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Pay Your Dues

The martial artist, I always say, must not skip any of the stages in his development. That is, if he intends to be a career martial artist.

The following are some generic stages I believe are crucial to any serious martial artists’ “career”, if you will:

  1. Novice Student
  2. Experienced Student
  3. Advanced Student
  4. Martial Arts Competitor
  5. Assistant Instructor
  6. Freelance/Traveling Martial Artist
  7. Novice Teacher
  8. Established/Experienced Teacher
  9. Rival
  10. Master

We won’t go into much detail about each level (this is actually something I am writing about for the upcoming book), but if you want to be taken seriously as a martial artist–as a long-term, career martial artist–you must have spent time in each of these roles.

Too many people don’t want to touch on each stage and want to skip. I have met FMA “teachers” who have confided in me that they have never fought anyone outside their own “circle of safety”–friends and classmates. How can a man teach an art that he has not actually done? And I have news for you–practicing drills and sinawali with people, anyone, is not “doing” FMAs.

One thing the seminar industry has taken from the martial artist is the idea that he must “pay his dues”. Attending or teaching seminars is not “paying dues”. Participating in discussions on online forums is not “paying dues”. Getting your fingers smashed, your elbows wrenched, or getting stitches after some bozo smacked you a little too hard with a stick is not “paying dues”.

The experience of being a nobody in your field and earning respect through nothing more than skill is paying your dues. Having lights cut off because you’d rather teach the purity of the art than accept 5 year old Eskrima students is paying your dues. Facing a skeptical teacher man-to-man, instead of talking behind his back or fuming at his Martialtalk posts, is paying your dues. Taking on a new local martial arts community as the new kid on the block is paying your dues. Losing fights because you are new to the game, or are out of shape, or just had a bad day–and recovering from it by becoming a more knowledgeable, humbled fighter is paying your dues. Having your heart palpitate because some other martial artist you don’t like has called you to the carpet (like a man) and you are fixing to show him what you’re made of is paying your dues.

The test of a martial artist is not what he can show you when you’re on neutral ground or a peaceful environment, but how he handles stress, anger, nervousness of being under pressure. Too many martial artists skip fighting in tournaments, or asking another teacher for a match, or teaching in his own school without the comfort of an association because it’s just safer. They don’t like stress, won’t engage in debates about his art, and certainly, won’t fight. You cannot be an effective advocate for a style if you’re not willing to defend it.

There is a saying, that martial arts effectiveness is not to be argued or discussed; it can only be proven. If you’ve never been asked to prove that your style is effective, you have no business teaching.

You must earn your stripes with an uphill climb. You must know the feeling of being the junior among masters. You must have assisted a teacher without pay, kept his secrets about his faults and shortcomings, taught for him while he was dealing with marital problems, taken on wise guys off the street on his behalf, passed out flyers for him in 10 degree snow and 110 degree heat. You must have been the senior student that junior students imitated, as well as the guy who corrects him during open practice. You should have been the guy training in the backyard when your teacher couldn’t afford to keep his school open. The new teacher in town trying to build a reputation. The guy who asks another teacher to step out on the floor and prove his point.

In other words, you have to have been the guy who has been there, done that. You need your own war stories to tell, and have enough of them that other people tell stories about your experiences.

Because martial arts mastery involves more than a title you get because your teacher liked you. Or the prefix you slap on cause you’ve got a few gray hairs. Or been in the art a long time. Or published a lot of articles. Or won a lot of trophies. You must have seen and learned and forgotten more martial arts than most people have seen. Develop your own story in the art; one so peppered with experiences and stories, that others would want to read it. Not a resume. And if your martial arts life isn’t interesting, then I would say that you have not “paid your dues”.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

This Dojo Needs an Enema!

I have a good friend from Baltimore (who also used to train with Guro Billy Bryant) named Kenny. Because he is an LEO, I won’t share his full name–but if you know Billy well, you must know Kenny. He is more of a fighter/boxer than martial artist, but Kenny is about as serious a martial artist as one can be. He can fight better than most martial artists I know, but doesn’t possess any of the silly things martial artists enjoy–like rank.

When Billy Bryant was developing his system–back when he was a Kenpo guy trying to learn the FMAs, Kenny was there. When Billy was researching the real history (or the “historic history”, as Billy used to call it)… it was Kenny that went to the Library of Congress gathering the facts.

Anyway, I said all that to say this:  that I respect the hell out of Kenny and he is one of the people who influenced the way I am as a teacher and as a fighter. When I was struggling with joining the commercial FMA people in order to build my business and afford to send my mom back to the Philippines to a nice home–Kenny helped me take what I do best and make a living with it. At the same time, when I was experimenting with ideas about fighting and the martial arts and combining my boxing experiences with them, he was my guinea pig as well as my conscience.

Well, when Kenny suggested that the modern-day martial arts school needed an overhaul, I listened.

Here’s the thing. There is a recession out there. People will still spend money on stuff they don’t need, they just don’t want to feel like they are spending money. You notice how people won’t pay the entire $100 credit card bill, but they will spend $150 on Starbuck’s–$5 at a time? (30 days times $5/day) Or let the $50 gym membership go, but spend $60 a weekend eating out?  Or put off $75 for tutoring for the kids, while spending $75 at the movies taking them to see silly movies?

The martial arts school owner must find a way to get our students to pay our tuition without feeling like they are putting out a large sum of money. Sort of like my private lesson students who used to pay $250+ for lessons each month. It sounds like a lot, but when they are spending $45 per session, it doesn’t feel the same way. It’s not a trick or gimmick, but you are giving the student the ability to determine how much he can afford to spend and how much he WILL spend… by charging “per class”.

Example:  I normally charge $149 a month for my FMA. Lots of people liked my school but didn’t join because that amount sounds high. But by using the “per class” method, I could charge $25 per class, and the students who could only afford $75 would attend 3 classes a month, the ones who could afford $100 would attend 4… and so on. I could make it as cheap as I want in order for students to be able to attend more classes–be creative!

Even if classes were $8 per class, and a student wanted to attend 4 days a week, he would spend $128/month. Or if his budget tells him to cut it off after $90, he could just limit himself. There is a benefit to you as well. If you’re anything like me, you will receive $6-7k from your students at the beginning of the month. You will pay a couple thousand on rent, another thousand on bills and advertising, then broke by the 20th of the month and giving your late students the evil eye while teaching classes. By receiving your rate by-the-class, every time a student walks in the door you have cash in hand, and it’s easier for him to manage and budget–than trying to come up with $100 by a certain date every month.

That’s all I’m saying…

So let’s look at one more thing. The class. Must it completely be a formal class? Consider this:  When you join a boxing gym, you pay a membership to come in. You change, then out onto the floor. Start with some warm-ups, then shadow box, then stretch, then hit the bags, then do a few stations, then at some point the trainer calls you to either hit pads with someone or jump in the ring to spar. With all of that–in about a two hour session–you’ve been training alone for most of it, and only spend a total of about 10 minutes with a trainer. Fighters who train like this–rather than in a formal class–are some of the most fit, most knowledgeable and able fighters around. And if you were to train in Asia, and take your pick; I’ve trained in 4 countries, they all train and teach this way. The most time you spend with a trainer other than when you are in competition training, is when you first join. This is where they give you the basic run-down of how to move, how to punch and how to kick. The rest of that time you are alone and someone only occasionally passes through to make corrections. And what drives you forward to fighting superiority is plain old hard work, and the old-fashioned idea of self-motivation that got lost in the modernization of the martial arts school. By creating a “corporate culture” of discipline and hard work, teaching becomes easier and you will be able to handle more people with fewer instructors. And the great thing here is that you eliminate the hassle of scheduling teachers, specific classes and time slots and conflicting schedules. No more objections to enrolling because they can’t get to class on time. No more trying to find a teacher for your 8 p.m. class so you can go home to have dinner with the wife. Students expect to train alone, and you can even have advanced students in the gym to watch the novices while they get their own workout in.

Well, that’s all I have for now. I hope I’ve given you plenty to consider (and reconsider) in respects to your schools. Maybe it’s time to give your school an “enema” and rid it of all the BS preventing your commercial success from arriving. Thanks for visiting my blog.





Thoughts on Gun Control

I once heard a saying, that if you outlaw guns then only the outlaws will own guns. How true.

It may surprise some of you, but I am politically a Republican. I am disgusted with the State of California being a welfare state. I don’t believe marijuana should be legal (alcohol neither, but that’s another topic). I believe that we should put controls on our borders. I believe in the death penalty. I call abortion murder. And I believe that outlawing guns will be a horrible mistake.

As a martial arts teacher, I recognize the need for a country to arm its citizens. A man with no form of self-defense will always be a victim. Peace and War are two different things; you cannot have peace without a form of warfare. It is the reason that the Palestinian has the problems he faces with the Israeli–he has no organized military, which is how he lost his home in the first place. The Native American, the native Australian, the African, the Irish, the Pacific Islander, and the list goes on. They were oppressed people–despite being peaceful people, and when war came to their doorstep, they had no way to stop them. Disorganized peace and love will always lose to organized war and hate.

The citizen who fails to prepare for war, is preparing to become victimized. You must know how to hurt someone else, have the tools to do it, and the mental ability to carry out the mission. The benefit of a firearm is that you can defend yourself without a lot of training; which is also the drawback from martial arts training. The saying, knowing enough to get yourself hurt is more appropriate for martial arts, than it is for handgun use. Give me two days and enough rounds, and I will have anyone shooting with proficiency. For the martial arts, one needs to dedicate hundreds of hours of practice just to have basic skill, and possibly thousands before having deadly potential. For the average citizen, the handgun is the perfect self-defense tool. He is not concerned about fighting style. He doesn’t need submissions and holds. If the average citizen is defending himself, it isn’t against a liquored-up combatant in a bar–it’s against a mugger, a robber, or a rapist. And if a man is arming himself with the intention to steal from another man or hurt him, he deserved a bullet in his ass.

Martial arts, on the other hand, is for the guy who believes he has a likelihood of engaging in mutual combat. Either that, or he has a sincere desire to learn to defeat another man in hand to hand combat with the options of keeping him alive or killing him. When a man studies the martial arts, and arrives to an advanced level of skill, I expect him to be able to choose the proper level of force to stop his opponent. I do not have this expectation of a woman facing a rapist in a laundromat… if she kills her attacker–well, he made his bed.  The handgun is the ultimate self-defense, self-preservation tool. It is the community’s equalizer, and the more people that have one, the fewer bad guys who will get away with committing crimes.

And in case you were wondering, those boys who were shot by Bernard Goetz deserved it. That’s what you get for fucking with people you don’t know. It’s an age-old tidbit of wisdom:  don’t let your mouth write a check that your ass can’t cash. You never know who has the sharper blade, so it is a good idea never to unsheathe it until you need it. The Jared Loughners of the world need for handguns to be popular; had more people been armed, he would have probably thought twice about doing what he did. That incident alone proves that you do need a firearm to go to the grocery store.

And for those who believe more handguns will result in more crime; phooey. Make potential gun owners go through the same paces as a teenager trying to get a driver’s license:  make him take a class, register, get a background check, take his picture, and then identify himself every time he makes a purchase. Trust me, the guys robbing and committing drive-bys aren’t going through all of that. You mean I have to register every bullet I buy to MY name? His homeboys won’t be able to get his ammunition either. But let the first few would-be muggers leave the scene in an ambulance, the bad guys will get the message…

Story time. I have two students who are armed security guards. They arrived at a client’s place (they both work the night shift at the same company) and encountered four men preparing to fight or shoot one man. One of my students told the guy with his weapon out to leave because he was threatening to shoot the lone man. When he refused, my student sprayed him with pepper spray and then the other three drew weapons. Both of my students responded and engaged them. Only one of my students, SL, was hit–in the hip–but the other, BS, was untouched–miraculously. All four men were hit and ended up in the hospital. Unfortunately, the man they were defending was killed, but his killers didn’t get away. And also, unfortunately none of the four were killed. Because they were outnumbered the outcome could have been worse, but they had extensive training and the four thugs were simply assholes with guns. (To be honest they were lucky) My point is that the playing field was level because of the weapons and the training, and the victim had a better chance of survival because someone else was armed. Imagine if my students were in the grocery store with the Congresswoman when Loughner walked in…

Disarm a community and I guarantee you that you will see the crime rate increase. Give them a means to protect themselves and the outlaws will have to find other ways to do their dirt.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

The Dedicated Fanatics in the Martial Arts

Over the years I have had students who were physically gifted but lazy or distracted, and I’ve had challenged students who were fanatical about their training. Guess who I preferred to teach?

Not every student who walks through your door already fit and coordinated will make a good student. The ones who had the most difficulty learning often become your most dedicated students. And many times–in my experience–you will find that they become your best fighters as well. There is something to be said about fighters who overcome obstacles that make them excellent martial artists:

  • they handle pain better
  • they are not as self-conscious as those who learned easily
  • they are humble
  • they actually get in more work
  • and because they struggled just to be “average”, they exceed their expectations because they are never satisfied with their performance

I have often said that a school cannot be built upon the backs of poor students. But this is referring to being built financially. As a teacher, you will have some students who will support the financial health of the school, and those who will build its reputation. A good teacher will make sure that everyone has the ability to build the school’s rep, but balance his business needs with the system’s needs. Not everyone who walks through your doors will be a killer, and not everyone will be able to keep up a $150/month payment. My closest martial arts brother, Master Raymond Wong (, has without question the best Kung Fu fighters in the Washington, DC., area. But he is also located in a depressed area and recruits many students who are on the lower income bracket. I have seen with my own eyes Raymond teach perhaps 20 or more students who are “on scholarship”. That’s right, these guys don’t pay a dime for their lessons. And if you just look at the message boards, no one can breathe “Wong Chinese Boxing Association” without also saying that they are the top martial arts school in the area. For a reputation like this, Raymond should be charging an arm and a leg. But he knows the importance of a strong reputation for a school’s longevity and a style’s propagation.

The students I have enjoyed teaching the most have often been those who have had a problem paying dues on time. Does it cause me a headache to have my income fluctuate? Yes. But it has also been a pleasure having students who will give me their time all day on Saturday/Sunday… even on holidays! Some of our best training have been on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, when most of the world is sleep or home with a hangover.

Recently, I had a student return back to California after losing her job a year ago. That’s right. This 40 year old woman actually returned from halfway across the map in order to get a job here in California so that she could spend more time learning from me. I have had students come from as far away as Canada, New Zealand, Japan and Australia to learn. And surprisingly, many of these students are not wealthy men.

I have had a student live in my school for a year.

I have had a student live in a trailer in the back of my school for the summer.

I had students who drove 3 hours once a month to train. He would convince friends to join, but only so that he could afford to make the trip.

I had a student who got off work at 6 a.m. and then sleep in his car for two hours until I arrived at 8:30 a.m. to train. He did this for nearly a year.

I had to give one student a “scholarship” because I had not realized that he was having a financial crisis, and was hurting his marriage in order to pay me tuition.

I had a student attend a university in town so that he could finish his martial arts education.

And the list goes on.

Recognize these students for who they are, and give them what they came for. I have long said that when we pass on a martial arts education, we are doing more than imparting fighting skills, we are giving them a vocational skill. I have a student right now in Fiji who was deported and lost all of his valuables when the U.S. government took him, and he is teaching martial arts right now. I have another student somewhere in Guatemala who has no education, but is feeding himself with the martial arts I taught him.

The martial arts, my brothers, is not an occupation or a hobby; it is a calling. And you help to fill a life-changing need, as well as they are helping you further your martial arts goals. It is so much more not about the money.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

The Advanced-ness of Simplicity in the FMA

I have noticed that many martial artists who get into demonstrating the art have delved too far into the technical aspects of the art. When I say “too far”, I mean it. TOO far.

Here’s the thing. Fighting must be spontaneous and instantaneous. Thinking during the fight should be one of those things that happens so fast that a blink of an eye would be too slow to keep up with the kind of speed I’m talking about. The advanced fighter must be able to demonstrate in fighting better than he can explain it. For all of the skills we could develop in the martial arts, we must have a set of skills so refined and second nature that “thinking about” what to do next requires no thinking at all.  When I say that a martial artist has gone too far into the technical side of the martial arts, I mean that they have taken too many “what-ifs” and become experts at explaining what they could do if you do this. The kind of guy who can show you 20 ways to counter a jab, but he can’t actually stop one in a real fight. Dan Inosanto and the Concepts folks are guilty of this, as are the Kenpo people, and most Kung Fu people I know. And in the FMA field, I would find it safe to say that almost 90% of the FMA people I have seen are far better at demonstrating against a willing “opponent”/partner, than they are at putting that demonstration to the test.

The solution to this is to streamline what you are practicing and focus on the most efficient way to get the job done. This is why I am always preaching that FMA people should focus on the destructive skills in the arts, rather than the “technical” skills–the “if-you-do-this-then-I-can-do-that” stuff. See, combat doesn’t care too much about how many variations you can find, or how you are able to improvise and “flow”. Instead it is a matter of who inflicts the most damage and who is the last man standing. In many of the cases of FMA people and training in the art, not enough time is spent developing the ability to destroy the opponent–even with those oversized toothpicks you call “sticks”.

We should rearrange our priorities and instead learn to create training programs to develop fighters, not thinkers. Here is my laundry list:

  1. develop a list of weapons that you can use to hurt or injure the opponent
  2. learn to move so that you cannot be caught, and
  3. so that you cannot be outmaneuvered
  4. learn power mechanics… for every technique in your arsenal, and train with them regularly
  5. learn and develop the best tactics for attacking the opponent and countering his counters, and finally,
  6. become a student of fight strategy

The final item on the list, studying strategy, is perhaps one of the most advanced things a fighter can do. Strategy is one of those things few people can say that they truly know. Most people just “know” tactics and techniques. Few actually learn how to plan a strategy; what most people do is learn “counter a punch to the head with a high block then punch at the opening below”. This is not strategy. Strategy is establishing the pace of a fight, the methods your opponent will use, forcing him to fight a certain way, creating openings, forcing an opponent to change his own strategy, and choosing the correct strategy to employ and when. Strategy is one of those things that transcends physical skill. It will help the slower man defeat the quicker, or the weaker man defeat the stronger one. Basically, while some people try to have a little of each weapon in their tool chest, superior strategy will help you employ the weapons you do have against every situation. As my favorite saying goes–you can win gunfights with a knife.

So, in changing our focus from skill collecting to skill refinement, and learning the best ways to use them, we must then reduce the number of skills to perfect. When you have too may skills in your skill-set, none get the kind of attention required to be used like a razor-sharp blade. And this is where I arrive to the main idea of this article:

We keep a simple set of skills, in order to develop them to be performed at an advanced level.

Does this make sense? You reach an advanced level by simplifying the martial arts that you train in. When the style is too cluttered with too many techniques, too many “what ifs” too many drills, too many untested/unrealistic/impractical things, you will never reach the level where you can put into practice what you preach. You will never become more than a martial arts showman–a man who can demonstrate the hell out of an art, but can’t whip anyone’s ass with it. (Excuse the French…)

We will reach an advanced level of skill when we can execute our art at and advanced level of performance. Now, how much time do you have to make it happen, and how much training will you need to reach that level of proficiency?

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Eskrima’s “Third Eye”

There is a concept in Eskrima referred to as the “Third Eye”. While Eskrima and Arnis has become very popular in the last few decades, there was a time when they were difficult to find. Everyone knew someone who knew some Eskrima, but it was rare to find true Masters of Eskrima. Now, I’m not talking about the canned styles we see today that aren’t much different than the stuff they teach in grade school. I am referring to the art of men who spent their lives training the art and had even had a few kills notched into their belts. These men–whom I refer to as the “old timers” because there aren’t many left–were known to have almost superhuman ability and skills. Some were physical skills, some were not.

We hear of old Masters who can pull tumors out of a sick person’s stomachs. Men who can punch holes in the sides of American Jeeps. Masters who can resist being stabbed, whose head were impervious to strikes with a rattan stick, shoot evil spirits into others, and then there is the “third eye”–extra sensory perception, in one or two of its many forms.

The Third Eye (Ikatlong Mata)

My Grandfather was one such man. He use to tell us that he trained a lot at night when everyone was asleep because he believed that this was the time of day when it was most appropriate to kill a man. Daytime fights were usually done out of anger and mostly avoidable. These types of fights were due to one man being drunk, jealous, unreasonable, or some other personality flaw. But at night, the fights you encounter are due to one man attempting to wrong another:  robbery, rape, murder, burglaries, etc. The kind of fighting you will do in the dark will often be one of life-or-death, and are most likely to involve a weapon, a vulnerable member of the family, or some other reason for being in a state of self-preservation. And my grandfather always said that a man wronging another man in the dark is almost always accompanied by a jinn–a spirit. In that case, an evil one. He believed in these jinn, and by training at night, sleeping with a weapon, sleeping lightly–you are broadcasting to the jinn that you are the wrong one to mess with. I could tell you more about them, but let’s stick to the topic of martial arts today.

A man who wrongs another after hours is not going to be talked out of an altercation.

Due to his training at night, my Grandfather had an unusual sense of perception. He could hear or feel you when you were nearby. I tried many times as a boy to sneak behind him to take his walking cane or to put him in a bear hug, and doing so was how I learned my style’s #5 and #6 elbow strikes–the hard way. By training at night, you develop an ability to sense your opponent’s power while fighting him and rely less on vision and more on touch and an energy you can feel. When I was around him, he could tell if I was getting ready to surprise him with an attack and I can tell you, he was always ready.

Do you know who has this ability as well? Wing Chun people. They develop it through Chi Sao, which is a form of in-fighting similar to one we do in Kuntaw. The goal is to be able to fight with the eyes closed or blindfolded, and eventually to fight without making much contact. One can sense from the connection you make when blocking a punch, or when your opponent blocks your punch, what your opponent’s next move will be. I cannot explain it more than that.

This Third Eye is ever-present in Eskrima people who practice knife-fighting with the proper mentality. It is not a block-slap-pass-cut thing, it is a plunge-your-knife-in-your-opponent’s-belly thing. And trust me, when a man is determine to stab you so deep you die, most of the skills you learned in your Eskrima class will not work. You will need a type of skill that cannot be learned through a book or a video, but as the by-product of pressure, fear and training.

How does it come about? The third eye arrives by itself. It develops through mentally preparing for the altercation and putting the heart in fear of another man–by crossing sticks with strangers, my engaging in fights, and throwing so many strikes with intent and malice that when the mind tells the hands to destroy your hands obey. When fighting is so second nature to you, your mind is then free to observe your surroundings and the speed that it communicates with the rest of the body is clearer and faster. When you are nervous or afraid, you cannot think quickly and the mind is so overburdened with thoughts and worries that it misses a lot of what it sees. This is the reason that older fighters, such as Bernard Hopkins, Sugar Ray Leonard, Randy Couture, and Joe Lewis can get in there with younger men who are faster and stronger–and beat them. It is because the skill that they developed from a lifetime of combat–often labeled as “experience”–has set in, allowing an old body to still function. With all its weaknesses and things falling apart and malfunctioning–that Third Eye allows him to see punches before the young man sees them, allows him to land strikes although he is slower, to know what the opponent will do even before the opponent knows himself.

If you have questions because this article is vague, please post them in comments. I tried the best I could to explain this unusual skill, and I will gladly elaborate. Thank you for visiting my blog.