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

Lesson Martial Arts Mastery, from Ama Guro Billy Bryant

I have spent a lot of time in Stockton, California, lately and in the last month I’ve encountered quite a few martial artists–a few who practiced Arnis/Eskrima. There was an Eskrima group that was training at the University, a young man who worked at a Starbuck’s, an attorney, and two security guards.

To my surprise, all of them–including the gentlemen who seemed to practice regularly–were very casual in their approach to the arts. I don’t know if it’s a “Left Coast” thing, or a modern-day thing, or just coincidence. But the martial artists I came up with were pretty fanatical about their art. If you take a look around my students, you will notice that even the ones who train “casually”–a few days a week–are Hogs on the training floor. It shows in their confidence level, their toughness mentally as well as physically, and ultimately their skill in performing or applying the art. I would like to share a lesson from my old friend, Master Billy Bryant.

I used to visit Billy at his school in Pasadena, MD in the mid 90s to train and spar. He had hired a young man whom he taught his Cha-3 Kempo to teach the bulk of his classes. This enabled Billy to focus on his FMA full-time; although he only taught Arnis once or twice a week, Billy’s FMAs were 7 days a week. He was well-versed in other arts:  he was a certfied Jow Ga Kung Fu Sifu, yet taught only one Jow Ga student privately. He held a Tae Kwon Do Black Belt, along with belts in Kenpo, Jeet Kune Do and Jujitsu–yet he did not teach these arts at all. Tournament fighting, which I went to Billy for, was something he did very hands on. In other words, he would spar with me until he got tired of it and then he’d change the subject to Arnis. I was not interested in the same type of FMAs he liked, so I would change the subject back to sparring and try to lure him back into another match. Billy really was the man to beat in those days, and he didn’t have to actually teach a class for you to learn from him. Just put on the gloves and try to hit him and you got lesson enough.

But back to the FMAs, each time I came to see him, he was always trying something out. He was always handing me sticks and asking me to play the Sinawali with him (I was one of the only people who could do Sinawali for a long time with him, and the only one who could do it with the metal pipes), or engage in some drill or empty hands practice. After arriving around 2 each Saturday, there were many days he and I just slept in the school because we didn’t finish until 2 – 3 a.m. So that amounted to about 2 hours of sparring and then about 10 hours of FMA. And the only time it wasn’t that much FMA, he would entertain visitors from a host of other martial arts styles who would come to share, learn or trade. I learned Biu Jee from a man who had come from Baltimore to learn how to apply his Wing Chun to point sparring. I debated the importance of disarming with a man who came to Billy to discuss having him come out to teach a seminar in Western Maryland. I watched a gentleman teach him what appeared to be an entire curriculum of hand and knife techniques. After all of these men had come and left, Billy and I would often practice until the wee hours of the morning. If he had a student with him, that student would participate. I used to chuckle to myself about how a student would tell him several times that he had something to do, but he would coax the student into staying and practicing. He was amazing to watch, and equally amazing to exchange with. There was this feeling of, “if I just keep sparring with him, I may not beat him, but some of his skill will seep into my skill and I’ll get better.”

And I’d like to tell you this:  It does.

See, when you have a teacher who trains a lot, practices a lot, and you touch hands with him–just like a contagious disease–whatever he possesses you will soon possess through osmosis. Some of it is from imitation, in that we picture the martial arts we’d like to emulate, and then we mimic him. Some of it is from feeling the fighter’s energy and power; therefore, you learned what cannot be learned strictly through observation. But a lot of it is plain old osmosis. We are in the environment where excellence exists, and because we are there, we participate in its cycle. If you are around lazy people, you become lazy. If you are around fighter-tough guys, you become a fighter-tough guy. My son is an aggressive boy, and he likes to spar. When I first allowed him to join a Kuk Sul Won class outside my school (at the time I did not teach children and my boys’ class was for teenagers only), his behavior was seen as disruptive and too aggressive. But by the time I had started a class in my school for younger children and allowed my son to join, he had adopted the learning environment of the KSW class (Miss Kym/Ma’am, you are the bomb!) and their children began to enjoy at sparring where they once cried. Win-win!

Teachers must create the environment that demands the steps that lead to the outcome they want. Can you understand that? You see, Billy wanted to be famous. Anyone close to him knew that. So he employed people (like Police Officer Kenneth Willis) to write articles about how great Billy Bryant was and how much ass he could kick. But guess what? Billy knew that as a Black American, he would not be accepted as one of the best, unless he was clearly the best. I challenge any man reading this article to find anyone claiming that Billy Bryant was not at least one of the best.

At 50 years old, Billy could easily hand any man half his age his severed buttock and send him home with three shoes–two on his feet and one in his ass. He trained to make sure that he maintained that skill. And because of it–10 years after his last “sighting”–the primary internet search that brings people to my blog is “Ama Guro Billy Bryant”. The man was fully committed to excelling at the art, and was willing to do what it took to accomplish what he set out to do.

For those whose command of the English language is not as sharp as mine (you’d be surprised how bad I actually am!) let me reiterate, restate and reemphasize:

For Martial Arts Mastery you must have two very important things besides knowledge:

  1. The commitment to excel in the art
  2. The willingness to do whatever it takes to accomplish and fulfill that pledge

There are many out there who want to be martial arts “Masters”. So they take seminars. They saddle up next to the man, sitting next to the man, sitting next to the man… etc. They write articles, publish books and produce videos. They create mulitlevel marketing hierarchies and organizations and promotion venues. They pick up neat little tricks and drills and jargon and quasi-Tagalog terms to impress the sheep with. They marry Filipinas. They wear dresses and wrap their hair in bandanas and put patches on their uniforms. They take cool pictures with fancy Filipino weapons and famous masters. They join large organizations and build their reputations by having a lot of friends.

But none of those so-called masters can truly be a master until at least one guy who knows him proclaims “I wouldn’t want to encounter that guy in a dark alley” and mean it. In other words, MASTERY is a by-product of excellence. You’re not a master unless you excel. You don’t excel because you’ve been bestowed with a Master title or oversized name tag. The first step to becoming a master is, in fact, information. But the second step, which cannot be skipped or dismissed, is the importance of possessing far above average skill and command of the material you know. It must be as important a goal as acquiring the knowledge. You must acknowledge that simply learning is not enough, you must be able to do. What Guro Bryant knew of the FMA, he knew well and could do well. And as a teacher, he ensured that those around him were on that path themselves. We cannot fail to instill this sense of duty as martial arts teachers; if we do that we commit an injustice to our students.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

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5 Responses to “Lesson Martial Arts Mastery, from Ama Guro Billy Bryant”

  1. Hi! My name is Karim “Kris” Pasha,
    I’ve been searching for the last 6 years trying to reconnect with my instructor and friend Ama Guro Bryant. I really hate that I lost contact with him because he was really a great teacher and wealth of knowledge.
    I came across your blog as well as a nice article Dr. Jerome Barber did on him. I was a student of Ama Guro Bryant for over 9 years training primarily in FMA Blade and Baston, Kuntao, Cadena de Mano although he did share some of his Kempo with me as well.
    I really enjoyed your article about him and you are sooooo right he instilled such a hard work and training ethic. Being around him you couldn’t help but to be “fanatical” as you put it about the art too; he has such passion and love for what he does no matter the art. As well as a hunger to be the best at what he does especially as a Black Martial Artist in an art where there were few if any on his level. Dr Barber said “love him or hate him” well I was one of those who loved him…he was like my big brother and few were on his level.
    When I read your article…I had flash backs of our long seemingly forever training sessions in my back yard and training room in Florida. Busted knuckles, sweaty, joints hurting from being tripped, shoved and thrown, knots on my head from “improper movement “as he would say…like I could really get out of the way of his extremely quick strikes…lol. Man those were great times…you just don’t see many people train like that anymore…how I miss those days.
    Thanks for allowing me to reminisce for a few and remember my friend and instructor. If you come across any information on him please let me know.
    Thanks,
    Kris Pasha

  2. Hi Kris where r u located and r u still training ? I to have been serching for Ama Guro Billy Spoke with him about & years ago would love to speak with u Dwayne J

    • Hi Dwyane,

      Sorry for the extremely long delay in replying to you. It just so happens that I was thinking about Ama Guro Bryant today and decided to revisit this article to see if there was any new info. I saw that I had not responded to you so I doing that now.

      I mainly taught and trained in Ft Walton Beach and Panama City, Florida area. After retiring from the USAF, I relocated overseas to Kuwait for work. I don’t train as savagely as I used to but I do enjoy picking up the baston and bolo from time to time just to keep some dexterity and speed.

      Take care, keep in touch.

      Kris Pasha

  3. Wow what a wonderful and TRUE article Long for the Day when our Martial paths Cross!
    Stay Safe Dwayne

  4. In about 1993 (give or take a year or two) I was a student of his at his school in Pasadena. I only got to go up to Yellow Sash as I was only about 14. My grandfather was paying for the classes. My mother was an alcoholic, and out of nowhere just decided to stop taking me to class. I never even got a reason to this day, just an ”I don’t feel like it any more”. The first tournament I ever participated in was as his student. I lost to a guy that seemed like he was twice my size and Sifu (which is what I was told to call him at the time {remember, very green) was mad at the judges because he thought I should have won. I worked hard for the little bit of time I spent in his class and I loved it. In 2016 I am 39 years old and if this man ever started to teach again close to me and I found out about it I would try to sign the paperwork right now. If his school’s first day open was on a Monday I would be in there trying to sign up Monday night. He will likely never know how much his teachings meant to me in that little bit of time I was there. I always hoped he would open up another shool so I could go sign up again now when I had my own means to get there. He was a great teacher and I always wanted to go back to learn from him again. I guess things happen for a reason. Thanks for reading.


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