How to Use a Tree for a Training Partner

The tree is one of those old-school Filipino training tools that anyone from a traditional, backyard master will understand. I cannot claim to have trained with many old Filipino masters, but I have met many and exchanged with their students. And I can tell you of the ones I met, all of them use the tree for their empty hand training. If we ever get a chance to meet and exchange hands, you will see for yourself what training with a tree can do for your empty handed martial arts skill. Those who did this kind of training can always tell when a man has not, and when you exchanged with a fighter who has, you will always remember it.

Oh, let me qualify something. When I speak of the old traditional masters, I am not speaking of anyone with foreign/Western connections. We’re talking about the old farmer or old Lolo who just “knows a little”, but can destroy you with his hands. I have an opinion about legitimate FMA masters who read American magazines and then emerge from their provinces with some drills and patty-cake empty hand they claim had already been there. This is why I have little interest in the famous guy, the spotlight-chaser who is doing his best to make his FMA “look” like FMA. But the guy who kept his art pure, with simple, destructive hand techniques… this is the kind of martial artist who would use this training tool. And he’s not going to waste his time trying to come up with fancy-ass ways to make tree-training look cool, or cute, rhythmic drills to put on youtube. If you are looking for real FMA empty hand to bring into your fighting style, listen closely.

The tree is a great training partner because even the young sapling of a tree is more solid and stable than a man. It does not complain of fatigue or pain. It has no ego and won’t try to hurt you. The tree just does what a tree does best–just stand there and be strong. And most of all, what I like about trees is that they are free. (yes, the Guro is cheap!) No need to purchase assembled cherrywood anythings to prepare for this kind of training. And this is the kind of training your Guro’s master did.

  • the basic use for the tree is to bang your blocking techniques against it. i recommend doing so in conjunction with footwork and allowing your movement to coordinate with the moment of impact against the tree. this will help you develop a strong rooting in your own positions while fighting, so that even stronger opponents will not be able to push you around.
  • fist makiwara-style training. if your hand is not ready to train on the tree bare-handed, i recommend wrapping a towel around the trunk and taping it in place with duck tape. or you can simply pad a square and tape that to the tree.
  • practice your pushing and checking against the tree. if there are low level branches, use the branches as arms for other techniques
  • practice your hooking and capturing skills against the base of the tree–or as in the case of the last example, a low level branch
  • the low-level branch is also helpful for close-ranged stick grappling and trapping. I wouldn’t recommend actually hitting the tree with your stick. If you wanted to do some power striking, I would suggest hitting a punching bag or padding the tree before you hit. but the branch will help you manipulate an opponent and do a far better job controlling him, since you will then be working against a human being who does move, feel pain and fall off-balance
  • practice grabbing and pulling. you can also wrap a towel around the trunk and either practice your pulling or your throwing technique. example of practicing a hip throw against a tree:  either wrap a towel around the tree or actually wrap a gi jacket around the tree and grasp the ends of the towel or the lapels of the jacket. then as you would an opponent–try to “throw” the tree. of course it won’t work, but you will get a good amount of practice against an uncooperative opponent.
  • if you are familiar with use of the mook yan jong (wooden man), a tree is a worthy replacement. and did i mention that it was free also?

You know, Filipinos are cheap, but innovative. Perhaps it is because our thirftiness makes us innovative, or our innovativeness makes us cheap… But the tree is a great training tool to learn pain tolerance, power and strong stance work.

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Slow Down to Move Faster, pt III (Know When to Hold Em)

I wrote an article a year ago entitled “Slow Down to Move Faster”. This is the third in a series on this subject. In order to understand the point of this third installment, I would like you to read the first, then the second article, located here.

When fighting a wise opponent, he is trying to figure out several things. If you are a wise fighter, you also need to gauge and identify them first. Here is a short list:

  • if your opponent is faster than you are
  • if your opponent is stronger than you are
  • what his favorite techniques are
  • what his best weapons are
  • what are his weaknesses
  • whether or not he is more confident than you, and if it is possible to break that confidence, and finally:
  • gauge the timing of his techniques

All are somewhat difficult to figure out if you are not an experienced fighter.

Note: My definition of “experienced” fighter is one who has faced many opponents from different styles, sizes, skill levels and strengths…

The last item, however, is the most difficult to read. The reason I say this is that an opponent may be slow in his footwork or fighting stance, but quick to attack. He may have slow hands and fast feet (or vice versa). There are many variations to an opponent’s speed and one cannot arbitrarily lump a fighter “fast/slow” categories. You must be observant and quick to take note–and then quick to take action. This is the reason why fighters with just one way to fight are at a great disadvantage in combat, as there is a weakness to every strategy. A fighter, then, must have several methods available to him with equal effectiveness. When it comes to timing, you must know when an opponent’s attack will reach you and be able to adjust your counters to beat it. This is far more than simply beating a man to the punch.

Allow me to elaborate.

In attempting to counter an attack, you must choose the right counter to strike at the right time. This is not easy. Everyone has a “stone-paper-scissors” set of counters for possible attacks. In theory, almost everything works. In practice, almost everything works. But in execution, most strategies do not work the way they do in practice; and if you have not investigated and modified how you practice nothing will work. Even the valid techniques will fail if they are executed too soon (by moving too fast) or too late (by moving too slow), or reach in too far (by improperly gauging distance) or not far enough. The opponent may not have covered enough ground–expecting you to stand still, but you moved–or he may enter your range much closer than you expected because you moved towards him when he thought you would retreat. So, we are looking at a front leg side kick counter against an opponent who is attempting to hit you with a reverse punch versus a skip side kick counter when he has launched the same attack from a further distance (or he moved slow enough). You must choose smart and use what he has done earlier in the fight to make your choice.

So, let me get right to the point, and then maybe I can explain it in greater detail later:

  1. you do not always have to move at top speed. many of the fastest fighters will slow down when engaging an opponent to get the opponent to expose himself and make a mistake. when the mistake is made or the opening is created, he has the speed to capitalize on the gap and strike before the opponent can retract or respond.
  2. you should vary the levels of speed you use so that the opponent cannot gauge your timing. inexperience fighters move at the same rate of speed the entire fight and can be timed right away. stupid fighters move at top speed, all the time. the disadvantage of moving at your fastest speed all the time is that you can be timed immediately, your speed will gradually decrease–and quickly–and you will tire yourself out.
  3. one of the reasons to slow your rate is for you to be able to adjust your power quicker. when you are rushed in your movement, it will be difficult for you to regain balance and establish a good position to load up on power. moving slow will allow you to both decide when to load up as well as have the ability to use power while moving.
  4. if your opponent has not adjusted his speed to yours, by moving slower while changing position frequently, you can better gain a superior position and catch the opponent when he is not ready.

So, just like the Kenny Rogers song “The Gambler”… a fighter must know when to reserve his power and speed, and when to let his “hair down” and let loose.

Thanks for visiting my blog. And if you liked this article, you’re sure to love my upcoming books:  FMA Philosophy and Teaching Philosophy! Look for them in January 2011!

And for those who appreciate an oldie but goodie, enjoy! (who would have known that the great Kenny Rogers understood Eskrima fighting??)