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

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!

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4 Responses to “What On Earth Is a “Supreme” Grandmaster Anyway?”

  1. What an honor to have GM Giron call you a master! I met him several times at his house in Stockton and he didn’t B.S.

    The very worst for me is the young white guys who call themselves “Datu”. Please!

    These guys probably don’t even know that “gunting” means “limb destruction.” (ha ha)

    You can call yourself “Mongol” or “pygmy,” but that doesn’t make it so. It’s ridiculous to see guys trying to come up with new honorifics, like “punong guro.” Does that mean you’re like a tree?

    Also, if your teacher(s) is still alive, don’t call yourself grandmaster.

  2. Really love reading your posts. Thank you for posting it!

  3. I remember that visit. That was the first time we met. What a great day. Too bad it took another 10 years for us to meet again. Keep up the good work bro. Looking forward to reading more of your blog.


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