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

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.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

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