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.