Personal Combat Styles

If you’ve been around for a while on the non-seminar side of the FMAs, you may be familiar with this term, the “Personal Combat” style. Other terms you may hear are something like “Combat Arnis”, “Combat Judo”, “Filipino Karate/Filipino Kung Fu”, etc. My old friend and for a short time, mentor, Carlito Lañada, who is the founder of Kuntaw ng Pilipinas/IKF is often smeared on the internet for a similar thing. I would like to explain a little background on the origin of this term, as told to me by my grandfather. It may not explain all of the origins of the terms, but it will definitely shed some light on it. So for those whom this does not apply–don’t take offense. I’m merely passing on what I was taught.

So here goes.

Understand that the Philippines is a melting pot for Asian culture, and as a result–our language, our food, our superstitions, and even our martial arts have influence from outside sources. I know that people like to search for purely Filipino arts and techniques, but if anyone ever passed up an FMA simply because it had some elements of non-Filipino arts involved in it… I got news for you. Having mixed origins is very Filipino. Being newly created by the teacher is very Filipino. Being only one generation old, very Filipino. Being obscure and unorthodox, very Filipino. In GM Lito’s case, his Kuntaw ng Pilipinas has Shorin Ryu origins. The forms themselves are personalized touches on Okinawan forms. Master Lañada himself, prior to his new art, was a member of the Happy Eagles Shorin Ryu club. But he adopted this style for himself, came up with a practical and Filipino-ized version of the art, adding Arnis, angles, and structure. Regardless of what people may say about his art having non-Filipino origins–that art is Filipino. “Filipino” Kuntaw/Kuntao of Mindanao itself has non-Filipino origins.

But this article isn’t about what makes an art “Filipino” other than the nationality of its founder, its about the personlization of arts. So let’s go back to that discussion.

I believe that the whole idea of styles outlasting their creators is a new thing. Every person who learns an art, at one time, personalized his art. Very few fighters had only one teacher, in fact, and not all techniques were learned from a teacher or an expert. If you look at the histories of most of our older masters, you will hear them refer more to training partners, sparring partners, and past opponents more than they will refer to their teachers. It is a very non-Filipino institution to think that martial arts that came from a source other than a bonafide “master” was illegitimate. Most of our manong learned from a family member or family friend. Sometimes, a local teacher had only minimal training himself. However, what stands out for the customary martial arts source and the modern martial arts “teacher” is that the Filipino uncle, father, or family friend who taught the Eskrima is not pointing to a scrap of paper, an organization, or past teacher’s reputation for validation. The truly Filipino litmus test for credibility is strictly whether or not that person had fighting experience, and if he still possessed the ability to fight. As a boy I remember seeing men who worked as farmers, construction workers, working on base (at Clark AB, Angeles City) winding down their day, eating food and sparring with each other. Some were better than others, some were stronger than others, but all could fight. Our family was one of the few families with a lifelong Eskrimador, so anyone who knew how to fight hung out with us. I heard the stories, and few spoke much about who they learned from and instead talked more about who they trained with to develop the skills they had. As a young adult, I have hung in groups of other young fighters who have done the same with boxing and karate. Some had formal training, many did not, but everyone trained hard and fought hard. I consider these fighters to be just as credible as anyone paying his dues in a dojo. According to our culture, there is little difference. We are a practical people.

And I said all that ^^ to say this:  In the older model of passing along martial arts, you learned from whomever you came in contact with. You practiced, and then you tested yourself out on other guys just like you. Sometimes you will have a passion for the stuff and train a lot; sometimes, you only practiced sometimes, and whipped out your skills at social gatherings or actual fights. But credibility and validation in the western sense did not exist. All that menered was if you could use the art you had. And I am proud to report that because of the culture of the Filipino, nearly everyone could. Now there were many exceptions to this, but I wasn’t raised around large organizations and formal schools. Training was conducted about 100 feet from our home. And I would argue that it was more useful, more valid, than 90% of those who came from schools with histories.

Today, Filipino martial arts is sophisticated and much more developed than it was 30 years ago. In fact, it is too sophisticated. With the amount of information and cross-pollination influencing today’s martial arts curriculum, if you factor how much time and interest the average student has to develop and process this information–today’s student is receiving more than he needs. Arnis students today are little more than collectors of drills and techniques, very few even devote enough time to obtain the physique yesterday’s FMA man possessed. About ten years after I began my martial arts training, I was old enough to travel alone and began to meet and train in some well-known, established FMA schools. I found that in many of the cases, I was stronger and more combat-ready than even many of the teachers I encountered. Today at 47 years old, I no longer attribute this fact to the superiority of my family art. I realize now that a student must have sufficient time and drive to process the amount of information learned. I had the same techniques and strategy that many of my counterparts had–except my curriculum consisted of much less than theirs. But unlike them, I did not work a regular job or attend school and was able to spend entire days training where students of larger schools only attended two hour classes a few days a week. In addition to that fact, my grandfather was part of the old guard who judged martial ability by only two factors:  one’s effectiveness in combat and one’s destructive power. The two things I did most through my training were sparring and breaking things with my hands and sticks, and these two things were done by my counterparts the least.

I have mentioned several times that I had a teacher whose name I’ve forgotten in Angeles City, Pampanga. I quit his school in order to devote more time to Bogs Lao’s rigorous training. Before I left, I had a sparring session with the teacher’s son, and after the fight, he told me that the Eskrima I had learned was “combat eskrima”, where his was “classical eskrima”. I would encounter this term over and over throughout my life. Most of the time it was used, there were essentially two definitions:

  1. The martial artist who adopted the term had learned a “full art”–meaning a full curriculum–but chose to specialize and streamline a highly concentrated, potent version of the full art for fighting. Not wanting to use his name, a student of late Grandmaster Ernesto Presas, had such a term for his arnis. He had a Black Belt in Arjuken, which consisted of learning Judo, Shotokan, Kendo, and Arnis. But his “Combat Arnis-Karate” only contained favorite fighting techniques that he used for fighting–and he was extremely effective in fighting. No drills, no forms, no give and take, no disarming. Just attacks and defenses. He kept the original curriculum intact, but created a sub-art for himself, which he canonized for himself for fighting.
  2. The martial artist who took what he had learned of an art (if he formally studied it at all) and forged it into a combat-ready fighting style. I met a man who called his art ComJuKa Arnis, not associated with Grandmaster Ruby, who learned local Arnis from several people, and studied Karate and Judo from books. My cousin was one of his sparring partners and brought me to him to fight. Prior to meeting him I had studied Judo but only learned one skill, which was randori (throwing and sweeping), but had done enough with bigger opponents that I could easily beat most guys my size–plus I was well-experienced in fighting. This man, whose only formal training had been in stick and knife fighting, was one of the toughest fighters I’d faced in my youth. I don’t remember his name, but I would argue against anyone who claims he was unqualified to claim Karate and Judo. And there are many like him. May have only observed Judo, Kendo, and/or Karate–but trained with what they knew or came up with, and used it so often against opponents that they were extremely effective.

I would like to say something about these two definitions. Yes, it is true, that many of us who learned Karate or Judo from our FMA teachers may not have a clear lineage of who taught them. I was fortunate enough to meet men who were unapologetic about not having teachers or about how they learned, because it saved me from the foolishness of worrying about lineage and formalities. For our culture, rank and title and lineage are not as important as actual, developed, provable skill. As long as the person wielding that art can use it and back up the claims he makes about his creation–we don’t have a problem at all. But there is a third definition, which I don’t think needed to be added–but let’s add it anyway:

3. Those who wish to differentiate their art from others like it as “strictly made for the purpose of fighting”. This is sort of the reason I named my personal Eskrima style “Gatdula Fighting Eskrima”, as not all Eskrima styles are appropriate for fighting. Our old men understood this, that some arts were merely art forms, and others were created for actual life-and-death combat. This shouldn’t require any further explanation.

So when a master tells you he can teach you either Arnis or if you’d like, “Combat Arnis”, you should know exactly what he is talking about.

When they say that the old Filipino masters took techniques and arts from wherever they could find it–don’t think for a minute that “wherever” always meant formal training. Just remember that the only thing that matters is whether or not those techniques will allow you to walk home or be carried home.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

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My Thoughts on Rousey-Nunes (and Cross Training)

Let’s take a break from our discussion of FMAs and turn our attention towards MMA for a second. Because of the nature of the modern FMA man’s martial philosophy–one of “learn what works, discard what doesn’t”–this subject is highly appropriate for this blog. On top of that, it is highly relevant to the modern FMA man.

So many lessons for today's martial artists in this fight...
So many lessons for today’s martial artists in this fight…

First, let me state that I am a Ronda Rousey fan. Not because of her; I actually dislike her personality, her unnecessary rudeness in the ring, her weak response to losses, her disrespect of opponents. I like Ronda because of who her mother is. Secondly, I do not celebrate her devastating losses as moral lessons against her supposed arrogance. I do believe that a certain amount of confidence-borderline-arrogance is needed to make it in the fight game. You do not pursue fight sports if you feel anything short of superior to everyone else. I saw her loss as a blow to the arrogance of Edmond Tarverdyan–a man I believe has displayed much of what is wrong with MMA and martial arts in general. Basically, we have men who know little to nothing about fighting in the ring, charging students money, training them poorly, and watching them get destroyed in the ring. I am convinced that Edmond saw Ronda as not much more than a come-up. He took a student who already had skills, pretended to train her in a skill that neither he nor she knew anything about–then planned to take credit for her wins when she steps in the ring and (hopefully) becomes the victor for skills and abilities she already possessed. He must have been clueless of how little he knew about stand up fighting–or didn’t care. This type of foolishness could have gotten Ronda killed in the ring. It certainly, at a minimum, destroyed her career. He made so many mistakes in training her–from allowing her to skip post-fight interviews to avoid facing the public after such a horrific display, to allowing her skills to decline while actively training, to failing to insist that she show respect to opponents, to failing to stop the damned fight when his fighter went 15 seconds under attack without defending or returning fire. Bottom line, Edmond Tarverdyan was a complete failure in every sense of the word–and this was one of the poorest examples of a fight trainer I have ever seen in my life. And trust me, I’ve seen some pretty bad ones. This is the first Olympian I’ve ever heard of being dominated so badly–and under his watch.

The Ronda Rousey-Amanda Nuñez fight highlights, proves, and brings several points home that I make on this blog all the time. When I preach against cross-training in favor of cross-fighting, one needs to look no further than this fight and a few others like it to see the point I’m making.While many use the dominance of MMA fighters over traditional martial artists to prove the validity of cross-training, I believe that such a match-up only proves the validity of rigorous training of MMA fighters over the casual training of their traditional opponents. When Ronda first hit the scene, just as Royce Gracie had done–as did Cung Le, Lyoto Machida, and a few others, they dominated because of their expertise at their specialty–not because of any cross training. Ronda was dominant at Judo, which her opponents could not figure out. Royce at ground fighting, Cung Le at San Shou, etc. Stand up didn’t help Ronda unless she was fighting smaller opponents who were lousy at stand up. Royce never came close to knocking anyone out while striking and kicking. The golden rule to this issue is to become better at what you do than your opponent is at what HE (or she) does, and learn to use what you do best to beat what he does best. What Ronda was trained to do completely violates this rule. She ignored her aces and face cards, and played with her numbered cards:  She is a Judo expert who tried to box a boxer. When a martial artist spends the majority of his education with one style of fighting, and then years later undertakes another for a short period of time, he cannot expect to defeat an opponent who specializes in his newly undertaken skill. In Ronda’s case, she was a grappler who began studying stand-up fighting in her 20s after a lifetime of Judo training. Without taking into consideration the level of stand-up instruction she received–she attempted to defeat a champion boxer with boxing she had only studied a few years. Those of you who are Karate, Kenpo, Muay Thai, Kung Fu, Eskrima fighters who study Jujitsu in case you end up fighting a grappler will suffer the same fate. You believe that a few years of study in BJJ (or sadly, less) will aid you in defeating someone who is heads above you in skill. A foolhardy idea.

If Mike Tyson were to face a college wrestler on the street, do you believe he would stop boxing to grapple with the wrestler? Or do you believe he would try to knock the wrestler out? Let me pose something to you:  Many of you feel Mike should know at least “some” grappling in the event he is taken down. This is an amateurish notion. You are assuming that because many stand up fighters get taken down in the ring, stand-up will always get taken down. I hear it all the time. Guys will say “All you gotta do is duck below his punch and then execute a takedown, and…”  Easier said than done. Just because you saw a refridgerator repairman on TV get taken down it doesn’t mean every stand up fighter will too. It’s a simple, basic formula:

  1. You better at what you > He is at what he does = You win
  2. He is better at what he does > You at what you do = He wins
  3. You know how to beat his skill with your skill = You win
  4. He can beat your skill with his skill = He wins

That’s it. Plain old common sense and mathematics.

I will repeat what I’ve said a million times on this blog… The higher level of martial arts is not “blending” or “mixing” or “reinventing”–not even “self-expression”. The higher level of the martial arts is MASTERY–doing what you do at the highest level possible, leaving no stone unturned concerning investigation, development and testing, and the ability to adapt your art to almost any situation. Think a guy who can repair almost any car problem with a wrench, hammer and duct tape. Don’t think of the cliched “Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight”; think winning a gun fight with a knife. Think McGyver, who can jerryrig himself out of any problem with a paperclip and scotchtape. Develop your art until you can’t squeeze anything else out of it’s potential. Too many martial artists–like Ronda–are leaving all kinds of meat on the bone while searching the fridge for something else to eat. You leave too much on the table while looking to add something else to your repertoire. Mixed martial arts isn’t supposed to be adding lousy boxing to good grappling. It should be adding great boxing to great grappling, or great grappling to great boxing. But in my opinion, the higher level to that is putting great boxing up against great grappling and let the masters figure it out. That, I would pay an arm and a leg to see (or compete in!)

One last thought.

How cool would it be if Rousey came back after being trained by her mother and winning the UFC with just her Judo? A true test of styles!
How cool would it be if Rousey came back after being trained by her mother and winning the UFC with just her Judo? A true test of styles!

I would love to see Ronda give it one more shot, but train with her mother instead. And instead of trying to learn to box, just try to figure out a strategy to beat stand up fighters with her #1 weapon: Judo. It would be a great display of one specialty against another. I do NOT believe you have to learn to box to beat a boxer or that you have to learn to grapple to beat a grappler. The key is to figure out *how* to used your specialty against his specialty. Ronda last fight is a perfect example of trying to fight someone else’s fight. You can’t. Just like if Mayweather tries to use BJJ to beat a grappler, he will get trashed if he ignores the sharpest tool in his toolbox. If anyone could get this article to her, I’d love for her to do this. I believe I read that she is a Catholic. The Fifth Commandment is to “Honor Thy Mother and Father”. Well in the spirit of this directive, what better way to honor your mother than by finally doing what SHE recommends? Let the world see what Ronda can do by approaching it your mom’s way? You’re already a pioneer in MMA, pioneer something else by being the first mother-daughter duo to enter the UFC and show these folks how it’s done?

How many of you would like to see that?

I don’t believe she’s washed up. She is still young, she is still hard-working. She just followed behind a jackass who misled her career. There is plenty of time to come back, reinvent herself and jump-start her career again. There are those of you who think she has nothing left. So what? What could be sweeter than coming back from two devastating losses and returning to your roots and becoming Queen of the Mountain once more? Ronda, you are still young, you may be still hungry, you’re not even 30 yet. This is what champions are made of. So what you lost twice. Champions aren’t counted by how many times they’ve been knocked down; they are counted by how many times they get up. Even the great Muhammad Ali suffered THREE defeats and came back. You’re young enough to do it; just don’t give up, and don’t try to come back doing the same thing you did before.

Okay guys, 1600 words. It’s not like I get paid to do this stuff. Back to laughing at Japanese pranks on YouTube. Thanks for visiting my blog.