The Devastation of Eskrima’s #1 Strike

Most styles of Eskrima have as their #1 strike an out to in strike to the temple or a downward strike to the crown, nose or collarbone. Both of these strikes, in my opinion are underrated and can be your best weapon if you treat your Eskrima with respect.

“With Respect”?

Yes, with respect. See, most FMA people (and this includes most teachers) do not respect the Eskrima Day Number one basic skill enough to practice it. Let me explain:

You pay your money, buy your school T shirt, buy a stick. You’re taught to salute, learn a few Tagalog terms–“Handa, Galang, Magpugay, Suntok, Guro, Isa, Dalawa, Tatlo…”, how to hold the stance, learn a little history, the stick is a machete is a knife, is a hand, blah blah blah… Now here’s strike #1, strike #2, strike #3, strike #4. Now here are a few drills…

Several months later:  Here’s drill #15….

Teacher teaches the first strike on the first day of class, and never teaches more than the same basic description unless another new guy joins. There is no in-depth study of the strike. No return to hone, fine-tune, or perfecting. It’s almost as if the #1 was only taught so that you can do the sinawali without getting your hands crossed up… oh wait–you need to practice more sinawali drills before you’re good enough to learn the next one.

And this is why I say your Eskrima was not treated with respect. First of all, two questions:

Can you kill with your #1 strike?

Can you throw a #1 strike that can neither be blocked, evaded, or survived?

They sound like silly questions to someone who neither understands the devastating effects of a fully developed, fully trained and respected #1 strike. First, the #1 strike, depending on how your systems uses it, is a throat slashing, cranium splitting, hand-dismembering weapon. You can cripple a man, end his life, kill a group of men within seconds with that strike your Guro “taught” you in about 2 minutes on your first day of Eskrima practice. Maybe some teachers may have students practice the #1 for a few minutes before teaching the next move. Most often, I have witnessed teachers teach their entire basic striking series within 5 minutes of a students first day! This is clearly someone who doesn’t think very highly of that strike, and those two strikes are often the most practical (or only practical) skills in that teacher’s entire arsenal.  Don’t laugh, I’ve seen it, and I know it’s true.

The basic strike must:

  • be pack bone-shattering power, whether executed at close quarters or long distance
  • be completed in the blink of an eye, whether the fighter is in a fighting stance or in a neutral position
  • be accompanied by footwork that is so fast, so accurate, and so explosive–that the opponent can not escape it once you have locked into a target, nor can he be able to counter it
  • be capable of breaking the opponent’s arm or stick if he attempts a block
  • be delivered from any variety of positions and foot maneuvers
  • *be delivered from any hand position*

And let me elaborate on this last item (be delivered from any hand position). It doesn’t matter what you were attempting to do or where your hands are when it is time to deploy this weapon. The Eskrimador, before he should bother with disarms, take downs or tricks–should have thrown his system’s basic strike more than 10,000 full power blows just to achieve adequate skills to move on. I am amazed by how many Eskrimadors are doing “advanced” Eskrima whose wrists and forearms are not strong enough to strike 500 blows without getting blisters. Boxers who are training for competition often will throw 5,000 or more punches in a day’s training, for a fight where he will only be expected to throw 50 – 80 punches per round. In the few seminars I’ve taught, I notice that many Arnisadors find it difficult to throw 100 full power strikes with a basic, first-day, number one strike. Back to my point, once you have developed your Arnis skill to the point that you can deliver 500 strikes with full speed and power, you will be able to accomplish this simple use of the basic strike. And just as I wrote it, a fighter should be able to change positions, stop his motion in an instant and deliver a deadly, wig-splitting, juglar rupturing, neck-breaking basic Arnis strike as soon as he needs it.

I must make this point:  Too often, Arnis is practiced as a coordination skill rather than as a destructive power that can cripple or maim–even kill–a man. Too many people value the “drill” or the fanciest disarms, rather than how much damage one can inflict with that little stick of yours. I have noticed the new trend in the Filipino arts is to use your stick to whip up a man, and then forget about the stick to resort to Brazilian Jujitsu when the potential Arnis victim closes the gap and turns it into a wrestling match. Excuse my rudeness, but if you need grappling for your FMA, you have forgotten what these weapons were made for. Develop a strike that hurts, injures and sends men to the hospital, then you won’t have to add other arts to back your Arnis up. Train those stick strikes until you can break bricks with them. And, yes, an Arnis stick can break bricks.

Back to the conversation–we need our strikes to be mastered and perfected so that you can pull the trigger when you need it. The reason a grappler can get past a 28″ stick is because your reflexes and strikes are not developed and accurate enough to stop any man you encounter. Don’t worry if you spar and it get beat; it just means you have more developing to do–not that Eskrima is insufficient. Every old master I’ve met in the Philippines didn’t have fancy drills and disarms. Most didn’t even have names for their techniques and styles. They offer the most simplistic of instructions for Arnis: Develop your hands to be like a hair trigger to a mobile sledge hammer. Develop your feet to become lightning quick so that no man can catch you, and no man can escape you. Be capable of covering 4-5 feet in a split second. Be capable of popping a coconut with your strike.

Then as your opponent is trying to figure you out, and you are trying to figure out your opponent–your eyes are searching for a chink in his armor. The momentary loss of balance, eyes pan down to obstacles on the ground. a quick distraction, a missed attack, a reaction to a successful strike… And then end that fight before your opponent blinks next.

^^ And this is one of the secrets of the masters. Modernize, develop new theories, come up with great ways to showcase the Philippines and our arts. But do not do so at the expense of forgetting the age old wisdom of our great masters who created this arts. I want you to commit that last two paragraphs to memory, because if you only learn your style’s first strike and then follow the advice of these two short paragraphs–it will be all the martial arts you will ever need. Develop your attack to a high, lethal degree–and then develop your reflexes and awareness to know the right time to strike… and no opponent can defeat you.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Time for an FMA Revolution, Part II

This is a continuation of an article I wrote last year introducing a few suggestions about an “FMA Revolution” I thought should take place. If you hadn’t read it, follow this link and take a look. I think you might see some things that will help you bring your martial arts up to modern times. Times change, along with the needs of the average student of those times. Everything from the needs of the martial arts student, to how the art is imparted, to who the art is used against–all change. 100 years ago, Arnis fighters used these arts against foreign invaders. During times of peace, Arnis fighters use the arts for self defense needs as well as for duels to settle disputes. In recent times, Arnisadors have contests which allow them to preserve the art in safe conditions using safety equipment. With introduction of safety equipment, the attributes needed to be a so-called “skilled” Eskrimador changed–which in turn will change the way the art is changed. In old times, power, accuracy and pain tolerance were the focus of an Arnis student’s training. Teachers used a smaller arsenal of techniques while spending more time developing those skills and attributes. Today, which safety equipment and two/three round fights, students have larger arsenals with more techniques as well as an emphasis on endurance and fitness that fighters of old could care less about. One may argue that arts that do not change with the time are keeping to tradition, but they may not necessarily be relevant to the needs of the modern student. Therefore those arts often die out, save for a handful of those with nostalgic leanings. At the same time, an FMA purist (such as the  younger version of myself) will argue that arts that keep up with the times are diluted and therefore illegitimate. If an old dog like myself can admit that perhaps I was mistaken about past criticisms of the Filipino arts, maybe there is a chance for you young guys. 😉

So here’s something I’d like to throw out at you…

It’s time to award or create “majors” in the Filipino arts. Majors as in “major” fields of study. Just as it’s true that every art can’t contain or specialize in everything–every expert won’t be an expert in every subart of the FMA. We love to brag about the 12 weapons or fields of study, the 4 subarts of the FMA, blah blah blah… but how often have you seen a so-called Grandmaster teach a seminar over a period of 5-10 years, and teach the same stuff as his knowledge of throwed weapons, flexible weapons, or empty hand skills? This is a conversation I have with this community often, and is the premise of the unpopular “FMA Empty Hand” article. Sure you know some “Empty Hand”. But do not be mistaken my friends:  Many of you are stick guys showing a few translations without the stick. Very few Eskrimadors who claim “the stick is the knife is the long weapons is the empty hand” can really get down with every weapon he knows. There is nothing wrong with having a specialty, and sending your students to another master if they wish to learn something you are unfamiliar with. But it is fashionable to pretend you can use anything as a weapon just because you are knowledgeable with a few weapons–and this just isn’t true. A good test is if you can be competitive with–and beat–a fighter who is only versed in that art.

An inside joke I shared with my FMA friends came from a video we once watched at a friend’s house, where a highly skilled Eskrima master declared to the viewer that “Kali is also ADVANCED Judo, ADVANCED Karate, ADVANCED Kung Fu…” Do we have grappling in the FMAs? Yes we do–some. But we are not grapplers. Do we have boxing in the FMAs? Yes, some. But we are not comparable with boxers who specialize in fist fighting. Do we have knife fighting in the FMAs? YES. And now we are getting somewhere! How would you feel if a Tae Kwon Do guy announced, that he was just as good as an FMA guy with a knife? Like me, you’d probably fall out laughing. But that’s how we look to boxers when we try to pass off “Dirty boxing” as something that can defeat boxing.

And this leads me to the point of the article. You must think outside the box. The Filipino arts has many, many skills within our curriculums. In my opinion, the Filipino arts are the superior fighting art of most of the martial arts world. Give me two years with a student, and in two years, I would bet my life savings on that student, armed with a knife, using his Eskrima against your favorite MMA fighter. This art isn’t perfect, but I believe the Filipino fighting arts are as close to being the most unbeatable art on the planet. And this, without having to cross pollinate with BJJ, Muay Thai, or any other non-Filipino art. Am I being biased? Perhaps. But in my prime, I trained more than anyone I knew, and could take anyone. I am fully confident that you give me a guy for a few years, and he’ll be better than I ever was. But due to the mismatch of the changing times, the unchanging art, and the foolish changes that did occur–we collectively weakened the art by trying to add too much, too easily, and taught them too soon and too fast. The way to reach your potential in the art is to choose a specialty and develop it as fully and completely as possible. One cannot accomplish this while attending seminars and adding new techniques and skills every six months. The goal is development–not learning. That is the flaw of the “always a student” philosophy. You can take classes until you’re blue in the face; but it does you not one lick of good until you develop and hone and perfect those skills.

There are many facets of the martial arts we can certify students in, and when we award blanket “Teaching credentials”, what are we claiming they are experts in? Self-defense? Street fighting? Competition fighting? Armed combat against armed opponents? Unarmed combat against armed opponents? Boxing? Self-defense experts are not ring fighters. Ring fighters are not street fighting specialists. Street fighting specialists are not experts at teaching children’s self-defense against bullies. None of the above can coach an Arnis student to championships in an Arnis competition. And then once you’ve identified what style of fighting or self-defense this student is qualified to do, we must then decide if he is qualified to TEACH. Many of you may have been good fighters, but you never learned the art of teaching. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to distinguish between someone who has learned your curriculum, someone who has exceled at your curriculum, someone who is an expert at combat with your curriculum, and someone who has learned the art of teaching and coaching.

And here’s the big question… Do YOU know all these areas of the martial arts?

Eskrima/Arnis, Kuntaw, Silat, Sikaran, Buno–all have many weapons and skills. Do you simply know these weapons, or have you actually exceled, tested, perfected, or mastered each weapon and skill? Honestly, many people are teaching weapons and skills that they barely know themselves. My cousin who teaches Tapado was once visited by a group of Eskrimadors who witnessed his Tapado skills. A few months later, our students encountered these men teaching a Tapado-like art to their students. I had met a man who claimed to teach “Filipino boxing” and when I offered to box him and bring my students to test their skills, declined the match because his students weren’t ready and he didn’t learn Filipino boxing to actually “box”. I politely suggested that he decided what he was actually an expert in–and stick to teaching that.

Like I said guys–it’s time for an FMA Revolution.

Thank you for visiting my blog.