Preparing Your Eskrima for the Street

Is your Eskrima still “street-effective”?

One of the things drawing street defense/self defense enthusiast to the Filipino art is our simplicity and our effectiveness for the average man’s needs. I ask if your FMA is “still” street-effective because over the recent 30 or so years that the FMA has been noticed by the mainstreet, most styles have lost that edge. Perhaps your Grandmaster’s Eskrima was good for defense and street fighting, but most likely over the two or three generations that it got to you–your art very likely has lost that “ummph”:

  • Teachers have focused on developing their skill at putting on nice demos, rather than fighting
  • Teachers no longer put students up against other students out of concern that those who lose in matches may become discouraged and quit
  • Eskrima curriculum have started to focus on fighting other Eskrimadors, rather than what will be encountered on the street (honestly, how many arnisadors will be robbing people at night?)
  • The turnover of new student to new instructor is much quicker these days, and schools are graduating very inexperienced new “experts”
  • Very little interaction between Eskrimadors and non-Eskrimadors, so the arts are not addressing alternative views of combat
  • The “Militarization” and “Exotication” of FMAs has killed our simplicity. Rather than focus on weapons that normal people carry, students are learning to use exotic weapons, Rifles/Bayonets, killing as the only option, and dealing with “enemy” rather than “attackers”
  • Shying away from competition are creating generations of Eskrimador/Arnisador who are afraid of confrontation and mixing it up
  • Very little time is spent on skill development, favoring fancier techniques and drills over the basic, bone-shattering strike that Eskrimadors of old relied on

I am not interested in getting into an online battle with modern Eskrimadors over the (excuse the bluntness) bullshit most teach these days. Such conversations are best handled in person anyway. However, this is a conversation that we in the Filipino Martial Arts community should have. There are many Eskrima and Arnis teachers giving good martial arts while focusing on the street encounter, but they have not been able to find a way to market the pure art in order to make a living. So the best Arnis is often found in backyards and garage classes, and the guy getting the gigs at the State Fair with the cute demos with Techno music and shiny weapons get all the press. When non-martial artists decide to look for self defense, he is passing up the traditional guy for the one with the busy Youtube channel and “Good Morning America” appearances. No problem, but will those students really be prepared to defend his wife and children when he needs to?

Did YOU get an art that meets that need?

If a guy visiting your school told you that he wasn’t convinced, would you be able to defeat him without cutting his throat or simulating a scene from an R-rated film? Fighting doesn’t always need to end with you murdering someone, you know. There is a name for a martial artist who fears getting his hands dirty and his face bruised so much that he reacts to a possible ass-whipping by dreaming of killing his opponent:  A pussy. There is a saying in the arts, that the higher your skill level, the less lethal you need to be. If a man attacked you, and you had the prowess of a Mike Tyson, and he had the prowess of a 12 year old girl–would it be necessary for you to take his life? Of course not. Then train until your physical ability and skill makes any man on the street as harmless to you as a 12 year old girl. If you train in an art for 20 years, and you are still afraid on the street, your art, your Guro and your training has failed you; you are still a pussy. Like I said earlier, excuse the bluntness.

So here are some tips to help you change your program into a street-worthy one that allows you to defend yourself with the appropriate level of force needed…

  1. Forget what your Grandmaster said about “strength not necessary”, that’s not true. Develop your physical strength until you are physically stronger than most guys walking on the street. Trust me. Most Eskrimadors do little to no strength training at all (ditto that for cardio), or they pump iron to look tough; this isn’t what I’m referring to. You must have usable, raw power and strength. When you grab an opponent, you must have enough strength that he cannot easily escape it. When you strike him, it should feel like a sledgehammer. When you cut him, it should penetrate all his clothing and deep into his muscle. When you struggle with him for your weapon, you mustn’t tire easily and you should be able to overpower him. When you train for strength, you want these things in mind–not how you’re going to look in a T-shirt. As I tell my teenaged son, it’s a fight–not a fucking beauty contest. Train as if you were trying to win one.
  2. Spend ample time developing each strike in your numbering system for destructive potential. Many Eskrima programs really gloss over their striking system. You learn the 1-12, but only until you remember which strike to throw automatically, when you hear the number called. You need more than that. You want even your pokes to feel like you’ve shot him. Matter of fact, have you ever poked or thrusted anything full power? Most FMA people have not. If you haven’t done it before, try it. Thrusting with a stick is a specialized skill, and most people do not have it. Grip strength is vital with such strikes, as are the targets. Get a wall, tree or punching bag, and thrust it 500 times. You will learn a lot about that strike that most people have never thought about; and then when you do, you will understand more about a thrust with a knife… which, by the way, most FMA people do not really know how to defend against. Every strike in your style’s arsenal must be fully understood and fully trained. Once you do so, you will understand
  3. The Attack. Most Eskrima is Defense-oriented. But fighting is Attack-oriented. When someone asks to see your system, how do you respond? I’ll tell you, if you are an FMA man, 9 times out of 10, you must ask him to attack you with a pre-chosen strike or stab, then you show him. How can you beat a man when your ability an knowledge is centered around a half-hearted attack that stops short of hitting you? Here is a good way to demonstrate your art:  Tell him to attack you, and then fight him. Or just have him fight you. But that isn’t what most of us are taught to do–we are mostly trained to put on a demonstration of drills and abecedarios/numerados. You aren’t preparing for an FMA demo, you should be preparing to stop a man trying to hurt you. So practice hurting him.
  4. Spend less time on the choreography, and more time on the unexpected. You know what I’ve noticed? Fighting and training in the FMA often looks nothing like each other. One of the main reasons is that while the choreographed stuff is good for teaching basic skills, most folks train with those things all the way through their training. At some point, one must put down the drill, pick up some sparring skill, and do it until the sparring looks like the drill. But it’s not just FMA guys, I have this same opinion of Kung Fu people. We simply need to bridge the gap between what we’d like to do, with what we are able to do. Often, the skill of sparring is learned separately from the skill of that art. A good way to illustrate is by looking at sparring at Arnis tournaments–everyone is fighting with exactly the same skills and techniques. It’s not supposed to be that way, as each style is distinct from the others. However, if we do not develop our system’s techniques enough, we rely on the same point-scoring skills that the next guy is learning. This is where art and sport are supposed to compliment each other, but instead, we treat sport AS art.
  5. Think outside the box. Why are we only learning stick vs stick? Why only knife vs knife? How about knife vs grappling, or your stick against two unarmed attackers? Do that, and you will discover a whole ‘nother dimension to the FMAs that may excite you. And it’s more likely that you will run into that, than another Eskrima-trained dope fiend on the street.

And #5, I’m willing to bet a cheese sammich on that ^^ fact.

No further commentary necessary. If you’d like to add to the list, please post it in the comments section below. Thank you for visiting my blog.

Author: thekuntawman

full time martial arts teacher, full time martial arts philosopher, and full time martial arts critic

7 thoughts on “Preparing Your Eskrima for the Street”

    1. The same rules can be applied to empty hands, just with empty hand techniques. The formula for success is universal! Thank you for your comment. We have some articles about this in the teaching, and techniques sections of the site…

      1. oh, what FMA empty hands are there? the only ones I’m familiar with are either the modern ones like yaw yan and sikaran or the muslim arts like silat and kuntaw. What are the eskrima and kali empty hands?

      2. you named almost all of them. nobody wants to admit this, but the popular “style/names” we know of in the FMA, like Suntukan, Panananjakma, etc., don’t exist back home. Doesn’t matter what book they showed up in, those arts are in the west only, unless a Filipino decides to call his art by those names. the truth is, many FMA empty hand styles comes from boxing, karate or judo and there is nothing wrong with that. the only thing that matters is, can those students fight and learn to fight. oh, and if the teacher is honest about where his art comes from. there is no shame saying that your art came from an okinawan or japanese style and calling it filipino.

  1. Being a long term martial artist, but relatively new to eskrima I fully agree whole heartedly with the majority of your coments . Royce sept 21 at 6: 15pm .

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