Fill the Brain (Empty Cup, pt II)

The path of the martial arts master does not generally begin with a declaration that one intends to be a master. Such a path, in my opinion, is a foolish one if everything you do is to get you closer to becoming a “Master”.

I’m sure that’s confusing, because isn’t that the goal for all martial artists? To become a master?

Not at all. The goal for the martial artist should (yes, and I’m saying should) be to master the art–not to be a Master. There is a big difference. Just as the saying that the best leaders never start out looking to become leaders, they just “become” leaders–the martial artist has a hard enough time just learning the art, becoming proficient at it, and then striving to become the best at it. To add the ego-driven goal of being a master just takes away from this uphill climb. If you focus too far away from where you are, you won’t see the next step. Ultimately, you will believe that you shouldn’t take the next step because it will take far too long to get where you want to go… once you realize that the destination is some hundreds of thousands of steps away.

Do you follow me?

This is one of the big reason I am so opposed to the seminar and video industries:  They are not built upon the premise that students are coming to forge their skill and become hardened martial artists. They aren’t there for martial artists to test their knowledge. They aren’t even there to develop their knowledge. No, seminars and videos are there to ADD TO knowledge, as if their teachers are an insufficient source of knowledge. Yes, people go to seminars and videos because they either

  1. Feel their teachers don’t have enough information
  2. Feel their teachers aren’t giving this information out fast enough
  3. Feel their teachers have incomplete knowledge, or
  4. Don’t want to follow a teacher at all, and would rather follow their own whims and tastes… in other words “create your own path”.

I call bullshit. So some beginner who is still wet behind the ears (and 40/50 year old men can be “wet behind the ears” if they don’t get enough floor time with an opponent–not “partner”) thinks he is wise enough to have no mentor, no Master of his own. He will instead take a hodgepodge of stuff, purchase this video and that video, attend this and that seminar (read: “crash course”) with no pass/fail risk, avoid tournaments because he’s too busy simulating “realistic” martial arts practice–whatever that is–and then one day Mr. Pencildick will have the balls to call himself “Master”, when he lacks what it takes to earn a real 1st degree Black Belt.

My grandpa once said, fill your brain before you empty your mouth. We have men who have no fighting experience, almost no closed door training sessions with a true master, who have never slept on floors, never traveled on pilgrimages in pursuit of his art, never accepted a challenge nor has he ever issued one–and they dare call themselves an “expert”. Yet we have men who have expertise in NOTHING they know, who dare call themselves Master. Sorry, but a few gray hairs, a long resume of learning “experience”, and decades of mere involvement in the art do not qualify one as a Master. Master, my friends, is not a political term, it is not a level of promotion for curricula–Master is a level of existence in an art that you have lived more than anything else in your life. It is knowing something like the back of your hand where very few men can match you in skill and understanding. It is not a place for the mediocre; there are too many average and below-average skilled men abusing this hard-earned term. Master is a term of endearment that men call you without being introduced this way. I am called Master by fewer people who call me by my nicknames, but there are men who tell others to refer to themselves as “Master”… or worse:  “Grandmaster”. We won’t be addressing those other fluffy terms at all.

Spend half a lifetime learning. Spend the other half of your lifetime putting your knowledge on the line of passing or failing. Spend more of a percentage of your life actually teaching the art, than not teaching, and maybe you will be on your way. If your calling card for mastery is a piece of paper someone bestowed upon you, rather than what you can do, then I would like to suggest that you re-evaluate what kind of master you actually are.

My friends who call themselves “Master” know this is not a personal attack on you Masters. This is simply a philosophy that is embraced by the old Filipino Masters, none of whom, by the way, have certificates certifying them a “Master”.

Be a man who is high on skill and low on words. Be a man who can mix it up with those half your age. Be a man who can do things that other, um, Masters, can’t do. It isn’t how many styles you know or how many teachers you’ve been to. I have been teaching in my own school since 1992, I have been sparring with non-dojo mates for more than two thirds of my life, I have spent only 12 years of my life actually in a classroom–I participated in my last class in 1992. Last time I saw my teachers, I was 15 (death), 20/20 (emigration and death), and 22 (death). More years of my learning have been from opponents and sparring partners than actually from my teachers. Yeah, this blog has some 600 articles, but my training sessions in my school are low on talk high on action. Compare that to your teachers who never make you go home so sore you can barely drive, with whom you have never had to go to the emergency room, who talk casually for more of his classes than counting out reps. Don’t be the one who is so eager to empty his mouth on a dojo/seminar floor before he has filled his brain with learning sessions and memories of fights where he tried out that knowledge. Have so many fights under your belt you can’t remember how many you’ve had. Spend so much time with your Masters you can imitate them, remember their smell, quote their words and reprimands… Mastery, people is about the journey–not the destination.

There should never be a point in your martial arts path where you mark yourself as a Master. It a place you eased into over a period of years before you realized you were there. It is a place where others tell you that you had arrived, before you knew it yourself.

Thank you for visiting my blog.


But Dad, He Was *Weaker* Than Me… (Fight without Fighting)

Today, a quickie.

I was talking to a friend today, a fellow FMA fighter who also teaches tennis. Being a Filipino, our conversation quickly turned to our sons–as our sons happen to be our most prized accomplishments. And being Filipino, we had a contest of one-upmanship.

You see, my kid is so awesome, he…. And I can’t make him stop.

Just the other day, he… Surprised the hell out of me, because I didn’t know he was that good.

You know, that kind of stuff. 😉

Being a martial artist, he recalled a time that his son beat up the bully. My son has done a lot of sparring and since we lived in “the hood”, is a little street smart for a 13 year old boy. But he is also a thicker boy, plays football, boxed, practiced my martial arts, fenced… He doesn’t get bullied, so I didn’t have a story to top my friends.

Oh, but wait. There was one, and our sparring match became a lecture from senior Guro to older-but-junior-Guro.

My son’s school called to tell me that he had been in a fight and that they were planning to suspend him. Angry because we already had issues because my daughter was the only hijabi (girl who wears hijab) in the entire school–she had been teased for it and had a few fights of her own–I ran down to the school ready to chew my son’s head off. When I arrived, I was met by a few parents and staff who assured me that my son is a good boy so not to be too angry at him. My son had a few scratches on his face and was red with anger so I asked for a few minutes with the principal before talking to him.

Here’s the gist:  My son has a weird sense of humor and likes to tease. He unwittingly teased a boy who is known to be a trouble maker and they engaged in a contest of insults and wisecracks. My son, being very articulate and sharp got the most laughs, and the other boy hit him. My son only dodged and blocked while laughing and the boy grew more angry. When my son realized that the boy would not calm down, he executed a take down… Fight over. The only punches thrown was by the other boy. That was the official story, and all sides agreed. Then I interviewed my son.

My son admitted that he did not know the other boy would get so angry, and the punches he threw did not alarm him. But when the punching kept going, the other boy was cussing, my son did not know how to make him stop without punching him back, so he performed a hip throw.

My question, why didn’t you fight back? His answer? Because Dad, he was weaker than me. I knew he was mad for a good reason, but I needed for him to stop and he wouldn’t. It was the only way I could stop him without beating on him. Such wisdom in a 12 year old (it was last year)!

I refused to accept the suspension, even writing letters and arguing with the dean and the principal. In my mind, my son was not wrong, and the other boy was lucky my son chose not to put that boy on his ass the way I taught him. So my lecture to the principal was the same as the one I gave my friend, and the same one I give my stronger students:

When you have real strength advantages over your opponent, you eliminate the need to hurt him. If you, a grown man and trained warrior, were attacked by a 10 year old boy, how would you defend yourself? The same way you would an armed mugger? No. You would do so as safely as possible because there was no threat. But you could only do this if you had true superiority over the opponent and had to look out for the well-being of the weaker opponent and the rules of chivalry and decency. If you, a strongman, attacked a 12 year old boy it would show what a coward and horrible bully you were, and that your Master’s teaching was a waste of time. I trained my son to use his skill on equals, on a superior fighter or attacker(s), if he was in danger. I did not train this child to beat up on kids who have no idea how to break a jaw or dislocate a shoulder. My son knows how to do both. And because he can do both, there is almost no need to use this knowledge. Fortunately for me and my son’s future, he had the wisdom to know this and the confidence not to use it.

So, my friend loses the “my son’s so great” contest with Mustafa Gatdula, and he learned something that he could apply to his own teaching arsenal:  Train your students to absolute superiority, so that no opponent is a threat any more than a 12 year old boy.

If you find yourself constantly reaching for your knife or thinking about dislocating some man’s joints, I would say that your skill has not arrived to the level where you no longer need them. Live in fear of no man, and know that your skills really are on reserve for when it matters, not when you’re scared.

Food for thought.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

The Graceful Loser (Strongest FMA, pt III)

In the search for the “Strongest” FMA, you must not pass over the loser. Let me tell you a story.

I arrived in California in January 1999 from Washington, DC. I was very fit, aggressive, and new. As always, I was eager to build my reputation here. Those of you who are Philippine-based know that the Filipino way to build one’s reputation is on the backs of your opponents. So I immediately did a combination of fighting in tournaments as well as dojo-hopped, looking for “sparring partners”. I found three homes for my sparring away from the tournament circuit:  A park in North Sacramento, a school called Tae Kuk Mu Sul (Suk Ku Kim), and a kickboxing gym called “East Wind Martial Arts” (Thomas Gibbs). My opponents from the tournament circuit made up most of the sparring partners, and some I am good friends with to this day. Many of these men were great fighters, and I dare not lie and say I beat all of them. But fight them I did, and when you live the life of a fighter, you get used to winning some and losing some. The great thing about coming back week after week to fight again means that you know eventually, you will one day defeat the man you cannot beat today. When I dojo-hopped in the Philippines, I did not have this luxury, as many masters would not allow you to fight their boys over and over because you will figure them out, befriend them (making it difficult for them to fight you 100% in competition)–especially if they know you will never join their gym. (Side note:  Dojo-hopping is dangerous in the Philippines. I was once taken by some friends to another location to spar because they told me later, that they had classmates who wanted to hurt me since I was a member of a rival gym. Martial arts is taken very seriously back home and although I am a province boy, I spent too much time in America for me to realize how naive I was being)

The two men I will tell you about are old friends I cannot recall their names. One White man and his childhood friend was a Mexican man I can’t remember either first name. Anyway, I met them prior to my division. I was a middleweight, they were both heavyweights. Curious that I was a Philippine martial artist fighting in a Karate tournament, they were ringside for my first two matches. I did a good job intimidating the gym, with my red Gi, my standoffish attitude, and the occasional combination I would throw while warming up. Looking at the physiques of the two men and knowing they were in another weight class, I didn’t mind being friendly because I knew I would not have to face them later. I didn’t even bother asking for a card to see if they wanted to join one of my sparring groups. I won my division and then ran over to see the heavyweights fight. Both men were defeated by opponents just as heavy, and just as (excuse my bluntness) poorly skilled. I was embarrassed for them and their students.

I couldn’t resist. I offered to spar with them.

This story does not end with me telling you how I taught them the secrets of fighting and they became champions. Truth is that I lived too far from them to really connect with them often, I believe that perhaps I was too heavy-handed in sparring, and that I felt they had too much to develop for me to teach them. They did not want to attend my sparring sessions. Pride, perhaps, kept them from reaching outside their gym for more learning and help with their fighting. What they did do, was train together and push each other, and they frequented almost every tournament I attended in our part of the state. They did lose a lot, and still brought students. I would offer tips where I could, but I realized that they wanted to find their way through the maze; and I respected that. Guess what? Over three short years, they improved greatly and slowly. In 2002, when I found myself a heavyweight, I entered a division with both of them and defeated one–but only narrowly. These men taught me something very important by losing:  That experience teaches, even when that experience is what most would consider a negative one. They never appeared depressed or insecure about “throwing away” $45 a weekend. These two gentlemen kept at it, developed a seasoned fighter’s timing, lost the fear of getting hit, learned to use good evasive tactics despite their weight, and became old sages at a game that supposedly only the athletic excelled at.

When I was a young man, I called my grandfather from the Philippines and told him that I had yet to meet an undefeated Master to learn from. His suggestion to me was that I had indeed found great men to learn from, because the worst fighters never admit to losing, and the best embrace loss and are graceful losers. I didn’t fully understand, but I have become one of these men myself. I had no problem admitting my losses even to potential students because the fighters who beat me were superior fighters. And since I was one who crossed sticks or touched gloves with them, some of that superior skill seeped into my own roster of experiences.

The Strongest fighters become the strongest fighters in three steps:

  1. They seek out and face stronger fighters
  2. They find out why they were successful and/or why they failed
  3. The outcome of those fights guides the direction of their martial journey

If you have never lost against another fighter, you either avoided facing fighters altogether or you chose inferior men to exchange with. Contrary to popular belief, you cannot have the “strongest” FMA, you can only be among the strongest. And that place alone is the only place from where you can claim to be one of them. It is irrelevant whether or not you won every fight; the only fact that matters is that you attempted to be one of them.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Improving Your Master’s Eskrima (Exceed, pt V)

So, I said all of that to say this…

And this will be the shortest article of the series. Today, we will commit the so-called FMA blasphemy that so many people think is impossible. I am going to introduce to you five things you can do, that you must do, to get you started on improving your Master’s FMA. If you take these things and you cannot come up with an improvement, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.

Those of you who live near Sacramento who may be unconvinced that your system cannot be improved, come see me in person and I will show you myself how you can improve your Eskrima. It won’t be free; I work for my living and I do these blogs to advertise my services. But pay for one hour of private lessons with me and I’ll show you myself what I mean in this article. Provided, of course, that you’re really looking for truth. But as I’ve said many times, if you are looking for truth you’ll find it with me. If you’re looking to disprove me, you’ll find a “debate”. Think before you talk. There are only five things, and if you do these five things and test the theories yourself, you will be able to overhaul your Eskrima and indeed, improve your Master’s art–or dare I say it–exceed him.

Let’s get right to business:

  1. Practice fighting footwork. I ain’t talking about no damned triangles neither. I mean, how would you move your feet when you are attacking or evading your opponent? Try every possible attack, and how the feet must move in order to deliver you to the strike zone (in pursuit of a fleeing opponent, I must add) or deliver you to safety.
  2. Practice methods of attack. Take your stick, take your opponent, and kick his ass. Don’t ask him to “feed” you anything. Attack him. Oh, I’m sorry, your Master must not have taught you that, huh? It’s okay, most people doing Classical Eskrima don’t know how to attack someone. Find out the best methods to do it, and then practice and master them.
  3. Counter a combination. Your countering methods suck. Basically, your opponent throws out a strike that’s not really meant to hit or hurt you. Then he stands there while you beat him into simulated submission. He could have attacked you while you were blindfolded, and if he attacked you correctly–he would have had no chance of hitting you. All them bruised knuckles you’ve received in training you like to post Facebook statuses about? They were accidents from poorly choreographed practice–not combat. Now, send your “feeder” to rule #2 ^^^ and then have him attack you with it. Find a way to counter it. Here’s a hint:  He must throw at least two hits in his combination. Your master’s Eskrima doesn’t exactly have an answer for that, does it?
  4. Practice power striking. Take this test. Go get your stick and take your basic strike to the left temple if you’re right-handed, right temple if you’re left handed. Throw this strike 500 times. If you can’t do it and you have the title “Guro” behind your name, you’ve got some training to do. If you have the title “Master/Grandmaster/etc” behind it, come to Sac, you can stay with me until you can. This is not a test of how much power you have, but if you have the ability to develop power. Too much Eskrima has been practiced without the presence of stress, and power is secondary. But I have news for you; this is a blunt-force weapon, not a cheerleading baton. No one gives a damn about them twirls except folks in the kids’ class. Learn how to use it to break bones, period.
  5. How do you stop a disarm? If you are a self-respecting Eskrimador, I’m positive you have a bunch of weapons hidden throughout your life:  your car, your home, in your briefcase. I don’t know why knifers are always learning so many damned disarms. The most likely person who will be disarmed is YOU. Attacker jumps out from the bushes to grab your wallet. You pull out your collapsible baton and commence to whipping his ass. What do you think he will do? Punch you? No! He is going for your weapon to stop the whuppin’! How much practice have you had stopping a man from taking your weapon?

No commentary today. Just cold, hard truth. I have seen hundreds of Eskrima styles, and most of them are lacking in these five departments. No matter what title your master has–whether he is a Supreme Bajo Taco Grandmaster or not–chances are I am introducing something you are mostly unfamiliar with if you have thought about them at all. I can almost guarantee this–You most likely have done none of the above in the last 4 weeks of Eskrima practice.

Get to work.

Thanks for visiting my blog.