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.


Author: thekuntawman

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

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