The Problem with Being Polite

A Filipino martial arts philosophy that you might notice, but never hear discussed, is the absence of politeness from some parts of the FMA experience. Ask a master about it, and he will never admit that this is true. But observe him, and you will quickly notice that Filipino martial arts teachers are rarely polite or politically correct–especially when it comes to close students as well as opponents. Not only that, but the older a master gets, seemingly the more rude and impolite he may get. And the better he was as a fighter, the more this is true. It is like the old, dangerous masters are the most difficult to get along with because perhaps they have earned the right to be this way.

Which reminds me of a joke, that the four most honest people in the world also happen to be the most rude:

  • small children
  • old people
  • drunks
  • angry people

I think we can all think of examples to validate the above observations!

This will likely become a short series, as I found several factors and variables concerning this subject, so I’d like to tackle them one at a time. The installments will appear in different categories, by the way. This one is being placed in “Techniques and Fighting Strategy”. Hopefully you will find some value in it.

I’ve noticed that many martial artists feel the need to be polite to the point that they are dishonest. Get a group of martial artists together–in person–and quite often they will be very amiable and complimenting to each other. If one of the group shares a martial arts skill or technique, the others might not believe that skill is effective, but not wanting to offend–will approve and withhold his real opinion about it. This is problematic. (I’ll explain why in a few)

Conversely, if you gather martial artists in the virtual world and the same is done–you will find more honesty. Some will say (politely or otherwise) that they may not believe the skill or technique to be effective. Some will say that they once practiced this way, and then explain what they’ve discovered through training and testing. Another group may offer advice on how to improve.

There are benefits to both approaches. On one hand, there is an air of humility among martial artists who are in each other’s presence. This is due to the possibility that one may be asked to actually prove their opinion–and few are willing to prove their martial arts when called on the carpet. There is also the desire to choose one’s battles. Not all opinions need to be stated, especially when you weren’t asked for it. There’s truth in that. On another hand, a martial artist who shares a skill or technique with others might appreciate criticism. As martial artists, very few of us know absolute truth, and feedback from our peers is how we learn and grow. Even if we disagree with the critique, we have the opportunity to solidify our knowledge by testing it on someone who doubts our skill is valid. The more one puts his skills to the test (even if his skill was poor), the more his skills will improve over time. The huge benefit in this is that that skill no one thought useful–the theory that no one believed–can be put to the test so much, that one can modify and tweak, adjust and develop… and before you know it, that strange technique or theory has been perfected and few can defeat it.

I’ll give you an example. For decades, Judo and other grappling arts were taken for granted by many martial artists because striking systems were thought to be more effective in combat. Movies featured it, books were written, heroes were made. And then enter the mixed art match… Grapplers had been studying how strikers fight, learned their weakness, trained the counters… for generations. During this time, strikers all but ignored grappling. When popularity grew for matches between grapplers and strikers–who came out on top of those matches?

Let me say that grapplers won most of those fights, not because grappling is superior–but because grapplers were more prepared to adapt their systems to fight non-grapplers. And it all started when grapplers were honest with themselves and dared to question what strikers were doing. How many of us failed to learn because we were concerned with not offending? How many of us continue to not learn because we take offense at those who dare give an honest opinion of what we are doing–rather than join them in dissecting our skills and seeing if they are right?

Now, here’s where this honesty can really help you.

There is still a thing called tact, and like I said–not all opinions need to be given. You should, however, still learn to criticize and critique martial arts skills you see. Actually, as a fighter, you should always do this. Anytime you watch a fighter train or fight, you would benefit greatly by noting all of his flaws, all of his mistakes. Look at his dropped guard. Look for slight stumbling in his awkward footwork. Look for openings and opportunities to capitalize on mistakes. This should come as natural at looking at a fighter. So when you see even impressive martial artists move–look at his flaws. While others will be awed by his speed, power and grace–you notice his undisciplined guard and ineffective footwork. This is what the champions do, and it explains why they are champions. They don’t always speak their minds, but they study. As a fighter, you should do this so much it becomes second nature. Then when you train, you train to capitalize on those observations and exploit the weaknesses you see. (Remember, seeing the mistake is the easy part; having the skill to destroy is something totally different!)

And I will give you another example. In the 80s and early 90s, “Terrible” Terry Norris was dominating the Welterweight division in boxing. He was a scary fighter to watch. He was blazingly quick, accurate, and powerful. He completely destroyed two fighters that cemented his reputation as a fighter:  John Mugabe and Sugar Ray Leonard. Down the line, however, there was an experienced fighter who was a former champion himself named Simon Brown who was coming off of a loss. He was a good fighter, but nowhere near as exciting and young as Norris–and certainly not seen as skilled as Norris. While boxing was excited about the up and coming Norris, Simon Brown stated that he was good, but he “saw something” that he believed would help him beat Norris. No one was ready for what happened that night; Brown had his number and destroyed him, knocking Norris out in the 4th round. While everyone was so focused on Norris and his speed and power, Brown saw the flaws in Norris’ timing and his guard (namely, his chin that was always open)–and he pushed that button all night.

There were other fighters too:  Felix Trinidad and his lack of mobility; Mike Tyson and his exposed chin; Roy Jones, Jr. and his over-reliance on speed but his lack of a useful jab. Someone saw flaws and trained to capitalize on them. If you, as a fighter, could duplicate this skill–you could destroy anyone. Don’t train in tactics alone. Learn to study fighters-in-motion, and choose the tools to defeat them right there on the spot. Be honest. It’s not impolite to notice flaws and openings; it’s half the battle and it’s what we do as martial artists!

Hopefully you will find this concept useful. Thank you for visiting my blog.

The Quickest Route

The Filipino martial arts is unique, compared to most other types of fighting arts because unlike Chinese Wushu and Tae Kwon Do–most new students to the FMAs are older and arrive from other styles. Few children are drawn to Arnis and Eskrima outside the Philippines mostly because of unfamiliarity due to the limited attention the mainstream gives to the Filipino arts. Often, when FMAs are shown in movies, we see our arts presented as another style of fighting–for example, in fight choreography for Ninja movies and in fight scenes involving combat-trained heroes. This does not, however, deny that new students to the FMAs are just as excited as any new student from a Karate dojo or Tae Kwon Do gym.

Being new to an art, even adult students bring the same excitement and naivete that children bring. Unlike kids, though, you are more mature and can check yourselves rather than wait on a teacher to do it for you.

We all went through it. You want to buy every Eskrima and Arnis book on Amazon. You read all the blogs, watch all the video clips. You join every FMA group on social media, do your Sinawali with two pencils when alone on elevators. Don’t be embarrassed; we all did it.  That enthusiasm and excitement is good! It will help you maintain your interest and passion for the art. It ensures that you will train with vigor, and train often. You will do your homework and learn all you can. Hell, the way social media is today–you really CAN learn all you can….


It’s good that you want to learn all you can, and you should. But I’m positive that your Guro will tell you the same advice:  Get a solid foundation in your base system first, before running out there and studying everything under the sun.

Let me give you a quick history lesson, young guys and gals. About 30 years ago, about ten years after GM Dan Inosanto’s book The Filipino Martial Arts hit the shelves, experienced martial artists started to discover the simplicity and effectiveness of the Filipino arts. Right in the midst of The Karate Kid‘s popularity, martial artists who already had backgrounds in the arts began to dissect what they had been learning and became critical of those arts. Your Guros, Masters and Grandmasters most likely were Karate/Tae Kwon Do/Kung Fu Black Belters then, asking themselves the question you will one day ask:  “What’s Next?”  This stage of self-discovery–as it does for most people–eventually leads all martial artists to the Filipino arts. These arts do not use forms or katas, there is little “extracting” and “interpreting” to do, unlike many of the Japanese and Chinese arts. The way that you use that knife in practice is exactly how you will use it in a fight. Skill levels are decided by actual skill in technique–rather than rote memory of forms and belts. For the martial artist who is uninterested in tournaments, forms or fluff–the Filipino martial arts is the answer. Especially for those interested in practical combat with weapons, Arnis and Eskrima have very few rivals concerning effectiveness.

You do not want to face this guy in a dark room, especially when he's got a knife!
You do not want to face this guy in a dark room, especially when he’s got a knife!

The problem is that supply did not meet demand. In the early 1980s, when Dan Inosanto wowed audiences in a quick fight scene with Burt Reynolds in his movie “Sharky’s Machine”–there weren’t many schools around that taught these arts. (By the way, most of you are too young to remember this, but martial artists came out the theater after watching it, wondering “What style was that?” Reynolds himself stated in interviews about how deadly and frightening it was to face Inosanto, even with choreography)  There were possibly fewer than ten well-known schools in North America actually teaching Arnis, and if you didn’t live in New York, New Jersey, Houston, LA, Stockton, or Washington, DC., you could forget it!

Enter Remy Presas and Dan Inosanto videos.

Finally, one could pick up a copy of Black Belt magazine or Inside Kung Fu and scan its pages for ads offering video tapes by GMs Presas or Inosanto–and study these arts. As each year passed, newer products came out:  Doce Pares, Arnis Lañada, Pekiti Tirsia… and seminars would be offered in every major city. By the 1990s, Filipino martial arts were everywhere. If your school was serious about self-defense, you needed to offer some form of FMA classes. This was good. All one needed to do after this was to decide which style you wanted to study. But like the brand new FMA student–the FMA community in America was young, and all the immaturity and impatience that comes with being new and fanatical about learning kicked in. Regardless of what style you were studying, dabbling in several arts was then possible–and everyone did it. FMA people began to catch the disease I call “Oh-we-do-that-too”.

Disarms? Oh, we do that too.

Espada at daga? Oh, we do that too.

Kickboxing? Spear? Whips? Oh, we do that too.

So now, the FMA Guro is more concerned with learning everything–while doing nothing well. His excitement about learning made him think he could create his own path–his previous experience, even the marketing used by Guros to tell tapes–convinced him that it’s nothing to learn something new, and that he could easily add this other art to his arsenal (as long as you send $299!)

Which leads me to the point of this article. While it is true that there are many roads to the top of the mountain, the quickest point (though, not necessarily the easiest) is a straight line. You want to learn everything? Sure, subscribe to as many YouTube channels as possible and learn Guro So-n-So’s amazing new system too. But if you want to learn as much as you can, and become really, really good at it–you should learn one at a time. Make sure you train it till the wheels fall off, spar as much as you can, learn as many ways as you can to adapt that style to as many fighting situations and styles as you can–and then go study something else, giving that second art the same attention you gave the first. Wash, rinse, repeat.

What are you studying right now? Modern Arnis? Doce Pares? Lightning Scientific Arnis? Can you whip everyone in your gym?

No? Then, it sounds to me like you have more to learn in your base system. Trust me. Adding a second style won’t help you defeat that one classmates who has been doing it longer, and trains more than you do. This isn’t how it works. If you are taking Spanish classes, you won’t improve your Spanish by taking Korean, Russian, and Hindi. For some reason, advertisers have convinced martial arts students that learning the stuff on his video will make the art you’re studying now more effective.

But it depends on what your goal is. If you want the basics of many styles so that you can put on cool demos, then have at it. Study everything and collect DVDs and seminar certificates. But if you want to step into the gym, step out onto the sidewalk and be the King of the Mountain–focus on one skill at a time, master it until no one can touch you–and then go and pursue the next skill.

And don’t worry about running out of time. While in most sports, the young guy always beats the old guy–in the fight game, wisdom and experience, conditioning and skill trumps age every time. You might not be a spring chicken, but you can certainly be a powerful old eagle. Be patient, be diligent, and learn this arts properly.

Thank you for visiting my blog.