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.

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7-11 Martial Arts (Fat-Cream Martial Arts, Part II)

AKA, “Burger King Grandmasters”.

AKA, “The Whopper”.

AKA, “Slurpee de Mano”.

Martial Arts Brothers and Sisters, we have to get out of this mentality. The real martial arts was never intended to be convenient. It wasn’t designed so that just anyone can have access to it. It isn’t easy to find, and when you find it, no one will hold your hand so you can learn, excel and achieve rank in it. If finding a good school was as easy as opening the Yellow Pages to the “K” or “M” section and looking between “Jewelers” and “Kennels”, or between “Marital Counselors” and “Masonry”… and then picking the one closest to you–or picking the one who has the biggest “FREE” wording on their ad–wouldn’t we all be Black Belters under great masters?

REAL martial arts is not designed for just anyone. It isn’t for the lazy. It isn’t for the broke. It isn’t for the impatient, the hot-headed, the arrogant, and unfocused. It is for the people who want it. Not just those who want to learn, but those who want it so bad they would rearrange their lives to learn from the right teacher after looking for a needle in a haystack. They would do without some things in order to afford it. They would quit jobs, not accept the 10% differential in order to stay on a shift that allows them to train. They would travel for hours week after week and even sleep on a classmate’s couch, in order to get two days of training. They would train when they’re injured–just work around their injury. They often will choose the life of a martial artist, than to stay married to the woman who just doesn’t understand how important this role is to you.

The martial arts defines who we are; our occupations are jobs we take just to pay bills–including tuition. Hell, if we could, we wouldn’t work. If training could pay the bills, how many of us would do nothing else but train? Even if it meant we couldn’t afford any luxuries, and not much more than the basic necessities? My die-hard martial artists are the worst-dressed, old car drivingest people I know. We don’t give a damn about retirement:  When you make a living doing what you dreamed of doing all your life, you will never retire. Make a living with your passion, and you will never have to work for the rest of your life.

Which of us wouldn’t sacrifice for this? The ability to train daily, and spread the art and make our living doing it?

There are many martial artists out here who like to call themselves “martial artists”, but they would give up nothing in order to do it. For them, martial arts training is not much more than a yoga class, or a softball team. Sure, you love it. Sure, you’ve been doing it all your life. But it does not define who you are. People don’t look at you and say, “There goes, Mustafa, the pool player!” or “There goes Mike, the administrative assistant!”  No more than some people would refer to you as “the Baptist” or “the Catholic”… unless that lifestyle truly defines who you are, people do not know you by that characteristic.

There are many who love the art, and some even make their living with it–but it does not define them. They make no sacrifices for it. If the school was constantly riding the red/black line–they’d close it. They will not miss any meals in order to do it. On a free day off, the first thing in their mind is not “goody, that means I can train all day!” Martial arts for these people is an extracurricular activity, and for others it is an occupation. It is not a way of life, as there is little more than just do what you do, and then move on to other things. School owners, especially. Many of us do not research our art to the point that it consumes us. Yeah, we may purchase books and DVDs and attend seminars–but are we truly researching the art? I have observed that the most knowledgeable martial artists I have met have been poor martial artists. They have made the sacrifice, and often that sacrifice is at the expense of marriages and a good income. However, they did the dirty work, of experimenting and testing and training and practicing… day in and day out, until mastering the art. A good many martial artists have not done much more than move from the couch to the DVD to the cushions. Probably looking for the remote to press “rewind” in order to get a second look at that neat technique…

I would say that about a third of the inquiries into my school have been students who live out of the area. And I hate to admit it, but most of the out of town inquiries are more likely to come and train with me, than the guys who are inquiring who live within 90 miles of my school. Why is that?

I have a theory. Most of the out of town FMA people I have trained live in a town where there IS no FMA. So, they value it more and will travel to find a teacher when they see a school they like. And forget what you’ve heard about Asian martial artists, do you know who the most diligent and loyal students I have met come from?

Australia.

Europe is close second. Here in America, we have more FMA grandmasters and more FMA schools than perhaps the Philippines itself. But for some reason, we still have the least dedicated FMA students who will never study the FMAs if DVDs and youtube were outlawed. FMA students would rather take a seminar a few times a year, than study week after week with a local master. If you are anything less than an FMA celebrity master, you might as well advertise as a “Karate/Kung Fu” teacher, like I do.

It seems the more access we have to it, the less we value it. And then when we find it, we will only study it if the tuition is $10 cheaper than the next guy–or the school is a little closer than the other guy. We will travel 1,000 miles to meet some woman we meet on Match.com, but we won’t travel 100 miles to study with a master. And instead, we’ll study with the weak Sensei with the add-on FMA certificate, because he’s closer or cheaper. Amazing.

Then you have the guys with the background in another art, but take seminars for our FMA certificate. And did you do as much training for the FMA certification as you did your Karate? Hell no. Maybe it took 3 years, but you only took the seminar 4 or 5 times a year–if THAT much. So, now the art that is so admired by much of the Martial Arts world is reduced to the level of a side hustle–sandwiched between Tae Kwon Do or Kenpo classes and Afterschool Karate.

I was invited to lunch with a certain well-known Grandmaster who taught FMA alonside a bunch of other styles. I came early, to see what was taught in his seminar. What I saw was a roomful of guys and gals, splitting their training time up between lousy Muay Thai, Silat, and FMA. Basically, we watched the GM demonstrate techniques, and then the groups broke out into smaller groups that practiced what they could remember of the demo, and just as people started to get it… it was time to put down the sticks and play patty cake (sorry, also Wing Chun). About 6 or 7 FMA teaching certificates were issued that seminar, and I felt like I needed to vomit. It sure looked like a roomful of beginning FMA guys to me. That includes the GM.

In case you were wondering, I gave my opinion of what I saw in the parking lot, then in the car, and then at the restaurant. Needless to say, I was not invited back, and the students I had that were also part of that group quit from my school. I no longer accept current students from that organization.

Seems to me that the FMA community is hurting for serious FMA people. I swear by God, I mean that. We have too many dabblers posing as Guros and serious students. Too many part time FMAers. Not enough people who want to learn so bad they would travel across town in order to study. And that level of respect for the art is reflected in the skill level I see when I look around at our FMA “masters” and “Guros”. The few hard core Guros I see are teaching out of parks and backyards because they have a difficult time keeping students who claim to want to learn. We are no more loyal and dedicated to learning good martial arts, than we are loyal to the neighborhood 7-11. Wherever we can find a better deal, closer location, or quicker in-and-out, we will change where we get our slurpees and newspapers from in a second.

Like I said, if I could ever figure out a way to invent a cream that you could rub on and instantly become proficient at Eskrima–these guys would never step into a dojo again.

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