The Mean and Nasty Old Master, pt II

I want to talk a little more about one of my favorite people in the world:  Old people.

I was partially raised by my grandparents, as my mother could not afford child care in those days. My grandfather, then, took that opportunity to hijack my life and raise me to be a martial artist. Despite that I had some other aspirations, like my siblings, who are very successful–I was bred to do these arts. Many of you may go your whole lives and not encounter someone like me whose parents did not give them a choice about what path to take in life. It is a very un-American concept, disallowing your child to make a life decision such as a career path or who to marry. But I assure you it is a practice that is done more out of love and less out of tradition, and it is not one I regret not a single day of my life.

All my teachers were lifetime martial artists as well. I am not speaking of the guys who just practice and teach the art all their lives. The kind of men I learned from turned down other job opportunities and did this art even if it sent them to the poor house. For them, the martial arts was an occupation, a calling, a lifestyle. Very unlike your military guy-turned martial artist, or your State worker-turned martial artist, or your [insert occupation]slash/martial artist. What I have observed of these kind of teachers, having had 9 such men as teachers, is that they spend their whole lives looking for a student who would treat these arts as a lifestyle just as they had done. The big disappointment for them, as I noted in my last installment of this subject, is that they may never encounter another quite like them. It is no wonder that these men will take their children (or at least their first-born son) and train them, hijacking their lives, to be the perfect product of their teachings.

Let’s discuss the difference between the kind old master and the mean old master. There is a difference.

Without wanting to insult or cause offense–cause you know how much I hate to do that–we will focus on the mean old master and I want you to compare him to the nice old masters you most likely have encountered. The truth is, there are far more nice old masters than mean old ones. There is a reason for that, and that reason is why I gravitate towards them. You may disagree with me if your old manong is a nice guy, but despite what you say, my experiences have told me otherwise. So here goes:

  • He is competitive. The old master is competitive with other old masters. He takes great pride in having students who are the best in his town or province. When he encounters a fighter who is superior to his own, every mistake you make (as his student) is magnified when you lose. He says to himself, “If you had done what I told you to do, if you had practiced more, or used this/that technique–you would have beat him.”  In other words, he doesn’t want any other teacher to say their boys are better than his. The old master has long sized up the other masters and feels he has a better way. One of the things that keeps him in this game is that he is striving to establish himself as the BEST. And now that he is too old to do the things he used to do, he lives through his students to carry the torch. When he is teaching you, he is attempting to recreate himself. He wants you to do the things he can no longer do.
  • He wants you to be competitive. He wants you to be better than he was, better than his first generation of students, better than the other guys’ students. He loves a hungry student who trains like a mad man and struggles to make him look good. Because when you look good, he looks good. Yes, even though you are doing the work, and looking good–he is somewhat vain.
  • He is not a celebrity teacher. Some masters spend a lot of time talking about what they did when they were young. They highlight their past accomplishments and skills, and therefore many do not want the student to exceed the master. But not the mean old master; he wants the next generation to be bigger and better than he ever was. My grandpa would tell stories about his matches, and although embellished somewhat to make him sound like the Filipino Superman–he always finished by telling me that I would be bigger and stronger and more famous than he was. He picked my friends based on if he thought they would boost or hurt my reputation–or help vs. suppress my skill. My teacher Bogs Lao would force me to fight with bigger, stronger, better fighters because he wanted me to improve. There were a few fighters I feared because they were relentless in kicking my behind, and when he discovered that fear he made me fight them more. He did not want to hear that I was nervous, or hurt, or sore, or tired. Bogs built his reputation off of the skill of his students, and was satisfied only with our best. At the same time, he did not tolerate mediocrity. The celebrity teacher doesn’t care if you are the best or not, because regardless of what you do, it will not affect his status as a well-known master.
  • He was a perfectionist. Notice I said “was”, rather than “is”. Is he a perfectionist? You betcha. But the reason he is mean and nasty now is that he was a perfectionist when he was young, so he knows firsthand what perfection looks like. He can tell when you’re really giving your best, and when you’re just tired. The mean old master knows the secret to 110% of your effort:  There is no such thing. It’s just that 99.99% of you will never truly give 100% of your effort. So when you actually DO give it all you’ve got, you feel like you’ve given more. This man knows what you feel like on the 150th pushup, because he’s done it himself, many times. Now take three minutes rest and give me ten more.
  • He truly wants you, your skill, your reputation and the system to outlive him. The mean old nasty master knows this absolute truth about the fighting arts that very few know, and does not exist in most other fields:  When he is dead and gone, when you have graduated from his tutelage, you will never work this hard again. There is a reason why fighters with 50+ fights still pay millions to their trainers when they themselves are great, knowledgeable fighters. That reason is that the teacher sees the mistakes and shortcomings we often don’t see, and they will not let us quit when our minds and bodies tell us to. They will force us to do what we will not force ourselves to do without our lives being on the line. In a real fight you will pull out all the stops to win. You won’t do it in training. But if you pull them all out in training, when you fight, you will have more in the bag to pull out. Reread this line several times until it sinks in. That was one of the secrets of the Masters.
  • He doesn’t care if you like him, or if you’re offended by what he says, or if others don’t like what he has said or how he said it. Because when he is gone, you will love him and appreciate his teaching more than you did when he was alive. This is another one of those absolute truths about the martial arts, that does not apply in many other fields. He is a bitch to learn from, and maybe you didn’t get the training the way you thought it should have gone when you were a pupil, or maybe you didn’t like the way he insulted you or hit you when you got it wrong–but when he is dead, you will miss him and honor him as if he were a parent. I look at the complaining I did when learning Eskrima from my grandfather in the backyard, doing my basic 5 strikes (we have 24, but my first 5 were my daily routine in those days) in 100 degree weather until my hands bled. I longed to learn the other arts, the forms and sinawali and disarms that I read about in the magazines. And look at me now. My students, family members and close friends know exactly what I’m talking about. I am the 43 year old version of that old man. He died when I was 22, and I never took another class, nor another master, since. Old people are like that, they are the way they are because they feel like they have earned the right to say what they say and do what they do, and they don’t care if you don’t like it. Humility causes even old men to bite their tongues. But the men who have taken lives, saved lives, and walked the Earth with the skill to make a Godlike decision–whether to take or not–know nothing of humility. <—- And here you have the main difference between the mean old nasty master, and the nice, sweet one.

But I must make a correction. While searching for clips of old masters on youtube (I had seen an interview with a Master who was the student of Master Lema, bragging that his boys were unbeatable–to illustrate my points), I found this one and realized that I should say that these Masters are not all men. I especially enjoy this clip, because it shows one of those mean old masters in rare form interacting with her student. No doubt, her fighters know a different Master than the rest of the martial arts community. Enjoy! And thank you for visiting my blog.

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Taste EVERY Ingredient (Skipping Grades, pt IV)

By the time we get done with this series, you will notice something. I’m not going to explain it right now, because FMA students today are way too anxious to get to the back of the novel. Although the average person who reads this blog is likely not to be a novice in the Filipino art, if you compare your experience to what I consider “experienced” in the art, I would beg to differ. The student stage of the martial artist’s journey is such a wonderful period if you focus too much on the end of the trip you will miss some of the best scenery and stories. Your life as a Guro–if you get there too fast–will be a very bland, uneventful story. The more stories you have as a student, the more spices you add to the soup, and the longer you savor its essence–the richer your experience will be.

Some people only taste a soy-based adobo. Others take in the ginger, the garlic, the pepper, the rice vinegar, the bay leaf, the dried chilis, the onion, the patis (fish sauce)… Even if you don’t know the recipe, if you are a somewhat intelligent adult who’s been around the kitchen, you could taste a dish, then go home and recreate it.

Or counter it.

Martial arts educations I believe are too focused on “achieving goals”–rank and graduations/certifications–that the students do not fully absorb their lessons. We end up with a so-called expert who must mentally recall techniques and request a “feed” in order to demonstrate a technique. This is not expertise, my friends. Expertise is to know the arts like the back of your hand and engage combat with anyone, not know anything about the opponent, and in the course of a few seconds of exchanges, be able to tell you every ingredient in this guy’s arsenal–and soundly beat him by picking the right counter attacks and attack strategy. Too much focus on technique collection, and not enough time on technique understanding and study of strategy. The best lessons, I often say, cannot be learned in a classroom. They are taught through reflection, conversation with fighters and your master, experimentation, and hands-on technique practice.

Tell you what, take your system’s first three hits. Practice only those hits–stroking practice and combinations with the three strikes–for 90 days and minimum of 5,000 repetitions and you will know so much more about those three hits than what anyone can tell you. I must say that in the Eskrima classroom, most teachers know that my approach is best, but they do not use this knowledge because of business reasons. Most true masters do not feel that the average guy gracing their dojo floor has the patience, commitment and diligence to practice this way. However, it is highly superior to anything you can get in a camp or seminar… and I don’t care if Chuck Norris himself taught it. Nothing a Master can teach you in the martial arts is too trivial; it’s just that students want to hurry and get to the next thing or learn something more entertaining to look at.

If I could arm you with a strike that is so powerful that no opponent could stop it. So fast that he could not block it in time. Timing so good that his counter will fail each time you attack him with it. And a grip so strong, that no opponent could disarm you. Would you be happy?

Start with 10,000 hits in practice with any strike. It will take you about 6 months of normal practice to attain it. Spar with this strike constantly. Come up with combinations that feature it. Find ways to stop it. Find ways to counter the counters to it. Sleep with it. Eat with it. Practice it in the mirror when you’re flexing while shaving. 😉  Practice this as if few other techniques exist. Brothers and sisters, I’m telling you, you will discover and own that strike.

But only if you taste every ingredient in that strike. Sadly, chances are that you won’t do it because you find other dishes too palatable to spend that kind of time on one strike. And this is why most people wait for pieces of paper to validate themselves as Masters–while a very small minority walk into the room with NO paper, and the hair stands up on the neck of every man in the room. Prowess, mastery, and true expertise is not endowed to students. They are self-determined, self-made, and self-realized. It’s why no man certified the great Bruce Lee and the great Masutatsu Oyama–and people waited till they were dead to talk about how no one recognized them as billy-badasses. Get this skill and knowledge for yourself, under your teachers, and allow time to make these things absorb into your arsenal. During that process, take the time to learn every little thing about your art.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

By the way, my new book, simply entitled Teaching Philosophy, is on its way and will be released on soft copy through this blog, or hard copy through Amazon soon. More on this later!

The Novice Student (Skipping Grades pt III)

This is a continuation of my series on How to Study the FMAs. The last installment is located here.

If you notice, I named the series “Skipping Grades”, rather than “How to Study”. Ever wonder why?

It’s because martial arts students of the Filipino martial arts–compared to those of other styles and genres of the art–tend to be less committed, less patient, and in such a big rush to become “certified” to teach, they never properly learn the art. If you have ever wondered why I seem to be so condescending to FMA people and down on the arts, despite that I am one myself, this is a big reason. I don’t consider most “experts” of the Filipino Martial Arts to really be experts.

It sounds bad, I know. But when a Korean kwangjangnim complains that today’s students are not committed, he is not speaking with the same breath as an FMA Guro saying the same thing. At least in the most commercial, Mickey-Mouse Dojang you can find, it still takes 2 years of training three days a week, followed by board breaking and sparring and a 3 – 4 hour exam to obtain a Black Belt. But the FMAs? Shit, you and I both know there are assholes out here certifying Guros in a damned weekend. A great majority of the source of FMA being taught around the world–not just in America–is through seminar and correspondence courses. Teachers who live in some other city, coming around a few times a year to teach, and “study groups” being led by “Associate/Apprentice” instructors (aka senior classmates) who are getting their training the same way. The result is that if a Guro decides to open a full-time school to teach Eskrima:

  1. He won’t know how to teach it because he’s so used to teaching on the run, he can’t think of how to teach week after week and make it a practical education, and
  2. Students won’t commit to it, because they are busy or some other lame excuse–when reality is that they’re used to learning on the run as well.

Sadly, we end up with mediocre at best martial arts “experts” and they do not have the level of dominance that an expert should have. Our experts become proficient at giving demonstrations instead of fighting. So much so, that when we actually see someone fighting with their FMA–not playing around, but fighting–we are in awe.

But I digress. This article is about the Novice Student…

Many FMA people come into the art expecting certification and proficiency right away. The rudimentary skills of the Eskrimador require unsophisticated, boring repetitions of stroking practice–numbering in the thousands, for months before delving into finer points and anything requiring more than basic motor skills. Eskrima students have seen tons of youtube videos, many have taken seminars and own several videos and DVDs with intricate strike patterns, drills and countering combinations. So when he walks into a school and a real Eskrima master spends 20-30 minutes of every class making him execute hundreds of the same, single strike–he is bored. He feels like “I already know the #1, why am I still practicing it? When will I learn to *fight*, Mr. Miyagi?”

Don’t laugh. Some of you are old enough to know what I’m getting at.

The heart of Eskrima is in the wax-on, wax-off type of practice. It is there, that what saves your life will be found. It is in this type of practice and consistency that true fighting skill and physical prowess is developed. Not with the stuff that makes for a 10,000-hit youtube clip, trust me. Somewhere buried deep in this kind of practice are the most profound things discovered about fighting. It’s nothing that can truly be taught in a class, it is an enlightening that reveals itself to you through proficiency and familiarity. There may not even be a point where you actually realize that you learned it. This is the first stage of training that the true fighting schools are heavy on, and most of the worst fighting schools are light on:  The DO of the training.

Perhaps I should break and explain before I lose you. I have identified several stages of learning, please remember this, as every teacher must fully grasp this if he is to master teaching, and if he is to help his students master learning. Mark my words on this, and you will one day come to the realization that I have just given you a gem–One must be an expert student if he ever hopes to become an expert teacher or expert fighter in the arts. I don’t want to get too far off the subject so let’s just keep this one short and sweet. In learning you have three stages of being a beginner martial arts student:

  1. Doing. You must do the techniques for at least a year–preferably two years–in order to learn HOW to do the technique
  2. Absorb. You must absorb the technique so that you can execute the technique with your eyes closed, mind closed, and thoughtlessly, flawlessly. This is the stage where fighting with a technique is really learned
  3. Understand/Analyze. I couldn’t figure out which word I want to use, and they both mean the same thing in the context I have in mind. It is at this stage, you have full physical ability with the technique as well as plenty of experience using, applying, countering, and overcoming your opponent’s counter–of that technique. Once you have done this, the student is able to change, modify, personalize, and adapt this technique to any situation

To illustrate, allow me to use handwriting as an example. When a child is 5, he learns his alphabets. He learns to recite them, he learns to recognize them, he learns to write them, sound them out, and form basic words and read them. I have letters my baby boy has written me (he’s 6) where he has phonetically spelled words he has not yet learned to spell, but he tries. By the end of this school year, he will be pretty literate. And it’s taken him about 2 years to learn to read. Can he read now? Yes. But not like he will by the time he’s 7, and keep in mind, he started when he was 5…  Like I said, 2 years. he knows how to write block letters in print. When he uses lined notebook paper, he has a difficult time staying in the lines. Although he gets the concept, he still fumbles with writing and reading. There are plenty of English learners who would love to have his proficiency in reading and writing. Those of us who are adults and speakers of English know that he’s got a long way to go, but hell–he’s SIX! Yet to a Chinese man who does not speak English, my son is pretty good.

Around the second grade, his print is good, and so he is learning now cursive. His literacy is improving, he is reading books on his own. He can read fonts of different styles and knows right away what the words say. He is learning basic grammar and spelling basics, and all that crazy rules you American people have in your language like silent letters and why “laugh” and “caught” don’t rhyme and all that stuff that’s confusing to non-native speakers. If some guy from Mexico bought the Berlitz Ingles course, he’d pay handsomely to have this second grader’s command of English. And you and I know (and I am no damned expert myself)–this little boy is an expert, and he’s been writing and reading three whole years. Long enough to get certified in 4 different styles of FMAs AND Krav Maga.

Finally, by the time the kid is 8, he knows that ghosi can be pronounced “fish” (“gh” from laugh, “o” from women and “si” from mission) without having to think much about it. He will understand that he “fought” yesterday instead of “fighted”, and doesn’t even have to think about it. He can engage in handwriting or spelling or reading contests and be pretty damned cocky about it. His smart ass is intelligent enough to correct his father’s English, despite that his Dad has lived here for 30 years. And get this:  If someone hands him some college ruled paper, he can write and adjust his handwriting to be just as legible as Dick and Jane (and know that this book is not a porno) or a celebrity-style, unintelligible autograph. Even doing it while running his mouth. He has only been reading and writing four years, but he’s pretty literate, wouldn’t you say? Compare that to another 13 years of education, and he’s still the bottom of the barrel in the work force. To someone who doesn’t know English, he’s an expert of speaking, reading and writing English–but he has barely grasped the basics.

And that’s why I named this installment the “Novice” student. He isn’t thinking of college at this point. He’s just learning the basics, doing it over and over and over again. Doing homework, reading comic books, writing tattletale notes to his parents about his sister, writing poetry and stories. Little does a child know, he has submitted to the learning and will properly learn the language and the lessons. The sky is the limit with this kid. He could be the next slam poet, or great orator, or award-winning novelist. But at this point, he knows his place and is just trying to master the lessons before him.

The martial artist on the other hand, daydreams in class about skipping the third grade and going to MIT because he “already knows this stuff”. Unlike the child, there is an asshole or two out there, willing to sell him an MIT fantasy and let him skip first through twelfth grade go straight to the University level. He only has to do it a few times a year and a few camps, and won’t even have to debate with other scholars for his degree or be a resident student.

Told you I digress. I have myself a note here:

Submit to your teacher’s lessons, absorb the training, and let it become as natural as language before attempting to analyze and (canonize) your own method that contradicts your teacher’s method.

Then move on to the intermediate level of learning. (slightly revised)

Hmm. Maybe I should have just said that.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

thekuntawman Goes On Tour

I am going to bite the bullet on my philosophy and try something different in 2013:  We’re going to take this thekuntawman thing on tour.

From September to December of this year, I will tour the West Coast and a few sites on the East Coast to conduct training and introduce attendees to my philosophy on Martial Arts Training and Fighting. As dates and places are confirmed, I will post them in this Section. Anyone can attend–from the beginner to the instructor–although some events will be focused on one group or another. Tuition is not going to be cheap:  $149 for a four-hour session–which is the price of one month of training with me in my school.

Not only will you get a fresh new approach to the Filipino arts–but those of you who would like to kick my ass, here is a perfect opportunity to hunt me down and prove to me in person that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Matter of fact, screw name-dropping your seminar resume; what better way to build your reputation than by saying that you challenged–and beat Mustafa Gatdula? Regain your style’s notoriety by being the guy who put Mustafa Gatdula in his place… The FILIPINO way!

The only catch is, to do it, you’ll have to attend my class. 😉

So this is a call for folks who want to host a non-mainstream FMA guy to come to your town and teach something that is not found on DVD or video. Leave a comment or email me!

Thanks for visiting my blog.