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!