Choosing the Best Martial Arts Students? Or not!

I have always said that in the martial arts, you have the culture of the martial arts and the business of the martial arts, and they are often in conflict with each other.
As a martial arts teacher you have the dual purpose of passing on the life of the art you teach to future generations as well as feeding your family and paying the bills. As a result, we must be picky as teachers for finding appropriate students, but not so picky that our enrollment suffers. We must find students who are dedicated and will work hard to ensure good representation, and these students are difficult to find. A part of this policy means that we will have to turn down students, or ask them to leave–if they are not upholding their end of the bargain. Businessmen with thousand-dollar rents to pay cannot adhere to this policy, so as a result, we are often forced to take less-than-ideal students to get the bills paid. I don’t consider this selling out; it is a necessary function for the martial arts teacher of today. And here, we end up with the debate among the masters of the art:  whether teachers who produce anything less than the best they can are betraying their role as the art’s torch-bearer. I have a few things to say about this.
A question I was once asked by my grandfather was this:  What makes a great teacher? One who “finds” great students and develops them? Or one who takes average–even below average–students and turn them into Tigers? I feel that the Master-teachers of the arts, can take anyone with the desire to learn and turn them into killers. This is a subject that has intrigued me as well as challenged me for decades. As a teacher, I strive to become the kind of teacher who can take on awkward, even out of shape, students and help them acquire the kind of skills the talented ones will attain. I regret that I did not pursue this knowledge while my teachers were alive. As I got older, I became a wiser and more practical teacher, and I realize that in order to elevate my status as a teacher I will have to learn to develop physical prowess where there is no propensity for it. This requires patience, attention to detail, diligence, and a complete understanding of the nuances of every part of your style. Once a martial artist has achieved expertise in the performance of his art, he must strive to arrive to this level of knowledge in order to achieve expertise in the art of teaching the art.
Not only must we learn to teach students, we must also learn to identify qualified students. Does this mean that one must screen students for a minimum level of skill before accepting them? Absolutely not. But you must screen students for a minimum level of maturity and interest. Notice that I did not include “dedication”. This is because students must be mature enough to adopt the arts as a way of life for them… not just to learn a skill or take a class. (Note: this is for those who are in fact passing down an art and tradition, and not just teaching fighting skills) It is the reason I prefer not to teach children, as most children are not prepared for this commitment. I do have students who simply want to learn self-defense or improve fitness. However, I identify who wants what, and train them accordingly. Therefore, we do not teach the finer points of our techniques to a student who simply wants to lose weight. It is a good idea to schedule and plan separate classes. I have classes just for my Jow Ga students. I have a class where I only teach Kung Fu form. I have classes just for my FMA students. I have time slots just for fitness students. And I have classes just for my fighters. Students may mix and choose, but they get what they want in separate classes. However, some classes require a commitment from students in order to join, but they have the choice to specialize. Doing so requires a certain level of maturity to actually think about where they want to take their martial arts training. It is similar to a college student choosing a major. We ask college students where they want to take their education, while middle schoolers receive the education their schools system recommends. It is because of maturity we give and deny these choices. On the other hand, students must have enough interest to do what needs to be done to achieve the results they want. Maturity is not exactly the factor that this depends on. A 5-year old can have enough interest to master an art or skill, where a 30-year old can watch Ong Bak or an MMA fight and pursue classes for vanity purposes. Interest transcends age, money, maturity… you name it. My ten year old, for example, will throw a tantrum if he is beaten in a match to a girl, but he will play “Pacman” for hours (my old hobby) and develop enough skill to whip his old man any day of the week with one hand, while sipping on a rootbeer with the other. With enough interest and maturity, you will get the “dedication” we always talk about from our martial arts students.
What if a student lacks the maturity, interest, and commitment to become the model student?
This is where we learn to guide our students to the path of becoming a good martial arts student. Some students will be lazy. Some are cowards. Some are very egotistic, while others are arrogant and selfish. As teachers, we must learn to recognize these characteristics as well as learn how to address them. I knew a man once who has, at any point, as many as ten children living under his household. He is a foster parent, and has been raising children for over 30 years. This gentleman is a devout Christian, and a good man. Most of his children (many are grown adults today) are successful and good people as well. However, he does not always receive “good” or ideal kids. Some are juvenile delinquents, some come from drug addict households. Some steal, lie, drink, are manipulative, you couldn’t imagine what these children are going through. Yet, something about him was very striking. He runs a very tight ship:  the children are given religious training, have strict schedules, daily study and quiet times, and live with almost a prison-style dormitory environment. At the same time, he is very caring and attentive (he cannot be too affectionate for obvious reasons) and the children know that he loves them and they love him. His motto is that he cannot control how they come, but will control how they leave. He has taken in former gang members and turned them into preachers and school teachers. One girl, a former prostitute, is now a real estate agent. Another one, who was the child of two drug addicts and had two children by age 15–is a CPA and almost became Mrs. thekuntawman. As a teacher, you have a limited time with your students, and while you have them you must guide them to learning how to learn as well as passing on to them the foundation they need to become excellent martial artists–regardless of their shortcomings, laziness, or limitations. I wrote a blog article entitled “Mold the Kind of Students You Teach“, which expounds on this subject a little better.
Finally, as a teacher you should have a curriculum and teaching format that will produce top-quality students by the strength of the program you run alone. Many times it is not just what you teach, but how you teach, that makes the difference. You must have a very efficient and effective system that will garner skills and knowledge just by attending your classes. Many martial arts programs are not this well thought-out. I would say, in my experience, that most programs simply teach a set of techniques and skills (many with forms) that have not been scrutinized for omission or modification. Especially in the Filipino arts, we have teachers who do not teach a homogeneous system of skills and techniques that blend well together. Instead, they are teaching a miscellaneous combination of tricks and drills picked up along the way in seminars, videotapes and Youtube clips. Teaching this way will never produce excellence, and students deserve a program that has been tested, analyzed and completely combed through. When you have done your homework, the students will put out what you want from them. I do this with my martial arts constantly, and this is how I came up with the simple system I present in my book (what? you mean you haven’t heard of it???):   Mustafa Gatdula’s How to Build a Dominant Fighter in 12 Months  Make sure you check it out!
So much for the shameless plug…
Thank you for visiting my blog.

Back When Kimbo Was Dangerous

I have a saying that I use, “Back when Kimbo was dangerous”…

Do you think Kimbo became more effective when he was just a streetfighter than he is now, as an MMA guy?

I don’t think so. In my opinion, those MMA guys messed Kimbo up by teaching him all that stuff. Maybe if they just took him as is, and put him up against MMA fighters, he would have put on a better show. The thing is, that fighting is scientific but not that darned scientific! When you have a guy who trains himself in what he knows, and does a damned good job at it, he doesn’t really need to have a lot of tactics. He just needs to know the tactics he knows very well.

Do you think amateur boxers learn new fighting techniques when they are training as pros with a new trainer? Not at all. Amateur boxers just do the same thing as when they are professionals, they just do it for a full-time (or part-time) job, unlike many of you who train 3 – 4 hours a week. When they turn pro, they are wiser, more experienced, better skilled, and are encouraged to spend a majority of their time in training.

When Kimbo was streetfighting, he was basically a pro. This was his JOB. He trained like most of you who own full-time schools. He trained while many of you punched a clock, and sat in your cubicles. He didn’t have many weapons in his toolkit, but the tools he had could be used to fix darn near anything. So when they started giving him all these extra tools, he:

  1. spent less time on the things he excelled at,
  2. clumsily fumbled with things that were new to him,
  3. had a difficult time adjusting to the “full” toolbox, which led to his slow response to decision-making during the fight.

 Bottom line, Kimbo was more dangerous when he used the same answers to nearly everything thrown at him. Now that he has clouded his strategy machine with too many options, he became like every other MIXED-UP martial arts fighter who has no specialty:  a jack of all, but master of nothing.I would like to see him return to the old Kimbo.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Blog Post 051610

I am catching hell trying to get these articles typed up.

A few weeks ago, my house was burglarized, and although they caught the parties that did it, the computers were never recovered. That, coupled with family issues and a big recruitment push we are doing at the school, has prevented me from dedicating enough time to the blog to keep the same momentum.

So, earlier today I was talking with a very close student of mine about the next leg of my martial arts journey. His name is Sajat Hutcheson, and he is one of my strongest fighters. Sajat has been studying with me since 2002, and I have been leaning on him to commit to what I believe should be his next level for his journey. I began teaching on my own in 1992, and nearly two decades later, I am asking for his advice.

Upon moving to Sacramento in 1999, I immediately went to work on establishing my reputation as a martial arts fighter first, and later as a teacher. I did this by entering tournaments and visiting local teachers and fighters, and working out with them. Within 6 months, my reputation was here and I started teaching right away. I heavily recommend this as a first-thing’s-first for aspiring teachers. Too many teachers skip this step, and look at their mission as not much more than a business venture. When I began teaching, my student body was much older than the one I had previously in Washington, DC–most of the guys were 30 and older–and they brought with them more dedication and maturity despite more physical challenges to the learning. Ultimately, I enjoy running a school with Dads and husbands. My students are mostly younger than me, but older than most, and they are stronger, wiser and easier to teach the intricasies in my arts. For the first time in my life, I focused on teaching and less on my own training. The result is that I have much more knowledgeable students than before. On the other side of that coin is that I also stopped training full time and have aged about 25 years in less than a decade. When I was 31, most people thought I was 21. Today, at 40, people think I’m… well–40.

So, here, I arrive at my Great New Idea.

I feel that I have done my job here in Sacramento. I do have some younger students that need the same amount of attention and care, but I have brought some very good fighters and martial artists a long way. The Great New Idea is this:  I actually enjoyed the two years I stopped accepting new FMA students because I was able to focus and develop a good core of new teachers without distraction. One of my big regrets is that I did not give my Jow Ga the same amount of attention. And in saying MY Jow Ga, I am speaking of my own skill. For my next level of my martial arts journey, I am looking to develop my Jow Ga knowledge and skill to my own standard of expertise. If anyone would like to study my Kuntaw and Eskrima, I recommend the following men:

  • Sajat Hutcheson
  • Abdullah Jinn
  • Habib Ahmad
  • Darrell Spann
  • Izhaar Samut
  • Jatinder Lal

They are fully qualified to teach my style, and I would put my money on them against any man reading this announcement. I have at my school about 5,000 flyers, and when the last one is distributed, I will not accept any new FMA students until further notice.

And for me and my Kung Fu, I have 50 forms and weapons to teach. The student who has learned the most is Charles Azeltine, who is also the webmaster of my school’s website. When I am satisfied with my Kung Fu and that of my Kung Fu student’s skill, I will resume taking on new FMA students. I estimate that this will take me about 4 years to accomplish.

Would you like to hear my plan?

  1. Renew my ability to perform Jow Ga forms
  2. Incorporate more Jow Ga into my personal fighting system
  3. Compare my Kung Fu to others by competing in competition
  4. Study and develop my Jow Ga to a higher level than that which I have already attained
  5. Pass this knowledge and ability on to my current group of students


We’ll be posting some progress and insights here on this blog. Stay tuned! Thanks for visiting my blog….

Making Sense of Kung Fu “Animals”

Over the years, I’ve read with amusement some articles about martial arts “animals”. First it was Kung Fu people who really did not have a good grasp of the animal styles within their own systems. Then it was the Kung Fu people who learns styles with no animals, trying to add “hidden” animal styles to their arts. Then it was Kenpo folks trying to make their arts appear more “Chinese”, by adding animals. Then it was Silat people. Now, it’s Burmese/Filipino/Southeast Asian/other exotic styles.

Somebody’s been watching too much “Black Belt Theater” on TV Land.

I would like to share with you readers a true secret of the martial arts. And once I share this with you, many of you will change your stories (because you’ve probably been pushing the same B.S.) or be embarassed. But the good thing is that you will be more educated than you were five minutes ago, and that’s the purpose of this blog.

The “animals” of most Kung Fu styles is not evident in the hand positions, or the way the fighter imitates the way each animal fights–but the characteristics and attributes of the animal. Some animal styles are in fact true animal arts, for example Eagle Claw style Kung Fu. Yet most Kung Fu styles are only borrowing the general strength and character of their mascot, not necessarily the way that animal fights.

We really can’t teach this on a blog, but let’s take a look at some generic info about each style.

  • Tiger Style – Powerful upper body techniques; forward movement when attacked; stressing counter attacking over defense; powerful fingers, wrists and forearms; crouching stance to reserve power for initiating attacks
  • Crane Style – Quick footwork; evasiveness; emphasizing defense and counterattacks over initial attacks; expert use of the front foot in fighting
  • Leopard Style – Attacking the opponent’s low line; fast and far-reaching footwork; ability to chase and attack simultaneously
  • Snake Style – Attack the opponent as the opponent attacks, but with narrow angles; evading with body movement rather than footwork (unlike the crane, which emphasizes footwork); specializing in attacking pressure points; emphasis on accuracy, speed, and making the opponent miss by inches
  • Dragon Style – Superior strategy and knowledge of how to destroy the body; emphasis on inflicting permanent injury
  • Praying Mantis Style – Specialty is Chin Na, the art of seizing and joint manipulation; powerful grip and knowledge of the skeletal and muscular systems

Even if you have never studied an animal style, one could actually arrange his personal combat system by using these arts as a model. As always, I recommend finding a qualified teacher if this interests you. (You could always come to Sacramento and study with thekuntawman!) If not, at least drop the gang-like hand signs for these styles. That stuff is only for forms competitors and movies.

Thanks for visiting my blog. Make sure to get over to the “Offerings” page and check out my new book, Mustafa Gatdula’s How to Build a Dominant Fighter in 12 Months!  We have three new books coming soon… Check them out!

Producing Good FMA Instructors, pt VI

Learn the different learner types and teach them accordingly

As martial arts teachers we should learn student types, just as one would study fighter types. Each martial arts student has a preferred method of learning, and many of these students find it difficult to learn in any other form of learning than the one that suits them best. The teacher must observe how a new student reacts to various teaching styles (assuming that you utilize several forms of teaching in your classes), and once that student has been categorized, tailor the training to suit his personality.

I cannot go into detail with each type of learner (that is going to be saved for the book, Filipino Fighting Secrets Live:  Teaching Philosophy… Keep checking back with me for updates!), but I would like to introduce them to you to get your juices flowing:

  • The Intellectual–these students must make logic of everything they do. Sometimes, you can just do something because you’ve been told and eventually it begins to make sense. Take for example Chi Sao. Some students will simply do it, and months down the road realize that there is an application for it in real fighting. Yet others must see the logic in how it works, once you learn it, before they can understand how to play Chi Sao. With these students you will have to explain everything in detail and answer questions. It’s not that the student is being a smart aleck; he just doesn’t understand many techniques and skills unless you explain it in simple terms.
  • The Feeler–these students cannot watch a technique and know how to apply it well. For them, they must have hands-on experience with close supervision. Have you had a student who puts his right hand out when you say go left? Or twists the opponent’s wrist the wrong way when you showed him the correct method? He is not uncoordinated, he just is not a good imitator. This type of student must do it himself in order to “get it”. Many of these students will require you to be hands-on as well:  you will have to grab his hand and turn it for him, or get very close to have him mimic your movement while he is doing it.
  • The Imitator–this is the student who learns well by watching. You don’t even have to explain what you’re doing because this student sees what you did and can replicate it immediately. But don’t be content when he is “doing it” right, because there is a difference between performance and understanding, and one can be an Imitator and an Intellect at the same time.
  • The Challenger–this is the kind of student I am. Most techniques I see, I think “won’t work on me”. This is not a wise guy, he is simply a student who sees the counter to every technique he learns. The best way to make the Challenger learn? Put him with The Brawler and let them work it out.  Speaking of The Brawler…
  • The Brawler–this is the student who learns “moves” and not “techniques and strategies”. He is the kind of student who takes exactly what you taught him, and uses it on his classmates exactly as you taught him. While this seems like a good thing, it does have some shortcomings:  he is often very heavy handed and aggressive, and prone to accidents. On the good side, this student makes everything you teach him practical.
  • The Dreamer–this student must do the techniques in his mind before being able to perform it. This is the guy who is waving his hands around while you are teaching, and each time you demo a technique, he hits “replay” in his mind and tries it out while registering it in his memory. I am this type of student in a way, and I can tell you from experience, that even if he does not practice a skill much, he can improve the skill by performing it in his mind. In Kung Fu, I have learned over 50 forms, and I remember them because I’ve “performed” them in my mind. Some students need a hand-on experience, where this type of learner can just watch it, replay, and then “get it”.

Well, Mrs. thekuntawman wants me to cut the grass. Thank you for visiting my blog!