Preparing Your FMA for Self Defense on the Street

Today I attended a tournament in Albany, CA, with my students and we encountered a former student of mine who is now teaching FMA in the East Bay area, Guro Ramon Espinosa. We were talking about the FMA and how they (mis) treat their empty handed skill, while striving to train “for the street”. I believe most FMA Guros mean well; I simultaneously believe that their training and fighting philosophies are failing them. Call me the FMA prophet with a message! I have been repeating this message for years, and only a few people are willing to listen. In fact, they won’t listen until my ideas become fashionable through some other means of media. I have no problem with this…. the truth is painful to hear, and the truth is not suitable for everyone. These things I will say are repeated over and over again through my other posts, so don’t send me emails about how I am a scratched record, I know! But you need to hear the message again and again until you make a change.

So, here we go!

There was a gentleman there who had a few students I met last year who had created his own style. His guys didn’t do too well, but yesterday, they were holding their own against the regulars. Not bad for a brand new art and newcomer to the Bay Area. The schools out here have been around for years and these guys are some of the toughest in America. This was my first time meeting this man, and after talking to him for a few minutes, I was approached by two other teachers who told me, “you know, he made his own art.”  I answered that all arts were made up at some point, but this guy was “sharpening his blade”. Then I went on to explain what this meant in the FMA….

The truth is that most FMA people are busy learning and perfecting drills instead of learning how to fight. There are many lessons to learn from the old school Filipino masters who learned slowly and patiently, and testing themselves out against each other. There are also many lessons to learn from the many other martial artists around the Orient, who have developed very strong fighting styles off of a few basic principles. These principles are universal throughout the martial arts, and they are universal principles that are applicable in almost any other discipline:

  1. choose a simple set of effective skills in your craft and focus primarily on those skills
  2. perform these skills an infinite number of repetitions to achieve perfection
  3. apply these skills in your craft as often as possible
  4. if available, compare your skills against others in your discipline
  5. reflect on the results and modify your foundation system or system of practice until you achieve mastery

Regardless of what you do, or what style you do you must adhere to this path to perfection. It is said by many that perfection is never achieved. I disagree. Perfection is never achieved in the mind of the practitioner. But perfection is recognized by others. If you really believe that perfection is impossible, there is no reason to practice! Why do this when you can just spend the rest of your life practicing mediocre martial arts? No, we seek to become the best at what we do so that fighting in any situation become effortless and simple. And this where the streetfight becomes relevant to the martial artist. (We will have to visit perfection and mastery in another post)

Fighting on the street is something that comes once in a lifetime for most of us, and depending on who we are and what we do–a little more than that. But for most martial artists, the streetfight is that one moment we’ve all been training for. It represents whether our training has been in vain or has paid off. Almost all martial artists fear this thing; regardless of what false bravado they try to put out, the martial artist is living in some sort of fear of fighting. This is not to call them cowards, but it’s true. It is like the soldier who finally makes it into combat after years of training. Or the police officer who engages his first shoot-out. Unlike them, the average martial artist will never engage in a real fight and on a rare occasion he will encounter the opportunity to do so (and choose not to…. wisely). However, there are many martial artists who will actually have a fight, and for many of them it is the only fight they will ever encounter.

There is a saying in the Filipino arts, that you must treat the opponent who approaches you as if you will never face him again.

We aren’t training that way. No, you are slapping hands with a guy, prolonging your altercation (if you ever had one). You are spending your entire FMA training career developing “attributes” instead of simply learning how to kick someone’s ass. You are making excuses why it is unwise to fighting tournaments because they “aren’t real enough”, yet you do not advocate getting into “real fights”. In other words, you are wasting your time training and training others, because you call yourselves “fighters”, yet you aren’t fighting.

At this tournament, I met some people who had never been to a point Karate tournament before and were amazed at how much slugging was going on. They were told that point fighters were powder-puff matches and people were playing “tag”. Instead, what they saw were fighters–old and young, male and female, beginner and Black Belters–blasting each other with head punches and power kicks to the body. There was one memorable match between two 14 year old girls (Orange Belts) who had more firepower and heart than most FMA Guros I know. There were knock downs, injuries, rivalries (between two Filipino-owned dojos) and many very technical chess matches of strategy, style and pure muscle power.

Tournaments aren’t the street…. blah, blah, blah…

Why do you think it is that the streetfighter–the thug–is so feared? Do you believe it’s because he’s really got better techniques? Do you really believe he is stronger, more fit than you? (Keep in mind, we are talking about a guy who lacks the discipline to work out, and probably eats unhealthy, drinks alcohol and uses drugs)  Is it because he’s been in more fights than you?

The average tournament fighter has hundreds of fights and has very good reflexes and timing, thank you. How many fights do you have?

The streetfighter is feared because he is aggressive. He is willing to hit another man (or woman) he does not know as hard as he can. He will not hesitate to break your nose, to split your head open, to open your skin like a watermelon. You, on the other hand, will apologize profusely if you accidentally punch your training partner in the nose. You have the aggression level of a man in a coma; and even if a guy on the street spit in your face, and punched you in the eye, you will probably still be hesitant to hit him back. The reason is not that you have morals. You’re a fighter, right? But you don’t fight enough to have built any controllable aggression in you to train the way you need to train to be able to hurt somebody! The only way to get this is to spar strangers, with something on the line that will make you work hard for a victory. Nothing in your teacher’s training plan will develop this like a competition. This, my friends, is the missing link to your martial education.

Back to the main idea of this article, in your FMA, you are practicing single stick, double stick, stick and dagger, empty hand drills, empty hand vs knife/stick…. but the one thing you aren’t doing that you will need on the stick is trying to see if your empty hand will save your behind in an actual fight against an unarmed opponent. I recommend starting with a few basic attacks and counters to attacks, then sparring with your brothers and sisters, and then getting into some kind of tournaments to fine tune what you’ve got and to check your progress. Since none of us (I hope) are out there picking fights on the street to test ourselves, we’ve got to do it somewhere and this really is the best place as well as the safest place to do it. The FMA man is living in his imagination too much, while and entire community of martial artists are honing their fighting skill in our absence. Each generation of students we put out are being left behind in the dust, and getting weaker and weaker. Even the McDojos have students getting practical experience in learning how to use their punching and kicking.

And that gentleman with the made-up style? In three or four years, his boys will enjoy many successes and his art will be accepted and respected by his local community. And if any of them ended up fighting on the street somewhere, they will be a lot better prepared to use what they’ve got.

Are you?

Thanks for reading my blog. Until next time…