My Thoughts on FMA “Flow”

If you hadn’t noticed… I’m not like most of the FMA guys out there. I think the way the art is taught–the new “tradition” in the FMA–through seminars and video, without the use of arranged matches, live testing, and the old fashioned method of making students pay their dues if they want to call themselves “experts” is hurting skill in these arts. FMA guys would rather engage in a battle of semantics, name-dropping, and background slandering than prove who has the superior fighting skill with a 3 minute match. We have become the new “my style is too deadly for tournaments” and it’s disgusting. So forgive me if my criticism of the FMAs is a little harsh. forgive me if I sound arrogant, or as some FMA patty-cake experts like to put it:  I “think I have a better art”. As if it were a sin for a martial arts teacher to say “my style is superior”. Heaven forbid if that teacher tells people that his art is better than another teacher’s art!

So, that said, I think this thing called “flow” is a distraction from learning how to fight. In other words, “flow” not only doesn’t teach you to fight… not only does “flow” not improve fighting…. I believe it’s a waste of time and will give you a false sense of what you should be doing in a fight.

Because of time and interest, I am not going to waste valuable space on my blog describing what “flow” is. If you don’t know what “flow” is, you can run over to Youtube and do a search on it to see probably thousands of clips on it. Everyone has a version, and I don’t like any of them. Lessee… we have stick drills with the flow. We have knife drills. Flowing to learn to apply locks and throws. Flowing to disarm. Even flowing from one “range” (I don’t like this idea either. Either the opponent is close enough to hit or he isn’t. If he’s not, use your footwork) to another. And the list goes on.

But the point is that fighting is much more choppy and ill-timed for “flow” to resemble anything like a fight. Even the way you strike when you “flow” is inaccurate. People will either stand too far away to land a real hit or they will be so close you can kiss your opponent. The strikes are never really thrown to land at the opponent; no, they are thrown to fit into the opponent’s “flow”.

Let’s take a test. Get a classmate (cause I know you probably won’t grab a combative opponent) and direct him to apply his “flow” stuff to stop you while you attack him. Now, I want you to attack his upper arms and his thighs, and his torso. And when I say “attack” him, I mean it… I want you to hit him. You don’t have to hit him hard, but really try to hit him. At the same time, I want you to keep your stick/knife/hands moving so that he can’t easily grab them. Even if you do this “drill” (yuck) with your Supreme Burrito Guro, I guarantee that he won’t be able to apply his “flow”. If you’re in Sacramento and you want proof, bring your Guro to me and let me demonstrate. I guarantee it won’t work.

Let me give you a few more reasons why I am not fond of “flow”:

  • there really isn’t an attempt to land those blows. the type of strike you throw for a flow drill is not the kind of strike when you spar. the reason why flowing strikes work in flow drills is because the strikes are made to fit into the model of the drill.
  • most of the time, the weapons/hands collide in between the two opponents. real attacks occur either at the recipient of the attack. meaning, a block rarely would occur in front of the defender, but right next to him. you don’t go out to meet a strike, you block what comes at you.
  • speaking of which, ever wonder why you are able to block in front of you? two reasons. first, the opponent really isn’t hitting you. he is hitting the space between you. and second, you know what he’s getting ready to do.
  • the element of power is not there. this is the primary failure of flow practice. you cannot do something without power and then think you will be able to deal with power when the time comes. you must work with power most of the time. really… and it’s not that dangerous. you know what kind of confidence you develop when you work without power? false confidence. you heard about it. you dislike it. but you have it. you actually believe you can stop a full-power attack, but you’ve never really tried to stop one. major flaw.
  • flow drills are really a practice of doing a set of techniques. it’s good for learning raw movement for beginners. but once you have learned the basic rudiments of a technique, it’s time to leave it alone and start working with speed, timing and power. sort of like high school or college students still practicing their ABCs. one of the reasons the expression “always a student”–another phrase for fake humility–is another fallacy.
  • flow drills are too compliant. for the guy who is interested in fighting, he needs to have activity that is adversarial. something where he is trying to impose his will, and someone is attempting to stop him. make a flow drill where the other guy’s job is to make your flow drill fail and maybe we can talk. “flow” is a partner do-si-do, when it should be a win-lose thing. fighting is not do-si-do–it’s win/lose.
  • flow drills have too much reliance on a pattern. even when you want to change it up, you are alternating between a set of techniques and skills that have been pre-planned. too much predictability, too much familiarity, and for fighting skill we need surprise and mystery about what is coming next.
  • there is no competitive speed factor in flow drills. “competitive” speed refers to two opponents in competition with each other in regards to speed. I am trying to hit you, you are trying not to get hit, and we will both move at top speed to try and defeat the other–trying to move quicker than the opponent. flow drills can be performed at a fast pace, but they tend to move at the same pace, even increasing speed, but increasing speed together. but if you do that, there is no more flowing, is there?

Now, we arrive at my point. What do you call a drill, where the partners are actually combatants, they are trying to hit each other, they are trying not to get hit, they are trying to make the other fail in his mission, they don’t know what the other is getting ready to do, they are using power, they are trying to defeat the other, one will lose and one wins, and there is a rush to move faster than the opponent?


See, flow drills were created as a substitute for fighting. A way to say you are getting ready for fighting without fighting. A way to fight without fighting. A way to test fighting skill without fighting. And they are utilized by guys who don’t like to fight, aren’t good at fighting, and don’t want to fight. So, they will come up with tons of excuses (not reasons–excuses) why “fighting” isn’t realistic enough, but somehow a flow drill is. I don’t get it.

And as always, if anyone here is in the Sacramento area, and you want proof that this or anything else I say on this blog is true–or you just want more clarification–please email me and we’ll arrange for an appointment for you to test my theories.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

The New and Improved “Empty Your Cup”

I have a different take on the martial arts saying, “Empty Your Cup”, and I’d like to share it with you.

As the parable goes, a teacher has a student with previous martial arts experience. He is skilled but frustrating to teach, as each time his teacher offers a lesson the student replies, “I already know that” or “In my other style, we do it like this”, or something similar. Frustrated, the teacher suggests they take a break and have tea.

After filling up the student’s cup with tea, the student takes a sip and then the master begins to pour again. “Wait! Sifu! My cup is already full!”

The master replies, “Exactly, how can you take more tea when you have not yet emptied your cup?”

Or something like that.

So, here’s my take. The student has one type of tea. The teacher suggests another type of tea, and the student affirms that yes, he’d like to try it. But before the student could drink the tea, the master is already pouring more. Then–blah, blah, blah.

And this is what I mean:  Although “empty your cup usually refers to pouring out the old before re-filling with the new, I think it is better to do more than finish what you have in your cup… but to enjoy it, savor it, and then absorb it, before taking more tea. Too many martial artists will drink a few sips of this, a few sips of that, and just hop from tea to juice to water to coffee. And what do you think is in his belly after all that? Nothing but piss.

What happens when you eat a plate of good food and then you get a second helping? Is the second helping as good as the first? How about if you got a third helping? Don’t forget about dessert! Food is more satisfying when you are hungry and you take the time to chew it, savor the flavor, and then swallow, and then digest it. Am I right? If you just went from restaurant to restaurant back to back in the first day, you never truly enjoy the food. You never really absorb it and digest it. In fact, all you do is regurgitate what you’ve had. So when it’s all over the sidewalk, passers-by can say, “Okay, it looks like he’s had chicken, and corn, and some green stuff (that’s the Eskrima LOL), and some rice…”

A martial artists who trains and learns this way is not a well-rounded martial artist–he is a martial arts glutton. He’s had this and that, but has not absorbed anything well enough to have mastered his art, and rather than let all that learning become a part of his skill, he just regurgitates the pieces he can hold on to so that when you look at the side walk in front of him all you see is a little of this and a little of that. His art should blend with everything he has learned so well that all the studying he has done becomes a seamless set of fighting skills that can be isolated at will or blended into a whole new art. And I must emphasize the importance of this choice being “at will”. So a martial artist who has truly cross trained can box just as good as a boxer, fence just as good as a fencer, stick fight just good as a stick fighter, kickbox just as good as a kickboxer. This is not a quick process, and you cannot reach this level of proficiency attending part time seminars and studying from guys who really don’t specialize in the stuff they are showing you. The martial arts concept of “cross training” is like the Navy retiree who can say “hello” and “thank you” and “you so pretty” in 6 different languages, but he can’t order dinner in any language but English. He just knows bits and pieces and all he can impress are the guys at the barber shop who only speak one language. Don’t be that guy.

So, you want the master’s tea? Then don’t drink it on the run. Don’t try tasting that tea when you still have a tummy full of beer. It won’t mix well. And when you learn his lessons, learn those techniques as if you knew no other fighting style. Don’t look like a Wing Chun guy trying to box. Because not only won’t it work, but you will only impress non-martial artists and other Wing Chun guys. And while you’re at it, don’t learn how to box from another Wing Chun guy. Learn it from a real boxer. Just like I wouldn’t learn to speak Thai from a retired guy who only docked in Thailand for a week at a time and all he remembers was the food and the price of a Thai whore… what’s he going to teach me about that language? Now, a guy married to a Thai woman? Who speaks fluently? He even thinks in Thai? That’s the guy you learn from. Because he isn’t just regurgitating a few phrases he’s learned–he is speaking a language he knows because it’s a part of his linguistic skills.

The martial artist who wants to learn another style must act as if he knows no other style while he is learning. He must learn that art as if he were a brand new martial arts student with a true “empty cup”; otherwise he is just adding Kool Aid to his water and that’s not tasty.

This is not to say you must discount your previous master’s art. But you should not cheapen either man’s art trying to add one to the other without knowing or doing either of them well.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Choosing a School for a Child Being Bullied, pt II

Why do you want a Martial Arts School again?

Let’s review our reason for finding a martial arts school for your kid again:

X  He needs to lose weight

X  I need after school day care

X  He needs more discipline

X  I want my child to win a few UFCs

X  My kid needs a Black Belt

–>  Ding! Ding!  We want to stop schoolyard bullying

Okay, so now that we remember why we were looking for a school for your kid, Ronald McSensei can save the sales pitch about his wonderful Black Belt in three years program, or Coach Beatemup Wannabe can save the talk about how Gracie used to pound on guys 50 lbs heavier with this art, and the “Program Director” can keep those fliers advertising their new Teenaged Minja minja Turtle classes. We want to stop your kid from getting hurt by  names at school, or so that he can eat his lunch in peace for a change. The school must have something to address that. We’re not here so that your kid can make good grades. If his grades are slipping, Karate won’t help with that; take away his Playstation and close his Facebook account and put his butt in tutoring and make him do his homework.

Schools offer many things, and you want to find the one that has what you want. There is a certain atmosphere you need for your kid to have for the purpose of building his sense of self, self-worth, and the confidence that if another kid wanted to hurt him, he’s got the skills to ruin that kid’s day. It shouldn’t take a 12 month contract to assure him of those goals.

Choosing the Martial Arts School

The martial arts school is not a substitute for strong parenting, but it can help. The environment you want for your kids is not necessarily an intimidating one, but it should not be so friendly that he might as well be at a Cub Scout meeting. I may step on some toes with this one, but I don’t think you want to run down to the nicest gym with the mirrors and cartoon characters in the window. At the same time, you don’t have to join the school whose Sifu looks like he just got out of prison either. However, there are some benefits to all martial arts schools and instead of judging a school by its cover you might consider judging a school by its sales pitch.

The first thing you want to ask is how big the children’s class is, and if the ages are separated. An age-specific class will be more directed at your kid’s needs than one that just lumps all the children together. I believe that each age group should be dealing with the martial arts at its own rate. So the challenges that a 16 year old would face are going to be vastly different than those your 10 year old would face. The two are so different that if you addressed one in class, the other group will be wasting their time. In a school that is adult-oriented, there may not be enough children in the school for them to really having a good system of teaching kids. While their martial arts are valid, you cannot treat self-defense among 12 year olds the same way you would teach a grown man to defend himself. I would advise finding a school that specializes in teaching kids.

The environment should be one that is competitive, fast pace, somewhat aggressive, yet fun. Another reason I don’t recommend adult-oriented schools. I am an adult-oriented teacher, and I admit that although I consider my martial arts to be top notch–I suck at teaching kids. I lecture, I get mad, I don’t have much patience. One of the best business decisions I ever made was to hire a young teacher named Daniel Cook, who was not just a good martial artist, he was a master at teaching kids. He was stern, detailed, and tough. Yet he was also a fun teacher who made the kids laugh and enjoy coming to class. The fact that the kids would leave sore, but in a good mood, meant that they were coming back next week and getting in more training. The kids would get on the floor and bang, and when one got his pride hurt or got hit too hard–he was very good at toughening up the children to get up and keep at it. Kids aren’t like adults. They need the technical side of the art. But unlike adults, they must be entertained and the activity needs to be fun if they are to keep at it. The teacher must balance play with work, and this is how kids will learn their lessons–at an age-appropriate level.

I believe that a school should also have a good mixture of soft kids, and tough kids, kids from both sides of the train tracks, and kids of all physical sizes and abilities. I have seen schools where only white children were there, and schools with only black or only asian kids. This does not teach an important part of bullying–how to mingle with those unlike themselves. If you take two young kids–rich and poor, black and white, foreign and American–they will play as if there were no difference between them. But as they get older, they will notice things, like race, accents, etc., and who do they learn it from? Us. They will be taught all the little nasty things that grown ups say and think, and eventually, you get the discriminatory behavior and beliefs. And many of those things lead to social problems, including bullying. “Watch out for the Mexican kid, he might steal your stuff.” “That white kid thinks he’s better than us.” While we may live in segregated neighborhoods and communities and schools, the martial arts school is one place that your social status, your race, where you live–nothing matter. If the school has a familial environment, your kid who has never been around Black children will have good friends from that side of town. Your kid who has never experienced immigrants will have dojo brothers fresh over the border. Your kid who has only been around other upper-middle class kids will have friends from neighborhoods with gang bangers. And in the end, your children learn to be comfortable around everyone, even those who are unlike themselves. This comfort level will make your kid more relaxed all the time, and will become less of a wierdo to other children.

And adding to the idea of the martial arts school being a melting pot, kids at elementary school tend to hang around other kids like themselves. Athletes hang around athletes. Rich kids hang with rich kids. Etc. But in the dojo, everyone belongs to the same group, regardless of their background or interest, because the one interest they have in common–martial arts–binds them together. So in that group, you have the tough kid, the pencil neck kid, the athlete, the immigrant. They are learning social skills, and in an adversarial environment. So when they have had to spar a couple of bigger tougher boys, with martial arts training, the bigger boy at school with no martial arts training at all is going to be a cake walk.

Finally, I believe that the school should encourage some type of competition. Of course I am biased towards the karate tournament, but anything is good. There is a level of discomfort and anxiety you will experience in fighting competition that is unmatched by anything at high school, and when you are not just at ease with it–but unmoved by it–a fist fight at school is nothing. This is not to say that you won’t get good anti-bullying skills from a school that doesn’t compete. But your child will be more prepared for adversity when he has had about 15-20 fights under his belt. And not that I’m hoping that your kids will be challenging bullies to a fight! On the contrary, when your kid is more confident with fighting, he will find it easier to stand his ground and avoid a fight. Especially since most bullies don’t fight that often; they are masters at talking about beating people up.  I have a student, Malik, who had been bullied a year earlier, approached in high school by the kid who use to taunt him in Middle school. Malik responded by promising to kick his butt afterschool for the fight they had a year earlier. Of course–being California–the school suspended him. But those boys never messed with him again because they realized that he was not the same kid. Bullies rarely want a fight. It is the threat of fighting–and the fear that it causes–that gives them their power. Being one of the kids who are not affected by it–whether because of a change of personality or fighting skills–will ensure that your child robs those bullies of that power.

And I am reminded of two sayings:

  • don’t just speak loudly, carry a big stick
  • don’t let your mouth write a check that your butt can’t cash

Bullies prey on the weak, those who refuse to fight back, and those who will accept bullying. It’s that simple.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Choosing a School for a Child Being Bullied

Recently, I was asked by a friend of mine to recommend a school for her to take her son, who had been bullied at school for the last year and a half. I applaud her for taking the initiative to getting her son some help–since her son’s father doesn’t seem to be interested in doing anything about it.

I have a few things to say about childhood bullying, and then I want to share with you my recommendations for a good school for the purpose of stopping bullying behavior.  After all, there is a difference in what criteria you would use to find a school, and it depends on what you are looking to get out of a school.

Understanding the bully

I’m no psychologist, but I know a few things about people. The kind of person who bullies others is not “insecure”, like most people would think–he is self-assured. But to a point. The bully is confident that he can defend himself, but he only looks for people who project being defenseless to push around. That is why you don’t see the bully trying to prey on the popular kid (popular kids usually don’t look they can fight, but they have strength in numbers) or other bullies. No, for them, it’s a weakness thing. They get pleasure in pushing around the weak, those who have no “back up”, the kids who seem like they would accept it. The victims are not always small frail kids–a victim is nothing more than a person who won’t stand up for himself. So, for that reason, even a big strong kid can be bullied by a small, ratty boy.

The “Bullied”

As I stated, the kid being bullied isn’t the victim because he is incapable of defending himself; he is merely chosen because he won’t defend himself. You can teach him drills and defenses all day long, but if the boy (or man) refuses to stand up to the bully–it will never stop. But why does a kid accept this kind of behavior? Are all kids who stand up for themselves trained in self-defense?

No. The type of person who stands up for himself simply values himself and his desires more than he is willing to please. Some kids will give up a toy he wants to play with because he doesn’t want to say “no”. Others will give up a toy because he is afraid to refuse another kid’s demand. But on the other hand, you have some kids who will put your eye out trying to keep you from taking his toy. If you are to stop the bully from getting his way with your kid, you must find a way to turn your kid into the selfish brat who has no problem saying “NO”.

What can be done about it

That being said, ending bullying behavior is more of an internal change than an external one. You can stop bullying without learning a single self-defense move, just by changing the way your child thinks and interacts with his peers. I believe that by rough housing with your kids (male and female), wrestling, sparring, slap boxing, challenging your kids to a game of hoops and trying to kick their butts even with a dance competition–you are developing that sense of indominatability in your children. You are teaching them how to overcome another, and helping them get a sense of comfort with competition. You are getting them accustomed to going one-on-one with another person and striving to outdo him or her, even to defeat their opponent. Your kids are learning how to struggle to get to the head of the pact. The kid who wants to be the fastest sprinter, the king of the hill, the best dancer in the house–is not going to accept another kid trying to get over on him. Bullying is not always physical, by the way. It can be in the form of teasing, insults (you’re ugly/fat/talk funny/etc.), or by ignoring your child (don’t be his friend/you’re not going to be on my team). When you give your kids a sense of self-worth, few external factors will ruin your kids’ day.

I would also like to add that your child must feel completely comfortable with coming to you to tell you about his problems, and he must know that you are in his corner and will do something. My son had a problem with a bully when he was 6, and he came home the first time it happened and told me that another boy was pushing him and “being mean” to him. The next day, I went to the school with a vengeance, and demanded a meeting with the boy’s father (which they denied) and demanded action from the school about the bullying. I was not going to accept anything less, and if they didn’t stop the behavior, I was going to confront the parents and their child myself. That foolishness was dealt with immediately and my son never had a problem with it again. Regardless of what kind of school you put your child in, if he or she feels alone in dealing with problems, they will always be a target for bullies.

In part II, we will discuss what you want in a school to solve this problem.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Strive to Get Better

In the Filipino Martial Arts, we find far too many technique collectors, and not enough martial arts supermen. Even rarer, would one find a man who is dominant at hand to hand fighting. And just as rare, we don’t find many FMA men who would even engage in a hand to hand match.

Go ahead and fire off your excuses why you don’t. And while you are busy trying to convince yourself that you are still a fighter while you really don’t fight, I’m going to drink this extra hot Grande White Mocha in starbuck’s.

Now, if you are ready to learn something, read on.

The FMA man must strive to improve his physical skills in the art of combat. I am not speaking of how well he can “flow” from one drill to another, or how creative he is at linking his knife or stick fighting movements to the empty hand, or how well he can crack a whip or toss a knife. I am referring to the things you do in combat that actually cause your opponent harm–the punch, the open hand strike, the elbow hit, the frontal snap kick, the head butt. Stuff like that. I want you to commit to executing those attacks faster and faster, stronger and stronger, and more accurate. I want you to be able to land those attacks at will while moving, and your opponent can’t do anything about it.

After all, isn’t that what fighting is all about?

  • cause the most damage
  • incur the least damage
  • be difficult to catch
  • be difficult to get away from
  • go home in one piece

My question to you, FMA brothers, is this:  how much time do you spend in your workouts trying to develop faster hands, harder hits, better evasiveness, superior speed in hunting down an opponent? Are you a more accurate puncher now than you were a year ago? Do you hit harder than you did a year ago? Can you follow up a damaging kick with hand techniques more fluidly than you could a year ago?

See, I’m willing to bet the house that you have casually trained in the last year, probably spent more time doing P90X or ab crunches, than you did in trying to develop a harder stick strike. When was the last time you gauged your ability to punch faster? What measuring tool are you using to determine how superior your fighting skills now are to last year’s skills?

You know what I’m getting at…

Karate men spend hours and hours trying to punch harder, kick faster and move smoother than they were a year ago. The FMA man is more concerned with learning new arts and styles, and more way to pop a knife out of an attacker’s hands. He is not sizing himself up to the next guy, in the effort to see who the superior fighter is between the both of them. We are full of excuses NOT to; full of reasons why it is impossible to determine who the better fighter is.

Okay, Bill Clinton, define “better”.

Superior fighting skills is measured two ways. One, he must know how hard he can hit and how fast he can hit. In a nutshell, he is striving to improve his physical ability to execute those attacks and defenses. He is not satisfied with simply knowing how to throw a punch–he strives to punch faster and harder than the next guy. When he hits like a mule at the speed of a cobra’s strike, it’s safe to say this guy can whip some attacker’s behind. Second, he must see how successful he is at attacking a resisting, combative opponent and how well he can stop the attack. Period. Whether you want to do it full speed/full power or not, you must do it. I am not speaking of sparring with your classmates and sparring partners. I am talking about comparing your skill against another man who wants to completely dominate you. These are the only two things you can do to “measure” fighting skill. Anything else, and you are not measuring “fighting” skill.

And one method of measuring enhances the other. You cannot have fast hands and assume that you will be a dominant fighter. Just like you cannot dominate in a game of “tag the opponent’s head” and say that you are a great fighter. You must have both. One measures your ability to land and evade, the other measures your ability to cause damage.

There is a third test that FMA people do not usually use, and that is the destruction test. Basically, feats of strength and breaking skills. Please spare me the BS about “boards don’t hit back”. While true, neither do opponents who get hit by fists that break them. We must have a way to see how much damage our hands and feet can cause without sending our opponent’s to the hospital. I suspect that many martial artists who knock breaking, simply can’t break. And they are probably the same guys who want to see how strong you are by asking to post a youtube clip of yourself causing damage with your hands. LOL! You must strive to meet all these tests in order to have full confidence in your empty handed skills. And this effort must be made with every stage of your martial arts journey. It is the only way you can actually say you are “improving your martial arts skill”, rather than “adding to your resume”. The two are not the same.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Till the Day I Die

Have you ever met a Master who just seemed like he would live forever? Have you met a Master that died way too early?

I’ve met both, and barring some illnesses that are completely unavoidable, I believe that some Masters seem to live forever because their martial arts keeps them alive.

I have seen some teachers who loved these arts as young men. They have jeopardized their marriages to keep a school, left families behind to follow behind masters or pursued education in foreign lands or far away towns. I have known some masters to sleep in their schools, or work at minimum wage jobs in order to have more time to devote to their martial arts. And at the same time, I have known masters who walk away from their love of the art because of financial reasons–or frustration over the pauper’s life that sometimes accompanies this field of work–or to keep their marriages intact. And sometimes I have seen masters drop out of the arts because of laziness or disappointment over the turnover of less-than-dedicated students.

The martial arts have obvious health benefits, if you stick with it. It’s a fact that staying fit will keep you alive longer and fight off disease and illness. But I think it goes deeper than that. The martial arts–the love of the martial arts–is like that favorite son you love so much. When he is in your life, you are full of life, hope and optimism. But when he marries, moves away, or chooses another line of work other than the one you dreamt for him when he was a toddler–it depresses you, even robs you of your purpose in life.

When my grandfather died in 1992, my grandmother, who was never sick, suddenly died a few months later. She had been married to my Lolo for over 50 years, and you can’t just go without someone who was an extension of you for 90% of your life. My grandmother was depressed when he was gone. She had no one to cook for, no one to speak her language to, no one to reminisce about old times with. She didn’t even need old friends. Hell, at nearly 80 years old, my grandfather had outlived all of her friends, and he was all she had. And when he left–although we were still here–her reason for living beyond all her siblings, all her friends, had left with him.

For the master who had spent all his life learning, teaching, and just being around the art… his students are his companions. They keep him waking up each day, and challenge him to still reflect on his many years of practice and experimenting with the art–to still come up with new techniques and ideas, although he was long past his sparring days. When the school has closed, and his last generation had moved on to open their schools and start their own families, the old man retires to his home to garden in the back yard, raise chickens, and talk martial arts to anyone who would listen–which often, in this non-martial arts world, is a rare occurrence. The old master has no one to talk shop with, to listen to his embellished stories, to demonstrate his technique on, to be impressed with his preserved skill, to keep his heart pumping… waiting for the next “perfect student” to come along.

These old men are out here. Sometimes, they are fortunate enough to find new life in a new student or two. Sometimes, they will find companionship in a few old masters they may run into somewhere and can talk about the good old days. I found that the late Grandmaster Vince Tinga (Menehune Karate Do) found new life in his bones when we encountered each other at the Filipino Veteran’s Hall in Sacramento in 1999. At that point, he hadn’t taught in years, and all of his students had moved on to other things, and none of his kids were teaching his art, and his students had pretty much grown up and started their own families. Grandmaster Tinga use to frequent the karate tournaments (where we actually met for the first time; he refereed a division I fought in, but didn’t talk much outside of general introductions) and could talk shop with anyone who would listen.


Note:  Although GM Tinga was not an FMA man, he was very important to FMA people. Wanna know why? Vince Tinga’s karate school in Tracy, CA is the birth place of the first Bahala Na school, as he gave late Manong Leo Giron a home for his Eskrima club around 1958 (? help me out, I may be wrong… going from memory). He use to host a sparring group that was attended by Carlos Norris (yes, “Carlos”)/aka Chuck Norris, Byong Yu, and Bruce Lee (stated that Bruce Lee never fought, just watched), Sid Campbell and Al Novack. AND, his daughter (whose name escapes me) was the first female Guro of the FMA in California, a graduate of Bahala Na.

GM Tinga was sick in 1999 when I met him, and was a little down because all of his compadres were dying off. He was an encyclopedia of knowledge, and his home a museum of West Coast Martial Arts history. Did you know that he choreographed the first few installments of David Carridine’s Kung Fu series? That’s right, a Filipino master put those scenes together. And he was frustrated because they cast a man who knew no martial arts at all. But I digress… So Uncle Vince (as I called him) got great pleasure in talking martial arts with other martial artists. He even put on gloves to spar with me a few times, when I hosted a “fight night” on Friday afternoons, made up of local fighters from the circuit. (You can’t get any closer as friends, as you can when you have slugged it out with another fighter, even one in his 70s.)

When some students of a closed Stockton-based club approached Master Tinga for a recommendation for a new teacher, he sent them to me. I had just had my second child, and couldn’t get to my morning class on time most days (something about those 2 a.m. feedings will make a morning guy oversleep, you know), so Uncle Vince would open my school and begin class until I arrived. He was such a superior master to me, I felt compelled to give him the tuition I collected from my day students. Of course, he was just happy to be there and refused it. So I would sneak the money into his glove compartment of his car, or give the money to his wife, whatever it took.  Eventually, GM Tinga started his own club at the Magellan Hall in South Sacramento, which blossomed into a whole ‘nother school, and he eventually graduated his last generation of students, among them Marcus Dixon and Chris Williams. How fortunate are they, to have been blessed to give a great grandmaster a new life at nearly 80 years old, and to be able to call a true grandmaster their own teacher, and learn from him every day.

Like my Grandfather, late Great Grandmaster Vincent Abuella Tinga taught until the day he died. How many of us would be so fortunate that our God would allow us to go out with such a bang. Rest in peace, Uncle Vince. Boy, oh boy…  you have no idea how many lives you’ve touched, and how you’ve affected mine.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Leave Mastership to the Masters


In your posts you make a strong case for reasons to study the FMAs full-time. Unfortunately, I cannot make this commitment, as my career requires long hours and the schedule is so sporadic that I cannot commit to any more than occasional teaching. I do have a few students and my group is ever-growing. I supplement my learning with seminar training-but only with the best-video (I know! I know!) research, and yes, I do cruise youtube for “neat tricks”, but mostly for training tips.
My question to you is would you or other Filipino-based teachers ever view me as an equal? Or what would I have to do in order to become a master in your eyes? I am only asking because while I don’t agree with every line of every article, I do value your opinion about the martial arts. I also happen to know that while some of my counterparts will argue against your blog and your views–they know that you are the real deal and many of them even use your ideas. And like you or not, we ALL read your blog because it is informative. If you have the time, please respond, because I am curious about your thoughts on this.

Ps, if you write an article about this subject, please do not use my name. Thank you.

I appreciate the compliments, but I’m afraid I might have to deliver more disliked news.

When a martial artists says, I would like to be a master, but I don’t have time to pursue the education and experience because I am a lawyer/doctor/teacher/etc., what they are doing is actually choosing another path over the martial arts. No criticism here… not everyone is going to be a career martial artist. It’s like me saying, I work at McDonald’s but in my spare time I study law books–and although I am never going to go to law school, in time I expect to be a lawyer…

And even if the guy at McDonald’s attends law school part time and gets his degree, it is a rare thing–a very rare thing indeed–for him to be equal with a lawyer who studied full-time and did nothing else but.

The martial arts is a pastime. Teaching the martial arts can be an occupation. But Mastery of the martial arts is neither a pastime or an occupation; it is a calling and not everyone who wants it is cut out for it. And not everyone who wants it is willing to do what is needed to pursue it. Yet the road to martial arts mastery is very simple:

  1. study the art full-time
  2. have a career of competing/applying your arts against opponents… an entire career
  3. teach the art full-time
  4. have a career of teaching, researching and training others who are in step two of the road, and
  5. be recognized as not just a practitioner, not just a teacher, but a Master of the art by those around you.

So, my point is this. There are some–whether by default or choice–who do the martial arts full-time. They are the ones who will put in enough time to study, research and experiment with the art to gain the level of understanding and proficiency to call oneself a master. You must make the decision to do this. If you choose to place martial arts in the position held by hobbies and pastimes, you will not be able to put forth the time and effort to achieve that level.

And Mastery is not the end of a 4 year journey or a level one can reach in a martial arts curriculum. It is the by-product of committing yourself to a life of being a martial artist. We do not undertake the journey saying, “I’m studying to be a martial arts master.” Yet that is how many people treat the martial arts. I have seen schools certify people as Masters!

Think about this… Ever called a guy you know a “smart guy”? Did he go to school to be a smart guy? Was there a level at school to achieve in order to be considered a smart guy? Who certifies these “smart guys”?

Yup, it’s kind of like that. 😉

So, seniority in the art–due to rank, skill or time-in-grade–can get one called a Master, if Mastership is a technical thing. But true mastery of the art is a very informal thing… it is something that everyone around you knows who you are without being introduced that way after experiencing what you know or can do. I always say that when a master is in the room, everyone knows who he is. So to answer the question, can you be called a master although you do not practice the art full-time? Yes. You can. You can be called anything you want. But if you want people to render you the respect of the masters, that is something that no one can answer for you. It is something that is answered later in your years and martial arts career, and it is earned by what you put into your martial arts journey, and the “certificate” you carry is evident in everything you do and say, and how people perceive you and your knowledge.

But you must make a decision, of which path you will take to mastery, and whether you will have everything that comes with mastery, or will you simply be called “Master”.

Thanks for visiting my blog.