Takes More Than Just Being Filipino

When I was a snotty young man, I hung with some older, wiser–but Americaner–martial artists. They had not traveled as I had, they only spoke one language, and many only knew one martial arts style. But for some reason, my 20-something year old ignorance thought I was somehow superior to these men. Even though some could have easily beaten me in sparring (doing so many times; that’s why I hung with them–I was hoping to improve by training with them), I often spoke with authority. I spoke with arrogance and ignorance, because of the faulty notion that I knew what I was talking about because I’m Filipino.

I think I heard a chuckle.

Yes, you know I’m right. And like some AA member starting with the man in the mirror, I say this with authority because I was guilty of it myself. You’re probably laughing because you’re either Filipino and do it yourself, or you’re a white guy who has “lost” arguments with FMA teachers pulling the “I’m Filipino” card. It’s okay; everyone does it. Sometimes people do it because they have degrees. Or they have stripes on their belts. Or they have muscles. Or they are affiliated with Bruce Lee/Dan Inosanto/Remy Presas/Antonio Ilustrisimo/the Gracie family. Or they were once cops/military/security guards/stabbed with a knife.

And we all sound like 50-Cent:  Buy my bullshit because I was shot.

Or rapper Just Ice:  Buy my bullshit because I was in prison.

Or Snoop Dogg: Buy my bullshit because I act like a ganster.

How about this:  Buy my bullshit because I know what I’m talking about, and if you don’t believe me… I’ll prove it to you.


For some reason, the ones who speak with the real authority–proven skill and willing to prove it again–are listened to the least. In the martial arts community, we like resumes and certifications. We like association too:  “Guro ______ certified him, so he’s the real deal.”  Notice how Bruce Lee almost never spoke of Yip Man, but 40 years after his death, JKD experts quote “Bruce” (they like to talk about him like they knew him) more than they quote the Bible.

And what was that stuff about idol worshiping?

So, we Americans like to worship race too. It’s the reason why Jesus statues in your churches have a White guy in a robe when Jesus was actually Middle Easterner. And why a Black guy with a Mexican restaurant will never make any money, even if his Siete Mares is the best in town. Or why people snicker at Panda Express locations that have a White cook instead of a Chinese guy. Or how you would buy shrimp fried rice from a Korean restaurant, but not from a Greek one. And the more “authentic” a master is–broken English, old, ASIAN–the more knowledgeable white guys you will step over to pay your money to watch the old Asian guy twirl his sticks for two hours and then sign your certificates. We have this thing, that we believe foreign is better–but it has to be the *right* foreign, and this is why the busiest Muay Thai gyms in my town are run by Asian guys rather than the Mexican guys who are actively fighting and proving themselves in the ring. It’s the reason my high school sweetheart, who is a world-champion boxer usually ends up teaching fitness classes when she’s the only Champ with a gym in town.

Please don’t take offense by anything I’m saying here. I am just pointing out the interesting observation that we tend to put more on things that matter least and sometimes in the process we slight good, experienced, un-Asian teachers. I’ve done it myself, and chances are that some of you do it too.

I was once exchanging with Guro Billy Bryant when I had first opened my school. At this time, I was just beginning to teach the curriculum I created years earlier and was trading with him for some techniques from his Cha-3 Kempo style. He and I would play hands so that I could show him my Kuntaw, and then he would show me his techniques. For some reason, and I know many martial artists have this experience, most of the techniques he showed me were familiar to me. Except he had his own way of doing them. Rather than shut my yap and learn what he was teaching me, I kept saying, “I know that, it’s in Kuntaw/Eskrima/Jow Ga… because I’m Filipino.”

Ouch! It’s painful for me even to repeat this story. Told you I was young and dumb…

I could tell it was irritating him, and finally, he said, “Moe, you need to stop that. You know because you are a learned martial artist. Not because you’re Filipino. You’re going to need more than just being Filipino to get by.” Actually, this is something he had said many times. And it’s the reason why he insisted that I spar matches almost everytime I came down with whomever was there. See, Billy was sort of my “manager”–he was my mouthpiece, and he wanted to make sure I was better than anyone who came our way. My good friend Terry Robinson (www.jowhopkuen.com) was the same way–always having me spar matches so that my school could grow (Terry was my business partner and my other mentor in the business of the martial arts). Neither of them highlighted the fact that I’m a foreigner. They both insisted that I get myself known because of my skill.

One of the problems in the Filipino arts is that many of the Filipinos speak with authority of being Filipino. I have even had a few whisper in my ear that we have to keep FMA pure by certifying more Filipinos. Well I have news for you; none of my first generation of instructors under me are Filipino. It doesn’t matter. But the sad thing is, that as we get more and more weak Filipino FMA people out into the media it will cast a shadow on public opinion of our arts. Filipino FMA people lately have been coming up with bullshit stories about their arts’ origins and techniques and accomplishments that either don’t exist or matter. They make up neat drills and demos and try to garner interest by selling seminars, certifications and DVDs. Finally, to make matters worse–none of them are proving their superiority in combat. I can tell you this, my kababayan:  This new breed of FMA student is getting stronger, and the way the Brazilians took Jujitsu to another level, I believe the foreign FMA guy will do the same with the Filipino martial arts. And I believe that some folks, like Hoch Hocheim, Mark Denny, Greg Alland, and some others have really improved how the FMA they were taught. Do I believe that their method is superior to Filipino FMA? Not really, but they have taken the weak, watered down, commercial, drill-oriented FMA we Filipinos sold them and come up with a version far superior. The Dog Brothers alone have brought back the spirit of the FMA warrior we claim our teachers had, and although they did it under the tutelege of Filipino masters, this idea was all theirs. We watered down the art. We sold it. We embellished our stories. We bastardized it to make a buck and make ourselves famous. So what you going to do next?

You’re going to need to be more than just Filipino. You will have to be good at what you do, and be willing to prove how good you are. It’s the Filipino way.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Author: thekuntawman

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

5 thoughts on “Takes More Than Just Being Filipino”

  1. (clapping) Guro, excellent piece! I have long felt this way, but kept it to myself out of fear that it would be taken out of context! Thank you for being bold enough to say it for us!

  2. I’ve read your blog and I agree, especially the part of “foreigners” taking it to another level, which I feel is unfortunate, but true – not that I’m prejudice against “foreigners” learning our cultural heritage. I just think that “foreigners”, not all of them, who study FMA or other arts take that knowledge and make it as if its their own. For example: The Butterfly Knife, which is the originally called Balisong. Jujutsu originated from Japan. Now-a-days, they call it Brazilian Jujitsu. It didn’t originate from Brazil, did it? The word Boondock came from the filipino word Bundok or Bondok, which means mountain – I don’t know the correct Filipino spelling – and Americans claim as if it came from some Irish cultural movie whatever.

    The reason why I said it’s unfortunate, is because not enough Filipinos students of FMA are hungry enough to get better or learn their own cultural arts. They rather learn other arts, not that there’s anything wrong with it. I myself learned different arts before I came to know about my own cultural heritage.

    When I stayed in the Philippines for a long period of time, I met few students/practitioners who have that hunger to better themselves as a Martial Artist, no matter what the situation they’re in, and some have been practicing since they were little kids. But some rely on, “I’m Filipino & it comes naturally to me” or “I’ll just learn the basics and claim myself as a master.” It’s also unfortunate that other FMA Instructors ruin each other instead helping each other and promote FMA within their community and globally like other arts. You don’t see Kung-Fu Instructors talking bad about others or claiming to have a better system than other arts. It really depends on the student.

    As for me, although I’ve been practicing FMA for quite some time, I still feel that I barely scratched the surface, not even that, and I don’t think I’ll ever quit improving myself. As I said previously, I studied other art as well, which I also like, but I finally found an art that I can proudly say I love. Thank you for listening and thank you for writing this blog or column. Pugay.

  3. I agree 100% of what you said here. I get it the other way; i teach kali but am still learning kung fu, not skilled enough to teach. Yet I hear that i am good enough to teach, and i believe its more because i’m vietnamese. I have actually been mistaken for philipino as well. We all have to remember that we have to reserve our prejudices both good and bad and deal with the man inside the skin, even when we are dishing out compliments ; ). I could see how it could be difficult not to refuse to accept it. But as you say, the proof is in the pudding. Thank you for another great article!

  4. Preaching to the choir, here.
    A good sermon it is!

    I’m American and I live in London, England and I teach martial arts, including a lot of FMA and Krabi Krabong mixed into my 39 years of experience.
    BUT, because I teach FMA and not a lineage, no one wants to know.
    Although, I have, in my 11 years of being here, had many people ask me to teach American military combatives, i.e; CQB and room clearance.
    Unfortunately, no one wants to learn an empty hand art from an American unless it is American Freestyle Kickboxing.

    Then again, there a shyte load of charlatans here who make money hand over fist teaching the Placebo effect of total bollocks.

    I am living proof that you don’t have to *come from there* to be good at it.

    Hell, I’m white, American and been asked to teach in the Philippines 😉

  5. Pingback: martial arts style

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