The Master Student

Before you can become a Master Teacher, you must first become a Master Student…

^^ GREAT piece of wisdom, often lost on martial artists. ^^

Years ago, early in my teaching career, I had organized a sparring group in my school in Reisterstown, MD, just outside of Baltimore. We didn’t have many martial arts teachers, but those who attended were mostly tournament competitors I met on the circuit and martial artists-at-large–freelancers, you could say. Not everyone actively attended a martial arts school, and some came for the fighting but joined my school later. In fact, the sparring group is an institution I’ve had in my schools almost the entire time I’ve owned a school. We have entertained professional fighters, self-proclaimed streetfighters, grandmasters, school owners, and many, many freelancers. While living in Baltimore, I got my first part time as a night club bouncer, and it was there that I would say my martial arts elevated to a higher level. The club was a “go-go”, called the Zulu Cave, and I was known as a security called “Miyagi”. Everywhere I went, I was the shortest, Asianest bouncer–and often the busiest because of this. Being short was a liability in that business, and the go-go was a proving ground if you were just a big guy with a big mouth–or a big guy with a big mouth who could back it up. But not being a big guy, I had to go hands on, and that experience influenced my martial arts greatly. Eventually, I was known as an effective security, and often asked to refer more martial artists. This made me realize that most martial artists actually lack the skills and heart to work in this environment, although these arts were suppose to equip us to do so. Those who came with me, also benefitted from this work and the proof manifests itself in their new approach to the art. It really is something you’d have to experience to understand. Anyway, to this day, nightclub bouncing is a part of the Gatdula martial arts experience for my students. Of the 7 instructors under me, only one has not worked as a bouncer, and that is because of religious reasons. In my city, we are the only martial arts school providing bouncers for clubs and bars (as far as I know). Among the original group of guys I recruited to work in the go-gos, it was the freelancers who performed the best in that environment, and I’d like to expound on this a bit.

Those who freelance mostly come from actual classroom training, but for some reason they had to quit. Despite the reason, injury, school closing, expulsion, financial–the freelancer never stopped training in the art. Some simply trained on his own or in groups such as mine. Others started their own martial arts classes in backyards, basements and community centers, while furthering his own education in groups such as ours. And others continued to train themselves, but fought actively in tournaments–which was easy in the DC/Baltimore area, because tournaments often awarded cash prizes and strong fighters could use the tournament as a form of income. Decades have passed since I’ve had contact with some of these guys, and thanks to social media and the internet, we have reunited in a way. I see that many of these freelancers are today’s grandmasters and founders of new systems. On Bullshido, I have come to the defense of a few of my old friends who were ridiculed on that site by guys who couldn’t hold their jock straps. Perhaps they did take on a corny name. Maybe they don’t have strong lineage. But the value of their art is oftentimes stronger than those of established systems. The fact that these men were freelancers was foolishly believed to be a reason to ridicule, and I beg to differ.

A few years ago, I wrote a two-part series called “Fool for a Teacher“. You might go back to read them; here is part II. Being self-taught having a fool for a teacher; being self-trained is not.

When I say that my old sparring partners were self-trained, please don’t get me wrong. There is a difference between self-trained and self-taught. Like I said, most freelancers started out in a traditional classroom setting; they simply did not stay there. Each of us has the ability to take what we learned, never take another lesson again and train ourselves to Mastery. Of course, the path to mastery is a long, arduous one. It is not one that you should take alone. Can you take this path alone after developing a basic foundation? Perhaps you can. However, without the guidance of a mentor or one who is better, stronger, more knowledgeable than you–it will be extra-difficult. You will find yourself running into mazelike corners. You may be reinventing a wheel that’s been revised over and over again. You will certainly be exploring areas that have already been dissected and mastered by others who can save you years of time wasted. Some lessons you should learn from others whose footsteps you follow. Others you must experience yourself. Yet learn, you must, and you must be a Master student if you are to learn this art fully. It does not all need to be learned in a classroom. In fact, I’d like to offer you a simple plan:

  1. Classroom floor–best place to learn theories, techniques, and basics
  2. Sparring floor–best place to fine-tune, test, and try out those theories, techniques and basics–and develop an understanding and application of techniques
  3. Training floor–best place to develop physically, to get stronger, faster, and develop the performance of techniques… and develop your own ideas
  4. Sitting with teachers–best place to learn the highest levels of the art and grow as a martial artist

Step #1 is the only place you should start, and then 2/3/4 can be done in any order, as long as you go back and forth between them. I recommend that the serious martial artists spend as much time as possible at stage #1 before moving on. The more time you spend there, the more effective the other stages will be. Problem with martial artists being self-taught is that they do not humble themselves enough to truly learn anything. They dojo-hop, they study books, they learn by seminar and video tape… Then they go into the gym and try their best Rocky imitation, but never master the art. However, as the saying goes, you must first have been a Master Student before you can become a Master Fighter or Master Teacher. If you study for example the Spanish language without learning verb conjugation, grammar, not even correct pronunciation–regardless of how much you practice and rehearse, you will never master the language until you learn to do it properly. In the arts, we have people “Flowing” beautifully with drills. They can perform their choreographed techniques, counterattackings, drills–all flawlessly, but can’t fight worth a damn. Why? Because as a student, you did not learn the proper way to apply, linking drills and rehearsed techniques with actual martial arts usage. It is imperative to not just learn, but learn properly.

Thus the saying, “Practice makes perfect” is untrue. Perfect practice makes perfect.

The freelancer who builds his foundation, trains with those superior to himself, spars with those superior to himself, learns from those superior to himself, and trains harder than most of his peers–will master the art, even if he has no actual master to claim as his own. Conversely, a student who commits himself to a master, yet fails to spar with superior fighters, does not train to his potential, does not exchange with superior parterns and opponents–or worse, he does not commit to learning from any master at all while failing to train himself properly–will never become a true Master of the art. So one day, 30 years later, after practicing mediocre martial arts with mediocre skills, he’s online giving interviews calling himself a “Grandmaster” who ran out of opponents because he done whipped everyone’s ass in Chinatown–is being laughed at by those who know and knew him. Don’t be that guy; he’s not cool.

In the Filipino arts, we are surrounded by many who do not have have regular access to their teachers. Perhaps because of distance, finances or other circumstances–classroom time is limited. With the right learning and training plan, the freelancer can still develop just as well as the guy who belongs to a school, if not better. It’s not who you learn from, it’s how you learned, and what you do with that learning that matters.

Thank you for visiting my blog.


Sleeping on Floors, pt IV (Fat Cream/7Eleven Martial Arts)

The new age dating game and social media has cheapened relationships these days. There was a time that our parents picked our spouses (at least in my culture they did), and we married them and made it work. Over the course of the marriage even if she was not your Juliet, you treated her like she was. You had children, you worked and brought the money home, you took care of her, loved her, and one day in the future you could look back on the decades-old marriage you had that weathered many storms and see that you two were the unbreakable root of a strong tree.

For those who did not grow up in cultures of betrothal, you met your love somehow. You may have sought to earn her affections with love letters and gifts. You won her parents’ approval with a marriage-gift or by working hard and proving your worthiness by demonstrating your chivalry and income potential. Either way, marriage was the grand prize after a season of trials, and simply by finding, wooing and finally winning this woman–you did whatever it took to keep her happy and give her the best life you could.

In each of these examples, she didn’t have to do much outside of what the Creator had already put in her nature… The very fact of having a wife man a man whole and pure and complete, and gave him a sense of purpose.

Not so today. Men flip through pages and pages of profile pictures, and often base their heart’s desire on little else than how attractive she is. With a click, you can “meet” hundreds of women per hour, and based on your profile picture and what you tell them you make annually–win their attraction immediately. Add to that, the loss of morals our society has, an early stage of courtship is sex (one of the prizes of marriage), and like money in a bank–as soon as you make a withdrawal, you lose all interest…

So let’s try this new site, where I can meet rich women. Back online to meet another one.

The search for martial arts teachers in modern times is terribly similar. These websites are like dating sites, where masters who were once highly coveted and pursued now chase after students. They entice you with their flowing resumes, flowery descriptions of who and what, heart-pumping pictures and videos of what you might learn should you join up–even offers of a quick certification if you attend the camps and workshops. You “spy” on the material by buying the master’s DVD or going on youtube to perform a quick search on this teacher and his art. He knows this, so like the girl on HotSingles, he shows you his best stuff even reveals a little too much in the hopes that you click his link. And you do it, because you notice that he’ll be in town next month for $100, but if you register now, you get in for $75. He has a group that will entertain you during the rest of the year because the master only comes to your city 4 times a year, but if you’re truly committed–you pre-register all four times, buy his DVD set, attend the camp and pay for certification… one year later, when most guys are starting to get serious–you’ve already graduated with the grand prize:  A Guro certificate. And like the money in the bank, you pull out your benefits, and lose interest. Next year, it’ll be a new year, a new Guro, new system, new certificate. Two notches in your belt.

In the search for a teacher, you will encounter these teachers, or you will encounter men who studied under such teachers. You may find that your city simply does not have the exciting Guros like the one you saw on that one movie or read about in that magazine article or can move like the guy from that exciting clip on Facebook or has the resume including familiar names you hear so much about. I get emails all the time from students in cities all over the planet who have bypassed every qualified teacher in their own towns to inquire if I offer a DVD. Not so much because there are no martial arts schools in their cities; not even because there are no FMA Guros in their cities. But because those who teach in their cities did not sell themselves as well as I do, or Dan Inosanto and company do, or Doce Pares/Modern Arnis/Pekiti Tirsia/Kalis Ilustrisimo and their offshoots do, etc. In the modern western world, it is nearly impossible for the martial arts student to not be within 100 miles of an FMA Guro. Some school, somewhere, someday, in your city is offering a Filipino art I am positive. But like the guy on the internet, he isn’t looking to take a good one and make it work. No she has to look like Beyonce or one of Charlie’s Angels, or he won’t bite. You want the exotic, as many others do, and you would rather get it from a long distance course than what really needs to be done to get it:  Travel.

Question. I want to be a lawyer. I would love to attend law school. I don’t live in a city with a law school. I realize that I cannot practice law without a JD and pass the bar. But like I said, I don’t live in a city with a law school, and there are no seminars or correspondence course that are acceptable to the state bar. What does this mean?

Answer… You actually don’t want to be a lawyer, period.

The world is too small for us not to have the education we want. You can pursue the education available to you and build from there, or you can go big game hunting without a gun and never get that education. But there are too many schools, too many masters, for any man to aspire to learn the arts and never get to learn. The trouble is that most people are not willing to sleep on floors and miss a meal to gain the chance to study. Either that or they feel that sources closer to home are inferior without giving it a shot. I spent 17 years living in Sacramento, CA. There were two full-time FMA schools in my city, at least a dozen FMA classes offered in various other schools, countless classes in backyards and community centers, and the actual “Mecca” of the FMAs in the USA–Stockton, CA–with at least 10 or so real, authentic grandmasters living 45 miles down the freeway, and there are more people attending weekend certification seminars in this city than in any of our schools. Go figure.

The question was asked of me many times, if I want to study the Filipino arts and there are no schools near me, what should I do? My first question is “How bad do you want to study the FMAs?”  Second question is “Where do you live?”  I have never met a guy who did not live within 100 miles of an FMA teacher. But once we find a few, whether or not they are popular teachers, connected with a popular teacher, or Filipino (yes, there are still many who won’t study under a white/black guy lol), or using a popular method of teaching (like CQC/Concepts/blade-oriented/etc)–many potential students have a list of reasons not to study, and will always opt for the DVD or seminar route. No matter what, the majority of students will not study the arts if those arts are not easy to get or easy to get to. Unfortunately, unless you were willing to relocate, you have the take-what-you-can route or the easy instant Guro route.

And here’s the thing about the little-known Guro. He is often not much different than the celebrity teachers you’d like to study with. He can give you a good foundation to build from and pack the ground for the rest of your education to stand on, if you give him a chance. Very few of us stayed with the same teacher through our entire careers. Most of us started with one teacher and then expanded later. The martial arts student should be patient, diligent, committed, and sincere in this quest for knowledge. We cannot be picky. Learn from who’s available, build your skills to the best of your ability, and let your journey be guided by thirst, chance, and good fortune. You’d be surprised who you will encounter and what you will learn along the way. Don’t be swayed by certificates and flashy media campaigns in these arts. The real trenches are all around you, and they sure won’t be convenient like a 7Eleven or well-known like a McDonald’s.

A quick story. I was introduced to boxing through my paternal grandfather who was friends with an old man who taught in a Junior High School gym. I got my first lessons there; I moved on when my family relocated three times while growing up. My second gym was a converted grocery store, where the trainer had just left a community center where he had been for years. My third gym was a small warehouse space in the hood with no air conditioning. I wasn’t enticed by famous names or brand new equipment (although my second gym did have some) or famous bios–I just wanted to learn to fight, and I needed a school I could afford. Who were they? My first trainer’s name is Ham Johnson, whose son Mark would eventually become IBF champion (along with a few others in his crew). My second gym was Palmer Park gym, aka “Sugar Ray Leonard” gym under Mr. Hinton, trainer of many champions. My third was Mr. Adrian Davis, who’s crew included names like Sharmba Mitchell, Hasim Rahman, Riddick Bowe, and William Joppy. I don’t drop names often, but the point is that we learn from who we can, where we can and build from there. If you really want something specific, you must travel to get it. Even if you can only get your lessons once a year, never discount what wisdom is in your own backyard. A teacher once told me that “gems may be found in almost any dojo”. You’ll never find them if you don’t look. The best martial arts is never convenient or easy to find. It’s never cheap. And it is always worth the sacrifice. Happy Hunting.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

More on FMA Footwork

One of the weaknesses in modern martial arts is that the philosophy of fighting is no longer studied. FMA people either delve into fighting, they immerse themselves into philosophy, or they skip both and deal mainly with transmission of the art as a business–which I consider to be the worst of all. Regardless of the path most people take, there is not enough balance in today’s martial artist and much is lost through the generations. As I look around the FMA world, I see a centuries-old art, behaving as a brand new genre. Most FMA people today cannot give a history of their arts beyond the last 10-20 years. Almost none have their own fighting experiences to draw on as martial artists; and instead will either point to their occupations as proof of experience (cop, security guard, etc), point to their grandmaster’s experiences, or deny that actual fighting experience is relevant. Students are taught as well as promoted in mass, and very little is passed on while sitting at the feet of masters… mainly because today’s master must pack up a day after the seminar is over and get to the next city.

Pure arts cannot be passed down this way. “Have sticks, will travel” is the calling card of a fighter–not a teacher.

The result of all of this is that there is no longer a balance between knowledge, theories, experimentation and experience. On one extreme end of the spectrum, we have fighters who do little else besides fight. Most of these fighters rely strictly on courage, brawn and pain tolerance for their recognition of expertise. It doesn’t matter if the fighter was actually good at fighting–the only thing that matters was that he had the courage to fight among a sea of FMA “experts” too chicken shit to step on the mat. This is to be commended, but it isn’t good enough. Take today’s backyard brawler. Sure he’s tougher than most. He’s braver than most. But as Kimbo Slice proved, put him up against a trained professional who is just as tough, just as brave, but more knowledgeable–he will get destroyed every time. The FMA man of today rarely is of that caliber.

On the other end of the FMA universe is the “technician”/FMA choreographer who talks a good game and may even put together cute demonstrations, but can’t fight worth a damn. You know the type; ask him a question and he’ll talk your ear off for 30 minutes. He might show you a thousand disarms and cool drills, but deep down he knows and I know that none of that stuff will work in a fight. Makes for good advertising and youtube videos and entertaining seminars for guys who didn’t come to fight. But is there a place for him in today’s art? Sure, there certainly is. Like I said, it must be a balance. You have to take the technician’s ideas, the tournament competitor’s drive, and the tough man contest’s balls and find a happy medium where they interact and exchange and the result is a complete fighter with more than a few tricks, more than heart, and more than ideas.

Which leads me to today’s lesson, boys and girls:  Footwork.

FMA “Footwork”

I have always taught pieces of that triangle because I was convinced that I’m supposed to. It’s not how I learned, but so many people were doing it, I once thought I was doing it wrong because none of my teachers taught it. The student in me wanted to learn it properly. The young man in me was bold enough to question my own teacher’s wisdom. But the fighter in me had to put it to the test. The outcome of my research:  Pure garbage, and I’ve said it for 30 years and I’ll say it here. I will put my method up against any man’s method anytime. No man can defeat me using this triangle. I give you 30 seconds before you abandon your use of it for the duration of our match and switch to something similar to mine. Don’t get hurt trying to adhere to something just because idealistically, you think the FMA is supposed to have it. It’s silly.

Footwork has several purposes:

  • Keep you out of range of the opponent’s attacks
  • Get you into range so that you launch your own attack
  • Put you in a superior attacking position, where your opponent cannot defend himself and you have an advantageous position to attack him
  • To increase the speed, range and power of your attack
  • To give your opponent a difficult target to hit
  • To off-balance your opponent

None of the above is “To draw the shape of a stupid triangle with your feet”. Who cares about that stuff when you have these advantages?

I’ve written quite a bit on this subject already, and I’m not going to post a link. I want you to search this website yourself. I’ve written 500+ articles on this blog, and you’re going to have to work a little to get information. Hopefully you will discover new things about me, you, the arts in general, and my systems while searching. 🙂

You could also buy my books. It’s amazing that you will pay $100 to attend a seminar and do the same patty cake drills you did last time, watch the same demonstration you watched last time, receive the same certificate you got last time, and leave with the same fighting skills you had as last time–and all of that stuff is already on the internet… yet there is no other site like Filipino Fighting Secrets, and you won’t drop $29 for a book.

Now, before I go, a few extra tips:

  • Any weapons art worth its salt requires strong, flexible legs. I am shocked at how many Eskrimadors I meet who are physically weak. If empty hand fighting requires strength, and weapons fighting is more lethal than empty handed fighting–it only makes sense that stick and knife fighters have quick, explosive footwork that gets you out of harm’s way. We all claim that footwork is necessary, but most FMA folks I have met–including you Guro’s–are out of shape. Lazy, slow, not limber at all, and no stamina. If you did any kind of fighting, one would know right away how vital footwork and its development is to the whole equation. Your training must include plenty of stretching, explosive bursts forward and backward, and the ever-neglected sidestepping and flanking
  • Remember this simple equations:

(1) Strong, immobile stance for power + quick, explosive footwork for fighting

(2)  Stance =/= Footwork

(3)  100 lbs of force in a strike x 100 lbs of force in movement (ahem, footwork) = Deadly force

  • Responsiveness:  Learn to transition from a strongly held position into explosive movement and transition from quick movement into a stable, powerful stance to generate fight-ending power. Not many people can do this. Being mobile does nothing for you if you cannot stop on a dime when you see an opening and finish off your enemy. It’s more than “stop dancing to attack”. Those of you who fight know what I am talking about. Not only should you have fast light feet and strong, powerful legs; you must have quick eyes and rapid enough response time between when your eyes see the opening and you feet deliver you to the place you need to be and your hands can fly—-> before the opponent have change his position
  • Differentiate between attacking footwork, defensive footwork, and evasive footowork–and develop those skills individually
  • Remember this:  Don’t rely on tactics alone. Fighting is a complete, exact science with many possibilities, variations, and outcomes. Learn the concepts yes–but learn the strategies and theories as well, and learn how they are applied in fighting. It’s more than grabbing a partner and working things out. You must test these ideas out over and over and over, and train them over and over and over. By the way, this is not a “pass/fail” test; it is a “how does this work?” test. Once you have your tactics, concepts, strategies, theories, and research/findings–you need conditioning. If you have been doing these arts more than 10 years, and teaching, but you do not have a strong physique–you are most certainly doing something wrong. Sure, no bodybuilder’s physique is necessary to win a knife fight. But get out there armed with nothing but skinny arms, tactics and a flabby body, I guarantee you quick defeat even with your seven knives. Stop trying to avoid training!

You know, I do try to write without insulting my readers. But as I write, I am hearing my detractors and their excuses–as I have for the last 30+ years, and I so strongly disagree. Plus after 3 months of Donald Trump on TV I’m starting to not give a damn LOL LOL. You’re grown folks, sugarcoating won’t be heard. If you are interested in real Eskrima, come to this blog and I’ll give it to you. No it might not be what your Guro told you, but this is the real thing–including this article. You cannot have effective weapons fighting without strong, decisive footwork, period. And you won’t get it sitting in front of Youtube. Now get up and train.

Thank you for visiting my blog.