The Level V Guro

Teaching Philosophy imageIf you haven’t gotten a copy of my book, teaching philosophy, you should get it on Amazon.

Extremely vital to the survival of the FMAs, but ignored and often taken for granted, the art of teaching the martial arts can mean the difference between an art that grows and prospers versus one that simply exists. A martial artist who studies fighting technique, but skips to marketing the art without studying how to best teach the arts is doing his students and thus–the memory of his teachers before him a great injustice. We always hear how martial arts teachers need teaching skill more than fighting skill, but when was the last time you actually received instruction on actually teaching the art? Every university and college has more than merely business, the sciences, and arts… they all have a department where students study how to teach. My question is this:  What about us?  Why is it that in the martial arts we only have fighting resources and marketing resources?

The answer is simply this:  We just don’t know much about the next level of passing on the arts. We assume that once you receive the art, you are now qualified to teach as well as lead an organization. Yet, look around you and your martial arts circle. You know as well as I do, this is not true. Schools flounder for decades, teachers die broke, locations open and close, students spend years with a Master and walk away with mediocre skills, organizations split up and lineages dissolve. If our masters were such great leaders, why do their organizations produce poor students, and eventually go bankrupt unless the master walks away from the art to become fitness centers, babysitters/daycares or Black Belt mills?

I submit to you, martia arts brothers and sisters, that we must face facts that we in the martial arts have not given enough attention to the arts of teaching and running a business. Often, we see one of our own prospering and then we assume he has “sold out”. Too often, that master has. Why is it that we haven’t been able to find a way to grow our schools and make a decent living without diluting the arts? It’s too easy to simply blame the student, saying “There aren’t enough serious students out there” or “Today’s student don’t want the real art”… We must learn from other industries and disciplines that have found a way to prosper in modern society, and find ways to apply those lessons to the fighting arts. Not the children’s business. Not Tae Bo and similar, but the fighting arts.

Again, after learning how to perform the fighting arts–we have to study how to (1) teach the fighting arts for excellence, and (2) how to run a traditional martial arts business and survive in today’s modern economy. I do have two books on the business side of the martial arts that you can find on the “Offerings” page, as well as a section of articles on martial arts business (pertaining specifically to the Filipino arts) found here.

For almost as long as I have been training in the arts, I have studied teachers–my teachers as well as others I’ve encountered–and their techniques to produce a better trained fighter. While you may have convinced yourself that fighting is not the goal in the study of arts, you and I both know that a student body of poor fighters will result in a poor reputation for the teacher and school. We cannot avoid this; the actual skill of the student in combat is the universal measuring tool used to determine a school and it’s teacher’s worth. A teacher then, should be primarily concerned with the skill of his students. We all have heard of schools where the master is the baddest dude in the organization, but his students were nothing to look at it. In my opinion, this is an example of a poor instructor. Reasons for good teacher/mediocre student vary:

  • Teacher simply does not know how to duplicate his skill in others
  • Teacher is more concerned with his own skill than his students
  • Teachers lacks the knowledge to correct students’ perfomance
  • Teacher is only good at guiding students who already have a foundation
  • Teacher’s ego prevents him from allowing proficient students to rise to the top of the pack, due to jealousy and/or rivalry

The first thing a teacher must be concerned with is developing a curriculum and teaching method that produces the best skill in every student. That means he must be able to teach the students with no coordination, the students who are afraid of training hard, the insecure, the naturally gifted, the lazy, the weak, the skinny, the fat, the overly aggressive, the timid. He must know how to deal with all types of classroom personalities, and make sure he understands how to retain good students, and keep the classes full. The days of blaming empty classrooms on “students who couldn’t cut it” are over. If you cannot maintain a student’s attention, although he had enough interest to join–that sounds like a front-of-the-classroom problem, not a cultural or age related one. Imagine if you child’s high school had a 60% drop out rate, and the teachers took pride in this! Claiming no one could pass their exams and classes were so hard–what would you say? Don’t be that school. Let’s not scapegoat our failures on unqualified students.

Secondly, teachers must be saavy enough to run a business, unless you have a partner with this knowledge. You must know how to keep the lights on, willing to pay bills and manage money when you do have it. You must know how to market your classes, how to sell your classes, and how to recognize (and rescue) a student who is considering dropping out. This information is not found on your correspondence course DVDs, nor will most of your Masters offer this during class time. Therefore, you must build a library of books to learn business management, marketing, sales, and financial management… and then read those books often. Your students are counting on you to keep the school going, and perhaps you should rethink if you are prepared for a storefront location–or perhaps you should move into a low-cost option, like a community center or sublet somewhere. Not an easy decision, but it needs to be considered. Be honest with yourself.

Finally, martial arts teachers must be effective leaders. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being a simple, basic teacher–and 5 being a great Grandmaster-to-be, you must aim for becoming a Level 5 leader. This is something we in the arts are not always honest about. We love to strap on titles without thinking of what those titles mean. If you simply want to teach your martial arts classes and preserve the art, then stick to that. But if you are trying to certify new teachers, open several locations, guide several generations of students forward or start your own system–you must do better than simply having a lot of students and calling yourself “Grandmaster”. Trust me, many of your grandmasters only have followers because they certified a bunch of instructors at random simply to have students left behind to teach–yet know deep in their heart those students are not the best they could have produced. Many grandmasters leave behind bickering lineages, and organizations that eventually crumble because hierarchies, instructions, and rules were not clear. Martial arts leadership, then, is more than simply teaching the fighting arts and having students with rank certificates. Sadly, most of our grandmasters left it at that. Some have constitutions, some had sparring sessions where the big dogs were decided in hand-to-hand. I cannot tell you how to run your organizations, but I can tell you this:  Organizations are only successful when these things are in place:

  • Those he leaves behind must be inspired to continue and further his work
  • They can run the organization without the presence of the Grandmaster. If the organization dies with the teacher, he wasn’t effective
  • Splinter organizations are fine, as long as the schools are still running. The splinters need not even be aimiable; but they must be respectful and aimiable, and must work together laterally to further the work of the teacher. They may even work separately, but come together for a few functions. The martial arts community as a whole must see them as branches of one family
  • The number of students must grow when Grandmaster is gone
  • The quality of skill must increase with each coming generation. If the Grandmaster’s original students were the best, and all other were mediocre, this means GM was the best teacher of them all. How can the art improve if the best couldn’t improve the overall skill in the next generation?
  • Profit. Perhaps the master died a man of meager means, but he started this alone. Now that he is gone there may be 5, 10, 20 of you. Twenty men can’t work together to make this business more profitable for everyone? Or did the master leave behind selfish, egotistic children who can’t work together long enough to put more money in his own pockets? Money, after all, can’t be everything–but it is still important…

When you first begin teaching, you must of course begin with possessing the best skill you can in order to represent the school well. However, once the school is running and steaming forward, the focus of the teacher should be on building the reputations and skills of the student. Self-focused, prideful, narcissistic teachers will not be able to produce absolutely the best students possible; he is too concerned with his own reputation and vanity. And finally, as students become proficient, the Master must mentor and guide students towards mastery themselves. He should want his students just as good as himself–if not better. He should be grooming his successors and preparing his organization for the next generation. The only excuse is if the teacher dies unexpectedly. If the master wants to be remembered as something more than simply a footnote in the system’s lineage, he must leave something behind greater than himself… An organization that will exist for several lifetimes. And you will need more than just certificates and a resume to make this happen.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

 

 

 

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The Hierarchy of FMA’s Teaching Class

Some of you may dismiss this discussion as a matter of semantics, but this really is serious business.

All who teach the arts are not created equal, and what separates us is so much more than which styles we offer or who taught us. Today, I would like to introduce a few of these things and then come back to the subject later when I have more time.

  1. There is a difference between a “Black Belter” or “expert”, and a teacher.  Some of the debate we see in the martial arts, especially the Filipino arts, is the claim that being an expert fighter does not guarantee that the expert fighter would be an expert teacher. While this may be true, the debate has been used by many who are not even good fighters to justify themselves as teachers. If one does not know the art of fighting (1), one cannot fight (2), and fighting is more than simply a physical act (3)–then there is no excuse for a so-called teacher to claim he can teach the art of fighting without himself being a good fighter. Let’s recap this. If fighting is more than physical and anyone can learn it, how can you expect to be truthful in your claim to teach fighting to anyone when you yourself never developed the skill from knowledge YOU possess? How can you teach the art of fighting if you claim to have knowledge but not be able to actually do  it? And finally, I’m going to need a little help with this last question. How can you claim expertise in something you cannot actually do yourself? Yet on martial arts message boards everywhere, you will find FMA Guro who have never fought and even claim that the act of fighting is unnecessary–but at the same time claim to have enough expertise to be qualified to teach it! Here is my point. Yes, you must have teaching skill to teach to be an effective teacher. But you must also have fighting skill to teach fighting. Furthermore, you can have fighting expertise and not teaching skill, but you cannot have teaching skill and not fighting skill. Therefore, there is a hierarchy. One must first be an expert fighter, then become a teacher. A Black belt or Expert certification is not a teaching credential.
  2. There are Instructors of the art, and then there are Teachers. Within the ranks of those who teach the martial arts, we have a further hierarchy. There are those who know the art well enough to pass on the basics and technical art we call “Fighting Arts” to novices. We must, however, not confuse these people with those who know the art well enough to teach students all the way to expertise. The difference is similiar to grade school teachers who can teach a child how to read and count and perform arithmetic versus professors who can teach college students the sciences and the higher arts. I learn to read, and I can teach someone else to read–but simply knowing how to read does not qualify me to teach others how to write poetry or present research reports on the sciences. This is my problem with the distance learning and seminar industry in the Filipino art. We have men and women teaching and certifying 20-30 or more students in two hour sessions. At the same time, I could bring four guys from my gym and they will destroy anyone in the room, including the guy awarding certificates. This should never happen, yet I have never met a man taught by seminar who can beat a fighter trained in a full-time school, ever. Don’t let this love of money fool you into thinking your four or five seminars per year makes you equal with those who do this four or five times a week. Seminars are fine to teach basics and drills, but for serious learning–for those wanting to become expert fighters, or to become teachers themselves, they will need more attention than what some well-known celebrity teacher can offer in 2 hours while running around trying to give 20 other students their money’s worth. Some of those who can teach can guide you through the higher levels of the arts, while others don’t know much more than what they are putting out on Youtube and DVD. The higher levels of the art cannot be passed on through anything other than up close and personal, I don’t care who teaches the seminar or produces the video–even Bruce Lee’s ghost, himself. Within your school’s walls, you must identify those who can pass on the basics of your art versus those who are knowledgeable and experienced enough to guide students through their entire education, including a fighting as well as teaching career.
  3. Being an old Martial Artist or old Teacher does not make one a Master. Mastery is based on the highest levels of skill, knowledge and experience. It is not age or time in the arts. If I learned in a commercial dojo in the 1980s, never fought anywhere, never taught anywhere but in commercial dojos, never coached pro fighters, never worked with bouncers/security/LEO on how to apply the arts to their jobs–you don’t get to just strap on the title “Master” once you discover some grey hair or scalp showing through your mane. It doesn’t come with time, it comes with knowledge and ability. If my career was spent taking students to 1st or 2nd degree Black belts before they quit and start playing high school soccer instead, we need you to come over to the rough side of the mountain. It isn’t a numbers game. It’s not a waiting game. The designation of Master comes when you are among the best of the best, the most knowledgeable of the knowledgeable, you’ve cracked open the traditional and the obvious and forced your way into its secrets. You don’t get that through 20 years of throwing Ninja Turtle Birthday parties. There is a difference between older Martial Arts Teachers and actual Martial Arts Masters. They both deserve respect, but one is much more respectable than the other. I’ve seen blog posts where older Martial Arts Teachers ridicule Masters who never discovered financial success in the industry, and it’s shameful. The Master puts in all the research and pain and suffering for the greater good of the art, while the McDojo Master gains financial reward because he pretends to be his peer. Please don’t misconstrue my statements; there is no crime in finding commercial success. Just don’t equate commercial success and age with the actual path to Mastery. As my grandfather once said, the real Lion in the room is he who is feared and respected when the wallets, belts and organizations are left out the room. Get together a group of so called experts for a private contest of skill and nothing less–you’ll find out who the real master is. Let that guide your quest for growth, not your resume.
  4. Masters can be Master Fighters or Master Teachers, or both. In the art, we have those who know the arts extremely well, we have those who can DO the arts extremely well, and those who can teach the arts extremely well. You may become one of these, two of these or a combination of these or none of these. The common denominator? “Extremely Well”… If you are none of these, meaning you are not known to necessarily know the arts better than most, fight better than most, or have students who are better than most–you may be one who is KNOWN through the arts extremely well. There are many who are called “Master” just because they are popular and people like them–not because of anything they’ve done or can do. If that is the case, then perhaps you are a “Master” in a way. But as the title of this article states, there is a hierarchy.

These can be broken down in better detail when there is time, and each may need its own article. Please subscribe if you’d like to keep up with this discussion! And if you like the blog, you may also like my books–and please share the page! Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday! Thank you for visiting my blog.

On Filipino “Ninjas”

I’m just kidding. 😉

I couldn’t think of a catchy title, and I was sitting here wasting time. Just figured I’d type something that would get your attention (I now hear they call that “click-bait” in the cyberbusiness world). So before you guys go run and tell your girlfriends on Facebook or MyFMAchat or whatever those sites are called, talking about “Gatdula’s now claiming there were Filipino Ninjas…” I am admitting before God and the Almighty Internet that there are no FMA Ninjas, I just titled this article so I could get on with it.

But first, a thought.

If Ninjas were trained assassins, I’d say a good portion of your FMA training should qualify your students to be an assassin. That is, if your FMAs are done right. And the phrase “if your FMAs are done right” may offend, because I get many old head FMA masters calling me to task on my absolute statements about the Filipino art, as if I am speaking for all Filipinos, and all practitioners of the FMA. I get that; we all do these arts for different reasons. We all came from various backgrounds, we have varied goals and missions in the arts, we have our own focuses within the art. However, at the core of the Filipino arts is combat, and there is no denying that. You can be culture-minded, you can be tournament-minded, you might even be fitness-minded–but the purpose of the existence of Filipino fighting arts has always and will always be combat, and I challenge any man who says otherwise. Even those of you who do this as a hustle–multilevel marketing scheme or what have you, the focus of your marketing language will be on self-defense or the combative/warrior history of the Philippines, even if you do believe the Spanish made this art and taught it to the Filipino.

That said, if your students get a teaching certificate from you or graduate from your program and they cannot kill a man or stop a man attempting to kill them–you’re doing this wrong. Perhaps you emphasized the tournament too much. Or trained drill-masters instead of fighters. Or didn’t let them spar enough so they actually fear fighting. Whatever, if someone has an instructorship from your system and they can’t fight, then I agree that it isn’t about fighting… for you. You aren’t doing the FMA at all, as far as I’m concerned.

What we teach our students should be useful in fighting–all types of fighting. Simulated, tournament, full-contact, a duel, a mass attack, an ambush. If you want to specialize, that’s up to you. But those skills should have some applicability to each area. We don’t really have to do it all; I know I don’t. But imagine a car care “expert” who knows how to rebuild transmissions but can’t change a tire. It’s kind of like that.

Now if you do consider yourself a fighting or self-defense expert, you might want to step back from what you are doing and ask yourself a series of questions:

  • If someone walked through my doors while the students were training and wanted a match, but I was not around–would I feel confident that my students won’t get hurt? Or am I confident that 9 times out of 10, my students would destroy whoever entered the school?
  • Am I training my students in a way that they could take what’s in my curriculum and almost immediately go to work as a bouncer or bodyguard?
  • Can my students leave my school and enter into any style of fighting competition and do fairly well against the top notch fighters there?
  • Do I know that each student in my advanced class has the ability to defend himself against a group of attackers?
  • Minus a few weapons, and the art of invisibility, could my students leave and become an assassin?

(I threw that last one in for fun.)

The point of all this is that if you claim you are teaching “combat and self-defense”, you should be preparing your students for dominance. Many teachers simply lose focus on this goal, and are instead simply imparting a curriculum. They train students to regurgitate information and pass exams, put on demonstrations, win trophies, record cute Youtube clips–rather than train them to beat any man on the street. If ninjas are experts in the art of killing and combat, can your students hang?

And I never got to the original point of today’s article, so let’s switch focus.

It ain’t bragging if you can do it. Today’s article was inspired by a post I recently saw on an old martial arts forum (I believe it was Karateforums or something), where someone was asking about a school in Virginia. People from the area chimed in, giving their opinion. Mostly, everyone said the teacher and his students were very good, citing anecdotes about tournaments and visits to his dojo. However, one commenter mentions he wanted to join the school but the Master was arrogant, “bragging” about how good his students were, their accomplishments and so on. Of course, he did not join the school, and I was thinking, what an idiot. Imagine, a teacher who trains his students to the point that others state how good they are (as all of the comments were agreeing on this fact), he was proud of his students, and I noticed that no one mentioned how he bragged about himself. Ask me about my children, I will boast about how smart they are, what a great musician my daughter is, what a great artist my baby is, and what a great voice my oldest boy is. Then I will point to Youtube clips to prove how good they are. It’s what parents do.

My little one draws all his superheros as me. he drew this one at 4 years old. isnt he talented??
My little one draws all his superheros as me. he drew this one at 4 years old. isnt he talented??

Likewise, martial art teachers also like to brag; we just have our own ways of doing so. Some of us post clips (as I am starting to do now). Some of us put it on websites. Some perform in exhibitions. We all brag verbally to each other. Other than the money we make from the reputations of our students’ skill, the ability to brag is perhaps the greatest perk of being a martial arts teacher will highly skilled students. And if you don’t mind me saying, the only Guros who loathe bragging instructors are those whose students suck.

Yeah, I said it. LOL

And to be fair, even teachers who suck brag. I have read over a thousand martial arts websites, and I will bet my good looks on this:  I have never, never in my life–ever heard or read a martial arts teacher say that his skills and knowledge are weak or inferior. Yes, even the guys with the pencil necks and fragile forearms will proclaim to the internet that he, Guro Blahblah Blah, is a highly skilled and sought after technician (“technician”=can’t fight, but knows a lot of techniques) or whatever he calls himself. Guros either claim they are good, or they claim skill is not the point. But they will never admit to being mediocre. Remember that.

It is probably a negative, but that is Filipino culture. We aren’t like the Chinese; we don’t have a set of rules saying we have to be humble. In fact, if you were looking at FMA classes and the teacher does NOT say that he or his Master was among the best–walk about. Bragging and good skill go hand-in-hand almost 99.9% of the time. Now, bragging and mediocre skill also go hand-in-hand too, and that’s why you have to see them train and fight. But bragging isn’t bragging if they can do what they say they can do. If it’s the truth, then what’s the problem? After all, the Filipino people are known for our sincerity and our honesty. Sometimes, we are too honest. Seriously, you can be so honest you take the truth and throw a few extra things in it, like the fishing stories about that one match he had 50 years ago that became 10 back to back unbeaten death matches today 🙂  Careful! FMA masters are sometimes known for those “super-truths” too! LOL

Seriously, though, Arnis and Eskrima masters do brag. It’s because we’ve worked hard for our level of skill, we’ve poured ourselves into our students and we have spent our lives trying to introduce to the world, the best fighters our systems can produce. Bragging isn’t from a position of arrogance; it’s the result of pride and wanting others to see the genius that we helped create. This is why Arnis tournaments will often pull out every Guro you never heard of, teaching in backyards and in parks, bringing along his students to see if everything they’d done in the last few years has been in vain. If those students underperformed, no problem. The teacher goes back into the laboratory and tries to see what they can do to improve for next time. If they do well, well… the masters have earned the right to tell the world about it. Like I said, it isn’t bragging if you can do it. All you are doing is stating facts.

Then there is the element of challenges. You may ask yourself, wouldn’t bragging invite challengers? The short answer is, yes. The longer answer is this:  Yes, but hard-working, confident masters don’t worry. The challenge is something we have all prepared for, and is yet another opportunity for the student to test himself on the skills the master taught him. So if an Eskrima master is not bragging about how good he is, then chances are pretty good that he doesn’t believe he is good. Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought weak, than to open it and remove all doubt. Like I said, in this culture, we are honest. If we are good, we will say we are good. If we are not, we don’t say we are good. If your Guro doesn’t say it, he is telling you a lot. That’s all, and take it how you want it.

In America and the West, there is almost zero chance of challenges happening for most Guros. We are more likely to be challenged by a man halfway across the globe (if at all) on the internet, than we are in our faces by a local teacher in our same city. This is what fuels the self-proclaimed masters we have running around over here:  There is no one and no repercussions for being a fraud in America. Hell, an expose on Bullshido isn’t even enough to slow down the fakes. So, yes, bragging occurs here too. But that is because the FMA man in the West lives in a challenge-free, tournament light, unchecked, free-for all, liberal society. We are heavy on seminar and distance and low-contact training, but extremely light on feuds. It is understandable why bragging would be seen as negative in the West, because there is no system of checks-and-balances like there is back home. But when I speak positively of bragging in the FMA, of course, I am referring to Filipino FMA.

There is more to say on this subject, but at 1800 words, it’s time to close this article. Perhaps we will talk about it next time. Thank you for visiting my blog.

Many Paths: The Middle Ground Approach to Eskrima, pt II

AKA “Create Your Own Path”.

AKA “Many Roads to the Same Destination”.

AKA “NO Way as Way”.

Something about experienced martial artial artists vs inexperienced martial artists, and so-called “cocky/arrogant” martial artists vs insecure/unsure martial artists… They will always point the fingers at each other and disagree, arguing endlessly. Why does the debate last forever? It’s simple.

Two cocky martial artists who disagree will end up fighting, leading to a conclusion–an end to the discussion. Two insecure martial artists will argue until one steps out on a limb and challenges the other, knowing that neither one of them truly want to fight, and that ends the discussion. Two experienced martial artists will argue and one of two things will happen:  They will see the other view without a fight, due to their insight and maturity in the art–and end the argument. Or they will agree to compare notes… in other words, have a match. Two inexperienced martial artists may or may not fight, but even if they do have a match, neither may learn from the experience–at least until years later after much reflection–but temporarily, they will have ended the discussion the same way the two insecure or two cocky martial artists end their debate. But get two martial artists who are very different from each other–one knows better while the other is living in a fantasy land, but neither will be able to connect on the same intellectual or skilled level–that debate will go on forever.

This is why I will not argue long with a man I’m sure I can beat, nor will I engage non-equals in terms of knowledge and experience. By the way, I should say that I do not consider “experience” the same as “time in the art”. “Experience” in my book is a martial artist who has had a lot of matches using his art–regardless of the format. As long as he has touched fists or crossed sticks with strangers, I consider that experience. These 10+ Black Belt-having seminar-hoppers are not “experienced”. Nor is the guy who has just been around a long time but thinks his style is too deadly to spar with. Nor is the guy who “doesn’t do the art for combat”. If I were you, before engaging in these long, philosophical arguments online with a guy who lives thousands of miles away, and has zero chance of encountering you anytime soon (like this lifetime)–save your energy.

What is ironic about much of this arguing about the martial arts, is that you may both believe in the same goal, the same values, but he’s saying the best way to get to the top of the mountain is the north road, and you think it’s the south. If we could fast-forward fifteen or twenty years, you may both end up with the same wisdom, the same skill, probably even swearing by the same values you once argued with. I have found this in discussing religion, politics, sociological issues… few of us want different things. We just think the methods to getting them can be classified as “right/wrong” instead of “liked/disliked” or “better/best”. In the art of combat, the only thing that matters is if a student can truly defend himself when it matters, but we have experts arguing with each other whether doing a kata will prevent him from learning to fight or not. It’s silly.

And it’s an argument that can be resolved in three minutes.

What you choose as the method by which you arrive to that level of skill is a matter of experience. Many martial artists who why away from any form of combat will simply never discover if his art actually works–and I call these Masters “inexperienced”. They have yet to experience the art, instead, choosing to simply teach classes and hand out rank instead. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the guys who reject anything that doesn’t involved bruises and leather-covered fight gear. They discover what works every day, every time they step in the ring. They are confident. They have learned many lessons about what to do and what not to do. They will jump at the chance to prove their point if you offer them to step on the mat.

Sort of.

See, the Filipino art is unlike most other arts in that our arts really ARE too deadly for the ring. In order to carry this art onto the mat, you must take away the very things that make this art a “Filipino” art. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put those things away occasionally and see what guys on the other end of the philosophical debate are talking about. Fighting and self-defense is not always about killing and razor-sharp blades. Think back to the last actual physical confrontation you had (or your first). Who was it with? An enemy from across the ocean? Or your cousin after he’s called you a name? Perhaps it was you an a neighbohood Don Juan, battling over the affection of a girl? Maybe a friend who had too much to drink? Or you had to break up a fight between your buddy and his brother in law? Are you a security whose job requires you to put out unruly patrons? Chances are pretty good, that the last time/first time you actually had a fight, pulling out your balisong and thrusting it into your “opponent’s” throat was inappropriate, am I correct?

And this ^^ last point is why I say “Find a middle ground”. If you train for life or death Eskrima, it would be very unlikely that you could use those skills in your last few altercations. Even if you fought full-contact stickfighting, cracking your brother’s skill with a kamagong is NOT the answer to him slapping you for telling an embarassing story about him. As martial artists, we have to be versatile. We cannot afford to lean too much in one direction or another, nor should we ignore other types of skills–even if we choose to specialize in others. No style of fighting, no specialized skill in the arts is a cure-all for every situation. Nor are they applicable. So that confident fighter who plans to teach you a lesson in the ring might not want to do so after seeing that instead of picking up a pair of boxing gloves–you pull out a switchblade. There are many roads to self-defense, and no single road is King to the other.

That said, as a martial arts teacher, you would want to have the ability to train your students in many different styles of training and fighting. Even if they request a style you are not an expert in, you should at least know HOW to do it, and perhaps after exhausting your range of knowledge–you hand them over to another master. This is something I loathe in the arts; when teachers claim to know everything and bar students from expanding their knowledge because said Guro wants to act as if there is nothing out there he does not know. When students come to me for training, I tell them what I am skilled at. Often, they are okay with it and we roll, even if they were interested in something else. My advice is to learn what i have to offer; get your basics from me, and then you will prosper wherever you go. It’s honest advice, unless they are asking for something I simply cannot teach. I have students under me who have been training for 7, 8, even ten years–who have spent a few of those years studying with a small network of teachers I work with for things I am not qualified to teach. I have sent students to BJJ teachers, wrestling coaches, fencing teachers, point fighting experts, and more. Teachers must care more about their students’ skills and goals than they should their own egos. When a student needs more from me than I deliver, does it hurt? Not anymore. It did ten years ago when I tried to learn everything under the sun. However, as I got older, I realized that I didn’t feel right teaching grappling when there are true grappling experts right in my city, although I have trained for years in several styles of grappling. I cannot with a good conscience open a boxing program in my school, although I have boxed for over a decade–when we have three national contenders training fighters within 20 miles of my gym. As the saying goes–if you cannot be the best at it, why do it at all?

But the limited knowledge I do have in these things can benefit my students, so I teach what I know, and if students want more–I refer them. And rather than break away from my Eskrima, Kung Fu and Kuntaw to teach a boxing class, I find ways to either incorporate the benefits of boxing into those arts–or I teach how to beat them. Each experience you get in the art helps to build your students. Point fighting develops good speed and timing. Full contact fighting develops good speed and timing while using power–as well as teaches the student to deal with power. Boxing teaches students to fight while utilizing only the fist. Olympic style fighting (TKD style) teaches them to fight while relying on their feet. Stickfighting teaches them to actually hit and stop hits, with the stick. Contact stickfighting teaches them to withstand, respect and wield power with those sticks. Fighting with grapplers teaches your fighters to remain on their feet if they so decide to. Imagine if I neglected all of those skills to just teach the one I know best. Even if a teacher knows one format of fighting best of all, he should not completely ignore the others, unless he simply knows nothing about the other styles. In which case–cross training/cross-fighting may be in order.

And there is a difference between specializing and being well-rounded. When it comes to the weapons, I do not believe in amidexterous training. The weapon is best utilized with the hand you are most effective with. If your strong hand is not skilled enough to beat an opponent, and that hand is injured by the opponent, switching to the weaker hand will not save the fighter against the opponent. This is, after all, a weapons fight–and this is much more serious business than a mere fist fight. If you were fighting to the death, which is all a bladed fight should ever be (there is no middle ground in bladed fighting), you want to bring the full-lethal potential you can. Training the weak hand neglects your strong hand, even for a short time, and this ensures that you will never reach your full potential with that strong hand. This is one of those things I will not argue, nor bend, about. It simply is the truth.

As much benefit as what the student can gain from fighting–competition, simulated, and real–we must still resist the urge to ignore other forms of training as well. One of the most neglected forms of practice in the FMAs in basic skill development. Eskrimadors will work drills till blue in the face, and go directly from that to prearranged sequences, and then on to sparring. A good mix, but what about putting down the drill for a second and simply developing the individual strikes, one at a time?

Ask an Eskrimador to demonstrate his power, he will show you only two strikes. A downward power blow, and an outside to inside power blow. What he will not demonstrate is a backhand, a low shot, a thrust, an Abaniko/fan strike, a circular strike, or a slash. Why is that? Because these are strikes inexperienced Eskrima teachers expect to do damage simply because you throw them. Either that, or the Guro will say “don’t use these in a fight because they don’t generate enough power.” (Yes, I’ve actually seen a video where a teacher says that.) This is proof that there is much that needs to be developed in Arnis, the fact that you do not have actual lethal, destructive ability with every basic strike in your system. Why even go on to intermediate/advanced skills, when your basic backhand strike lacks the power to inflict damage on the opponent?

How about fighting strategy? Not many Guros are teaching much in the way of strategy as well. Look at everything you’ve learned or taught in the last 6 months in your Eskrima classes. If I gave you a stick and told you to kill a man, what did you teach or learn in the last 6 months that would kill him? Did you in fact, study anything addressing how to kill at all? Considering that some schools don’t teach killing with the stick, let’s bring it down a notch. What in the last month did you learn or teach, that you could use to actually attack him with? I can tell you something, I have been watching Arnis/Eskrima/empty hand FMA classes for the last four decades, and outside of my own schools, I have never seen a teacher teach his students how to initiate the attack for anything other than competition stick fighting. EVERYTHING I’ve seen involves the opponent attacking you first, and then standing there while you go through strike patterns and templates or whatever. Everything has been defense oriented, countering–nothing attack oriented. Countering and defense is good, but for FMAs to be fully effective and relevant in the 21st century–students must learn to attack with these skills. Not just go through drills. Not just disarm. Not just block. But take that stick or knife, and finish off the opponent.

Like I said, find the middle ground.

FMA should be part competitive, part philosophical, part physical fitness (we didn’t touch on this much, but too many FMA classes ignore serious fitness, as if fighters don’t need to be fit), part strategic, part psychology, part training, part fun.

Some things to think about. Thank you for visiting my blog.