Teaching Notes for New Teachers of the FMAs

Concerning the Art of TEACHING the FMAs…

I’ve mentioned several times on this blog that in the Filipino Martial Arts world, we have many ways of teaching fighting and drills but very little addresses how to teach students. We’re not talking about how to teach a seminar; I am referring to lessons on how to teach full-time students of the arts. There are plenty of books about instructing in Japanese, Korean, Chinese and sports styles. However, the FMAs have come up very light on the subject of what methods produce the best product in the classroom.

Shameless plug:  I’ve compiled a book on tips for doing so. While not exactly a manual on HOW to teach from beginning to end–actually, it is a compilation of articles from this blog about the art of instruction for FMA teachers–you should head over to Amazon and get a copy. Without a doubt, you will find plenty of useful information within its pages.

Last night I attended a class being taught by two of my students and wrote down some notes offering them feedback on teaching for results. This may irritate them, but I really don’t care. Once a teacher, always a teacher. Although I am an unlettered man, I proudly boast that I consider myself a pretty darned good teacher of the fighting arts. When I transformed from martial arts fighter to martial arts teacher, I closely studied the art of teaching. I talked to my teachers in depth about why they did things the way they did and got feedback on what they found to be most effective. I visited other teachers and coaches as well, and exchanged ideas with scholars about the philosophy of teaching. In fact, I meet at least once a month with a local scholar, Dr. David Williams, who is holds degrees (including a PhD) in subjects from History to Education. And what do we talk about? Teaching. Those lessons are universal, and if you’ve never read about the art of teaching–you’d find a gold mine of information talking to the masters of taking uneducated and making them smarter than yourself.

At the core of my philosophy is this:  Endeavoring to produce students who are more skilled than myself.

Often, martial arts teachers love their teachers so much, they refuse to change anything that their teachers taught. They admire them and believe it to be betrayal to stray from anything their masters did or said. In my opinion, one would honor their teachers more by strengthening their master’s legacy by making sure it improved with each coming generation. Even if it meant you had to scrap the program and rebuild it, simply by being in your teacher’s lineage you make him or her proud by putting out the best students possible. My students mostly teach, from periodic classes in their home to community centers to commercial locations. The only thing they have in common besides the same system is that they produce good fighters–and that is good enough for me.

Back to the purpose of this article.

So I wrote down some notes that I texted to my student, and I would like to share them with my readers. Hopefully, you will find some value in them and can find a way to incorporate them into your own method of instruction.

  • Use a base curriculum with base attacking techniques.  Rather than teaching a handful of techniques and defenses and drills, I favor developing a core set of attacks and counter attacks that can be mixed and matched when in application. Have sets of punches and kicks, hitting or slash & stab combinations. These combinations serve as your base for training. You will have some that are best for initiating the attack, pursuing a fleeing opponent, countering an opponent’s initial attack, etc. You will find that by training these base attacks and not having too many of them, your students’ reaction will be second nature and the same base attacks are applicable in many situations and they are executed without thought.
  • Separate beginner line drills from your intermediates and advanced. Often, in the classroom, you will have several different skill levels and ranks in the same session. It isn’t necessary to have your advanced guy doing exactly the same drills as your beginner, especially when the advanced guy has techniques that he needs to hone and develop. Plus, it makes the class more enjoyable when they are able to focus on rank-specific skills.
  • Spend time on stretching. It isn’t necessary to have a long period of time spent on stretching, but make sure you give it some attention. Many of us want to get right to technique, but remember, the students have to develop their fitness level and without it, their techniques will be less effective. In the FMAs, particularly, we often believe that sticks and knives render fitness irrelevant. I totally disagree. Your weapons skill becomes relevant when you tire, get a cramp, or gas out while in combat. Stretching is needed for more than just kicking–it helps you move efficiently, have superior balance, and more agile.
  • Always train the core fighting techniques. Every system has a set of basic fighting skills that must be trained EVERYTIME your students step on the mat. You decide what those techiniques are, and make sure that even though other styles may have them–no one else does them better.
  • Periodically explain, in detail, your basics. You would be surprised how many advanced students execute their basic skills sloppily. My philosophy is that sloppy fighters are the result of sloppy teachers. You can never review the details too much. Our goal is perfection, but perfection for the martial artist is an ever-moving level that one should never say we achieved. The closer you get to it, you will realize that there is more you can do to improve. Give your students all the corrections they need until they are near perfect, then make them train while performing nearly perfect technique
  • Speaking of perfection, does practice make perfect? No, perfect practice makes perfect. See above ^^^
  • Make sure to scan the class ranks for hand position, footwork and execution. Often while training we will be more focused on counting repetition than making corrections. Take the time to watch your students and notice when hands are dropped or out of position, footwork is off or unbalanced, and techniques are not executed crisply. As a fighter, one should already have developed this habit. (One reason I believe highly in competition fighting) When a hand is dropped or the opponent stumbles, your trigger should automatically fire. And so should your “teacher mouth”…. POW! Protect ya neck, kid.
  • Return to strength exercises frequently. Legs tired? Rest em, but drop and give me 20 while resting them. This is a big thing for me. Everyone under me has a strong physique. EVERYONE. The best time to perform strength exercises is when you are tired and somewhat fatigued, because doing so develops courage, pain tolerance and heart. Students can never get too much of it too. Even if you have not come up with the best strategy, your students will be stronger and more fit than most opponents–and dominate.

Make sure that as teachers, you focus on making better martial arts students. One cannot accomplish this by simply coming to class and counting out reps or regurgitating techniques. Mold your students carefully, and temper their skill through pain and sweat. I hope you find these tips valuable.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Author: thekuntawman

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

5 thoughts on “Teaching Notes for New Teachers of the FMAs”

  1. nice blog, I wish there were more eskrimadores like you out there.
    I really feel that the Filipino martial arts are dying, and doesn’t have that edge in being a good fighting art amongst other martial arts.
    But these are just my thoughts

    1. thank you! I wish there was more too. I dont think the FMAs are dying, but i do believe that FMA *as our parents know it* is dying. commercialism and ego is killing the art and turning it into a side show and fantasy art, than a practical fighting art. everything is so rush, people become teachers too quickly, and too easily. I cant even tell you how many Eskrima “experts” i have met that are CHILDREN! amazing. we are becoming the McDojo with the sticks…

      1. Exactly, another thing is that most fighting arts now a days such as boxing, muay thai etc which are unarmed are found to me more practical in today’s world where else I feel that martial art with weapons such as eskrima doesn’ have their place any more. I could be wrong, I just see those other arts to be more famous because of their sport aspect such as mma.

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