Lessons from Nunez vs. Latimore

There are many lessons you can get from watching professional fights. I know that most martial artists are not at the level of the professional fighter, but this art is more than just a hobby for most of us. And we take the art just as seriously. I believe if you learn to correct the mistakes many of them make–and take from their example (their approach to training, the warrior mentality, etc.)–the career martial artist will become a stronger fighter because of it.

Let’s begin with watching this fight:

The two fighters are Deandre Latimore and Milton Nuñez. Latimore is a 28 year old fighter from St. Louis who was once a contender who was a peer of Corey Spinks. His career received a shot in the arm (and what looks like a second wind) by joining the Mayweather camp. Milton Nuñez is a Columbian fighter who has had a long, unexciting career. The biggest highlight of his career was one title shot (which he lost by knockout), but he amassed 21 knockouts in his career–which meant that that he has a puncher’s chance at winning the fight.

Most of the fight consisted of Latimore tagging Nuñez consistently, but Nuñez responding with “lucky” shots and landing many of those. But in the final two rounds, Latimore was knocked down twice and finished the fight while running. I can see the improved skill Latimore displayed by training with the Mayweathers. However, I also see how that approach hurt his ability to finish his opponent–who maintained his warrior mindset despite being outclassed. Let’s discuss where these fighters could use some improvement:

  • Never throw punches without intention. Both fighters violated this rule. I would estimate about 60% of the jabs thrown in this fight were not thrown with the intention to land–or the intention to do damage. The result? Each fighter ignored most of the jabs thrown. Jabs have three main purposes. 1., to tie up the opponents’ hands and keep him busy and vulnerable 2., to test the opponents’ habits and read his strategy, in the effort to plan a strategy and 3., to wear down the opponent. Even if the punches are not always thrown full power, they must at least sting. Opponents ignore punches that don’t hurt and don’t score points. If the punches are at least thrown to land, the opponent will try to get away from them. He will block, slip, move, and fire back. If the punches hurt, then eventually you will have a worn down opponent.
  • When your opponent is in trouble, finish him. Latimore had Nuñez hurt a few times throughout the fight, but backed off. A commentator mentioned that Latimore treats some of his fights as training. Well, that should have been done at the amateur level, since pro fights puts you in the ring with some guys who play for keeps. During all of that respectful fighting, his opponent was rejuvenated after a few rounds after being hurt–and Latimore paid for it.
  • Never underestimate your opponent.  Nuñez fought like a bum. He was sloppy, his footwork was unbalanced and uncoordinated, he did not keep his opponent busy with a steady stream of attacks. However, he was a professional with 28 fights, 21 by knockout; Nuñez is not a bum. He has power, he has guts, and he has the confidence of a man who has destroyed 21 men. If he can touch you, he can hurt you. Latimore would have been knocked out if this were a 12 round fight. Latimore fought as if Nuñez couldn’t hurt him, and this was a very stupid, foolish attitude.
  • Never move your feet without attacking your opponent. Both fighters constantly circled the other without throwing a single punch. It is not necessary to attack on every step. However, if you take too many steps without throwing at least a few punches, you will give your opponent the green light to attack at will. If you throw a few double and triple jabs here and there, your opponent will not know when to attack and will follow you carefully. Another strategy your opponent may use is to launch an attack in the direction you are moving, which could be dangerous if you aren’t ready.
  • Change direction sometimes. Both fighters became predictable after a few rounds because they never varied their strategy. They moved in the same direction the whole fight. They attacked with the same combinations and responded with the same counters. You never want to be predictable. If your opponent is halfway intelligent–or not–he will be conditioned to responding to you the same way and will eventually land some “lucky” punches out of habit. Latimore certainly paid for that mistake.
  • Never forget that this is a fight. Latimore was fighting for points. Nuñez was surviving, although he did taste blood and moved in for the kill. They both were guilty of not trying to finish the other and the fight ended the way it did because of it. Latimore failed to finish his opponent when he had the opportunity–and it gave his opponent the chance to knock him down twice and possibly steal the fight with a knockout. Nuñez was too far behind for his two knockdowns to make a difference.

Hope this advice finds its way into your fight strategy. Thanks for visiting my blog.

Why “Sparring” Is Necessary

If you are a longtime follower of this blog, you will probably read some things I’ve written over and over in various articles. I was asked about a statement I made recently at a tournament while talking to some teachers. Most of the gentlemen I was sitting with were Karate/Kenpo teachers, and my friend is a Shotokan teacher. They all dabble in the FMAs…

Let me jump in a few statements first. Martial arts teachers must learn to respect the arts they pick up along the way. I use the expression “pick up” as an alternative to “learn”, as the two are not the same. When you learn something, you generally have some respect for it because your teacher most likely made you earn the knowledge (as well as earn the rank). But when you pick something up–whether it is off of youtube, in a friend’s living room, or in a seminar–you most likely do not have the same respect for this knowledge. Why? Because:

  1. you do not refer to the guy who taught it to you as your teacher, unless
  2. you embellish your level of knowledge/expertise by representing stuff he showed you in a few hours by calling it “studying” that art, and
  3. the price you paid for this information is very low, compared to what most other practitioners invested to get their information and
  4. you are not a true expert in whatever it is that you “picked up”

That said, when teachers are experts in Kenpo or Karate or Tae Kwon Do, they should not disrespect an art by teaching this style that they are not experts in–but merely learned a few moves. Martial artists are famous for offering classes in Yoga, Tai Chi, Muay Thai, FMAs, now MMAs… and doing those arts a terrible injustice, because the bottom line is that you are unqualified to teach what you know of those arts.

Now you know why I am not naming names for this article. I stated my case to them, and we uncomfortably moved on to the subject of sparring. Hopefully they get the point of what I was saying: I am an expert of the FMAs, you are not. Therefore, the only thing I have to say is learn the art properly and then we can have a grown-up conversation about the Filipino arts. If we have this conversation in person, please don’t be offended. I’ll be glad to prove what I mean.

Back to the article.

Sparring is often downplayed by teachers when they don’t know enough about it to emphasize its importance. Sparring builds timing, pain tolerance (depending on what type of sparring you’re doing), the psychology of fighting, builds the emotional fighter within each of us, and gives us a chance to see what we can do when our opponents are opponents instead of partners. When I hear of martial artists refer to their counterparts in the art as “partners”, I’m thinking of dance or sex…. like the kids say “It’s not a good look.”  Opponents will resist, they will hit back, they are looking for an opportunity to make your opponent fail. Partners, on the other hand, are cooperative and know the next move. They have a script and they know their part, and they have this helpful aura about them–they are supposed to help you learn. Opponents help you learn too, but not in the same way. They “help” you learn by making you have a martial experience, and your learning is not a dress rehearsal but a sort of forging of martial arts knowledge. Very big difference.

Sparring does something else; It makes the martial artist/fighter more accustomed to the adversary. I don’t believe that martial artists spend enough time with a doubter, and when they end up having to face a real opponent they end up nervous. This nervous energy robs the fighter of 100% access to his knowledge and ability… There is a saying that when you are nervous, you can only do half of what you can do, and recall a quarter of what you know. As fighters, we must ensure that we can rely on these resources by being calm and reserved when the “time” comes. When a man spars often, he is not as nervous when he has to fight. When he does not spar much, he most likely must overcome his anxiety and butterflies before being able to perform at 100%.

Sparring is not fighting. Fighting is less predictable than sparring. Fighting often does not have rules. There are also no absolutes in fighting either:  you never know who your opponent is (or if more will present themselves once you begin fighting), if this an armed vs. unarmed fight, if you will have to fight again after the “fight” is over… But sparring does prepare you better for the one-on-one, man to man part of the altercation. Even when you have three opponents, you will face each one, one at a time, even if only for a split second. Your ability to maximize that flash of a moment will determine whether you end up with a 30 second fight versus a 10 minute brawl, or if you are able to eliminate the number of opponents over the course of the next 30 seconds and 10 punches, if you will walk home that night or leave on a stretcher, or if you will walk the rest of your days knowing that you are a former mugging victim versus seasoned warrior. I find that many of the martial artists who discount the value of sparring do so because they are either not very good at it–or simply afraid to indulge. If you practice forms or one steps but avoid a harmless match once in a while, you might want to revisit your philosophy and approach to learning how to fight. Getting to the point, what I’m saying is this:  Do not miss out on an extremely valuable aspect of your martial arts training because you’re just too chicken shit to do it the right way, excuse the frankness.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Signs That You’re Attending a “McDojo”

There is a joke, that one in every group of four friends is an idiot. So, if you have three friends, and none of them are idiots… you’re it.

The sad thing about people who belong to fast-food martial arts schools is that they are always the last to know that their school is a McDojo. Well, never fear! Thekuntawman is about to help you figure out if you’re one of them. Without wasting time, let’s get started.

Your school is awarding the Black Belt to people who can’t fight.  That’s right. The only martial artists who say that martial arts is not all about fighting are martial artists who can’t fight. The Black Belt means that one is an expert, and “expert” means you know what you’re doing. Not what you know–what you’re doing. If they are producing people who can’t do what they are supposedly experts in, and lowering the standard of what an expert is–that school is a McDojo. At a bare minimum, a Black Belter should be able to defend himself on demand. Not speak in theories. Not give demonstrations. Defend himself.

Children are getting the Black Belt. This is such a given, no explanation is necessary. If a child can attain Black Belt in your school, (in my Cobra-kai karateka voice) “Your teacher’s karate is SHIT, Russo!”

Required uniforms change as you move up in rank. The uniform has nothing to do with the school or the skills. I will spare you the speech of my opinion about whether or not uniforms are even necessary; but this practice is nothing more than a way to make more money. A close second reason is to motivate students to work harder to wear the  esteemed uniform (which I think is silly, especially if we’re talking about adults). Distinguishing students from instructors, however, is understandable.

Musical forms and XMA.  Okay, you’re  probably confused. Here, let me help you out:

Pretty hilarious, huh? Actually this guy was a lot better than many others I’ve seen. Well, we don’t need much of an explanation for this one either.

Your teacher barely mentions his own teacher, and his teacher’s teacher.  Commercial schools usually employ instructors, so often there is no lineage to discuss. The owner of the school is not necessarily the teacher, and the teacher has no familial tie to another master. Whenever there is an absence of a family tree in a martial arts school, respect and loyalty become very selfish, self-absorbed and egotistical. When a teacher credits his teachers, and makes references to the lessons he learned from them–he is not taking credit for his knowledge, but giving credit to the ones who taught him. In the absence of it, you become like the only child whose parents do not deserve respect (in his mind, of course).

Testing is given almost as quickly as you learn the material. My school does not issue tests in the way most schools do. When students are ready for promotion, I simply begin teaching them the next level’s material. In the commercial school, they believe that students will quit from boredom if they are not promoted and rewarded fast enough. As a result, those schools promote as soon as possible–often, before the student has even had a chance to master the new techniques. There is a mutual reward too:  Those exams cost money $$$.

A whole lot of “yes sir/no sir”. They call this “respect”. But respect in the martial arts is so much more than acting like you’re in the military. To these martial arts teachers who have very shallow knowledge of the philosophy of the art (and their equally misinformed students and students’ parents), they don’t have much more to teach outside of that. The easiest thing you can do to have the appearance of a “disciplined” school is to have people bowing and blurting out “Yes sir!” But come on, some of these guys are grown ups. Are you serious?

Using teenagers as instructors. To them, the martial arts is not much more than a physical skill. As long as they can demonstrate and teach a punch, kick or kata, in the commercial dojo’s mind, a KID can teach a class. If I have to explain this to you any deeper–you should consider a different business.

High on technique and drills, low on strategy. Now, it’s not put here to get you to judge your school’s curriculum. I am simply saying that teachers of McDojos usually have very little experience and can only teach from a curriculum standpoint and not from experience. So the student wants to know about how to deal with a boxer. The experienced teacher tells you how to beat the boxer with the same techniques he’d been showing you all along. The inexperienced teacher will drop his main art and show you something he learned in a boxing seminar. The worst fighters try to learn everything under the sun because they never learned to adapt, and they never learned their art at the deeper levels (aka, “never bring a knife to a gunfight”). The experienced fighters will have you winning gun fights with a knife.

Titles, titles and more titles! I’m referring to your teacher. If he is big on titles:  Guro, Punong Guro, Dakilang Guro, Tuhon, Datu, Supreme Grand Master, Great Grandmaster, Great Great Grandma Grandmaster…. then he’s usually low on skills. McDojos, even those who aren’t very good at making money (no one said that all McDojos were lucrative), love to make themselves sound big. Why “sound” big? Because their skills speak softly.

Associations and long resumes and certifications out the yin yang. When you’re weak, you find strength in numbers. Numbers of Black Belts and degrees. Numbers of associations that validate you. Numbers of people who pat you on the back and tell others that you’re good. Bottom line, the best fighters you will ever meet only represent a few arts, they have only a few teachers and peers, and they don’t need validation because their knowledge and skill speaks for itself. A Filipino saying is that a martial artist’s reputation is best when spread by his opponents, not his friends. Perhaps you should reflect on that one, because apparently your teacher has not. In the 30 plus years I have studied the art, the best fighters I have met came from little-known schools and styles, while the worst fighters came from the most well-known schools and styles.

You have been studying for more than two years and you don’t feel like you can lick any man in the room. The martial arts shouldn’t take ten years to make a fighter out of you. But many schools simply do not have the recipe to making strong, dominant fighters. MOST schools do not have this recipe for success. After two years of training two or three hours a week, you should be stronger, more fit, hit harder, and more agile than the average drunk or weed-smoking thug on the street. So if you don’t feel like you can fight, why are you paying this guy?

It took you longer to get your high school diploma than it took to get your Black Belt. They like to say “Black Belt is the beginning”. It is… but only if your Black Belt is awarded to beginners. There is so much to learn in the martial arts, and if a teacher is bestowing the expert status on people who are not experts–or he thinks they are experts, but they have a high school diploma’s level of knowledge–he or his own knowledge is lacking. Sounds like you need to stop fooling with the kiddie karate school and find yourself a real master.

Hope this article didn’t shame you. I am only shaming the ones who know better and are trying to fool the student. It is never too late to find a good teacher, but you must first admit to yourself that you don’t already have one–if you don’t. Hope this article was eye-opening (or at least made you smile). Thanks for visiting my blog.

The Business of Doing Martial Arts Business

When I opened my school, I was young and green and very idealistic. Unlike many of you who teach for a living, I spent a few years working for commercial schools, learning the ropes from how to teach a larger class to sales pitches designed for martial arts students. I saw many things I liked, and saw many things I did not like–and formed a martial arts “business” system, based on my likes and dislikes.

Also, apart from my personal tastes, I adopted many things I disliked because it was necessary while omitting things I did like because they were counter-productive to running a successful school.

The martial arts teacher, if he is to be successful in being able to teach for a living, must be willing to do the same.

I am of the opinion that teachers must be full-time if they ever want to elevate their art and their ideas to develop fully and master themselves. Day jobs and worrying about bills are major distractions to the teacher and it affects their ability to give students their all. This prevents teachers from being able to see their ideas and philosophies manifest into actual skill in their students. I don’t care what you think:  When you are only devoting a few hours a week to your art, you will never be as good as you can be if you devoted a full day, every day, to your art. If you think so, you’re just fooling yourself. And you are cheating your students by trying to convince them that it can be done.

Rather than argue that point I’d like to move on. I’m sure most of you would rather be able to train the art full-time if money were not an issue. If you could train students pretty much the way you’d like to, and make a decent living while doing it–where do you think your personal skill in the art be in ten years?

There are many books on the subject of how to sign up new students, how to market, blah blah blah. But let’s talk about the business of running the business– not for the McDojo teacher, but the traditional hard-core teacher. This will be just a few generic tips and summarized descriptions, but I’d like to expound on them in detail a little later:

  • Do away with the “trial” lesson.  That’s right, I said it. “Try it free first”, aka the “Puppy Dog close” is not good for the traditional teacher. I have an idea…. Go to Harvard University, tell them you’re thinking of going to Harvard for law school, but Princeton has a pretty good deal. You’d like to take a free class for a day before making a decision. Sounds like an idiot, right? Harvard will call security and have you ejected. Apply, young man, and we’ll call you.  Why are teachers tap dancing for students? When you do a free trial lesson, you are basically trying to entertain the student in order to capture his interest and impress him, over that other school. Start off that way, and you won’t be doing class the way you want to teach. No, you will be teaching classes you think will excite the student and get him to come back and pay tuition another month. So trial lessons are like meeting the parents for the first time. Instead of learning what the student SHOULD learn on the first day, you have him swinging nunchucks, doing disarms, takedowns and chokes. While you know darn well he should be learning how to hold his guard and perform a proper pushup. One day won’t teach him what your school is all about. If it does, then your school is very shallow.
  • Don’t allow spectators. Your current students are paying for your attention. They are not paying to be martialturbation fodder for martial art voyeurs. You know just as well as I do, that 90% of the people walking through your door may have a slight interest in the art–hell they might even stand around and talk about it for two hours–but they have no intention of ever joining a school. A few folks may come through who are really looking for a school, and if your school is the one for them, they will understand that you giving your students 100% of your attention is more important than trying to do a sales pitch while paying students are there to receive service. It’s bad business, period. Schedule times outside of class to give both the student as well as the visitor all of your attention. Again, 5 minutes of watching a class won’t tell them what you’re all about.
  • Have someone else answer the phone–like your voice mail. I have heard the saying that you don’t want to miss sales calls during class. If you do that, they might just go and join another school. Well, if that student is so petty that he won’t leave a message and will join the first place who answers the phone–I don’t want him as a student. Some students are best suited for commercial dojos:  they don’t do their homework, they are gullible, they want convenience and comfort, and they are easily impressed. Not the kind of student the traditional teacher will even want to teach. When the phone rings, let it go to voice mail; you will spend valuable teaching time giving sales pitches to curious looky-loos.
  •  Lose the contract. Is that the only way you have to keep a student’s attention and commitment? Force him to stay? I know schools hurt when people quit; I have that problem too. But rather than bind a students’ hands to your dojo, why not find out why people quit and try to modify what you do to prevent that? More on this later–but often it has more to do with the student not feeling like the is progressing or he is not very comfortable in your school.
  • Make money off tuition. Seriously. Not “testing” fees. Not “association” fees. Not from equipment they don’t need. Not extra classes and seminars they need to advance. Just do it off tuition. I am not a fan of the “maximize each student’s value” crap I read about every month in the MA trade magazines. That is not just unethical, it makes you look money-hungry, regardless of how you spin it. I throw occasional seminars and workshops, and about half of them are free. I charge outside students, and provide the seminars to my own students either for a discount or free. And NEVER make one of these “extras” a required activity. Your students may or may not have the budget, but trying to dig deeper in their pockets will drive them out the door faster than a good deal! Please value this advice; it is one of the main things separating the McDojo from the traditional teacher.
  • Make money off tuition, too. Yup, make money. Charge what you’re worth, not what you think people will pay. Trust me, the martial arts is a recession-proof business. If people want it, they will find a way to pay for it. Charge less than you’re worth, and you will need more people to pay your own bills. And after all, most of you have put more time into learning your craft, more time than your dentist, your lawyer, your mechanic. Why are you charging less than minimum wage for your services? $60 a month? If a student trained 3 hours a week, you’re only getting paid 6 bucks an hour to teach him! Charge what is fair, and then make sure the value of your classes make it worth the money.
  • Don’t get into a price war. Okay, so Ronald McSensei is charging 60 bucks a month, and you charge 100. But he is also offering fluffy martial arts, he takes toddlers as students, he will slap a black belt on an 8 year old who can barely give a good history of the art he’s an “expert” in, he is charging $50 for an exam every other month, $350 for the black belt test…. Rather, be prepared to tell potential students why your school cost more. Ma’am what kind of car do you drive? Well do you realize you can drive an 88 Honda for a fraction of the cost of your 2009 Land Rover? She’ll get the picture.
  • Stop teaching kids. If that’s not your thing, it’s not your thing. You start that stuff, and before you know it, you too will be awarding black belts in 3 years (or less), throwing karate birthday parties, even putting on a clown outfit to entertain the kiddies. If you are a serious teacher offering adult martial arts, then be that guy. Nuff said.

I have way more advice, but I’ve got to get to bed. Teaching a class at 7 a.m. tomorrow. Hold that thought, and we’ll talk more about it later.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Trapping for Fighting

Today I’d like to discuss the technique called trapping. In my many criticisms of the empty handed Filipino Martial Arts, I use the phrase “patty cake” to insult what many of you regard as your unique, bread-and-butter technique. Do I do this for reaction? Yes, I do. Do I really think trapping is no good? No, I don’t.

But don’t get your panties all in a bunch yet.

If you plan on selectively quoting my articles in order to discredit me on some remote blog or forum or Facebook discussion, consider this:  I am as real a martial artist as many of you will ever meet. Unlike many like me, I am on the computer—now on Facebook (thekuntawman at yahoo dot com)—and I do all the things internet warriors do. But don’t get it confused, in person, I may smile and be friendly, but I will still embarrass you on the floor. Even moreso if you decide to “compare’’ techniques. I am not an internet warrior, and doing what many of you do to martial arts characters on the net will ensure that you will be offered a match should we meet in person. I am not a very nice guy if you are bold enough to accept. By the way, of those FMA guys who bad mouth me on the internet—NONE have ever accepted an in-person challenge. Funny how my winning smile can pull the bitch out of the toughest of martial artists.

Now, trapping has its place in the martial arts. FMA people do tend to overemphasize the utility of trapping, yet they underemphasize its use in sparring, and therefore are not very good at it. I can beat most trapping artists with a jab-cross, but it isn’t because of the merit of trapping; it’s because I understand punching and most trap artists do not. Another good reason is that I use a fight-based training method and most that use trapping use a drill-based learning method. There is a big difference between the two, and if you go back and revisit some of the articles I’ve written on training versus practice, you will understand what that difference is.

First, trapping is not something beginners should be spending much time on. If I had it my way, beginners wouldn’t spend any time on it at all. Before a student can begin to even entertain the idea of using a trap on a living, breathing, combative opponent, he must first know how to punch. He should have more than simply the basics of how to punch, but he should be well-versed at it. He should know how to use his maximum speed without compromising the form of his punch, as well as how to hit full power while keeping in form. He should also understand the timing of a punch (both in executing and countering one). He should know the concepts of punching in combination, power mechanics, and movement. If punching is the cake, then trapping is the sprinkles. If you have dry, tasteless cake, adding a ton of sprinkles only gives you a cake that looks good. Hopefully you can make the connection.

In order for you to have effective trapping, you must have good command of your hands. You must be able to punch (literally) with your eyes closed. You should be able to function in the clinch, and rely on sensitivity and not your eyes. You must never be caught out of position while exchanging; otherwise you will neither have immediate access to those trapping skills—nor your access to counter-trapping skills.

You must also be able to both stop and evade a punch as well. Trapping does you no good if you do not have the ability to stop your opponent’s hands, as in the process of exchanging blows you will have to control your opponent and stop his other hand from attacking while you “do the do”. If the opponent is able to hit you at will, your hands will not have a target when you are attempting your traps. If you are lucky enough to catch a hand or forearm, you will not be able to capitalize on the opponent’s very temporary immobilized position.

Which leads me to the next point. You must understand the dynamic nature of fighting with hands. All who overemphasize trapping do so because they do not understand what fighting with hands is all about. If you did, you would know that a good majority of techniques out there that represents “in fighting”, “close quarters” and “trapping” simply won’t work. Why? Here’s a secrets:  Trapping is a temporary… no, VERY temporary… no, split-second… no, milli-second thing. Yes the trap is in the blink of an eye, and if you go to Youtube and search “Panantukan” or “trapping fighting” or one of the other buzz words, you will notice that almost all the guys out there—even those who are considered the best—think that trapping snares you all the time in the world to do what you have to do. Trapping is so temporary, that if you can trap a real jab—you are one bad mofo.

Let’s repeat this, kiddies. TRAPPING =/= JAB DEFENSE. In other words, the first indication that your Guro will get his ass whipped in a match with thekuntawman is that he attempts to convince you that you can trap a jab. A real jab.  Let’s put a “period” at the end of this point. No further explanation is necessary. Period.

Okay, coming up on a thousand words, so my bat-indicators and spidey-sense is telling me I am about to teach people for free again. Now, if you want to learn how to trap for real—and you are in Northern California, then plop down the $45 to take my Punching Seminar on Feb 19th. It’s from 2 – 4 p.m., and you will need a headgear (preferable with a face cage, people keep stealing mine), handwraps, closed-fingers gloves, and a focus mitt. Come in 30 minutes early and I will teach you to wrap your hands and how to make a fist. And be prepared to stay over about an hour, as we may go longer than two hours. Hit me on Facebook if you’d like to learn more.

Thanks for visiting my blog.


The Hardest Stone

I recently received a visit from an old friend I hadn’t seen in almost ten years. He was a training partner/sparring partner, and very good fighter. We use to get together once a week for sparring, and sometimes the sessions became a trading session–where we taught each other the systems we come from–and sometimes we simply worked independantly on the heavy bag or held the pads for each other.

In the last ten years, he and I both went from looking young for our age to him graying and me losing my hair. We laugh because neither of us is from Sacramento and we were fighting teachers (most teachers in Sacramento do not fight) and now, in our 40s, we both are shadows of who we once were and want to return to the ring. Jermaine, who is a descendant of John Keehan (yes, that Keehan), is preparing for a cage match while I am on a running regimen to fight in point fighting matches. We committed to working out once a week and sparring at least once a week.

I thought back to our sessions ten years ago and remembered the competition between us. We were both over 30 but still looked in our 20s. We were both still competing. We both had our own “groupies” who thought of us as the top dog in town. And when we first met, were constantly trying to outdo each other. The competition between us when we were younger was almost hostile, although we became friends because of it. When he fights in March, I will be in his corner, but before then I will do my best to kick his ass every opportunity I get.

Ah, the true martial arts training partner!

Let me give you the Filipino idea of a training partner.

In the Philippine fighting arts you will find many masters who referred to each other as a “training partner”, but it is not a partner in the way many of you think. Filipino teacher-fighters are very selfish with their systems and knowledge. When they train, they actually prefer to train alone, and the offer to “train together” is a coded way of saying “I want to see if I can whip you, and I also want to see what you do when you train.” LOL–yes, I am laughing as I type, because I am guilty of that even now. Jay spent a good portion of the last decade in Yemen, where he taught a private group of family members–mostly for fitness, but he had plenty of time to develop and modify his art. What he didn’t have was a guy like me, who would do my best to make him leave the dojo with three shoes–two on his feet, one in his ass–to see if his self-development has been in vain. It is very likely that your Masters and Grandmasters were like this as young men… They came up with an idea, they trained like a madman to see that idea manifest itself into physical skill, then they get with their “training partner” to see if they could beat him with it. The training partner, on the other hand, was there to try and decode it in the course of the match as well as beat it with his own technique.

And there you have the ongoing cycle of the martial arts friendship:  Two guys getting together, not so much to share as they endeavor to use each other’s skill to fine tune their own skill. Sometimes, they would actually share knowledge. Most of the time, they do not. But do not be discouraged by the refusal to share, as training partners are working individually to develop their own systems and really are helping the other develop his own style by being a rival. For the fighter must find the hardest stone to sharpen his blade, and someone softer will not afford him that opportunity to temper his skills. The better the skill of the partner, the harder you must work to beat him, and the better your own skill will be. On the other hand, a training partner who is too easy on you, too friendly, or too complimenting to is not going to do much to force you to work harder. This is very different from a workout partner who is simply trying to get you to push out a few extra reps; we are talking about a guy who is actively trying to outdo you, prove you wrong, and beat you. Few martial artists will actually do this and remain your friend. He isn’t trying to hurt you, but he isn’t going to make it easy for you either. He has a genuine interest in defeating you, and every victory you got while sparring with him is bitterly earned. He is a rare find; most martial artists are either too selfish, too shy, or too afraid to maintain a relationship like this.

As a martial artist, you would want to find and keep these types of training partners. These aren’t men you are trying to learn from, they are men you are trying to learn on. And this type of learning is difficult to come by.

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