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.

The Level V Guro

Teaching Philosophy imageIf you haven’t gotten a copy of my book, teaching philosophy, you should get it on Amazon.

Extremely vital to the survival of the FMAs, but ignored and often taken for granted, the art of teaching the martial arts can mean the difference between an art that grows and prospers versus one that simply exists. A martial artist who studies fighting technique, but skips to marketing the art without studying how to best teach the arts is doing his students and thus–the memory of his teachers before him a great injustice. We always hear how martial arts teachers need teaching skill more than fighting skill, but when was the last time you actually received instruction on actually teaching the art? Every university and college has more than merely business, the sciences, and arts… they all have a department where students study how to teach. My question is this:  What about us?  Why is it that in the martial arts we only have fighting resources and marketing resources?

The answer is simply this:  We just don’t know much about the next level of passing on the arts. We assume that once you receive the art, you are now qualified to teach as well as lead an organization. Yet, look around you and your martial arts circle. You know as well as I do, this is not true. Schools flounder for decades, teachers die broke, locations open and close, students spend years with a Master and walk away with mediocre skills, organizations split up and lineages dissolve. If our masters were such great leaders, why do their organizations produce poor students, and eventually go bankrupt unless the master walks away from the art to become fitness centers, babysitters/daycares or Black Belt mills?

I submit to you, martia arts brothers and sisters, that we must face facts that we in the martial arts have not given enough attention to the arts of teaching and running a business. Often, we see one of our own prospering and then we assume he has “sold out”. Too often, that master has. Why is it that we haven’t been able to find a way to grow our schools and make a decent living without diluting the arts? It’s too easy to simply blame the student, saying “There aren’t enough serious students out there” or “Today’s student don’t want the real art”… We must learn from other industries and disciplines that have found a way to prosper in modern society, and find ways to apply those lessons to the fighting arts. Not the children’s business. Not Tae Bo and similar, but the fighting arts.

Again, after learning how to perform the fighting arts–we have to study how to (1) teach the fighting arts for excellence, and (2) how to run a traditional martial arts business and survive in today’s modern economy. I do have two books on the business side of the martial arts that you can find on the “Offerings” page, as well as a section of articles on martial arts business (pertaining specifically to the Filipino arts) found here.

For almost as long as I have been training in the arts, I have studied teachers–my teachers as well as others I’ve encountered–and their techniques to produce a better trained fighter. While you may have convinced yourself that fighting is not the goal in the study of arts, you and I both know that a student body of poor fighters will result in a poor reputation for the teacher and school. We cannot avoid this; the actual skill of the student in combat is the universal measuring tool used to determine a school and it’s teacher’s worth. A teacher then, should be primarily concerned with the skill of his students. We all have heard of schools where the master is the baddest dude in the organization, but his students were nothing to look at it. In my opinion, this is an example of a poor instructor. Reasons for good teacher/mediocre student vary:

  • Teacher simply does not know how to duplicate his skill in others
  • Teacher is more concerned with his own skill than his students
  • Teachers lacks the knowledge to correct students’ perfomance
  • Teacher is only good at guiding students who already have a foundation
  • Teacher’s ego prevents him from allowing proficient students to rise to the top of the pack, due to jealousy and/or rivalry

The first thing a teacher must be concerned with is developing a curriculum and teaching method that produces the best skill in every student. That means he must be able to teach the students with no coordination, the students who are afraid of training hard, the insecure, the naturally gifted, the lazy, the weak, the skinny, the fat, the overly aggressive, the timid. He must know how to deal with all types of classroom personalities, and make sure he understands how to retain good students, and keep the classes full. The days of blaming empty classrooms on “students who couldn’t cut it” are over. If you cannot maintain a student’s attention, although he had enough interest to join–that sounds like a front-of-the-classroom problem, not a cultural or age related one. Imagine if you child’s high school had a 60% drop out rate, and the teachers took pride in this! Claiming no one could pass their exams and classes were so hard–what would you say? Don’t be that school. Let’s not scapegoat our failures on unqualified students.

Secondly, teachers must be saavy enough to run a business, unless you have a partner with this knowledge. You must know how to keep the lights on, willing to pay bills and manage money when you do have it. You must know how to market your classes, how to sell your classes, and how to recognize (and rescue) a student who is considering dropping out. This information is not found on your correspondence course DVDs, nor will most of your Masters offer this during class time. Therefore, you must build a library of books to learn business management, marketing, sales, and financial management… and then read those books often. Your students are counting on you to keep the school going, and perhaps you should rethink if you are prepared for a storefront location–or perhaps you should move into a low-cost option, like a community center or sublet somewhere. Not an easy decision, but it needs to be considered. Be honest with yourself.

Finally, martial arts teachers must be effective leaders. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being a simple, basic teacher–and 5 being a great Grandmaster-to-be, you must aim for becoming a Level 5 leader. This is something we in the arts are not always honest about. We love to strap on titles without thinking of what those titles mean. If you simply want to teach your martial arts classes and preserve the art, then stick to that. But if you are trying to certify new teachers, open several locations, guide several generations of students forward or start your own system–you must do better than simply having a lot of students and calling yourself “Grandmaster”. Trust me, many of your grandmasters only have followers because they certified a bunch of instructors at random simply to have students left behind to teach–yet know deep in their heart those students are not the best they could have produced. Many grandmasters leave behind bickering lineages, and organizations that eventually crumble because hierarchies, instructions, and rules were not clear. Martial arts leadership, then, is more than simply teaching the fighting arts and having students with rank certificates. Sadly, most of our grandmasters left it at that. Some have constitutions, some had sparring sessions where the big dogs were decided in hand-to-hand. I cannot tell you how to run your organizations, but I can tell you this:  Organizations are only successful when these things are in place:

  • Those he leaves behind must be inspired to continue and further his work
  • They can run the organization without the presence of the Grandmaster. If the organization dies with the teacher, he wasn’t effective
  • Splinter organizations are fine, as long as the schools are still running. The splinters need not even be aimiable; but they must be respectful and aimiable, and must work together laterally to further the work of the teacher. They may even work separately, but come together for a few functions. The martial arts community as a whole must see them as branches of one family
  • The number of students must grow when Grandmaster is gone
  • The quality of skill must increase with each coming generation. If the Grandmaster’s original students were the best, and all other were mediocre, this means GM was the best teacher of them all. How can the art improve if the best couldn’t improve the overall skill in the next generation?
  • Profit. Perhaps the master died a man of meager means, but he started this alone. Now that he is gone there may be 5, 10, 20 of you. Twenty men can’t work together to make this business more profitable for everyone? Or did the master leave behind selfish, egotistic children who can’t work together long enough to put more money in his own pockets? Money, after all, can’t be everything–but it is still important…

When you first begin teaching, you must of course begin with possessing the best skill you can in order to represent the school well. However, once the school is running and steaming forward, the focus of the teacher should be on building the reputations and skills of the student. Self-focused, prideful, narcissistic teachers will not be able to produce absolutely the best students possible; he is too concerned with his own reputation and vanity. And finally, as students become proficient, the Master must mentor and guide students towards mastery themselves. He should want his students just as good as himself–if not better. He should be grooming his successors and preparing his organization for the next generation. The only excuse is if the teacher dies unexpectedly. If the master wants to be remembered as something more than simply a footnote in the system’s lineage, he must leave something behind greater than himself… An organization that will exist for several lifetimes. And you will need more than just certificates and a resume to make this happen.

Thank you for visiting my blog.




The Hierarchy of FMA’s Teaching Class

Some of you may dismiss this discussion as a matter of semantics, but this really is serious business.

All who teach the arts are not created equal, and what separates us is so much more than which styles we offer or who taught us. Today, I would like to introduce a few of these things and then come back to the subject later when I have more time.

  1. There is a difference between a “Black Belter” or “expert”, and a teacher.  Some of the debate we see in the martial arts, especially the Filipino arts, is the claim that being an expert fighter does not guarantee that the expert fighter would be an expert teacher. While this may be true, the debate has been used by many who are not even good fighters to justify themselves as teachers. If one does not know the art of fighting (1), one cannot fight (2), and fighting is more than simply a physical act (3)–then there is no excuse for a so-called teacher to claim he can teach the art of fighting without himself being a good fighter. Let’s recap this. If fighting is more than physical and anyone can learn it, how can you expect to be truthful in your claim to teach fighting to anyone when you yourself never developed the skill from knowledge YOU possess? How can you teach the art of fighting if you claim to have knowledge but not be able to actually do  it? And finally, I’m going to need a little help with this last question. How can you claim expertise in something you cannot actually do yourself? Yet on martial arts message boards everywhere, you will find FMA Guro who have never fought and even claim that the act of fighting is unnecessary–but at the same time claim to have enough expertise to be qualified to teach it! Here is my point. Yes, you must have teaching skill to teach to be an effective teacher. But you must also have fighting skill to teach fighting. Furthermore, you can have fighting expertise and not teaching skill, but you cannot have teaching skill and not fighting skill. Therefore, there is a hierarchy. One must first be an expert fighter, then become a teacher. A Black belt or Expert certification is not a teaching credential.
  2. There are Instructors of the art, and then there are Teachers. Within the ranks of those who teach the martial arts, we have a further hierarchy. There are those who know the art well enough to pass on the basics and technical art we call “Fighting Arts” to novices. We must, however, not confuse these people with those who know the art well enough to teach students all the way to expertise. The difference is similiar to grade school teachers who can teach a child how to read and count and perform arithmetic versus professors who can teach college students the sciences and the higher arts. I learn to read, and I can teach someone else to read–but simply knowing how to read does not qualify me to teach others how to write poetry or present research reports on the sciences. This is my problem with the distance learning and seminar industry in the Filipino art. We have men and women teaching and certifying 20-30 or more students in two hour sessions. At the same time, I could bring four guys from my gym and they will destroy anyone in the room, including the guy awarding certificates. This should never happen, yet I have never met a man taught by seminar who can beat a fighter trained in a full-time school, ever. Don’t let this love of money fool you into thinking your four or five seminars per year makes you equal with those who do this four or five times a week. Seminars are fine to teach basics and drills, but for serious learning–for those wanting to become expert fighters, or to become teachers themselves, they will need more attention than what some well-known celebrity teacher can offer in 2 hours while running around trying to give 20 other students their money’s worth. Some of those who can teach can guide you through the higher levels of the arts, while others don’t know much more than what they are putting out on Youtube and DVD. The higher levels of the art cannot be passed on through anything other than up close and personal, I don’t care who teaches the seminar or produces the video–even Bruce Lee’s ghost, himself. Within your school’s walls, you must identify those who can pass on the basics of your art versus those who are knowledgeable and experienced enough to guide students through their entire education, including a fighting as well as teaching career.
  3. Being an old Martial Artist or old Teacher does not make one a Master. Mastery is based on the highest levels of skill, knowledge and experience. It is not age or time in the arts. If I learned in a commercial dojo in the 1980s, never fought anywhere, never taught anywhere but in commercial dojos, never coached pro fighters, never worked with bouncers/security/LEO on how to apply the arts to their jobs–you don’t get to just strap on the title “Master” once you discover some grey hair or scalp showing through your mane. It doesn’t come with time, it comes with knowledge and ability. If my career was spent taking students to 1st or 2nd degree Black belts before they quit and start playing high school soccer instead, we need you to come over to the rough side of the mountain. It isn’t a numbers game. It’s not a waiting game. The designation of Master comes when you are among the best of the best, the most knowledgeable of the knowledgeable, you’ve cracked open the traditional and the obvious and forced your way into its secrets. You don’t get that through 20 years of throwing Ninja Turtle Birthday parties. There is a difference between older Martial Arts Teachers and actual Martial Arts Masters. They both deserve respect, but one is much more respectable than the other. I’ve seen blog posts where older Martial Arts Teachers ridicule Masters who never discovered financial success in the industry, and it’s shameful. The Master puts in all the research and pain and suffering for the greater good of the art, while the McDojo Master gains financial reward because he pretends to be his peer. Please don’t misconstrue my statements; there is no crime in finding commercial success. Just don’t equate commercial success and age with the actual path to Mastery. As my grandfather once said, the real Lion in the room is he who is feared and respected when the wallets, belts and organizations are left out the room. Get together a group of so called experts for a private contest of skill and nothing less–you’ll find out who the real master is. Let that guide your quest for growth, not your resume.
  4. Masters can be Master Fighters or Master Teachers, or both. In the art, we have those who know the arts extremely well, we have those who can DO the arts extremely well, and those who can teach the arts extremely well. You may become one of these, two of these or a combination of these or none of these. The common denominator? “Extremely Well”… If you are none of these, meaning you are not known to necessarily know the arts better than most, fight better than most, or have students who are better than most–you may be one who is KNOWN through the arts extremely well. There are many who are called “Master” just because they are popular and people like them–not because of anything they’ve done or can do. If that is the case, then perhaps you are a “Master” in a way. But as the title of this article states, there is a hierarchy.

These can be broken down in better detail when there is time, and each may need its own article. Please subscribe if you’d like to keep up with this discussion! And if you like the blog, you may also like my books–and please share the page! Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday! Thank you for visiting my blog.

Teaching Patiently (Straw vs. Waterhoses pt II)

This message is just as much for my own student-Instructors, as it is for my readers. It is a continuation of this article, entitled “Straw vs. Waterhoses”. When you get a chance, check it out.

An important vitrue in learning the martial arts is, of course, patience. What few know is that patience is equally vital to the transmission of an art for teachers–if not more important. I am no fan of the “waterhose” philosophy to learning and teaching. Rather than drink from an excessively fast flow of information (like a waterhose)–you increase the value and impact of your learning by sipping through a straw. Don’t let most of your learning waste onto the ground because you were unable to retain it all; sip in periodic, ingestible amounts. Drink, absorb, enjoy. Drink, absorb, enjoy. Wash, rinse, repeat.  Do not drink more until you have fully absorbed what you’ve taken in or you’ll just piss it all way. Take your time; the knowledge won’t go away if you’re dedicated and diligent. Better that you know what you know thoroughly and fully, than know what you know barely and can’t do anything more than regurgitate it and spit it out for others to “not-ingest-completely-either”. This is how martial arts gets watered down.

Studying the martial arts and testing for instructorship can be a lot like the difference between a guy who studies and reads all semester long, a few hours a night for the entire term. When the final exam is given, he is confident. He can relax and watch TV the night before–all of his lessons are burned into his memory. He can apply his knowledge in almost any situtation he finds himself in. There is no jumbled, classical mess in his brain. He understands concepts as fluently as he understands his first language. When the questions are asked, he immediately has access to the answers.

On the other hand, we have the student who did not study and read all semester. We don’t know what he was doing–perhaps reading material from other subjects, skipping ahead into next semester’s curriculum, or just pretending to be a diligent student while looking for a shortcut. Speaking of which–in the few days prior to the final exam, he burns the midnight oil, and crams all the lessons from the entire semester into as many hours he can in a few days. He does this with flash cards, word association memorization techniques, notes scribbled on his hands, visualization–whatever he needs to. The day of the exam, he has memorized the material and can answer any question if you give him a second. During the exam, each question gets answered after he searches his memory for the answer. And guess what? He also passes the exam.

The difference is not just how the second student was able to memorize the same amount of material in 10% of the time. After all, did they both pass the exam? If “passing” is all that mattered to you, then this discussion ends here. The big question is, did both men actually learn the same material? Perhaps years later, the student who crammed can still recite his lessons just as well as one can recite lyrics to a poem. The second difference between both students is that one memorized and the other learned. Learning, my martial arts brothers and sisters, is not the simple hands and feet “reciting” the lessons. It is not in the ability to recall the material and memorizing terms and definitions. “Learning” is in the application. You can “learn” 500 vocabulary words of a foreign language and still do not “speak” that language. You can understand how to conjugate a verb, phonetically pronounce those words in the perfect accent, know male and female nouns… and a three year old child who is a native speaker of that language with 300 words can “speak” and communicate better than you. You have memorized words, phrases and rules of grammar, but the child with a more limited vocabulary speaks this language better than you do. And this is why the Jujitsu Blue Belt student with three years of training can destroy the seminar-certified Black Belt teacher who “knows” the entire curriculum. One has memorized moves while the other understands the moves.

As teachers, we are responsible for the quality of learning that our students experience in our tutelage. If we are impatient in getting them through the curriculum, for whatever reason, the students will know the curriculum without really knowing it. Students must be given material slowly enough to fully grasp it, absorb it, and to think of combat and self defense as though those techniques are the only options he has. Exhaust all the possibility of a technique and its variations before moving on to the next. This is why students choke when fighting and sparring. Too often, a martial arts student can recall counters and defenses, but none come to him naturally and as a reflexive response. The main reason is that we have given the student more in his tool box than his thinking will allow him to use naturally.

Sometimes, we worry about retention, so we rush the student to the next level so they don’t become discouraged or bored. But what will discourage more–not progressing as quickly as he’d like? Or losing a fight because his Black Belt wasn’t really earned?

My grandfather was still teaching me techniques when he died. I was his last student, and one of only three grandchildren who taught since most of my cousins chose other careers and my uncles all died. There was a short period before he passed where I learned quickly before it was too late, and that information is not a part of my curriculum. My grandfather was prepared to let that information go, but I insisted on learning it. I recently began teaching it to my son, and I see the value that I missed because I never absorbed it. My grandpather was 78 teaching it to me, I am 45 and teaching it to my 15 year old boy. Seeing that rushed learning being practiced and absorbed slowly has given me a new appreciation for it.

Must admit though, that I have a selfish reason for promoting this theory:  In learning and developing something slowly, you will be less inclined to just give it away for 100 bucks. As one who reveres the Filipino art, I hate to see our systems sold off in seminars and video. I value this art as I do a family heirloom. Some see the art as a commodity to generate income. When teachers take their time while imparting the art, you allow your students to learn and develop properly and their skill will be three times the skill of one who crashed coursed. Better for all FMA people.

In many systems there are 6, 8, 10, 12, 24, 48, 64 strikes. Regardless of how many, those techniques should be taught only a few at a time. Allow your students to see fighting as if only those few strikes exist. They will see those few strikes as the only options in combat and will mentally fit them in to all situations. Give them plenty of time to experiment with them, develop them into instant weapons when the time comes. When the students have those techniques in their arsenal as second nature–give them a little more. This is teaching patiently. A student with weak wrists and poor coordination will not make good use of half your curriculum. Develop them as they learn. Many teachers are just teaching them. As the proverb goes–do not cast your pearls to swine.

And withold your techniques for those who are really ready for it.

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Straw vs. Waterhoses

It is no secret, that I am the anti-FMA Grandmaster. I respect them. But I disagree with most of them when concerning teaching the art. The proof is in the pudding, and I support my side of the debate with my claim that I will bet my house on ANY of my instructor level students against ANY of theirs.

Sadly, most Grandmasters would never take such a bet, and most of them can’t even name all of their instructor level students. This is not a judgment against teachers with a lot of students. But it is a judgment against the teaching format most of the Grandmasters (and most likely, yours too) use to impart this art. I can understand, that many good teachers have taught so many students that they cannot remember everyone’s name. I have only been teaching for 28 years, and I can’t name all my students, and the largest my enrollment has ever been was 175.

The act of teaching a student from the beginner level through a high level of proficiency is a very intimate one. It is not a business transaction. The way many FMA students are taught are very impersonal. Teachers know nothing about you. Often, they don’t even meet you–especially if the lessons were via distance learning (aka “DVD”). In a seminar, the most contact one might have with a teacher is the occasional correction he might do (that is, if he actually does the correcting instead of one of his helpers), or at the end of the session, when handing out certificates, shaking hands and taking pictures. This is not how one guarantees the skill level of someone you’re teaching. It is a method of imparting the art to the masses, spreading the name of the system–which is supposed to be good for the FMAs in general (if you believe mass marketing is in fact the answer). I strongly disagree. And unlike most guys stating their opinion, I will prove my point in person.

One of the teaching concepts I disagree with is the idea of “Drinking out of a waterhose”, often associated with GM Dan Inosanto. It goes like this:  You have a large group of students of varied levels and experience in one room. You need a way to give the bare-bones beginner something to take home, as well as the Guro-student who is already teaching. How to accomplish this? Without teaching over the heads of the beginner while not boring the advanced guy?

The answer:  You give them so much technique in that session and students take away as much as they remember. You pour it out fast, give multiple variations, concepts, what-if exchanges and updated changes to the stuff they learned last time they came. Those who can drink fast, retain more. Those who cannot, retain what they can. Hmmph. Well, thank God for camcorders and cell phones. At the end of every seminar, there should be at least two or three breaks where the GM dazzles them with a display of choreographed give and take/counter demonstrations, along with the “you-can-do-dis-you-can-do-dat” with a Filipino accent. Ooooo…. Ahhhhh….. How authentic. Makes you feel like a Mindanao warrior. lol

But real skill in the art is not learned this way. Doesn’t matter how much you practice after the seminar is over and the Grandmaster flies home. It shouldn’t even be taught this way. Martial arts is not taught like how academics is taught in the lecture halls–it should be taught like the breakout groups with the professor’s assistants through the week. (Hey I never said I didn’t go to college)  The study groups, where the basics are drilled and questions are asked, and two or three days a week, the same material is introduced and reintroduced, questioned, analyzed and dissected <—- this is where the learning occurs. If you got a hodgepodge of information one week in a session, then often unrelated stuff a few months from now (or worse–next year), you’ll never learn. This is not a cohesive, intensive study of a subject. Instead, it is an introduction that comes in small, barely digested bites. You can’t learn a language in a seminar a few times a year, and you certainly can’t learn a fighting art that will one day save your life on the street this way either.

When teaching, I believe in the immersion method. You come back week after week, drill the same few techniques over and over, hundreds of repetitions per session, thousands of repetitions per month, for years. You live, eat, breathe the art–in the presence of the Master. You sit at his feet for hours at a time to learn what he has to impart with no time constraints. You don’t have many students to compete against for his attention. He learns you like a mentor learns his pupil, like a doctor learns his patient… like a parent learns his child. Your student learns your favorite meals, he knows how you got almost every injury you have, know the origin of the scars on your face and who gave it to you. You know his financial issues, you’ve talked about his marital woes, his fears while walking on the street. You know his habits when he fights, what he’s good at, what he isn’t good at, how he will be beaten, what he specializes in when he is fighting. Your student’s skill is a constant work in progress, like a tree stump you whittle on daily for years, until it looks like a perfect replica of whatever was in your mind. Every mistake he made in fighting, you’ve already erased. Things he can’t do are no longer an issue, because you’ve taught him how to overcome it. I have students who aren’t perfect fighters, but I have taught them how to work around those imperfections. And when I was confident that they will dominate whoever is in front of them, I considered them advanced enough to teach.

This ^^^ my friends, is how you “certify” a Guro. Not through some crash or correspondence course where you wouldn’t bet your reputation on them if asked. Trust me, I’ve heard all the excuses:

  • What about the guys who live out of town?  They need to relocate, travel or find another teacher. You can’t have them all
  • What about the guys whose careers don’t allow them to study full time?  They are not viable candidates to be a martial arts teacher. I am a doctor, but I want to be a lawyer too. Yeah, well I’d like to be a millionaire. Get out my face with that–make a decision
  • The art needs to be spread to as many people as possible.  Says who? McGuro? Next!
  • Not everyone wants to be a great fighter. Then they need to find another occupation

Little Mikey wants to be a doctor, but he has neither the grades to get into medical school, the discipline to finish a program, or lives in a city with a medical school. So what should he do? Well, there are laws against him calling himself a doctor. Unless he is willing to improve his grades, work hard for it, or relocate to a city that has a medical school (and get accepted)–he honestly doesn’t want to be a doctor. I would question any asshole who taps him on the shoulder and finds a way for him to become a “certified” Doctor without doing it the way everyone else did it. Most of your grandmasters have done this with the Filipino Martial Arts.

This is one of the main reasons thekuntawman exists, and why many people dislike me–because I won’t shut up about it. And this is the driving force behind most of the articles on this blog; the Filipino martial arts has become a mass-marketed commodity. It is no longer the deadly fighting art it claims to be, and so many Grandmasters are the reason why.

Martial arts technique is not meant to be drunk through a waterhose, but to be sipped through a drinking straw. It must be absorbed in fully; not to have most of it wasted down your chin. I have 8 leg attacks in my system, and I never teach more than one or two at a time. Students are here to learn completely and absorb my system, not to have me show them something they could memorize and demonstrate to youtube. When they fight, I expect everything in their arsenal to be a knee-jerk reaction or deliberate use of technique in live time. You can’t do this when more is thrown at them than can become a part of their thought process. I believe in this system of teaching, and this is the reason I will always put my guys out as proof of it–and why most “masters” won’t.

Thank you for visiting my blog.


Teaching Notes for New Teachers of the FMAs

Concerning the Art of TEACHING the FMAs…

I’ve mentioned several times on this blog that in the Filipino Martial Arts world, we have many ways of teaching fighting and drills but very little addresses how to teach students. We’re not talking about how to teach a seminar; I am referring to lessons on how to teach full-time students of the arts. There are plenty of books about instructing in Japanese, Korean, Chinese and sports styles. However, the FMAs have come up very light on the subject of what methods produce the best product in the classroom.

Shameless plug:  I’ve compiled a book on tips for doing so. While not exactly a manual on HOW to teach from beginning to end–actually, it is a compilation of articles from this blog about the art of instruction for FMA teachers–you should head over to Amazon and get a copy. Without a doubt, you will find plenty of useful information within its pages.

Last night I attended a class being taught by two of my students and wrote down some notes offering them feedback on teaching for results. This may irritate them, but I really don’t care. Once a teacher, always a teacher. Although I am an unlettered man, I proudly boast that I consider myself a pretty darned good teacher of the fighting arts. When I transformed from martial arts fighter to martial arts teacher, I closely studied the art of teaching. I talked to my teachers in depth about why they did things the way they did and got feedback on what they found to be most effective. I visited other teachers and coaches as well, and exchanged ideas with scholars about the philosophy of teaching. In fact, I meet at least once a month with a local scholar, Dr. David Williams, who is holds degrees (including a PhD) in subjects from History to Education. And what do we talk about? Teaching. Those lessons are universal, and if you’ve never read about the art of teaching–you’d find a gold mine of information talking to the masters of taking uneducated and making them smarter than yourself.

At the core of my philosophy is this:  Endeavoring to produce students who are more skilled than myself.

Often, martial arts teachers love their teachers so much, they refuse to change anything that their teachers taught. They admire them and believe it to be betrayal to stray from anything their masters did or said. In my opinion, one would honor their teachers more by strengthening their master’s legacy by making sure it improved with each coming generation. Even if it meant you had to scrap the program and rebuild it, simply by being in your teacher’s lineage you make him or her proud by putting out the best students possible. My students mostly teach, from periodic classes in their home to community centers to commercial locations. The only thing they have in common besides the same system is that they produce good fighters–and that is good enough for me.

Back to the purpose of this article.

So I wrote down some notes that I texted to my student, and I would like to share them with my readers. Hopefully, you will find some value in them and can find a way to incorporate them into your own method of instruction.

  • Use a base curriculum with base attacking techniques.  Rather than teaching a handful of techniques and defenses and drills, I favor developing a core set of attacks and counter attacks that can be mixed and matched when in application. Have sets of punches and kicks, hitting or slash & stab combinations. These combinations serve as your base for training. You will have some that are best for initiating the attack, pursuing a fleeing opponent, countering an opponent’s initial attack, etc. You will find that by training these base attacks and not having too many of them, your students’ reaction will be second nature and the same base attacks are applicable in many situations and they are executed without thought.
  • Separate beginner line drills from your intermediates and advanced. Often, in the classroom, you will have several different skill levels and ranks in the same session. It isn’t necessary to have your advanced guy doing exactly the same drills as your beginner, especially when the advanced guy has techniques that he needs to hone and develop. Plus, it makes the class more enjoyable when they are able to focus on rank-specific skills.
  • Spend time on stretching. It isn’t necessary to have a long period of time spent on stretching, but make sure you give it some attention. Many of us want to get right to technique, but remember, the students have to develop their fitness level and without it, their techniques will be less effective. In the FMAs, particularly, we often believe that sticks and knives render fitness irrelevant. I totally disagree. Your weapons skill becomes relevant when you tire, get a cramp, or gas out while in combat. Stretching is needed for more than just kicking–it helps you move efficiently, have superior balance, and more agile.
  • Always train the core fighting techniques. Every system has a set of basic fighting skills that must be trained EVERYTIME your students step on the mat. You decide what those techiniques are, and make sure that even though other styles may have them–no one else does them better.
  • Periodically explain, in detail, your basics. You would be surprised how many advanced students execute their basic skills sloppily. My philosophy is that sloppy fighters are the result of sloppy teachers. You can never review the details too much. Our goal is perfection, but perfection for the martial artist is an ever-moving level that one should never say we achieved. The closer you get to it, you will realize that there is more you can do to improve. Give your students all the corrections they need until they are near perfect, then make them train while performing nearly perfect technique
  • Speaking of perfection, does practice make perfect? No, perfect practice makes perfect. See above ^^^
  • Make sure to scan the class ranks for hand position, footwork and execution. Often while training we will be more focused on counting repetition than making corrections. Take the time to watch your students and notice when hands are dropped or out of position, footwork is off or unbalanced, and techniques are not executed crisply. As a fighter, one should already have developed this habit. (One reason I believe highly in competition fighting) When a hand is dropped or the opponent stumbles, your trigger should automatically fire. And so should your “teacher mouth”…. POW! Protect ya neck, kid.
  • Return to strength exercises frequently. Legs tired? Rest em, but drop and give me 20 while resting them. This is a big thing for me. Everyone under me has a strong physique. EVERYONE. The best time to perform strength exercises is when you are tired and somewhat fatigued, because doing so develops courage, pain tolerance and heart. Students can never get too much of it too. Even if you have not come up with the best strategy, your students will be stronger and more fit than most opponents–and dominate.

Make sure that as teachers, you focus on making better martial arts students. One cannot accomplish this by simply coming to class and counting out reps or regurgitating techniques. Mold your students carefully, and temper their skill through pain and sweat. I hope you find these tips valuable.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Preparing Your Eskrima for the Street

Is your Eskrima still “street-effective”?

One of the things drawing street defense/self defense enthusiast to the Filipino art is our simplicity and our effectiveness for the average man’s needs. I ask if your FMA is “still” street-effective because over the recent 30 or so years that the FMA has been noticed by the mainstreet, most styles have lost that edge. Perhaps your Grandmaster’s Eskrima was good for defense and street fighting, but most likely over the two or three generations that it got to you–your art very likely has lost that “ummph”:

  • Teachers have focused on developing their skill at putting on nice demos, rather than fighting
  • Teachers no longer put students up against other students out of concern that those who lose in matches may become discouraged and quit
  • Eskrima curriculum have started to focus on fighting other Eskrimadors, rather than what will be encountered on the street (honestly, how many arnisadors will be robbing people at night?)
  • The turnover of new student to new instructor is much quicker these days, and schools are graduating very inexperienced new “experts”
  • Very little interaction between Eskrimadors and non-Eskrimadors, so the arts are not addressing alternative views of combat
  • The “Militarization” and “Exotication” of FMAs has killed our simplicity. Rather than focus on weapons that normal people carry, students are learning to use exotic weapons, Rifles/Bayonets, killing as the only option, and dealing with “enemy” rather than “attackers”
  • Shying away from competition are creating generations of Eskrimador/Arnisador who are afraid of confrontation and mixing it up
  • Very little time is spent on skill development, favoring fancier techniques and drills over the basic, bone-shattering strike that Eskrimadors of old relied on

I am not interested in getting into an online battle with modern Eskrimadors over the (excuse the bluntness) bullshit most teach these days. Such conversations are best handled in person anyway. However, this is a conversation that we in the Filipino Martial Arts community should have. There are many Eskrima and Arnis teachers giving good martial arts while focusing on the street encounter, but they have not been able to find a way to market the pure art in order to make a living. So the best Arnis is often found in backyards and garage classes, and the guy getting the gigs at the State Fair with the cute demos with Techno music and shiny weapons get all the press. When non-martial artists decide to look for self defense, he is passing up the traditional guy for the one with the busy Youtube channel and “Good Morning America” appearances. No problem, but will those students really be prepared to defend his wife and children when he needs to?

Did YOU get an art that meets that need?

If a guy visiting your school told you that he wasn’t convinced, would you be able to defeat him without cutting his throat or simulating a scene from an R-rated film? Fighting doesn’t always need to end with you murdering someone, you know. There is a name for a martial artist who fears getting his hands dirty and his face bruised so much that he reacts to a possible ass-whipping by dreaming of killing his opponent:  A pussy. There is a saying in the arts, that the higher your skill level, the less lethal you need to be. If a man attacked you, and you had the prowess of a Mike Tyson, and he had the prowess of a 12 year old girl–would it be necessary for you to take his life? Of course not. Then train until your physical ability and skill makes any man on the street as harmless to you as a 12 year old girl. If you train in an art for 20 years, and you are still afraid on the street, your art, your Guro and your training has failed you; you are still a pussy. Like I said earlier, excuse the bluntness.

So here are some tips to help you change your program into a street-worthy one that allows you to defend yourself with the appropriate level of force needed…

  1. Forget what your Grandmaster said about “strength not necessary”, that’s not true. Develop your physical strength until you are physically stronger than most guys walking on the street. Trust me. Most Eskrimadors do little to no strength training at all (ditto that for cardio), or they pump iron to look tough; this isn’t what I’m referring to. You must have usable, raw power and strength. When you grab an opponent, you must have enough strength that he cannot easily escape it. When you strike him, it should feel like a sledgehammer. When you cut him, it should penetrate all his clothing and deep into his muscle. When you struggle with him for your weapon, you mustn’t tire easily and you should be able to overpower him. When you train for strength, you want these things in mind–not how you’re going to look in a T-shirt. As I tell my teenaged son, it’s a fight–not a fucking beauty contest. Train as if you were trying to win one.
  2. Spend ample time developing each strike in your numbering system for destructive potential. Many Eskrima programs really gloss over their striking system. You learn the 1-12, but only until you remember which strike to throw automatically, when you hear the number called. You need more than that. You want even your pokes to feel like you’ve shot him. Matter of fact, have you ever poked or thrusted anything full power? Most FMA people have not. If you haven’t done it before, try it. Thrusting with a stick is a specialized skill, and most people do not have it. Grip strength is vital with such strikes, as are the targets. Get a wall, tree or punching bag, and thrust it 500 times. You will learn a lot about that strike that most people have never thought about; and then when you do, you will understand more about a thrust with a knife… which, by the way, most FMA people do not really know how to defend against. Every strike in your style’s arsenal must be fully understood and fully trained. Once you do so, you will understand
  3. The Attack. Most Eskrima is Defense-oriented. But fighting is Attack-oriented. When someone asks to see your system, how do you respond? I’ll tell you, if you are an FMA man, 9 times out of 10, you must ask him to attack you with a pre-chosen strike or stab, then you show him. How can you beat a man when your ability an knowledge is centered around a half-hearted attack that stops short of hitting you? Here is a good way to demonstrate your art:  Tell him to attack you, and then fight him. Or just have him fight you. But that isn’t what most of us are taught to do–we are mostly trained to put on a demonstration of drills and abecedarios/numerados. You aren’t preparing for an FMA demo, you should be preparing to stop a man trying to hurt you. So practice hurting him.
  4. Spend less time on the choreography, and more time on the unexpected. You know what I’ve noticed? Fighting and training in the FMA often looks nothing like each other. One of the main reasons is that while the choreographed stuff is good for teaching basic skills, most folks train with those things all the way through their training. At some point, one must put down the drill, pick up some sparring skill, and do it until the sparring looks like the drill. But it’s not just FMA guys, I have this same opinion of Kung Fu people. We simply need to bridge the gap between what we’d like to do, with what we are able to do. Often, the skill of sparring is learned separately from the skill of that art. A good way to illustrate is by looking at sparring at Arnis tournaments–everyone is fighting with exactly the same skills and techniques. It’s not supposed to be that way, as each style is distinct from the others. However, if we do not develop our system’s techniques enough, we rely on the same point-scoring skills that the next guy is learning. This is where art and sport are supposed to compliment each other, but instead, we treat sport AS art.
  5. Think outside the box. Why are we only learning stick vs stick? Why only knife vs knife? How about knife vs grappling, or your stick against two unarmed attackers? Do that, and you will discover a whole ‘nother dimension to the FMAs that may excite you. And it’s more likely that you will run into that, than another Eskrima-trained dope fiend on the street.

And #5, I’m willing to bet a cheese sammich on that ^^ fact.

No further commentary necessary. If you’d like to add to the list, please post it in the comments section below. Thank you for visiting my blog.