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

Why the FMAs Aren’t THAT Popular

A question was posed:  What can be done to get the Filipino arts to be as big as the more mainstream arts of Karate, Tae Kwon Do and Kung Fu?

Before I get into my thoughts on this subject, let me qualify this subject by saying that I believe that the arts are just as popular and then they aren’t as popular. I say that the arts are just as popular as mainstream arts because the FMAs are a (possibly) multimillion dollar business. If you look at the amount of money being made in the DVD market alone–let alone the seminar industry, tourism (folks going home to look for and compete in the FMAs), and regular classes in the FMA–I am sure millions of dollars are being made of the arts. It’s just that the audience for the Filipino martial arts is a different, more specialized audience. It is an adult-oriented, first step through the gateway, mature man’s art. People in the West springboard from other arts into the Filipino arts because of our simplicity and the combative nature. Then you have those who are more interested in arts that are exotic, and we have plenty of salesmen who would accomodate that request, with our moro “costumes”, kulintang music, headresses, stories about secret family arts and death matches… But on the other hand, we’ve still got a shortage of full-time FMA schools around and are doomed to backyard classes and side classes to Karate and TKD, next to Tae Bo, “Tiny Dragons” and kettlebell classes. There are those, especially the TEACHERS of these arts, who don’t believe people will want to study the Filipino arts, beyond an occasional seminar or videotape every once in a while; or 15 minutes of “sticks” practice within a self defense class.

At the same time, I really don’t want the Filipino arts to be as popular. I mean, we’ve got some of the worst martial artists on the planet in an art once it gets popular (and trust me, we in the FMA family have our share of them too) because it is difficult to control quantity vs quality after something starts getting popular. I am glad our styles are somewhat obscure here in the West, even in the Philippines. I can’t imagine walking into the mall and finding an FMA school–complete with Afterschool Arnis, 2 year Black Belts, and 8 year old Guros. Ugh! Disgusting! No, I am happy that the FMAist is seen somewhat of a self-defense/streetfighting expert, as it helps us keep some degree of respect.

It is all about respect, isn’t it? Well, if that’s the case, I’d say that we FMA people are still in trouble. Despite the amount of money being made in the industry. The truth is, the FMAs really don’t have that much respect–at least, not enough respect–in the martial arts community. If that were the case there really would be more people looking to the FMAs for all of their self-defense needs, and to be honest, they just don’t. No, we are the go-to people for folks wanting to learn a gimmick art, like “the sticks” or some blade work, but if you are interested in actually getting out there to fight, most people are turning to Muay Thai, Wing Chun or some other style. It seems the only people who really believe in the Philippine arts are, well… Filipino martial artists. And JKD people, who are basically just FMA people who wanna be like Bruce Lee. In fact, FMA people don’t even believe in their art enough to get out and really do some scrapping with their FMA. They’d rather just show their wares on Youtube and in nice, safe, friendly seminars.

But I digress.

So, why is it that the Filipino arts are not as popular? Here are my views:

  1. Our instructors only use the art as a side art. Filipinos and non-filipinos with joint problems seem to be the only folks out there who make the FMAs their main art. If the guy teaching it doesn’t even think it’s worthy of full-time study, why should I? The students are being taught as soon as they walk through the door that FMAs are a complement to other styles. Kinda like Chinoy (Chinese and Filipino) restaurants. Or Filipina girlfriends, that you dump later and marry a girl from your own country. Okay, getting personal. Sorry!
  2. Not enough FMA guros who look like they can kick some butt. Sure we have a few tough guys out there, but a Kajukenbo friend of mine commented that he used to think of FMA folks as the only martial arts styles where you regularly find big bellies. And don’t hand me that crap about a layer of fat being protection from a knife technique (I know you saw it in “Ninja Assassin”, but it’s a movie!) But it’s more than just fitness levels. Many FMA people practice their art with no amount of athleticism or toughness at all, and certainly no power. And this just isn’t going to excite many people. Power is a display of destructive ability, but there are many in our arts who look past it and think “flow” is “deadliness”. Yeah, right.
  3. There isn’t enough FMA coverage in the media. When people see it on TV, they will believe it. Sad, I know, but in order for folks to know it’s out there and it’s good, they will have to see it on TV. I’m sorry, but Leo Gaje blew it when he was on that cable show with the buffalo and chicken blood. That was embarassing, and pure bullshit. No offense intended, but either you’re going to spread the art or you’re going to live up to some fantasy image of the art. And come on, we’re not all 12 year old boys with comic book glasses. How about something a little more realistic? Like one Arnisador beating up an entire Dojo full of Karate Black Belts? That’s a little more believable than slaughtering a KFC martyr everytime a new student signs up. Back to my point, the movies that have contained the FMAs have had the arts buried so deep in the script you have to do some digging to even find out that there were FMAs in the damned movie. And the few FMA movies we’ve have have been awful. I even made one in the 80s (and I’ve never watched the whole thing)… so, I’m guilty myself.
  4. I don’t think many FMA people want the art to go full-time. When Filipino masters come here, the draw of getting on the seminar circuit and making a killing sounds a lot better than struggling with a school (like I do), just to have great students. Why build and wait, when I can make a thousand at every city I travel to, and someone else will do the administrative/marketing stuff? It isn’t enough time to fully develop students, so what we have is about 75% (I’m guessing) of our practitioners are really just dabbling. The few teachers who are doing it full time are teaching the dabblers, and they really don’t care that the art is the way it is, just have my money when I come to town.
  5. Too easily available. Anyone wanna know why Maasaki Hatsumi makes $5k each time he walks in your dojo? It’s because (1) the man is well-skilled and definitely knows his stuff, and (2) he has not cheapened learning from him by limiting what you can find on him. He has written a few really good books, but you won’t find excessive footage of him or his people on Youtube showing off what they know, so in order to learn from him you can either fly to Japan or attend one of his workshops around the world. The Filipino arts, on the other hand, is so easily available, we have people actually learning entire curriculums on video and Youtube. With access like this, no one will value it. It’s like a woman who will sleep with everyone she meets. No matter how beautiful she is or how nice or smart she is, everyone will look down their nose at her. The Filipino arts is being treated like that woman, we have no dignity, we have no standards. We will teach our deadliest techniques to anyone on a $50 DVD, or for free on the internet. We put on demonstrations, we do not require loyalty of our students–we have basically turned our arts into a whore that can fatten our pockets or pad our egos if we do it right.
  6. Many of us are “jacks of all trades”. We are so bent on showing how the stick translates to the knife, the hand, the tennis racquet (lol), that we can demo everything including the kitchen sink, but most of us can’t do most of it with skill. I’ve actually met a guy who told me that he teaches projectile weapons and the whip as part of his eskrima/kali. Yeah,whatever. Like some guy is going to look at the few little snaps you can do with the whip and think you’re an expert. And exactly how does this translate to the stick or a punch again? You can’t do half-hearted martial arts and think people will take you seriously. If we are going to be true stick and knife arts, then let’s do it right, and do it well. Nuff said.
  7. Relating what we do to the average guy. The non-martial artist, who wants fighting and fitness. Many of the things about the FMA that hurts us is that it has gotten too technical. So technical, that it isn’t practical anymore. Too many drills, too many fancy disarmings, too many patty cake explanations that most folks would look at and think “that isn’t going to work”. This is the reason I wrote the post “FMA for Streetfighting” on MartialTalk. FMA people get more into flow and fancy, and don’t even think about using their stuff in a real fight. Hell, most of us can’t even fight!
  8. We are not putting our FMAs out there against other styles. Basically, we are staying in our own little world. We stay in FMA circles, and come out to learn the other guys’ stuff to import back into our FMAs. Don’t believe me? Look at a Jujitsu seminar. Or Silat. Or Aikido. Take a look at each FMA guy you see there, and then look at his website. Chances are that he’s doing the stuff he learned in that seminar as part of his FMA. But where you won’t see him is on the floor at some open martial arts tournament, unless it’s the Kata division, or he’s safely in a chair judging, or running around exchanging businesscards while wearing his “Arnis/Kali/Eskrima” T-shirt. You said, you do empty hand, so… can we see some it? Oh, sorry, you do the art of “fighting without fighting”. And you wonder why they don’t come to you to learn empty hand.

Okay, word count is approaching 2,000, so I am being guilty of long-winding. We’ll close here, and if I can think of anything else, there will be a “Part II” (there is).

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2 Responses to “Why the FMAs Aren’t THAT Popular”

  1. I agree> I see you repeating a familiar and valid theme–FMA as a side art, as a novelty, as a certificate from a weekend seminar.

    This may be controversial, but I also think that the contact stick fighting on display does not show skill. I think it tends too much toward two guys going wild, and that changes in the rules and format are needed in order to better display the skill behind the art.

  2. Yes fma has become so commercial in its accessibility to be an expert in a weekend and the concept of teaching so many techniques in a seminar rather than focusing on basics which will be better for the student . but at least it’s out there I’m mean here in the Philippines aside from luneta there are not a lot of places to learn fma compared to TKD and BJJ , even muay Thai is easier to find …no wonder it is less popular maybe we need to learn a bit of marketing to promote the art . in the USA I Think the mysticism and nonsense of Kali has made it sellable and the ease of getting ranks etc … I was never given a rank and I have been in escrima for 28 years… My instructor was not into ranking … Just effective application of the art . maybe we need to do what the Koreans and Thais did for their arts.


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