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.
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