This lesson is more than just a lesson about where to train, but an attitude—an approach—to your training. My grandfather was one of the most able of the older masters I’ve met in my lifetime. He was old and falling apart, but still strong and agile. Where he lacked in finesse he made up for it in power and the remaining ability to spar. Many of the older masters I have had the pleasure of meeting and seeing move had very little of their old selves left, so we respected who they were and what they’d accomplished. But my lolo was one of the men who left you scratching your head at how a man of his age could still do what he did.
He attributed much of this to his lack of pickiness in his youth.
I often laugh with my students at these know-it-all arnisadors who sometimes come by my school to buy sticks (I sell them for $5 a stick, btw. A good weight and quality) and they try to show their “experience” by rolling the stick across the floor (to see how balanced the stick is) or holding the stick at an angle (to see how straight the stick is). They will twirl the sticks, run through a few sinawali and then ultimately “reject” a few and choose a few. I can imagine the McGuro going back to his guys to brag about how he chose the best quality sticks for them, as an “experienced” Arnisador.
Have you ever seen the old Masters choose a stick? I have. And they take their machetes, hack off a branch—any width—trim the extra limbs, throw a few strikes to “learn” the stick, and get right to work. This is how I was taught to choose my sticks…you just go and get one.
I learned how to pretend to be stick-saavy at Arjuken, by watching my older brothers at the market choosing sticks. They would lecture me on how to get a “good” one, how to tell if the stick had a good balance, the correct measurement (tip of the pinger to the armpit por close range, tip of the pinger to the solar por long range), and the right weight for me and my level of strength. Fortunately, I outgrew this right away when I visited my Uncle Vincente and he laughed at me for trying to find a straight one in the back of his house. Boy! Don’t you know God doesn’t make his sticks straight??? Just heard a good echo of a laugh.
My grandpa use to say that a good fighter doesn’t need conditions to fight effectively. He can fight in any circumstance, in any situation, against any opponent, whether in his Sunday shoes or barefoot, regardless of whether there were rules or not (because we all know, EVERY fight has rules, even streetfights). A fighter who limits himself and his surroundings will have limited options when it counts. If you can’t pick up a stick, regardless of what kind of stick, how crooked, how light or how heavy, even however awkward, you can’t call yourself an “expert” stickfighter. The expert is the guy who can fix a car with a roll of duct tape, a screw driver and a pair of pliers. We want to be like that; the kinda guy who wins gun fights with a knife.
So, in training my students, I will take them out the school to train. We will end up on a hill, on uneven ground, with obstacles—sometimes potholed parking lots, sometimes groundhog hills or tall grass. And baby, you’d better be able to move without missing a beat! I don’t want them so spoiled that they need completely flat ground to train on. After all, the only thing God mad flat was bad beer and butts.
I apologize, that one was mine.
When you train on uneven ground, you are making yourself stronger, don’t cha know. You are forcing your body and legs to adjust to the variations in the terrain in a split second, and to be able to move effectively. You are relying not on the stability of the ground upon which you are standing, but solely on the skill of your footwork and the sense of balance in your mind. In this, nothing is a surprise, and you are able to maneuver without having to look around at your surroundings; to let your feet do the walking and to let your feet determine what move you need to make next. Your feet sense where you are, determine how your weight should be distributed, and in what way you will move next. And you can’t develop this kind of footwork dancing around some darned triangle.
It’s the same way with the Eskrimador who preaches that if you “know” Eskrima, you can pick up anything and work with it—a belt, a bottle, a rolled-up newspaper… you know the spiel. But is this truly an “impromptu” weapon? After all, you learned these improvised weapons on the Inosanto/Presas/Sulite/you name it video, or in some seminar somewhere. You’ve rehearsed your Sinawali with that newspaper so much your Dog shivers every time you look to see who won the game last night. Yeah, but I’d like you to try that crap with a briefcase or a bag of White Castle burgers. Man, I told you… a stick is a stick, is a stick. So, you can use an umbrella like a stick on demand, but you won’t work with a stick if it’s a little curved? Thank God for those DeThouars! The rattan suppliers now have a way to get rid of all those L-shaped sticks they keep hauling in with the day’s catch. And now, the JKD/Kali guys can teach something that’s got the Indonesian masters wondering, “What tha???”
Ah, business is good. But how do they check them sticks for quality? Hold em up against their elbows? LOL
The idea behind this skill—the true skill of improvising and working with what you’ve got—is to work with what you’ve got, for reals (as my 10 year old would say). Train any and everywhere. And just be damned good at it. There’s no way to prepare for a fight while holding a can of tuna, unless you train with, well, cans of tuna. But what if it’s a can of tomatoes? Do we need drills and videos of drills with tomato cans?
They already have those. Half the damn Panther Video line-up has that covered. Not to mention Don “the Dragon” Wilson ’s opponents in his straight to 99-cent video movies!
My point is, just don’t be so picky. Train with a lot. Cover a lot of bases. And be really basic with how you practice—just learn to hit and to counter-hit, and how to move. Do that, and you will have a nice set of functional movements to work with. The more unfamiliar ground you cover, the less awkward everything will be. Remember, an expert fighter is functional regardless of the circumstances he finds himself in. If you refuse a point match because you don’t like rules, you’re limiting yourself. If you roll your sticks before training with them, you’re limiting yourself. If you have to have a clearing to practice outside, need to have the right shoes or uniform, only practice certain forms of the art, reject certain weapons because of preference, you are limiting your ability to do whatever arises when it’s time to do it.
So, if the Master is teaching in a bullet-riddled building with pimps, prostitutes and drug dealers walking around out front, you are missing the opportunity to train on uneven ground. And the unfamiliar is what we strive to get to know.
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