The Next Best Thing(s)

Again, I am on this blog talking about seminars and short courses…

One of the questions I am asked, and perhaps more than “How much are your classes?” is the real question they want to know:  “How can I study without really studying?”

Or how about “How can I study without committing fully?”

Or “How can I study without training with the intensity and life change you recommend?”

The real question you should be asking is, “Why do I expect to learn without being as serious as I can be, and why do I think I can arrive to the highest level of skill without putting in the work?”  See, when I hear anything besides how much my lessons are, and when classes are held–all I hear is a student who wants to learn the art but is unwilling to sacrifice for it.

If you know anything about the true masters of the arts, especially Filipino old-school Masters, nothing turns them off faster. I want to share a basic truth of the mastery of the Filipino arts. The masters who have the good stuff, missed meals, walked miles, slept on floors, swallowed pride, took beatings, labored against logic, and suffered at the hands of everyone from spouses to creditors to parents even children for this art. Do you really think a Master who spent his life energy journeying to the land of martial arts mastery is going to let a student half-ass his way into what he fought to learn?

I’d like to point out, that the word learn rhymes with earn. There’s a hidden meaning in there someplace.

I have met some pretty great masters in my time, and lost the opportunity to learn from them because I said the wrong thing or had the wrong attitude. As the saying goes, When the student is ready, the Master will appear… applies even when the Master and student are standing right in front of each other. Those of you who have access to a Master should recognize how rare that opportunity is, and not try to bargain with him or ask for a shortcut method to learning and earning the right to get his art. Don’t treat the true Master like you would some Mickey Mouse Dojang owner. Many of you–too many, in fact–do.

You also have to face the brutal reality that perhaps you aren’t cut out for real martial arts. I have a gentleman I met when he was in his early 20s, in good shape, who was attending a school when we encountered each other at a tournament. He was impressed with my fight, which was at the end of the day, and told me that no one in his dojo fought like me. Despite that I had lost to another fighter for first place, he wanted to learn from me. He competed earlier, did well, but realized that there would be a limit to his progress if he stayed in that school. I allowed him to attend my Sunday sparring sessions, even giving him tips. But a few months later when I was teaching in my own school I let him know I could no longer teach for free, but if he’d like he was welcome to join my school and do it every day instead of once a week. He did leave his school, but never really joined mine. Sure he paid a few times, came over and trained, but never gave it a serious effort. Rather, he wanted to just get tactics and strategy, and hated doing the numbers that I practiced. Over the years, each time I saw him, he got fatter and fatter, and his fighting skill grew worse and worse. But get this:  He now holds at least four Black belt/teaching certificates from various systems, and my advanced beginners can all whip him.

Back in 2010, he arrived in my school with his money in hand (not enough; by then my tuition was double what it was when he first came to me), but with bad knees, a large gut, no flexibility… telling me he was ready to train. Here and there, he had answered my ads not knowing the phone numbers he dialed were mine. He approached students of mine asking to “trade” information. Everything but the real journey. Well in 2010, I told him that he was a nice guy, but he was no warrior. Not only that, but we have the right to refuse service, and he was no longer welcome to train with us. Waste of my time, waste of his time and money, and waste of potential–all because he was lazy, inconsiderate, noncommittal, impatient, and totally NOT martial arts material. I wish I could tell you I never saw him again, but I still run into him on occasion at tournaments. See, this man who is barely 35 years old, is now a Master. And I doubt he would survive my beginner class.

I said all that to say this. Not everyone is cut out for real martial arts. I am one of those stubborn teachers who is only interested in training full-time students. If a guy is unsure if he will stay with the training for at least a year, I’m not interesting in teaching him. If he lives out of town, I will allow him to come through no fewer than 6 times per year, and he must train at least a total of 18 or so days per year–FULL days. So, I turn down plenty of students. I’ve had folks buy my books, read my blog, visit my website, or drive by my school and inquire–just to be discouraged because they were looking for a different kind of teacher, a different kind of school.

Sadly, there are many teachers who would accommodate those students. No, let’s rephrase that. Go ahead and make your money. Accommodate. That’s find. It’s the next best thing to full time training. So some guys will train with you 4 or 5 days a week and put in 10 or more hours of training. They will do thousands of repetitions of whatever your basics happen to be, fight anyone you put in front of them, endure whatever punishment you inflict on them to toughen them up. At the same time, you have guys who won’t come around that often, won’t train as hard, will only make a fraction of the progress your hard core guys will make. Hey, they are still your students, right?

Right. They paid their fees. They did put some time in. They made the commitment you asked of them, albeit reduced, but it’s still a commitment. But after putting in just a tiny portion of what your really serious guys put in, is it fair that they should receive the same amount of recognition? The same rank? The same amount of information? Where one day, they may compete against the students who truly carried the torch for you? Or worse–betray them and you? How much sense does that make?

My point, which I’d like bring home, is this. I only have three ways to join my school. You can be a full-time student. You can be a weekly student. Or you can be a private student. But please don’t fool yourself into believing that you can pay for a few private lessons and achieve what my full-time guys will achieve, or that I will give you the same due that those guys have earned. You Guros should do the same. Take your act on the road, teach guys in 20+ cities a few times a year, we all have to make our living. Whatever you do, please do not insult the guys who really had your back, really gave you a piece of their lives, by allowing some guy who dabbled in your art through seminars to have anything close to the same rank as you real bread-and-butter students. Don’t even share with them the same information. Because in the martial arts, lessons are earned, or they are bought. There is nothing in between. I will not elaborate. You figure out what I’m trying to say.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Why Eskrima Should Remain *Armed* (Well-Rounded, pt II)

Before everyone gets their panties in a bunch, please hear me out.

By the way, this article is “part II” of this article, entitled “Does Eskrima Need To Be ‘Well-Rounded?”  Surprisingly, it was well-received. I think maybe folks are starting to really look at what I write about, rather than just take offense to everything. Either that, or the article hadn’t hit the forums yet. 😉

Eskrima is a weapons-based art, we know that. But even most weapons-only arts have empty handed skills for weapons retention and/or disarming of the opponent. I’m okay with this. However there are many weapons arts that are with very little rival, that do not address empty hands at all–like fencing and archery. It does make sense in training for armed conflict, that some time is spent on empty hand skills:

  • Barehanded training builds physical strength, thus builds confidence, aggressiveness and makes the warrior indomitable
  • There will be times the warrior will be unarmed
  • Knowledge of barehanded fighting gives an insight into weapons fighting that can only be gained through hand to hand combat

In my opinion, if your goal for your Eskrima is to train fighters to use a blade or stick for true combat then you should limit how much your art crosses over into the empty hands arena.

  1. The mindset is different from weapons to weaponless.  If you are a fighter who is a stick fighter, but your attention has been balanced between hands and sticks, then in combat you will not be 100% reliant on your weapon. In other words, your stickfighting ability will suffer because you don’t see it as the ultimate means to combat. Too easy to just throw the stick to the side and fight with hands. As a pure stick fighter, you will fight to the death with that stick.
  2. Your attention in training is not focused 100%. In my Eskrima class, my students will skirt the 1,000 stick strike mark every class. Most of the men reading this article are not physically capable of throwing 1,000 strikes with a stick. (Disagree? Step away from the laptop/cell phone and prove me wrong)  If you want to wield your weapon with deadly skill, a thousand strikes should be a cakewalk.
  3. Contrary to the popular expression, the weapon is NOT an extension of the hand. It isn’t. Your hand doesn’t cut. Your hand doesn’t break bones if you smack a forearm or a shin with it. They are apples and oranges, and while you can swing them around the same way, I can swing a turkey sandwich like a knife, but a turkey sandwich and a knife have nothing in common.
  4. ^^^  Oh, wait…. (go ahead, I’ll let you win that point!)
  5. Because of the differences in skills and mentality, teaching hand techniques through Eskrima is a lot like teaching archers how to kick. They are separate, unrelated arts, and used for different purposes. There is only one reason to whip out a knife in a fight, and a style focused on that reason should not stray from that very specific purpose.

As I stated in the previous article, Eskrima is a fantastic, dynamic, aggressive, lethal art. Only if you allow it to be. The hand is a very dangerous weapon as well. However, they are taught in a very specialized manner that is unique to the style and unrelated. Yes, we can bridge the two, but in doing so we must dilute one, the other, or both. For this reason, many of the old Masters held separate systems for their empty hand vs their weapons styles–and many Masters just chose to focus on one or the other. History tells us that the best only did one or the other. Almost none of the old masters in the Philippines was known for his weapons fighting equally as he was for his empty hand. In fact, even with the weapons experts, most Masters were known for either their stick or their knife. Very few were known to use both. There is a good reason for that.

I suspect that most people who agree with me, still will continue practicing their Eskrima as it was taught to them, or as everyone else is teaching it. The question is, why?

Are you truly looking to hone the most lethal fighting skills into one system, or not?

Food for thought. Thanks for visiting my blog.

Does Eskrima Need to Be “Well-Rounded”?

I don’t think so. Here’s why.

Eskrima is, what it is–and that is a weapons fighting art. We do what we do, and we don’t do all that other stuff. I believe that someone who tries to learn everything else, aka the “Perpetual Student”, is on a never-ending, foolish endeavor. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for learning new things. I enjoy reading, I like to learn foreign languages, I exchange with many martial artists, and sometimes I even learn their styles. But I am a Kuntaw/Eskrima/Jow Ga man, and I will never be anything more than that. I “know” (by most of you folks’ definition) more than 12 styles, but I would be a fool to call myself an expert in all of them. Most importantly, it would be dishonest and irresponsible for me to teach those styles. Someone who joined my school because I’ve done a little Aikido would be very disappointed at the limited knowledge I have in the system, and I have studied more Aikido than many of you who teach it as an add-on from some seminars you attended at the camps and gatherings. The martial arts teacher must be a leader in the art he is teaching. Do it right or don’t do it at all. If he has only scraped the surface of the art, he has no darn business teaching it, regardless of who signed the certificate.

Back to the subject, Arnis/Eskrima are weapon-based arts. Do we dabble into empty hand skills? Sure we do. Do we do it well enough to offer a replacement curriculum for Karate/Kung Fu/Muay Thai/Jujitsu/etc.?  I don’t care what your Guro told you–if you didn’t come up in some other system, you’re fooling yourself. We’ve already battled and challenged and accepted challenges for my opinions on “Empty Handed FMA” so let’s not get into that one again… Now if you’ve trained in Kyukushinkai for 10 years and you decided to teach that curriculum alongside your Eskrima, more power to you. But to drop your stick and start playing pattycake with your guys and telling them this stuff is going to help you defeat a boxer, that’s just plain old wrong.

I believe that there is a better use of your time… If you have no desire to join at the ground floor of some qualified teacher’s empty hand curriculum and dedicate 5 – 10 years of study and development… And that is to focus on making your weapons art an unbeatable weapons art. One that a jujitsu man wouldn’t want to mess with. One that a Kendo expert would fall victim to. One that one of these prison-based knifers would become walking hamburger meat if they encountered you. Trust me, using a weapon is so much harder than knowing some drills and “what-if” scenarios performed on-cue. Weapons fighting is serious business. It is the ultimate of fighting skills–we specialize in the terrible event where you may die or have to make the decision to take someone’s life. There is no “kicking someone’s ass” with a knife, this is a win all or lose all skill. Ditto that for serious stickfighting. The Filipino art, if you’re doing it right, is for those who are preparing for combat against a man (or men) who are looking to permanently injure or kill you, to take your wife as his hostage or sex-slave, to invade your home and take everything you’ve worked and lived for, to instill nightmares in your children’s lives for the rest of their lives. And you want to waste time learning some tricks at a weekend camp? Really?

Understand that sport Eskrima is a good test of your reflexes, stamina and speed. But there is a higher level in this art which happens to be the purpose these arts exist. We have engaged in the game of “Oh-I-know-how-to-do-that-too” and like a cordless mic, you’ve wandered so far from the source, you emit a weaker frequency. In other words, your Eskrima, if you get away from it’s original philosophy and purpose is no longer “Eskrima”. Just like that Wing Chun you’re trying to pass off as Sinawali-without-a-stick.

Let the guys with weak foundation in the art keep adding to what they know by supplementing with crash, one-day courses. If you truly want to elevate your Filipino FMA, you will deal in the business of killing and keep yourself and family from getting killed. Be a trauma doctor with that stick:  Have the ability to choose to take a life or not take a life. This is not a skill you can learn, but one you develop after you have learned. If you spend all your time trying to learn and add more “stuff” to what you do, you’ll never develop that ability.

Finally, like I said, there is nothing wrong with learning empty hand arts to expertise. If you want to do it, do the arts and your student justice by properly learning it–not trying to find some short cut and then pass it off as mastery or expertise. Learn it, develop it, and live it. Then teach it. There is no shame in saying you are a weapons expert, and if they want to fight empty handed you can refer them to someone. You don’t see Baseball players feeling incomplete because they can’t dunk a ball…

Just some thoughts. Thanks for visiting my blog.