The Pear Tree Parable

It’s funny how connected like minds are these days. As I was editing this article, Darrin Cook on his “Big Stick, Big Combat” Blog wrote a post that connects well with the contents of Guro’s article. When you get done with this one, mosey over to Guro Cook’s blog and take a look!

This is one of those stories we tell our children when they get older, because while they are young, the lesson doesn’t apply as much as when they are grown. I recently retold this story to my teenaged stepson, and I think it would benefit many in the martial arts to hear it.

A man who lived in a poor community came out of the house one morning to find a full-grown pear tree growing in his yard, full of fruit. It amazed him, because just the day before the tree was just a sprout of a plant. Knowing it to be a blessing from God, he picked all the fruit from it and took it inside to his wife and family. She made all sorts of sweets and dishes with the plant, and the man–being a good man, thanked God for the gift.

The next day, he came out to find that not only had the tree grown a little larger, it had grown fruit again! And just the same as yesterday, he recognized it to be a blessing, and took the fruit inside to the family. He thanked God for the gifts and went on with his business.

The day after that, fruit came again, and he repeated his same actions. In fact, day after day, he picked fruit to give to his family, thanked God, and went about his business. He never had to lift a hand to water the tree, prune it, nothing. Because he was in an area with other poor people, and wanting to spare them ill feelings because they had not been blessed as well (for whatever reason God had for not blessing them) he told no one.

After 6 months, the family was starting to tire of pears. Plus, the winter came and sweets just didn’t seem right when it’s cold outside. When wood was bare, he took a branch or two to warm his home.

That spring, the tree was dead. End of story.

There are many lessons to this story:

  1. Just because the man did not have to water the tree, it didn’t mean that he should not have. If the unwatered tree yielded fruit, a watered tree would have yielded more. He was guilty of taking from the tree and failing to put anything back to keep the tree going, instead leaving it up to God to keep the tree alive. In Islam, this is referred to “binding one’s camel”. Have faith that God will take care of your needs (like keeping your camel at home), but at the same time, do what you have to do to make sure it happens (bind the camel to a post)
  2. Too much of anything is a bad thing. The family was guilty of overindulging, and therefore sickened of a good thing because they had just too much. If they had shared with other families, everyone would have gotten enough to enjoy the fruit. Sometimes, the pleasure is taken away (as is the blessing) if you do not share it
  3. The “blessing” from God is sometimes given to you, so that you may share it with others. Wealth is not always given to men to hoard, but as a vessel to bless with others

There are others, but these are what I can think of right now. So, what does this have to do with the martial arts?

Many martial artists are guilty of taking from the pear tree. Not necessarily stealing, just using its resources and failing to water the tree and sharing with others. As teachers, we do not add to our skill by training or learning more. Many of us do not share with other teachers in our community. (I am often guilty of this myself)  Some of our teachers are in love so much with the dollar bill, that we leave many students in wont of good instruction because we are looking for the student with the big bucks. Our knowledge and reputations are the tree, the students are the fruit…

As students, we pay our tuitions (like the man thanked God) but not much more than that. If your school is small and does not use contracts, chances are that your teacher is struggling financially. Every dime he takes in pays a bill. But we have students shopping the internet for deals to save $5 on a pair of gloves, rather than pay your teacher for the gloves. He cannot offer the same discount because he does not qualify for better bulk discounts! And when you go on vacation, do you pay for the month you are gone? Or do you use that money for an hour on the slot machines? Every little thing counts.

Some of us do not understand how we affect the hands that feed us, and instead only look at how we can benefit from our teachers’ knowledge. Have you noticed how your school’s toilet doesn’t work right? Or how the carpet need shampooing? Take the initiative and do it for him! Your teacher probably has too much pride to ask someone for help!

Back to the subject of taking and failing to put back, how many of us are failing to give our experiences to our arts? Each generation should be improving the art he receives from his Master, but many students are too lazy (or scared) to go forth and build the school’s reputation or even to test and refine one’s fighting skills. Active schools tend to have good students because the students are building the style from the inside out.

I will close this article here, and let you ponder over those things for a few.

Btw, the inspiration for this article, is the closure of the school of a good friend of mine. He was a great fighter, very knowledgeable,  a great martial artist, and a good family man. He even had a lot of students. But unfortunately, they never paid their tuition on time, and he was late on rent one too many times, and his landlord cancelled his lease. He did not make enough money to get a downpayment on a new place, and was too proud to ask for help. None of us knew he was in such dire straits until he announced that he would close his doors. It is Christmas–a day of giving in this country–and for martial arts schools, our worst month of the year. Why? Because our students buy so many gifts and spend so much money outside our schools, that they often neglect to pay tuition. I have this problem myself, so I save through the summer just for December. My friend could not do so, and now he must look for a community center to teach in. This is a damned shame.

Thank you for reading my blog. Happy holidays, everyone.

FMA Media (RIP Eskrima Digest)

Today I received some sad news by email about an old, old friend of mine.

Master Ray Terry announced that he is shutting down the Eskrima Digest, which, to my knowledge, is the oldest online forum for Filipino Martial Artists. After 15 years, its archives must be a gold mine of information, as I don’t think a day passed in the 4 or 5 years I subscribed that I did not receive something from them. Prior to that, I had students who received them and would bring me pages of their messages, or forward issues by email. And before that… one of my students, who was stationed at NSA (attended the Baltimore location of my school) would bring me his laptop to read the issues after class (this was around 1996, so you know I didn’t have any form of technology). The Eskrima Digest was where I actually saw the American  as well as the Philippine Filipino Martial Arts community start to mature, as in this place people interacted–who normally would not have had access to each other.  I have seen some Filipinos who looked down on American practitioners develop respect without throwing a single strike between them, other than a few harmless insults and flames across the list. I saw Americans who thought the Filipinos questioning Dan Inosanto’s version of FMA were jealous or just “pricks”, and eventually befriend some of these Filipinos. The Digest was a community, and people exchanged ideas, shared information, learned from each other, forged friendships–even sparred– by email.

Mr. Terry, you made a great thing. Your list helped me grow up as a martial artist, because I interacted with people I knew nothing about, and probably would have never gotten to know. I have had students who found me on your list. I’ve learned about other styles and Masters there. I’ve learned new ideas about what I can do to make my classes better. I’m sure there are thousands of us who can say the same thing. God bless you.

So, what next?

I have heard that the forums have been slow too. Martialtalk  and  have not had the activity as in past years. Could it be that people are starting to train more? Or have they just found another place to interact? The benefit of the Eskrima Digest was that everything went straight to your email account and you could simply open messages whenever you wanted–even read them from your phone. Is it convenience? I don’t know.

But there is a magazine I have been receiving for a few years–an FMA magazine–by email. I have enjoyed the issues and I think many of you would too. It is the FMA Digest, published by Master Steven Dowd. For those unfamiliar with his name, Mr. Dowd is the author of the two books entitled Kuntaw:  Fist and Foot Fighting  (I am getting this from memory, because I actually haven’t even seen the books in about 20 years). It was written back in the 70s, I believe, and featured Master Lito Lanada’s system and forms. The last time I saw a copy, Master Billy Bryant showed me his, and had asked for me to take him to Virginia Beach to meet him. I learned the form in the book from Master Boggs Lao, and showed it to Billy (I can’t remember if there were all five forms in the book. Boggs had 5 versions of the form). Master Dowd is also a master of an Arnis style called Arnis Balite. He has been involved with the FMAs long before most people knew what FMAs were–even longer than many of you have been alive. He was a Black Belt in the arts when–as my son would call it–since the world was still in black and white. I’ll bet you a sweet potato pie, that this gentleman has a huge amount of FMA knowledge. His magazine is free, and it always features little-known about FMA styles and Masters. When you get over there to get your copy, make sure you tell them that thekuntawman sent ya.

So, anyway, where do we go from here? What can an FMA guy who wants to read about his art do? The martial arts magazines barely feature the FMAs, other than the occasional self-promoting jerk-offs who use the magazines to promote their new DVDs or give credibility to the new, “ancient” arts they just made. Anyone remember the Filipino Martial Arts magazines that Eliot Shearer produced? They were good, and I really crossed my fingers hoping it would grow to international levels, but personal problems kept him from moving the project forward. I suspect everyone was looking to take away but not put back in. It is like the parable of the pear tree (I’ll post more about it later), and to do something like this takes money and it is a time-consuming mission. Now, I hear that the Philippine-based Rapid Journal is now shutting down. They’ve been around forever too!

I’ll tell you what. Everyone should get behind the forms we have now–all the forums, the magazines, etc–and support them. That means FULL support:  time, energy, positive support as well as constructive criticism, attention (like spreading the word) and MONEY.  Because these things help you occupy your time, they entertain you, and they deserve something back from you.

And that’s all I need to say on that subject.

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