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

Producing Good FMA Instructors, pt II

The premise behind my teaching philosophy is that we are first, trying to build strong fighters and secondly, trying to train new instructors. Underneath that philosophy is a second, more traditional philosophy that we “graduate” new instructors rather than create hierarchies of them. There are already hierarchies among martial artists based on skill, age, popularity of the style, ethnicity, lineage, fame, and many other things! In the Philippines–as in many other cultures–the influence of the media can often skew perception of what is most important:¬† skill/ability and knowledge. I believe in training the best possible fighters we can, and then teach them how to duplicate this feat so that they can produce quality students as well.

That said, once my boys have proven that they are the best fighters in their local community–even better than me–they deserve to be “one of us”. Why slap a “first degree” label on them and then allow some out of shape, less knowledgeable 7th degree (who probably holds a political or self-promoted rank) to look down on them?

I also believe in testing behind closed doors, and making these tests grueling tests of strength and courage–rather than some arbitrary “show-me-what you’ve-learned” dog and pony show so popular with the kids these days. Maybe I am just old school and my ideas are outdated; in my day we earned our stripes. I wouldn’t like the idea of doing it all over again, but I wouldn’t hesitate for a minute because it’s what made me who I am today. Your expert candidates should remember the end of their journey as fondly as one remembers completing a anguishing uphill battle, akin to braving dangerous waters or crossing burning sands. Not a party, but a survival.

The other side of me says, train them properly, and then introduce them to the community as your new instructors/experts, but ask members of the community to come and test your students themselves.

In my school, we do both. I train my guys as well as I can, I test them frequently, give them a huge undertaking (which they are in the middle of completing) and then introduce them to the public. Anyone who wants to doubt that they are the best fighters in the land are welcome to come to the ceremony and prove it.

And here, you have rule #2 to producing good instructors. After developing them as good fighters (rule #1), you have to prove to the instructor candidate as well as the public just how good they are. However you wish to do it–a test, a tournament, or simply to just declare them the best–your new instructors will be terribly ineffective if any of them doubt that they have reached the pinnacle of their ability. At this point, you are responsible for making sure that these instructors have their own experiences to teach from. Not the stories that you have lived, or in the stories of the ones who came before you, but their own. They must have walked the walk in order for them to ever talk about it.

Remember all those debates about whether one could be an effective teacher if he were not an effective fighter? Well, save it, because for these guys, such a discussion is immaterial. They will have an easier time selling memberships because skill sells. They will have plenty of good lessons to teach, because there is no better lesson than experience. They will be qualified to make innovations or alter their teaching and training methods, unlike many of their armchair counterparts. They will even be spared the task of fighting for respect because one thing about good fighters, as long as they are fair and just, everyone respects them. Not necessarily like them, but in their face they will be respected.

In part III we will talk about the technical side of teaching the martial arts…

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