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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The Devastation of Eskrima’s #1 Strike

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

“With Respect”?

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

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

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

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

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

Can you kill with your #1 strike?

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

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

The basic strike must:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Time for an FMA Revolution, Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for visiting my blog.


Personal Combat Styles

If you’ve been around for a while on the non-seminar side of the FMAs, you may be familiar with this term, the “Personal Combat” style. Other terms you may hear are something like “Combat Arnis”, “Combat Judo”, “Filipino Karate/Filipino Kung Fu”, etc. My old friend and for a short time, mentor, Carlito Lañada, who is the founder of Kuntaw ng Pilipinas/IKF is often smeared on the internet for a similar thing. I would like to explain a little background on the origin of this term, as told to me by my grandfather. It may not explain all of the origins of the terms, but it will definitely shed some light on it. So for those whom this does not apply–don’t take offense. I’m merely passing on what I was taught.

So here goes.

Understand that the Philippines is a melting pot for Asian culture, and as a result–our language, our food, our superstitions, and even our martial arts have influence from outside sources. I know that people like to search for purely Filipino arts and techniques, but if anyone ever passed up an FMA simply because it had some elements of non-Filipino arts involved in it… I got news for you. Having mixed origins is very Filipino. Being newly created by the teacher is very Filipino. Being only one generation old, very Filipino. Being obscure and unorthodox, very Filipino. In GM Lito’s case, his Kuntaw ng Pilipinas has Shorin Ryu origins. The forms themselves are personalized touches on Okinawan forms. Master Lañada himself, prior to his new art, was a member of the Happy Eagles Shorin Ryu club. But he adopted this style for himself, came up with a practical and Filipino-ized version of the art, adding Arnis, angles, and structure. Regardless of what people may say about his art having non-Filipino origins–that art is Filipino. “Filipino” Kuntaw/Kuntao of Mindanao itself has non-Filipino origins.

But this article isn’t about what makes an art “Filipino” other than the nationality of its founder, its about the personlization of arts. So let’s go back to that discussion.

I believe that the whole idea of styles outlasting their creators is a new thing. Every person who learns an art, at one time, personalized his art. Very few fighters had only one teacher, in fact, and not all techniques were learned from a teacher or an expert. If you look at the histories of most of our older masters, you will hear them refer more to training partners, sparring partners, and past opponents more than they will refer to their teachers. It is a very non-Filipino institution to think that martial arts that came from a source other than a bonafide “master” was illegitimate. Most of our manong learned from a family member or family friend. Sometimes, a local teacher had only minimal training himself. However, what stands out for the customary martial arts source and the modern martial arts “teacher” is that the Filipino uncle, father, or family friend who taught the Eskrima is not pointing to a scrap of paper, an organization, or past teacher’s reputation for validation. The truly Filipino litmus test for credibility is strictly whether or not that person had fighting experience, and if he still possessed the ability to fight. As a boy I remember seeing men who worked as farmers, construction workers, working on base (at Clark AB, Angeles City) winding down their day, eating food and sparring with each other. Some were better than others, some were stronger than others, but all could fight. Our family was one of the few families with a lifelong Eskrimador, so anyone who knew how to fight hung out with us. I heard the stories, and few spoke much about who they learned from and instead talked more about who they trained with to develop the skills they had. As a young adult, I have hung in groups of other young fighters who have done the same with boxing and karate. Some had formal training, many did not, but everyone trained hard and fought hard. I consider these fighters to be just as credible as anyone paying his dues in a dojo. According to our culture, there is little difference. We are a practical people.

And I said all that ^^ to say this:  In the older model of passing along martial arts, you learned from whomever you came in contact with. You practiced, and then you tested yourself out on other guys just like you. Sometimes you will have a passion for the stuff and train a lot; sometimes, you only practiced sometimes, and whipped out your skills at social gatherings or actual fights. But credibility and validation in the western sense did not exist. All that menered was if you could use the art you had. And I am proud to report that because of the culture of the Filipino, nearly everyone could. Now there were many exceptions to this, but I wasn’t raised around large organizations and formal schools. Training was conducted about 100 feet from our home. And I would argue that it was more useful, more valid, than 90% of those who came from schools with histories.

Today, Filipino martial arts is sophisticated and much more developed than it was 30 years ago. In fact, it is too sophisticated. With the amount of information and cross-pollination influencing today’s martial arts curriculum, if you factor how much time and interest the average student has to develop and process this information–today’s student is receiving more than he needs. Arnis students today are little more than collectors of drills and techniques, very few even devote enough time to obtain the physique yesterday’s FMA man possessed. About ten years after I began my martial arts training, I was old enough to travel alone and began to meet and train in some well-known, established FMA schools. I found that in many of the cases, I was stronger and more combat-ready than even many of the teachers I encountered. Today at 47 years old, I no longer attribute this fact to the superiority of my family art. I realize now that a student must have sufficient time and drive to process the amount of information learned. I had the same techniques and strategy that many of my counterparts had–except my curriculum consisted of much less than theirs. But unlike them, I did not work a regular job or attend school and was able to spend entire days training where students of larger schools only attended two hour classes a few days a week. In addition to that fact, my grandfather was part of the old guard who judged martial ability by only two factors:  one’s effectiveness in combat and one’s destructive power. The two things I did most through my training were sparring and breaking things with my hands and sticks, and these two things were done by my counterparts the least.

I have mentioned several times that I had a teacher whose name I’ve forgotten in Angeles City, Pampanga. I quit his school in order to devote more time to Bogs Lao’s rigorous training. Before I left, I had a sparring session with the teacher’s son, and after the fight, he told me that the Eskrima I had learned was “combat eskrima”, where his was “classical eskrima”. I would encounter this term over and over throughout my life. Most of the time it was used, there were essentially two definitions:

  1. The martial artist who adopted the term had learned a “full art”–meaning a full curriculum–but chose to specialize and streamline a highly concentrated, potent version of the full art for fighting. Not wanting to use his name, a student of late Grandmaster Ernesto Presas, had such a term for his arnis. He had a Black Belt in Arjuken, which consisted of learning Judo, Shotokan, Kendo, and Arnis. But his “Combat Arnis-Karate” only contained favorite fighting techniques that he used for fighting–and he was extremely effective in fighting. No drills, no forms, no give and take, no disarming. Just attacks and defenses. He kept the original curriculum intact, but created a sub-art for himself, which he canonized for himself for fighting.
  2. The martial artist who took what he had learned of an art (if he formally studied it at all) and forged it into a combat-ready fighting style. I met a man who called his art ComJuKa Arnis, not associated with Grandmaster Ruby, who learned local Arnis from several people, and studied Karate and Judo from books. My cousin was one of his sparring partners and brought me to him to fight. Prior to meeting him I had studied Judo but only learned one skill, which was randori (throwing and sweeping), but had done enough with bigger opponents that I could easily beat most guys my size–plus I was well-experienced in fighting. This man, whose only formal training had been in stick and knife fighting, was one of the toughest fighters I’d faced in my youth. I don’t remember his name, but I would argue against anyone who claims he was unqualified to claim Karate and Judo. And there are many like him. May have only observed Judo, Kendo, and/or Karate–but trained with what they knew or came up with, and used it so often against opponents that they were extremely effective.

I would like to say something about these two definitions. Yes, it is true, that many of us who learned Karate or Judo from our FMA teachers may not have a clear lineage of who taught them. I was fortunate enough to meet men who were unapologetic about not having teachers or about how they learned, because it saved me from the foolishness of worrying about lineage and formalities. For our culture, rank and title and lineage are not as important as actual, developed, provable skill. As long as the person wielding that art can use it and back up the claims he makes about his creation–we don’t have a problem at all. But there is a third definition, which I don’t think needed to be added–but let’s add it anyway:

3. Those who wish to differentiate their art from others like it as “strictly made for the purpose of fighting”. This is sort of the reason I named my personal Eskrima style “Gatdula Fighting Eskrima”, as not all Eskrima styles are appropriate for fighting. Our old men understood this, that some arts were merely art forms, and others were created for actual life-and-death combat. This shouldn’t require any further explanation.

So when a master tells you he can teach you either Arnis or if you’d like, “Combat Arnis”, you should know exactly what he is talking about.

When they say that the old Filipino masters took techniques and arts from wherever they could find it–don’t think for a minute that “wherever” always meant formal training. Just remember that the only thing that matters is whether or not those techniques will allow you to walk home or be carried home.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

My Thoughts on Rousey-Nunes (and Cross Training)

Let’s take a break from our discussion of FMAs and turn our attention towards MMA for a second. Because of the nature of the modern FMA man’s martial philosophy–one of “learn what works, discard what doesn’t”–this subject is highly appropriate for this blog. On top of that, it is highly relevant to the modern FMA man.

So many lessons for today's martial artists in this fight...
So many lessons for today’s martial artists in this fight…

First, let me state that I am a Ronda Rousey fan. Not because of her; I actually dislike her personality, her unnecessary rudeness in the ring, her weak response to losses, her disrespect of opponents. I like Ronda because of who her mother is. Secondly, I do not celebrate her devastating losses as moral lessons against her supposed arrogance. I do believe that a certain amount of confidence-borderline-arrogance is needed to make it in the fight game. You do not pursue fight sports if you feel anything short of superior to everyone else. I saw her loss as a blow to the arrogance of Edmond Tarverdyan–a man I believe has displayed much of what is wrong with MMA and martial arts in general. Basically, we have men who know little to nothing about fighting in the ring, charging students money, training them poorly, and watching them get destroyed in the ring. I am convinced that Edmond saw Ronda as not much more than a come-up. He took a student who already had skills, pretended to train her in a skill that neither he nor she knew anything about–then planned to take credit for her wins when she steps in the ring and (hopefully) becomes the victor for skills and abilities she already possessed. He must have been clueless of how little he knew about stand up fighting–or didn’t care. This type of foolishness could have gotten Ronda killed in the ring. It certainly, at a minimum, destroyed her career. He made so many mistakes in training her–from allowing her to skip post-fight interviews to avoid facing the public after such a horrific display, to allowing her skills to decline while actively training, to failing to insist that she show respect to opponents, to failing to stop the damned fight when his fighter went 15 seconds under attack without defending or returning fire. Bottom line, Edmond Tarverdyan was a complete failure in every sense of the word–and this was one of the poorest examples of a fight trainer I have ever seen in my life. And trust me, I’ve seen some pretty bad ones. This is the first Olympian I’ve ever heard of being dominated so badly–and under his watch.

The Ronda Rousey-Amanda Nuñez fight highlights, proves, and brings several points home that I make on this blog all the time. When I preach against cross-training in favor of cross-fighting, one needs to look no further than this fight and a few others like it to see the point I’m making.While many use the dominance of MMA fighters over traditional martial artists to prove the validity of cross-training, I believe that such a match-up only proves the validity of rigorous training of MMA fighters over the casual training of their traditional opponents. When Ronda first hit the scene, just as Royce Gracie had done–as did Cung Le, Lyoto Machida, and a few others, they dominated because of their expertise at their specialty–not because of any cross training. Ronda was dominant at Judo, which her opponents could not figure out. Royce at ground fighting, Cung Le at San Shou, etc. Stand up didn’t help Ronda unless she was fighting smaller opponents who were lousy at stand up. Royce never came close to knocking anyone out while striking and kicking. The golden rule to this issue is to become better at what you do than your opponent is at what HE (or she) does, and learn to use what you do best to beat what he does best. What Ronda was trained to do completely violates this rule. She ignored her aces and face cards, and played with her numbered cards:  She is a Judo expert who tried to box a boxer. When a martial artist spends the majority of his education with one style of fighting, and then years later undertakes another for a short period of time, he cannot expect to defeat an opponent who specializes in his newly undertaken skill. In Ronda’s case, she was a grappler who began studying stand-up fighting in her 20s after a lifetime of Judo training. Without taking into consideration the level of stand-up instruction she received–she attempted to defeat a champion boxer with boxing she had only studied a few years. Those of you who are Karate, Kenpo, Muay Thai, Kung Fu, Eskrima fighters who study Jujitsu in case you end up fighting a grappler will suffer the same fate. You believe that a few years of study in BJJ (or sadly, less) will aid you in defeating someone who is heads above you in skill. A foolhardy idea.

If Mike Tyson were to face a college wrestler on the street, do you believe he would stop boxing to grapple with the wrestler? Or do you believe he would try to knock the wrestler out? Let me pose something to you:  Many of you feel Mike should know at least “some” grappling in the event he is taken down. This is an amateurish notion. You are assuming that because many stand up fighters get taken down in the ring, stand-up will always get taken down. I hear it all the time. Guys will say “All you gotta do is duck below his punch and then execute a takedown, and…”  Easier said than done. Just because you saw a refridgerator repairman on TV get taken down it doesn’t mean every stand up fighter will too. It’s a simple, basic formula:

  1. You better at what you > He is at what he does = You win
  2. He is better at what he does > You at what you do = He wins
  3. You know how to beat his skill with your skill = You win
  4. He can beat your skill with his skill = He wins

That’s it. Plain old common sense and mathematics.

I will repeat what I’ve said a million times on this blog… The higher level of martial arts is not “blending” or “mixing” or “reinventing”–not even “self-expression”. The higher level of the martial arts is MASTERY–doing what you do at the highest level possible, leaving no stone unturned concerning investigation, development and testing, and the ability to adapt your art to almost any situation. Think a guy who can repair almost any car problem with a wrench, hammer and duct tape. Don’t think of the cliched “Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight”; think winning a gun fight with a knife. Think McGyver, who can jerryrig himself out of any problem with a paperclip and scotchtape. Develop your art until you can’t squeeze anything else out of it’s potential. Too many martial artists–like Ronda–are leaving all kinds of meat on the bone while searching the fridge for something else to eat. You leave too much on the table while looking to add something else to your repertoire. Mixed martial arts isn’t supposed to be adding lousy boxing to good grappling. It should be adding great boxing to great grappling, or great grappling to great boxing. But in my opinion, the higher level to that is putting great boxing up against great grappling and let the masters figure it out. That, I would pay an arm and a leg to see (or compete in!)

One last thought.

How cool would it be if Rousey came back after being trained by her mother and winning the UFC with just her Judo? A true test of styles!
How cool would it be if Rousey came back after being trained by her mother and winning the UFC with just her Judo? A true test of styles!

I would love to see Ronda give it one more shot, but train with her mother instead. And instead of trying to learn to box, just try to figure out a strategy to beat stand up fighters with her #1 weapon: Judo. It would be a great display of one specialty against another. I do NOT believe you have to learn to box to beat a boxer or that you have to learn to grapple to beat a grappler. The key is to figure out *how* to used your specialty against his specialty. Ronda last fight is a perfect example of trying to fight someone else’s fight. You can’t. Just like if Mayweather tries to use BJJ to beat a grappler, he will get trashed if he ignores the sharpest tool in his toolbox. If anyone could get this article to her, I’d love for her to do this. I believe I read that she is a Catholic. The Fifth Commandment is to “Honor Thy Mother and Father”. Well in the spirit of this directive, what better way to honor your mother than by finally doing what SHE recommends? Let the world see what Ronda can do by approaching it your mom’s way? You’re already a pioneer in MMA, pioneer something else by being the first mother-daughter duo to enter the UFC and show these folks how it’s done?

How many of you would like to see that?

I don’t believe she’s washed up. She is still young, she is still hard-working. She just followed behind a jackass who misled her career. There is plenty of time to come back, reinvent herself and jump-start her career again. There are those of you who think she has nothing left. So what? What could be sweeter than coming back from two devastating losses and returning to your roots and becoming Queen of the Mountain once more? Ronda, you are still young, you may be still hungry, you’re not even 30 yet. This is what champions are made of. So what you lost twice. Champions aren’t counted by how many times they’ve been knocked down; they are counted by how many times they get up. Even the great Muhammad Ali suffered THREE defeats and came back. You’re young enough to do it; just don’t give up, and don’t try to come back doing the same thing you did before.

Okay guys, 1600 words. It’s not like I get paid to do this stuff. Back to laughing at Japanese pranks on YouTube. Thanks for visiting my blog.