Promoting the Filipino Martial Arts

This morning I was surfing youtube, looking at martial arts videos and I noticed a few things.

  • Some styles are tightly controlled–who gets certified to teach it, who is called a teacher vs master, and access to learning those arts
  • Some arts are very commonly found, where just a decade ago they were obscure
  • The more popular an art is, the easier it is to learn these arts, the skill level of those who teach the art is poor
  • The rarer the art, the more it is in demand, and it is treasured more

I disagree with those who want to mass-market the Filipino Martial Arts. However, I have to admit that 20 years ago when I began teaching my art, I was among those who wanted the FMAs to be as accessible and respected at Karate and Tae Kwon Do. Yet over the years, I have seen the art move from just a few visible masters to “yes-my-10-year-old-has-a-Black-Belt-in-it” mainstream. Those who have known me for years can probably recall me throwing tantrums on online forums such as MartialTalk and Bladeforums about weak representatives teaching “my” arts. A local Filipino newspaper once called me a “gatekeeper” to Filipino arts, when my school was the only FMA school in town, citing my disgust with long-distance FMA course-trained teachers. In those days, I saw myself as an owner of the FMAs and disliked seeing Eskrima teachers who were misrepresenting the art (with misconceptions about techniques and false histories). I wanted to see FMA empty hand to be truly appreciated as practical forms of fighting–not just something you devoted a little time to in seminars are fancy demos. I wanted the art taught full-time in schools and for every city to have schools offering the FMAs. I wanted FMAs to be just as popular as any other style and for our styles to be household names.

Of course, as time passed, I changed that desire.

I no longer want to see the Filipino arts get as big as Tae Kwon Do, especially after seeing what has happened to TKD. Korean styles have been reduced to either a sport or a children’s activity. They are a laughing stock among “real” martial artists. Tae Kwon Do is now treated as a gateway art to supposedly more practical arts, like jujitsu and MMA. You can’t go more than 10 miles in any direction these days without running into a TKD school, and almost every adult you find today has studied it, or has a friend who studied it. Although Tae Kwon Do is a valid form of fighting (only people who have never fought a TKD fighter will swear it is not), for some reason it just doesn’t have respect. I blame this on one very real fact–This is NOT a generalization:

Most people teaching Tae Kwon Docouldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag.

And that’s the damned truth. The art has become so popular, so easy to achieve rank in, that a Black belt in this art is nearly meaningless these days. There is no way you could hold your Black Belt certificate in high regard when a 7 year old tested right next to you and holds the same rank.

But don’t laugh, FMAers. We are no different. In fact, I would say we were worse, because these days a Tae Kwon Do guy has to spend more time in class–way more time–than you do to reach an “expert” status. In the Filipino arts, most places don’t even have places to study every day if you want to really commit to the art. We are tucked away on weekends between classes in commercial Karate schools and community centers. We barely even have men who teach FMAs full-time, nor do you often find students who have devoted all of their martial arts education to FMA study. We are the ultimate add-on art, and if you are too busy to dedicate your time to it, we have convenient self-study and crash courses which will certify you in fewer than 100 hours of training time.

Many of you who tested for your Black Belts didn’t even TEST. You want to see what a Black Belt test looks like in a real kick ass school? Take a look at this video and you tell me if you’ve seen an FMA school with something of this caliber.

I’ve said it millions of times already, and I will say it a million times more:¬† The Filipino fighting arts¬† aren’t for everyone in its purest form. If you dilute it to make it palatable for the average Joe, it is no longer FMA in its purest form and you shouldn’t call it such. If the FMAs were to become a household name, it must grow slowly and carefully. The video and seminar markets have made these arts more commercial, more entertaining, and they have strayed too far from the source and now emit a weaker frequency. When a child can get the same thing you got in the same amount of time, when you can be certified to teach but you are not confident to take on any attacker, when you cannot guarantee that the Black Belts under you are superior to those of another teacher–your art has not been transferred properly. We can publish all the articles we want, produce the cutest Youtube clips of what our arts entail, we can tattoo our arms, lift weights and build muscles, swing knives, sticks and blades to look tough–and the art is not growing the way it should.

Real martial arts cannot be mass marketed, because real martial arts are not for the masses.

My opinion about how the FMAs should be promoted:

  1. Stop promoting. Individual schools should promote in their areas to increase membership, but the best product on the market shouldn’t need a PR campaign. Enough of the reality shows and exaggerated displays of what FMAs are all about.
  2. We do what we do, and we do it best. This is the “Good to Great” concept. We should not try and be everything to everyone. If you did not develop your empty hand as a specialty, don’t promote that you did. Many people have left FMA schools disappointed that their FMA empty hand was not practical. I know, because they usually come to me.
  3. Masters don’t chase after students. It makes us look less sincere about our art. If you had a beautiful, smart daughter, do you advertise to try and find suitors for her? Or do you protect her and wait for the best young man who deserves her. We treat our arts as money-tickets, not as treasured skills we earned and paid for with blood, sweat and tears.
  4. Our schools should be bottom-heavy with beginners. Only the best and most deserving go to the senior ranks. We don’t allow people to hold rank just because they’ve been there a long time. We make them earn the right to be among our best–trust me, they will work to show their appreciation.
  5. Teachers must have their own experiences to teach from. FMA teachers give me more excuses than anyone not to spar and not to compete. It’s disgusting; you’ll fight to the death on the street, but you won’t fight lightly in a competition. Yeah, right. Gaining fighting experience with unfamiliar opponents must be a prerequisite for achieving rank in the martial arts, period.
  6. Students must be given ample time to develop their skills. It appears that students test and are awarded rank almost immediately after learning their skills. This makes for men who can demonstrate, but not use, their martial arts. Solid skill is patiently built.
  7. If your thing is money, find another way to make it without compromising the quality of the art you teach. That means do away with watered-down classes and art; and give only the best quality instruction you can provide.
  8. Stop accepting students who cannot dedicate themselves to the training. We make it too easy for students to learn when the reality is that they really don’t want to learn. Too busy? No budget? Live too far? These guys will make a way to a woman they meet on the internet, but they won’t make a way for the art. Sounds like they really don’t want that art. Long distance learning is not learning.
  9. We must have events to showcase our talent, i.e., tournaments. If we are superior to Karate and Kung Fu, then get your guys in front of Karate and Kung Fu and prove it. It won’t kill them. What are you afraid of?
  10. Finally, we must respect skill and demonstrated knowledge. What is demonstrated knowledge, but skill? We rarely even ask to see a man’s skill (demonstrations of give and take and one steps are not demos of skill) before judging if he is good or not. We are so bad, we can’t even recognize a real fighter when we see one these days.

The Ninjitsu community is able to control quality because they don’t mass-market their art. If you want to learn, you must travel to learn with a master. They do not grant Black belts to kids. They do not teach by video. You don’t get to call yourself a master or expert just by writing articles about yourself. And where you find a man with a Black Belt in Ninjitsu, you find one with excellent skills. I would love to find this same thing in the Filipino Fighting Arts.

Thank you for visiting my blog.