“Secrets” of the Filipino Fighting Arts
Words from a Modern-Day Warrior

Reaching In Eskrima

I’d like to offer some practical, universal advice about the practice and application of martial arts. Any stylist can benefit from this because, like I said, this is a universal principle. It is also a principle–as practical as it is–is violated by much of the martial arts community, even masters and grandmasters.

One of my students who teaches now was giving me a run down of a tournament he had attended, and how the fighters who seemed tough did not do well. We’ve all seen them. They warm up in their warm-up gear, looking very intimidating and powerful and aggressive. Then when they step out on the floor, they must rely on breaking the rules, extra-aggressive behavior, and hitting harder than necessary to win their fight (or not).

You may also see them in the ring, pounding the hell out of a punching bag or landing explosive shots on focus mitts. They are fit, they are muscular, they are quick. But not effective.

I can tell by the way a man throws a punch or wields his stick if he was raised on a diet of fighting and fight-training, or drills and hitting targets. There is a huge difference, folks.

When practicing, we often stand too close to our partners (and we look at them as partners rather than opponents–but a topic for another article) or the punching bag when we are firing. If we are hitting focus mitts and shields, we will stand too close to the target and focus too much on power. Opponents, however, do not stand still. They will not allow you to stand close to them either. And they hit back. When you train, you ignore those facts or you are simply unaware of them. We all know that opponents move and hit back. But unless you are undergoing stress and attack while training, you will forget that fact and believe that fighting is just like this. Your footwork becomes too flat-footed and sure;  fighters all know that fighting an opponent who is equally skilled will ensure that your footwork is always unstable. Your guard will weaken, and you will strike out of memory or plan–instead of target and movement-triggered attacks, as a fight would be.

When you train with a man who learned and trained as you did, he will not challenge you. Instead, he will simply hold the target so that you can hit it. He may resist a little so that your strikes will “stick”, but he will not make things difficult for you. And when you spar, you will both stand at a similar distance from each other, and give each other false confidence about what an opponent will do.

In Eskrima, teachers overemphasize drilling, and this fact alone leads to this kind of movement (or lack thereof) and the poor translation of classroom-to sparring-to street. The result is a martial artist who has just as much difficulty finding his opponent as well as escaping one.

When you train your Eskrima, you must reach your strikes to find an opponent (or target) who is more often than not, not there. Walking in a circle while tapping the Sinawali out will not suffice. You must chase, you must seek, and you must destroy–all while keeping your head, your forearms and your legs out of range of the opponents’ attack. You must be able to find his head, neck, hand, collarbones and shins while guarding your own. And I am speaking about both drills and sparring.

Let me say something about the drill, as well.

I know I dump on drills often, but I am not fully opposed to them. However, the drill is far too simplified or far too overcomplicated to be of any use to a serious fighter, the way 99% of you do them. Drills must have several things (among them, “reaching”) to be effective tools in training in the gym:

  • the participants should be “opponents”, not “partners”. fighting is win/lose, not a cooperative activity. opponents help their “partners” learn by giving them a lost or win, and the lesson that comes with each. your drill should result in a victor as well as a loser
  • strikes should not meet between the opponents. if the sticks meet halfway between you and the partner, it was a waste. there is an exception–if one moves away and blocks the strike from the new position, the sticks will meet between the opponents
  • instead of meeting between the opponents, the sticks should meet at one of the opponents. meaning, you cannot have both men striking. one is striking, one is blocking. <—- and that is why the sticks meet, not because you both struck the same dead space between you. or worse–because you were aiming for each other’s stick
  • the drill should ensure that one man’s stick is stopping the other’s stick from hitting him. anything less, and you are wasting valuable training time
  • if you have a set of drills that are memorized choreography (which I honestly dislike), the set of drills is not complete unless you have a stage where the partners have no idea which drill he will end up doing. fighters don’t say to each other “Hey Mike, let’s do XYZ drill.” You should start off with XYZ drill and switch to EFG drill without cueing Mike
  • back to where the sticks should meet, they should meet right next to a place on the participant that will break or bleed if the block is missed. Eskrima with no element of danger is like practicing shooting with water guns
  • speaking of water guns, those of you who teach defense against firearms should consider training against a water gun, and make the student take at least one step to reach it. if you can get the gun without getting your shirt wet, you may have a chance avoiding a bullet
  • in the drill, the goal of the defender should be to escape the strike with his feet and head as well as by utilizing a block. make your opponent catch you

I am going to end it here. When you train your Eskrima or whatever art you do, make sure you have the element of reaching to hit targets rather than striking easy-to-reach target. You will find your fighting skill improve greatly in a short amount of time. And as always, if any man reading this blog happens to be in Sacramento and would like to get a demonstration, try out my theories or test them, or learn more about what I’ve presented here–please send me an email (and bring $35, half the amount of a private lesson), and I will gladly show/prove this theory in person.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

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