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

Fighting Advice from Mustafa Gatdula

One thing that the modern FMA man tends to neglect in his pursuit of martial arts ability is the study of fighting strategy. This is not a flaw in the tradition of Filipino martial arts, but a flaw in the way that our arts are taught. Because of the casual method most western FMA people learn–in seminars taught by out-of-town teachers, or in classes taught by local teachers taught by out-of-town teachers–the study of the fighting arts for us is very shallow and superficial. Students spend too much time in activities that do not challenge the body and mind. “Skill” is more often than not a test of coordination and rhythm rather than a true measure of combat effectiveness. Drills are described far too often as “fun”. The occasional hit hand or head when a strike is missed in choreographed practice are the war stories told by today’s FMA guy, rather than stories of lessons learned against actual opponents. Unlike yesteryear, FMA skill is mostly demonstrated with dance partners instead of proven against unfriendly, adversarial opponents. This has lead to entire generations of “fighters” who cannot teach a student to defeat a semingly superior opponent. The difference between a teacher who imparts an art to students limited by their size and physical ability versus one who can increase the effectiveness of any student’s achieved physical prowess is the study of application through strategy.

To illustrate this point:

Fighters A and B are similar size and experience in the art. They both know the same amount of techniques, and have put in the same amount of training time. They are both physically matched in strength, speed, agility and power. For this example, let’s say both fighters come from teachers who studied the same art, and have learned the same curriculum. Is the difference between the two fighters as simple as “power is in the martial artist himself, instead of the art”? This saying of it’s-the-fighter-not-the-art is oversimplified and lazy and terribly cliched. Both fighters may have learned the same techniques, both fighters may have trained just as well. But one fighter employs his art more effectively, efficiently, and with better planning than the other. Just as two boxers of similar stature know the same techniques–it is their use and mastery of strategy that makes one the victor and the other the loser. Chess players know the same moves and have the same pieces. But one is a superior strategist while the other is simply “playing chess”. Study strategy and psychology of fighting to dominate fighters on a level that is not limited to physical ability.

Here are a few basic strategies you should explore and utilize in your training and teaching. They are universal principles that apply to all styles and forms of combat–whether in the ring, on the street, armed, or unarmed:

  • Intercept your opponent’s movement with your own movement. Anticipate what your opponent will do next, where he will go–and then attack him, cut him off, or move your position before he can do/complete it. This can be based on your observation of his habits, his footwork, even repetitive techniques. Look for things like a short step he may take before launching an attack, where his eyes look before moving, or habits like dropping the front hand before kicking. This will give the impression that you are reading his mind
  • Keep your opponent off balance. Never allow your opponent to sit for more than a few seconds in a comfortable fighting stance. Force him to move back, move to the side, follow you. Change your position often, which forces him to change his position as well. By initiating the movement, your opponent becomes predictable because he is following you. If you notice that you can now force your opponent to move when you want him to–you can also change mid-motion, which causes a short stumble or change in balance. When he is off-balance, it is only for a fraction of a second if he is a good fighter–so you must attack him in an instant
  • Make use of obstacles. Obstacles can be things that get in your opponent’s way like walls, the ropes of a boxing ring, even bystanders, other attackers, or the referee if you are fighting for sport. Obstacles limit where and when the opponent can move, they can interrupt his movement, even distract him for a second. Look at the opponent’s eyes. When his eyes shifts to, say, the referee or trash on the street–capitalize on it and destroy him
  • Bring his targets to you. Tall opponents, faster opponents, and opponents with better mobility than you have can all be frustrating to fight. But they are not unbeatable. You can force a faster fighter to fall into a trap by attacking you in positions where you have the advantage. For example, attacking less frequently or dropping your guard will certainly invite a faster fighter to attack and make use of his skill. Wait for the attack and then lean away or step away to put more distance between you. This will cause your opponent to fail in his attack–and he will try again. The second, unplanned attack will almost certainly be slower–especially if you moved away from the position he was attacking. This is your cue to take advantage of the unexpected second attack. Had he been smarter, he would have backed away and reset his stance to attack again. But an opponent with a superior advantage over you would be less likely to take precautions and launch that second, unprepared attack. The same strategy works against bigger men, who assume their reach will not fail. By forcing a bigger man to attack twice, he is most likely going to have disrupted balance, in a longer, stretched-out stance, and his hands will not be in a position to protect himself. This is how bigger, stronger men get knocked out by smaller, weaker men–after launching a failed attack or missing a punch… and the smaller opponent was waiting on him
  • Miss your attack. Sounds like bad advice, right? I learned this after almost getting knocked out myself. My opponent was a Kyokushinkai fighter who was much older and slower than myself. I saw him miss a hook punch several times in another fight (which he won anyway), and planned to take advantage of his poor punching skill. Sure enough, like clockwork he missed me while headhunting and unlike the earlier opponent, I had the speed to close in on him and BAM. I walked into a spin kick. I ultimately won the fight, but asked him for a rematch after the tournament. He laughingly told me that he waited all day to use the combination, and I was the sucker who fell for the bait. Turns out, he had developed several “missed technique” follow-ups as he aged. His name is David Rhodes, and this old fox taught me that martial arts can still evolve and change to accomodate an aging competitor as he gets slower and loses his endurance. It is born of wisdom and experience and takes advantage of the cockiness of more youthful, but naive fighters. These techniques are now a part of my own martial arts practice, and as I approach my 50s I look forward to trying out this strategy myself. For a colorful example of a fighter who evolved as he aged, watch the difference in methods used by George Foreman, who maintained his power but lost speed while improving his ring wisdom. Not only did he defeat men half his age–he dominated them while they sought to take advantage of his “disadvantages”. You can “miss” in your own way while you are young, too. If you have great feet but less developed hands, let your opponent try to take advantage of your lack of fist speed. If you are a shorter fighter, let your opponent become sloppy because he thinks his height will help him. Pretend you are out of breath. Fake an injury or pulled leg muscle. On the street, pretend to be afraid–then make him pay when he tries to use his assumed upper hand. Perceived advantages/disadvantages can be very powerful if you learn to use them!

We will save the other items on my list for a future article. Hope you like these! Give yourself some time to come up with techniques that are already in your arsenal and how you can express them through my suggestion. Then, grab a few opponents and try them out. You’d be surprised how many ways you can skin a cat with some slick thinking (and good acting). Subscribe so you don’t miss the rest of them! Happy Veteran’s Day for my fellow vets (and shot out to the 459th MAW, Andrews AFB)….

Thank you for visiting my blog.

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