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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