The “Next Level” for the Martial Artist

Many martial artists consider the “next level” for them after learning is teaching. Some—like me—believe the “next level” is having a fighting career and then teaching. But what comes after teaching? Mastery? Teaching the teachers?


I believe that the “next level” of the martial arts after taking students is developing your ability to make teachers. Teaching the technical side of the art is not enough; and the faux existence of martial arts “philosophy” that many teachers pretend to have doesn’t even deserve room for discussion in this article. (I will say this: merely putting up “tenets” on the walls of your dojo and in flyers and those silly creeds is not “philosophy”. Heck, it’s not even traditional for most of your systems) The fighting philosophy of the art, which is vastly different from martial arts philosophy, is something that should be included under teaching the art. Technical martial arts should also include fighting philosophy, although many teachers neither know both nor understand what the differences are. Yet learning the technical side of the art is a world difference from the art of teaching the martial arts. Few martial arts systems and genres other than the Japanese have a treatise on this subject. In the Filipino martial arts, I have only seen rules and by laws of corporations governing what monetary business Guros should abide by when they do undertake teaching. Rarely do FMA teachers actually receive instructions on how to teach the art. We have re-certification seminars and processes that are more money-grubbing than anything else, and they have nothing to do with producing the best martial arts student possible—which should be the fueling goal of any martial arts teacher and his organization. We have all sorts of goals, like “furthering the system”, “reaching the masses”, “showing the world our master’s art”, and “promoting the FMAs”:  and none of them address making those FMA students better than the Tae Kwon Do guys, Kung fu guys, Jujitsu guys… When I read those words, I hear “turning my school into a world-wide, money-making endeavor”. Sorry if you’re offended by my opinion. Perhaps you should change your motto.


25 years ago, many of the Arnis and Eskrima masters in thePhilippinesI have met—even the Filipino Karate masters—would brag that they had the best fighters in town. In the effort to recruit me as a student, or at least impress me as a visiting Arnisador, teachers would arrange sparring matches and demonstrations. Some of them spent a lot of energy trying to convince me that my fighting would improve as a student of their gym. Somewhere in all this “promoting” of the FMAs, we have lost this wonderful piece of the Filipino martial character. Our classes and gyms have given way to the seminar and crash-course, student-to-teacher turnover is occurring faster than recruits at a barber college. Filipino martial arts have become the seminar that businessmen who want to “add to their bottom line” can take to, well, add to their bottom line. We have ranking structures such as “Novice > Advanced > Associate Instructor > Apprentice Instructor > Junior Instructor > Full Instructor > Master Instructor” and they all take place with less time and effort than a McDojo Brown Belt at the shopping center.


That said, with the rush to turn our novices into instructors as quickly and painlessly as possible—we have lost the mission, the traditional mission, of the Filipino martial artist:  to produce superior and dominant fighters. As soon as the student can hold his own in a drill or sinawali, as soon as he can remember and his hands can regurgitate a memorized disarm (or to adlib and “pimp” that drill or disarm)—we certify him and send him on his way to “building” our worldwide organization.


Let me inject something. As a young man in thePhilippines, I recall meeting several well-known grandmasters who bragged to me that their systems were so famous they had students abroad that wanted to bring them to their countries to teach. On the few occasions that I met and even trained with some of these foreign ambassadors, I can honestly say that not a single one was impressive as a fighter. Sad to say, but not one could hold a candle to the intermediates I knew. It was disgusting, and I vowed never to do that. On the other hand, I met some fighters of the Yaw Yan gym while atSantoTomasUniversitywho bragged that they did not take any of these foreign students, unless they stayed inManila. When I trained with them, not a single one of them was anything short of impressive. And that gym promoted not a ton of students abroad or at home—but simply that their fighters could lick any man in town. You gotta respect that.


Back to the state of modern FMA, we absolutely must include as part of the learning curriculum for our students the art of developing skill through their students. They must study how to lead a class, how to build strengths and counter weaknesses, how to help students overcome fear and shyness, how to coach a fighter, how to explain concepts, how to motivate insecure students. We should give them opportunities to try out their ideas on their junior classmates (under supervision, of course), and monitor their teaching styles. We should help them develop their own twist on our twist on the FMAs, as creativity is one of the keys to mastery (not imitation). We must lead them through the winding and new path of “FMA Guro”, as we did for “FMA student”. And when they have satisfactorily completed this level, they should then graduate from FMA student to FMA Guro.


And we graduate to that “Next Level”, as well.


Soo…. What is the next level for the Guro who has trained Guros of his own? We will look into it another day, but the next level of train the trainers is “train the protectors”. It has nothing to do with making money, growing schools, or becoming famous; it has all to do with giving back to the community that gave us income. But we’ll discuss that later. Thanks for visiting my blog.



The Great Debate, pt II

What can a fighter do to make himself a “Debater” rather than a “Shouter”? (You’ll have to see the first article in this series to understand the difference)

I can’t teach this concept by blog. To be honest, you would have to study under a teacher who understands fight strategy in order to accomplish it. Many teachers are only passing down techniques from their system with minimal instruction in strategy and fight science. It is difficult to find a teacher that has the right answer. Doing so is as easy as choosing your parents; it’s really luck that some end up with a truly knowledgeable teacher. It would be foolish for a beginner to think he can recognize a “quality” teacher, therefore martial arts students judge by whether a teacher’s bio is well-written or if he is well-known, well-spoken, etc. Yet you can become a student of fight strategy and the art of fighting and learn these things on your own. Yes, it would be difficult, but it is possible to train under a teacher while studying fighting science on your own.

I would like to offer some advice that may help you get on your way:

  • First, in sparring, you should focus more on trying to land techniques, not hurt your opponents. The mistake would be to try and use your sparring sessions to dominate your opponents. But sparring during training is the inappropriate time to try and dominate; it is the time to learn, develop and test theories and techniques. If you are focusing on kicking your opponent’s butt, you’re missing the opportunity to develop skills in practice. Save the butt-kicking for the ring, and use sparring sessions to test out techniques and try the techniques you’re not very good at.
  • At the same time—make your opponent’s attacks fail. “Fail” means his attack will either be blocked, avoided, intercepted and countered. Fight training is often too focused on attacking the opponent because it is the easiest, most painless way to train. Anyone can stand in front of the punching bag and wail on it like you were the next “Rocky”, but it is not that easy to have a guy attack us and we have to stop those attacks. If you were to spend an entire month on learning how to be attacked, I bet you’d see a nice jump in sparring success. To practice this, you can either do attacker-defender sparring sessions, or simply spar with the intention not to get hit.
  • Lose the “take a hit to give a hit” mentality. Even hits that don’t hurt much can add up and lead to your demise later in the fight. The best way to fight is to make sure your opponent lands as little as possible. Not only does it result in a fresher, more confident you—it also takes away some of your opponent’s confidence in himself.
  • Try to find techniques that allow you to counter your opponent’s attacks without the use of blocks. When you can eliminate blocking, you make your fighting more efficient, as your hands are free to hit since they are no longer occupied blocking.
  • Learn to use the counter-to-the-counter strategy. I attack my opponent with a hook to the body. My opponent can utilize one of three basic counters to this attack (drop the elbow and block with the arm, block with the front hand, and the rare block with the back hand). When he does so, I should have a counter in anticipation of those three counters that are automatic. Do this for everything in your arsenal.
  • Have a pre-planned set of counters for everything your opponent can do to you. Many fighters train their attacks intensely, and then leave defense up to chance and reflex. As a fighter, you want to have a good defensive and strategy plan. When you have them figured out, make them a vital part of your training plan and fight strategy.

Perhaps we will revisit this topic in better detail, but I am more inclined to write a book about it (lol). If you use these simple rules, I guarantee you will see more success in fighting.

Thanks for visiting my blog.


The Great Debate In Fighting

Fighting is much like debating. Most fighters would disagree with this statement and probably liken fighting to a shouting match.

First Scenario (The Debate):  Opponent #1 attacks Opponent #2 by stating Fact A. Fact A is a good point and shakes Opponent #2’s confidence. Opponent #2 states random Facts to keep Opponent #1 at bay until he realizes the problem with Fact A. In fact, Fact A has a few holes in the theory, although it sounds good, it can easily be countered by Fact D. Once Opponent #2 states Fact D, Opponent #1 cannot come up with a retort because Fact D covers all the bases. Opponent #1 finally yields to Opponent #2’s argument as being superior. Opponent #2 wins the debate.

Second Scenario (The Shouting Match):  Opponent #1 attacks Opponent #2 by stating Fact A. Fact A is a good point and shakes Opponent #2’s confidence. He cannot think of random Facts, nor can he figure out any problems with Fact A’s primary idea. Opponent #2’s answer is to yell and scream an obviously faulty idea at Opponent #1. Opponent #1 yells and screams Fact A louder. Opponents 1 and 2 take turns yelling at each other, louder and louder. Onlookers cannot determine who is winning the argument because the yelling has become the focus of the discussion. Finally, Opponent #1’s voice gives out and he cannot yell any longer. Opponent #2 walks away the victor, not because of a superior argument, but because of his voice being louder and having more mileage.

There are many who believe that being stronger and fighting with more power counters superior technique and strategy. This notion is true, but it has limitations:

  • Some opponents are stronger than you
  • Some opponents cannot easily be hurt
  • Some opponents have superior defensive skills and are difficult to hit
  • Some opponents are faster than you and can hit you three times for every attack you throw
  • Some opponents have superior footwork, so you will not be able to catch them, nor can you evade their attacks

The fighter then, needs to have a better method of landing his attacks as well as have a good set of defensive skills. I find that fighters tend to limit themselves to just knowing basics and combinations, and then they work to get bigger and stronger. The argument is when they catch you, they will hurt you. The counter argument is that you must first catch me—and be able to avoid my bombs. The counter to the counter is you can run, but you can’t hide. The counter to the counter to the counter is “oh yeah? Watch me!”

This can go on for days.

But we save time by developing our landing skills as well as our stopping and evading skills. Have the bigger guns, but make sure you also have better aim and faster reloading ability. If you have an opponent who cannot get away from you and he can’t overpower you AND he does not have superior strategy—he doesn’t have a chance. Learn how to make sure that this combination of scenarios happen, and I guarantee you fighting dominance. One needs more than just bigger arms these days, and you also need to have more than just the same old combination of techniques that everyone else is using. If you want to be a superior fighter, the work is done at the gym as well as the drawing board.

Thanks for visiting my blog.