“Secrets” of the Filipino Fighting Arts
Words from a Modern-Day Warrior

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

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2 Responses to “Shut Up and Swing!”

  1. Wise words as always. I’m going through instructor training for the second time now, with more thought and application. I am learning so much more. 2 ears, 1 mouth – use them in that proportion!


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