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

Every Style Needs a Champion

I think I’ve told this story before. When I was 18, I was a student of Boggs Lao, whose school was called “Black Knights” Kuntaw. We were practicing when a visiting teacher came for sparring. When he informed Boggs of this, Boggs told him to just pick someone. The gentleman asked him who the best fighters were, and again, Boggs told him to “just pick someone”.

I would love to be able to tell you that all of us beat all the man’s students, but it isn’t true. Each of us that fought won some and lost some. Each of that teacher’s students won some and lost some too. But the notable thing here is that Boggs barely looked up from his newspaper while we sparred enough to know how we all did. In fact, he did not inquire until after they had left. When I asked him some time later why he did not just have the best fighter we had spar them, and why he didn’t watch, Boggs told me, “If I was a bad teacher, it would have mattered.” He was confident that he had trained us properly and knew that no matter who walked through the door, even his beginners would be able to hold their own. This is one of the experiences that guided my teaching philosophy.

Boggs was a unique man though. Most of us who trained with him trained every day. His specialty was sparring bare handed. He was, in my opinion, the Filipino version of Mas Oyama. ALL of Boggs’ students were dangerous fighters, and I strive daily to reproduce what I saw during the short time I trained with him. But he was the exception.

Each teacher, if he spent ample time with his martial arts, will have his own ideas of how the art should be practiced. Many of these are simply that:  ideas. Many teachers will not go out and test these ideas, nor will they have the ability to develop the ideas to its potential in the form of skill. But in order for a style or system (even just a teaching philosophy) to be valid, it must have produced at least one fighter who is the living, breathing example of what that style is all about. Someone must be the one everyone in the art can point to and say, “this is what you have to look forward to, if you study our style.” Someone must be the example in the system, and be the person who can prove that the style is valid. I believe that most systems lack this, and that is why many styles are obscure, unless they get a good writer or a lot of students.

Many teachers neglect to see to it that this is done. Wait–too many teachers neglect to see that this is done. The benefit to having a “perfect student” is that all of the teacher’s ideas are manifested in a person, and the validity of its innovations are proven. It is through this person that true modifications can be made. The teacher can either be that person–like Mas Oyama was to Kyokushinkai or Wong Fei Hung was to his version of Hung Gar or Bruce Lee was for his Jeet Kune Do. Or he can train a student who will be his style’s champion–like Emin Botzepe was to Leung Ting’s Ving Tsun, or how Buzz Smith was Lito Lanyada’s Kuntaw champion here in America, or Iron Mike Tyson was for Cus D’Amato’s boxing.  But for a system to have true respect in the fighting world of martial arts, we must have someone that we can look at as the best example of this art’s potential.

As a teacher, I want to emulate Boggs Lao, in that all my students should be that person. It is the reason I have not promoted any full instructor in my 18 years that my school has been open; I have a standard that I want fulfilled for my teachers and my students must dedicated enough of their lives to meet it. I have students that are close, but not there yet. The question is, am I being unrealistic? I think not. I take a lot of pride in producing many good fighters. But I have another level that I would like to see them reach, and the older I get, the more I realize that it can only be achieved with full-time study… at least for a short period. A minimum of three training sessions a week, or more than 6 hours of training a week. It will take a full-time effort. With the same level of commitment that one pursues a college degree.

As a young man, I was my school’s champion. Now, at 40 years old, I am hoping to train the next one.

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7 Responses to “Every Style Needs a Champion”

  1. Thanks for getting us thinking again…

    I would also like to point out the difference between having the skill and knowledge and being able to pass these on to others. Bringing other people to these levels requires a different set of skills. Being able to do something is not the same as being able to teach it.

  2. This post is beyond awesome. Many good points here, excellent read. I have been planning to visit your school the last few times I was in town, but just allowed myself to get sidetracked. Been years, sir!

  3. hey! how you doing joe! please send me email

  4. Excellent. Another great post!

  5. Thank you sir for the recognition. I subscribe ato a lot of what your articles say.
    In 40 years I have not promoted more than 14 black belts. Seems no one has the staying power to learn the whole package or put forth the time to share.

  6. I have known Boggs through my affiliation with Conrado Turla when Con was actively teaching at Clark prior to his death in 98.. Boggs has always had a good reputation for turning out fighters, especially with the Fil/Am martial arts association.. I met him a couple of times during my trips to the Clark area from Guam and enjoyed all the interaction I had with him and the other instructors of the angeles city area..

  7. I practice Chung Do Kwan, which has evolved quite a lot since it’s ‘creation’ in the 1950s. What began as Shotokan and Taekyon ended up having Wing Chun punching methodology added later, when Jhoon Rhee was taught by Bruce Lee how to punch, and in return, he helped to teach Bruce Lee the higher kicking techniques of Korea.

    Interestingly, in NOVA, I’ve noticed a new addition to Chung Do Kwan; a re-examination of jiujitsu, and hapkido. Essentially, groundwork is being added to Chung Do Kwan, and the style is changing before our very eyes.

    I think you are right, every style needs a champion. But with enough time, and internalization, I truly believe martial arts becomes a part of the practitioner. And eventually, if they become skilled enough, the martial art itself will internalize them. Wing Chun did this through Ip Man, though of course that example is arguable, and others can be found.

    I have always thought when I see a practitioner ‘This is Shotokan SEAN’s style’ because to be honest, I’ve found that even within the same style, with no outside teachings or exploration, people can actually differ so much from each other within a style, they could passably be considered different styles. And this is different, say, from when a person has learned a martial art as a base, explored other arts, and taken what works for themself, and added, and refined until the art they practice, becomes known as its own style, independant of where they first began, even if they themself considered themself the original style.

    I recall one Chung Do Kwan practitioner I met who looked litterally in movement like Jet Li! And yet, his techniques were still, and ever are, undeniably chung do kwan.

    It is true that every style needs a champion. But I must say that I cannot see this being done, without us first becoming the champions of our own style.

    I am not saying that what we create is the best, or better. Merely, it is what naturally works best for us, and is our natural fighting style.


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