Sports-style Sparring Versus Combat in the FMA

This topic is probably a dead horse on this blog, but I believe it is a conversation we should have more often in the Philippine fighting arts.

Rhetoric has taken over the FMAs in the West, and because of the money-making potential for Filipino teachers in the West–and the influence we have over what is popular in the Philippines–rhetoric is now the new standard in the Filipino FMAs. A lot of attention is given to talk about these arts being a “warrior” art, while the average FMA practitioner (and even the average FMA teacher) is no warrior at all. The Philippine arts have really been reduced to a demonstration art; we are known more for our neat demos and tricks rather than real, provable fighting skill. The masters and grandmasters of old are the ones who gave these arts their reputation as fighting arts, yet the new “masters” and “grandmasters” can barely hold their jockstraps. The Cacoys and Manong Leos are slowly leaving us, and we now have to look up to the Dan Inosantos and “Grand Tuhons”…. did that piss you off? Well, it should. Most of you are wasting your money and energy pursuing goals other than fighting skill. Cacoy Canete and Leo Giron built their reputations with fighting matches, while Guro Dan is popular because of his association with Bruce Lee and in selling his products, while Grand Tuhon became famous by running his mouth and selling his products. That isn’t to say that Dan Inosanto and Leo Gaje aren’t good at the martial arts–anyone can see that they are. But they did not build their reputations the Filipino way:  By having matches. That’s all I’m saying. Manong Gaje does have a lot of good students under his belt, but the way he has politicked and marketed his art takes away from true respect for his knowledge… Guro Dan has basically sold so many certifications, when you meet a JKD/Kali “certified” instructor, you never expect to be shaking hands with a good fighter.

Now compare this to a Bahala Na student. Notice I said “student”, rather than “instructor”? Just carrying the name “Bahala Na” (assuming you’ve met a member of this group), you expect this person to be able to do some damage. I’m sure there are many good PTK and JKD/Kali people out there, but their teachers did not cement the reputation of the organizations the old fashioned way. Ditto that for Remy Presas’ Modern Arnis folks. When I think of these guys–all three–I think of high rank, drills, and name-dropping whose seminars they’ve attended. Yeah, you do FMAs, but you are not using FMA philosophy for how you approach your art. One group of martial artists are known for fighting skill, and the other is known for their associations and popularity. Huge damned difference.

Back to the topic.

There is something that accompanies commercialization of an art, and it stinks. I am speaking of poor fighting skill. Not just poor fighting skill, but people who don’t fight at all. You’d never hear anyone say that Muay Thai people can’t fight. And you’d never hear someone say Kyokushinkai people can’t fight. And you’d never hear people say that wrestlers can’t fight. And where do these fighters hone their skills?

In matches, in the ring, in a SPORT. But everyone agrees that these people can fight, correct? And you don’t have to be a grandmaster to have them skills, right?

So why are sissy-ass FMA PEOPLE knocking Doce Pares people cause they fight in tournaments? Why are they brushing off Billy Blanks because he was a point fighter and produced those homo (sorry) Tae Bo videos? Why are they ~whispering~ that even the MMA guys are not fighting in a realistic format because they are fighting with rules? Is there any fighter on this planet that’s fighting REALISTIC enough for you? Besides the gang bangers and prison population?

Come on, kids, let’s say it together:  YOU’RE SCARED TO FIGHT.

It’s not your fault. Your Guro is to blame cause he never made you do it. It was far easier to pair you up and slap hands together and tap sticks, than to make you pad up and duke it out. So you grew up being told the excuses your Guro made for not fighting, “I fight for real, not in those sissy tournaments… too many rules!”

Is that so?

So let me get this right, Homer… you’d rather fight to the death–with eye gouges, biting ears off, hidden blades and breaking bones, kicking ass and taking names–but you won’t engage in a safe, light-contact sparring match? You will do unrealistic drills and give-and-take-disarming/locking exchanges, but No Holds Barred has too many rules? You want us to believe that you’ve had more than your share of street encounters (therefore qualifying you to teach “street combat”), and you’ve never been to jail for these fights? You realize, I’m not 12 years old right?

Your Guro has sold his soul to the devil.

He’s lying to you. So he was a cop, or a security guard, or nightclub security or something. Maybe he was an aircraft loader in the military, or SP, or pencil pusher and had to do the two days of hand-to-hand combat course back in Basic Training. But I can assure you, that if he’d done all this fighting, he wouldn’t stop you from competing against another fighter in the squared circle. Hell, your GRANDMASTERS, if he did engage in sparring matches, even fought with rules. And it was a sport, too. Hopefully, you aren’t still believing that the FMAs came about from some death matches on the docks of Stockton. The only people who died on the docks of Stockton, were probably people dying to hear some more of that good jazz music they play on Friday afternoons. And I don’t see that many FMA players out there. Ohio Players, maybe…

Fighting to the death is not always the best way to train. You damned sure can’t do it in the classroom, so you’d have to simulate. Didn’t your Guro tell you that “guntings” are for breaking elbows? So how do you practice them?

Say it together… We simulate.

For those who are not all that educated (like me), that means “we pretend” to break each other’s bones. In those patty cake “hubad” drills, you aren’t really punching each other, you’re “pretending” to punch each other. When you do your sinawali drills, you’re not smashing sticks over each other’s heads, you’re “pretending” to hit each other.

You do not “combat” each other in practice. Sports style fighting is the bridge between practice and reality. It is not reality. We all know that, but apparently you don’t. I’m curious how many of you really try to break bones when you spar in your Tae Kwon Do/Kenpo/Kung Fu schools (cause we all know 99% of FMA classes are in the same schools you claim practice unrealistic martial arts). Too many FMA people are hiding behind rhetoric about only practicing life-or-death martial arts. They are hiding behind a disdain for simulated sparring, yet they practice simulated sparring with their Guros. They will claim to only fight for life and death and not for trophies, but they will never exchange real punches and kicks and sticks with you. Oh, and they will tap sticks and play patty cake all day long but only if you smile while you do it with them.

Sparring/Tournaments/Unrealistic Combat gives you the opportunity to try out your reflexes and exercise your scaredy-cat muscle. See, the more you face a fear, the less that fear will affect you. If you pretend that fear doesn’t exist, you will choke on it when the time comes. Sparring, then, helps you rid yourself of the fear and paralysis experienced when fighting. It gives you an idea of what it’s really like having an opponent trying to punch you, so that you have the reflexes to time a “gunting”. In my years in the martial arts, I have never met a man who could actually stop my punch with a gunting or a check-pass-strike drill. Never. And not because the technique itself doesn’t work, but because those who practice those techniques never practice them against a guy like me who is trying to knock your block off. And I mean this: any man reading this blog is welcome to contact me and I will prove it in person. If you meet any of my students, try it with them too, I guarantee you can’t stop their punch either.

Sports style fighting gives you the chance to find range and land techniques, even if only lightly. There is the element of competition, where you are pressured to beat your opponent to the strike, that doesn’t exist without the declaration of a winner and loser. The facing of a stranger also adds an element of unfamiliarity you won’t get with your classmates, or the sterility and friendly atmosphere of a seminar. Tournaments are adversarial, and that element of friendship just does not exist there. (Well, not enough of it) Martial artists need to experience it, harness it, and learn to manipulate nervousness into useful energy that can be turned against an opponent. In your FMA classes and seminars, you don’t have enough competition to put your skills to the test. And because of it, you are spinning wheels and not developing your martial arts skill into fighting skill.

In plain, simple terms:  You must engage in fighting matches with strangers if you ever hope to elevate your fighting skills to the expert level.

Thank you for visiting my blog.


Author: thekuntawman

full time martial arts teacher, full time martial arts philosopher, and full time martial arts critic

3 thoughts on “Sports-style Sparring Versus Combat in the FMA”

  1. Smack dead on In my book I addressed this- you did a much better job


    You as a Kuntaw student are not required to attend tournaments for belt requirement or for any other reason. It is, however, recommended that you participate in a tournament at least once. The standing rule for Kuntaw students is: if you attend a tournament, you may not just compete in sparring. You are required by tradition and by honor to compete in at least one other form or weapon division. This is to show other martial artists that you are a true martial artist, capable in many ways not just in fighting.

    Tournaments are a great way to meet new people, new styles, and different ideas. If you are a gun collector and all you do is polish your guns, what good are they in a time of de-fense? How do you know they will fire? If you collect guns and just cleaned them on a regu-lar basis- how do you know they would actually fire. And if all you did was shoot at a static target how would you know if you could hit a moving target? You take them to a shooting range, you sight them in. You may even set up targets to test your ability. Moving targets test your timing. Hogan’s Alley ranges put you under a little bit of pressure to shoot only when needed and at the right targets. If you take the guns hunting, you have a chance to put all aspects of your skills into effect.

    Tournaments give you a chance to hone your skills of timing, focus, controlling anger, controlling power in a controlled (somewhat) environment. How do you know a technique will work unless you use it in an environment other than your classroom training? In a tournament you are going against another style anew opponent and you are under pressure to not fail. Many Martial arts instructors keep their students from competing citing the inaccurate realism of actual combat. True, it isn’t real fighting but, it is against most arts philosophies to actually fight. Other than going into a bar and picking a fight, how do you do this? This can be a trial run so to speak of your abilities. By attending a tournament, you learn to go up against an unknown in a controlled environment. Without the fear of getting hurt. The only other way to test your skill s would be to start a fight and that is not allowed. Trophies earned in competition also help you to develop self worth as well.

    The goal of Kuntaw is not to create just fighters, but to build martial artists skilled in many aspects of their art and students that understand and can respect other systems of martial arts.

    Keep up the good work my friend

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