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.

Author: thekuntawman

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

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