How to Beat an FMA Guy – For “Wolf” Soderstrom

My Kung Fu brother from another brother (Sifu Randy Bennett, my older Kung Fu brother) is competing in a televised weapons-based tournament called the UWM. His name is Martin Lobo Soderstrom, and his character name for the show is “Wolf”. Please take a look at his profile video:
We were chatting about weapons fighting, and he observed that Filipino martial artists and HEMA fighters tended to do the best in these tournaments over other styles. The interesting feature of the UWM tournament is that they do not have “divisions” pitting like weapons styles against each other. In the UWM, anything goes, and you may end up with anyone in front of you. I really like that! It’s something I’ve been talking about for years, and when we’ve had weapons fight nights at my school, we’ve done it. Unfortunately, we rarely get takers. I am appreciative for the few risk-takers I’ve been fortunate enough to meet over the years who obliged me with matches in their respective styles. Such tournaments are starting to pick up momentum here in America. Master Darren Tibon holds such tournaments in California. The Dog Brothers I believe pioneered the concept in the 1980s, and to this day holds the only mixed-weapon, mostly unpadded tournaments around. Lately, Shihan Dana Abbott has been promoting his Chanbara padded weapons tournaments pitting FMA against Japanese styles. If you want to take your martial arts skills to the next level, participating in such events is the best way to get experience that can’t be duplicated in the classroom or training with friends.
So, SiHing Soderstrom was looking to neutralize these fighters with his skills–and this article was written for him and anyone else looking to do the same.
And before I go on, let me say this:  A very important stage in the understanding of your martial arts is one of self-criticism. Too often, we simply learn our arts and practice them. Yet, by failing to look for holes and openings in our own systems, we miss the opportunity to improve what we already do. Teaching others how to beat us will teach you a lot about your art–or show how little you know about what you do. When I teach seminars, two popular themes I use are “How to Beat thekuntawman” and “How to Beat Eskrimadors”. These are challenging workshops because they force me to look at what I do, and show others what can be done to counter me or my students. Of course, I keep the counter to those counters for my own students. 😉  Try it yourself. I guarantee you will discover a whole new set of skills to practice. If you’ve ever lost a fight, doing this will most likely tell you how to prevent it from happening again!
Secondly, I would like to add that the answer is not necessarily to study other styles. In order for me to learn to beat Mike Tyson, I don’t have to go and train with Kevin Rooney or Teddy Atlas. I simply need to study how he fights, find opponents who fight like Mike (or have his attributes) to fight with, and then find a way for me to use the skills I already have to beat the skills Iron Mike has. Be better at what I do, than he is at what he does, and then know which skills to use where and how to employ them. Not to “cross-train”, but cross-fight. If I am a boxer who has never grappled and I fight an expert grappler, even if I study a little grappling–I could never catch up to my opponent on the ground. I would do better learning how I could force him to deal with my boxing skills and never give him the ability to use his specialty. Those who ask what if I get taken down are doing two things. First, they are assuming that boxing is inferior while on our feet to grapplers and I will be taken down 100% of the time. Secondly, they are assuming that with a little cross training, I can beat a superior grappler at his own game once we hit the ground. Both are preposterous ideas. Find how you can get the most use out of the advantage you already have in your system against your opponents. Not easy to do, but it’s a hell of a lot better than trying to beat a man at his own game with just a few lessons. I get this from seminar guys all the time. I’ve been doing this art all my life. Since the age of 18 or so, I have been throwing thousands of strikes a week, and have only recently started missing workouts. If you are a grappler, and I pull stick on you, and you come at me with the little bit of seminar Eskrima you got from Master So-n-So… I’m going to make you my girlfriend. No homo. LOL you’d better find a way to get me on the ground and kick my ass there!
And here goes!
Mustafa Gatdula’s “HOW TO BEAT AN FMA GUY”
  1. FMA guys swear by the Triangle. The Triangle is angled stepping, and FMA guys practice it as a dance. I have never seen any Arnisadors train this angled stepping with any sense of urgency. It’s a formality, really. First, when FMA guys practice, they lackadaisically move. If you get an opponent who does this, attack at full speed, and you’ll catch him–guaranteed. They are not used to moving at top speed. And do you know what happens when an Arnisador actually is forced to move quickly? He says screw the Triangle, and moves back in a straight line. Attack him with intent, you’ll catch him either way. The drawback? If you get a guy who knows how to use that Triangle and does it well–you’re fucked. Soon as you notice that he has mastery of angles, use a back-and-forth footwork that puts you back at your original spot. When he attacks from his angle, he’ll land right in front of you (where you would have been had you stayed). Finish him there.
  2. Speaking of abandoning angled footwork, if you do happen to notice your opponent retreating in a straight line back–attack him in large strides. You can always move forward faster and with better balance, than he can while moving back. Eventually, he will stumble, hit a barrier, and/or you will catch him. But careful, one of the skills we use in Eskrima is the Mongoose attack, a simultaneous retreat (footwork) and counter (with the hands), which I have yet to see in any Kung Fu form. It is easy to follow the opponent and neglect to protect yourself while he is running. Keep in mind that moving while moving the feet is a specialty of FMA folks
  3. Most modern FMA systems are defense-oriented systems. This means that most of his training has been against an opponent’s attack. He will more prepared to counter what you throw at him, and have more trained responses for your attacks. For this reason, I would advise try to beat them when they attack. One thing I know about FMA guys is very few of the newer styles have studied methods of attack. So you will most likely only have to defend against one and two hit combination attacks. If your FMA opponent does attack with long combinations, it is not natural and the rhythm of the strikes will be slow. He may even lack power or slow as the fight progresses. Take a look at YouTube clips of FMA, you will notice two basic things which are typical of modern FMA styles. First, about 90% of material covered will not be attacking skills. Secondly, when you do find attacks, they are always single hit attacks or two hits. There is almost no instruction in how to attack. When training, give yourself enough training on countering a one or two-hit attack, and then fire back with multiple hits. Because we generally only train with one or two hit attacks, no FMA style has a defense from 4-5 hit attacks, except to run
  4. Although Eskrimadors train for angled footwork, two things we never train for:  a. An attack with multiple advancing steps, and b. An attack that changes direction. Be creative in your planned attacks. Start off attacking from one direction, then zig zag to a different direction and attack from the new position. It’ll be like speaking a foreign language to an American; we sometimes act as if our way is the only way. Using the Zig Zag attack is very confusing to a fighter who was trained to thing everyone attacks from one direction. You’ll knock em dead
  5. Filipino styles cover all kinds of weapons. However, we specialize in short sticks and blades. As a Jow Ga fighter, I know you have experience with all types of weapons. Jow Ga is known for the staff technique, and in the late Sifu Dean Chin lineage, the Sern Tao Gwun (double headed staff, for non-TCMA folks) was his specialty. This weapon is especially advantageous against Eskrima. If you can neutralize an Eskrimador by simply using longer footwork and more steps–imagine doing so with a longer weapon. I would recommend taking the Sern Tao Gwun form and dissecting it into techniques to use for the competition. Remember, you have the advantage of reach with the staff–and you also have the advantage of power. The staff, if you train it right, can deliver sledge hammer-like power. The rattan stick has power, but not the same type of power as the staff. Eskrima can shatter a bone; but a staff can break bones, even those protected by muscle and fat–even those protected by armor. Train for destructive power, and then train to use that destructive power with speed. Then use that quick, destructive power with footwork that your opponents cannot escape from
  6. The Eskrimador has a mastery of close quarters. We are experts of trapping and disarming, which is something that Chinese styles contain but do not specialize in (especially concerning the weapon). If you wanted to learn anything from the FMA, I would recommend learning this. I haven’t seen any art with a superior set of skills for our trapping and disarming. Even by studying basic Arnis disarming, you can gain an edge on the best weapons fighters. However, against another FMA man you might looks for ways to counter disarming. This is something very few FMA people study. I would advise to learn the disarm, and then find ways to stop yourself from being disarmed. A good start is to strengthen the wrist and the grip, and then practice twisting your wrist away from the direction of the disarm. Disarms work because of the element of surprise; with resistance many do not work
  7. I’m not sure if empty hand skills are allowed in the UWM, but few FMA styles teach punching, striking and kicking with a weapon in the hands. Incorporate this into your regimen, and at close quarters you will have an advantage most of your opponents won’t be expecting

Without being in person to teach you, this is probably the best advice I can come up with by blog. Hope this helps!

And for my FMA-based readers:  Please use this list as ways to modify or update your FMA training. Study your art for what an opponent could do against you, then have something waiting on them when they try it. Don’t let these Kung Fu guys get an advantage over us. Mabuhay ng FMA!

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Why the “Perpetual Student” Is Misguided (10 Steps to Expert)

There is a concept often thrown around in the FMA/SEAMA circles (mainly, seminar circles) that I must challenge.

In the hopes of maintaining one’s appearance of humility, many claim to be “always a student” of the art. Some use this perpetual status as an explanation for always investing in their video collection and adding yet another seminar certificate to their walls. Some may use it to avoid claiming to be an expert or skilled, as this preemptively excuses mediocre skill. Then you have the guys who use this title to avoid being challenged in a community of martial artists who frequently challenge each other. And there are always the “Always Learning” guys who still claim to be experts and Masters–but are constantly adding to their knowledge base by attending and “researching” (put into quotation marks for a reason, btw–but more on that later). This last group irritates me the most, because they are (mis)leading others down the same path–when they should be leading students to fighting dominance.

In a nutshell, the Perpetual Student is like that beloved old guy who has been attending the local community college for 40 years and has amassed something like 15 degrees–still lives with his mom, and has never actually held a job although he’s damn near 70. For someone called a martial artist–this is unacceptable behavior.

If you were to visit a war-torn country, or a crime-riddled neighborhood, what would you take with you for protection, a prototype weapon that is still being tested? Or a reliable old 45 caliber that’s been used by hundreds of thousands of men in combat?

If you were a mugging victim who swore to never be a victim again, who would you go study with–the guy who has admittedly never fought in his life (but attends every seminar that comes to town) and is too chicken-shit to call himself an expert around other experts? Or the guy with one Black belt who promises you that after you train with him–no one on the street will be your match?

Some of us really need to think about the message we are putting out there. Often we tell more about ourselves than we think when we come up with clevel stuff like “I’m no expert, just a guy who loves the martial arts!”  You’ve been clearly eating too much tofu, dude… The least you could do is talk like a meat-eater!

There comes a point in a martial artist’s life when he has to put away the check book, take off the “student” label and become a scientist/fighter. We simply cannot avoid it, if we are indeed seeking to teach others to defend themselves. Martial arts technique must go through ten basic stages in its development. Too often, we take techniques from the Learning stage to the Teaching stage so quickly, teachers themselves fumble with them while teaching. I have witnessed GRANDMASTERS who claim to have studied these arts all their lives perform a technique as if they had just learned it themselves months earlier. I have seen two grandmasters get asked in a public forum about how to handle a very basic technique–and they both stuttered and fell over their feet trying to explain as if he asked them to calculate the circumference of the moon. You would think that if you have been doing this art for a lifetime and call yourself an expert–regardless of what age you are–such answers would be delivered as smoothly and straightfaced as you answering what your name is. But apparently, our ideas of what makes a Master or Grandmaster are vastly different.

The transition from Learning to Student must have several stages:

  1. Student learns technique
  2. Student practices technique
  3. Student becomes good at technique (practicing isn’t enough–you must have proficiency)
  4. Student learns to apply technique (because learning and applying are two different things)
  5. Student learns to use technique (applying is a little different than using… “how to throw” vs “how to fight with”)
  6. Student learns to fight with technique, even when opponent is countering (and then, ready?)
  7. Student learns to become dominant* with technique (more on this later)
  8. Student becomes teacher
  9. Teacher alters technique, based on proven experience with technique
  10. Teachers teaches technique to student

Notice, that while the Perpetual Student does get something right–the student status really is the most important part of the learning process–most FMA guys stop at Step II and go directly to 10. There is very little actual research with each technique. Most learn, practice casually, get promoted awfully quickly, and, barring a few concepts and independent ideas (often merely possible variations rehearsed with a friendly partner)–goes directly to the classroom to teach someone else. The learning process is thusly disrespected and taken for granted. No, the learning process is severely disrespected. You have seen, as well as I have, teaching certificates in the FMA community get awarded the same day techniques were taught. This is the reason not a single FMA tournament in America–and I can say this without ever going to every tournament in America–ever pits empty hand versus the stick in a match. Yet, we ALL teach it, don’t we? The reality is that there is a rush to promote those who learn the FMA to instructorship far too soon because most people are unaware how to judge the advancedness and expertness of martial arts skill. The FMA industry is much like the medical industry here–we are not in the business of building teachers, just the appearance of building teachers. Just like the medical industry is more in the business of treating patients than curing them–actually building teachers cannot be done on a mass scale, and requires closer, more individualized attention. A doctor who only has a few minutes with each patient must quickly guess what a patient needs and quickly write a prescription to get to the next guy–your friendly Mainstream Guro needs to hurry and sign certificates to get to the next city. Quantity over Quality.

Bottom line, the Perpetual Student is only interested in learning things that makes him look like a warrior, he does not actually have the stomach to become a warrior. So by calling oneself a “Student” and not a “Fighter”, he can comfortably continue what he had been doing for years–while in his mind BE whatever he envisions he is. The Student is like the 40 year old guy who never moved out his mother’s house; although he looks like a man, may have a job, might even have children, claims to be a man–in reality, he is avoiding actually BEING a man.

The Filipino martial arts cannot survive off of so-called experts who never give their knowledge a full course of study and development, and never feel ready enough to declare himself a true authority and stand on whatever his research and investigation has concluded. Another reason why tournaments, fighting matches, and allowing oneself to be challenged are all very important parts of the Filipino arts… and why those who dislike these pillars should be avoided if you’re serious about your martial arts.

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