“There Are NO Qualified Masters In My Town…”

I would like to introduce you to a very old tradition in the Filipino arts, but it will sounds very foreign or strange to you.

Western FMA students have it so good. You can shop teachers around, look up their histories, look up the systems you are thinking about studying. Hell, you can even go on YouTube and study the systems they teach! Google has every potential student thinking he knows what he’s talking about. They think they know who the “best” FMA masters are, and frequently go in groups on Facebook and make asses of themselves by saying stupid things like “There are no qualified masters in my town”.

Yeah, you are a beginner, and you think you are qualified to say who’s legit or not. Or worse–you go on groups online and let other beginners who don’t even live in your city, never seen this master in person all make that judgment for you. Then there is other bad advice. Go take a free class, see if he knows what he’s doing. (As if you can tell the difference between good and bad Eskrima) Buy these videos from master so-n-so, they’re just as good as studying in a school. Take a seminar series and train three times a year instead.

No wonder the FMAs are in such a bad position. Many a foolhardy student who had this experience is sitting here online right now, with their certificate on the wall, reading this article right now thinking their certification is more authentic than what I’m talking about right now. Yes, that’s right. Many Guros and masters today, learned their Eskrima not in a school with a “qualified” teacher, but on video or in seminars.

Bottom line, don’t ask other martial arts students for their advice. It’s like a 10 year old going to a 12 year old for relationship advice, and the 12 year old is telling you that your Dad doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Trust me, that is exactly what is happening.

Do you ever read the masters tell the story about how they acquired their martial arts knowledge? Everyone has one.

Allow me. When I was a boy, I was small and sickly. My father thought I would eventually need protection, so he sent me to his father/his brother/a neighbor who knew Eskrima and I began to train. I don’t know the name of that style/the style was name after him/the style was named after our province. I learned the basic hits and began to have matches. From there I met my first sparring partner, and he and I developed some techniques. A few years later I was living in __ Province and had a match with a man named __ who defeated me. He took me to his father/became my second teacher/became my new sparring partner. He taught me __ skills and weapons. When I was 30 I move to __ Province and looked for new sparring partners. I worked with a few guys from a local school who specialized in this style/this weapon. I had some matches with them and they showed me their style/introduce me to meet their master/we traded techniques. Blah blah blah…

In none of these stories have I ever heard of a master rejecting a teacher because he wasn’t “qualified” or “good enough”. In America, “good enough”/”qualified” really means popular or famous or well known. None of us have seen most of these masters fight. We have only seen their prearrange defense demos and websites and ads for their videos and seminars. And we base our judgment on how many people have heard of them. Foolish. In the Philippines, almost every guy with a reputation earned it by beating or fighting someone–and not everyone wins every fight. Many fought and lost, but still have reputations. Here in the West, we avoid matches at all costs, and unless they are universally accepted by the masses–we don’t acknowledge them. Majority of the time, we make excuses why sparring “isn’t real enough” so we’d rather do drills and hit focus mitts. So even those matches that the masters had doesn’t “qualify” them to teach us… although, we will still write about them on our websites and tell the masses that we learned from a grandmaster who was unbeated in 100 fights. Right.

If I may, the most common path works out like this:

  1. Study for a year with the closest person who knows Eskrima near you. Not everyone was a master, they just taught you the basics
  2. Perhaps study with a second teacher for a few months
  3. Get a series of sparring and training partners, exchange ideas and techniques. Revise your arsenal and skill set
  4. Have a by-chance encounter with a real master, and study with him for a few years
  5. Have about 10 years of more matches, sparring partners, new ideas, testing those ideas, scrapping/revising/devising ideas… arrive to the realization that you have just created your own style
  6. 20 more years of teaching, while revising, revising and revising your style again and again

If you notice, the masters usually don’t stay with their teachers long. They learn a system–anywhere from a few months to a few years–and spend most of their lives having matches and training with someone from another style. This is the most common path for Eskrima and Arnis masters. The brick-and-mortar (or bamboo, depending on where you live) school with a heirarchy, curriculum and certificates is a very new, not very common thing.

How should you apply that to today’s FMA experience? Learn what you can, however you can learn it. If that means YouTube because there simply isn’t an Arnis teacher in your city, then so be it. But don’t go to YT because you aren’t dedicated enough to drive 100 miles to meet a real teacher. If the only guy in town is a Tae Kwon Do teacher who has studied by seminars, then do it. Remember, he has been doing it longer than you, and will have something you won’t figure out on your own, I am very sure of that. Good martial arts can be found in the strangest of places. All knowledge can be tested, fortified, tempered, and developed. Learn from those local masters, and don’t be so arrogant you think you know better than those who do this for a living. I have fought possibly 200 or so fights in my life, and after leaving high school I lost very few of those. A ton of guys have walked out my school because I have no certificates, had no products on the market (well, I have them now… check them out!), and I don’t talk the seminar language guys on the internet speak. Imagine, there are Guros out there right now who can’t fight worth a lick, because they passed up my school. Naive.

I recall Master Presas telling me how he and his brothers studied two styles, Balintawak and Hinigran Arnis, not because they were the best styles, but because they were the only styles offered in their neighborhood. And look at what they did with those local systems. Learn what you can, and then train and test the hell out of it. This is one of the secrets of the masters. Thanks for visiting my blog.