Keep Swinging, pt II (How to Make Video Training Work)

If you are an FMA veteran, even if only a veteran student, you may walk away from today’s article feeling cheated. Please don’t, though. Because although much in today’s discussion is common sense and often-quoted advice, very little is followed. I am reiterating them here, because those often-ignored, seemingly common sense things are what stands in the way of mediocrity and true martial arts dominance and superiority.

Let me explain.

I often hear the terms “boring/mundane” practice described as unimportant, foolish wastes of time. This term really underemphasizes one of the PILLARS of martial arts skill, and those who use them are really telling on themselves as foolish martial artists themselves. I hate to keep picking on Bruce Lee, as I consider myself a fan–but we have to separate the actor Bruce Lee from the martial arts philosopher Bruce Lee from the young inexperienced man Bruce Lee. He made many wise observations about the martial arts and really taught his fellow martial arts generationers how to train and how to think. However, I don’t believe that he had enough time to fully develop and investigate his philosophy. Since he died at a young age, and before he had a chance to see what his JKD would manifest into through his own students–we are stuck with a 30 year old’s unfinished work. And those who carried his torch stopped developing and testing his system although they did continue adding to his system. Many fundamental “truths” to his JKD were flawed. This concept of there being a such thing as “mundane/mindless/boring/repetitive practice” is one of them. Watch a master of any sport or activity at work. Not during the actual game or function of his expertise, but his actual practice of his craft. What will you see? You will see Mike Tyson throwing 4,000 jabs in several hours. You will see Michael Jordan throwing hundreds of layups. You will see a master chef cook the same dishes hour after hour, day after day, year after year. How do you think they became so skilled? Hopefully, you don’t believe the chefs who created the greatest dishes in the culinary arts got so good by cooking thousands of different dishes! No. Skill is perfected by isolating one’s repertoire to only a few key, core tasks–and then rehearsing or practicing those few things over and over and over and over, more times than a man can count. When you are watching the news, the musician is practicing his notes. When you are sipping coffee, he is practicing his notes. When you are driving to work, he is practicing his notes. When you sleep, he is practicing his notes. It is not the variety that drives him to perfection; it is the actual act of perfecting a few pillar skills in his chosen craft that affect everything he does in his specialty. Does he do everything perfectly? Absolutely not. But he may have the appearance of perfecting everything, because he does so much so well–and a few memorable things we witness, he does better than anyone else we have ever seen.

Bruce Lee had a great concept–to separate from tradition in order to become well-rounded, and to hone in on keys of the skill of fighting in order to become a skilled fighter. He felt that we should know how to do more than one thing in order to become well-rounded. I agree with this. However, a few things he missed:

  • You must have something you do better than 99% of your opponents
  • Knowing a little grappling may help you with a grappler, but it won’t help you if you face a master grappler
  • Knowing a little boxing may help you with a boxer, but it won’t help you if you fight a good boxer
  • Your foundation must be cemented in order to be used to root other skills upon it

And let me explain #3. If I learn a little boxing, but cannot box; learn a little kicking, but cannot kick well; and learn a little grappling, but cannot grapple–what good am I? In concept, I am well rounded. But against a good kicker, I am mediocre. Against a good boxer, I am mediocre. Against a good grappler, I, again, am mediocre. I must have a foundation upon which to build, and if I spread myself too thin too soon–I have nothing but the appearance of a foundation. I kick too poorly to force a bad kicker to fight at a distance. My hands are too undeveloped for me to force a poor boxer to fight me standing up. My wrestling skill is too weak for me to take even a poor grappler to the ground and finish him.

So what does this have to do with the FMA, you ask?

Because almost the entire FMA world has followed behind the approach led by the FMA/JKD community of learning a little of this and a little of that. In the Philippines, we claim to have the best FMA, but we actually have followed the seminar and video trained, western FMA community. So a few die-hard stick fighters are keeping classic Eskrima alive by sticking to stick fighting. But mostly, we have stick fighters with almost no experience fighting barehanded trying to convince YouTube subscribers and DVD customers that they are “well rounded” and have the FMA Holy Trinity of Hands, Stick, and Blade–when they really are lost with one or two of those skills. In turn, said Eskrimadors who cannot fight their way out of a paper bag without their sticks are teaching and certifying new teachers to pass down the art. Each generation becomes more and more diluted through the years, and this is how we end up with videos being made about the “wrecking” of the FMA–by a man who honestly wanted to learn the great fighting art we claimed to have. In the end, we sold wolf tickets and have disappointed many outside the Filipino martial arts community. Before we end up the next Tae Kwon Do, I am hoping article such as this one reaches more FMA people.

On with my point.

So, what I need for you to understand is that all is not lost with the FMAs. We can say what we will about FMA “effectiveness”, by taking a look at our tournaments, you will see how effective the FMA have become. We say that we can do everything out there, from knives to staves, to sticks to empty hands… but in our tournaments, we play tag with chalk and do no staff, knife and certainly no empty handed fighting. Except for Yaw Yan fighters and Silat fighters, what Filipino styles are out there fighting against Muay Thai, Karate, Boxers, and all? Are the FMAs all inclusive arts that need no importing of boxing and Judo? Or are we really importing boxing and calling it “Filipino” boxing and calling Judo “Filipino” wrestling? The truth is, the Filipino arts are like our culture, a mixture of foreign influences. I am not ashamed to admit this. Our cuisine, our language, our blood and ancestry, even our dance and clothing–are all born from the clash and blend of various cultures, and we mix it so well. Understand this first, then let’s bring it all to the middle.

The art you are most likely getting on DVD is just that–a mixture of skills that the teacher on the video is calling “Filipino”. No problem. But do not make the mistake of past FMA generations by simply learning the skills and drills and choreography–and regurgitating in front of your own camera to represent your “skill”. Take whatever foundation you gain from those DVDs and whittle them down to a few core, basics that support all other skills you might find of those and other courses. Trust me, there are possibly hundreds of drills and combinations out there, but look closely and you will see that they all have a very small number of techniques as a common denominator. What techniques do you see repeated over and over and over in all those YouTube clips and DVDs? Those strikes, those punches, those kicks, those cuts and stabs–are your core foundation. The FMA people of the past, almost never practiced them. They preferred to practice only what was pleasing to the eye, what wowed onlookers and wide-eyed beginners, and as a result many had spent decades in the martial arts but lacked the basic skill to injure or stop an opponent with a simple, basic strike. What you will do, is return to the root of the Filipno arts–all the way back to a time when most Eskrima styles only consisted of a few strikes, few blocks, few disarms, and a few take downs–and then reached a deadly level of speed and power with those few techniques. After that skill level was reached, they found hundreds of ways to use them.

And those last two (run-on) sentences really summed it all up:  Pure Filipino martial arts really only consisted of a few practical skills, trained until the fighter could unleash them with blinding speed and destructive power. He did not bother with fancy demonstrations and creative ways to look cool doing it. He simply trained his skills day and night, thousands of times over and over and over and over, during your sleep, in his sleep–until his fighting skill was so second nature, that any attacker who thought of attacking him would be answered in the blink of an eye. The Eskrimador of old was not a showman like today’s YouTube master; he was a killer. He did not bother with rank. He did not carry multiple titles and websites. He never had to brag about himself or his organization. He was a man whose hands spoke for him. Everything that Master of old knew, you probably know now.  You just can’t do it as well as he can. And your mind must work its way through the jumbled, crowded mess of garbage flashy techniques to reach your hands. Forget that stuff. Quality over quantity. You don’t need 50 ways to take a stick. Learn a basic 12 ways to strike, develop each strike in that set until they can destroy anything put in your way. Drop the certificates, the drills, the acrobatics, the forms, the twirling. Just reach a level with your knowledge that anyone’s bones in front of you would be turned to dust when you strike. This will come from those “mindless, mundane, repetitive” trainings, and only by training this way. Give yourself this kind of skill first–then go through everything you know until you have reached this level of ability with your entire arsenal.

This is how you make your DVD learning “work”. Bruce Lee was right. There are only a limited number of ways to strike a strike. Whether you learn it from a sagely old master–or a $50 DVD–a strike is a strike. But there is a huge difference a strike you’ve memorized, versus a strike that you’ve trained 10,000+ times. This is the essence of the Eskrima of old. Let’s see if we can bring that back, regardless of how you learned.

Thank you for visiting my blog!

Shut Up and Swing!

In other words, “How to Study the FMA, Even by Video“…

I give up. You guys know, I absolutely despise the FMA video industry. Yes, it has helped the FMAs grow commercially. Yeah, grow into a classical, McSupersized Mess! I guess I could go ahead and admit that as much as the video and seminar market hurt the Filipino arts, I have still benefitted as a teacher from its popularity. So although I’m temporily throwing in the towel, I am not changing my opinion of the commercialization of the arts. I’m merely going to give some advice on how to make it work. I’m not sure if it’s really going to work, but if I had to give advice–here goes.

Perhaps the most important stage to proficiency is the learning stage. This could be said of any endeavor. You cannot become a master mechanic unless you first learn to work on cars. You cannot be a scholar unless you first become a student. And so on. But with this commercialized “have-it-your-way” environment we exist in, students are never truly students of the art. Before we can get into how to study by video, let’s first explain WHY you’re probably learning by video instead of a teacher. Every city has FMA teachers, but too many students are too arrogant to think they can learn more from a teacher than a DVD.

Allow me to explain what I mean.

In order to become a student, you must be completely humbled enough to learn–as well as to be humble enough to be taught. There is a difference. In my 25 years of teaching, I have disliked most FMA students who come to me from the seminar and video industry. Students who join from the street and have almost no knowledge of the Philippine arts make the best students. What I have to teach, they learn. Not just that, they learn it well, and will always end up light years ahead of those from the seminar/video industry in a short amount of time. The reason for this is that students off the street truly want to learn. I am the teacher, they are the student, they pay me, I instruct, and they shut up and swing–and they learn. Not so with FMA video/seminar students. First of all, they approach not as students, but as consumers. In their minds, they are the customer, I am the business, they tell me what they want to learn, and I show them (not “teach”–but show) the techniques. They almost never shut up. From the moment they walk through the door, FMA students tell me and the others who they studied with, they feed me gossip, tell me about who sucks in person, who is selling certificates, who’s a jerk in real life, who trained who…. Makes you wonder why they never stuck with those masters. Oh yeah, it’s only, like, 3 seminars per year. So they come to me to find out what I’m doing that those other teachers don’t have. They want to see my entire curriculum. How many disarms do I teach? How many classes before the next certificate? They know enough single stick, can I teach them double stick and espada y daga? Do I teach knife throwing? How about pangamut? Do I have any of those cool takedowns like Aikido, only more “Filipino”? Then there are the terms… I could go on. When we train, they have blisters. It’s too many, can we do more learning and less striking? We spent a full 30 minutes just striking, what’s next to learn? While the class is doing stations, seminar guys go to the side of the classroom to talk about how Master So-n-So is coming to town next week. When students are sparring after class, they have pulled some curious student to the side to show him a drill from the Inosanto blend. Within a few months–cause seminar guys never last more than three months in my school–they quit and go back to the way they did things before. And what do they gain from the 3 months with me? Nothing at all. I would hope that they would at least walk away with an appreciation for actually training. But those students didn’t come to train. They came to acquire stuff, maybe a certificate or two. But these students are picking and choosing what they want to learn, as if they were ordering off a menu. They don’t want to be taught anything. If I had a DVD that contained my entire curriculum, I guarantee that 99% of them would try one class, then opt to buy the DVD instead. Who cares that they never develop the skill or strength to beat a full time Typhoon student? They were never actually students, just customers. Show me what I came to learn, so I can quit and go to the next guy. In 5 years, he’ll be teaching, and in 10–he’ll have his own system.

Don’t be that guy.

There is so much to learn in the arts, even a school that only teaches single stick, single knife. Even in a school that won’t let you see its curriculum. But the only way to learn to shut your mouth, train, learn when information is given, and develop according to the calendar that the teacher has set. Judge your progress by the skill you’ve acquired and the changes to your physical attributes, not by the certificate you were given or the moves you got to show. Keep striking until your hand bleed, then tape them up and keep striking until class ends. Along the way, much of the information not found on DVD, in books or in seminars will be revealed to you in a way that the guys going the easy route will never experience. This is how to learn a skill. Humble yourself to gain the knowledge–not buy it. Not demand what to be taught. The more disagreeable a student is to a teacher, the less he will impart to you. Trust me, it works this way in every endeavor you’ll ever pursue. It’s just that not everyone will tell you. Ever hear the adage “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”? Well students who are flapping gums are never ready. You could spend months in a classroom with the wisest of teachers and never learn a damned thing. How much money you’re spending is irrelevant.

It is through this type of learning that the best learning occurs. In silent introspection, through mundane repetition, while the muscles are burning with the desire to quit–it is there that the body learns the true art. Where strikes are unleashed without thought, where the ability to sense an opponent’s movement before he appears to move is developed. Where a mirror is no longer necessary to see if you’re doing it right. It is through this silent training and never ending practice that the finer points of movement are revealed to you and the deeper lessons that cannot be put into words are realized. This is the kind of students those with true knowledge prefer to teach–not to the students holding a handful of cash and mouthful of shit. The students who submit completely to the teaching are the only ones who will walk away with complete understanding of the art. While the consumer-student is stuck chasing certificates and celebrity teachers, it is the patient quiet pupil who will become the Tiger in the room. The one quoting anecdotes and giving demonstrations must give a resume to convince you of his knowledge–the quiet student can convince you with his movement through actual combat. There is a saying that you cannot learn and talk at the same time. The same could be said about students who tell teachers what they want to learn–especially if they have the inclination to teach while learning. Because in actuality, the student who comes from the industry believed in the foolish words of a 20-something year old “Master” who thought he knew everything:  Create your own path. Yes, I said it. You won’t ever truly Master the art, because you never believed you were a student. By creating your own path–by choosing your own teachers, choosing your own “blend” of experiences, and picking and choosing who you will listen to based on who the rest of the industry is admiring–you literally walked through the door thinking you knew more than the teacher, but you just needed a certificate to get your own path approved.

If you want to begin this journey properly, you must let go of the desire to tell teachers what you want, what you’ll do and not do. You must accept that you do not know everything and that, perhaps, even teachers who aren’t well-known can teach you something, regardless of how boring the training is, or how unlike he is to everything you’ve read in the internet. Submit yourself to the learning, train as if there were no other truth, train to improve–not to “get certified”–then after your teacher has informed you that he has taught you all he can… then go to Step Two.

And what is at Step Two?

Next, next time. Thank you for visiting my blog. In the next installment, I want to talk about how you can make the video thing work, since you insist. LOL

FFSL Inner Circle Membership (About That Password…)

I’d like to apologize to our readers for the confusion. You will see that we have added a “Members” category to the blog and they require a password. Allow me to explain.

I have long stated that I did not intend to teach by blog. When writing about the arts, I will sometimes end up talking about my curriculum material and in order to drive a point home we may have to explain terminology or techniques from my classes/curriculum. In addition to that, I have students now all over the place who I rarely see and they occasionally ask me about something I’ve taught and will put it on the blog. Thus, I end up teaching by blog.

Anyway, this blog–which is 7 years old this summer–has brought me many students, some local many not so local… even internationally. Then there are those I don’t actually teach classes to, but mentor by blog and email–and lately, by private YouTube video. Ain’t that a bitch. 🙂 lol

They acknowledge me as a teacher because ultimately, I have become their teacher; as teachers of teachers are often more mentor that curriculum instructors. I view this blog and my readers as a form of students. We have barely been doing this a decade, and already I’ve had schools named after me and/or something in my system & organization. I am an advisor to others, I have been asked to sign certificates as witnesses, even sit on boards and test students–all to people I’ve met and taught through this blog.

So I acknowledge that while one cannot fully learn a martial arts style through correspondence, martial arts development can be guided and some skills and strategies can be taught this way. It’s 2016, not 1976. Times have changed, I get that. With the change of times, so has my outlook on modern methods of transmitting the art.

This fall, the Filipino Fighting Secrets Live Blog will introduce our Inner Circle Membership, where I will teach limited pieces of my curriculum, (ugh, here it goes…) by blog. We will have a combination of articles and videos uploaded to those who subscribe. This will be real training videos and fighting techniques from my Kuntaw and Eskrima curriculum, and over at our sister blog, the DC Jow Ga Federation, we are offering the same with my Kung Fu curriculum–including a private group on Facebook. This membership will come with some other offerings–TBA–as well as an invitation to train with me in the Philippines, and it won’t cost an arm and a leg.

I didn’t intend for the members-only articles to show up on the list of posts, but I don’t know enough about this computer to make it go away. We’ll just treat them as teasers, but stay tuned. By late October or early November we will open for membership. And there will certainly be a special, dirt-cheap rate offered to charter members! (Think Filipino prices!)

Thank you to everyone who regularly supports this blog. Thank you for the shares, the arguments you engage in to defend my articles (I see plenty on social media, I just don’t have the energy to engage anymore), thank you for buying my books, and thank you for the donations. There are already over 500 articles on the blog, and there is a lot more information we have to share. Now that there will be an instruction part, we’ll have even more for our readers. Maraming salamat po sa inyo!

Thank you for visiting my blog!

After Instructor’s Certification… What’s Next?

Congratulations! You put in your time, you attended the camps, took your licks, killed the exam–and now your Guro has bestowed a title to you every Arnis students long for: Guro. Surely, you deserve it–you earned it. Your classmates have admired your commitment and willingness to learn, your practice has finally paid off, and everyone on the dojo floor recognizes you as a senior student. So what’s next?

Let’s slow down… Because I know what you have most likely been told, and we all know you didn’t come to the Filipino Fighting Secrets blog for the fluffy stuff, right? I have some advice for you.

In today’s martial arts community, and especially the Filipino Martial Arts community, there seems to be a race to certify. After all, what quicker way to grow one’s organization than for teachers to certify more teachers? More teachers on the ground teach more students, giving your system more soldiers, pushing your status among other masters higher and higher, and bringing more people to the table when it’s seminar and camp time. All that is fine and good–I had to accept that reality myself that times have changed and the arts as I remember will never be like it was 30 years ago. Yet, never forget that the tradition you follow is a Filipino tradition. We are not in the Philippines, you are in whatever country you live in. Even the Philippines is not how I remember it. This culture, however, is a “blade” culture and do you really know what that means? Some people focus more on the weapon than they do the guy who is holding it. FMAs as a “Blade” culture doesn’t mean you carry a lot of blades. It doesn’t mean you have the meanest-looking, shiniest, or most exotic-looking blade. It doesn’t mean you carry 10 different hiding places and a different kind of knife in each spot. It doesn’t even mean you have the most ways to disarm or drill a blade on the block. The FMAs as a blade culture (yes, with a small “b”) means I could take a pencil and go up against any man with the nicest karambit or gurkha or whatever–and then go home to my wife and kids while he goes to the morgue. I am scarier with my *click* opening of an old rusty balisong you cannot see than the guy in front of me doing finger gymnastics with his stainless steel, serrated edge polished American imported balisong. With the blade culture I am talking about, my knife skill set consists of four slashes and three stabs–and if three guys approached me with the most scientific art of drills, I don’t care who’s army does the same shit–within 15 swings, all three will be bleeding out. As a blade culture, the FMAs isn’t about what you know or how much you carry–not even who taught you–but what you can do.

There are still today, in unsophisticated areas of the Philippines, men who carry no title–not even “Guro”–who can easily kill 90% of the guys with a set of DVDs out on the market. So tell me, which would you rather have:  Teaching certifications and community recognition, or the knowledge that no one better cross you because you know for a fact that you can defeat almost anyone you face?

There was a time that Arnis masters would not release a student until he was confident that this guy is the absolute best he can produce, and has no fear at all that his student can take all comers. Today, we have Guros certifying students as teachers that they’ve never actually met. But times have changed. Today, a Guro is simply a guy or lady who knows my curriculum and he knows it well enough to show it to a group of beginners. They will tell you stupid shit like “This is just the beginning”, when actually, a teaching credential should say that you’ve reached the end of the study road and are qualified to lead others. How can a Black belt be the beginning, when he is also expected to lead others? So now we have teachers who have yet to reach the pinnacle of their martial arts knowledge and ability, showing others the way? Preposterous. That’s like allowing an 18 year old who has just reached adulthood to marry and lead a family. No, it’s exactly like that.

So, my advice of “what’s next” is this:  You have proven that you have the ability to complete a learning curriculum. Now let’s put that knowledge to the test, against others and their knowledge and ability. Do this for at least the same amount of time that you’ve been studying. So if you took four years to go from beginning Arnis student to advanced Arnis student–take four more years to go from new Arnis fighter to expert Arnis fighter. Discover the inner workings of weapons fighting that your teacher cannot show you. Experience the bitter taste of defeat and humiliation, so that you will never fear it as a teacher with bigger, stronger students than yourself. Know how to interact with overly confident peer-teachers before you have students, so that you can teach your students how to handle bullies from experience. Get your bruises at the hands of opponents with intent, and tell those stories, rather than that one time you got rapped on the hand by accident at a seminar in ’12. Give yourself enough time to develop your own theories, test them, and revise them–all before presenting them to students, so that one day you won’t have to tell the masses of your guys “Well, we don’t do it like that anymore…”  This is a phase of discovery and experience. Don’t be a student, trying to teach students, because we have seen enough of that in this martial arts community. It doesn’t work. Let the first time you are in front of a school, you are not teaching material you just learned–you are teaching material you know like the back of your soul, and from experience they could never gain from a two hour DVD or four hour seminar. You’ve earned your certificate from your Guro, now go out and prove to the other Guros you deserve to stand among them.

And where do you find such Guros? Well, most likely, you’ll have to go out and find them. You could seek them in tournaments, informal sparring groups, social media, Craigslist, or you can organize them yourself. Get as much experience as you can, find out how much you really haven’t learned about fighting, build yourself a reputation as a martial artist outside the comforts of your teacher’s school, and put your fears, insecurities and skills to the test. Do this until you get nothing new out of it, then teach.

Be able to look potential students in the eye and tell them with confidence, “I’ve faced the best, now let me show you what I found works from experience,” instead of “Master says this, and master says that…”

Remember, when you went looking for a teacher, you looked for an expert, not just a “certified” teacher. You want the best teacher you can find, not just a teacher who is recognized. Be a teacher whose reputation was proven, respected, seasoned, and whose stripes were earned the old fashioned way:  By taking it from your opponents.

I know this doesn’t fit the current business model of the modern-day Eskrima Guro. But I don’t see this as business at all, the martial arts is personal.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

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