Three Paths Up the FMA Mountain (for Jason Spotts)

I’ve recently relocated back to the Philippines; so good to be back! Aside from getting reacquainted with long-seen family–some cousins I hadn’t seen since childhood–and seeing how the many towns and barrios have changed, I find myself often talking shop with FMA practitioners. This may sound like a stereotype, but unlike in the US one does not have to travel far or go on social media to find other Arnis practitioners. Especially here in this province, where my mother grew up, Arnis is practiced among many families and is a skill passed down like a favorite family recipe.

I am in Jalajala, Rizal, the site of a brutal battle between the Japanese and local guerrillas, of which many members of my family had fought, including my grandfather. I frequently hear of families who once had Japanese uniforms, the contents of wallets, swords, firearms, rank insignia, and even fingers–taken as trophies but sold to collectors, as my barangay is a poor one. In the Battle of Jalajala, 20,000 Japanese soldiers were killed in a literal bloodbath against my countrymen who were armed with farming tools: Machetes mostly, and made-to-order blades and bamboo spears. Few of these fighting men considered themselves martial arts “experts”. At a local gathering I encountered a group of young men sparring with sticks, and when I asked where they learned Arnis, most said they didn’t know Arnis, they just knew how to fight. Imagine that, LOL. Much can be learned from this example, that art and actual deployment of the art in combat are not always the same thing. Many people around the world have learned from teachers who have never fought matches, even teachers who argue against fighting matches. While all around me are young men who have learned from grandparents and great-grandparents who have killed men. Living with me right now is a cousin whose husband learned from my own grandfather, and lost his life defending a woman whose husband was beating her. My cousin seriously injured the man, but he incurred an injury that was infected and died from it. Arnis is like those family heirloom quilts you might have been given by grandma: beautiful, treasured, probably worth lots of money–but used on a daily basis. Arnis in this town is serious business, even if there are few self-proclaimed experts among us.

This area is also the birthplace of some serious martial arts experts as well. Over the years I have read accounts of masters whose teachers fought in the Battle of Jalajala. Without a doubt, the experience if you survived was most likely life-changing. My grandfather made many references to this battle, as his experience influenced how he taught the martial arts. My older cousins tell me that a Sikaran master had come to our town to fight my grandfather on several occasions. They had become friends, and my grandfather had developed many methods to defeating a kicker, as our style utilizes primarily low kicks. My cousin, who eventually relocated to Kenya, told me he had learned Tae Kwon Do while in Africa, and Papa taught him Sikaran when he returned, and told him to replace his TKD with it. But I digress…

One thing I noticed while talking with the various neighbors and family, no one studied for long. I have several cousins and uncles who took work outside the area as police officers and tanod (private security guards), who have great skill even in their older age despite only studying martial arts for a year or less. One Karate-Arnis teacher I met on the way to Angeles City told my mother and I that he learned Arnis from a friend’s father, only a few months worth of lessons, and learned Karate from books. But he is a long-time teacher with plenty of fighting experience and built his own system out of that tiny sliver of education. And this is not strange. There is no shame in admitting that one is an autodidact, nor is there shame in never having received formal rank in any art. There is no shame in creating one’s own style out of pieces of arts picked up along the way, nor do these men embellish grand stories about where they learned. What does matter to them, however, is that they have tested their skills on other fighters, and that their students skill speak for itself. God, I love the Philippines.

So I write this for all the martial artists I’ve met along the way, all those who have written me letters and emails, who have approached me in tournaments and open mats, who have visited my school–and expressed disappointment that they cannot have the ideal learning experience in the art, but do not wish to self-educated on DVDs and seminars. There are many ways up the top of the FMA mountain. I am positive that if modern-day media existed in the 1950s, our masters and grandmasters would have used them. My grandfather use to brag that he had been beaten by men, then returned several times to challenge (and often get beaten again) in order to decipher, figure out, “steal” the opponent’s techniques. This ain’t the rap game, folks, you are welcome to steal another guy’s lyrics. LMAO.

I still recommend traveling to meet and train with teachers. It’s a wonderful experience, and eating crow, suffering for an art is a very healthy, yet small price to pay for the experience. Sleeping on your master’s floor and eating what little bit of food you can buy in order to have enough money for transportation home is worth the wonderful knowledge your teachers will impart if you strive to go and visit them. But if circumstances cannot allow you to do such a thing, do not be ashamed to self-educate. I had a student from Canada for a few years, who would work for six months and save up the money to come and see me in my school in California with just enough money to train for two or three days, then he’d be off to Canada until I saw him six months later. This student was extremely diligent, had a very high tolerance for pain, very, very humble, and if I were to hear that he was teaching, although he never made it past my third beginner level, I would be confident that his students were in good hands. You see, because in the martial arts, we should be valuing quality, not quantity. Even your local boxing gym might be led by a man who did not have a professional career. We must let go of the notion that expertise requires years and years of study. If you are looking to learn to defend yourself, or learn the arts well enough to teach others to defend themselves, you pull knowledge from wherever you can find it. You don’t need a lot, but what you get, you must develop to a high degree. What is more important than a teacher, is a mentor. What I’ve realized from the descendants of the Jalajala guerrillas is that you don’t need much knowledge to kill a man and stay alive. What you do need is grit, toughness, and diligence–and of course, reliable skills to develop.

Now if your goal is to master the martial arts or develop your skills to a dominant elite level, we are talking about a whole ‘nother subject.

There are three basic ways up the mountain for aspiring FMA teachers:

    1. Find a teacher, and study with him full time until you have completed his curriculum and requirements for rank
    2. Find a teacher(s), and study with him when you can, until you have completed his curriculum and requirements for rank
    3. Find a teacher(s), study with him/them when you can, then supplement with as much information as you can gather, then follow the advice of a mentor while you navigate the martial arts experience to test, explore, and modify the knowledge you have acquired. Then declare your own rank when others see you as having arrived

You might be surprised if you are a long-time reader of my blogs. In the past, I have contended that one must stay under a master for guidance, but I realize that while that is the ideal method of learning, it is not the only path to advancement in the arts. We will peel back the layers of this philosophy–self-directed learning in the martial arts–in upcoming articles. By the way, make sure you pick up a copy of my newest book, Techniques and Fighting Strategy, found on the Offerings page of the site. And if you are on Facebook, make sure to look for our like page by under the same name as the blog and follow us! I post related memes and thoughts that may not appear on this site. Soon we will be adding a YouTube channel as well, so keep an eye for it! If you haven’t subscribed yet, go to the main page and subscribe so you don’t miss a single post! Thank you for visiting my blog.

New Book: Techniques and Fight Strategy

It’s here!

This is my first work following a long, 6 year hiatus from this blog. If you are still with us, thank you! For philosophical reasons, I had to step back from teaching, and ultimately blogging, while I “found myself”. Something about this recreating oneself and soul-searching quests… They never end. Much like the road to perfection and mastery of any craft, it is an ongoing, never-ending, continuous process where you find the hole getting bigger and bigger, more vast and expansive as you go on.

So back to this book. It represents really, where I was in 2013, which is when I stopped working on it. I’ve added a few things to it, and the follow-up to this book, part II, will be where I am now. I had thought to scrap this book in favor of the new, but I realize–my readers will benefit more by reading the original work and thus seeing the process by which I arrived to Mustafa2019.

This will be unlike any FMA book you’ve ever read. I am prepared for the avalanche of criticism to be hurled my way because it won’t read like an FMA book (I mean really, who writes FMA books like this anyway?) But if you give it a chance, I’m positive you will find places in your own regimens and training plans for my ideas. And I’m positive that if you follow my advice, your performance as a fighter will improve significantly. I must emphasize, that this is a book of essays, and not an instructional book or book of drills. The purpose of the book is not to teach my style but to spark conversation and review about FMA fighting technique–for the purposes of actual fighting. If you are a regular on this blog, you should know very well my distinguishing between technique for demonstration or theory, and those for technique. It is time to review what FMA people have been doing to prepare themselves for combat, and ask themselves, “Is this the most effective way to do it?” My books, are here to ask the questions and provide some solutions. Consider it an extension of Dominant Fighter, my first book, and the prequel to Part II, my next book.

So, for the next 40 days we will be offering Techniques and Fight Strategy for $15 as an introductory price. After the New Year, as with all my books, the price will increase to $29. It is, after all, about 140 pages! 151 total, but after the forward and table of contents, about 140, 145) To get a copy, head over to the “Offerings” page, and use the PayPal button. I hope you enjoy it, and happy reading!

Oh, due to my having relocated to the Philippines, please give us at least one day to send out the book, due to time zone differences and poor I internet.

Thank you for supporting my work, and thanks for visiting my blog!

Filipino Fighting Secrets Live Blog Is Back Online… for Good!

Happy September everyone!

So I’m sure you guys missed me, as much as I’ve missed you all… These last few years have been tough–I became a widower in 2014, the security side of my business picked up immediately after so the boost in income was bittersweet. I made the difficult decision to take a step back from teaching; I closed my hands in 2015 and turned the teaching over to my students in order to focus on working towards retirement. This required long hours which took me away from the physical aspects of teaching while simultaneously giving me even more time to reflect and ponder upon the martial arts. You will notice a change of heart for many things that served as the pillar to my martial arts philosophy in the upcoming articles and books. They may even contradict much of what I’d written in the past. However, as the late, great Muhammad Ali once said, a man who sees boxing the same way at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life. We must all go through this process, as it is through chaos and conflict that greatness may spark creativity and growth.

As I had pictured my life for most of my adult life I am now retired, although without my wife and children. I am back in the Philippines with the same mission I started in life as a young Black Belter in 1990. I had a plane ticket to America, with the equivalent of about $2000 to my name, these skills where I thought I could whip any man with two hands and two feet, and the dream of making a huge noise in the West that would echo back to my double hometowns of San Fernando and Angeles City. Today, I am 29 years older, just as broke (hehe), with fewer skills but double the knowledge and wisdom. We will see what type of noise I can make here in the East!

This year, I will be laying low until the New Year while I fix up my kubo (and try to located better internet) and get my body back healthy and strong. We are about to put these training theories to the test; I’d been fortunate enough to have good genes and remained in good shape until well into my 40s. However, the last few years took its toll and I’m feeling more and more like a 50 year old man. The next six months will be spent writing and training, and hopefully building back this blog’s readership. So those of you who are still with me–spread the word! Share my articles, even go back and reread some past articles, maybe even some you may have missed. I promise you, there will be plenty to come, including YouTube videos(see? I told you much has changed!)… Yes, you read that right: YouTube videos!

I have five books that are partially written, so much time will be spent finishing those projects up, so look out in the next few months. My deal with Amazon is not so sweet, so everything will be on pdf until I can find a publisher here in the Philippines. Altogether, there about 20 titles that will be expanded into books in the next few years. For sure, five–as they have already been started and just need a little TLC. Also on the list–a training DVD, maybe two. I don’t want to say too much about that, so rather than make announcements, I’ll leave it at that and make moves.

For those interested in learning my Kung Fu style–Jow Ga–we will be starting training chapters in several cities in Central Luzon. This is completely separated from my FMA, as I promised my late Kung Fu master to never combine his art with other systems. Look for announcements on this blog for mid to late 2020. FMAs will be available as well, and perhaps a training camp or two throughout the year… All styles, ranks, and backgrounds welcome!

Finally, here is an offer. All of my books will be on sale until further notice, PDF copies only. Take a look at what I’ve got on the “Offerings” page and place your order. The two business titles (Make a Living and Eight Tips) will be available for $5 each, and the three titles (Dominant Fighter, Philosophy, and Teaching Philosophy) will all be offered for $15 each. We may let this run for 30 days or 90 days, so don’t procrastinate!

I have a few surprises that I’ll tell you about in the next few weeks. Make sure you subscribe and keep checking back with me. Trust me–you are going to love it.

Thanks for visiting my blog!

FMA Practitioners vs Eskrimadors & Arnisadors

The best of us can learn something new, regardless of how advance or knowledgeable we believe we are. For growth in the martial arts, it is important to be highly competent, highly competitive, highly confident, and extremely humble. I could write a book on how humility is vital to the combat warrior, despite how much we might consider confidence and cockiness as virtues. To sum up my reason for saying this–humility allows us to learn and develop, and prevents us from becoming arrogant, overconfident, and underestimating the danger we face when engaging in combat.

That said, today’s topic is understanding the difference between the FMA practitioner and the Eskrimador/Arnisador. This is where my statement about humility comes in. See, many of my disagreements with the FMA community stem from my own misunderstanding about who are casual practitioners versus serious stickfighters. At the same time, my rants were actually to protect the casual practitioners who believe that they are Arnisadors as well as protect the purity of the art. I am well aware that this may offend many, but things need to be said, and brutal truths must be realize so that everyone may know where they stand in the art.

For years, many of my rants have been claiming that one cannot be a serious FMA man if you work a 40 hour job and practice Eskrima a few times a week. Of course, years ago I had to let that belief go when I relocated to California and met the acquaintance of the Stockton FMA men–who are unlike the Eskrimadors found anywhere on the planet. I had been accustomed to the casual practitioners of the East Coast, who had no masters to learn from nearby, and could only learn FMAs from teachers who traveled and taught through seminars–or teachers who learned from traveling masters. The FMA men I knew on the East Coast were basically Karate men or Kung Fu men who discovered FMAs late in life, and had only a few seminars per year of learning for their FMA education. I lived with my FMA teacher, so Eskrima and Arnis were things I did every day after school and weekend mornings before I left to attend one of the martial arts schools I belonged to as a teen. When I went back to the Philippines as a young man, for the first time, I noticed full-time Arnis masters who only taught FMAs for a living. The skill difference was like night and day between those teachers and the ones I encountered in America. This is the source of my arrogance as a young man. Like many young Filipino teachers, I walked away with two foolish ideas in my head:

      • No one is better at Arnis & Eskrima than a Filipino
      • The best FMAs are only found in the Philippines

Once I opened my school, I was fortunate enough to be able to make a living with my martial arts without having to work a full-time job, so this enabled me to train every day for hours. Some of the fellow teachers I befriended lived a similar lifestyle I led–training every day, finding creative ways to put food on the table using my school and my skill. I considered my martial arts skill as my bread and butter, so training was always my priority and an important part of my work day. This reinforced the bias I had towards my philosophy, and gave me some logic to my notion about the arts. I added a third idea: That the only way to truly be an FMA man was to be a full-time teacher. Some of you who have known me for a couple of decades have heard me say this many times.

Then I hit my 30s. At 30 years old I had moved to Sacramento, CA, 45 minutes from Stockton. A few weeks after I arrived, my uncle took me to Stockton and introduced me to several of the Stockton FMA groups. It was then that I had met Manong Leo Giron, who was a friend of my uncle’s, and his students, and several members of GM Angel Cabales’ Serrada Eskrima. This city’s FMA has a culture and history very unique and should be studied by any serious aficionado of the Filipino arts for several reasons. First, in 1999, Stockton was a city on the verge of bankruptcy, where decades earlier it had been very prosperous as both a farming town and a blue collar town. You have men who grew up working hard and eating crow and that toughness is something they bring to their Eskrima. Secondly, Stockton is a city where the White Guy is a minority. The ethnic isolation of American culture leads to a competitiveness–even rivalry among racial groups, but in Stockton you have Black men, Mexicans, Filipinos, and poor Whites living next door to each other. Stockton does not have Black communities on one side of town and Mexican on the other side; the ethnic groups live together and the divides are more along economic lines than anything else. This allowed the Eskrima groups of Stockton to have mixed membership and the brotherhood within those schools have the tough love that Latinos and African Americans are known for. I recall being told by Sacramento martial artists that Stockton Eskrima clubs operate like gangs. From their perspective I’m sure it looked that way because the Eskrimadors there pump iron, are covered in tats, and will fight if you come at them the wrong way. Judge if you’d like, but this cultural element gives Stockton FMA its own flavor and makes for a very street-ready FMA. The guys who came out these schools are pretty much street dudes, but they are every bit of martial artist. But unlike your average seminar attendee and DVD collector, most of the Guros there have used their FMA for something other than a YouTube demo. They live in a town where there is gang activity in every corner, and perhaps some of that environment had made its way into the FMA, but this is out of necessity and not for marketing purposes. Thirdly, Stockton’s economy requires even the most serious students to work full-time. There is no professional sports team there. There is almost no club & bar scene. This is a blue collar town, so most of the Eskrimadors leave their full-time jobs, and rather than hang out a sports bar or going to a night club–they are training. You will find guys who are cops, warehouse workers, school teachers, State employees, cooks–who have the same level of skill that full-time teachers of the FMA possess. Martial arts is serious business there, and it’s much more than an idle pastime. Lesson learned.

So we arrive at the point of today’s post. There is a difference between the casual practitioner and the Eskrimador. The main difference is what role your martial arts plays in your life. For some, Eskrima has no role in their lives besides a form of income or a casual hobby. For others, Eskrima has fully integrated into someone’s daily routine and the culture they live in. FMAs can be a block in one’s schedule, or it can be on the brain every day, all day long, and can be a part of one’s life. When you are a casual practitioner, you have classmates, and you may have had several teachers you learned from over the years. To an Eskrimador/Arnisador, your training mates are your brothers, your teacher like a father (how many of you have many fathers?), and you are stuck with these people for the rest of your lives. You name your children after them. You’ve attended each other’s weddings and funerals. You bicker like siblings, but guess what–they are still your brothers. This is more than a school you attend or a business you patronize; it is a brotherhood, and once you’re in, you’re in for life. You might as well be in a gang, because it’s that serious. And decades after you’re gone, what you left behind continues to go on as if you were there, in your name, sort of like a grandfather who has passed on, the system continuing to splinter off and grow branches bearing the same name like a family. The Eskrima you inherited from your teacher is not certified and promoted like some license that can be taken away–but bequeathed to the next generation like a family heirloom, a favorite watch willed to a son, or a physical, genetic feature passed to your offspring.

I still have some of my bias. Eskrima should not be treated like a business, and I hate to say it but the main people I see treating FMAs like a business and selling it to casual practitioners are my own countrymen. FMAs are a culture, and our schools and systems are families. There are technical differences, and we will address that in part II of this article.

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Missing Pieces of Modern Eskrima Practice, pt II

I am the world’s biggest procrastinator, I swear…

So I’m doing a little maintenance to the site, which I haven’t done in a few year actually, and I come across my folder of unfinished “articles”. I put articles in quotation marks because it’s really just the titles that I put up with a small note I left for myself three years ago to write out the entire idea. (This is how I organize future articles while I’m thinking about it–I start the article, then leave it to be finished later. In this case, just a title)  This is meant to be a series from the original article, which you can find here. Like I said, I’m a huge procrastinator. My long time readers will attest to that.

And the note?

create, then seize the moment to kill

I often joke that my mother is a drama queen. Well, I happen to have inherited that trait as well. Anyone who knows me and my approach to the martial arts–whether we are discussing Eskrima or Kung Fu or anything else–will tell you that I see this arts not as something fun or technical, but serious business.

See, the modern Eskrimador has come to see the FMAs as anything from highly technical skills of reflexes, to the fanciest ways to take a stick, to weapon complements to other skills like kicking or grappling. Sometimes, you’ll witness FMA guys so eager to show how Eskrima does everything from fighting with a scarf to a whip to grappling to throwing axes and blowdarts–that they forget it all began with a stick. Yes, the stick can be used to choke, and the abaniko strike can be used to set up an arm lock. But how about breaking some bones with that stick? You know, like the masters use to do? When I look at the old masters move, I can see in their choice of play as old men that they once use to break things with those sticks–not play patty cake or rolling around on the ground humping each other with their baston. It’s a stick. Learn all that other stuff if you like, but if you can’t crush an eye socket or break a clavicle with that thing, you ain’t doing Eskrima. I’m just saying…

We’ve all heard Eskrima in its rawest form referred to as “Cave-Man” style. Don’t laugh; there is a lot of truth to it. Eskrima/Arnis, in its purest form, is a very rudimentary, brutish art designed to smash whatever is in its path. <— At its core. However, there are many skills, advanced skills, if you will–that make this elementary-but-effective art as sophisticated and advanced as any other art out there. Those things aren’t easily identified by casual onlookers. Not even obvious to casual, self-proclaimed “enthusiasts”. This installment’s missing piece, the skill of creating then exploiting the kill, is a forgotten, but vital, piece of the pie.

I could explain this skill in a few sentences, but it would take me years to teach it to you in person. This is why this missing piece is a dying art. Students don’t hang around their teachers long enough to get those lessons, and too many teachers out here have trained in a way that they never learned the skill themselves. If you believe that experience is the best teacher, this missing piece is the antithesis to that saying. For experience is not the best teacher–pondered, studied, evaluated experience is the best teacher. And it must be the right type of experience. “Experience” is not time spent studying or training solo. Experience is referring to time that the art has been learned, trained and developed, then put to the test against opponents who are seeking to challenge everything you’ve done. The skill of creating opportunities to use finishing techniques, and then the ability to employ those techniques in the blink of an eye–which is what we are describing here–cannot be taught in a seminar, book, or DVD. In Eskrima, what means the difference between life and death is not how well your left hand can twirl as good as your right, nor how closely your blade techniques look like your hand techniques, nor how many disarmings you know. What does matter are things like if you possess the power to kill a man with your stick or to cripple him, if your eyes are quick enough to recognize a flaw in your opponent’s movement or if your hands are quick enough to strike, or if your footwork is complex enough you can stay one step ahead of your opponent that he is always off balance and you are always ready to pounce. These skills are a combination of knowing tactics, knowing the responses to those tactics, knowing the appropriate responses to those responses, and the ability to finish the fight when you decide the fight should end. It is a combination of psychology, physics, anatomy, power mechanics, mastery of movement, and mastery of the ability to control the opponent’s actions.

Allow me to give you some tips on how you can explore this skill on your own. Rather than spending time learning the newest drills and grappling moves with stick, I would highly recommend returning to the days when you sparred regularly–and then seeing if you can apply these ideas:

  • learn to use light, energy-saving strikes to create openings. whether you are engaged in a weapons vs weapon or empty hand vs weapon fight, your ordeal may rely heavily on conditioning. one cannot go into a fight moving at 100% speed and power because regardless of your fitness level, exhaustion can come very quickly. even if your opponent moved at top speed as well, the timing difference between the fastest guy and the slowest guy can be as slight as a fraction of a second. purposely move slower to throw off your opponent’s timing and set him up for the kill. you move slow, he moves fast, the chances of him overshooting a block or move are great. the recovery time of a missed full power blow is dangerously longer than a half-hearted strike that is really just a wind up to a killing blow. by the way, if you click the link a few sentences back, it will explain much better than I am now, and here is part II of that article
  • make use of feinting and faking. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the benefits of feinting and faking, but very few people practice them. in fact, the only guys I see utilizing feinting and faking regularly are those who are actively fighting competitively-yet very few people actually train them and come up with strategies using them! they are a vital tool in point fighting, but since most FMA guys hate point fighting, they never develop this skill. well I’ve got news for you. boxers, fencers, and knife fighters on the street engaged in KvK fights use them–and Bruce Lee admired boxers and fencers and use to be a street fighter. will you listen now? develop your ff skill until you can make your opponent drop his hand, raise his hand, disrupt his guard, move his feet, etc., at will–and you will be able to determine when the point the fight ends and you get to go home. this ain’t just for trophies and medals, this is life and death
  • grapple. huh? wasn’t I just complaining about people grappling with a stick in their hands? yes. but that’s not what I meant. I’m not talking BJJ with a stick:  I’m saying learn to use that non-weapon hand for something other than slapping and disarming. your free hand at close quarters can be used to push the opponent. when the opponent readjusts himself from being pushed–you finish him. or pull him, and when he attempts to move back, finish him. or knock his hand down, grab his hand, and so forth. slap him, scratch him, distract him, and while he’s dealing with that pesky free hand of yours–crack his cranium.

I’m going to stop here. But hopefully you get the idea. There is a lot you can do to learn to fight with weapons besides how many ways you make music with your sticks. Sinawali music, that’s cute. Well, take this tip from the old school guys and learn to create opportunities to strike and develop the ability to exploit them before the opponent realizes what happened. You’ll go far.

Stay tuned for part III!! Thank you for visiting my blog. If you like our articles, please subscribe and share them with your friends!

The Wayward Branch

“Listen 10 times, ponder 1,000 times–speak once.”

–Turkish proverb

One recurring theme you will see repeated on this blog is the idea that martial artists too often fail to think for themselves. Over the last half-century, you will notice that the tides of martial arts philosophy sways with the coming and going of “new” arts and training methods. Everyone, it seems, has had their day. Those who have dedicated their entire lives to an art will suddenly, after decades of training and learning (even teaching)–then drop what they are doing to get certified in and claim expertise in the “soup du jour”:  Ninjitsu, Muay Thai, Jeet Kune Do, FMA, MMA, Krav Maga, et al. Look back in the Filipino Fighting Secrets Live archives, you will see that I have often predicted correctly the “new” martial arts fad. I have notice in recent years, Datus, Tuans, Grandmasters of Southeast Asian styles, MMA wannabes once again don the traditional gi that they’ve tossed aside like a pregnant girlfriend and once again claim that they have always loved the Japanese/Okinawan/Korean martial arts styles that gave them their start in the arts.

So what happened? I’ll tell you. Somebody got out there in the fighting arena and showed that no, grappling does not beat traditional stand up arts every time, and that theses arts are valid as fighting styles… even in the octagon. Even in the streets. You would think that after 30, 40, 50 years of martial arts training, some of these guys would know that. Well, my observation that most martial artists–even you masters and grandmasters–have not done their own research. They hear once, they ponder once, then a thousand times–strap on the “expert” label and blab what they’ve been told as if this knowledge came from firsthand experience. Many will argue that there’s nothing wrong with this. After all, the masters who came before us were wise men and did the research for us and presented us the most valuable martial arts they could find. Right? Who are we to negate what they’ve done and reinvent the wheel?

That’s the thing, though. They did the research, and they presented the art that they found. I’m sorry to tell you this, my friends, but you have to get your own. Each generation that an art is not stripped down, crucified on the doubter’s cross, reexamined, tested, fortified, strengthened, and rebuilt/repackaged/repurposed–it becomes stale and diluted. Imagine two generations ago, your great grandpa died and left your grandfather his lifetime’s savings that he worked so hard to obtain. A whopping $25,000. Which would have been worth a whole lot more today, btw. Then your grandfather took that money, did nothing with it, then willed it to your father. Who in turn did nothing but save it, and then willed it to you. Bearing in mind that as interest rates stay the same and will add to money at a much slower rate than inflation decreases it’s value–how valuable do you think Great Grandpa’s $25K would be worth today? Not much. But if your grandfather used the money to start a business, multiplied it to say $50K, then your dad invested it and doubled that to $100K, and so on… do you see where I’m going with this?

If someone tells you something good, don’t just take it at face value and pass it on. Scrutinize it. Dissect it. Understand it. Find ways to diminish it and see if you could fortify it so that it cannot be diminished. See if you can fully understand it, test it, improve it, then pass it on. That’s the thing about “respecting” your master’s art. Every art had a previous form. Jeet Kune Do was once Wing Chun. Jow Ga was once Hung Gar and Choy Gar. Brazilian Jujitsu was once Judo. Judo was once Jujitsu. Even the sweet science had humble beginnings as a rudimentary form of fighting under the Queensbury rules. Everything can be improved. Everything should be improved. And each of us who learned from our teachers owe it to our masters before us to take the knowledge they’ve given, their life’s work–and continue the development. Each of us will run out of time one day, and leave unfinished martial arts for our students. If you ever find a master who said his art is perfected and therefore cannot be evolved or improved, I can assure you that your teacher is a foolish old man who is no master. For martial arts mastery is an action word. A martial art is not a “master”; one masters the martial arts. Mastery of an art is not something you do once and then it becomes a state. It is a process. The perfection of the art is an ever-changing, ever-evolving, evolution process that occurs over several lifetimes. Perhaps your teacher’s teacher began it, your teacher continued it, and today–the torch has been passed to you to carry on. Carry ON, not hold still. Capisci? When you are given an art, don’t become a follower of that art–become a student of it. Learn it, study it, especially after you have been granted teaching credentials. You may be an expert to the students and the general public, but to your masters and seniors–you will always be a student. And you should. Keep researching and understanding and developing.

So you do not want to just take art as-is and pass it on without a personal stamp on it, otherwise your martial arts system has wasted a generation on you. Give your students the best version of what you learned, because you didn’t follow your teacher–you were a student of your teacher’s teachings. Don’t give that art as it is because your teacher’s teachings; give it because of your own conclusions. Do it because you tested it, discovered that it works, and it makes sense.

This is why one mighty grand tree doesn’t just grow in one direction. It may have a big and strong trunk, but what gives that tree life are the many branches that shoot in many directions and feed the single trunk they all share in common. This is how arts benefit from having many views and variations and specialties within its family tree.

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Mastery and Innovation

In the path to mastery of the martial arts, including especially fighting arts such as Eskrima and Arnis–one must have a certain degree of innovativeness. While not absolutely necessary, for most martial artists perfection and a mastery-level degree of knowledge and skill is impossible without being at least somewhat innovative.

Before I begin, let me summarize the opposite approach to mastery. That is, mastery without developing new ideas and skills within the arts:

A rarely found type of master in the arts is one who has achieved pure perfection in the art–one who has taken an art as it was taught to him and execute this art with unmatched speed, power, precision, understanding, and timing. In calling this martial artists “perfect”, he is one who seemingly cannot be beaten. He is physically unrivaled by all opponents, and no equal or superior can be found.

If the above seems to be idealistic and impossible, that’s because it seems to be. Most of you reading this article have never encountered such a man and probably never will. I have met a few men like him, so I know this type of fighter exists. One would call him a Master because “good martial artist” is not strong enough a phrase to describe him. Just the idea of a man you cannot touch and have never seen lose is peculiar enough. There are such few martial artists out there who have reached this level of skill that most of us will never meet nor fight this type of man. I’m not talking about the Masters you see frequently on the internet and in books, DVDs and seminars. I’m not talking about the old man who moves “pretty good for his age”. I’m not talking about the beloved teacher of your teacher to whom you give respect because you love and admire him. I’m talking about literally the best martial artists you have ever seen. One who is stronger, faster, more agile, totally unbeatable than anyone you have ever seen. You do not need to imagine how good he was in his prime because you can see it. The guy in the magazines you would love to bring to your city to teach? Shit, I’m talking about the men HE talks about in his stories. Keeping this level of skill in mind, hopefull you can understand why I contend that the term/title “Master” is a highly overused, prematurely claimed, almost arbitrary, meaningless term today. Not only will 99.9% of those reading this article never meet such a man–99.9% of you will never reach this level.

So let’s move along.

Because pure physical perfection is such a difficult level of skill to reach, most dedicated FMA fanatics may be happy to discover there is another way to achieve mastery without undeservedly slapping on the title or paying a GM or organization for a piece of paper. It is still a skill-based method of mastering the art without having to isolate oneself from the world for five years and live the life of a celibate fighting monk. And this is to find shortcuts in the art.

If you are a long time follower of this blog, you might want to shake me and insist, “But you said there ARE no shortcuts in the arts!!”  Yes, I have said something similar to that many times. I never said there are shortcuts in the art, however–I said there are not shortcuts to proficiency in the art. One must still pay his dues, train diligently, study intensely, test frequently. Some may be able to shorten the length of time it takes to master an art by training more frequently and finding more or better opponents. Yet the path to mastering the art is the same: Learn, develop, train, test, revise, develop based on the results, and train with the outcome–then wash, rinse, repeat until no new discoveries are made. That process will never go away. Too often, in the martial arts, we want to take arts intact from our teacher’s curriculums to our students without dissecting his knowledge and revising it based on our tastes, fancies, failures and successes–then do this for a few years and then call ourselves a “master”. This is not the path to mastery. Mastery, my friends, is not a level or title people call you when you are popular or old. Mastery is a level of skill you achieve after treating “master” as a verb for many years until, as I stated a second ago, no new information can be discovered through testing (ahem, sparring and pressured use) and practice.

So where do shortcuts enter this process? Let’s take a scenario to serve as an example. You have an opponent who is greatly advantaged over you. He is faster than you are. He may be stronger than you. He may be more agile and evasive. Perhaps he has a sixth sense and can read what you are about to do–and blocks your strikes before your attacks even arrive. For all intents and purposes, he is a superior fighter. He has trained longer, he is more physically gifted, perhaps he has spent more time in the gym or the ring than you have. He is the better man than you and you say to yourself that perhaps you should just be realistic and accept that this opponent is the better man than you and you are about to lose. This situation seems hopeless, and all of us have seen outclassed fighters in the ring with the best fighter in the world, and you know from Round 1… He’s about to get his ass whipped. Well, now is the time for the shortcut. Your opponent has a gun, you have a knife. Find a way to beat him. All the chips are stacked against you, and anyone who isn’t a fool would bet the bank that you are too disadvantaged to be the victor.

Opponent is bigger, stronger, more athletic, faster, more gifted, has a sharper weapon than you. How can you beat him? Well, when you figure that out, then you have discovered the shortcut I am referring to, and you are approaching mastery of the art. Yes, the art should turn you into a human weapon. YOU should be the one who is faster, stronger, more agile and have more pain tolerance and better tactics in the fight. But we all know there are always better fighters out there. The true master is one who knows how to win a gunfight with a knife. He can touch the faster opponent on the chin and block his punches. He can knockdown the bigger, stronger fighter. He can make the sharper fighter look like a bozo. He can make the younger man look old. Every fighter has a thumbscrew, but it takes a true master of the art to know how to uncover and then exploit it. This is the difference between average martial artists who can only beat opponents when he has the upper hand, when he is faster, stronger, “better” than the opponent. The true master of the art may be outclassed, but he is never outsmarted. So yes, you don’t have to be the most fit. You don’t have to be the most powerful. You don’t have to be the superior opponent. But you find a way to be the victor anyway.

Does that sound impossible? Well remember… Buster Douglas beat Tyson. Ali knocked out George Foreman. Hopkins beat De La Hoya AND Trinidad. Tarver beat Roy Jones Jr. Randall beat Chavez. Many lower skilled, physically disadvantaged fighters have found a way to be victorious over superior fighters. Being innovative and finding ways to be the exception to the rule will help you maintain superiority even as an out of shape, aging master. Now… Go forth and make it happen.

Last article, I was told that my ideas were idealistic and that this level of skill does not exist. Well, my answer to that can be summed up in two maxims I was taught as a child:

  1. If you think you can, you are probably right. If you think you can’t, you are CERTAINLY right
  2. Those who believe secrets do not exist in the martial arts, simply have not learned any

This level of skill does exist. But it will never exist to you if you never pursue it–and you won’t pursue it if you don’t believe it can be achieved. That’s all I will say about this until later.

One last piece of advice, concerning shortcuts and innovation:  You must develop something unique. You must research. You must doubt what you know of the martial arts, try to disprove it or try to be disproved. You must test what you know and can do. You must seek out those who can beat you. You must gravitate towards your “haters”–those who don’t believe in your art and skills–not flee from them. You must find new ways to view and apply your craft. You must deconstruct the art your teachers gave you and put them against the question, “If I had to build this art from scratch, what are the most effective and efficient ways for me to do it?” See if your master actually did give you the best fighting art he could, and be prepared to admit if you find that he didn’t. Check to see if perhaps the skills he gave you are no longer relevent for today’s application, or if it should be tweaked. Find alternative ways to use the skills you already possess. Look for the weaknesses in what you do. Answer the question, “How would I beat someone using my art?”–and then find a way to counter the counters for your art. Step outside the box and break free of the same old way everyone before you trained these arts, and I guarantee that you will master the arts. You may not be carrying a warrior’s DNA in your veins, but it does not mean that the higher levels of the art are off limits to you.

And “Mastery” will no longer have to be a political or self-applied term for you.

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