Ignorance Is Bliss

Today I found my old Kuya under Master Boggs Lao at the Black Knights Kuntaw Gym of Angeles City, Philippines. His name is Lakeim Allah, and I can say hands down that he was Boggs’ best fighter, along with (you know I have to give him props) Bernard Savage. To this day, I can think of only a few fighters whose skill matched these two men, both here in America and abroad. I was very happy to find that he was teaching in Brooklyn, New York. At the same time, I was also concerned. Here’s the reason why.

Every newcomer to the mainstream Filipino Martial Arts community arrives in the dark about why this community is “mainstream” and they soon discover why ignorance of this fact is bliss. As a young man, I was sheltered from the community by my grandfather, who could sense something was wrong just by observance. Rather than teach–as was planned before his arrival–he was content to teach me and my brother, and just accompany us to events and tournaments. He preferred to remain in obscurity than to join the community and be noticed, and he demanded that we did the same. Things changed, however, when I was a teen and made the fateful decision to ask my mother to sew a Filipino flag patch to my black gi, which I competed in each time I went without my Jow Ga school. Soon, I was noticed by FMA dabblers and enjoyed the attention. I was asked to show what I knew, and although I was not allowed to oblige–my 15 year old pride and ego ended up providing demonstrations and explanations of our techniques. One of my biggest regrets was to humor a then-Kung Fu teacher from NYC who would ask me every time I saw or spoke to him, what “Kuntaw/Kuntao” was, what it looked like, where to find it, etc. He had no access to Kuntaw, and the only thing close to it he could find was “Silat” taught by Dutch teachers (which was actually Hsing Yi and Ba Gua) taught in seminars–but also had the added buzzword “Kuntao” tacked onto it for extra marketing power. Well, this teacher is now a full-blown FMA “Kuntao” guy, teaching the ancient art of Filipino hand and foot fighting–pieced together, stitching patches of kung fu, aikido, and jujitsu. And I helped to create that monster.

Lakeim, as a newcomer to the business side of the Filipino Martial Arts, was sheltered from all the b.s. by being simply a practitioner. He had nothing to worry about but to maintain his skills and train and be the best fighter he can be. But once you cross that threshold of practitioner to businessman (even if he only taught in backyards, there is still a place for you as a businessman–but he actually has a school, rare for FMA Guros), you find out all the dirty stuff in the Filipino Martial Arts, and it really is off-putting. I can imagine that as word spreads about Lakeim’s school, he will soon be a stop-off by self-serving people looking to make themselves look good and trying to make Lakeim look bad. He will suffer at the hands of FMA organizations and the bureaucracy of leaders trying to solidify themselves at the expense of his growth–along with riding his skills and friendliness. He will find himself having to fight for acceptance and legitimacy, in the oceans of the illegitimate and inferior martial artists. He will be the proverbial Lion raised by prey, unaware of the royal potential he possesses.

So, as my Grandfather had once done, I would like to warn Master Lakeim and others like him to reject the mainstream while being aware of what happens on this side of the coin. Obscurity is best, and you already have everything you need to be the leader. Those far behind you will try and establish themselves as superior, and if you are aware, you won’t fall prey to these FMA predators:

  • The FMA history guys–Let me start with this:  NO ONE knows the full history of the Filipino Martial Arts. Every style, system and organization has a different history of the FMAs. However, you will have people trying to convince you of their version–which almost always results in “because of this, MY system is superior to YOUR system”. You will meet people who give their respective styles an ancient history which puts them as an inheritor to the arts, or to make their style sounds generations old–when they in fact, made the art up themselves. People will try and dazzle you with names, dates and statistics about the history of the FMAs. Most likely, 75% of the stuff you will hear is speculation, or just plain old bullcookies. And here’s the main point:  it doesn’t mean crap. Bottom line is if they can fight or not. 99.9% of the people walking through your door, my brother, couldn’t hold your jock strap. Listen to what they say, then ask them for a match. After all, you are a traditional FMA guy, and how much more tradition can you get besides fighting a match with each new fighter you encounter? Think of all the guys that came through the Black Knights gym. Did we not fight darn near every one of them? They will spout history until they are blue in the face, and it’s all to try and convince you that they are superior. Don’t fall for it.
  • The Drill Masters–Coming from Boggs Lao’s school, I know you don’t do drills. But FMA guys who don’t fight do these patty cake drills and stick patterns that are pretty to look at–and don’t have shit to do with fighting. When they come through (off line I will tell you exactly who they are in NYC) they will try to find out what drills you do, and then ask you to do some with you. This way, you will fumble and then they will “teach” you the drills, hoping to whet your appetite for learning more. It’s up to you if you want to participate, but then always do this:  Ask them “how does that work in a fight?” and then pick up a stick, or throw them a pair of gloves and then tell them you don’t think it will work. Brother I have done this for years, and no one ever touches hands afterwards. They will explain and explain and demonstrate, but they will never prove. Trust me, do this and they will never bother you again.
  • The Fake Kuntaw Guys–There is so much fake Kuntaw out here it’s disgusting. A whole lot of it is even taught by Filipinos. They will make up these elaborate histories and it’s always arts kept secret for generations. Don’t fall for it. Look way back, and you will see. These folks were once Karate/Tae Kwon Do/Kenpo/Jeet Kune Do/Wing Chun guys, still doing those arts, just calling it Kuntaw now. They will wear hijab (lol), sari (LOL!!!), kufis, miniskirts, hide blades all over their bodies, and rehearse “if-you-do-that-I-would-do-this” demonstrations. They will talk of connections through China, Indonesia, Malaysia, even the Majapahit Empire… and then turn you down for a match. Remember, none of that stuff matters if you can’t fight. You could be a Ninja and learn the secrets from Obi Won Kenobi himself… and if you can’t fight, what difference does it make? Your calling card, my brother, is your fighting skill. When they come around with their family’s secret art, ask how it will stand up to your art. Make sure to ask them to close the door as they leave, that electric bill is no joke this time of year in the BK!
  • The Seminar Hawkers–I love these guys. I’m not talking about the seminar masters. I’m talking the dudes who put on these seminars. Mostly they are good guys, and they are just trying to learn. But they are not like you and me; these men have taken the easy path to learning. They bypassed actually traveling and studying with a Master, and choose instead to take seminars. Yes, in these seminars, people are getting certified to teach the Filipino fighting arts in as few as 6 classes, or 12 months. I’m serious (I know Lakeim has just hit the floor), bro, 12 months. While this makes for crappy martial art skill, it’s good for exposure and business. If they ask you to teach seminars, alhamdulillah (praise God), go make that money my brother. But they will expect you to certify people when you do so. Hell, when I need the cash I will teach a seminar myself. I will post an article about what I consider a “good” seminar, versus a “bad” one. On the other hand, they may ask you to host one. If that happens, alhamdullilah! If there is one thing seminar guys are good for, it’s making money. And we could all use more of that filthy green stuff.
  • The Organization guys–nothing is more of an enemy to a style, than that style’s members themselves. Organizations are amazing. They want to promote an art, but the bigger they get, the more they dilute the art. Students get worse, leaders become intoxicated over power and money, and schools benefit very little, besides camaraderie. The organization will be concerned with silly stuff, like how to wear your uniform (don’t stray from our rules!) and what to put on your websites. No alternate histories or supplementing what WE teach! By the way, guys, we are changing the form, so what you’ve already taught the students, you will have to go back and reteach it like this… Do the organizational thing, but know that you are responsible for you and many people will ride your coattails. Some will take credit for what you’ve accomplished, and others will diminish what you have done. Don’t let it hold you back, and don’t get sucked into the politics or the chismis (backbiting). Who am I fooling? You are above that! Just do what you do, and hopefully that stuff won’t discourage you.

This is not just to my brother Lakeim (Leon Simmons), but to any newcomer to the business of the FMAs. I hope this does not turn you off of the teaching of martial arts, but please be aware of what is in store. If you always remember that the driving force behind the Filipino Martial Culture is fighting skill, all the other stuff will be irrelevant.

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