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

Padded Fighting In the FMA (For Master John Oliver)

Yesterday Sifu/Guro John Oliver asked me about my opinion about padded stick competition and my fighting philosophy. Although I have addressed this many times before, I thought it would be a good idea to give this topic its own article on this blog.

padded stickfighter

Padded stickfighting gives you a lot more than a sweaty shirt!

I have heard all of the talk about padded stickfighting not being “realistic enough” for combat, and how we should do more “realistic” training. I have dealt with martial artists who believe that point sparring is nothing more than a game of tag and will develop poor fighting habits–dangerous fighting habits. They say that tournaments give you a false sense of confidence and makes people think they can fight, when they really can’t fight.

I say, phooey. Same to the “realistic street survival scenarios” or whatever you want to call it:  Realistic sparring drills, simulated street encounters, live combat templates… GOOD LORD DOES IT EVER STOP? Sorry, but all those fancy names really get under my skin! See, all of it translates into plain English as “simulated fighting”. Some of you like to hit modified catcher’s mitts and call it preparing for the street, some of you hit each other (yet well protected, but you’re hitting people), and some of you don’t hit anything, you just go through sequences (ahem, kenpo a’la krap maga). The bottom line is that all of it is simulated! Where one method simulates a part of a real encounter, another part of the same method will be unrealistic.

Focus mitts

Focus mitts do not feel like a real person, and the distance is always either too close, or too far. One does not get to sense what the distance should be between you and an opponent because the partner/mitt holder is always two feet further than the target. Hooks and upper cuts are almost always held at the wrong angle and distance, because the holder is trying to hold the mitt for you to hit it. Not the same as a moving, twisting, attacking opponent… Oh, and to quote Bruce Lee, mitts don’t hit back. Well, even if the hand inside the mitts hit back, they don’t hit back like an opponent would. You see, you can’t receive a feed and hit back with the same hand (like an opponent would).

Patty cake drills

Patty cake drills! Don’t get me started on those! If there was anything in the martial arts I’d like to kick in the behind, terminate and bury, then erase from our collective FMA memories, it’s the FMA patty cake drill! This is the most unrealistic, bad-habit forming, waste of time and energy (not to mention a new addition to the FMA, old timers never bothered with such girliness) ever thought of. Let’s shoot this skill in the ass and never bring it back.

Sparring with friends

Good, but not good enough. your friends will never come at you with the viciousness I would if you were my opponent and I was trying to prove to the world and you that I am the superior fighter. Plus after a while, sparring with the same guy does not give you the variety, experience dealing with the unfamiliar, and the adrenaline rush that fighting with strangers would. Sparring with friends and classmates become predictable after a while, and the more you do it, the less of a learning experience it becomes.

Padded stick sparring/Point fighting

Too many rules. You don’t get to use your more deadly techniques. Everytime someone lands an attack, the ref breaks it up and they call points, and on the street no one will call your points. Everything is too safe. What about protective gear? No one walks down the street with a face cage on.

BUT:  Point fighting gives you an edge if you use it properly by looking at it as a training tool to teach explosive movement and timing. You master the initial encounter and the initial attack (as well as the counter to the initial attack). As a point fighter, you are looking at one part of the altercation–the moment you engage your opponent–and you are perfecting it. The first two movements in any fight is like a point fight; what you do after that can be perfected by ring fighting. Padded stick fighting allows you to do the same thing by giving opponents a safe way of sparring consistently using the same techniques, and you can’t do that in unpadded, live stick fighting. You can’t talk about false confidence in this area because everyone knows what a stick feels like. What the padded stick does is allow you to perfect your timing and distance by giving the fighters a way to be near the stick more than anyone else while it is moving at full speed, full power. You learn more this way, rather than the altercation being a blur when you’re getting hit with painful blows. If you look at the average guy who does unpadded fighting, he may have 20, 30 fights under his belt? The guy doing padded stick fighting has probably lost count after 200 or so.

Bottom line is that point fighting and padded stick fighting allows a fighter to do more with more intensity, more often. Does it replace live stick, full contact and fighting by the round? No. But it brings something to the table that no other activity except actually fighting on the street does, and does it in a much better way than most other forms of training.

In my 20 years that I have been teaching the martial arts, I have seen more than my share of training techniques and heard a lifetime’s worth of philosophy. In almost every case, what had been presented as “realistic” fighting was not fighting at all; it was nothing more than self defense demonstrations. Some call it Kenpo. Some call it prearranged defense. Some call it give-and-take. Some call it practical applications. Some call it Kata. Do I believe it is better for fighting skill? No. Do I dislike it? Yes. Should it be dropped? No.

Everything done in the martial arts develops a different part of one’s martial skill. Some things can be done away with, some things can be emphasized more than others. But at the same time, some of these things should not be done without:

  • skills practice (punches, kicks, strikes, attack and countering combinations)
  • power mechanics practice
  • conditioning
  • sparring while material is being learned
  • sparring with strangers after material is learned
  • conducting high repetitions of tools and techniques
  • study and execution of fighting strategy

Intensity does not have to be full contact, full speed all the time either. Rather, you should place intensity and speed/power in its proper place in your training. There are really four levels:

  1. slow speed, less power to medium speed, less power–when first learning a new technique. we do this until able to execute without thinking and when motion is fluid
  2. medium speed, medium power to fast speed, medium power–after developing some proficiency, you will increase the output to perfect your technique and develop your skill in application. use various levels of speed and power when sparring to learn how to use this technique effectively
  3. fast speed, medium power to full speed, full power–once you have reached the advanced level of skill, this level should be utilized almost all of the time to reach mastery. vary the levels when sparring to learn variations in application and to develop your own flavor in using the techniques
  4. full speed, full power–to be used in fighting

I would like to add that there is a misconception that one must fight full contact all the time in order to be combat ready. Every scenario, some believe, should be identical to the street. Have you ever been in a gang? Or ran with a crew? I have, and I can tell you, these guys are really seasoned fighters, and they don’t play fight FULL POWER. No, they slap box, they work out, and then they fight. They have effectiveness in a streetfight because their mentality is aimed at fighting, and they take real approaches to fighting, rather than conceptual ones. They do not concern themselves with style, attributes, triangles, guntings, b.s. like that. Some guy says, “Hey let me show you this way to knock a dude out”, he shows it to his boys and they do it a few times and then one day, he does it. In my younger years, I was around guys who really fought–on the street and in jail–and I believe that the martial artist is actually taking a better path to fighting effectiveness than many of these guys. The martial artist is disciplined, he trains regularly, he looks at fighitng critically, and studies combat. The only drawback is that he overcomplicates fighting by inserting too much theory into his art and spreads his attention out too thin among too many techniques. And finally, he does not spend enough time fighting–simulated or otherwise–to have any true effectiveness when he does fight.

Padded and point fighting gives you the opportunity to face more opponents and try out more techniques in a safer environment. Simply by giving the fighter more time with an opponent makes these two forms of training extremely valuable to the fighter’s preparation.

Thank you for reading my blog. Don’t forget to check out my Offerings page, and check out my book, Mustafa Gatdula’s How to Build a Dominant Fighter in 12 Months! Please come visit again soon!

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One Response to “Padded Fighting In the FMA (For Master John Oliver)”

  1. Guro another brilliant article, I have to say that a true Master is concerned with the evolution or development of his students and you are this way,you dont ask us to blindly follow you and you dont try to keep us from seeking our own way but provide a buffet of knowledge and say dig in but like food some things are better than others . I find alot of what you have shared appetizing.lol and I know I sound hungry but I just ate . Best analogy I could think of to use 🙂 Salamat Po Mabuhay Typhoon!!


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