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

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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