Ninth Degree Eskrima Masters

I never really understood this one.

Let’s just say up front that I never liked the Black Belt ranking structure for the Filipino arts. I don’t have a problem with that structure being used for students as a way to designate the various levels of learning and accomplishment. We even tried it twice in my own school. It wasn’t for me, but I do understand why it is used and how it may be useful. Personal preference, to be honest.

For the expert (Black Belt) level, however, I totally dislike it. Here’s why.

In the Filipino arts, unlike in Karate, Kung Fu, Judo, Jujutsu, Aikido, and the like–we do not have the number of skills and techniques that they do. Our curriculum is more like boxing, with a small number of actual techniques, and a focus on skill-in-technique and strategy. Honestly, one could learn all the basics of boxing in a few months, just like you could in the FMAs. There are those who have more than others, but overall, we have fewer items to learn in our systems than in other mainstream arts. This is why so many of us feel we can impart the Filipino art through DVD, the internet and in seminars. It sounds normal doesn’t it? You can teach your whole curriculum by DVD so why not?

Question. Can you teach all the basics of, say Baseball, on a DVD? Of course. Now could a man who learned how to catch, hit, throw and run by DVD play baseball at the college level and be formidable?

If you answer “yes”, I’ll pause while one of your colleagues slaps you.

Of course he can’t. You can learn how to hit, throw, catch and run by DVD, but you sure as hell can’t play with any level of skill unless you got out there and played several seasons worth of games with actual teammates, a coach and rival teams. If you believe you can, no wonder the Filipino art is one of the most bastardized arts in the world–we are in BIG trouble. The truth is, this art is too complex if you’re dealing with more than just slapping hands together and playing pattycake with sticks to have a crash course and think you can defend yourself against determined, ruthless attackers on the street.

Back to the subject of rank, students have skills that have to be taught on a schedule. They must be learned in a specific order, and one skill builds the capacity to learn those of the next level. If you can’t perform or execute the lower skills with any proficiency, the skills at the higher level will be even weaker because they are standing on weak skills as a foundation. At the same time, belts may be necessary to define what point a student has achieved in his learning. I get that.

At the Expert level, however, in the Filipino arts most of your learning should be over. I can’t imagine what else a student has left to learn new once he has been studying for 4 or 5 years. Once your student arrives to this point, that you have given him the Black Belt or expert rating, he should represent the best you can put out. You should feel totally confident that any caller who knocks on your door for a match should be the victor if he fought on your behalf. If you do not have that kind of confidence in him, then perhaps you may be awarding Black belts to students before they are ready.

The question is, which Black Belt/Expert philosophy you believe in. Some believe the Black Belt is “the beginning”, which would make it an extension of the students ranks. Some believe it is the end of the long, arduous road to expertise. I liken the Black Belt status with the college degree; either you are qualified as a manager, accountant, school teacher, etc., or not. Now there are certainly levels–the Master’s and the PhD–but they have very specific skills to learn in order to earn those titles, and they have a number of years of study assigned to them. Unlike in the martial arts, the skill and knowledge difference between a 2nd degree Black Belter and a 3rd are completely arbitrary. In some systems, that is not true:  I have heard of systems that have curriculums all the way up to the third or fourth degree Black belt. There are forms to learn, techniques to learn, and physical/strength feats that must be accomplished for those levels. Do we have them in the Filipino arts? I think not.

And this is why I am against the idea of Black Belt levels in the Filipino arts. At most, we should have three: the expert, the teacher and the master. Experts know the curriculum all the way through and have excelled at it. Teachers have the additional skill of knowing how to to teach the material. Masters have mastered the technique as well as the art of teaching. Anything more than that opens your art up to rivalries and conflicts due to politics, disagreements and ego. Look at your own systems, am I right?

Either you know the material or you don’t. Nothing to argue about that, if you test your students properly. Anyone who doubts that student is qualified is welcome to come and *test* his knowledge personally. Either you can teach the art or you can’t. This test is not taken by the teacher, but his student. If you doubt that I know how to teach the art, send your best guy to try out my best guy. No need for a ten year internet war, you can settle this disagreement in an hour. Lastly, on the subject of mastery, if you do not have at least two generations of students under you, you are no master. At its most basic level, “Master” is another word for “grand-teacher”. Your students have students? You’re a master. There are other definitions of the word, but let’s save that for another article.

One last thought:  Testing. Test your students on other students, or test them yourself. Do not rely on streetfights to “prove” your student” ability. In my opinion, teachers who talk about their students beating up men on the streets are either lying, or they are encouraging their TRAINED students to attack UNTRAINED men on the street who neither are physically their equal or unaware that they are fighting a trained fighter. That is both dishonest and unethical. You want to see how tough your guys are? Then don’t pick on some unwitting thug on the street; call another gym who has tough guys, and get them together. Then make sure they show each other gratitude and respect when the fight is over, regardless of who wins. Then you and the other teacher, regardless of who won the most matches, do not brag about who beat who or mistreat the reputation of the losing school. This is how real teachers conduct themselves. One of the secrets of the masters. If you ever meet a man who brags about how many men he’s left in the dust and naming names, know full well, that you are not speaking with a mature master. He can brag without belittling the men who have helped him build his skill, knowledge and reputation–thus, earning his rank. And the real teachers will ensure that their expert students follow the same path he followed himself. Trust me, very few 9th degree masters have a teacher who is a tenth. Because a man who has earned his way all the way through rarely puts himself above his teachers. When a man  or woman becomes a Black Belt, he or she deserves to simply be among those of us who came before him. Hierarchy isn’t necessary; he’s earned his place.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

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Why I Require Competition

Let’s begin by stating that I actually don’t require competition of all my students; only the ones who wish to one day teach. I will not grant a student permission to teach if he or she has never fought in competition. However, if a student was only interested in fitness, self defense or anything else–competitive fighting is optional.

Now, let’s get to the meat.

I have only heard of teachers downplaying competition fighting here in the West. No one in the Chinese circles do it. No one from Korea. Definitely, no one from the Philippines. Here in the West, we pride ourselves on innovation and making our own paths, we worship the words of Bruce Lee and his “style of no style” philosophy. Yet I challenge the idea that anything in Western innovation is really “innovative” and original. After all, where do we get our ideas from?

Someone else.

And these new styles? That are combinations of other styles? Even if you believe that you combined the best of the systems, you are actually doing something that is very Asian, and very traditional. Think of the so-called “pure” arts you used to combine into the new art. Did they not come from other arts? Was Shotokan not a blend of other master’s techniques? Was Jujutsu always a single homogenous art, or were there many schools and different masters and systems that made up what we call “pure” Jujutsu? Bruce Lee helped the Western martial artist break away from the classical mess many of the masters brought to America, but he actually taught the western martial artist something that has always been in the Asian martial arts… You learn and develop what your master taught you, you tested it, you tasted other flavors and twists on the arts, then you absorbed what you found useful and you create your own path.

Creating your own path, my friends, does not mean you start creating your own system as a beginner. That’s just plain stupid. Get your foundation, then when it has been established–you create your own path.

But this article is not about creating your own path, not really. It is about why I make my guys fight competitively and why many of you do not. I had to tell you about “Create Your Own Path” first, to tell you the flaw with it (which explains why many of you shun tournaments). The flaw is this:  Once you have created a system or training method, you must test it against other systems and training methods. “Test” is a word we must explain too. How do you test a technique or skill? You spar, right? At least, I hope you do. When you have decided that you’ve discovered a better way to do what you teachers taught you to do it, how do you know that your way is indeed a better way? Some guys will say it works better for them to fight or train in this new way. “Works”? In what way does it “work”? When you have taken stick from Modern Arnis, trapping from Wing Chun, punching from boxing, grappling from BJJ, knife from the Sayocs, situational self defense from Krav… you must train this new method against hostile opponents who intend to defeat you for two very important reasons:

  1. To discover the inner workings of the technique. Techniques work differently in practice and while rehearsing than they do when you are faced with someone whose only goal is to make you fail. Someone who does not care if you get hurt, if you are offended by what they do, if you do not learn from the outcome of the match. Training partners, then, are not qualified to help you discover this. By using your new method against a new fighter each time you step on the floor, you have a split second to adjust to the new fighter’s rhythm, strength, strategies, and speed. On top of that, you must think fast, because you only have the duration of that match to discover, adjust and apply–and you may never get a second chance to try it again against that same combination of attributes. One match, can teach you what 10 years of practice cannot. You can discover a whole lot of worms from one can delivered by ONE opponent in ONE match. Look at how Bruce Lee changed his entire method after one 15 minute fight with Wong Jak Man. This is not a matter of “testing” what you know. It is strictly for “learning” how your new system feels on the road, in the rain, going uphill, turning corners, going 0-60, downshifting, braking… all the things you would discover if you bought this car. Too many of you are teaching systems that you’ve never taken off the lot. Using this method will help you understand your new system better.
  2. To prove to yourself, your students, and your community that your new method is effective. After years of test driving your new skills, you must then set out to PROVE its worth. This again, is what too many new Masters and Grandmasters are doing with their systems. Sure, it looks good on paper. It looks amazing at the last gathering, on youtube, in the demos. But can I bet my life on what you’ve just put together? Anytime you open your doors and hang your shingle, you are saying to the potential student that yes, you can trust your family’s life on what I put together. How dishonest for a teacher to tell his student that he can put away his gun and trust his wife and children to get behind him and these skills… on a fighting system that the teacher himself has never fought with? I have noticed many teachers downplay the effectiveness of their art. They will tell you that their new art is valid because it came from blah blah blah and master quack quack quack. Few teachers will look you in the eye and say “My system will defeat anyone who tries it out, even YOU”, without blinking. Why? Because he’s done it before, and he has full confidence that he can do it again. Teachers must have full confidence from experience in what they are doing. Not to make blind promises as part of some ego-serving sales pitch.

So, master so n so tells you he tested his art and his advanced students test their art out weekly in training. Really? How? Most likely, sparring. Now, in these sparring sessions, can classmates whip out a knife and stab their opponents? Can another student jump out of the shadows and help another student beat down his opponent? Can he smash a brick over his head? Can he kick him in the nads? Can he poke his eyes out? Can he bite him? No? Why not?

Because they are fighting for simulated combat and with rules of the dojo. RULES OF THE DOJO.

Quick, somebody remind me why most of these masters don’t believe that tournament fighting helps with fighting ability?

If your teacher has told you that sparring in tournaments develops bad habits and is unrealistic and is nothing like a streetfight, tell him Mustafa Gatdula wants to know what the fuck are they doing in their dojos? Are your drills allowing kicks to the balls? Do you guys have time limits? No-hit zones? Please, save that for someone else. Everyone has rules, even those No-Rules NHB contests.

Tournaments are the safest place to find aggressive, like-minded opponents who will do their damnest to make your technique fail against theirs. Sure, there are fouls and bad calls. But if that scares you into never competing again, I think you’d better take up panty-sewing, because there isn’t one of us who hasn’t lost a fight because of a stupid rule or bad referee call. Suck it up, and get em next time.

Back to the main point of this article–I make my guys fight competitively before teaching because I need for them to know and not fear the taste of defeat, they need to know what it feels like to actually HIT another man, to develop the speed and timing that comes with trying to beat another fighter to the punch, to test his power against another man who is testing his power, to learn to think quick, and finally–to put his own ideas to the test to see how they work, and prove to himself that they work before they teach their new ideas to my future Grandstudents. Too many teachers are out there teaching stuff they never took beyond the drawing board and youtube channels. Anyone in my lineage will know where they stand in comparison to other fighters, and they will be able to look any student in the eye and say–in my experience, this is the best way to do it. Even if they believe their way is better than their own beloved teacher, Mustafa Gatdula.

Thank you for visiting my blog. Make sure you check out my new book on Amazon entitled “Philosophy“!

Reputation-Building in the FMA

I have mentioned a “Mastery” book that I’ve been working on over the last two years. I haven’t settled on a title yet because the focus changes (as does my desires for the reader), but when it’s done–trust me–it will be a masterpiece. This book has occupied my brainspace lately, which is why the articles have slowed down on this blog. I realize that I am giving away gems on this blog to people who loathe me and my opinion, and these are not men who would ever give me the pleasure of proving my art to them the old fashioned way.

So if I’m going to be “giving” out any more gems, dammit I need to be paid for it.

Anyway, I one of the major topics in the book is the art of building a reputation; something that is lost on today’s FMA man.

There is a saying I hold dear to me, that an Arnis man’s reputation is best built by his opponents, not his friends. This is a common belief among old school Arnisador and Eskrimadors, but for some reason their students do the opposite. Due to the ease of learning Eskrima and new styles, skills and arts, it is not surprising that the modern-day Eskrimador has far more friends than opponents that litter his past. Think of the best fighters in the FMA:  The masters of Balintawak, Angel Cabales, Cacoy Canete, Anciong Bacon, Leo Giron, Antonio Illustrisimo, the fighters of Yaw Yan–ME–what do you know of them besides their students? Have you heard more about their friends, or their opponents?

There is a reason for this. Eskrimadors who surround themselves with friends are thinking more of exchanging and comraderie, while those who stay to themselves and come out mainly for matches are focused on testing their arts. It’s not just in the Filipino Martial world. The best Karateka, the greatest swordsmen, the most fierce Kung Fu fighters–were all self-absorbed men who fine-tuned their craft and went seeking opponents to prove their skill was the best. Most of these men did not feel worthy of teaching for many years, and spent their youth training and getting stronger and experiencing the life of combat. On the other hand, you have men who consider themselves “always a student”, who attend seminar after seminar, gaining nothing more than certificates and neat tricks to show off. They “exchange” with friends to get new drills and disarms, without having to earn that information. When someone says to them, “I don’t think that will work in a fight/against me”, they get offended and butt-hurt. Sissies.

Names are spread today by websites, discussion forums, and media advertising a martial artists’ offerings. A martial artist’s reputation today is completely unreliable in telling you about how skilled he is, unless someone actually says “I saw him fight” or “I fought him”. A few years ago I was visiting a friend of mine who had a supply store and school, when another Black Belter walked in to offer him equipment and seminar opportunities. I ignored them mostly, until the guy says to my friend that his Master and school was “the best in Sacramento”. I smiled and my friend laughed, and informed him that not everyone would agree with that. I jumped in, because I consider myself the best in Sacramento. He attempted to shift our conversation to one of rank, but I offered to prove to him that I was the best. After all, we were in a supply store. Protective gear, at least 5 instructors as witnesses–and as his master’s Black Belt student, he must be one of his best. Of course, he declined. And about a year later, I brought up this incident to his Master, who dismissed him as young and foolish with his words. He told me that he corrected him when he came back and told him of our incident, saying you have to be careful where you make that claim.

But there’s more.

Years later, when I had my own supply store, a man came into my place looking for uniforms. He is an Aikido teacher, and our conversation had just moved to fighting when he asked me my opinion of Aikido. I bit my tongue, and when he insisted, I told him that I did not have a good opinion of Aikido for fighting. One thing led to another, and we had a match. A few bruised ribs, sprained wrist and bopped nose later–I no longer have a low opinion of Aikido, and my new friend and I taught each other our respective styles for a year. In case you were wondering who won, I need you to know that the outcome is irrelevant. Two teachers decided to test our arts on each other, and we respect the other’s art enough to investigate it to discover the vulnerabilities of our own systems. I am still an FMA man, he is still an Aikido man. But one year later, we learned more about our arts from that 5 minute match than many of our counterparts will learn in 10 seminars. If you ask me about a man named Adam Badley, I will tell you that he knows his stuff, the man can fight, and if you encounter him on the street–he will ruin your day. I am positive, if you asked him about me, he will tell you the same. Not because we are friends, but because we know first hand of each other’s ability and knowledge.

This ^^^ my friends, is how a martial artist’s reputation is built. It doesn’t need to result in a dislike for each other, broken bones, or anything silly like that. Respect in the martial arts is the outcome of two opponents coming together and proving to the other, that he has earned the reputation he will enjoy at the end of the exchange. Remember that.

And, guys, stop being so darned emotional. Two martial artists who disagree do not have to go through life hating each other because of differing philosophies and ideologies. Get together like men and test yourselves out. You can do it as hardcore or as safe as you’d like. But find out where you stand in relation to other skilled fighters, and develop real respect in the art. Regardless of who “wins” or “loses” the exchange, you will respect the opponent because he helped you learn a bunch about yourself and other arts in a 5 minute match… and he will help you get the word out about who you are, and what you are capable of.

This is why websites are self-written:  So that martial artists can paint a self portrait to the world. Yet nothing is more believable, more reliable, than that described by someone who has actually encountered your martial arts. The old Filipino masters may not always have liked each other, but they certainly respect each other, by keeping who their opponents are in the stories, lessons and modified techniques they impart to students long after the names are forgotten and the bruises have vanished.

If you would like to hear more about my philosophy in the Filipino martial arts, please go to Amazon and check out my book, Philosophy of the Martial Arts. Thank you for visiting my blog.

The Triple Effort

Here’s a quickie for today…

Last night I was talking to a young man named Rahsaan, who is an aspiring martial arts teacher. He probably has a few years before I would recommend he round up his family members to invest in a commercial space, but I like his approach to his martial arts education.

To keep it short, he has completed his Black belt in the arts and had spent several years with the FMAs in a program that does not involve exams or rank. At 19 years old, he decided to forego his formal academic education (with the blessings of his parents, surprisingly) in order to train and compete to the championship level. Not everyone will agree with this approach. My father did not support me in this decision, but my mother did. I would like to submit to you, that the martial arts is as valid a vocation as any other skill. It is a specialized skill and one can make a living doing it–even those whose knowledge and ability are mediocre. I only got to talk to him and haven’t seen him do anything, but I believe that his ability could very possibly be above average. If he keeps it up for another three years–the amount of time it takes to complete an apprenticeship in a trade, or a college degree in academics–he will become very good.

His chances of becoming a successful teacher–one who will be remembered for years to come–depend on it.

I will come back to our conversation in another article, but I would like to focus on one thing. He asked me about what I believed to be the best method of teaching advanced students. In his FMA training, he had received basically a hodgepodge of styles and skills and did not have a curriculum to follow when he decided to teach. There is no way, unless he became a student of mine, I could really impart my philosophy about teaching advanced students. There are a few approaches:

  • curriculum based.  teach “advanced” techniques at the advanced level. “advanced” is one’s own interpretation of the term. it could be dangerous techniques, difficult to pull off, favorite techniques, etc.
  • lethal based. only teach skills that could end a life or cripple to advanced students you trust. I happen to like this approach myself
  • exploratory. allow students to experiment and come up with their own interpretation of your art. they should develop the theory first, then develop the theory into provable skill before graduating them
  • skill based. teach all techniques required in the system by the advanced level, then use the advance level to develop performance to an extremely high degree
  • teaching based. use the advance level to transition students from students to instructors

Each of these methods, or a combination of them, has its merits and challenges. Which should one choose? It’s a matter of preference. Contrary to my saying that fighting is an exact science–philosophy is not. What works for one man may not work for the next, and the proof is in the performance of the students. So to answer young brother Rahsaan’s question, there is no answer. He will have to figure that one on his own, even if he started with one and years later, change to another. We talked about the different approaches, and I challenged him to undertake one that I put on my advanced students. This is a training period I have written on several times on this blog, and I would like to go a little deeper and share with you where I got it.

If you follow the comments on this blog, or discussion mediums about this blog, you will find that my detractors love to nitpick at me. Rather than challenge my skill or the effectiveness of my style, they’d rather argue semantics. I have little interest in that, and I have no shame in saying that I will import things from other styles into my FMA if it makes my systems better. And bottom line of all martial arts is the answer to the question “Can you beat me?”  All I do is aimed at making sure that the answer is a loud “NO.”

There is a Japanese ideal called San Bai No Do Ryoku (Triple Effort). Many swordsmen have adopted this before going into combat, and some have even made this a requirement before releasing a student from his own tutelage. I am a heavy subscriber to this philosophy and use it in everything I do. It is a simple notion to put on paper; yet, a seemingly impossible one to live.

Put plainly, Triple Effort is the practice of knowing what the average opponent can do, and train with triple that degree. For example, most schools in my area will award instructorship to students in 2 years. So I make my students train for 6 years before I consider them advanced. The average expert Eskrimador can throw roughly 100-150 strikes before expiring. So I work with 500. Most Eskrimadors who train for power work with a 3/4″ rattan, so I train with 1″ hardwood or a baseball bat. Most schools offer training twice a week, so I offer it six.

Masahiko Kimura
Masahiko Kimura

In somewhat modern times, the late, great Masutatsu Oyama described his training under his Judo (or Goju, I can’t remember) teacher, named Mas Kimura. Not much is available about him on the internet, but as a boy I had a magazine purchased in Taiwan with an interview with Oyama. I had read that issue many times because I only had a handful and have since lost it. I remember the stories about Mas Oyama well, because my grandfather who disliked things Japanese admitted that he admired Mas Oyama–whom he considered the last of the great warriors. Kimura was a short man, but extremely powerful and muscular. Under him, Oyama developed the physique he was known for throughout his prime. It was under Kimura that Oyama learned the ideal of San Bai No Do Ryoku. Their daily regimen was based on the Sumo training regimen (if you are unfamiliar with it, I highly recommend checking out what those guys do daily. It might give you a new respect for them). Here are a few of the things they did (I don’t really remember if all of this was in the article, but I cut and pasted it from another article some years back and emailed it to myself):

  • 1,000 pushups
  • 500 sumo squats
  • 500 punches on a makiwara
  • 100 live Judo throws
  • Bunny Hop 1 kilometer
  • 100 Judo entries
  • 100 Judo submissions
  • 100 jumps over a potted plant
  • 100 pull ups

None of this involved weight lifting, but one can imagine the kind of strength and power you would develop from such a training program. Oyama spent a very short amount of time with Kimura. However, he credited him with showing him the potential he could develop, as a human being, to possess superhuman ability. Any man would love to be invincible; this is often what drew us to the art. The question is, what would you be willing to endure to attain it?

A popular photo of Kyukushinkai founder Masutatsu Oyama, prior to taking his mountain reatreat...
A popular photo of Kyukushinkai founder Masutatsu Oyama, prior to taking his mountain reatreat…

My advice to the young teacher is to break free of the cookie cutter mold of teaching that 99% of the martial arts community is following. If he wanted to follow his own path, then start with ensuring that his own skill rests several layers higher than those of his peers. Then, as a teacher, point to none other than himself as the goal and show them the way. Yes, it may lead to small enrollments or a bottom heavy with beginners school–but he will know that he has truly followed and completed the path of the masters.

Or, on the other hand, he can chase rank and do it like everyone else and not stand out. <—- This is one of the secrets of the Masters.

Thank you for visiting my blog.