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.

Author: thekuntawman

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

One thought on “Who Are You? (Martial Arts Mission Statement)”

  1. Food for thought. I think the idea here is to think of what makes your style and/or teaching unique.

    This mission statement would also help the prospective student start to understand what you’re offering, especially since he typically has a background “knowledge” based on myths and misconceptions of karate, kung-fu, yelling, going barefoot, black belts, and kimonos.

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