Keep Swinging, pt II (How to Make Video Training Work)

If you are an FMA veteran, even if only a veteran student, you may walk away from today’s article feeling cheated. Please don’t, though. Because although much in today’s discussion is common sense and often-quoted advice, very little is followed. I am reiterating them here, because those often-ignored, seemingly common sense things are what stands in the way of mediocrity and true martial arts dominance and superiority.

Let me explain.

I often hear the terms “boring/mundane” practice described as unimportant, foolish wastes of time. This term really underemphasizes one of the PILLARS of martial arts skill, and those who use them are really telling on themselves as foolish martial artists themselves. I hate to keep picking on Bruce Lee, as I consider myself a fan–but we have to separate the actor Bruce Lee from the martial arts philosopher Bruce Lee from the young inexperienced man Bruce Lee. He made many wise observations about the martial arts and really taught his fellow martial arts generationers how to train and how to think. However, I don’t believe that he had enough time to fully develop and investigate his philosophy. Since he died at a young age, and before he had a chance to see what his JKD would manifest into through his own students–we are stuck with a 30 year old’s unfinished work. And those who carried his torch stopped developing and testing his system although they did continue adding to his system. Many fundamental “truths” to his JKD were flawed. This concept of there being a such thing as “mundane/mindless/boring/repetitive practice” is one of them. Watch a master of any sport or activity at work. Not during the actual game or function of his expertise, but his actual practice of his craft. What will you see? You will see Mike Tyson throwing 4,000 jabs in several hours. You will see Michael Jordan throwing hundreds of layups. You will see a master chef cook the same dishes hour after hour, day after day, year after year. How do you think they became so skilled? Hopefully, you don’t believe the chefs who created the greatest dishes in the culinary arts got so good by cooking thousands of different dishes! No. Skill is perfected by isolating one’s repertoire to only a few key, core tasks–and then rehearsing or practicing those few things over and over and over and over, more times than a man can count. When you are watching the news, the musician is practicing his notes. When you are sipping coffee, he is practicing his notes. When you are driving to work, he is practicing his notes. When you sleep, he is practicing his notes. It is not the variety that drives him to perfection; it is the actual act of perfecting a few pillar skills in his chosen craft that affect everything he does in his specialty. Does he do everything perfectly? Absolutely not. But he may have the appearance of perfecting everything, because he does so much so well–and a few memorable things we witness, he does better than anyone else we have ever seen.

Bruce Lee had a great concept–to separate from tradition in order to become well-rounded, and to hone in on keys of the skill of fighting in order to become a skilled fighter. He felt that we should know how to do more than one thing in order to become well-rounded. I agree with this. However, a few things he missed:

  • You must have something you do better than 99% of your opponents
  • Knowing a little grappling may help you with a grappler, but it won’t help you if you face a master grappler
  • Knowing a little boxing may help you with a boxer, but it won’t help you if you fight a good boxer
  • Your foundation must be cemented in order to be used to root other skills upon it

And let me explain #3. If I learn a little boxing, but cannot box; learn a little kicking, but cannot kick well; and learn a little grappling, but cannot grapple–what good am I? In concept, I am well rounded. But against a good kicker, I am mediocre. Against a good boxer, I am mediocre. Against a good grappler, I, again, am mediocre. I must have a foundation upon which to build, and if I spread myself too thin too soon–I have nothing but the appearance of a foundation. I kick too poorly to force a bad kicker to fight at a distance. My hands are too undeveloped for me to force a poor boxer to fight me standing up. My wrestling skill is too weak for me to take even a poor grappler to the ground and finish him.

So what does this have to do with the FMA, you ask?

Because almost the entire FMA world has followed behind the approach led by the FMA/JKD community of learning a little of this and a little of that. In the Philippines, we claim to have the best FMA, but we actually have followed the seminar and video trained, western FMA community. So a few die-hard stick fighters are keeping classic Eskrima alive by sticking to stick fighting. But mostly, we have stick fighters with almost no experience fighting barehanded trying to convince YouTube subscribers and DVD customers that they are “well rounded” and have the FMA Holy Trinity of Hands, Stick, and Blade–when they really are lost with one or two of those skills. In turn, said Eskrimadors who cannot fight their way out of a paper bag without their sticks are teaching and certifying new teachers to pass down the art. Each generation becomes more and more diluted through the years, and this is how we end up with videos being made about the “wrecking” of the FMA–by a man who honestly wanted to learn the great fighting art we claimed to have. In the end, we sold wolf tickets and have disappointed many outside the Filipino martial arts community. Before we end up the next Tae Kwon Do, I am hoping article such as this one reaches more FMA people.

On with my point.

So, what I need for you to understand is that all is not lost with the FMAs. We can say what we will about FMA “effectiveness”, by taking a look at our tournaments, you will see how effective the FMA have become. We say that we can do everything out there, from knives to staves, to sticks to empty hands… but in our tournaments, we play tag with chalk and do no staff, knife and certainly no empty handed fighting. Except for Yaw Yan fighters and Silat fighters, what Filipino styles are out there fighting against Muay Thai, Karate, Boxers, and all? Are the FMAs all inclusive arts that need no importing of boxing and Judo? Or are we really importing boxing and calling it “Filipino” boxing and calling Judo “Filipino” wrestling? The truth is, the Filipino arts are like our culture, a mixture of foreign influences. I am not ashamed to admit this. Our cuisine, our language, our blood and ancestry, even our dance and clothing–are all born from the clash and blend of various cultures, and we mix it so well. Understand this first, then let’s bring it all to the middle.

The art you are most likely getting on DVD is just that–a mixture of skills that the teacher on the video is calling “Filipino”. No problem. But do not make the mistake of past FMA generations by simply learning the skills and drills and choreography–and regurgitating in front of your own camera to represent your “skill”. Take whatever foundation you gain from those DVDs and whittle them down to a few core, basics that support all other skills you might find of those and other courses. Trust me, there are possibly hundreds of drills and combinations out there, but look closely and you will see that they all have a very small number of techniques as a common denominator. What techniques do you see repeated over and over and over in all those YouTube clips and DVDs? Those strikes, those punches, those kicks, those cuts and stabs–are your core foundation. The FMA people of the past, almost never practiced them. They preferred to practice only what was pleasing to the eye, what wowed onlookers and wide-eyed beginners, and as a result many had spent decades in the martial arts but lacked the basic skill to injure or stop an opponent with a simple, basic strike. What you will do, is return to the root of the Filipno arts–all the way back to a time when most Eskrima styles only consisted of a few strikes, few blocks, few disarms, and a few take downs–and then reached a deadly level of speed and power with those few techniques. After that skill level was reached, they found hundreds of ways to use them.

And those last two (run-on) sentences really summed it all up:  Pure Filipino martial arts really only consisted of a few practical skills, trained until the fighter could unleash them with blinding speed and destructive power. He did not bother with fancy demonstrations and creative ways to look cool doing it. He simply trained his skills day and night, thousands of times over and over and over and over, during your sleep, in his sleep–until his fighting skill was so second nature, that any attacker who thought of attacking him would be answered in the blink of an eye. The Eskrimador of old was not a showman like today’s YouTube master; he was a killer. He did not bother with rank. He did not carry multiple titles and websites. He never had to brag about himself or his organization. He was a man whose hands spoke for him. Everything that Master of old knew, you probably know now.  You just can’t do it as well as he can. And your mind must work its way through the jumbled, crowded mess of garbage flashy techniques to reach your hands. Forget that stuff. Quality over quantity. You don’t need 50 ways to take a stick. Learn a basic 12 ways to strike, develop each strike in that set until they can destroy anything put in your way. Drop the certificates, the drills, the acrobatics, the forms, the twirling. Just reach a level with your knowledge that anyone’s bones in front of you would be turned to dust when you strike. This will come from those “mindless, mundane, repetitive” trainings, and only by training this way. Give yourself this kind of skill first–then go through everything you know until you have reached this level of ability with your entire arsenal.

This is how you make your DVD learning “work”. Bruce Lee was right. There are only a limited number of ways to strike a strike. Whether you learn it from a sagely old master–or a $50 DVD–a strike is a strike. But there is a huge difference a strike you’ve memorized, versus a strike that you’ve trained 10,000+ times. This is the essence of the Eskrima of old. Let’s see if we can bring that back, regardless of how you learned.

Thank you for visiting my blog!


Shut Up and Swing!

In other words, “How to Study the FMA, Even by Video“…

I give up. You guys know, I absolutely despise the FMA video industry. Yes, it has helped the FMAs grow commercially. Yeah, grow into a classical, McSupersized Mess! I guess I could go ahead and admit that as much as the video and seminar market hurt the Filipino arts, I have still benefitted as a teacher from its popularity. So although I’m temporily throwing in the towel, I am not changing my opinion of the commercialization of the arts. I’m merely going to give some advice on how to make it work. I’m not sure if it’s really going to work, but if I had to give advice–here goes.

Perhaps the most important stage to proficiency is the learning stage. This could be said of any endeavor. You cannot become a master mechanic unless you first learn to work on cars. You cannot be a scholar unless you first become a student. And so on. But with this commercialized “have-it-your-way” environment we exist in, students are never truly students of the art. Before we can get into how to study by video, let’s first explain WHY you’re probably learning by video instead of a teacher. Every city has FMA teachers, but too many students are too arrogant to think they can learn more from a teacher than a DVD.

Allow me to explain what I mean.

In order to become a student, you must be completely humbled enough to learn–as well as to be humble enough to be taught. There is a difference. In my 25 years of teaching, I have disliked most FMA students who come to me from the seminar and video industry. Students who join from the street and have almost no knowledge of the Philippine arts make the best students. What I have to teach, they learn. Not just that, they learn it well, and will always end up light years ahead of those from the seminar/video industry in a short amount of time. The reason for this is that students off the street truly want to learn. I am the teacher, they are the student, they pay me, I instruct, and they shut up and swing–and they learn. Not so with FMA video/seminar students. First of all, they approach not as students, but as consumers. In their minds, they are the customer, I am the business, they tell me what they want to learn, and I show them (not “teach”–but show) the techniques. They almost never shut up. From the moment they walk through the door, FMA students tell me and the others who they studied with, they feed me gossip, tell me about who sucks in person, who is selling certificates, who’s a jerk in real life, who trained who…. Makes you wonder why they never stuck with those masters. Oh yeah, it’s only, like, 3 seminars per year. So they come to me to find out what I’m doing that those other teachers don’t have. They want to see my entire curriculum. How many disarms do I teach? How many classes before the next certificate? They know enough single stick, can I teach them double stick and espada y daga? Do I teach knife throwing? How about pangamut? Do I have any of those cool takedowns like Aikido, only more “Filipino”? Then there are the terms… I could go on. When we train, they have blisters. It’s too many, can we do more learning and less striking? We spent a full 30 minutes just striking, what’s next to learn? While the class is doing stations, seminar guys go to the side of the classroom to talk about how Master So-n-So is coming to town next week. When students are sparring after class, they have pulled some curious student to the side to show him a drill from the Inosanto blend. Within a few months–cause seminar guys never last more than three months in my school–they quit and go back to the way they did things before. And what do they gain from the 3 months with me? Nothing at all. I would hope that they would at least walk away with an appreciation for actually training. But those students didn’t come to train. They came to acquire stuff, maybe a certificate or two. But these students are picking and choosing what they want to learn, as if they were ordering off a menu. They don’t want to be taught anything. If I had a DVD that contained my entire curriculum, I guarantee that 99% of them would try one class, then opt to buy the DVD instead. Who cares that they never develop the skill or strength to beat a full time Typhoon student? They were never actually students, just customers. Show me what I came to learn, so I can quit and go to the next guy. In 5 years, he’ll be teaching, and in 10–he’ll have his own system.

Don’t be that guy.

There is so much to learn in the arts, even a school that only teaches single stick, single knife. Even in a school that won’t let you see its curriculum. But the only way to learn to shut your mouth, train, learn when information is given, and develop according to the calendar that the teacher has set. Judge your progress by the skill you’ve acquired and the changes to your physical attributes, not by the certificate you were given or the moves you got to show. Keep striking until your hand bleed, then tape them up and keep striking until class ends. Along the way, much of the information not found on DVD, in books or in seminars will be revealed to you in a way that the guys going the easy route will never experience. This is how to learn a skill. Humble yourself to gain the knowledge–not buy it. Not demand what to be taught. The more disagreeable a student is to a teacher, the less he will impart to you. Trust me, it works this way in every endeavor you’ll ever pursue. It’s just that not everyone will tell you. Ever hear the adage “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”? Well students who are flapping gums are never ready. You could spend months in a classroom with the wisest of teachers and never learn a damned thing. How much money you’re spending is irrelevant.

It is through this type of learning that the best learning occurs. In silent introspection, through mundane repetition, while the muscles are burning with the desire to quit–it is there that the body learns the true art. Where strikes are unleashed without thought, where the ability to sense an opponent’s movement before he appears to move is developed. Where a mirror is no longer necessary to see if you’re doing it right. It is through this silent training and never ending practice that the finer points of movement are revealed to you and the deeper lessons that cannot be put into words are realized. This is the kind of students those with true knowledge prefer to teach–not to the students holding a handful of cash and mouthful of shit. The students who submit completely to the teaching are the only ones who will walk away with complete understanding of the art. While the consumer-student is stuck chasing certificates and celebrity teachers, it is the patient quiet pupil who will become the Tiger in the room. The one quoting anecdotes and giving demonstrations must give a resume to convince you of his knowledge–the quiet student can convince you with his movement through actual combat. There is a saying that you cannot learn and talk at the same time. The same could be said about students who tell teachers what they want to learn–especially if they have the inclination to teach while learning. Because in actuality, the student who comes from the industry believed in the foolish words of a 20-something year old “Master” who thought he knew everything:  Create your own path. Yes, I said it. You won’t ever truly Master the art, because you never believed you were a student. By creating your own path–by choosing your own teachers, choosing your own “blend” of experiences, and picking and choosing who you will listen to based on who the rest of the industry is admiring–you literally walked through the door thinking you knew more than the teacher, but you just needed a certificate to get your own path approved.

If you want to begin this journey properly, you must let go of the desire to tell teachers what you want, what you’ll do and not do. You must accept that you do not know everything and that, perhaps, even teachers who aren’t well-known can teach you something, regardless of how boring the training is, or how unlike he is to everything you’ve read in the internet. Submit yourself to the learning, train as if there were no other truth, train to improve–not to “get certified”–then after your teacher has informed you that he has taught you all he can… then go to Step Two.

And what is at Step Two?

Next, next time. Thank you for visiting my blog. In the next installment, I want to talk about how you can make the video thing work, since you insist. LOL

After Instructor’s Certification… What’s Next?

Congratulations! You put in your time, you attended the camps, took your licks, killed the exam–and now your Guro has bestowed a title to you every Arnis students long for: Guro. Surely, you deserve it–you earned it. Your classmates have admired your commitment and willingness to learn, your practice has finally paid off, and everyone on the dojo floor recognizes you as a senior student. So what’s next?

Let’s slow down… Because I know what you have most likely been told, and we all know you didn’t come to the Filipino Fighting Secrets blog for the fluffy stuff, right? I have some advice for you.

In today’s martial arts community, and especially the Filipino Martial Arts community, there seems to be a race to certify. After all, what quicker way to grow one’s organization than for teachers to certify more teachers? More teachers on the ground teach more students, giving your system more soldiers, pushing your status among other masters higher and higher, and bringing more people to the table when it’s seminar and camp time. All that is fine and good–I had to accept that reality myself that times have changed and the arts as I remember will never be like it was 30 years ago. Yet, never forget that the tradition you follow is a Filipino tradition. We are not in the Philippines, you are in whatever country you live in. Even the Philippines is not how I remember it. This culture, however, is a “blade” culture and do you really know what that means? Some people focus more on the weapon than they do the guy who is holding it. FMAs as a “Blade” culture doesn’t mean you carry a lot of blades. It doesn’t mean you have the meanest-looking, shiniest, or most exotic-looking blade. It doesn’t mean you carry 10 different hiding places and a different kind of knife in each spot. It doesn’t even mean you have the most ways to disarm or drill a blade on the block. The FMAs as a blade culture (yes, with a small “b”) means I could take a pencil and go up against any man with the nicest karambit or gurkha or whatever–and then go home to my wife and kids while he goes to the morgue. I am scarier with my *click* opening of an old rusty balisong you cannot see than the guy in front of me doing finger gymnastics with his stainless steel, serrated edge polished American imported balisong. With the blade culture I am talking about, my knife skill set consists of four slashes and three stabs–and if three guys approached me with the most scientific art of drills, I don’t care who’s army does the same shit–within 15 swings, all three will be bleeding out. As a blade culture, the FMAs isn’t about what you know or how much you carry–not even who taught you–but what you can do.

There are still today, in unsophisticated areas of the Philippines, men who carry no title–not even “Guro”–who can easily kill 90% of the guys with a set of DVDs out on the market. So tell me, which would you rather have:  Teaching certifications and community recognition, or the knowledge that no one better cross you because you know for a fact that you can defeat almost anyone you face?

There was a time that Arnis masters would not release a student until he was confident that this guy is the absolute best he can produce, and has no fear at all that his student can take all comers. Today, we have Guros certifying students as teachers that they’ve never actually met. But times have changed. Today, a Guro is simply a guy or lady who knows my curriculum and he knows it well enough to show it to a group of beginners. They will tell you stupid shit like “This is just the beginning”, when actually, a teaching credential should say that you’ve reached the end of the study road and are qualified to lead others. How can a Black belt be the beginning, when he is also expected to lead others? So now we have teachers who have yet to reach the pinnacle of their martial arts knowledge and ability, showing others the way? Preposterous. That’s like allowing an 18 year old who has just reached adulthood to marry and lead a family. No, it’s exactly like that.

So, my advice of “what’s next” is this:  You have proven that you have the ability to complete a learning curriculum. Now let’s put that knowledge to the test, against others and their knowledge and ability. Do this for at least the same amount of time that you’ve been studying. So if you took four years to go from beginning Arnis student to advanced Arnis student–take four more years to go from new Arnis fighter to expert Arnis fighter. Discover the inner workings of weapons fighting that your teacher cannot show you. Experience the bitter taste of defeat and humiliation, so that you will never fear it as a teacher with bigger, stronger students than yourself. Know how to interact with overly confident peer-teachers before you have students, so that you can teach your students how to handle bullies from experience. Get your bruises at the hands of opponents with intent, and tell those stories, rather than that one time you got rapped on the hand by accident at a seminar in ’12. Give yourself enough time to develop your own theories, test them, and revise them–all before presenting them to students, so that one day you won’t have to tell the masses of your guys “Well, we don’t do it like that anymore…”  This is a phase of discovery and experience. Don’t be a student, trying to teach students, because we have seen enough of that in this martial arts community. It doesn’t work. Let the first time you are in front of a school, you are not teaching material you just learned–you are teaching material you know like the back of your soul, and from experience they could never gain from a two hour DVD or four hour seminar. You’ve earned your certificate from your Guro, now go out and prove to the other Guros you deserve to stand among them.

And where do you find such Guros? Well, most likely, you’ll have to go out and find them. You could seek them in tournaments, informal sparring groups, social media, Craigslist, or you can organize them yourself. Get as much experience as you can, find out how much you really haven’t learned about fighting, build yourself a reputation as a martial artist outside the comforts of your teacher’s school, and put your fears, insecurities and skills to the test. Do this until you get nothing new out of it, then teach.

Be able to look potential students in the eye and tell them with confidence, “I’ve faced the best, now let me show you what I found works from experience,” instead of “Master says this, and master says that…”

Remember, when you went looking for a teacher, you looked for an expert, not just a “certified” teacher. You want the best teacher you can find, not just a teacher who is recognized. Be a teacher whose reputation was proven, respected, seasoned, and whose stripes were earned the old fashioned way:  By taking it from your opponents.

I know this doesn’t fit the current business model of the modern-day Eskrima Guro. But I don’t see this as business at all, the martial arts is personal.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

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Path To the Perfect Martial Arts Student, pt II (The Laboratory)

There are many reasons to study the martial arts, and not all of them are to learn to beat people up. However, they all involve combat. Does this sound like a contradiction?

I’m sure it does, but I assure you, combat and training for combat does not always equate to beating people up. For example, in American football–you learn to rough up the opponents. You knock them down, you hit them, you throw them, you evade them, you block them. But American football is not wrestling, and someone who just goes in to hit, knock down and injure is not exactly “playing football”. Those actions are not the goal of football either, even if roughing up people is the reason you enjoy it. The goal of football is to run the ball into the end zone, to kick the ball through the goal–or stop the opposing team from accomplishing either goal. For the martial arts, depending on which culture your art is from, the original purpose for those arts can range from disciplining the minds of monks in China to preventing an outside power from invading your land in the Philippines. Fighting can be central to an art or a mission–but the goal can be completely different and merely enhanced slightly by fighting. Look at Tae Bo (don’t laugh!)–a great way to lose weight. Exercises and movements come from fighting, but fighting isn’t the purpose of those who do it–not even why it was created.

We can remove the art from the system to make it a sport, as well as remove the fighting from the art to make it a discipline. In many places in America, Arnis is not used for a fighting art as much as it is a way for some cultural groups to attract young people to learn more about their culture and take pride in where we came from. In the school system, martial arts is taught as an afterschool activity, as a way of giving children something to do and deal with boredom. I taught the martial arts for years for free because I wanted to give kids something to do as an alternative to hanging out or intramural sports. The agreement the school system made was that they would give me access to their gyms as long as the children did not do any fighting (they gave me schools in low income areas already overrun by gangs). As much as I dislike that approach, I had to realize I wanted to do a service and this was the only way I could do it. So in this way, it was just a pastime. My students still learned the techniques, they hit the targets, learned hand conditioning, even learned to strike with the weapon, but did not participate in sparring.

Through my teachings, I had several children come to me and say they wanted to learn to fight, but their parents could not afford to pay for lessons. Those who had the money I allowed to join at a discount, and those who did not, I gave “scholarships”. I discovered something amazing through this. I had long advocated the need for sparring to learn to fight. But for four years, I taught this group martial arts with no sparring at all. When the few students who opted to train at my school came over, I discovered that many actually did know how to fight! The target-hitting, the punching and kicking in the air, the single stick drills had done some good. As soon as they began sparring, there was an awkward stage where they had to get a feel for the techniques before they became effective. I expected that. Some kids got it right away. I found that those who could spar right away did the most practicing on their own, and visualized themselves fighting. This went a long way, apparently, because almost immediately when they had donned gloves and helmets and padded sticks–they had instant access to their knowledge’s effectiveness. It was at that point I realized a reality of sparring:

Sparring is not to discover what techniques work–but to discover how they work.

I’d never been a fan of the “discovering what works” cliche. In my opinion, everything works. We only learn to make things work by finding out how and when to apply the skills, and develop our skills with them to the point that we can impose our will upon our opponents and his skills. What does this mean?

Simply this:  We must know more than what techniques “work”. As I said, they all “work”. We must know what techniques to use, which opponents and situations to apply them, when the best time to use them, and what it feels like to use the techniques. I can learn a nice spinning hook kick, get the skill to throw the most beautiful, the fastest, even the most powerful spinning hook kick. But until I know what it feels like to hit an opponent with this kick, I won’t be able to use it. Until I know what an opponent can do in response to that kick, I won’t be able to use it. Until I know what to do after I throw the kick, I won’t be able to use it. I must know what the possible counters to the kick are–and have a response to those counters. I must know when not to throw the kick and who not to try the kick on. I have to know how to throw the kick as a counter as well as how to throw the kick as an attack. I must know how to set the kick up. I should know what areas of the opponent’s body to aim for and what it will do. For example, most people think of the spinning hook kick as a high kick. After all, it doesn’t make sense to hit a guy with a spinning hook in the chest, common sense would tell you that. However, I have discovered that the spin hook can also be used as an attack against the inner thigh as well as the shin (as a sort of sweep). I also discovered a way to use the spin hook against the opponent’s back leg round kick, and if I hit you with it–there is NO counter against it. If I explained it to you, even showed it–you wouldn’t get it. You’d probably even tell me I was crazy. But spar with me, and let me hit you with it–you’ll be a believer AND you will be in the gym when you get home trying to figure it out. There are many lessons that will only be revealed to you after you have tried them out in sparring. The gym is essentially the place where theories and rules are learned. Sparring is the laboratory where those theories and rules are not tested–but understood. The mind and the gym after sparring is where new theories and techniques are created. Wash, rinse, repeat. True learning will involve you going through this process many times over. Until you have done every stage, over and over and over–you have not actually gone through the learning process. Remember this very valuable rule.

And this is one of the secrets of the Masters. It cannot be taught in a seminar, it cannot be put in a videotape or a book. Even if I showed you these things and you practiced them, they will not be learned until you try them out against several live, resisting, combative opponents.  There is a very valuable saying in the martial arts:  Sometimes, you must win. Sometimes, you must learn. There are many reasons to spar and compete. If you want to truly learn the martial arts, you will have to–there is no way around it. But it is not to decide for yourself what works–that is a fallacy. It’s not even “what works for me”–another fallacy. When I hear a guy say, “high kicks don’t work”, he thinks he is saying high kicks are ineffective, even if he’s tried it. What he is saying is, “I can’t kick high. I tried, and I suck at it.” I hear the same thing when a guy says, “Point fighting sucks/point fighting makes bad habits/blah blah blah…”–I hear, “I tried it and I suck at it”. Beat a point fighter, then say it. Most people simply have not learned to do it, or they haven’t learned to reap the benefits of point fighting… These masters have tried things out and have a deeper understanding of them; yet not all things can be taught or imparted. They transmit what they can, but the higher levels of understanding can only come from doing it yourself. This is why I say that short training experiences can be counterbalanced by longer periods of fighting experience. You can learn only a portion of a system’s curriculum, but develop a very deep level of understanding through actual experience using those skills–and then gain more skills and ability than someone who stayed in the gym long enough to learn everything (and never get concrete, actual experience). These seminar junkies who get certified in 5+ styles, but have logged in fewer than 10 competition fights are a perfect example. Collecting Black Belts and teaching certifications, but have no actual experience and understanding while fighting with those skills = Complete waste of time.

As a martial arts student, it is exciting to learn new arts and techniques. Regardless of your reasons for doing so, remember that you have not actually “learned” those skills until you have exhausted your ability to understand them by fighting with them–in any format. Whether in point, round-robins, full-contact, or whatever. You must use your knowledge to really understand what it is you’re doing.

If mastery is what you are after, mastering the learning process is the only way to begin that journey. Not to determine if your grandmaster was right or wrong in choosing your style’s techniques (honestly, that’s what “finding out what works” is so arrogantly trying to imply)–but to unlock the secrets of what your grandmaster has buried for you in his curriculum. By learning how his system works.

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Path To the Perfect Martial Arts Student (A Series)

Can you believe that I wrote 900 words of this article–and then LOST it???

Starting over. And boy I am NOT very happy about this. I need a new computer, jeez.

Happy Fathers Day. *fuming*

Today is the perfect day to introduce this subject. I first had planned to write this series as a book about 7 years ago, but between my schools, my custody battle (which I won) for my children, and my business, it never got done so now we will just offer it for free right here on the blog. Of course, in a year or so I will be retired and may be able to actually produce a book that explores this subject more deeply than I can with this blog. It is a subject few care to think about; and it is the theme for this blog all year long–how to become the ideal martial arts student. Why? Because in the path to mastery of the martial arts, we must always remember the first rule of mastering any craft…

To become a master teacher, you must first become a master student.


Today’s student has a world of information promising him knowledge, skills, and ability. He even can choose an organization to call him a master. But what no one is actually offering is the most vital information of all:  What you must do to properly learn, study, explore, and become proficient at these arts. There are many universal principles. However, there are many principles that are art-specific. This is what I intend to impart over the course of the year, including this article. And, God willing, sometime in 2017 or 2018, we will be able to produce a text that explores even further than a few articles.

So today being Father’s Day (actually, tomorrow is Father’s Day for most of you in the west. Today is Father’s Day in the Philippines) is appropriate for the first installment of this series, because in my opinion, it is the older, married Dad who makes for a better martial arts student for several reasons:

  1. Older students are more focused and have waited longer to start training. We have few of the distraction that younger, single students have, such as dating and recreation
  2. Older students do have some challenges. We come to the art with more old injuries, medical/physical problems, we are out of shape, we have guts and double chins. However, we also work harder because of this. In my 27 years of teaching, I have seen my older students surpass the younger, more fit students within a year of training. This is most certainly due to their need to train harder, while the younger guys assume they have and will retain the advantage because they walked through the door with a better physique and more physical abilities
  3. Older students often do this art for different reasons than younger students. Older students have waited because of obligations, but have done their research and bypassed other arts for Eskrima and Arnis. Even to this day, my best fighters are men in their 40s. Younger men study Eskrima because of some movies they’ve seen or their friends do it. Older students find Arnis effective self defense. Younger students find Arnis “cool”. I’m giggling because I’ve heard this on many occasions
  4. Younger men come to the arts because of the desire to kick some butt one day, self protection, street self defense reasons or whatever. Older men tend to be husbands and fathers, and while self defense is also a motivating factor–older men study to protect their families. This is a very special reason to train, and that is what makes them unique
  5. Older men do have less time to train, so when they do, they make more efficient use of their time. Unlike their childless counterparts, who go to the gym to hang out–fathers and husbands only have a few hours to spare and will spend less time chit chat and get the most out of training time
  6. About to transition here, but–Fathers have children, whom they bring into the gym when they reach a certain age. If you look at the martial arts, regardless of the style, you will find many, many masters–many great masters–who arrived to their particular level of mastery because their fathers brought them to the school to train and gave them the opportunity to become a child prodigy. See, fathers are often the sacrificial generation that pave the way for sons and daughters to become the great masters of tomorrow. We are the ones who were too old to get the most out of the arts, but we bring our children to the art at an age young enough to be raised as a warrior from the cradle to the grave. It is the next generation that will be the Bruce Lees and Floyd Mayweathers of tomorrow. Fathers may have dabbled in the art, or they may have been decent fighters. But it is the children they bring to the arts at a young age who will become the best that system has to offer. This is a universal principle. Read on…

Quite often, we come to the art with physical limitations and time constraints. We have jobs and other responsibilities. We have arthritis and trick knees and elbows. If you engage in serious study of the arts even as young as 30, you will only have about ten years left of your prime to get the benefit of your style, and even then, you do not have many years left to master everything the system has to offer. However, by joining at 12 or 13, a child has almost two decades more than you do to study, develop and master the entire system. They may be young, but they are in a great position to decide to make the art a career–while those of you who already have careers must keep the martial arts as a pastime. A child has enough time to learn an art fully by the time he reaches adulthood, and then can spend his 20s and 30s mastering those skills. Children, however, are fickle. They want to train this month and quit the next. Yet if the father puts his foot down and does not allow laziness and does not give the child the choice to train or quit–he will have quite the master on his hands. Ask any of the child prodigies of any craft, not just the martial arts. As children, yes, they rebelled and wanted to quit. It was the fathers and mothers who decided that you will not quit–and this is why today, we have a Jackie Chan, a Michael Jordan, a Jet Li, a Venus and Serena Williams.

The first and easiest path to creating the perfect martial arts student, then, is not just to begin training as a child. That wasn’t my point. The first and easiest path to creating the perfect martial arts student is to make this a family affair. Make the martial arts a family activity, a family function. This is more than just for the child. Take for example the Mayweathers. Is it just Floyd Mayweather, Jr.? No, the Mayweathers are made up of former boxers Roger and Floyd, Sr.–Father and Uncle of Floyd–as well as Jeff Mayweather, the “other” uncle, who is a former fighter and now an MMA coach. The Mayweather family is perhaps the most sought out family of fighters on the planet. They have combined their knowledge and experience, and have mastered a style of boxing that is very difficult to beat as well as duplicate. On the martial arts side of the discussion, we have the Lau family of Hung Gar, the Cañete family of Eskrima, the Presas family of Eskrima, the Lañada family of Kuntaw, the Lacey family of Choy Lay Fut, Chen family Tai Chi (whose children were great fighters, by the way) and the Gracie family of Jujitsu. This isn’t coincidence, folks.

Bringing your children into the art does not require that you already have mastered the art. You can bring them in while still a student, and let the children learn from your master. Then after you have both learned the art, you can act as an intermediary to find more training for your children or you can simply manage their careers. I have seen non-martial arts parents who hadn’t studied one day, coach their children to mastery. At the same time, I have also seen father and son teams who learned side-by-side, and then father began training his son with his own ideas–and the son became an outstanding martial artist. When you involve your loved ones, you take this art who an entirely new level. Nothing is quite like martial arts done as a family affair.

Food for thought. Thank you for visiting my blog.

“There Are NO Qualified Masters In My Town…”

I would like to introduce you to a very old tradition in the Filipino arts, but it will sounds very foreign or strange to you.

Western FMA students have it so good. You can shop teachers around, look up their histories, look up the systems you are thinking about studying. Hell, you can even go on YouTube and study the systems they teach! Google has every potential student thinking he knows what he’s talking about. They think they know who the “best” FMA masters are, and frequently go in groups on Facebook and make asses of themselves by saying stupid things like “There are no qualified masters in my town”.

Yeah, you are a beginner, and you think you are qualified to say who’s legit or not. Or worse–you go on groups online and let other beginners who don’t even live in your city, never seen this master in person all make that judgment for you. Then there is other bad advice. Go take a free class, see if he knows what he’s doing. (As if you can tell the difference between good and bad Eskrima) Buy these videos from master so-n-so, they’re just as good as studying in a school. Take a seminar series and train three times a year instead.

No wonder the FMAs are in such a bad position. Many a foolhardy student who had this experience is sitting here online right now, with their certificate on the wall, reading this article right now thinking their certification is more authentic than what I’m talking about right now. Yes, that’s right. Many Guros and masters today, learned their Eskrima not in a school with a “qualified” teacher, but on video or in seminars.

Bottom line, don’t ask other martial arts students for their advice. It’s like a 10 year old going to a 12 year old for relationship advice, and the 12 year old is telling you that your Dad doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Trust me, that is exactly what is happening.

Do you ever read the masters tell the story about how they acquired their martial arts knowledge? Everyone has one.

Allow me. When I was a boy, I was small and sickly. My father thought I would eventually need protection, so he sent me to his father/his brother/a neighbor who knew Eskrima and I began to train. I don’t know the name of that style/the style was name after him/the style was named after our province. I learned the basic hits and began to have matches. From there I met my first sparring partner, and he and I developed some techniques. A few years later I was living in __ Province and had a match with a man named __ who defeated me. He took me to his father/became my second teacher/became my new sparring partner. He taught me __ skills and weapons. When I was 30 I move to __ Province and looked for new sparring partners. I worked with a few guys from a local school who specialized in this style/this weapon. I had some matches with them and they showed me their style/introduce me to meet their master/we traded techniques. Blah blah blah…

In none of these stories have I ever heard of a master rejecting a teacher because he wasn’t “qualified” or “good enough”. In America, “good enough”/”qualified” really means popular or famous or well known. None of us have seen most of these masters fight. We have only seen their prearrange defense demos and websites and ads for their videos and seminars. And we base our judgment on how many people have heard of them. Foolish. In the Philippines, almost every guy with a reputation earned it by beating or fighting someone–and not everyone wins every fight. Many fought and lost, but still have reputations. Here in the West, we avoid matches at all costs, and unless they are universally accepted by the masses–we don’t acknowledge them. Majority of the time, we make excuses why sparring “isn’t real enough” so we’d rather do drills and hit focus mitts. So even those matches that the masters had doesn’t “qualify” them to teach us… although, we will still write about them on our websites and tell the masses that we learned from a grandmaster who was unbeated in 100 fights. Right.

If I may, the most common path works out like this:

  1. Study for a year with the closest person who knows Eskrima near you. Not everyone was a master, they just taught you the basics
  2. Perhaps study with a second teacher for a few months
  3. Get a series of sparring and training partners, exchange ideas and techniques. Revise your arsenal and skill set
  4. Have a by-chance encounter with a real master, and study with him for a few years
  5. Have about 10 years of more matches, sparring partners, new ideas, testing those ideas, scrapping/revising/devising ideas… arrive to the realization that you have just created your own style
  6. 20 more years of teaching, while revising, revising and revising your style again and again

If you notice, the masters usually don’t stay with their teachers long. They learn a system–anywhere from a few months to a few years–and spend most of their lives having matches and training with someone from another style. This is the most common path for Eskrima and Arnis masters. The brick-and-mortar (or bamboo, depending on where you live) school with a heirarchy, curriculum and certificates is a very new, not very common thing.

How should you apply that to today’s FMA experience? Learn what you can, however you can learn it. If that means YouTube because there simply isn’t an Arnis teacher in your city, then so be it. But don’t go to YT because you aren’t dedicated enough to drive 100 miles to meet a real teacher. If the only guy in town is a Tae Kwon Do teacher who has studied by seminars, then do it. Remember, he has been doing it longer than you, and will have something you won’t figure out on your own, I am very sure of that. Good martial arts can be found in the strangest of places. All knowledge can be tested, fortified, tempered, and developed. Learn from those local masters, and don’t be so arrogant you think you know better than those who do this for a living. I have fought possibly 200 or so fights in my life, and after leaving high school I lost very few of those. A ton of guys have walked out my school because I have no certificates, had no products on the market (well, I have them now… check them out!), and I don’t talk the seminar language guys on the internet speak. Imagine, there are Guros out there right now who can’t fight worth a lick, because they passed up my school. Naive.

I recall Master Presas telling me how he and his brothers studied two styles, Balintawak and Hinigran Arnis, not because they were the best styles, but because they were the only styles offered in their neighborhood. And look at what they did with those local systems. Learn what you can, and then train and test the hell out of it. This is one of the secrets of the masters. Thanks for visiting my blog.