What a Master Does Not Teach

You may have noticed when looking at Masters and their students, that there seems to be a disparity between teachers of equal rank under the same master. Normally–and dare I say this–a real master will not have a well-defined curriculum. This is because the path to mastery does not involve a lot of thought about “what will I do when I teach this art”. Most real masters of the art were more concerned with learning and perfecting the art as young men, and simply spent their time developing, testing and learning. Paper masters, on the other hand, spent their time playing Dojo and community politics; rubbing elbows with the right people, writing press releases, and getting seen in the media and pursuing rank and recognition. For those paper masters, they have had plenty of time to think about who-learns-what-and-when, because the whole reason they pursued the upper levels of the art was to turn around and teach and become well-known. These Masters most likely will have highly detailed curriculum, easier requirements to the next level, and most of all–more graduates.

Listen well, because I am going to give you some very special information you’re “Super-Guro” isn’t going to share with you.

Real masters always have a bunch of stuff you haven’t learned, let alone seen. But this is not on purpose or by design. The answer is very simple. Your master has actually forgotten more than he has taught you, and what you are learning from him are the remnants of what he has learned from his master. I will give an example. In my youth, my grandfather once told me of a technique he learned from a man who had somewhat beaten him in a match, which was called the “ice pick” technique. This is not a knife technique, but a close ranged stick style of fighting. Papa taught me the basics of the style and then we immediately began sparring with it. I only spent about 20 minutes or so sparring with my grandpa and had to stop because my shoulders and chest were beginning to cramp. Over the next few practice sessions, Papa and I sparred with this technique, until the techniques he taught me disappeared and all that remained was the skill I had at using the technique. I have since forgotten most of the tricks and basics (as he informed me that he had forgotten a lot himself) I learned in those few days of practice. But, like my grandfather, I was left with the use of the technique that is burned into my bones and muscle. I even lost the name of the man who taught him and the style he taught–all I remember was that he was from Cebu.

In turn, I have yet to teach this style in its entirety–or what I know of it in its entirety–to my own students. Not that I am witholding information or waiting for the right moment; I have simply forgotten to teach it to my boys. In playing, I have used it many times. There may be times I show a piece, but do not go into detail because I am teaching something else–and never return back to teach the rest of it. In fact, a week ago while reviewing video of me playing with one of my students in 2007, I saw myself utilizing this technique against him. He then asked me about it and I informed him of what I was doing and began to explain a little of what it was all about. He will be coming by my house tonight and I will show it to him.

But the unique thing here, is that I use the Icepick technique all the time. However, I have absorbed it into my close-range fighting style and it is nothing more than a skill now. When I teach those skills, I may spend a few weeks on one skill and once it is learned I will not teach it again for a long time, unless someone asks about it. I know perhaps about 100 strategies and style, and it would be nearly impossible for me to list each one in the effort to “standardize” my style as one has “standardize” Tae Kwon Do or Krav Maga. Each of my students have walked away with a different set of skills and techniques from my arsenal and none have it all. None, not even my baby brother–have ever seen it all. For my Jow Ga students, I “know” 46 forms and weapons. Yet, I know many more that I have not listed, performed, practiced… in years. I once spent about 2 years exchanging with a late Praying Mantis Sifu named Bernard Chong Warren. I know his foundation forms and even how to fight with his style, yet none of the forms he taught me are on my curriculum.

But why allow so much information to go untaught? Because each Master has a set of skill that he wants learned to a specific standard of proficiency. And each student’s training time is usually spent developing those skills. And most students drop out before that level of skill is reached. So, the few who hang around long enough will eventually receive most of it because of mere luck; you happen to be there on the day Master decides to teach it, or you ask the right question at the right time.

And something I am beginning to experience:  You get to a point where the frustration of students coming-and-going sinks in, and you no longer feel like teaching. I saw my Sifu go though this in the early 80s, where Dean Chin would walk in and fuss at the students about being lazy, go in the office to puff on his cigar and watch us on CCTV. And then an hour after class ends, he would approach the few students remaining in the school to practice and he would teach us something not on the curriculum or so far down on the curriculum one would have to be there 10 years to reach it. As a very young boy I learned to linger for this very reason. It is one of the reasons I had a special relationship with my teacher, and why I know forms that most of my seniors had never even seen. My grandfather tired of teaching in the early 70s, and then when we were old enough decided to pass what he knew to me and my brother in order to preserve his art. He told us a very profound saying that only the old masters beyond the retirement age understand:

A Master would be lucky in his lifetime to have the one perfect student.

His advice to me about this? Do what I did, and take your sons and grandsons, take control of their lives and teach them in the manner you see fit. No one else will submit to the life of a true warrior. Sadly enough, I understand why this is true. Each master has loyal students, but they are lucky if one student will stay long enough to get the last of his knowledge.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Fighting with Largo Mano

First let me say that I disagree with the FMA community about the existence of three ranges of Eskrima combat (“close”, “medium”, and “long”). In my opinion, for *fighting*, there are only two ranges–short and long. What many consider to be medium range is my definition of “long” range. I do not acknowledge the FMA community definition of “long” range, because that range is not really a fighting range it is a “safe” range. Sort of like two guys boxing. If they stay so far away from each other that they cannot hit each other, they are not fighting at all.

Next, the styles of fighting known as Largo Mano, Singko Tiros, and Ocho Ocho are essentially the same thing. I have studied all three, and have learned that they are merely terms for a specific way of fighting. Now, each teacher had his own methodology and approach to training and fighting. Yet the tactics and techniques of each style are almost identica. The only difference have been that each teacher claimed ownership of the styles and that they have minor changes to the techniques which identified the system rather than change the use. And example of this would be what is known as the roof block followed by the leg hit (we call it a number 3), performed by the Largo Mano fighter; while the Ocho Ocho fighter would simply use that combination as one side of his Figure 8 motion with the stick. And finally, the Singko Tiros guy has the same combination as a part of his Asterisk or Star-shaped striking pattern.

I am not a fan of teaching my art–not even teaching another master’s art–to strangers, but I would like to share some wisdom from this very effective fighting style with you.

What makes Largo Mano a unique system is that you must control the distance to keep the opponent at a stick’s length. This will prevent him from being able to grab your stick, grab you, or use his hands and feet effectively. Doing this will keep the opponent fighting with his weapons only, and force him to deal with your weapon. Because of this, Largo Mano is more of a power-striking style. Meaning, we do not emphasize the combination as much as we emphasize the destructive ability of the stick. Shorter ranged styles will emphasize the combination as you are setting up your opponent for the finishing blow, while in Largo Mano every strike thrown has the potential to be that blow.

The trick to controlling the distance is three-fold. First, you use footwork that cannot be cut off. This means that rather than using a back-and-forth style of movement, you will chose a semi side-to-side movement. The side-to-side movement is not really left and right, but rather it is like the minute on a clock–you will move to the side but keep your focus on the opponent. This type of movement does two things: it keeps you at an angle to your opponent and it keeps your opponent from remaining stationary. The angle is an advantage to you because your opponent’s natural ability to defend and block is altered because the strikes do not come at the same angle as if you were standing directly in front of him. Keeping the opponent from being grounded will prevent him from having 100% accuracy and power as he will constantly be off-balance and unfocused.

Second, you must use your free hand to keep the opponent from getting too close. In close range style, the free hand is used to check, trap and grab. But in long range Eskrima you do not have easy access to the opponent’s stick or arm. However, there will be many times in the course of the fight that your opponent will enter your safety zone and will need to be kept away so that your stick remains effective. Basically, the free hand is used to push the opponent as well as clearing the way for your strikes. We do not expect opponents to comply with us by staying at a distance. And due to the unpredictability of combat, you must quickly recognize each instance the opponent is too close and then deal with that occurrence to maintain superior range.

Lastly, you must utilize the strike to keep the opponent from getting too busy. Power striking requires a clear path to the target. The more an opponent moves and attacks, the fewer opportunities will arise for you to be able to take a good powerful strike. There are several ways to use this:

  1. snap the opponent’s hand each time it extends
  2. even when the opponent is too far to hit his body or head, attack his stick with a very powerful strike. This will make him hesitate out of fear for your power
  3. utilize the leg hit to keep him from getting too comfortable in his position
  4. attack his attacks. not just omitting blocks, but use powerful blocks to deal with his attacks

There is a fourth strategy and I will deal with it in greater detail later. And that strategy is to keep the stick off the centerline. When the stick is on the centerline, it is easier to follow and stop. But when the stick is far from the centerline, the opponent finds it difficult to block, check–even see.

Hopefully this article has given you some ideas for your own fighting style. Thank you for visiting my blog.