Prepare a Successor

Today, I had a nice surprise, as my baby brother (who is 25 years old) stopped by to visit while I was working out. I had helped to raised him since he was 6 because my mother was sick, and when he was 12 he came to live with me full time. Out of all of my students, he had trained with me the most, and I controlled every aspect of his life during that time. For those who knew me when I first came to Sacramento in 1999, they will recall that as a 13 year old boy, he could whip most adults at the Black Belt level.

He is now married with a baby, but still trains in his garage despite having a successful telecommunications business. I am somewhat disappointed that he did not choose teaching for a living, but he likes expensive clothes (I buy my clothes in thrift stores) and eats in fancy restaurants (I cook every day despite having a wife who is an excellent cook) so a teacher’s life does not sound attractive to him. Still, I am proud of him and his accomplishments.

Anyway, we talked about my history as a teacher, as I have been teaching for as long as he can remember. He and my younger sister were the ones responsible for getting me into the 21st century… My brother created my first website, and opened and maintained my first email account in 1999, and for at least the first year “thekuntawman” existed, he was the kuntawman. Both of them, plus my younger brother who is 38, are all college-educated, while I chose the life my grandfather led. They are very Americanized and have western tastes; I eat Balut and have a 20 lb bag of cow intestines in the freezer of my school’s fridge (only because my wife won’t let me clean them at home). But don’t be fooled. My siblings come to my house several times a year and beg for me to make them Lumpia, Pakbit, Ukoy, and Dinaguan–which they secretly love more than hamburgers.

My brother and I have had our struggles, as I once tried to force Kuntaw and Eskrima down his throat as a teenager. I did not allow him to have a girlfriend or date, and he fought at every tournament I received a flier for. He trained at least 2 – 3 hours a day after school, and trained at least 4 to 6 hours on weekends. As a muscular 5′ 8″ 16 year old, he was my sparring partner and training dummy. But as soon as he had the money, he moved out and it took years before he began training again.

We have been discussing him starting an Eskrima and Tapado group for me in San Francisco, and I think I have him convinced.

One of the questions he had for me was, why didn’t I consider another profession, why did I try to make him teach instead of allow him to follow his own path, and if I will do the same to my boys. This was helpful, because no one has ever asked me.

My grandfather had long regretted not having a successor to his art and his (mostly failing) school. By the time my brother and I had come along, he had been teaching for 40 years and had no one to point to that could teach his art if he were to die the next day. He repeated this many times throughout my youth, and as a result–whether by divine intervention or by brainwashing–I became that student for him. I trained every day, 7 days a week, and my entire youth training and competing, rarely enjoying things kids in DC enjoyed, like music, video games and girls. At 18 years old, when most boys my age went away to college, I moved back to the Philippines and trained as a full-time job, paid for with saved tournament winnings and part-time work. During that time, I planned, in writing, how I would open my school without getting an SBA loan. When I returned, I completed my training with my grandfather and immediately went to work, implementing my plan. By the time I was 22, I had my school in Silver Spring, MD, and a local reputation to go along with it. I named my school “Gatdula’s Fighting Cobras”, as this was the name my grandfather had chosen for the school he never had. I put all the things he wanted for his place, but never had, like hand-made equipment and a collection of striking equipment. I also used things that he used, like tree trunks and sand bags and buckets of sand and pebbles. Although I had several masters, I followed his lead and did exactly what he wanted me to do because it was what he did.

My grandfather died on March 20th, 1992, the day I opened my shop at 905 Bonifant Street. But he died knowing that his dream was being carried forward. Many masters teach their entire lives, and never have the school they’d wanted, the perfect student, and the style to be taught just as they had prescribed it to be. As a dutiful grandson, I am proud to carry on this tradition and I only hope to ring true his advice to me about a martial arts master’s mission:

A martial arts teacher is lucky to have had one perfect student to pass all of his knowledge to, in the way that he planned to teach it.

We will always have students. We will always make money. We will always have those who train hard and perform well. But we are never guaranteed to have a student who will carry on the art and traditions exactly the way we want it done. No teacher wants to see his art die as he taught it. I have learned, that in the nearly two decades I have taught, that we and our dream will always have to compete with the student’s goals and dreams. They will rarely align themselves with what we want for our students. I have had students stay with me 8 years, and none have been able to commit and train the way I have wanted them to, except the ones I raise (and we see how well that turned out). I have two more boys, and if that doesn’t work out, I may have to take their firstborn sons. But we will see what becomes of Mustafa Gatdula’s Kuntaw and Eskrima.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please visit us again!

Liberate Yourself from Classical FMA, pt V

This is the next-to-last installment of the “Liberate Yourself…” series. We hope it was helpful to you by giving you something to think about concerning your personal martial arts journey!

Make Enemies

Just kidding. But the FMA fighter is just too darned friendly. Yes, I know… Filipinos are some of the nicest, most hospitable people on the planet. However, that depends on what capacity the “visitors” are. See, if you ask guys like Pigafetta, Colonel Nakayama (the Japanese officer who led the invasion of the Philippines), and Magellan, they will tell you that the Filipino was not all that hospitable. In line with the saying, that a true warrior is to have the smile that attracts children, but a strength that makes warriors tremble, Filipinos have some of the unfriendliest ways of dealing with enemies… and as a Philippine martial artist you should learn to embrace this principle.

In other words, stop being so danged cheery and complimenting! This weekend I met an Eskrimador who told me his art was from Hawaii, and passed down through several generations, and he had a unique method of Dumog, “Panatuken” (and yes, he was Filipino), blah blah blah… STOP. See, many FMA people would let this guy go on with his story, making a donkey of himself because he obviously didn’t know who he was talking to… After a quick history lesson about who thekuntawman is, and some basic truths of the Philippine martial arts, we got into the meat of FMA discussion:  application and practicality of the arts. Basically, the young man in my school was a drill master who collected videos, Youtube clips, attended seminars and learned from seminar-trained teachers. We never got around to really “discussing” his arts effectiveness, because once I blew his story out the water, he realized that he needed to come correct with me.

Again, I am not advocating being a jerk to other martial artists. But the FMA guy has too many friends, smiles too much, and has too many people agreeing with him and accepting his art without a challenge.

There we go with that word–“challenge”–again.

Yes, the martial artist cannot grow if he does not hear the words, “show me” enough. The reason I am a harder martial artist than most of you is that I do not have many friends, my ideas are not commonplace, and enough people disagree with me that I’ve had more than my share of people try to kick my ass. Those of you who have never had this kind of thing happen to you (or never accepted when it does happen) are too soft to defend your arts when the situation calls for it. Let alone, if you ever had to defend yourself. Like the tennis player who mingles but never stands on the opposite end of a court from another player, you will never really hone your skills if you don’t have someone trying to beat you. The problem with having too many friends is that your ideas are accepted by everyone, and the main point of the martial arts is to PROVE your point. How can you do this when everyone is in agreement?

Sorry, but this ain’t church. We as martial artists need opponents in order to practice our craft. Just like politicians need opponents to be good campaigners, countries need wars to build pride and patriotism, football teams need a good rival to sell tickets, the martial artist needs to have others who doubt that my way is the best. Otherwise, I end up just being a guy who thinks my art is effective and will never get the chance to know that my art is effective. If I never know how effective my art is, I will end up finding out that it is not very effective.

Stop Learning!

At what point do you stop studying and start fine-tuning? At what point do you stop putting away nuts and berries and start enjoying them? Has anyone ever met a true “perpetual student”? These are little old men and women, who live off of financial aid and scholarships and other handouts, who are well into their 60s that have never had jobs, but good Lord, they have about 10 college degrees! They can recite and quote, but don’t know enough to wipe their own bottoms. There are many martial artists–especially FILIPINO martial arts–that are still looking for that special technique or art that will make them unbeatable in combat. They have 15 Black Belts, 20 certifications, they can put on impressive demonstrations of ways to take away a stick or a knife, but they can’t fight their way out of a paper bag. Poor souls!

The martial artist must have a way of testing what they know and then refining what they know. Not adding to it: I said refining. It is possible to know too much but can’t do anything. Like many of our cross-training martial arts brothers, they do everything under the Sun, but they don’t do anything well. The introduction to the seminar to the Filipino martial arts community was the thing that killed our arts before they even got started in the West; quick and easy way to study an art without dedication or hard work. And spare me the story about how hard you train… NO ONE works hard in these seminars.

But at some point, you must settle on what you know and begin to develop that knowledge into skills. You cannot do this while attending more and more seminars, watching and purchasing more and more videos. More time should be spent training your skills to develop higher profiency (speed, power, accuracy and timing) and more time sparring to learn how to apply these skills.  Classical FMA tells us that if you learned it, you know it, and that simply isn’t true. In fact, you don’t “know” it unless you can “execute” it. And my FMA learning tells me, you ain’t “executing” unless you have someone trying to stop you.

So this brings me back to the point about too many friends. Martial artists are complimenting each other on skills that they really haven’t seen or felt. They vouch for each other, they shake hands and go home thinking of themselves as warriors in a world where opponents do not exist–only training partners. I’m sorry, but in the world of martial arts, we have enemies and they don’t like you, they think your skills suck, and they can’t wait for an opportunity to take advantage of you and make you their girlfriend. If you disagree with me and think your way is better, prove it, Big Boy.

Thank you for reading my blog, and look out for the last installment of this series (coming soon!)

Btw, my book, Mustafa Gatdula’s How to Build a Dominant Fighter in 12 Months, is halfway done and will be released shortly. The book will sell for $29.95, but you can pre-order (please visit my Offerings page) by sending $19.95 to the address listed (no checks please). You will be the first to receive a copy, and receive a $10 discount on the book! Our projected date is December 2009…  Mabuhay!

Liberate Yourself from Classical FMA, pt IV

Give allegiance to an FMA Master

It amazes me how many independant FMA teachers there are out here who have no Master.

Don’t get me wrong; I’d take a wild guess by saying at least half of FMA teachers in the Philippines are not under a particular organization and are “independant”. However, almost all of them owe the bulk of their knowledge and experience to a certain Master… whether or not they stayed under their Master as teachers. It is commonplace for a fighter to combine learning experiences, fighting experiences, and teaching experience into a whole new system when he matures as a martial artist. Many who criticize Westerners who create their own systems do not realize that doing so is a very Filipino tradition. I believe that what offends many who look down on Westerners creating their own styles is simply xenocentrism–that only a Filipino can create or improve a Filipino art. I admit that I am a critic of many who do this, but my reasons are not the race of the one creating, but the knowledge and experience level of the new Western “grandmasters”.

Something I like about the West better than “back home” way of doing things:  Here in America, martial artists are very open in their communication with one another. I am more than an admirer of this tradition; I am a product of it. Living in Washington, DC., Virginia, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and California, I have been able to study and train with more than 10 styles. I have learned forms from 6 Kung Fu styles, and have sparred and exhanged techniques and tactics with more stylists than I can recall. I have been fortunate to learn point fighting, boxing, three forms of kickboxing, Olympic style TKD, and JKA point fighting. After losing a match against an Olympic fencer, I learned to fence, and now my children are competitive fencers. In the East, I would have not had an easy time to get so many people to teach me what they know, because Masters hold on to knowledge tighter. Despite the fact that I hold onto such knowledge myself, I appreciate that I was able to benefit from this environment.

But there is a difference between Filipino Masters who are reserving their knowledge and Western martial arts Masters eager to share it. Many of the Filipino Masters hold on to knowledge more because they have deeper understanding and technique than what is found here in the West. One of the reasons they are free with knowledge here is easy come, easy go. Not much is passed down, so the teachers do not value the art as much. Compare this to the Philippines, where knowledge is not purchased in a seminar or video tape, but earned through dedication, service and time and patience. Many of these Masters had not learned any other style in their many years, and therefore possess a deeper level of knowledge about their arts. Whereas some teachers in America can show you the buhok at balat of a style (“hair and skin”), there are Masters who can impart things about the same art those 20, 30 years into the art do not understand. The sad thing is that many teachers here will ridicule any man claiming to have such knowledge, and actually believe that this level of skill in the art does not exist. I named my blog “SECRETS of the Filipino Fighting Arts” not to taunt those who wish to learn it, but to inform my readers that it is here for those who are willing to get it. But of course, as the saying goes in the art:  There are no secrets in the martial arts; the only ones who believe this saying simply do not know any.

So what is the Western “classical” method of learning the art? Take FMA at some Kenpo/TKD/Karate/Kung Fu school or out of some guy’s garage. Supplement by purchasing every nicely promoted and packaged DVD series. Take seminars and/or seminar camps in various styles. Then go out and teach.

Compare this method of learning to one who seeks out a Master (student may or may not have prior experience in the martial arts), studying with this Master for years, while sparring against classmates and opponents in organized matches. Eventually the student achieves an advanced level under the teacher, and then spars and exhanges with more teachers, before going out to teach on his own. While the student under one Master may only have one style under his belt, he has a wide variety of opponents and experiences while using the same art against those other systems.

So, which is better?

 

“To each his own”?

I don’t think so. Skill, my brothers, IS definitive. Martial artists do not like to agree with this, but it’s true! Either you can fight, or you can’t. Especially in the FMAs, we are so busy being politically correct, friendly and “fair” that we do not want to call a spade a spade or call it like we see it. One method gives the sojourner the basics of many styles; the other gives 1,000 uses for one style. When it comes to actually fighting with your art, I value the person who knows and is able to apply his art against many opponents, versus the one who is only good at demonstrating what one “could do” with it. The concepts approach is just that, concepts. And when you take charge of your own education before you really know what you’re doing, you are nothing more than the blind leading the blind. Taking charge of your education is only functional when you have already built a strong foundation, and this isn’t done with just a few years of casual learning  part time. The truth is that most Filipino martial artists today have never seen a good fighter, and aren’t learning to fight. They wouldn’t recognize a true fighting system if it smacked them in the face. We judge good skill by who gives breath-taking performances, or shows us techniques that we haven’t seen before, or has the neatest, most exotic-looking ways to take away or use a knife… or worse, we only believe in who we read about. So we end up learning bits and pieces of neat little tricks and calling it “martial arts”… and to deal with anyone who wants to see if this stuff will work in a fight, we simply tap dance our way out of it with multiple definitions of what a “fight” actually is. “You see, competitions and sparring isn’t really fighting, and if I used this against you with a real, razor-sharp knife, I’d probably kill you.”  Oh, yeah, too deadly to spar with. We’ve heard that one before.

Go against the grain. Find yourself a knowledgeable master and spend the time with him to learn his art in its entirety. I have met masters right here in California who have shown me techniques–beginner techniques–from their systems that I haven’t seen in any of those videos and magazine articles, and I’m a visiting instructor! Imagine if I was a student? We have teachers out here who can literally teach you things worth his weight in gold, but instead, many of you are just interested in learning the basics of all those other styles from the magazines. You are wasting your time chasing seminars, DVDs and Youtube clips hoping to find some new stuff, thinking that one more seminar will improve your fighting skill. I have reviewed DVDs from 11 different FMA masters for this blog’s “Video Review” section; take it from me, everybody’s teaching the same shit. You do that same stuff everyone else does, so why not break from “tradition” and try something “new”?

You won’t regret it, unless you just study from the wrong guy. But I’m willing to bet that you will learn a much deeper side of the martial arts, and a whole world more than those McScrima guys in the black T shirts and tatoos, holding machetes. The Masters are there, and they are waiting for you to decide you want to learn the real stuff. Because right now, FMAs are the new McDojo, and most of us have no idea. To quote one of my favorite Kung Fu superstars:  liberate yourself from this classical mess.

When the student is ready, the Master will appear….

Thank you for reading my blog, I hope this post has benefitted you.

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Liberate Yourself from Classical FMA, pt III

To Sinawali, or Not to Sinawali?

That is the question. Banging sticks, stick-tapping, cross sticks, whatever. To me, they’re nothing more than code words for those “stick guys” who are not interested in really learning how to kick someone’s butt with their sticks.

I grew up without Sinawali. Yeah, I learned what is commonly known as “Heaven and Earth 6 count”, or simply “Double Sinawali” when I was about 9 years old, but my Eskrima training did not involve them. In fact, I did not learn Sinawali from my grandpa until I was 20 years old, after learning 10 Sinawali drills from Ernesto Presas in the Philippines. I came home thirsty for more, and then my Papa taught me the ones he knew, never to repeat them again minus a few conversations when I asked about them. You don’t need them, he use to say. But stupid me, reading the magazines and exchanging ideas with martial artists who mostly couldn’t “hold a stick” to my fighting ability…. I was convinced that “complete” FMA must have them. Why? Well, the experts say that Sinawali drills give you coordination to weave your hand in intricate patterns for fighting. As if you couldn’t learn how to deliver a knockout punch without using Sinawali drills. As if you would never have the speed and timing to stop a punch without them. As if you could never grapple, clinch, take a guy down without them.

Hey, just like forms… the only form you need is perfect form. Likewise, the only punching ability you need is punching ability. The only blocking ability you need is blocking ability. You get it.

If you recall, I understand the saying, that when a martial artist can’t fight, he will spend all his time emphasizing the importance of everything else to distract you from the realization that he can’t fight. So, he’ll talk about how fighting isn’t real fighting. WHAT? That’s right. He will confuse you with theories and demonstrations and explanations about how the MMA guy’s ability won’t “translate” to streetfighting ability. He will give you a very convincing and scientific argument about why Eskrima knife fighting isn’t real knife fighting and will get you killed on the street. He will show you all these demonstrations and lectures about how to stop a punch, how to immobilize an opponent, and basically how dangerous he is without actually fighting. The sad thing is that most martial artists will eat this stuff up. Not just eat it up and believe it, but adopt these ideas and drop his own, and start repeating this stuff to his own students.

Honestly, have you ever really seen Sinawali used in a fight? I’m not just talking about some dude wailing away in padded sparring with a stick in each hand, but someone seriously sparring using Sinawali? I don’t deny that one can use the patterns as striking patterns in fighting–let’s not be stupid–but I’m talking about the way those sticks are swung, but in a serious stickfight? How about Sinawali while empty handed? Of all the things that turn my stomach about commercial, watered-down FMA, empty handed FMA is one of the most embarassing innovations. Even white belts at McDojos are looking at Youtube laughing their pants off, it’s disgusting.

You see, we have gotten so far into making FMAs look exotic and different, that we are now trying to force-fit logic into our FMA in order for everything to tie together (the stick is a knife, is a machete, is the empty hand and everything is preparation for everything else). I’ve even had a well-known Grandmaster (friend) try to convince me that the Sinawali develops staff sparring skill. 😉  But you know me, I’m a “hands-on” kinda guy, and we shut down that argument real quick. But guess what, he is still teaching that garbage in his classes! The bottom line is that Sinawali–the way they are practiced–do nothing for fighting ability. The best fighters in the Philippines do not train them for their fighting ability. Beginners do not need them to learn how to hit or defend.  They don’t even do a good job developing forearm, wrist, and hand strength like plain old striking practice does! They don’t “translate” well to empty hand. And if you ever tried to use those techniques against a guy determined to knock your head off your shoulders, well, he’s going to knock your head off your shoulders! The way most of you are taught to practice them, the distance is wrong (sticks usually meet in the middle of you and your opponent, so the distance is unrealistic), you don’t practice with any amount of power (striking power, that is), and once you “get” the rhythm down, it is no longer beneficial for you to practice it other than just having more coordination to do it faster or ad lib your drills. The only benefit I see is that it kills time during class when you don’t have much practical shit to teach. Oh, and some people like to decorate their school with frayed up sticks and the smell of burning rattan… Makes you guys look like you’ve been kicking some ass in there.

The bottom line, Sinawali are a waste of time, and a waste of valuable training space. On top of all that, a waste money from busting up all those $10 sticks.

If you want to learn how to fight–really learn how to fight–hang around; I’ll teach you the secrets….

 

Thanks for visiting my blog!