The Making of a Martial Arts Master

I am writing a book by the same name as this article, and I hope to have it completed by the end of this year.

The title “Master”, I believe, is simultaneously overused as well as undervalued. There are too many people who lack the dedication to even excel in the performance of the art (which I consider a basic requirement of mastery) calling themselves “Master”. The man who wishes to master the martial arts must truly dedicate himself to the study and practice of the art in more ways than simply saying, “I am dedicated” or by teaching the arts. In my own personal opinion, you must practice and teach the art professionally (whether full time or part time) for many years. Naturally, the more time you spend with the art, the faster you will reach this level. Some people believe that simply being involved with the art for 20 years or more makes one a master.

But, no–you will not be a master simply by association alone. There are many stages to martial arts mastery, and here are the basic stages and levels you must strive for:

  • Superior performance.  Before we can talk about one who has mastered the art as a teacher, he must have mastered the art as a student. In the seminar industry, there is a bum-rush to leap from student to teacher. Very little to no attention at all is devoted to developing the student’s skill to proficiency. Hell, the teachers don’t even hang around long enough to ensure that every member of his flock excels at the art. By the time the students start to “get it”, he’s on a plane to the next town. As a student, you must excel at everything you’ve learned. This means hundreds and hundreds of hours of practice, thousands and thousands of repetitions in training, and hours and hours of fine-tuning and more practice. I do not agree with those who contend that because of the few exceptions to the rule–mediocre fighters who became master teachers of the art–one does not need to excel as students. Sure, this lazy excuse is like telling a kid to drop out of school in order to become a millionaire–a la Bill Gates style. While it may be true for a very small minority, it’s a bad idea. Learn the art, become good at it, idiots.
  • Full understanding of the art and its intricasies. You would be surprised how many people out there do not fully understand the art they are teaching. The knowledge they possess is barely skin-deep, and what you see them do is what they know, and not much more than that. This is why so many teachers take on many other styles through seminars and make up drills and prearranged give and take/defense and counter sequences; their knowledge is just not profound so they add quantity rather than to the quality of what they know. A big part of this is due to the knowledge level of one’s own teachers. If he does not know much, he does not have much to pass on. Therefore, the student who finds that he cannot dig deeper into the art must pursue more knowledge under the tutelage of one with more knowledge. Either that, or he must reflect, meditate, and experiment on his art, as superficial knowledge is not enough.
  • Develop fighting prowess to a high level. A martial arts expert must have fought many opponents and executed his techniques in order to forge his theories into facts. The words of a novice:  I think….  The words of an expert:  I have found…  Often you will have novices who talk like an expert; they will swear that they have fought and defeated many men. They will refer to unrelated experiences as “proof” that they know what they are doing (like being a cop, military member, etc.). Regardless of what you say–as the saying goes–your behind must be able to cash the check that your mouth writes!  At a bare minimum, you must have been known to have superior fighting ability. Now, I am not interested in arguing “what type of fighting?” with anyone. If you believe that a man’s fighting experience is somehow a disqualifying factor (like me and ring fighting), you are welcome to try these skills out. But you see, most critics and naysayers are men who will never throw their hat in the ring. However, if you are out here calling yourself a Master, you’d better possess the skills to show them what you’re talking about.
  • Hermitage. Not everyone will agree with this, but I do not consider fame-seeking masters to be true MASTERS of the art. A master will treasure what he possesses and will be searching for the appropriate student to whome he will bequeath his knowledge. He will also take his practice of the art serious enough that onlookers and less-committed students alike would distract him from his focus. I have met many men who call themselves Masters, and the ones I have respected the most teach out of small holes in the wall, and are very selective about who-gets-to-study-what. Seclusion is the place where the true Master can truly focus on his art and protect its secrets. FAKE masters sell them on the internet. For more information, check out my article on martial arts hermits.
  • The reputation. Don’t confuse popularity with reputation. Many teachers spend all of their time trying to be well-liked and popular. Therefore, when people speak of these masters, they are offering respect as repayment for their aimiability–not due to to knowledge and fighting skill. Many of the best masters around were not well-liked. A good example of this is pre-stardom Bruce Lee. He was not popular because of his unorthodox views concerning the martial arts. Chinese teachers did not like him because of his focus on teaching Americans. Others were jealous of his skills. Yet, to everyone who knew him, his reputation preceded him, as his skills and physical prowess spoke for itself. Your reputation turns you into a Master, as it is your martial arts community who promotes you–or validates your self-declaration of being a Master.

This is all I will say about this subject. I hope I have given you a lot to think about.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Just for Fun… Now, I’m Not Jealous or Anything, But

But can you fight?

You’ve got to admit, it’s some cool stuff! LOL!

Test Your Empty Handed FMA

I’m having a discussion on the Inayan Eskrima board about my statements that FMA empty hand is an embarassment. The thread is entitled “Does KDM (Kadena de Mano) work in a real fight?“, and my opinion is that I really don’t think so. When you get a chance, mosey over there and take a look at it.

Well, as usual, feelings get hurt, names being called, folks taking grave offense and points are being misconstrued… typical for FMA people. I would say that the discussion is good and helpful, but it is not. In fact, I can see from the comments being made and the tone of most people, that FMA people are (1) the same pretty much everywhere, and (2) always falling back on the same old cliches and excuses not to fight.

Let me run down a few of those things for you:

  • i don’t fight in tournaments because there are too many rules. my art is made for killing, not simulating combat. Well, my question is, who are you killing and maiming in practice? My guess is “no one”. People who talk this way usually don’t spar (read:  “Moore’s Sho Shu Kong FOO“) but where they do spar, it’s just like the tournaments they like to put down… with rules, no injuries, but with less skill
  • if you’re so good, why don’t you enter MMA or full contact?  This is supposed to shut critics up, but not here. I fought full contact for nearly a decade. I’m just suggesting that you do the same.
  • i’m a cop/corrections/military/bouncer/security/streetfighter. i KNOW how to fight!  Brothers, if you only knew!  You see, people who fight rarely put it out there like that. I usually talk about training and philosophy as a martial artist and teacher. I will mention my experience while teaching, but I don’t use it as a resume bullet point for my credibility. First, let’s look at soldiers and cops. How many of them are actually fighting with their hands? Not many, and not many that do end up fighting one on one. I know they do it in corrections, but it is not the same as a guy fighting on the street. I hope you don’t expect us to believe that you fight on a daily basis. You’ve been watching too much Rambo and Dirty Harry movies, and reading too many Jim Wagner articles.  The truth is, that what our brothers in uniform deal with has very little to do with what the guys on the street must endure, and almost NOTHING to do with martial arts fighting and training.
  • i just fought last week. Brother, please.
  • if i fight you, i will have to kill you.  LOL. If you are willing to fight to the death, but you won’t fight LIGHT CONTACT, you sir, are not a fighter. You’re just talking smack.

Testing of martial arts skills cannot be done in dojo classrooms with friends and family. I would even go so far as to say, it’s not necessary. But what is necessary is that you must test your art against someone determined to make you look like a monkey. You can control how far you go with it, but you must spar with someone who does not know you, is not familiar with you, and is trying to beat you. Looking at the choice of techniques many FMA people work with, and their training methods, I would say that most people are not doing enough testing, which is why they swear by unrealistic techniques and hide behind associations and excuses not to fight.

There will have to be a part II to this article. I’ve got to start my class in a few minutes. Thanks for visiting my blog!

Cross Post: What the Hell Is Kali? (From Darrin Cook’s Blog)

A man after my own heart!

Darrin Cook has an article on his blog, entitled “What the hell is Kali?”  He is challenging the claim by many who use the name “Kali” for their FMA that Kali is either, older, more complete, or just better than the arts of those who use Eskrima or Arnis. I want you to go and read it, because he puts it all down much more eloquently than I can, and says exactly how I feel about the subject.

I consider this issue very close to home because I experience this in my business all the time:  Some guy walks in or calls and asks if I teach Kali. I say no, I do Eskrima,  then the guy says thank you, but I’m looking for Kali. Now, I have to explain to him that what he had been reading is a myth and more marketing hype than anything else. It’s not even point of view or philosophy. Excuse the language, but the use of Kali for any other reason but “I like the name” is bullshit. They are attempting to latch onto Dan Inosanto’s image of a pre-hispanic art, that is the “mother art” to everything done today, that still involves the “12 weapons” and ranges, taught by Muslims. Guys like Leo Gaje and groups like the Sayocs try and convince their flocks that the art they do is somehow different than most other FMA styles–other than the fact that most every style of the FMA is unique from every other style. They have gone to great lengths to pretend that the arts are unchanged arts from many generations back, and that the influence from the arts of Arnis and Eskrima were minimal. The “blade orientation”, this is for killing, blah blah blah, is all a part of that propoganda of the Kali-keepers.

But I digress.

Anyway, go and check out BigStickCombat’s Blog. It’s both entertaining and enlightening, plus his philosophy mirrors mine (except for his opinion about 28-inch sticks, but I still like his way of thinking). Leave a comment for him!

Thanks for visiting my blog!

Business of Teaching the FMA: Start Small, but GROW!

As I stated in an earlier post, I have been exchanging with an aspiring martial arts school owner. Actually, I have been talking to a few teachers. Because at any point in time I am always one of the only FMA schools in town, my schools are usually the place to stop by for those wanting to teach the Filipino arts. Recently, I was visited by a gentleman who has quite a resume of Filipino styles among a few other arts. He wants to teach pure art without selling out, but wants to make a living at it.

Needless to say, he purchased my book on the subject.

But I would like to add that a great place to start is in the community center–regardless of where you want your school to end up. Teaching in your city’s Parks and Recs (or equivalent) will help you ease into a commercial location for several reasons:

  • you don’t have to keep a minimum enrollment to pay rent; most city departments will simply take 40% of the tuition (or less) collected. this way, you make a profit–whether you have one student or 20
  • departments will advertise your class for you in a schedule that is mailed to every residence in your city. of course, you can advertise on your own, but you can’t beat the free advertising… that will most likely be read by all of your potential students
  • most community centers are appealing places to teach. one of the challenged I faced is that most of my schools have been in run-down buildings. you won’t have this problem in a community center
  • a safe place to learn the business, that won’t ruin your credit if your class grows too slowly
  • you will be able to network with other teachers, such as soccer coaches, dance teachers, etc. many of your students will come from these other classes
  • you can try several communities before settling on a longer-term location and signing a lease
  • costs are low, and will free your finances for other things, like equipment and marketing

Just remember to strive to grow. As your enrollment increases, you can either take on more centers or move into a shopping center. In my town, I know a Karate teacher who started in a community center and stayed until his enrollment reached 100, and now he is in a nice shopping center. For the FMA teacher, the center gives you a stable place to establish yourself while you learn the business side of the “business”. Get a website, build your reputation, and develop your curriculum and system (business system, that is). I have known teachers to remain in community centers far longer than they wanted to because they never saved their money or developed a plan to grow.

If your goal is to make a comfortable living with your class, start small and slow, and then GROW.

Thanks for visiting my blog!

The Case for Karate Belts

A young man I know is opening his first school in my town, and comes by sometimes to talk about it. I am no expert in the business of the martial arts, but I been around, doing the traditional thing, for a long time. He is Kenpo and Tae Kwon Do and does not want to go commercial. One of the things we talked about is his belt scheme.

I am against it. My younger siblings have tried to convince me over the years to adopt the idea of it. It’s even on my website (haven’t gotten a chance to take it off!) and we tried it a few times. I just don’t like it. But after talking to this very young man–he’s 22–I see his point, and I’d like to present how I think the belt system could better serve a teacher’s needs, if he does not have a lot of experience teaching. Hopefully, you might see something useful in my ideas.

First, let me first say this:  I’ve given him my opinion, that I believe he is too young to open a school, and certainly not experienced enough. Sounds hypocritical? It should! I opened my school at age 22. But both my teachers were dead, and I was hard-headed not to listen to advice (as is he). On the other hand, I had fought in 5 countries by that age and had traveled the world studying–even living with several masters. I recommended (without a selfish motive) that he study under me for a few years before attempting such an undertaking. At his age, he is still in need of guidance and instruction–outside of commercial classes. I am of the opinion that teaching careers should start at the end of a fighting career. One needs to literally sit at the feet of masters before attempting to have others base their martial education on what you’ve learned in 4 – 5 years of commercial dojo learning.

In his defense, he has done right by seeking advice of those more knowledgeable, and I think he is on the right track by keeping in contact with several teachers while he pursues this endeavor.

This is what I think should be done with his Belt system:

  • the belt system can be a structured way of organizing the curriculum you pass to the students: first you learn this, then you learn that, and when you’ve done this, this, and this, you can start practicing for your test
  • the test is a measuring tool for what has been learned, and is the motivator for students to practice and perfect what they have learned. it is the one time a student has to present what he’s learned
  • the pre-test is the time for the teacher to formally give feedback about what the student needs to do in order to pass a test. often, we correct, correct, correct, but the students still make the same mistake. but if you hand him a piece of paper saying: “this is what needs to be fixed, or you will fail” he might get the hint
  • belts will keep you from having to answer the question about “how long will it take me to get the Black Belt?”
  • the belt must be a strong indicator of who wears the pants in your school. if you award it, you’d better make sure they earned it! don’t have a green belter who can whip a black belter
  • i don’t think it’s necessary to have a ton of belts. five or six is sufficient from beginner to expert. give your students enough time between belts to really absorb and fully learn what is required for that level. where i think a lot of schools go wrong is that they promote as soon as a student “gets it”. have a period to learn the material, than a period to develop the material. fewer belts allow more time to practice what you know
  • get rid of the tabs and electrical tape. but if you use it, don’t charge for it
  • make a clear difference in skill and knowledge from one belt level to the next. rather than have requirements like “full split for green belt”, i think a percentage of improvement from where the student was when he arrived to that level should be used. if that’s the case, every 10 year old ex-gymnast/ballet dancer will automatically get a green belt
  • definitely have power/strength requirements for each level. knowledge without physical ability is useless
  • identify a specific set of skills and techniques to be functional for each belt level. when i say “functional”, i mean they must be able to spar with those techniques successfully before leaving the level
  • any form you teach (if you teach form) must be flawless before promotion
  • any technique you require for that level must be executed flawlessly as well
  • tests from one level to the next must become progressively more difficult. advance tests must be a grueling, near-death experience. after all, they only get to have that experience once! make em remember that day for the rest of their life
  • and finally, don’t have any student do what you can not. have an idea? test it on yourself first!

I think if you adopt these rules and implement them into your belt system, you should see major improvements.

Thank you for visiting my blog!

Stick as a Blade (For What’s His Face @

Is the stick actually a blade? When we practice Arnis, are we actually practicing Bolo techniques?

I don’t think so.

Can you swing a stick and call it a blade? Sure.

Are you using the same movements with your stick and “Translate” them to the blade?

You must be kidding.

This (translating) is a lazy way of learning to do everything under the sun without–well, learning to do everything under the sun. There are just too many variables to throw everything into the pot and call it “same-same”, because it isn’t. Sounds good, though!

The stick is a blunt-force weapon. It is made to hit bones, and if it hits meat, the smack will not injure unless it injures… bone. If we are talking about an upper arm or thigh, then you can forget it, if we’re talking about rattan eskrima sticks. Especially for you drill masters, because if you’re wasting training time on drills, I KNOW you don’t have good power in your stick strike. The angle needed to effect a good stick strike is completely different from the angle needed for effective blade work. For example, in order for the blade to cut deeply, you should have the sword to be 90 degrees to your forearm, and you make contact with the part of the blade closest to the handle first. For the stick, you will snap the stick from a 90 degree angle to almost 180 degrees, and the only contact you will make will be with the tip of the stick. Each weapon has a distinct way to use it, and they attack targets–even the same targets–in a different way. In reality, most FMA styles are either better suited for stick fighting, for a specific style of blade fighting (there is no style that is really just BLADE… there are many types of blades and they are all used differently), or for empty hand. Too many people try to be experts at everything, so they end up being mediocre at everything. Doing everything, but doing nothing well.

But then again, if you are spending most of your time with “sensitivity drills” (is this where you try to understand the cultural struggles of your opponent?) and “flow” (to be practiced once a month, for about 7 days), you aren’t of the same mindset I am from.

Sorry to bust your bubble, but a stick is a stick and should be used like a stick. A machete is a machete and should be used like a machete. A pinuti is a pinuti, and should be used like a pinuti. A fist is a fist, and should be used like a fist, not a pinuti.

There are other factors, like if you plan to use a razor-sharp sword, or if the blade you wield is thin (both of which results in a very weak weapon… you better not hit bone!), than makes that sword a little more stick-technique worthy. I’m not saying that some techniques are not universal. It’s just that some people have oversimplified the art to make up for lack of knowledge. And yes, many of your grandmasters just weren’t very knowledgeable. They came here as basically teenagers, with limited knowledge of the Philippine fighting arts, limited accomplishments and skills. So they made up stories about death matches and titles (“I was campion of ol de pilippines”…), and you guys believe them. After all, they are old guys and they were your first exposure to the FMAs, so I can’t blame you for adopting their stuff. But come on, use that brain, people!  Anyway, only some of the movements do really… ahem, “translate” into other weapons. But not many. Their knowledge of the arts was weak, and 40 years later, it was still weak. Let’s call a spade a spade. You learn more by studying more, not by hanging around the world long enough. So if an art is poorly developed, and no one gets the information needed to improve it, then 50 years later, it will still be poorly developed. But you can change that, just by thinking.

It’s far better to consult with a real expert, and learn more about those other weapons. Because for those who know, you sure do look silly, considering yourselves authorities, while questioning people who know way more than you do.

And while you’re at it, stop calling yourself “experienced” just because you’ve been in the art a long time. “Experience” and “longevity” are two different things. “Experience” in the fighting art means you’ve done a lot of fighting… with opponents, not classmates and friends. “Longevity” means you’ve been around the art, doing whatever it is you do in your dojos. The two are not the same, and your ass could be involved with the FMAs for 30 years and still have no damned experience. I don’t usually do this, but next time you come to Northern California, stop by my school. I have some beginning Kung Fu students that will smash you and your FMA empty hands. Trust me, you don’t want to mess with me or my Kuntaw guys. lol

But that is a topic for another article.

Hang around me, son, and I’ll show you the ropes.  Thanks for visiting my blog!