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.

Author: thekuntawman

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

One thought on “The Quickest Route”

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