To the Commerical Dojo Owner:

This is an open letter to the guys we traditional teachers laugh at. Yes, us–the “broke” guys with the “outdated” value and teaching systems, whose absence of business knowledge balance your absence of business ethics (our view). Although you talk smack about us when discussing business, you pretend to be one of us when discussing martial arts–or while giving one of your sales pitches. Of course, when the sales pitch is for fitness classes you pretend to be another Billy Blanks, or when the sales pitch is for “MMA” (quotation marks placed for emphasis) classes you pretend to be an MMA guy–who also laughs at you. (And you laugh at them when discussing business, because they have too much ego and do business-killing things, like make their students fight…)

Whew.

So, I am sparing you the indignity of referring to you as a “McDojo” owner, or “McGuro”, or “Ronald McSensei”, because I understand that not all commerical dojo owners are in fact operating a “McDojo”. There is a difference.

By the way, readers–a BJJ school can be a McDojo. A Muay Thai school can be a McDojo. An FMA/JKD school can be a McDojo. And get this…. A Tae Kwon Do school can be a McDojo. I’m serious, even Tae Kwon Do!

And let me add, that not all Tae Kwon Do is commercial/McDojo. And not all commercial schools are McDojos. There is a difference, and we must acknowledge and respect that.

Back to the subject at hand.

So, commercial dojo owners, my message is for you to stop. Stop killing the respect that the martial arts used to have. Stop the practices that kill your students’ self-esteem (which you claim to be building). Stop failing your students, your art, your fellow warriors, and disappointing parents. I understand that the arts must be watered down somewhat to fit the times. I do understand that some practices must be put in place in order to make a decent living. It is completely understandable that sometimes the art cannot be too “hardcore” if some of these students are to stick with it long enough to get in shape or learn to defend themselves. But there are many practices I want to address that I can’t stand about the art, and if you fix them you will make things better for you, better for your students and their parents, and better for the martial arts community in general. So let’s get started:

  • First, don’t EVER send a student to collections. If they can’t afford the classes, if they lose interest, if they just don’t have time these days to train, how in the world can you punish them for that? I know that they made a commitment, but good gosh–do you think anything positive will come out of stressing them out and ruining their credit? And guess what happens when you do that? They will never consider you if they decide to return to the arts, and they will never refer their friends and family to you. On top of that–you have just tarnished their view of all martial arts schools. So stop it.
  • Stop promising to “fix” kids!!! Wait, let me restate:

STOP PROMISING TO “FIX” KIDS!!!

  • Why do I say this? Because you can’t, and you know darn well you can’t. You’re no psychiatrist. You’re not his Dad. You aren’t a doctor. You’re not a school teacher. Martial arts do not fix ADD. It won’t make him do homework. If he’s talking back to his Mom, it’s because his Mom won’t slap him in the mouth. If he is a gangsta wannabe, he will still be a gangsta wannabe–especially if you enroll him in your “MMA” (quotation marks placed for emphasis) class. When you tell him that your Karate class is a good substitute for a well-deserved spanking, you’re lying. So stop.
  • If you have not trained this kid to completely annihilate any other kid on the playground, if you do not have the confidence that this kid can “take” any boy or girl–even bigger boys and girls–on the street, don’t slap a Black Belt on him. Period.
  • By the way, you cheapen the Black Belt when you award it to students that do not have the skill to match. It is wrong. And you’re setting up your student to getting seriously hurt on the street because either he has the confidence to defend himself (but not the skill) or he does not (and he paid you to give it to him). Stop making the path so easy.
  • Do a few situps while you’re at it too, doughboy.
  • I know you have a Porsche Carrera. But don’t drive it to the school. The students want to study martial arts, not feel as if you were training them to take over your Multi-level marketing scheme. We know the martial arts can be lucrative, but if you flaunt wealth at em, and them offer to franchise a location to them when they get their Black Belt… What product are you actually selling? Self-defense skills? Or dealerships?
  • Make your guys get on the floor with guys from another dojo and mix it up sometime. If you are afraid they might get hurt and quit, then you probably shouldn’t be in this business.
  • Stop charging for tests. Multi-level marketing 101. Give it value by appealing to something else besides your wallet. And make it hard. Fail a few of them if they don’t deserve it. That 50 bucks they just paid was supposed to answer a question you don’t know the answer to:  Will they pass?  Hey! Ever seen my famous mind-reading trick? Watch this…. Oooommm…. Yes, 100% of your students will pass every test you issue this year. Wanna know how I know? ESP. Extra Stupid Purchase. They are paying for that test, so what incentive do they have to try and pass? It isn’t necessary, because it’s not pass-fail. It’s just another income stream for you. So what are you really selling? Not skill, it must be belts.
  • You don’t really teach MMA, do you? No, that’s why it’s an “MMA” class. You’ve never been in the ring (Point fighting doesn’t count). Would you send your kid to a doctor who learned from a medical school that never actually did any dentistry procedures? Well, technically, if you teach two arts, it’s a “mixed” martial art. But you know what I mean. Sheesh!
  • Stop giving little kids the Black Belt. It’s not the same. Call it a “Junior Black Belt”, or whatever, but it’s not the same as what the rest of us have. But to think of it, you probably have the same type of Black Belt and education you’re giving the 7 year olds. Well, then carry on…
  • Students need something more than just arbitrary “tenets” and pledges, and terminology to be a real martial arts program–besides the technical art. Students should be receiving something extra besides form, technique and one-step. Do you have anything further to offer? Can you give a complete history of your style? State your lineage going back 4 generations. Name the vital nerve points on the body. What do you do when a student has been knocked out? How can a small, weaker student defend himself against a man twice his strength and size? How do you teach a student with arthritis in the knees? How much of a martial arts education do you have? Well, maybe that explains why it’s so easy to give a Black Belt in 2 years; you don’t know anything. Get yourself an education, and then create a curriculum that means something. Chances are that you’re offering a basic curriculum, and treating it as if it were a full system. That’s not a matter of perception; it’s plain old dishonest.

If you want to make money with the art, then offer a complete program and make money off that. But don’t offer people wanting the real thing and sell them a watered down program. That’s what’s wrong with the martial arts, there is so much commercialization and dishonesty, it casts a shadow on the entire industry. Making money and making it accessible to anyone is irrelevant. This art and what it entails has nothing to do with money; this is a life-changing path and a way of life. It cannot be sold, and it should not be made easy to obtain. Otherwise, it is no longer the “martial” art.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

 

“Hijacking” Your Child’s Life

I’ve made a few comments here and there about “hijacking your child’s life”. This came from a foolish complaint I made as a teenager about my grandfather’s attempts to make sure I became a martial arts teacher. Over the years, I had argued with several of my ex-wives about wanting my children to follow in my footsteps and become a martial arts teacher, the same way I became one. My thinking is not “weird” or “outdated”; it is one that is commonplace in the traditions that many of you are following. It only sounds strange because your teachers have not taught it to you.

A father has a right to raise his child the way he sees fit. If I want my children to speak perfect English–or to be multilingual–it is my prerogative as a parent to give them the education they need to grow up speaking multiple languages. If I decide that I want my sons to memorize the Quran, it is my right to enroll them in the classes to learn to become a hafiz. If I decide my children will learn my religion, and not study history from a Euro-centric point of view, as a parent I have the right to homeschooling them and provide the books and education I want them to have rather than to leave it up to a school system that does not value my wishes for them.

And if I decide that I want my children to receive a martial arts education, it is my right to “hijack” their life and have them spend their days practicing and studying the arts. Excuse me if I find video games and television shows to be a terrible waste of time and brain space…

The arts we have today whose past masters and founders we respect often came from this practice. Some were raised in martial arts families. Some chose a life of training. Yet the arts would not have developed had we been passed down a martial art that was practiced casually by it’s masters–as a side hustle to some “other job”. The fighting arts must be treated as a true vocation, not as a hobby. This is something that require at least one person’s life to be consumed by it–a lifetime of practice, comparison, and contemplation–and then the results of that research should be passed down to students. Where a martial art is treated as a part-time passion and then passed down, you will find information learned by rote and very little innovation and development from generation to generation.

The truth is, only one or two out of a lifetime of teaching will yield this kind of commitment in a Master’s lifetime. Even where some men have found a way to make a good living by teaching the art commercially, it would be rare to find a man who is actively researching, testing and developing his martial art. For many teachers and masters, an entire lifetime may reveal that no student has devoted himself to such training and growth in the art. I have seen in my life, at least 6 men go to the grave without finding that ultimate student. I know one whose best student died of AIDS. I know of another who poured himself into his son, just to have his son turn into a meth addict and get sentenced to life in prison. I have met two here in America who asked me to become their students, because they were dissatisfied with their student’s martial arts paths. Both masters died after passing the torch to their students, unhappy with the outcome of their life of training and teaching.

And let me say, I have met over a hundred martial artists who laugh at the notion that a Master takes his secrets to the grave–and ridicule that anything valuable was lost.

So, is there any surprise that some men have chosen to make their children their ultimate student? Of course not. Here is a student who will never quit. His tuition is a non-issue. He will not be allowed to say, “Guro I’m tired. I’m going to take a few months off.” He won’t run off to college or get married and trade that in for all the effort you’ve poured into him. You control how much access he has to distraction, what influences he encounters, how often he practices. If there were any flaw in his martial arts skill, you could fix it with these words:  “Meet me in the back yard.”

I have met some Masters whose sons and daughters were average. Yet I have seen many more whose children surpassed the skill level of anyone you ever met. Donnie Yen’s mother is Bow Sim Mark (a friend of my Sifu). Helen Liang studied under her father, Shouyu Liang. Dan Inosanto had his daughter Diana Lee. Poi Chan had his daughter Mimi Chan. My older Kung Fu brother Raymond Wong trained all his neices and nephews and they all excelled… I could go on, but we’d be here all day. The point of all this that while some teachers will go on through life hoping the next guy walking through the door will be his ultimate student, some masters will turn their children into that ultimate student. They have an art that they know is valuable, and as loving parents we do all we can to see to it that our children benefit from this knowledge.

To train one’s children full-time is not as bad as many people think. Here in the West, we have very little contact with our children. We leave for work in the morning while they go to school. When they come home from school, we are often still at work. Some kids do activities and we pick them up from home, drop them off while we run errands, and then get them when they are done. Occasionally, when there is a recital, or a game, we will be surprised at how much our children have learned! How is this possible? And then on the weekends, we may or may not do the family thing. Sometimes, they have their activities, and we have ours. This is why some kids develop interests we know nothing about, or have favorite activities we dislike, make friends with children we don’t approve of, get pregnant, become rebellious… you name it. Is it so strange that some people spend most of their free time with their children? A friend once remarked at my stack of photos of my children, that 75% of the pictures are either in my gym, or the children are doing martial arts in them. Why is that a remarkable thing? I have been practicing the arts full-time all my life, isn’t it natural that my children do too? In fact, I homeschooled my children because I mainly work at night and I did not want baby sitters raising my children. As a result, I did not have to fight with my kids to practice the way other martial arts parents do. My children will watch a martial arts flick as quickly as they will reach for Spongebob. They know how to use a stick and a blade. They can box, spar, and fence. My children not only enjoy sparring, but when they hit the gym they automatically start practicing. They have several sets of sparring gear each, and several changes of uniforms.

Oo. Am I bragging? 😉

Well, I have made it a point to raise my children as martial arts children. We talk about them opening schools when they finish college. (oh? did you think I actually gave them a choice?) They talk about how their school will differ from mine, and if I can afford to, I will retire and allow them to take over my business with me as a figurehead and assist with classes. This business is a lucrative one, and how many children can say that they will inherit a ready-made business with a reputation that is known worldwide, when they reach adulthood? Yet the martial arts is more than an occupation; it is a way of life. It is a method of staying healthy. It is a mentality. It is a vocation. It identifies who we are, and one day, it will define our children as well. We are not (as I called it in a fit of anger at my mother as a rebellious teenager) “hijacking” our children’s lives. We are passing on to them a family heirloom that most people around them would envy to have. It is a legacy, and another branch of our art’s family tree. We wish them the best, and we ensure that they will be among the best. Perhaps they do not understand that concept now; but, like eating broccoli and cleaning their room and studying their lessons–they will one day be glad you made them do it. And if you’ve done a good job at it, they will make their children do it too.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Training Individual Techniques

I would like to share with you some tips on training individual techniques.

In the Filipino arts, we tend to focus too much on combinations, defenses, and complicated drills. As a result of this, we ignore developing individual techniques, and our ability to execute a fight-ending, powerful and accurate single strike never manifests. I’ll give you an example; take what we call in my system the “number 2″ strike. This is the back handed strike to the opponent’s temple. Can you destroy a man’s temple with this strike? Does this strike have enough power to break something? Like a 1” board? I could safely say that most Eskrimadors do not have this kind of power with a back-handed stick strike, and will dismiss this lack of skill by calling the strike a “weak” strike.

Ahem. It’s not weak because the strike itself is a poor strike, it’s weak because you have no power with this strike. Ditto for the Abaniko strikes. I have heard quite a few Visayan style practitioners say that they either no longer practice the Abaniko or de-emphasize this strike because it is a weak one. Take heed to the saying, that the fighter should have nothing in his arsenal that cannot singly end a fight. At the same time, one should not discard a technique without attempting to fully develop and/or explore it’s use. To do so is foolish, because you may be getting rid of a very important weapon. This is like a child who aspires to be a writer deciding at 10 years old that he finds spelling or grammar to be useless… and his teacher agreeing.

As a fighter-in-training, one should spend ample time developing and training everything in his respective system, and once proficiency is achieved in everything–then slap a Black Belt on him, and allow him to decide what to specialize in. At that point, a fighter can begin work on developing his own personal system of combat.

That said, let’s look at the basics of developing individual techniques:

  • techniques should be execute at least 75% speed and power, regularly. I do not believe in lackadaisical training and practice. Too often, in dojos and gyms, you will see students “practicing” skills so weakly and lazily, they barely break a sweat. In order to improve speed and power, you must challenge the body to do more.
  • one should work with enough repetitions that at the end of the set, you require a short rest. If not, the student is not getting stronger.
  • only a few techniques should be trained each training session, in order to gain some benefit from its practice. Performing 10 repetitions of 20 different techniques in a single training session may offer some cardiovascular benefit, but for fighting the student has not made any progress. In my own classes, I will often practice a specific set of skills for several weeks, and sometimes they overlap. This way, in a two-week period, the student may have practiced a technique possibly thousands of repetitions.
  • a good rule of thumb is to use sets of 100-200 for beginners, 300-500 for intermediate students, and 500+ to a thousand for advanced students and students in competition season. This standard alone will help you develop dominant students. And they will progress quickly using this method.
  • use a combination of shadow-boxing (training without a called cadence), group training (called with a cadence) with varying degrees of intensity and speed, target training standing still, target training while chasing the target-holder, target training while the target-holder is striking the puncher/kicker, and bag/striking shield training.
  • insert sets of strength training and stretching exercises between technique sets. This fatigues your students and teaches them to attack while exhausted–a very important ability that many martial artists lack.

Further, I would like to offer my school’s “Four Factors”. These are observed by all students when training individual techniques:

  1. Delivery and execution–paying close attention to footwork and ease of closing the gap between you and the opponent. Fighters should start further back, as many martial artists tend to stand very close to their target. Opponents move and will not allow you to stand close. By covering a larger distance in training, catching a moving opponent will be easier while fighting.
  2. Maintaining the guard–very often, fighters will allow this very simple rule to be violated. When the guard has been breached in fighting, the experienced opponent will see and exploit the many opportunities to attack. Maintaining the guard will force the opponent to find a way around the guard.
  3. Balance–if the student is allowed to lose his balance often during training, he will surely lose his balance while fighting. Due to the chaotic nature of fighting a moving opponent, your techniques will often lack the degree of balance you have in training. If you are losing your balance in training, you have no chance in combat. Balance in practice should take its place of importance next to speed and power. An opponent who knows what he is doing will force you to lose balance while attacking (most likely by lateral movement) and then make you pay for making that mistake.
  4. Recovery–once a technique has been executed, you must find your way to a superior position of attack/defense as quickly as possible. Your recovery time must be quick and your position must be stable. After an attack is complete you want to be off your opponent’s line of fire, and be in a stable stance (with balance) ready to follow up the attack with another. This is also greatly ignored, and is very often the deciding factor in who wins the fight. Recovery can also help a weaker, slower opponent defeat a bigger, faster, stronger man.

If you would like to learn more about my approach to training fighters, please check out my book, Mustafa Gatdula’s How to Build a Dominant Fighter in 12 Months, on Amazon!

Thanks for visiting my blog.

For the Sake of Truth

It is said that the fool debates for the sake of of winning and proving his point. The wise man debates to uncover the truth–even if he were to discover that he were wrong himself.

The same could be said for sparring. Each month my school hosts a “Fight Night”, in which anyone can come in and spar–on my terms and rules, of course. I have tried several times to run just sparring without giving instruction. After all, many who attend are not my students, so why should I share what I know with them? Yet the teacher in me finds it difficult to watch another man fight with mistakes and not say anything. In fact, because of this I have recruited many students this way. My first class in Sacramento consisted mostly of Tae Kwon Do and Kenpo fighters I competed against in the first few tournaments after moving here. Frequently on the circuit, I will see potential in a competitor and cannot resist the urge to drop a few tips–or at least request a short match first, and then give them (advice is better taken that way) to him.

So in our fight nights, I will often guide the path of the sparring by making occasional breaks and then offering my observations during those breaks. And this advice will sometimes help another fighter beat my own guys. No problem.

One of the things I think instructors have to be able to do is allow his guys to get whipped sometimes. It makes them tougher and wiser. Of course, we all want to protect them from injury. Yet, what better way for them to learn to keep their guards maintained while attacking, than to have a guy nail them when they let their hands lose while moving in? I could say it a thousand times, and all it takes is one match where their opponent smacks them 6 or 7 times!  If a teacher avoids letting outsiders fight their boys because they fear their boys losing a match, we must look at what causes this fear…

Do you know what I think?

Teachers who are overprotective of their students are really protecting themselves from the belief that his teaching is inferior. He doesn’t mind if his students could never beat him, and I consider a teacher whose students cannot beat him to be an inferior teacher. (In my 19 years of running a school, many students have risen to the point that I will lose a match to them. I was prepared for this while still a teen, and told repeatedly that I should expect to be better than my teachers. My failure to do so meant that they were poor teachers.) At the same time, the teacher must put men in front of his fighters that will challenge them and occasionally dominate them. After all, this is the only way they will improve as fighters. No fighter ever sharpened his skills on inferior opponents. Never forget that.

Now if teachers are keeping their students from tasting the bitterness of defeat–and it’s due to fear that their teaching is inferior–then why teach at all?

It’s because these teachers are not teaching and wanting to “test” their students’ skill. They are teaching because they secretly hope their students will be dominant off of their instruction alone. This is foolish thinking. I have had, in my 19 years of holding Fight Night, no fewer than 20 teachers who wanted to “check out” my Fight Night before allowing their students to attend. Knowing me personally and my character–I would never allow a visitor to get hurt on my watch–these teachers are not worried that their guys will get hurt they just want to see if their guys will win against our guys. If they would show up and find out that my guys were all slaps, they would eagerly encourage their boys to come and fight. I met a neighboring Sabumnim once at an A&W shop, and he brought 6 Black Belt students to a Fight Night a few years back. This was without seeing my school, and he was attending based on his perception that I was a short, smiling and friendly guy who probably couldn’t fight. That night, I was not in attendance, but the late Grandmaster Vince Tinga was standing in for me, and he allowed (encouraged is more like it) my boys to waste the visitors. (He was angry that the man brought Black Belt students to fight a group of beginners). The Master I met then suited up in the attempt to teach my guys a lesson. After thumping on my then-15 year old brother, and then a female student, one of my advanced beginners put him on his butt. The next day, I called him and berated him for fighting my students in my absence and suggested he meet me for some friendly sparring. Needless to say, he never came and neither he nor his students ever attended another fight night, until one of his guys, Daryl, came and signed up.

That Sabumnim was guilty of coming to spar, not to test his skill or develop technique, but to thump on what he thought would be easy prey. He mistook my supposed humility for weakness; on the contrary, I was insulting him by being humble and friendly. See, the true warrior is cocky around fighters who are his peer and potential rivals, but is humble to those who pose no threat. It is like a big strong man flexing his muscles around 12 year old boys. Let that one sink in…

We spar unfamiliar opponents–my friends–not to dominate them, but to test our skills against them and experiment with unfamiliar techniques in the effort to improve. This is why I don’t care to find out who is attending when you come to fight. I don’t need to know that you consider yourself an MMA fighter. I don’t care if you have a Black Belt. It doesn’t matter if you are an experienced fighter or not. What matters is that you bring enough skills that my boys are able to find out where they stand and that they get an opportunity to develop their techniques on you. I do this because I want them to face fighters and fighting styles they haven’t yet faced. I must say this, because we always get MMA/Muay Thai wannabes who think they are coming to thump–and they end up getting thumped. I have yet to have an outsider come and perform as well as they hoped, because more often than not they came to kick ass rather than improve–and our guys have faced many like that. If you want to knock someone out, there are events where that is the goal. If you want to see how tough you are, there are events where that is the goal. But in the effort to develop new skills and fine-tune existing skills, you must spar for the sake of truth and development. To see if what we’re doing is working, or if we need to change to increase our intensity:  for no other reason.

I don’t need these Fight Nights for my boys to kick someone’s behind; that’s what tournaments are for. We do these events so that everyone gets strangers to fight with and learn from, and develop. Even if it’s my own students who lose the match. Even if my teaching has failed them.Even if I have realized that what I’d been teaching all along was wrong or needed to be modified. Yet we do not avoid opponents and events–or come for the wrong reasons, because in doing so we avoid the truth. And for the martial warrior–truth must be the motivating reason, not ego. As a matter of fact, we betray ourselves when we spar for ego. We should be sparring to find out if our training has been in vain. You do not fight with the end result in mind; to do so shows a lack of faith in yourself and your training. Simply, you must spar to do a job: To stop the opponent’s attacks, to counter his attacks, to land your own attacks, and to counter his counters. Anything else is irrelevant, and the outcome should be nothing but improving the two men who started at the beginning of the match.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Control the Distance (Conceal Your Intent)

This is one of those universal strategies in fighting that transcends style, weapon and situation. Regardless of whether you are fighting empty handed or with weapons, sparring lightly with friends or fighting for your life against 3 opponents, a big man or small man–learning to control the distance between you and your opponent, as well as controlling the access to your own targets, is vital to success in combat.

This skill involves more than just dancing around and fancy footwork.

There is a saying in streetfighting, that you never allow a man to get closed enough to you to punch you unless you are ready to punch or be punched. This is the primary idea behind controlling the distance. Simply put, you do not allow your opponent to get close to you until you are ready to counter his attack–or you are ready to attack him. This is accomplished at the most basic level by movement. However, there are other ways to do this. First, when the opponent makes a move towards you, react by attacking the closest target to you. In stick fighting, this would be your opponent’s legs. The body is too far back, and when he approaches you, the closes limb to you is often his leg. However, he may approach by sitting back and then throwing a strike at you with his weapon. In that case, you would attack his arm, hand–or even his weapon. The secret to “attacking the weapon” is to strike that weapon so hard, the percussion of your strike against his weapon either knocks his weapon out his hand or hurts his hand just holding the weapon. On the other hand, if you are fighting empty handed, you would attack him with your front hand to his chest or face. Second, you move around, forcing your opponent to move. When he settles in his stance anywhere near you, make him pay by initiating a long range, powerful multi-strike attack (like a combination). Doing this will force your opponent to keep a long distance between you and him because he fears your attack. Third, you can attack as you move around your opponent. This prevents him from following too closely. A good example of this is how the “old” Mike Tyson use to move around. He used a combination of moving while jabbing and flinching/bobbing/weaving while moving to keep his opponents on edge. This type of strategy keeps his opponents from getting too comfortable being within striking distance, so even the simple act of repositioning causes his opponents to keep not just a physical distance between you, but also keeps a mental distance. “Mental distance” means that the opponent is defensive while you move and is not even considering an attack. His failing to attack gives you the same advantages to being far from the opponent, because you know that you will not be hit for that period.

Using the above strategy accomplishes two things. The opponent is respectful of your power and your attack and will not attack often. This does not mean he won’t attack at all; he will simply be cautious and will carefully plan his attack. If you are a counterfighter or a power puncher, this is a good thing, as the one thing you get problems from is a busy opponent. By the opponent hesitating to attack, you have fewer attacks to deal with, and will be more prepared when he does attack. Next, the strategy above gives you the power of deciding when the engagement occurs. In having this power, you are only “punching when you are ready to punch or be punched”.

Which leads me to my next point.

The second, equally important part of this strategy is allowing the opponent to have access to you. Meaning, when do you allow the opponent to get close to you? Anyone want to guess?

That’s right. When you are ready.

The last thing any fighter wants is to be attacked when you aren’t ready. Fighting isn’t like a match when you can call “time out”. If you need to pull your pants up, take a breather, shake off a good shot that just landed to your jaw… whatever the reason, you may need to have a lull in the action. The ability to control the distance gives you that power. When you are ready to defend yourself, or when you are ready to pull off that great counter, you must draw the opponent in to land those shots. (As Bruce Lee would call it, “Attack by Drawing”) When I was fighting regularly, I liked to rotate my counters, so that I didn’t get typecasted as a fighter. My method was to make sure I didn’t use too many of the same techniques match after match after match. It was some advice I got from none other than the great Billy Blanks when I was about 14 years old. His words were, “never get caught doing the same techniques over and over.” When the opponent notices the same answer to specific techniques he’d throw, a smart fighter will throw it one more time to get you to do it again–and he will have a clever answer for it. As the saying goes, “never attack the opponent without knowing what his counter will be.”  We test the opponent from a safe distance by throwing shots at him knowing he is really too far to successfully counter it. Most fighters won’t notice that he is too far and will try the technique anyway. When the distance closes again, you throw your shot, and when he does the technique you’ve already seen him do repeatedly–answer it with something to beat it. Now, for counters all you have to do is the opposite. When the opponent attacks you from the long distance, it may be half-hearted or it may not, but you will either ignore it or throw a half-hearted response. When the distance closes, look for the attack again, and when it comes, you respond with a different counter. When I fought in tournaments, I might use that counter one or two more times (remember, other fighters are watching you fight to see what they have to look out for), but my strategy changed from opponent to opponent.

And how do you get your opponent to attack you, you ask?

Simple. Do nothing. Your opponent is a fighter, so he will try again and again and again. All you are going to do is not attack him and allow him to be the aggressor. If you aren’t ready, move. If you are, let him come to you by moving and not attacking, and he will do the work for you. This time, when he attacks–you’ll be ready. Remember to rotate your counters and attacks, so the opponent can never be sure what to use or what will come at him.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Teaching As a Form of Learning

A few months ago, I got a visit from a blog reader who had a Kajukenbo background, but was in the process of discovering the Philippine fighting arts. I have since forgotten his name, but he learned in Vallejo or Fairfield and had some exposure to the Filipino arts and missed his opportunity to learn. He confessed that he did not appreciate the value of our arts (despite being Filipino himself) and opted instead for Karate and the mainstream arts.

He was a younger man, about early to mid-20s. He had done a little competition, but never lost time in the dojo until recently, when he moved to Sacramento. He keeps in good shape, and his eyes still lit up when he talked about the arts. Not able to find meaningful work, I suggested that he started a class. After all, he’s put in more time to learning this art than many surgeons–why wouldn’t he be knowledgeable enough to teach?

Beginners, that is.

I have an opinion; that in order to become a true expert in the art you must have had a full career as as student (which he has), as a competitor/fighter (which he is working on), and as a teacher (which I am suggesting to him). He really is not experienced enough to be a school owner because of his lack of fighting experience, but since he is so young, he could compete while teaching and making a living at it. Of course, his classes would be full of beginning students, and by the time his students are advanced students, he would be experienced enough as a fighter that he could realistically guide them to expertise. Something to think about.

I won’t get into why I think he needs to fight in order to be a teacher. Today we will talk about how he can further his learning by teaching.

The young man confided in me, that he felt that he did not know enough to teach the art, despite being a second or third degree in the arts and having more than 10 years of study under his belt. I blame this on the foolishness of all the belts and over-priced tape these schools sell students to put on their belts. In the arts, I told him, there are a maximum of four levels of Black Belters. You have novice Black Belters, basically your brand new experts. But they really aren’t novices, are they? They have put in at least 4 to 5 years of study, and 4 years is enough time for a guy to become an expert in accounting to fix cars, to clean teeth, to become a professional footballer… why not the martial arts? You know what they call soldiers with 4 years of service in a field? “Specialist” or “Sergeant”. That’s a far cry from someone who can’t show you a thing or two. Next, you have your experienced fighters and teachers. They are experts, no longer novices and have been around the block a few times. These guys know what they’re talking about. About 4 years after being a Black Belt, these guys have the MBA of martial arts–and they’ve put in more than enough time to earn one. This is your Sensei and Sifu. After that, you’ve got your Masters–the guys who have been doing this since you were in diapers. They were learning the art since before there was internet and Youtube, and you had to board a plane to study with a Master–instead of download his instructional tape on the net. Those Masters, in those days, knew their students intimately, and were basically adopted parents of their pupils. Those Masters, my friends, can NAME every Black Belt certificate they’ve ever signed. Today’s Master has no idea who’s out there teaching his stuff. Matter of fact, today’s Master doesn’t care–as long as he’s getting a cut. Rarely did you ever meet one of those Masters, and when you did, you knew full well that they weren’t any ordinary men.

Then, you have your founders and Grandmasters. These are the guys who watched the systems you study today get put together. They remember when your Master was riding his skateboard to class, and they are in a position where they can refer to your Master by his childhood nickname. I remember Masters I met in Stockton refer to Chuck Norris as “Carlos” Norris. They never could get used to his “new” name of “Chuck”. Imagine that.

Today, they blur the lines that separate them, they add new titles and levels, and rarely do they have the skills to separate them. We aren’t worried about them. But there is something you can benefit from all of this.

The more you teach an art, the more you understand it. Even when you are imparting basic skills, by being forced to explain it to crispy, green beginners–as uncoordinated as they are, as weak, poorly balanced and double-left footed–you must think of situations and variations you had never previously thought about. Some students don’t have the flexibility you had as a student. You may have forgotten how difficult it was learning these techniques. And then times have changed since you were a skinny kid. Today’s beginner grew up watching Aikido with Steven Segall, Chin Na with Jet Li, wire work with Yuen Woo Ping. He is familiar with Wing Chun trapping and stick and knife work of Eskrima. He can name all the popular actors and their styles. He watches UFC, and he knows that when you punch you have to look out for a shoot or takedown. Along with this knowledge come a whole lot of “what-ifs” for you to answer. As teacher, you need to be on your toes to provide those answers, and have the skills to show them what you’re talking about.

Any style will open your eyes when you teach it. Your personal preferences and biases will color all you do, and it’s perfectly okay! This is the beauty of teaching the art; you don’t have to do it Guro’s way–you are the Guro! All the things you use to like to do in the mirror when you were a teen is now a part of your curriculum, and you will have to back up the new way when you teach it. So guess what happens to that art when you do this?

It becomes yours. Welcome to the fraternity of Guro-I’m-doing-it-my-way. You will experience a little turbulence along the way, but hold on to your skill cushion and use it for a flotation device when students (or other teachers) are out to “see” if you know what you’re talking about. Just make sure you’ve practiced enough to prove your point and you’ll be all right. No teacher starts out knowing all the answers and has a road with no bumps or potholes. Trust me, it’s like parenting; if there was a tried and true method to learning to teach, they’d certify people in doing it.

Oh wait… LOL!

Yeah, they’ll sell Almighty Creator certifications in Eskrima if people would pay for them. But trust me, the art of teaching the martial arts is not something any teacher can teach you; it is something you must learn on your own by doing it yourself. But the first step is to get out there and take on a few students.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Value of Martial Arts Friendships

I would like to discuss the “martial arts friendship”. We are all martial artists, and we all have friends, many even have martial arts friendships–but we do not always have a valuable one.

The martial arts friendship that I value are the ones where you and your friend benefit from the friendship as fighters. “As fighters” is the important factor here, as two buddies who name their kids after each other, attend each other’s weddings, train together, drink beer (or soda) together and watch football games do not necessarily benefit the martial artist in you.

I must say here, that I need to distinguish between a training partner and a martial arts friendship. A training partner is that, a martial artist with whom you practice your art regularly. You may or may not train rigorously. You may or may not be friends at the end of the session. Training partners often do not mix outside of the gym, and this is something that is important for my definition. In a friendship, you and your training partner are more intimately connected and politeness is not required. A training partner may be focused on simply developing his fighting skills and is not wholly concerned with yours, while in a martial arts friendship–your training partner is just as concerned about your skill as he is with his own. A training partner is not always a sparring partner. A training partner may not care to teach you much; remember, he is just training. I have had training partners from many different styles. Some of them were just for training, some were just for sparring. I had friends in other cities I traveled for the sole purpose of working out with these men, and they were usually not a martial arts friend,which in the Filipino martial arts we called a kumpadre. Not just a friend. Not just a training or sparring partner. Not a dojo brother.

Here are some of the characteristics of my definition of a kumpadre. This is based on what I have observed, lived and been taught. Your Guro’s definition may be different than mind:

  • They are more valuable when you and that friend do not agree on anything in the martial arts, rather than having like minds. When this happens, you two are constantly trying to outdo each other. You have an idea of what works best, he has his idea of what works best, and then you get together to test your theories. Regardless of who wins, you go back to your gyms and train some more–then get back together to prove your points again.
  • Since this person knows you outside of your martial arts relationship, he actually cares if you improve or not… and he doesn’t care if his negative opinion offends you. He is your friend, and like it or not–you’re stuck with him. He will always speak your mind. I once lost a fight that I swore I won. My kumpadre Terry Robinson explained to me later that yes, I got my ass whipped and he was emphatic about why I lost–and what I should have done to prevent it. We argued and he showed me in the inevitable match we had to prove his point. I was hot as a loser at the racetrack–and we are still friends to this day.
  • Even when they are in a competition with you, they will fight you like you were a nobody and laugh about it later. Regardless of who won. We all need friends like that.
  • This person knows you and your fighting style–your strengths, weaknesses and habits better than anyone else. What better person to go to the “drawing board” with? While you learn, they learn. Even better if they are the skeptical Eddies who make you fight tooth and nail to back up your opinion.
  • When you are weak, they will call you a “gatito” for quitting. And you won’t punch them in the mouth for it. 😉
  • With such a friend in the art, you will always have a reason to keep training.
  • They are especially valuable when they are your rivals. Even if one of you is better than the other, you are sizing yourself up to this person weekly. You don’t want to be outdone by him, but you also don’t want to see him get weak either. The better he gets, the better you get. I have long said that every fighter needs the friendship of another fighter with superior skills.
  • They don’t have to be from the same style. On the contrary, I believe that they should be from a different style or different gym. You will gain valuable experience by having a different point of view around, and since he is a friend he will be more likely to share than a guy from another gym who worries that he doesn’t want to share his teacher’s style.
  • Here is one fighter who won’t bad mouth you when you’re not around.
  • It doesn’t hurt to have his kids named after you and to grow up knowing you. Long years from now, when one of you is gone from the Earth, your children will have someone who can share stories about how great their father was as a martial artist and training/sparring partner. You never know how strong a friendship is until one of you dies. I have several.

So, in memory of my good friends Phil, Carl, Vince, Vernard, Bernard (who I actually teach his style to my favorite students and had the pleasure of teaching his son Bruce), and the others who will follow:  This article is dedicated to the true martial arts friendship. I am a warrior and the man I am today because of them. Thanks for visiting my blog.