shoes, when you could easily get offensive objects to help you, when you could be outnumbered, and so on…

    Have you ever accidentally hitted an opponent forehead with a full power bare fist cross? If you did, probably your knuckles aren’t the same and typing on your keyboard isn’t easy as before… and maybe you’ll have valued back using instead hammerfirst.

    Limb destruction with empty hands is silly? Usually it is, but just take your car key – or a simle pencil – from your pocket and the tecnique is back at full power.

    So, the real question is: why bother to learn a system which works *only* when both totally unarmed and properly dressed? I call it sport: it’s nice, but not the target of FMA – or Italian Martial Arts, too (like http://www.novascrimia.org).

  33. Thanks regarding offering these types of awesome subject matter.

  34. Hi! This has been a very informative and I agree on your points. There are too many FMA people nowadays that say BS and defend their own styles with BS still. I am too tired of that shit! A lot, a fucking lot, of FMA styles nowadays neglect strength and power training as if it was some non-essential part of self defence. Heck, some even say that you don’t need strength to survive in a fight if you study under their system. BULLCRAP!

    I stand as an FMA practitioner I’ve had real encounters, and tell you what power is key. Even my FMA maestro urges power and strength training since he believes that technique is nothing without attributes. For a background, my maestro was a street bum before and during training in FMA (as attested by his wife, children, and friends) and was even mugged several times, sometimes by knife wielding assailants, all of which he survived. Now in his old age, he still even took on young greenhorns with an empty-hand style that IN NO WAY was similar to stick fighting.

    My maestro puts emphasis on how weapons, especially the stick, knives, and hands, differ and that they are used in different ways. Sure there may be similarities in the drills but that was just to develop attributes (speed, reaction time, power) and not actual fighting. When I got past the FLORETE (Roughly translated as bullshit) stage as he called it, he introduced to me very brutish and dirty techniques in using the stick, the knife, and my own hands. He trained me to fight resisting opponents and not just passive gym partners. He even emphasized on how to use each weapon effectively and not just be confident because they look and feel similar.

  35. First off I am a Filipino, and I practice Arnis de Mano. Thank you for your comments for my country’s art. I agree with how tests should be given as they prepare a trainee to a better “Realistic” way of practicing martial arts. I however disagree on how you too much belittle the empty hand. I’ve trained for about 5 years under a Grand Master and he was the humblest of people I have known in my lifetime. Please don’t generalize the teachers of kali to be the same when teaching their students with emphasis that lessons are bullshit like come on man, do you want people who mastered an art all their lives and teach other people are teaching bullshit? Put yourself in the shoes of the masters that you just ridiculed? That is just disrespectful. The process of teaching kali especially in Luneta is like this

    1. Meet the student (Including learning their back ground, who they are and what they do)
    2. Discuss matters with other members of the group (Free flowing which does not only pertain to martial arts)
    3. Have a damn good time in training (Just enjoy everything drills, warm ups, etc)
    4. Relax with the group

    The important thing is whenever we train we also reflect, everyone gives an input whether something is effective or not and belts don’t matter. We become better because everyday that we train we hit harder and move faster and we have counters for counters for counters…. we don’t need to hurt anyone to know we get better, besides, training something repeatedly forges your reflexes. If you did train long enough as you claim you have, if you’d know that fighting someone in the streets with the skills to kill would land you in jail would you still apply your art? A good martial artist knows when to fight but a great one knows how to avoid them.

    Martial arts is meant for defense I agree, but it would be naive to speak that any one martial art is perfect, there is no such thing. While I do not speak badly of other martial arts, I will defend my own. Needless to say the Filipino Kali is frighteningly dangerous, easy to learn and teach, and dependable in any situation may it be in close combat, within narrow spaces, weapon combat, or even if your enemy has a gun depending on how you use it. Besides… have you seen Taken yet or the Bourne series? These are good examples on when you say empty hand is not effective.

  36. Let’s be real, FMA were used to fight in war. You have a problem with eskrima using open hand? Then you should have a problem with any of these arts using anything other than swords. And the way you state it the only way to really test someone is to put them in a room with a group and say “kill them or they will kill you.” It’s not practical. What is practical is them showing you they have developed the muscles memory and knowledge to know how to do what you are teaching them.The point is, they are now taught as self defense techniques because the time to use these in war is over unless you include training special forces (who will use every other weapon they have before relying on MA). Any of these arts used open hand are effective in a self defense scenario which is what most people are worried about nowadays. Unless you run into a grandmaster trying to rob you in the middle of the street which is unlikely. So of my choice is carrying around machetes at all times or walking around with my hands, I’ll stick with my hands. Oh and tell Jimmy Tecosa his style isn’t effective with just his hands. He’ll laugh you out of whatever persons house he’s crashing at.

  37. http://www.cageboxingorganization.com/
    Cage Boxing™ has all of the ingredients of America’s pastime – “Boxing” – placed on a different “canvas” and presented with modified dirty boxing rules to amplify the excitement of this beautiful and technical sport. Unlike Mixed Martial Arts (MMA); Cage Boxing™ is a primarily striking “technical” sport without aspects that MMA brings forth. “Cage Boxing™” includes all of the rules of Dirty Boxing but instead of in a ring, it is presented in a cage identified as the “X-Ring™” with modified rules. These modified rules are also referred to as “Rough Housin™”

  38. i am mo martial art practitioner but i love FMA,,,, in the street there is no rule… and FMA teaches one to counter that… martial arts practitioners have respect for each other… but it is another story in the alley ways… FMA is designed just for that…

  39. I enjoy reading your posts as a long time FMA practioner I have no issue with the art being primarily a weapon art as as you mentioned the empty hands I have seen are a mix of boxing and karate and that is OK since escrima is a weapon art anyway. There is too much mystique in fma and too little practical applications shown.

  40. I’ve studied Kali/Arnis for 4 years and martial arts for 31 years total. It’s my understanding that all you have said is correct. However, all my teachers are well versed or trained in other martial arts so we mix empty hand in our FMA workouts. Usually it’s some sort of mix of Wing Chun, Muay Thai,and Judo. It’s still effective though, all those martial arts are effective. I don’t care if it’s a new hybrid form and not really FMA. Most of it helps and is useful, it’s history may be a lie but like Bruce Lee said “absorb what is useful and throw away what is not”.

  41. […] there aren’t too many people other than good ole theKuntawMan for something like that. That FMA Empty Hands article was written in 2009, and it is still the most read article on this blog. It has probably gotten […]

  42. I want to thank you for dumping your shit on honest Gurus teaching the ” empty hand ” with all sincerity. You do a good job jawing so why not put your foot where your mouth is. I’m sorry you may have to listen, what I meant to say is put your money whefe your mouth is.
    I do agree a street fight or bar brawl has very little or no warning hence the sucker punch.
    So all the practice and posing isn’t going to help, but before you do there’s something you failed to mention, the ” parent mind ” this must be arrested. Psychological conditioning is paramount. How can a student strike with imobilizing force when he has been conditioned to avoid hurting his fellow man lol
    So one is psychological and two is the physical both must be honed to be effective.
    Not everyone is phony.

  43. While I understand where you are coming from completely and I do agree to some extent, I believe the instructor has more to do with it than the system/techniques whatever.

    The problem I’m seeing is that there are to many people being promoted to Guro after 3 years of training without having any form of pressure testing. When I say pressure testing I don’t mean random attacks going into a pretty flow drill but knock down drag out fights.

    Footwork works, you just have to be able to correctly apply it by modern standards, not old battlefield stuff.

    The reality of “The hand blade”, is flow you don’t stop to see if a strike works.

    Bottom line, you can do pretty drills all day but you have to know how to apply it in correct context.

    I have an instructor that has 30 years worth of training though and he has been kicking my ass for 7 years. I’ve broken fingers had a thumb put back togeather surgically and spent many nights icing down.

    I just don’t think you can discredit training or methods. It is really in the instruction.

  44. I would love to see you against one of the old Masters in empty hand fighting after you call his art with empty hands garbage! Guess what will happen??

    • I’ve since changed my mind on this subject. Upon changing FMA schools, I found a very good system of empty hands in the Hufana Arnis system. I didn’t start this website or subject but FMA does have empty hands that is not garbage.


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