If I Taught Seminars and Made Instructional Videos…

I’m really not a jerk. If you ask people who know me personally, they will attest to that. I would say that the only people who think I’m an arrogant bastard with no manners are either folks who haven’t met me yet (and base this opinion on my internet activity and writings) or people who meet me in person, disagree, and then decline a sparring match.

fear no manYou see, all “arguments” in the martial arts really is a waste of time. You can’t prove your point with words or even a demo. Only by crossing sticks and crossing hands, can a point make its way all the way home–and even then, one cannot make an absolute judgment about a technique or strategy since variables can cause the outcome to turn either way. Well many martial artists can only speak in theory because they have yet to develop their theories into skills. So, folks armed with theories argue, and folks armed with skills speak with authority because they can back up what they say. Sorry if that makes people think I’m an asshole.

Anyway, I am very outspoken about my opinions about the martial arts–namely, the Filipino arts. And within the FMAs…. Seminars and the Instructional DVD market. I will not bite my tongue if asked about it, and often I run the risk of offending my own friends within the FMAs. Hey, disagreeing doesn’t mean we can’t find common ground. And being friends doesn’t mean we should suppress our opinions, so I run my mouth.

Well, in a nutshell, I don’t like the Seminar industry and the Instructional market. Out of all martial arts systems, next to Krap Maga, the Filipino art is the most mass-marketed, bastardized and pimped forms of “combat”. Majority of the time you meet an FMA guy, he is trained through seminars, or seminar-trained Guros. He has probably never had anyone try and prove that his art will fail–and this is a vital part of the growth of a martial artist of any style:  He must have had someone challenge his ability many times, and suffered defeat as well as enjoyed victory. The FMA guy of today, he knows nothing of this experience. He has most likely never tried his Eskrima against another non-Eskrima guy. He has never used his “Pangamut/Mano-Mano/Panantukan” against a non-FMA guy determined to beat him. He is so used to being around like-minded FMA guys, he is offended if someone says those drills you do are mostly new creations less than 50 years old and the masters of yesteryear didn’t do them. He gets bent out of shape when a guy says that FMA empty hand you do won’t work in a fight, when the easiest thing to do–the most logical thing to do–is take 3 minutes to prove them wrong. There is too much damned hand-holding, butt kissing, “sharing” of technique, and cooperative practice in today’s FMA guy’s training, he has become soft as mashed potatoes.

But don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that all of the industry is bad. But I have ONE litmus test I challenge EVERY FMA Guro/GM/Master with, and 100% of them fail when I throw it out there…

Are you willing to bet any of your Black Belt fighter against me or one of my Black Belts?

If you are a real-deal FMA guy, put any of your guys out there with full confidence that he’s going to whip pretty much anyone we put in front of him. But if you can’t do that with all your “expert” level guys–not just your BEST fighter, I’m talking about every last one of them–you need to review how you certify your guys.

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I talk of Mas Oyama a lot because he has kept his quality standard so high, he believed that ANY Kyokushinkai Black Belter could defeat any Black Belter of any other style. He called his art the “Strongest Karate”, and he made sure that only the best of his best was of that caliber. Shit, most of you FMA Guros don’t even believe that YOU can whip most comers. So when it comes to your students, you don’t care that your guys aren’t the best fighters around. As long as they “know” the curriculum, they can teach, and you have neither tested their knowledge against guys from other schools, other styles, nor have you taken care to ensure that they are the best of what you can produce. Hell, most of you can’t even NAME every Black Belt/Instructor in your systems.

I have attended seminars all over this country as a guest, and I have never once seen the guys have that learning tested to see if it will stand up to some else’s style. Most seminars throw so much at the students so quickly, the students don’t even have enough time to fully absorb what they were taught. And 99% of those seminars give these guys a certificate with no “pass/fail” involved. I know guys who have amassed more than 50 seminars, and name-drop more Masters than an NBA groupie chick… and none of them have enough skill to beat one of my intermediate Eskrima guys.

Don’t get me started on the DVD industry. Hopefully no one certifies though correspondence course anymore.

But that doesn’t mean I’m 100% against it.

Seminars are a good way to introduce someone to a style or a teacher, although if the seminar was taught like a real class should be taught, it would be boring as hell. Most guys I know who teach seminars are excellent showmen; they put on humorous or dazzling displays of choreographed “skill”. This is what brings people back to the show over and over, not real training. That’s okay, I get that. But the question is, do we do these seminars because we really want people to learn? Are we trying to arm them with skill that will make them unbeatable? Do we want these guys to be examples of the best quality fighter we can produce? Or do we care?

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If I taught seminars and made instructional videos, I would teach very basic technique to get people started. I would answer the question, “If I have NO access to a teacher, what could you teach me to protect myself with?” Screw trying to learn a style. Martial arts is serious business, and if some guy already had a background and he was just looking to satisfy his fetish for exotic arts or learn a few trick to impress people with–I’m not the one. Periodically, I do teach seminars. In these seminars, I want to pass on to attendees my basic philosophy of learning and practicing the art. I teach people how to train, I test what they know against their own classmates. If there are Black Belts in the room, I let them test themselves on me. No man should be calling himself an expert if he is unwilling to put his skill and knowledge to the test. I’m also aware that most students will probably never have someone “test” their art and theories, so in my classes, I make sure that they get this experience. I’ve only done a handful in the last 25 years or so, but I have had many FMA men say that they never looked at the martial arts the same way after my presentation. Students love it, Masters and experts hate it. But it’s all to assist with the progress of the Filipino arts. We have allowed the FMAs to become an add-on art, something taught in “Ten Easy Lessons” (excuse me, seminars); most FMA guys today will not allow themselves to be trained hardcore in these arts.

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Because when they encounter someone who tries to introduce them to the “hard core FMA” concept, they walk away calling me an asshole.

The teaching of the martial arts is serious business, and should not be something that just skims the surface but marketed as a survival art.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

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Exceed the Master, pt IV (The Door)

Door at Franklin

Two things:

  1. I’ve relocated this part of the series to “Philosophy”, and
  2. I am about to ask you to commit martial “blasphemy”

Steven Dowd is dedicating an issue to this blog (thanks Steven!) in his FMA newspaper, FMA Informative. If you are unfamiliar with it, I recommend you go over to the site and subscribe. He’s a major player in the FMA community, and although he does not toot his own horn–Steven is the kind of guy who promotes other martial artists–he has been involved in the Filipino arts longer than most people reading this blog has been alive. Matter of fact (and not calling him old), he has been practicing the arts longer than many “grandmasters” have known how to walk. Even if only by association, he has known and learned and exchanged from many martial artists and his exposure and experiences have left behind a very knowledgeable and wise master.

So when on the subject of choosing a cover photo, I couldn’t settle on what I wanted to submit. Many FMA guys are big on self-promotion, as am I, but I only believe in promoting myself to people who might study with me. If you live in another state and have no chance of joining my school, I don’t care if you think my arts stink and I’m a 12 year old behind the keyboard. Oh yeah, there were many who questioned if thekuntawman even existed. After all, no one had ever heard of my teachers, and if I’m so great, how come I don’t have any videos on the market? Or magazine articles? Anyway, I decided to send him the front of my school. Many have told me that the door to my school tells the story of what goes on behind those walls, and what kind of teacher leads the classes, and what kind of students walk out after class.

We have sponsored a Fight Night for the last two decades that only local martial artists know about–even those who consider themselves “streetfighters”–where anyone can walk through my door and fight my guys or even go a round with me. No Black Belt has ever attended a Fight Night and not gone at least one round with me. It’s a rule. Most of you studied from Guros who don’t work that way, and that’s okay. Each of us have our own way.

I happen to have improved my teachers’ way.

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Did that bother you?

Many would think that a man who says he improved his Masters’ arts is a self-centered, arrogant bastard. I disagree.

In the Filipino tradition of the arts, we all strive to exceed the ability and the technical side of our Masters’ arts. It isn’t disrespect to try and improve their art, find a more efficient, effective way. In fact, for us FMA guys–we’re expected to. You cannot allow yourself to worship your teachers and their methods to the point that you believe that those techniques cannot be tweaked into a better art. I would think that if you found a way to do so, your teacher would be proud.

Occasionally, some of us may end up learning from a talented or talentless teacher who is good with a typewriter, good with creative, fancy names, and coordinated enough to put on dazzling displays of “skill”–just to have our growth stunted by a self-promoting, narcissistic teacher. Perhaps your Master was an egomaniac–but he also had a good system to learn. Either way, you must know when it is time to branch off and start experimenting with your skills. There will be a time in every fighter’s life when he must break away from under his teacher’s wing to start a fight career of his own. It doesn’t need to be a sporting fight career; simply training among a new group of kumpadres and opponents in a new atmosphere is good enough. You need the change in scenery, where you are no longer someone’s student–but a martial artist/fighter-at-large, who does not have the protection or security of a teacher and classmates. You must leave the nest and go on your own to sink or swim. This is a stage I believe many students skip. Too many students graduate to the instructorship or black belt level and then immediately begin teaching.

My school is a secluded place where students can begin their warrior journey. We are not for the dabblers or the hobbyists. We are not for those with little courage, or those with a weak stomach for pain. This place is where we take men who would otherwise become victims of a crime, and we turn them into the quiet storms in the back of cubicles and crowded buses… the wrong guys for a thug to pick on. In order for me to create that in my guys, we can’t have spectators and voyeurs getting their rocks off while they try to pick up new techniques without paying with money or sweat. This is also the place, where I confide in my students that I found a potential improvement in my teacher’s style–and I give them the original way along with my method. This is a private matter, and therefore I will not share it for free on youtube just to have some asshole who hates Muslims, hates my martial arts philosophy, or too uncommitted to visit me in person to learn what my guys arrive three times a week to get abused, hoping to learn it. It is why I don’t sell videos of my teacher’s art or my version of their art… I spent decades learning, practicing and developing this stuff. I’ll be damned if someone walks through the door and learns it.

Yes, it seems like martial arts blasphemy to make such a statement:  I’ve improved my teachers’ art.  But I want you to know that there are three types of teachers out there:

  1. Those who improve the art and they aren’t afraid to say it,
  2. Those who are not knowledgeable enough to improve their teacher’s art, or
  3. Those who find it more lucrative to keep the teacher’s art intact so they could “Puff Daddy-Biggie” their way to martial arts notoriety by pimping the dead teacher’s memory

You will not find a knowledgeable teacher who has not at least personalized their teacher’s art. And there is no shame in saying that you’ve done so. Most likely, your teacher improved his teacher’s art when he taught you. Now, it’s your turn. You’ve put in many years and gained a lot of wisdom. You deserve to be able to slap your own personal stamp on your teacher’s teachings. If he wanted the art preserved with absolutely no changes at all, he would have done a better job videotaping it himself.

I would like to suggest this:  When you get the best of your master’s knowledge, the least you can do is pass this information on to the next generation in private. So that only the most deserving students receive the instruction, and will treat that art with respect… Not to put it out like Beyonce’s half-naked ass for everyone to enjoy and indulge–whether it’s for free on Youtube or on some DVD for a fee. This is how you improve the art. You find a better way, you find the best candidates to receive and carry on the system, and then you make sure they don’t exploit you or your teacher’s memory for dollar bills or likes and comments on Youtube. Give that learning the utmost respect.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

The Tempering (For Pia Cainglet)

I had to interrupt my plan for a quick article.

I have a student, Pia Cainglet, who has been studying with me for a few years. She has a very busy job and she joined the school at an older age than most new students (actually, she and I are about two weeks apart in age), and as a result has not been able to compete very often. She also has the distinction of being my only active female student, among a crew of very aggressive, physical younger man. The result is that she does not get as much “tempering”–rough treatment–as the rest of the guys. When they spar her, they are sparring their sister, not just an opponent. When she attends a tournament, she is usually the only woman her age in the tournament. So recently, we sent her to Oakland to fight with women half her age.

I have former student I will not name because he is a teacher, who is in the same position as she is. He is older than most of the fighters in a tournament, and has spent the last two decades or so training but not competing. He is at a stage in his martial arts journey where he needs to compete, and when he decides to–will be in the same position Pia is.

Here is the thing. Every martial artist must be “tempered” to get the butterflies out of his or her system. Regardless of how much you train, if you are not a naturally aggressive person, your skill will be blocked by those butterflies that paralyze you when you know what to do. Bottom line–you can’t think, you can’t react, you can’t move. You can either rid them in the ring under sterile circumstances while people watch (and you are embarrassed and end up beating yourself up over your performance)–or you can end up with injuries after a successful mugging, or worse. Some people can learn a “few moves” and commence to whipping some ass, but most people must try them out and get used to the idea of hitting someone and being hit before they will have full access to those skills.

There is no short cut. Forget what the so-called “experts” say about the unrealistic nature of tournaments and sparring. The truth is (and they will never admit this) but those drills are far LESS realistic than sparring, and they lack the adversarial nature of sparring. And the main part of that nature is the presence of fear. If you do not confront it and capture it, and harness it–throw it in a headlock, kick it in the nuts, and punch it in the chest–you will never be able to tap into the skills that lie on the other side of it.

Fear is the bridge between trained skill and fighting skill. It most likely will paralyze you. In isolated cases, like in the hands of a coward, fear will make a grown man armed with a gun shoot a 17 year old kid half his weight rather than take his ass-whipping like a man. Or cause a knife-trained Kali practitioner to slash and kill an unarmed man because his teacher never taught him to deal with his fear. Again, there is no short cut. It is the one thing that TMA (traditional martial arts) people must learn to incorporate into their martial arts journeys.

If you hear a teacher try and convince you that sparring will create bad habits, but some other non-aggressive type of training will–leave. You are not learning martial arts, you are learning martial-like arts.

Now you teachers must lose the fear of letting your students lose a fight or two. This is the main reason I believe Sifus and Guros prevent their students from competing; the teacher himself never fought and is afraid of the match, so he passes on that fear to his students. Sparring and competition is not about the win. Of course, we all want to win. But what you gain from fighting, win or lose, is so much more valuable than that cheap plastic trophy. You get a full understanding of how techniques work, how your own courage level and reflexes work, and what the erratic chaos of a fight feels like. No seminar, DVD or youtube clip can give you that.

Not even the great Kuntawman can fully explain it in a blog. 😉

We must be tempered at the hands of opponents. We must be dealt with unfairly by judges and cheating opponents. We must be bullied by aggressive fighters, pushed around, struck and taunted. I estimate about 10 fights of this type, and then the butterflies will begin to go away. And when they do, look out, because you have just entered the next phase of your martial arts journey:  You are no longer a martial arts student. You have become a warrior.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Exceed the Teacher, pt III (Two-Way Street)

It is said that teaching is a two-way street. How true.

I’ve stated in earlier articles that some teachers are more skilled at teaching beginners, some are good at teaching the advanced, and then others excel at teaching teachers–guiding experts and novice teachers to mastery. You have instructors, you have trainers, you have teachers, and then you have Masters. There is a difference, and there is a hierarchy. Often, teachers do not understand the difference; knowing the difference between the types and levels of teachers–as well as knowing your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher–will help them become better teachers. Ultimately, knowing the difference will help teachers bring their students from the beginner level all the way through the ranks, through the different skills and paths of a martial artist to the true path to mastery. It is at this point that the “certificate” denoting you a Master becomes irrelevant, and you know why I call such a thing silly.

In the beginning of a student’s learning career, the foundation must be developed through rigid adherence to basics and structure. Many teachers skip this level and immediately move towards a free-thinking “create your own path” style of instruction before the student has even learned to move his feet. We know why they do this:  It’s entertaining, good for business, gives the student the illusion that they are learning “advanced” martial arts, and it caters to the impatient nature of new students. Yet in the long run, students never develop the strong root they need to become good fighters in the future. I call this the “seminar” approach to learning. Students simply “pick up” what moves they can memorize, and through casual practice–will learn to do a little bit of demonstrating. Nothing is internalized, and often, the student never even develops the physique he needs to be an effective warrior.

At the beginning stage of a martial artist’s education, he needs an absolute authority in the classroom. He does not need a feel-good babysitter who gives the student everything he asks for. This is the issue I have with students with a little bit of scattered martial arts experience when they join my school. He has seen what is out there and foolishly believes that he is too “advanced” for rudimentary training. He feels that he knows the footwork and questions why he is still practicing his steps. He thinks he knows the basic hits of my Eskrima and wants to get to the drills and disarms. Students must learn that this isn’t Burger King; you don’t get to have it “your way” and place an order for learning this weapon and that technique. My job is to get you started on your martial arts journey with as much skill, knowledge and ability as possible; I couldn’t care less if you were bored while you were learning it. So shut up and train.

At the intermediate and advance stages of the education there shouldn’t be much necessity for a skill in communicating to the student. It is there, that the biggest jump in ability occurs. This is where your students are trained, and repetition becomes key and the fighters are developing that superhuman strength I talk about so much. I have visited over 100 Eskrima classes (well honestly, I’ve never counted. It could be 90 or something) and I have yet to see one where students are tasked with striking to a maximum number of strikes. At the intermediate level, “instruction” is not as important as training. The training is physical, and only after that high level of ability is achieved should students return back to the intellectual style of learning.

Here is where we arrive to the subject of today’s article. At the advanced and instructor level of learning, a different kind of teaching takes place and it is a learning experience for the teacher as well as the student. If you have never brought a student to the expert level then you will be 100% in the dark about this experience. This is where you students should rival you in ability and strength; you should have exhausted your knowledge by this point, and you are guiding your students to surpass you in ability and knowledge. Yes, it is a tall order to think that your students will learn more than you know. But it is the pursuit that will push you over the edge to go from being merely a teacher to becoming a “Master”. I call this the “What next?” stage–where my students can beat me in sparring and force me to pull out the animal in order to put them back in check. Very few men reading this blog have the humility to allow their students to reach this level. And even fewer men reading this article have the knowledge and skill base to bring a student to this level. It is where your students are the best in town, where few other fighters from other gyms can rival your own student’s skills–and those students look to you to tell them what to do next. This is why some great amateur fighters stay with the same trainer after turning pro and then can’t win a single fight. It is why some pro fighters make their way through the ranks and then cannot find their place among the contenders. And it is why some trainers bring their fighters to another trainer to prepare them for the next level of learning, the next level of ability, and the next phase of their journey. Simply put, some teachers just do not have the ability and knowledge to bring a student all the way, when that student has exhausted everything you have to give. It is a very humbling, eye-opening experience.

Teachers can sometimes learn in the process of bringing their expert students to the next phase of their martial journey. They must also be honest with themselves and honest with their students about what they can accomplish as well. If you are a teacher who has never fought in the ring, but now you have a student who is good enough to climb in the ring what do you do? Pretend to train him and possibly turn him into another tomato can? Or try to put together a strategy for preparation and see if it works? Or do you take him to another trainer for supplemental training? This is a major decision for the both of you.

Loyalty can sometimes suppress a potentially great student’s path. Pride can sometimes cause a teacher to suppress his student’s potential as well. I see this all the time when young men bypass full-time training for easier paths to instructorship; and then years later they bring their Black Belt students to competitions to serve as cannon fodder for my students. Poor guys didn’t have a chance because they learned from teachers who never learned to fight themselves. Or worse, decades later, when the young man-turned instructor-turned Master now certifies his underqualified student as a Master himself. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Even when you haven’t accomplished those things yourself, when a student has reached the limits of your knowledge and experience, never forget that you still have more knowledge than the student does. Sending him to another limited teacher would be just as counter-productive. This is what you can do. You can allow your student to teach you, through teaching him. I cannot go more into this subject without teaching you things that I have reserved only for my own students. But I want you to know that at the advanced level of instruction, when your students are nearly as qualified as you are, you can learn while you guide him in his learning. You learn together as you bring him through the next level of your own martial journey, and what you learn there will help you when you teach your next generation of students. In the end, you both will be more knowledgeable and qualified to instruct. It sure beats just slapping a title on a piece of paper and selling it to him. Don’t be too proud to admit to yourself that this new level of teaching is unfamiliar territory; believe me–every martial arts teacher must experience it.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

 

When Two Brothers Fight…

There is an African proverb a friend read to me years ago:

When two brothers fight, a stranger inherits their father’s harvest

So much wisdom. As it was explained to me, that in my friends’ culture, fathers rely heavily on the work of the sons to till his crops. The “every-man-for-himself” philosophy that we live by in a capitalist society (please don’t take that to mean I am a socialist) keeps many men poor, and allows for the dishonest to exploit the efforts of the honest to gain an unfair share of a community’s potential. When two brothers cannot work together to make their family’s business successful, they leave the door open for another man to come in and reap the benefits of the work they already put in.

We could go on, but this is not a discussion about poor versus rich, or warfare of the classes. I am merely speaking about the behavior of a few men within the same martial arts family that can rip a once-respectable force apart–thereby undoing all the hard work and legacy a great Master passed down to his students.

No need to name names, you can look at any once-strong martial arts organization that became a fragmented, struggling pile of rocks–when it was once the Tower of Babel. Perhaps the tower was strongly built by the father. But when he passed, if too many sons struggle to take the hold of the tower’s minaret–the weight will be too heavy, and the Tower will come crumbling down. It is true, that there is room for a few at the top; it must be within reason. Top-heavy organizations become unstable with growing egos and feuds and too many of the resources being fought over. In the midst of all that war, the students who once held the foundation at the base will go away, be turned off, become someone else’s student… and one day you look around and you no longer have a Tower, you have a pile of rocks.

Imagine how strong a minaret will stand when there are TWO great sons holding it up. Imagine how much fruit your crops will yield when you have TWO sets of hands working the land. Imagine how strong a martial arts style will be if you have TWO men developing, working, researching, and promoting that style.

Reminds me of another African proverb:

When you want to go fast, go alone.

When you want to go far, go together.

I don’t think you heard me.

Men working together will travel further and have more resources to ensure both are equipped for success when they work together. But ego can make one man think he doesn’t need the other, or that the other will slow him down. You have a group of men pushing for the same goal, they will conquer the world. One man alone can do the same, but often must do it dishonestly and unethically. Just think about that for a minute.

My purpose for writing this article isn’t to talk about feuding. But it is to talk about competing. Two men working together while in competition with each other can reap the benefit of working alone as well as the benefit from working as a team.

I noticed that some Eskrima organizations seemed to fizzle out when their Grandmaster die. Various reasons, but I believe the number one reason I have seen is the land-grab for leadership. When a Grandmaster dies in the Filipino art, there is often no knowledge of who the leader is because we have several traditions.

  1. Oldest son becomes the new grandmaster
  2. Oldest student becomes the new grandmaster
  3. Best student becomes the grandmaster
  4. Last top student becomes the grandmaster
  5. Several men become grandmaster

And so on. What we end up with is a climate where five or six students, all who equally love their master, who equally deserve to be honored and respected–competing against each other because each one feels more entitled, more deserving, or more qualified to be the new grandmaster. So what happens? Hordes of potential students go study from another system rather than side with one master over another. Growth stops because each man is in competition with his brother, hoping to outdo, outperforms, outlast and discredit his brother. Neither man realizing that by discrediting his brother, he discredits himself and ultimately he discredits his Master as well.

Reminds me of the arguments between Jews, Muslims and Christians:  “The God YOU worship is crap! I have the true religion!”–Yet we all pray to the same God who created Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham… go figure. Brothers praying to the same God, saying “Bless me, not him…”

Yeah, okay. In the meantime, Atheists and Hindus shake their heads at the creation of the same religion bickering. And they pass out flyers while we argue.

I love competition. I have seen some really talented fighters come up competing against each other all through childhood, but they love each other as brothers, they push each other, they try to outdo one another, and regardless of which one is known to be the champion–they are equally proud of each other’s accomplishments. In the end, guess what? BOTH men are known as billy badass, butt-kicking warriors.

^^^ This, my friends ^^^ is how you grow a style, how you multiply a father’s bounty, how you excel in the art using your brother as a sharpening stone–not a stepping stone. And where you find this kind of synergy within a family style, hang around because the next top Masters are in the making, and the Grandmaster’s system is sure to grow within this new generation. The goal is to make yourself look good, outdo your brother so that the whole system looks good. Never forget that. Even when two brothers compete, it should be for sharpening purposes for you both–never to downgrade the other. Stone sharpens stone. A minaret stands taller and stronger when it is upheld by TWO men, rather than one.

I was honored to witness a demonstration by two young Eskrimadors, students of Master Darren Tibon–Chez (his son) and Gelmar Cabales (son of the Grandmaster Angel).  I actually saw these two young men fight 11 years ago in San Francisco as teens, and one of them (Gelmar) beat my student. I only briefly met the two but watching them interact I see what would have been two fighters who, if they were from separate gyms, would have been fierce rivals. However, because they came from the same teacher, they are training partners and one would be hard-pressed to figure out who was better. An onlooker asked me, “Which do you think is better?” My answer? It doesn’t matter, because they are from the same style, same teacher. They may have a competition going between them, but I would say it makes them better than if they were training alone.

And I can assure you, their Master’s crop will yield plenty. Thank you for visiting my blog.

Oh, and enjoy the demonstration. Mabuhay Serrada!

Learning the Art While Teaching (No Cornerman, pt II)

Today’s article will be short and sweet. This may seem like a contradiction from much of my past writing. I normally speak against teaching the art until you have acquired your own fighting experience, but this is no contradiction. I still believe getting your own experience is the best way to ensure that what you’re teaching is valid. However, it isn’t the only path…

I’d like to add this note–that fighting is not an exact science. There are many variables and the rules are there to be upheld, broken, modified, proven or dis-proven. It would be foolish to speak in absolutes when we are talking about fighting, but there are many exceptions although some of them may be less valuable than others.

In many cases of teaching the fighting arts, the teachers did not gain their own fighting experience. For example, my younger brother and I had both suffered serious head injuries while young men. He stopped fighting, I kept on for 10 years after mine. But my brother was my “cornerman” for many of my fights during my 20s and gained a wealth of knowledge by being ringside while I both competed and trained and sparred in gyms. He had many ideas that I disagreed with, but knowing that he could not climb in the ring (my brother had undergone reconstructive surgery to his skull) I took his ideas and in many cases adopted his techniques and strategies. Today at 41, my brother knows a lot more about fighting than many lifelong Guros and Sifus older than he is.

Which leads me to my point. Fighting teachers must do more than learn an art and then start teaching. They must get hands-on experience. In cases when they cannot–or simply fail to get it–there is a good option. That option is what all boxing trainers do whether or not they had a fight career of their own. The teachers must bring a group of fighters up through the ranks to the best of their ability (their, being the teacher’s and the fighters’) and get them in front of opponents. It must be frequent, and it must be as often as possible. If you do not have your own fighting experiences, you owe it to your fighters to have them test those ideas for you. And you owe it to your fighters to suck up your pride, allow your methods and ideas to become molded as parts of your system are tested, fail and show signs of needing tweaking here and there. It is the fool of a teacher who insists to his students that the problem in a fighting system is the student rather than the system itself. When fighters are green and still learning, it’s one thing. When they are advance, experienced and well-trained (and losing) it’s another. You must allow the art you created to show you that it is valid, as much as you must allow the art to tell you that it needs modifying. There is no shame in that; even the greatest fighters we admire have all gone through the stages of learn-fight-change-grow. Admit to yourself that you do not know it all and make your art better–on the backs of your faithful pupils. In the end, you will have a much better system of fighting.

I’d like to say a few more things as well. Sometimes we believe that it is honoring our teachers and masters by keeping their systems intact without making adjustments and including our own findings from research. I completely disagree. Most of our teachers, while they may have inherited systems from their masters, have made adjustments before they taught us. If we fail to try and improve their art, we allow the art to become stale, static and outdated. Other systems and fighters and schools are constantly improving and experimenting. If we don’t keep up in the name of tradition, we will fall behind and the art once-known for being progressive and effective will become obsolete. What a shame! Your master trusted you with it, and your students are trusting you as well to give them the most effective technique you can. Many a student has had the misfortune of learning under a stubborn teacher who insisted his student take a stale, ineffective art onto the floor. Don’t do that to your guys.

Allow your fighters to teach you while you teach them. The process of Advanced Teaching is a two-way street, even for the most knowledgeable and and best fighters. Listen to their feedback and chart their progress and honestly look into yourself to find the solution to the question: Is there a better way to do this?

The Master-Teachers all know the answer. Thank you for visiting my blog.