What On Earth Is a “Supreme” Grandmaster Anyway?

Is this a cat who used to train with Diana Ross in Motown, or something?

Is it that grown men–FREE men–calling another man “Master” isn’t enough? You need to lower yourself and grovel even lower?

Is it that having your butt kissed by your students isn’t enough? Don’t let me get graphic here, guys.

The FMAs have become so mainstream, it’s disgusting. Let alone that we no longer have the natural-born killers representing our arts like we did 20, 30 years ago. We have degenerated to self-promoting ranks, selling teaching certificates, promising students that they will be unbeatable in “10 seminars (ahem, easy lessons) or less”!  Our arts are now “too deadly for tournaments” and now we have to listen to the same garbage we use to laugh at being spewed by our own masters and many of you feel obligated to defend it!

Come on now, big boy… you don’t really believe that your master is undeafeated in 100 death matches, do you? See if you can get him to spar ONE “bloody nose” match with me, will you? Oh, he’s old and I’m young. Okay, since you are the one holding his jockstraps, and plan to be the “inheritor” of his system, why don’t you fight me in a light contact, friendly match?

Oh, I see. Your grandmaster is a direct descendant of Lapu Lapu. His art is 8 generations old. Okay, name each successive grandmaster/grandfather going back 4 generations.

These guys will tell you that their art goes back 9 generations, but they can’t name their great, great grandfather. Come on!

Instructorship in the FMAs use to be a graduation. Once you’ve learned an art, you knew it, and your rank depended on your skill level and knowledge base. Now, it is a level with titles and numbers (6th degree Black Belts). People ran out of numbers to give themselves–I actually met a guy who told me his Great-Grandmaster was a 15th degree Black Belter (whew!)–and titles, so now they are reaching for more things to call themselves. Heck, next these guys will start calling themselves the “Pope of Arnis de Mano”, or “Great Grandma Guro”. This is getting out of hand!

When my guys have learned my art all the way through, they will know more than I did when I first opened my school because I have had 18 years of knowledge more than I did at 22. They should be better than I was because they had more classmates than I did. They deserve to be more than just my Instructor-level student; they deserve to be my peer. And that’s the reason for these higher numbers and lofty ranks. Teachers want to remain superior, despite that they no longer can do what they use to, and that their Black Belt students will be better than they ever were, and that’s just plain wrong. What says more about a teacher:  His best students are still lesser skilled than they are at 40 or 50? Or his best students surpasses his own abilities?

May I suggest, brothers and sisters, that the best Master should be able to produce students who become better than the Master himself. I am 40, I have arthritis. Two weekends ago I performed 100 pushups–which is a basic requirement of my advanced students–and I ached for nearly 7 days, when I use to do that as a part of a regular workout. By contrast, my advanced Kuntaw students do this regularly as a warm-up. I blistered last week when I threw 1,000 strikes with my sticks (yet I was shooting for 2,500… remember the “Challenge” article?). 1,000 hits use to be a demo I performed for students complaining about 500 hits! I am a shadow of who I was, as are most men calling themselves “Master” and “Grandmaster” or more. Still, it is ego that makes some men accept this fact and still shoot for more power and arrogance, and cease to strive for improvement.

My Grandfather once said that a man’s fighting career should end in his 30s, when he begins his teaching career, then becomes a master in his 40s, when his peers begin to consider him a master. But he must continue to hone and improve his skills until his body quits, and this would be in his late 50s and 60s. My Grandfather could still spar at 78, and he never adopted the title of Grandmaster. I’ve seen only a few old men who could compare to him at an advanced age, yet most Masters with fewer abilities and younger years dare to make up titles like “Supreme Great Grandmaster” and stuff like that?

The FMA way of doing business just perplexes me, and we are going by the way of Big Business Tae Kwon Do with the ranks, multi-level marketing schemes and de-emphasis on skill development and testing. When men make up these crazy titles and wear them proudly and without shame, I know that my beloved FMAs have become the next Amway.

I believe that when a student graduates from the Advanced Level, he should have two or three more levels to aim for:  the Expert level–when he has learned the entire art and can utilize the art with great effectiveness;  the Teacher level–when he has attained an entire fighting career worth of his own fighting experiences as well as supervised teaching experience; and if you decide to (I don’t), a Senior Teacher level–which is your political/business/social status level (which I believe any rank higher than a 3rd Degree Black Belt is anyway). There is no need to test at those levels; you’ve seen what they can do in class and on the mat. I would hold a presentation ceremony and maybe a demonstration, but nothing more is necessary.

I had always been taught that the title “Master” was to be bestowed not by an organization or by oneself, but by the community you belong to. I had two significant  experiences with  the title Master around 10 years ago, and I believe that teachers should achieve it this way, rather than to pay for certification. The first was shortly after my arrival to California, when I was still on the tournament circuit and making friends among the instructors. A few times when I had visited a school, I would be introduced to students as “Master Gatdula”. This is aligned with the saying that teachers become masters when the community recognizes you as one. The second was at Manong Leo Giron’s school and house, when he and Grandmaster Vince Tinga introduced me to another teacher from the Bay as “Master” Gatdula. When I suggested that I was just a teacher, Manong Leo said, “you are a master because I say you are one…” Vince Tinga introduced me to the community as his nephew, and adopted my school as family (he actually taught in my school 7 days a week for nearly 2 years before his death). This is how one becomes a master, not through some ceremony.

Like I said in my previous articles, return to basics. Train yourself, train your students, give them plenty of opportunity to prove their sklls to you and themselves. Don’t try to make money off them forever. Give your students the respect they deserve and give your art the respect it deserves. Don’t pimp your martial arts. If you want to pimp something, throw 24s on your ride, put some bass in your trunk, but leave the arts and our traditions alone.

Thank you for reading my blog, please come back and check with us often!

Who Is Really Tough?

The martial artist is really obsessed with looking tough and sounding tough, but does not spend enough trying to be tough.

They like to tout resumes, tatoos, show strength in numbers, and take on the persona of a tough guy… but rarely are they truly strong men, and even more rare will they actually be good fighters. The biggest giveaways are martial artists who add arts and certifications to their belts, body build, and those who teach a lot of public seminars. I have always said that the best fighters among the martial artists are those who fight in tournaments and bring their students to tournaments.

Oh, the tournament is not street, you say.

Okay, tough guy, when was the last time you got into a fight in the street?

We have a saying where I come from (as a teenager)… stop frontin’ dawg. The guys who fight in tournaments are quicker to take the gloves off and hand you an ass-whipping personally, than the dude in the muscle shirt sitting in the bleachers complaining how pussified the tournaments have gotten. This whole “nothing is worthy of my martial arts skills but an actual kill-or-be-killed-streetfight” garbage is making me nauseous, and really, it’s exposing the rainbow sticker in your back window, tough guy.

You see, fighting is a skill. You can be a martial artist and not know how to fight. You can hit focus mitts, strike tires, and slap hands till you’re blue in the face, but you’re not a fighter until you actually start fighting. This is the dry-land swimming Bruce Lee is talking about, not all those stupid drills you like to do. Well, like all skills, you use or lose. You have to stay off the internet forums, out of the magazines, and away from the seminar circuits, and spend more time in the gym training, and on the floor “skilling”. I remember an Eskrima tournament years back, when the promoter decided to hold an “empty hands” sparring division and announced it mid-tournament. There would be no winners and losers declared, no trophies, just to showcase your empty hand sparring skills. Dammit, we had KARATE guys there, and only my students volunteered. It was embarassing. See, we like to show, we like to know, but we don’t like to GO, and we damned sure don’t like to DO.

There is a saying that the empty barrel makes the most noise…

There is another saying, that the toughest men have softness on the outside because their toughness is on the inside. But the most cowardly wear their toughness on the outside, because on the inside they are extra soft.

This article is not just for the Filipino martial artist, but for martial artists in general. It is not just for the martial artist as well… it is for men in general. I can think of an entire generation of young men and teenage boys who can benefit from this lesson.

You see, we tread ground lightly so that if we were to attack, our enemy would not hear us. And there are too many for us to announce ourselves everywhere we go. It is the weak who announce themselves, because they must bluff in order to fool the ones they actually fear.

Return to basics, my brothers and sisters. Train hard, test yourself often, and walk as a warrior carrying a concealed, deadly weapon… among the sheep. There is no need to act tough when you are around those weaker than you are, IF you are really stronger. There is a saying that the real warrior rarely bares his weapon because everyone around him sees that he has it. When you have superior firepower, you enjoy a level of peace those who are vulnerable will never have. Train so that no man threatens you, and you will find that you can simply relax and be yourself. If you do not prepare for combat properly, you will always have to worry, posture and act like a bigger man, and that is no way to live.

Not just that, but you aren’t fooling anyone.


Thank you for reading my blog. Please leave comments!