Filipino “Flow”, part II (For Andrew Villarico)

I received the following comment on my article, entitled “My Thoughts on FMA “Flow”. I thought it was a good point, so I would like to post my response to his comment. But first, the comment:

I agree with some points, but overall disagree to the uselessness of flow drills.

I believe they are useful for learning despite your skill level. For beginners, great for basic movements, for novice, great for building speed and coordination, for advanced, great for breaking the flow drill apart and understanding that it is all just components, for the master (or supreme burrito) great for teaching.

The problem with flow drills are that people are so caught up within them. You’re right, a flow drill is not a fight, but what happens when you take a flow drill, speed it up, randomize the attacks and defenses, mix in other parts of different flow drills at random, strike like you mean it and vary your attack speed? You got a fight. And it all started from the flow drill.

It seems to me that you’re complaining about the wrong thing and it is misleading to the uninformed and thus irresponsible. ‘Old School’ masters like Cacoy Canete and the school of Doce Pares employ the use of flow drills, are you saying that this school, founded by twelve WW2 tested masters are wrong for doing so?

What you’re lamenting about is the misuse of flow drills and how mastery of set patterns is projected as complete mastery of the martial art. I agree with you here.

Remember: There are no such things as bad tools, just bad carpenters.

Misuse flow drills at your own peril, but properly employed, you have yourself a great way to train.

Feel free to e-mail me to further discuss, I am genuinely interested in what you have to say.


First, I do agree that there is some place for “flow” the way most FMA people do them, and it should be limited to new novices in the art. I compare the way flow is practiced to a child learning to write in cursive when learning to read and write. While this skill is useful in teaching a part of the art of reading and writing, it is not reading and writing, and continuing to practice the rudiments of cursive will not make you neither a better reader, nor will it make you a better writer. What will continued practice of writing cursive do for you? It will make you write cursive better. Now if you aspire to be a calligraphy artist, that works. But if you want to be a scholar or an author, this skill does little for those arts. Therefore, if you want to be a better author, you must be good at writing, organizing thoughts, structuring a plot/thesis (not that I know, I’m just a martial arts teacher… I’m guessing). If you want to be a great scholar, you must spend your time training and studying oratory skills, related material to your area of expertise, things like that. But the mastery of cursive only makes your handwriting look better when they read your work up close, and that’s it.

In the art of fighting, we must develop those things that related directly to the skill of fighting. Flow, for that matter, is a demonstration of a controlled drill or patterns of movement. A strong, powerful strike–or a series of strong powerful strikes will blow any drill master out of the water if he is not accustomed to dealing with this kind of attack. Flow masters become very good at giving demonstrations of their flow and all its variations. They are not seen in all-out, full-contact fights, and for a good reason. They are essentially, the calligraphists of the martial arts; while the fighter is the Albert Einstein or Cornell West with the poor handwriting. Yes, to the novice they don’t look very impressive. But to the many experts in the fields of science or urban politics, these men are geniuses.

I would also caution any martial artist against being so convinced that a master’s art is “complete” or flawless to the point that there is no room for development or improvement. Many of the things that we take for granted in the art as necessary for fighting skill or even vital to fighting skill may not lend anything significant to superior performance. A good example of this is the sinawali. Most of the best stick fighters in the Philippines do not practice this drill, let alone any double stick at all. Yet many masters will swear that sinawali develops ambidexterity and is necessary for learning to use the non-stick hand. The question is if the omission of this skill will actually hurt fighting skill. There are many things that may enhance your performance, but are not necessary in order to have it. If you can possess superior skill with or without an attribute then that attribute is not necessary. On the other hand, if neglecting a skill or attribute will cause weaknesses in one’s performance–or even become the cause of inferior skill–then I would consider that skill to be one of the vital factors in developing a superior martial arts fighter. Such a skill would be the use of lateral movement. Many fighters specialize in forward and backward movement and use those skills with a lot of success. But the fighters who have poor mobility side to side will almost always fall prey to the more agile, angling fighters. Even if that fighter is highly skilled at linear movement, the ability to circle an opponent will have to be in one’s arsenal to have dominant success in fighting.

And here, we arrive at my point. The FMA fighter too often does not feel the need to test himself to determine or develop dominant fighting superiority. He is content to practice what he practices, spar with friends if he spars at all, and continue the drills that he had been taught without scrutinizing his knowledge and skill. He accepts theories and strategies without question and rarely raises himself to a challenge. Therefore, we end up with Eskrima looking the same way in 2010 that it looked in 1970. The weaknesses we found in Eskrimadors from the 70s are the same weaknesses we find today. For some reason, our FMA leaders have chosen to develop the fighting equivalent of calligraphy rather than develop the weak parts of the FMAs into a superior art. Our stickfighting is the best in the world without question. Our knife fighting is the best in the world without question. Our empty hands are not. The fighters of my grandparents’ generation had a good fighting art for the barehands, but today’s Eskrimador rejects them in favor of more exotic looking hands and feet. And so, our empty handed component has regressed into nothing more than cursive writing on youtube clips. The Flow drills are an expression of that philosophy with a stick. I gave you a great way to test the Flow drill in my last article–which was to have one person “Flow”, while you or your opponent throw powerful strikes with intent. I can almost guarantee no man reading this blog has done so. I have even offered to give you this test myself. And the only person to take me up on the offer was a Kenpo practitioner with almost no Eskrima experience at all.

To answer Andrew’s question of whether I believe Grandmasters like Cacoy Canete have made a mistake with their Flow drills, I must admit that yes, I do believe it is a mistake. While they are good fighting schools, and the masters are good themselves, the use of those drills, forms and things are not needed for fighting skill. I have met Doce Pares fighters who do not practice these things, and they are the superior fighters in their schools. When they practice, in fact, their practice looks a lot like mine–powerful strikes in combination, study of strategy, and plenty of sparring. If I were wrong, these men would not be superior fighters in their schools, but the inferior ones.

You cannot be afraid to challenge the knowledge of the Masters if you are to evolve your art to the next 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

4 thoughts on “Filipino “Flow”, part II (For Andrew Villarico)”

  1. I follow your blog entries with great interest via Facebook. I am 52 and with almost two years of formal Escrima training and a few years of informal miscellaneous martial arts practice with a friend who is a lifetime martial artist. Very little experience, in other words. What I DO have is a lifetime of athletic experience from playing sports. I know my body, and more importantly I have what I call good “skin vision”…my “internal GPS” can keep me oriented properly even if I am out of position.

    What this means for me is that I am a defense-oriented fighter. I am a free-form fighter. Note that I did NOT say freeSTYLE-that implies, to me at least, desperate tricks. I just have a Bando, defense approach to a fight in general, and a Jeet Kune Do approach to life overall: keep what is necessary, discard what is useless. But what I keep I practice and drill to perfection, and if it does not work in real time, then it becomes relegated to a training tool for broad concepts and principles.

    I left Kenpo a few years ago after only a month because of its strict regimen of techniques that consisted of 20-30 moves. I don’t mind doing that stuff to increase my mobility, agility, and overall body awareness, but they insisted every part be perfect. Don’t get me wrong…I greatly respect the art of Kenpo. But with any kind of flow or involved technique, it sort of assumes the position of taking the fight to the opponent, and I don’t like to do that. I can’t rely on my opponent reacting as he “should” based on flow or kata. I can only rely on the unexpected and I better be ready to perceive it and deal with it in an instant.

    I practice Modified Pangamut-I am an intermediate. My teacher, like me, dislikes kata and forms. He only has one or two flows that are built from the basics and are introduced right about where I’m at now. And even in those flows, although they stay within basic boundaries, there are allowances and even encouragement for adaptation and spontanaity. As he tells us: “I will teach you how to open the doors and windows to the ‘house’ and you must do those properly. After that, each person must decide for himself where in the house he wants to go.”

    We tend to do well in tournaments, but only because we stick to the basics and engage like the match is a fight…within the rules of course. Win or lose, opponents tend to remember how much they “feel us” for the next few days. For me, that’s where it’s at.


  2. In regards to the superior fighters in Doce Pares, would you say they do not practice the flow drills anymore? OR never practiced them at all? There is a critical difference here.

    It would make perfect sense that these fighters train similar to you because I believe that they have polished their flow drill to the point that the drill itself can be executed at full speed by both participants. Therefore, they have learned their ‘ABCs’ and are now ready to ‘write’ their body of work.

    Remember, it took all of us quite a bit of time to get from our ABCs to writing that final thesis, despite being at the very peak of our learning potential.

    Side note: Siniwali drills have a benefit that most practitioners overlook. You’re learning to strike and block with your non-dominant hand. Therefore, if at any time you feel like your weapon arm is weakening or requires rest, switching hands won’t leave you utterly helpless. In a real confrontation that becomes drawn out, there is no luxury of a time-out or attempting to run out the clock on the round to rest. My limited experience has also taught me that switching hands has an affect on my opponents that I did not initially expect; they became more hesitant. And thus gave me an opportunity to feint and deliver strikes (that are intended to feel like close calls instead of connect, if they ever connected, my opponent would immediately realise it is just a ruse to buy time). I guarantee that the best fighter of one school will proceed with caution against the worst fighter of another school, until they exchange blows.


  3. Your articles contain a lot of eye-opening truths. Many of your observations are apparent to sparring men, and those who don’t will always have a hard time seeing those truths. This series on Flow is dead on, thank you for sharing your one-of-a-kind knowledge!

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