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

Martial Arts Students Today

A few nights ago, I was talking to Sajat Hutcheson–one of the instructors of my style–and he expressed his concern that I was giving up too much information about our style. I disagreed, and explained that the role of teacher has changed from times now gone, and that teachers have to find new and alternative ways to find students. While this is true, was constitutes a “student” has not changed, as there have always been many different types of students. How we teach them varies, along with what we teach them. It’s a little deeper than “beginner” student vs. “advanced” student vs. “disciple”.

Some of our students let us know when we take them on that they will only be here for a short time. We agree to take those students, even knowing that he/she will only study with you for one school year, or a summer, or even a two-week vacation. The Masters overseas take these students all the time. And not just in the Philippines after the bases closed. In my grandfather’s day, most of his students lived outside the area and came around only a few times a year. I’d heard stories of travelling Eskrimadors stopping by our home to have a match with him or my uncles and then staying for a few days up to weeks after meeting the family. He even learned some of his art this way as a young man.

I was one of those short-term students myself, when Istudied with Ernesto Presas and Boggs Lao. There were three other teachers I learned from, but I have since forgotten their names. And they taught me plenty while I was there and treated me like family. As a teacher, we have a duty to give them the most quality information and training we can give them, even if we dilute the amount of information we give them.

Another type of student is the one who wants martial arts training in general, but has no desire to fight competitively or even to be a killer on the streets. Whatever the motivation, these students are drawn to the art of combat despite not having a reason to compel him to want to hurt people. He wants to learn techniques, have skill, develop the fighter’s physique, understand the art’s intricasies. But the element of mental preparation or the emotional state of a killer does not interest him. Again, I say–we give this student as much as he wants and train him as well as we can.

Then we have students who will pledge their allegiance to us and our systems and organizations. These students are your soldiers, your champions. They are offended when another student or Master claims to be the best, because in their mind, we are the best–and he feels a duty to prove it. These students deserve more of our attention and the secrets from the deepest places in our minds, because there will be a day when we cannot defend the honor ourselves the responsibility is theirs. The drawback is that these students may not always be loyal, or may somehow betray you or your mission; and this is the gamble of the teacher-student relationship. How much do we impart, and when do we impart the special parts of our system? That is up to you, and I have seen at least two teachers carry this information to their graves. One Master in particular (not my teacher) once lamented in my presence, that he had no torch-bearer worthy, in his opinion, of carrying the title “Grandmaster” of his system. He ultimately named a Grandmaster, because of his age and health, but this “Grandmaster” couldn’t hold his jock strap when he was in his day. I wonder what lessons he held on to when he finally closed his eyes? Or did he teach it just to pass it on to a student who was unaware of the value of that lesson? This same teacher, when I asked him, told me two things:  (1) this student of his seemed to be more interested in some of the popular arts around at that time (Silat/Muay Thai) and had jumped on that bandwagon, and (2) this student was not a fight anyone, anytime kind of guy. As teachers, our job is to make sure that these two problems do not exist in students of this class. For a system’s champion to be valid, he must be capable of taking this art–as is, except for a few personal preferences–and being able to prove it’s combat superiority against anyone, anytime. And finally, he needs to be the best example of what this style can produce. We can’t guarantee it in everyone, but we must have it in at least one guy.

Out of that group, we have the true disciple. I have students who are good at fighting, and like to fight, and train and fight the way I recommend doing so, but then I also have students who are so intimate they know my weaknesses and the dirty little secrets that even some of my family members don’t know. Often, these students are unaware that they are in this role–of disciple. This student has been around me outside the classroom so much, he can easily imitate me and can do the things I can do. It isn’t usually a classroom-learning type of environment. For example, I have literally sat at my grandfather’s feet pounding a brick while he smoked his pipe until one day the brick broke. After that, my younger brother and I went to my father’s house (where he was preparing to build a huge barbeque grill out of red bricks) and broke almost all of his bricks.  There was no secret to my learning to break. He just sat us down and told us stories, talked about fighting and the psychology of martial artists, yet made us pound the bricks while he talked. Was the lessons’ focus the lecture topics? Or the practice? I learned to pierce fruit with my fingertips the same way. I learned to break rattan the same way. Development through osmosis. Many of the things I learned were taught to me in one conversation or one practice. And many of the things I learned, I did so while sitting at his feet while he rocked on our porch, running his mouth. My closest students learn from me while we crack open crabs and lobster (my favorite weekend treat), or sitting at my dinner table, or listening to me while I water my garden. Yet in the middle of all that are many sessions where I do not teach; instead, they perform thousands and thousands of reps of a technique I taught them years ago–that they probably dismiss as some basic skill most people know. I even have a student who is borderline disabled, rarely practices (in fact, he practices more with another teacher, who is also my student, than with me), yet when I ask him to spar… with whomever it is, he gets up and destroys that person. These students have the benefit of classroom training and skill and killer workouts, but they also have the added bonus of learning the innermost workings of my art and why things are that way. You can’t buy that with any amount of money.

Finally, we have the new-age student that wasn’t around 50 years ago, and this leads me to the point of my discussion with Sajat. Many of my “students” and I have never met in person. They will probably never meet me or train in my school. They do not have knowledge of even my first 7 stick strikes or how strong my grip is. But they are molded–shaped–more by me and my art than their own teachers. I have had teachers denounce their systems and name their schools after me, adopt my method of teaching, even send me their curriculum and teaching plans for approval. Some of these teachers have actually mailed me money, but most have not and never will. In the same way Hitler was a student of Marx and Lenin, or Maria Ranier Rilke was a student of Rumi (they lived 5 centuries apart), these students are my students through this blog, through email and through the phone. By contrast, I have taught men for 3-4 years, had bones broken by them, even committed a crime once defending one of them, and their school’s website makes no mention of study with me. I would say that some of these internet students are my students, but instead of learning martial arts skill from me, they are studying martial philosophy from me. I have a gentleman on the East Coast I last saw when I was in my 20s, whose curriculum I developed, and we talk by phone at least once a month. He never studied in class with me, yet his fighting art is eeringly similar to mine, he even uses my terminology. Is he not a student of mine? When I first offered my books, he bought several copies of each one.

So, to answer the question of whether I am giving up too much on the blog, maybe. If you’re one of the guys who waited for years before learning what I’ve put on here to be read in 15 minutes, possibly. But for those whose only exposure to my art and philosophy has been this blog and my books, it’s not enough. And trust me, without the right amount of background this blog is of little use to you. But it is a resource for FMA people–all martial artists, really–and I think my art is propogated, and my readers’ art is slightly enriched by it. I hope that some of you will take the plunge to travel here to the West Coast to study with me, or catch me when I travel. Or buy my books! Of course, many things won’t appear on this blog, and as selfish as I am with information you’d best believe that I have much more to offer. You just have to find a way to give back to me in order to get it.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

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4 Responses to “Martial Arts Students Today”

  1. In the Philippines, GM Estalilla’s father had guys come by from throughout the Philippines, and they often paid in kind (e.g. a bale of tobacco) for just one or two techniques.

    The Internet allows the teacher to cast a wide net, influencing others, and maybe some of those will actually travel to study with him.

  2. It’s good to see you writing again guro.I hope I’ll be able to train with you some day.

  3. I’m not sure where you are getting your information, but good topic.
    I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding more.
    Thanks for excellent information I was looking for this info
    for my mission. how to search for vine users


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