Steve, aka “Handi-Man”, and Sumo

This article was inspired by a student of my Kung Fu brother and the art of Sumo.

My older Kung Fu brother, Raymond Wong, who teaches in Washington, DC., had a student years ago named Steve. I don’t remember his last name, but if you are from the DC area and fought in tournaments in the late 80s/early 90s, you may remember a very good fighter who was paralyzed on this right side. And when I say “right side”, I mean right side. Everything–his face, his arm, his legs–was paralzyed. I cannot remember if he had always been this way, but I remember that it did not stop him from training, working, dating–you name it.

Steve had his reasons for training. When I first met him, I remember thinking that we had to be careful with him, because I didn’t want to hurt him. Steve was no softy though, and fought to do everything everyone else did. He played instruments for Lion Dance. He practiced forms (modified for him, though). He kicked by swinging his right leg. And believe it or not–he even fought in tournaments. If you were lucky enough to catch him or fight with him, it was an amazing thing to behold. Steve, who nicknamed himself “Handi-Man” after Damon Wayans’ character on the show “Living Color”, was difficult to hit, and was just as difficult to defend against. Because of his supposed disability, he attacked by throwing himself against you. A few times he would miss and then have no way to stop himself. But the majority of the time, he would not (his timing was very good) and whatever he launched at you would hurt like hell, as Steve was very strong and equally as quick.

Where he lacked in grace and balance, he made up for it in trickiness and power. One of the things I saw him do was pretend to fall off balance, and then when the opponent moved in for the kill–he’d jump on you. We have to give Master Wong credit for convincing Steve to work with his condition. Notice I did not call it a “disability”. No more than being a lefty, or having short legs, or a preference to use the legs or the hands–his paralysis was just that:  a condition. I also did not say “ignore” his condition. Nor “overcome” his condition. I said “work with” his “condition”. Simply put, Steve emphasized what he could do, and found a way to compensate for what he couldn’t do. This is what those who are supposed to have a disability do; they do not see themselves as victims. They simply find a way to make it work, whatever “it” happens to be. Both student and teacher must do this. You must bring out whatever is in the student and find a way to make them successful.

Why do I bring this up? Because I have found that in the martial arts, we are supermen who do what most of our peers cannot. We are physically stronger, we are braver, and we use what we have to protect others. We are the go-to for troubled people. And when some martial arts student wants to learn to defend himself or get his body healthier, we must find a way to make that happen–not determine who can learn or who “shouldn’t” learn. Raymond took a student many of us, including myself, would be afraid to teach and made him strong.

Another lesson from Steve… I just happened to arrive at a tournament when I noticed the red “WCBA” t-shirts Wong’s students wear. When I saw Steve in sparring gear, I was anxious to see how he would do against the others. To my surprise Mr. Wyatt (the tournament director) did not have a “special” division, and he put Steve in with other green belt fighters. Where an opponent attempted to go easy on him, Steve took them apart. A few of the fighters were determined not to allow this “Handi-Man” take the trophy, and came at him with just as much fire. Steve stood his ground and placed, after losing to a very good fighter who did not treat him lightly. It was a well-deserved win. Over time, Steve was a regular at the tournaments and he became quite good. I remember him saying that he wanted to do full-contact, so I sparred with him, hoping to discourage him. Instead, he gave me a run for my money and I walked away with even more respect than before. And 20 years later, I am still talking about him.

No student should be underestimated, as their potential is limitless. That is, unless they or their teacher installs a glass ceiling over them during training.

But I’m not done! There is an entire sport/art for people who would normally qualify for disability plates in the nice, progressive, left-leaning state of California:  Sumo. Sumo wrestlers are, by Western standards, obese. Yet these men are extremely powerful, curiously fast, and in much better shape than one would imagine. The art of Sumo has taken atheletes who lack qualities we think they should have, and teaches them to use their “disadvantage” as a great advantage in combat. When you are done reading this article, I would like you to do some research into the training they endure and take a second look at the power of the Sumo wrestler.

All that to say this:  Teachers should look at their student’s abilities and qualities, and then find a way (even if they have to modify their art or teaching method) to make the students successful. Even if they appear obese. Even if they are partially paralyzed. Even if they have conditions that prevent them from doing everything other students can do. Teachers teach. Student pay you to learn. No one said it would be easy, but your students deserve a teacher who believe it can be done, regardless of what hand they were dealt. This is what separates the teachers from the Master-teachers. And this is one of the secrets of the learned.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Warrior and Religion, pt II (Service)

This installment is not going to deal with religion very much, but it is a continuation of this post.

I would like you to ponder over the following quotation, by “Iron Mike Tyson”:

“The Strong will always dominate the Weak, and the Smart will always dominate the Strong.”

For sure, this is a profound statement from a man that is not known for being intelligent. But he most certainly is a warrior, and he is giving you the reality that someone who was once the strongest, most dangerous man on the planet had come to realize. Because Iron Mike has repeated this saying several times on different occasions, it must be a reality that he lives by. For every man has a master–whether he realizes it or not–and every man is vulnerable to another. Even the mighty warrior, who is powerful and capable of taking another’s life in the blink of an eye, has to answer to someone. Is it not logical that even the strongest, most dangerous of men find a Higher Power to submit to? I am sure that some warriors, capable of snapping the neck of his President, King, Emperor, General, knows that in one brave move he could move mountains in his country–perhaps the world–but some higher purpose or cause prevents him from doing it?

Who could be the master of one so powerful but the Creator of the Heavens and Earth? What is to stop this mighty warrior from killing his leaders and taking political power from all who challenge him?

It happens. And when the warrior takes leadership, rule is out of balance, and we end up with tyrannies. This is why Military Dictatorships and leaders who are all too powerful do not make good leaders. Fighters are not necessarily leaders, although the masses sometimes will follow them to the ends of the Earth because they romanticize the Hero. While men who lead must have the qualities found in soldiers and warriors–like tenacity, courage, servitude–fighting and leading are completely different skills. Many warriors understand this, as they are good for wielding swords and directing battles. Leaders must be good orators (not necessarily charismatic orators), they must be managers (of people, finances and resources), they must not be in love with wealth and lust, they must be honest, and they must be willing to die for the good of the people–and willing to lose power if it is important for the country. It is why I have always believed that a leader with no military experience can lead a city, but never a nation. Because a nation is more than a business that needs money and management; a nation needs law and order, and she and her people must be protected.

The warrior, on the other hand, has many of these qualities, but his role is different. The leader serves his people, but he is the head that pushes his people in the direction that is best for them. The warrior is at the leader’s beck and call, and often must move ahead of the leader to make sure the coast is clear. So in that role, the warrior must be powerful only in the face of the enemy–but he must be obedient to his leaders. It is like the guard dog who fears no one, and strikes fear in everyone’s hearts but his master. He must have the dual role of not fearing his leader, but also not being feared by his master. If this balance is allowed to tilt either way, we cannot have a harmonious situation.

The warrior, then, cannot have too much power. As I stated, too much power tilts the scales, and it must be controlled by something very powerful. Power, like money to the leader, intoxicates. It is a liar and the tool of the evil to get otherwise good men to do wrong. It is the reason a crooked cop or crooked soldier seems so devious. Someone has trusted you with this power, and apparently, the checks and balances required to protect abuse has failed. When building warriors, those arming warriors must ensure that their weapons and skills will not be abused, misused or falls into the wrong hands. The warrior-in-training must be conditioned and taught that he is a servant, or he will end up as any form of a bully.

This is the reason I am against FMA being taught on video. I am against true martial arts being mass-marketed. And it is the reason I feel the last three decades have failed the growth of the martial arts to a degree. Martial arts has become a commodity; a product to be bought and sold. Many masters I have discussed this with have told me themselves, “I am only paid to teach martial arts, I keep people alive.”  Thanks to the intoxicating lure of the dollar or fame, these men have either watered down their art for mass consumption, or taught the most dangerous version of our arts to feed the thirst of men too immature to realize that they are trying to live out a boyhood fantasy of being a cold blooded killer/ninja-type. I have no respect for this, and there is no secret that I have a disdain for it.

That said, we must return back to the days when the warrior was just a servant. A protector. An enforcer. A teacher. And to some degree, a leader. The martial artist as a snake oil/snake charmer, entertaining crowds of seminars, a comedian who makes his rounds every few months from city to city giving awesome demonstrations–a peddler hawking videos and certificates to nonwarriors and children alike–has bastardized the arts I love. To counter this, my friends, has been my mission ever since you first heard of thekuntawman.

At the same time, the warrior must feel some sense of servitude to his people and neighbors. Even in my religion of Islam, men are encouraged to protect the homeland where he is living (it is not true that Muslims can only protect Muslim lands). The warrior must do more than just work, make money and practice his art. If someone is hurt in the warrior’s presence, he has failed his training. If a warrior fails to protect and arm his family and friends, he has failed. If a warrior fails to even speak against an injustice–he has failed in his role as warrior. For a warrior to do no more than treat his art as a pastime or a vocation–he is betraying the very reason these arts exist. You are no different than a man who allows his wealth to rot under a rock than to spend a portion of it feeding the hungry in his presence. One has squandered a gift that he was blessed to have. The arts were not passed down through the generations so that you could brag on websites or make a few bucks.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

The Marriage of the Warrior and Religion

Some of you atheist-types might get mad at me. And I’m not apologizing. It would help if you stuck around and read this article before rejecting my statements prematurely.

When I was a kid, my grandfather had once said that a warrior with no religion was like a gun with no sights, notches, or other means to aim. Since the beginning of time, the warrior has always been bound to a set of tenets governing his life. This is true even today, as soldiers in the military are held strictly to the UCMJ (Uniformed Code of Military Justice) and the duties of patriotism, service, and self-sacrifice. I don’t know about you, but when I hear of our young men and women charging headlong into battle in this Iraqi war–especially those who die–I am reminded of the bravery of Japanese Kamikaze, the Filipino guerillas, the Viet Cong, the Sandanistas, even the Jihadis in Afghanistan and Iraq who are their enemies. After all, they all were fighting an occupying force invading their countries. (Hopefully, you aren’t believing that we were invited to occupy them)  It is also said that the strongest of men are the ones who put others before them, whether they be meals or their own lives. I watched the men of our families stand around at family gatherings while we ate. The rule was “women and children eat first”, and once I hit puberty I was expected to adhere to that rule–as a man. The warrior is like that. He puts all others before him, the kind of guy who will put the mask on you first, before himself, on a descending airplane regardless of what the flight attendants say. He will endure injuries and impending death in order to save his fellow fighters. He will stand in the cold so that you can sleep. He will even go 3 years without seeing his wife and children if asked, to fight in a war he has little interest in. There is a reason why they say that war is the creation of cowardly, rich old men, to be fought by the brave, but poor young men.

It is also said that war is the tools of the Godless, who talk tough because their weapons are money and other people’s lives. I can guarantee you, that there are very few atheists in the trenches of battle.

In high school I read with sadness, the plight of our soldiers during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. They fought during the harsh winters of the Atlantic Northwest with no shoes, little food, and almost no medical attention. As they traveled from town to town, these men were fed by farmers and families they encountered, and when outnumbered or outgunned–many of these brave young men charged into battle to take out as many enemy as possible rather than wave the white flag. Hmm… sounds like a juramentado to me.

In places where the warrior is not a short-term, temporary role, but a lifestyle–the Filipino mandirigma, the Shaolin monk, the Korean Hwarang–the tradition of being a warrior is steeped in religion. Even the Samurai, who is not a monk, is living by a code that religion-like. I had a good friend who is Samoan, and he practices a dance that is very warrior-like. The moves in the dance uses a boat oar and wooden club as a weapon. And those who practice this dance do more than just dance–they are supposed to behave and live according to a semi-religious tradition. The religion connection gives the warrior a code to live by, and governs his decision-making and behavior. It gives him an ultimate reward for dying for a cause, and motivates him to press on when most men would give up. Men will watch an extremely painful act and think to themselves, “I don’t know how he could do it” or “Man, that’s crazy” or “I don’t understand why someone would do that”… Of course not. Because as human beings, we are naturally predisposed to avoiding pain, danger, and have the inclination towards self-preservation. The average man will run from danger, rather than avoid it. I was at a shopping center when some fired a gun a few years back. I quickly grabbed my children and threw myself on top of them. When I looked up, I saw a little girl standing in the parking lot by herself. Her father had run for cover. It was one of the most disgusting things I have ever seen. Yet we have to understand, that when someone lacks combat training or religious training, they know nothing of sacrifice and putting yourself after someone else. And sadly, even when that someone else is your own child.

I have some students who have been training with me for more than 6 years. These brothers can jump down and crank out 100 pushups like it’s nothing. When we train, they have sparred for two hours straight with few breaks. They are very powerful, and many of you reading this blog have probably never encountered martial artists at this level. They stand over most martial artists in terms of skill, and when compared to the non-martial artist it would be like squishing a bug. Three of them are even bouncers in a night club. And out of all of them, only two have been in altercations that I can remember that became physical. In one, a student encountered the ex-boyfriend of his wife in his home. When the guy jumped on him, he stopped just short of throwing the guy off a second floor balcony. He caught himself and put the guy down, who then punched him in the eye and ran off–and my student did not chase him, realizing that he allowed himself to get angry enough to kill the man. In the other incident, my student was called the “N” word by another martial artist and then attacked. Within a few seconds, the attacker was injured enough to need an ambulance, and my students who witnessed it said that the young guy never had a chance. My student confided in me that he stopped himself when he realized that the guy he was fighting was no match and he actually felt bad beating him–despite the fact that he had used racist language with him and attacked him. Both students are Muslim, and I doubt that had they not been religious men–I would have trained two murderers.

The warrior who trains as an occupation is far superior physically to any average man. He has the kind of physical strength and power most people have never experienced and possibly could not imagine. They see attacks in slow motion, and can fight even armed men as easily as you would play with your child. When one is this skilled, even the most aggressive attackers on the street pose no more a threat than a child. This is what you could call “lethal skill”–a man who fights as naturally as one can read a book. When you engage nonwarriors in combat, if you are not careful, you could accidentally kill him. It is important to have something ingrained into your conscience and heart that is far more powerful than your physical skills–even more powerful than your emotions. A power than guides your heart is the only thing that can control this, as extreme emotions, like terror, fury, love, jealousy, rage, fear, and others can make you lose your common sense. Religious strength can keep a man on the brink of death fighting for his life when others would cower. Religious strength controls a man when his emotions betray him and his logic. When a man is developing the ability to take another’s life with the push of a button, he must have some internal GPS to control it and it must be incorporated and intertwined with his training. It needs not necessarily be a religion, but it must at least be religion-like.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Use of Lateral Movement in Countering/Defense

I have a kickboxing class with young people, that I teach 2 days a week. Right now, I only have four students aged 13 and 14 (one 14 year old and three 13 year olds). We will work until January, when I will put them in continuous fighting in point tournaments and eventually the Muay Thai circuit.

Out of the four kids, only one is shorter than me–the 14 year old and three of the 13 year olds (two are girls) are all taller than 5’7″. But one of the 13 year olds is about 5 feet even. He is an agressive boy, but despite that, one of my girls was killing him with the jab. He uses a Mike Tyson-style of fighting, by weaving side to side and trying to go under the girl’s punches, but was target practice for her quick, accurate jab. So last night, we spent twenty minutes moving with our #2 and #4 footwork–the inside step and the outside step. I am going to have the kids spend at least three more sessions with the lateral movement before having them spar again. I am hoping my little guy is able to find a way to beat that jab.

And at the same time, I want the young lady to learn how to counter it.

Without going too much into detail about it (remember, I am not interested in teaching by blog), I would like to suggest that you work frequently with the side-to-side movement in both your attacking and your defense. For shorter fighters, such as myself, lateral movement is a good way to shorten the distance between you and your opponent. It is also ideal in eliminating the need to have faster hands to stop or catch an opponent. When an opponent is attacking you, your side to side movement will drastically lower his connect percentage–as trying to shoot straight at a laterally-moving target is very difficult.

A good example of this, is the shooting gallery at the carnival. Remember the duck you can’t seem to hit? Although they are moving much slower than the bbs coming out of the gun, and the fact that you know the only direction they are going, you just can’t seem to get any accuracy! It is because when the opponent is directly in front of us we have the ability to choose our target, aim and then fire on it. But when it is moving, we are forced to aim and shoot simultaneously. Depending on our ability to aim while in motion, the target is often repositioned by the time our attack has been released.

We also want to learn to counter while moving laterally. Side to side movement is good for evading. However, it is very difficult to strike back at the opponent while we are in motion. And what better time to counter the opponent, than immediately after he has missed an attack on you? One thing to remember is that since the opponent has attacked you, he has placed himself within the range to land a strike. By moving, you are now beside the spot he was aiming for and in the perfection position to capitalize on the newly created opportunity. Moving and then countering while moving is a must-have for any effective countering or defensive strategy.

In practicing your attacking skills, remember to practice attacking a laterally-moving opponent also. This is one skill I hope my countryman Manny Pacquiao has honed in preparation for the big payday fight with Floyd Mayweather. Floyd’s style is a very effective lateral style of moving, which has made him stand out as one of the most difficult fighters to hit. Many people focus on his slipping and bobbing skills; yet what is more pronounced is his movement. Floyd does not move forward and backward (called the “Caballo” style of footwork–why, I don’t know because horses don’t move backward)–he moves side to side, and then he stops when he wants to fire back. By getting the opponent to move laterally with him and then stopping, he is controlling the opponent and confusing the opponent–who has not had a chance to adjust to the change. This awkwardness causes the opponent to be off balance and allows him to exploit the side-to-side/in place change confusion. In short, the opponent is now going side to side, while Mayweather is now firmly planted and ready to hit. There is a lot to this style of fighting, but by training to hit a laterally moving opponent, you will learn a lot about how to catch one.

I hope this article is not too confusing, as it would be very difficult for me to teach this style of fighting in an article. One could write a book on fighting laterally; there is so much to it. But just by training with the movement, you will find many doors open to you that were not there when you only trained the linear style. Learn to counter with lateral movement, and learn to attack a lateral-moving opponent. Very simple change to your training and it will give you many advantages over most opponents. Thanks for visiting my blog.

Why We’re Different

I have a flyer, and the subcaption reads “Who We Are and Why We’re Different”. This is one of my favorite flyers, as it tells the story of how my school isn’t just your average martial arts school. As a Philippine-style martial arts school–I even run my Kung Fu class as a Filipino class–we have a completely different philosophy than, as another of my favorite flyers puts it–“This Isn’t Your Little Brother’s Karate School”.

In my many conversations with FMA practitioners both around my area and the internet, we touch on the importance of distinguishing yourself from everyone else. As a Guro who has invested your hard-earned, hard-saved money, your sweat, and effort, you owe it to yourself to find a way to make sure this successful. Please don’t cheat yourself by considering prospering in the martial arts industry to be indicative of selling out; every well-meaning martial arts teacher deserves to make a comfortable living.

I would like to offer you some things that may help you in your conversations with potential students, and I hope they don’t make you feel like you’re giving a sales pitch.

First, let me say this. As a martial arts teacher, we are not salesmen. In my opinion, martial arts “snailsmen” might as well sell used cars. We don’t want to convince uninterested students into joining. The idea here is to find out if the student we are speaking to is a good match for our school, and then convince him that our school meets his needs. And be honest. You may want the tuition, but if you sign up the wrong guy for your classes, it will be a waste of your energy and his time and money. And you want to be able to put your point across in less than 3 minutes. If you can sum up a good picture of who you are and why you’re different, you are on your way to training a new student:

  • We are an adult-oriented school. Most FMA schools are not into teaching 10 year olds. I know I’m not. The FMAs are complicated arts, and while some schools have forms and drills that kids can learn, the main part of the art–the slashing throats, breaking bones, and exterminating our opponents–is not appropriate for children. Therefore, we focus our attentions on the adult market. If you, Mr. Student, are interested in the grown-up, real stuff–you’re in the right place. I don’t have a “Tiny Tigers” program.
  • We understand that sticks and knives do break bones, and they can hurt you. Many martial arts schools delve too much into theory, and their weapons are really not seen as weapons. They actually treat weapons as “extensions of the hands”, rather than the weapons of war they were made to be. In the FMA school, we treat weapons like they are supposed to be treated: as tools to injure, maim or kill the opponent. If you are interested in advanced baton-twirling with sticks, go check out the guys down the street. But if you want to learn how to punish a criminal for life, this is the school for you. Most other schools only use weapons for forms and demonstration. We teach you to fight with them.
  • We do not teach survival on the streets; we teach domination on the streets. The Day Care Center–excuse me–the Karate school at the shopping center down the street is only pulling your leg when he uses the term “self-defense”. In telling you that you can only learn to survive the street, and not win matches, he is trying to convince you that street attacks are not win-lose. Well, nothing could be further than the truth. Attackers in the streets are not interested in winning trophies. At the same time, he is not going to walk away just because you fight back. As long as you are standing and breathing, he will continue–especially if you fight back–until he is convinced that he could get away and not be followed or identified in a line up. If a man crawls through your window while you’re home and tells you to find all the cash in the house, do you think he will stop once you get a bloodied nose? Hell no, you better learn how to cripple him or make him stop breathing. You can’t sterilize the street assault. It won’t be easy, and it won’t feel like a cardio workout. You need to be faster, stronger and more bulletproof than any alcohol-drinking, pot-smoking thug on the street.  Majority of the time, he has spent the last 5 – 10 years pumping iron in the joint. Do you really think you’ll be able to match him with some canned moves learned in a 3 hour seminar? We will teach you and train you to ruin that thug’s day.
  • Sometimes, the class will look like a military hand-to-hand course, sometimes it will look like a boxing class, and sometimes it will look like a fitness class. And that’s why I don’t do “free classes” so you can see if you like it. Because to be honest, if I am doing my job as an FMA teacher, you won’t like it. Either you want to do this, or you don’t. And one class won’t give you any idea what training here is like. Try it for three months and then make your decision. Oh? You mean you don’t know if you will stick with it three months? Well, this school is for serious students only. And to be honest, if a student is not willing to commit to three months of training, then I don’t want him as a student. This is a serious martial arts school for serious martial artists. I’m sure Ronald McSensei has an intro to Karate course…
  • We will break you down and build you up. Any martial arts class worth its salt will do this. When you join, you will go home with blisters on your hands. Your forearms will hurt so bad you won’t be able to play your X-Box for a few days. You may have bruises, pulled muscles, and even a bloody nose here and there. But believe that in one year, you will not be the same person you are today. You will be stronger, leaner, more aggressive, and more courageous. That’s what this training will do for you. But if you think you won’t want to quit every month, you don’t understand the real thing. This is a difficult journey, and it is super-simple; just won’t be easy. There is a saying that most people who undertake a serious FMA class will quit in the first 6 months. There is a reason for that. Most people aren’t cut out for it. But if you stick with it, you will be able to hold your head up among your peers. And I hope you do it, but I won’t make you sign a contract to get there. I want you to want this that bad, as a student. The commercial school does contracts because they are more interested in their bottom line, I am interested in results.

I have more, but I have to get ready for class. Thanks for visiting my blog.

Who Are You? (Martial Arts Mission Statement)

As an expert martial artist, you must stand for something. Hence, the saying, “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.”  Just as every business must have a clear mission statement, the martial artist must have his own mission statement.

Your mission statement is a declaration of your specialty–something about how you view and practice combat that separates you from everyone else. I find that especially FMA people, martial artists tend to be too generic. You’ve probably heard me say it before; that everyone looks the same and everyone is doing the same thing. Think about this:  Name the primary arts of the Northern Philippines (Luzon), the Central Philippines (Visayas) and Southern Philippines (Mindanao).

If you answered “Arnis in Luzon, Eskrima in the Visayas, and Kali in Mindanao”…  Uh huh. You’re right. And you prove my point.

Arnis/Luzon, Eskrima/Bisaya, Kali/Mindanao is NOT true. It is a myth, and it came from one place–Dan Inosanto’s book “The Filipino Martial Arts”. It seems everyone read it; me too. It also shows that nearly everyone gets their information from the same place. This is why I said, FMA people, that you must stand for something or you will fall for anything.

How many people out there still believe that “authentic” FMAs teach Single Stick, Double Stick, the Knife, Empty Hands and Espada y Daga? Again, Dan Inosanto. Except, the Presases validated this theory by saying “oh, we have that too.” The Presas system is, at its heart, Balintawak–and if you know anything about Balintawak, they specialize not in EyD, Sinawali, knife nor empty hand–but the Single Stick. The Presas system is based in Judo, Shotokan Karate and Arnis. Maybe over time they changed, but that is the foundation. And that is why Presas style Arnis complimented Karate so well.

How many FMA people are still running around calling our kicking arts “Panananjakman”, our hands “Pananantukan” (or “Panatukan” lol), and our “dirty fighting” “Kinomutai”? Ever go to the Philippines and try to find those arts? Wait, never mind, they are now offering “Muslim Kali” back home now…

Please, FMA brothers, make a place for yourselves and stop trying to fit in with what everyone else is doing. We don’t all have to have the same thing. It’s okay if your empty hand didn’t come from the knife; no one is really doing that in the Philippines, except people who have access to American students and Western FMA media. We are trying too hard to make our FMA look exotic and “authentic”–it’s becoming phony. As soon as we hear that they are doing something new in the FMA–the Whip, the Chain, the Yoyo, trapping, wrestling water buffalos–we run out and start doing it too. All that, and the most important factor of the FMAs is being ignored.

Do you know what that is? Fighting superiority.

And how do we determine the superior fighting art, my friends? After all, these arts are too deadly to be used against another man, except for a kill-or-be-killed death match. Yeah, we have that too. But please, answer that question for me–how will you determine that your art is superior to the next guy’s?

You have to do it. See, we are constantly adding and adding and adding and adding–all in the name of “research” and “always a student”. The conclusion of all that adding and research isn’t being done. The conclusion is the determination, “does this stuff work?” And you know what needs to be done to find out:  you have to have matches with people determined to make you fail.

And here we end up at my point of all this ring-around-the-rosy FMA talk. The reason you are adding and adding and not forming your “martial arts mission statement” is because you have bought into the excuse that you aren’t training for sport. But trust me, most of the guys fighting in the ring–even the point fighters–aren’t training for sport either. They will poke your eye out in a real match. They will smash your balls with a shin kick if you don’t protect yourself. They will strike your larynx if this was the street. The difference is that he has developed the timing and fighter’s third eye to be able to get it done, and you haven’t. And he has had enough fights to have a mission statement about what his fighting strategy is all about, but all you have done is collect techniques. While you must demonstrate your point on a willing opponent or an uke–he will pull it off on you and you can’t do a damn thing about it. And finally, he has the confidence to actually engage in a match with you, and you would be too nervous to do it because you haven’t done it enough.

Before I close, let me define the Martial Arts Mission Statement:

The Martial Arts Mission Statement is the fighter’s core philosophy to fighting. It encompasses his training ideology, his primary strategy to offense, his primary strategy to defense, and the primary fighting techniques and skills that make up his arsenal.

The breakdown of what all that means:

  1. Training Ideology. You must have a purpose in your training, and a focus to your training. Are you training for short, explosive speed and power? Or endurance? Are you going for grinding power or power-from-speed? Do you favor strong legs, strong arms, or a strong core? Do you believe in body-weight exercises, or do you use free weights? Do you focus on striking targets, bags, or mid air? You cannot say “all of the above”, that isn’t standing for something. That’s “trying to do everything, but doing nothing well.” Your students must know what your training ideology is, and just like the pillars of your religion, it must be the focus of all you do.
  2. Offensive Strategy. This is terribly lacking in the Philippine arts. FMA people train defense 95% of the time, and most of the time I ask them to show me their favorite attack, they can’t. Why? Because everything they learn requires a feeder. Most FMA people have not studied how to attack an opponent, and if you are serious about winning fights you must be good at this. You must have methods of attack and they have to be “canned” and burned into your muscle memory. If you do not train your attacks, when you fight you will not have anything logical that comes out second nature. Basically, you will just flail your hands and sticks, flop your kicks out, and look like drunks in a tough-man contest. Develop a system of attacking and make this a core in your fighter’s tool box.
  3. Defensive Strategy. What FMA people have more of is defensive techniques, rather than defensive strategy. Those neat disarms and counter combinations you know are not defensive strategies–they are just one-steps with a stick. Or knife, or with a hand. I saw a video back in the 90s of an American FMA man asking two masters “what would you do if I did this?” and both masters fumbled around with an answer. That was embarassing. What they should have asked him was “give me a number ___”, because that’s all they had prepared for. It was obvious that the two gentleman had not prepared for the unexpected because the unexpected caused them to babble. Yet, if they had learned strategy rather than tactics they would have had an accessible answer. See, when you understand strategy, regardless of what the opponent does, you see the same answer for it.
  4. Your Arsenal. If you had bought my book, you would understand this point. You cannot train everything in your curriculum to the point of full effectiveness in fighting. There must be some things that you know well, and others that you specialize in. What do you specialize in? Identify only a few techniques that will make up the primary tools in your fighting arsenal and make them the focus of your training.

When you have defined and committed yourself to a mission statement, in other words your fighting philosophy, you will be on your way to true expertise in the martial arts. And once that happens, it doesn’t matter what the other guys are doing. Because you can truly say that you have your way, and they have theirs.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Sleeping on Floors (Fat-Cream Martial Arts, Part III)

It is said that the student who sleeps on floors is learning the real lessons from his Master. He is the one who spends idle time with his teacher, learning the lessons that are normally not taught in class. He treasures the conversations with his teachers and hears the inner thoughts this teacher has about the martial arts and the role of the martial artist. These things are usually not recalled in the middle of a martial arts lesson, where the teacher is mostly thinking of the technical side of the art. Especially in today’s martial arts gym, where we are halfway thinking of our students as customers:  the money they pay helps us keep the lights on, feeds our children, and pays our mortgage. Therefore, we happen to know that too much lecture in class means our pupils are not burning calories and learning new stuff, and they might go elsewhere.

You might laugh at this, but I knew the community was in trouble when I actually lost a student to a “24 Hour Family Fitness” Kickboxing class. After a sparring session, the student emailed me and said, “Guro, I’m sorry, but I got popped in the nose last night and I realized that I signed up to learn how to fight–not actually engage in fighting…”  Don’t laugh, many of you have lost students for similar reasons. Just not all martial arts students are man enough to confront you (even by email) and say, I don’t like sparring.

I have slept on the floor of every master I have ever studied from in my life, with the exception of two men–a Tiger/Crane master I learned from in Taiwan when I was 9, and an Espada at daga master I studied from in Dau, Philippines. As a result of that weak relationship, I barely remember their styles and I don’t remember their names. But my teachers whom I spent day in and day out with–I know things about them some of their own children don’t know. A few nights ago, I was going through the footwork patterns of my Jow Ga master, Chin Yuk Din, with my intermediate students. As they practiced, I told them of the changes I made, the year I made them, and the first 5 students I taught them to. I also informed them of when my Sifu made his changes, and the year he made them:  it was 1983, and I was 14 years old. I explained the old way, the “new” (1984) way, and the new “new” way, which I made in 1992. Why is this important? Because students need to understand the logic in the art they are learning, and it sometimes gives value to know the historical and creative DNA of the system you are studying. Some of the changes I made were based on conversations I had with my Sifu, some were based on the White Eyebrow he taught me as well as his friend who also taught me, and some were skills and preferences I developed as a Kuntaw fighter. Does this information change how they execute the techniques I teach them? Not really, but it certainly enhances their knowledge and helps the students understand why we do what we do and give value to what they are doing. Who knows? Maybe one of them will want to change some of it back?

I always advise my students to struggle in the path of their art. I know it’s not always easy. Sometimes you have marital problems and don’t feel like training. There are the times that you have monetary problems. You may feel like you’re not getting any better, you gained weight, have medical issues or you just don’t have time. I had a student who, after competing successfully–even in a contact tournament–joined a boxing gym and lost a match to a beginning boxer. He got depressed, joined several other schools, and then returned after a short hiatus. When he returned to class, he told me, “Guro, I’ve been all over the place and you have a wierd approach to the martial arts. But no one has your philosophy to the art, and no one’s method is better.” Or something like that. He is a reader to this blog so I will let him comment if my version is too different to what he actually said.

This type of stuggle and prioritizing of the art in your life builds character. My teachers have seen me sacrifice a career in the Federal government, bypass a formal education, good jobs, marriages even… for this art. Those who understand this type of pursuit of something you love know how it changes you. It cannot be duplicated with convenience and easily reached training programs. Look at the musician who sleeps in the rain, plays on street corners, writes music in the coffee shops while drinking the one cup of coffee he can afford. No musician is quite like this guy. And he wouldn’t give up playing that guitar for all the money in the world. And how the guys who do open mics and takes lessons he finds on Craigslist would kill to have his skills and ability. One guy will tell some woman he loves her, but then you eat peanut butter sandwiches in order to mail her and her children money every month, travel 200 miles by bus to see her every few months when you can afford to see her–and she knows who loves her the most. There is something to be gained by placing your craft at the top of the list of priorities–over cruises, over romance, over that new convertible you are saving for–and it can’t be duplicated through a seminar or DVD, and certainly not learned in 24 Hour Family Fitness. There are those who would only do this art if it was easy to get and easy to get to, and they will never be equal to the ones who sleep on floors to get to the feet of their teachers. Some get it, some don’t.

Thank you for visiting my blog.