How Bad Do You Want This Art?

Seriously, how bad do you want to learn the FMA?

It appears to me that the majority of people studying the Filipino arts don’t have a sincere interest in the art. We’re kind of like the greasy spoon at the corner with the high prices and horrible food. No one really enjoys the service, but everyone still patronizes it because it’s close. Of course, once you learn to make the same food they offer you run out and open your own restaurant but then have the nerve to call yourself a “Chef” and pass this stuff off as gourmet.

I know, no one wants to admit that it’s like that but hear me out.

If you wanted to be a lawyer you have to do what–attend law school. But there is no law school in town. There may be a few law schools at the nearest large city to you, several hundred miles away. Then you have the best law schools a state or two over. You’ve got the “next best thing”, just forget law school and become a paralegal. And for the masses who have other obligations and can’t pay for tuition–nor do they possess the undergraduate degree and LSAT school–there is always Google. So, we do what we can. Those who are really, really serious spend four years as a hermit on some campus somewhere, working during breaks, studying hard, and end up at a place like Harvard. There are others who may be serious as well but lack the grades for an Ivy League education, but still travel to Texas, Los Angeles, or wherever they get accepted to attend the best school they can find. But the masses of kids who flirted with law school never go. They give up, it’s too hard, too expensive; or they convince themselves they really don’t want to attend law school so they become a–whatever–although some kids still have an interest. They grow up and choose another career path, whether related or not to the legal field. They watch TV shows about attorneys. They read articles. They read books. They give legal advice to friends. Do you see where I’m going?

The martial arts is one of the few walks of life where a guy who really isn’t serious about the path can circumvent attending an actual FMA school and become an FMA teacher and master. He has his choice of methods to learn:  Weekend seminars, correspondence courses on DVD, online training through websites and Youtube. And we have generations, entire lineages even, of FMA practitioners who trained this way. We even have reasons why it’s acceptable:  “Well, you know, the REAL knowledge in the FMAs aren’t found in schools–they’re found in backyards and garage dojos. That’s where the real deal fighters are…”  So, because many masters lacked a brick-and-mortar school, we’re supposed to accept FMA teachers who have never trained weekly with a teacher?

I have been asking potential students for years, who have inquired on my school:  How bad do you want this art? Are you willing to move here to learn? Not only has 99% of the out-of-towners lacked the willingness to travel, I’ve had many that wouldn’t train because I’m on the opposite side of town from them! Yes, right here in my city, many guys have opted for the Tae Kwon Do guy teaching “sticks” because a 20 minute drive is too inconvenient for them. They usually will ask me what my seminar schedule is, and if I offer a DVD or video of classes. Another guy paid for lessons, but only worked out twice–but wanted to video my classes instead. When I refused, he quit. Actually, my own students may laugh when they read this, because I’ve had at least five students attempt this. Sadly, one such fellow who did, I’ve recently seen on Facebook advertising his own Eskrima class–despite that he’s only done the Karate “sticks” class and some seminars. But this is what the FMA has become, the mistress art to otherwise serious martial artists of other systems. So my question to you is, how bad do you want to learn the Filipino arts?

Now, imagine that Harvard is accepting ANY students who will show up, and they are lowering their Law school tuition to rates lower than your local law school. Of course, you can’t bring Harvard to your city, but housing there is cheap–and now, the tuition is cheap.

Would you go?

Sadly, I would guess that most guys wouldn’t. They would pass up studying at perhaps the best law school they could find for mere pennies on the dollar–and be satisfied learning what they can from Youtube and Google.

Well, here’s my point. The average tuition for a martial arts school in the Philippines is about 1000 pesos a month. In US dollars, that’s maybe $21-22 a month. You can rent an apartment, depending on where you end up, as cheaply as $200 a month. Food? So cheap it’s ridiculous. How much was that last FMA certification you got?

There is a small elite group of American FMA teachers who have studied the Filipino arts at the source. If you weren’t lucky enough to live in Stockton, Los Angeles, San Jose, El Paso, NYC, Sacramento, Fresno–or anywhere else where authentic FMA Masters lived–being able to say that you’ve trained with guys most have only read about can go a long way. So while some guys here in America may brag that they’ve attended one or two Ernesto Presas or Leo Gaje seminars–I know men who have trained in person with those Grandmasters for years in their own schools (actually I am one of them). There is nothing you can get on a video tape or youtube clip that is equal to that. It isn’t that expensive, and one or two years of training every day directly under one of these masters trumps a lifetime of seminars–trust me! It’s something to consider. The cost of living in the Philippines is very inexpensive. The culture is just as much a part of the art, but you wouldn’t understand even if I tried to explain it to you; you’ve got to try it at least once. And yes, many of these great masters don’t have much of a school. My beloved teacher Master Lao does not have a school at this time, so you would have to learn in his yard (we are working on fixing that right now)–but training with him is an experience that you will be unable to duplicate here in this country. And the amount you might pay for a year of lessons here in America will cover two years in the Philippines…

Let me offer you a very simple plan. Give yourself two years to get to the Philippines. Whatever your budget is now, cut out all that you spend on alcohol, tobacco, fast food, junk food–and put that money in an account every month. Let’s say that you waste $200/month on unnecessary stuff. Then get yourself a part time weekend job. Even if you chose McDonald’s–you’re looking at two or three days a week, 6 hour shifts, and $10/hr = $120-180 a week. Of that, put $400 a month in your savings. That’s $600/month you are saving. In two years, you would have saved $14,400. A plane ticket to the Philippines may run you about $1200 round trip. Say you offered your master $40 a month. 40 bucks x 12 months = $480 per year in tuition. Rent at $200/month x 12 months = $2,400 per year. Put the rest of that money in the bank, eat good, live good, train hard. In two years, you will still return home with money in the bank and now armed with FMA training like few have ever seen. Sounds difficult to you? Not really, I did this myself from 1988 – 1990 at 18 years old. I trained primarily under two masters, Bogs Lao and Ernesto Presas. In between, I trained in Shorin Ryu, Espada y Daga, Comjuka and Yaw Yan. And these prices I put in the above example are based on today’s rates.

If you ever wanted to learn the Filipino arts, but can’t find a school in your area–here is one option that doesn’t involve a fast-food approach, and it is a richer experience than what most of the options can provide; it’s something to think about!

So, I’ll ask you again:  How bad do you want to learn this art?

Thank you for visiting my blog.

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Author: thekuntawman

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

10 thoughts on “How Bad Do You Want This Art?”

  1. Greetings Guru Mustaffa Gadula.
    Just read your recent post:
    “How bad do you want it?”

    I have come to realise that “truth” is relative.
    As in my case,my experience was that i paid $450 p/week for FMA tuition in Manila,in 2013.
    (Stayed for 4x weeks of immersion).
    And that excluded my accommodation/food.

    I found that it wasnt as affordable as i had been lead to believe.
    And was honestly shocked,at the costs incurred.Being that the environment was so impoverished,as i had never encountered in my life.
    So,it was a double-shock to my senses/values/expectations.
    But,i stuck it out.As the art is what i sought to absorb.It was my objective.
    Anyway,i seek not to challenge your views.Rather to share,a not so distant,first hand experience.
    Perhaps,i was hood-winked ?
    Perhaps i was gaullible ?
    Perhaps i was foolish ?
    All i know for certain,is,the guys i trained with,were authentic.
    And had trained for years under teachers who have been taught “old school” ways (hard as nails).
    Whats my point?
    1)Just sharing,thats all.
    2)Perhaps you may care to share the details of a teacher in PH,where i possibly could do a 1-2 year ‘live-in’ FMA immersion ?
    (Something like PTK?)

    Still wish i couldve done a year minimum.But,it wasnt economically possible.(I had saved for 3years to train with this particular group).
    In closing,please note:
    I have not sought to challenge your posted query in malice.
    Only to share my experience,as a means to contribute to the topic.
    Trusting that this will be the way it is recieved.

    1. oh my gosh! $450 a week? sorry to hear that!

      well as far as FMA groups go, you have the regular schools who just charge regular rates whether you are a local or foreigner, then there is the guys who have a full time training which do cost more than the 1000php/month of course, but they vary depending on the group and what kind of gym they have, and finally there is the ones who markets to the foreigners. sadly, many believe that all Westerners are rich so we will charge a lot more. $450/week is just a little bit less than i would charge here in the US for full time training. i wouldn’t do that in the philippines unless the student was only staying a few weeks and probably only half of that. was the group giving a certification at the end? if so, thats about the same as what they do here in the US. there is no way anyone can become a teacher quality martial artist in a month. i do know that some groups targeted foreigners and charge a foreign rate, but i didn’t know they charge that much. the only reason i did $500/wk here in the US is because my rent alone was $2k a month and its so expensive.

      i will compare that to Arjuken, which is the late grandmaster Presas school in Quiapo. it was a full time school. they had arnis and karate all around the area, even yaw yan in the same building but upstairs. his tuition for Americans was $25/month, and that was only ten dollars more than we paid. but GM Presas didnt accept those tour buses either. he wanted a commitment, so you had to come and stay in order to study. but right in manila (this was late 1980s) there was a few schools who pursued the tour groups, and they gave certificates in whatever amount of time they were there, usually 2 weeks to a month. i heard about them but didnt know much.

      my advice if you ever went back is to avoid anybody with a DVD and/or online course. the best schools dont do correspondence or crash courses.

  2. Greetings Again,Guru Gadula.
    Sun 20/03/16

    Thanks for the posts and the responses.
    In your most recent response,you stated that you will be relocating to PH.
    I take it this is a ”for good” moove (as in forever) ?

    May i ask that you you retain my info,please?
    As perhaps you may be in a position (willing ?) to train an eager student ?

    I do hope that my aspirations [your vision] of doing a 2yr FMA in-service training , may be eventually realised… Perhaps , in the Phillipines ?

    I remain ever hopeful.

    Best regards.

    1. oh yes, i am retiring. i was going to retire at 50, but my son is now 16 and he never been. i have to go now while he is still a child, and my other two are 15 and 9. they dont even speak tagalog! so i decided i will go end of the school year, so my oldest can have at least one year there.

      and yes, i will open my school, maybe two. i am helping my teacher open one now, then when i get there, i will do one in my house. and maybe when my son is ready, i can do a third one in Manila or Taiwan. i’m teaching him to speak Mandarin just in case 🙂

  3. Greetings,

    Thanks for this post. You’ve expressed things in such a way that all of my answers have been questioned :). Seriously…the human ability to make excuses, to settle for less, to waste money on something of specious value, is seemingly endless.


    1. you’re welcome and thank you for the comment! i was hoping this would inspire some students to follow there dream and travel! the world is so big, and its so easy to go abroad and train the old way. there is no experience like it!

  4. Good article. Better than your past ones. How does one obtain a recommendation to train with these masters. I see some ads quoting 2000 USD/month for room, board, training and food. And this is without even testing the skill of those making the offering.

    1. Thank you. I have a low opinion of many of the teachers (even some well known grandmasters) who are pursuing forieng students to train. I think we can all agree that regular training beats the crash course any day, but many masters seem to be more interested in giving what the students come looking for instead of being the teacher/expert, and advising against what the students are asking for–which is usually just certification. instead of putting there foot down, and requiring the training and skills to go with the certificate, they just take the money and show the skills and give the certificate. the best way is not to give a teaching certificate until the student has the skill, and it will take several trips to make that happen.

      so anyway, many of these GMs have been in the US and they know what kind of money Americans have and what they will pay and price it according to that. there really isnt too much we can do about that price gouging. but i believe that masters who will charge $2000US for a month of training is not going to be interested in your skill… probably my advice is come on your own once you know a few people who can show you around and introduce you to teachers. instead of the ones with the nice websites and youtube channels to attract foreign students. the best teachers are still old school, where you have to ask them to teach you, instead of the ones where its a just a busines arrangement. its going to take regular trips too, instead of just one trip, like some of the certificate salesmen will promise.

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