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Awarding Children the Black Belt

black-beltI found this subject being talked about here on Karateforums.

I have mix feelings about this subject. At one time, I was oppose to the idea of a child holding a Black Belt. This is despite the fact that I was a youth Black Belt myself. I know, I know, it sounded hypocritical. But the difference between me and most underaged Black Belts is huge. First of all, I trained 7 days a week, and sparred with Adults weekly. I was under my Master for 5 years before being allowed to compete at the Black Belt level, and worked my up through the ranks like everyone else (yet a little accelerated), one step at a time. And I *believed* I was of a higher skill level and understanding than most of these shopping center Black Belters. I swore at 12 years old that I would be a martial arts teacher, compete at the International level, and be known in my circles as the best at what I do… and accomplished all of those goals by the time I was 18. I’ve met other kids younger than I was doing the same thing, and compared to the McBlack Belter from the Safeway shopping center doing XMA, was light years ahead of my peers.

But, then I saw the light. And I see that this is more an issue of maturity, school culture, and teacher preference.

See, in some schools, the idea of a Black Belt is much simpler than what many of us believe it should be. I still believe that the Black Belt is not the “beginning”, but the END of a long arduous road to expertise. This isn’t to say that a Black Belter should not have more to learn, but if he decides not to continue studying and to teach or pursue other goals, his skill level should be at a level where he “has arrived”. It is more an issue of awarding deserving candidates the BB, than it is what age is the minimum age. Some teachers have devalued the Black Belt to the point that anyone who can demonstrate the forms, and have hung around long enough to learn the curriculum, and afford the testing fee can get this award. And that is just plain wrong.

But if a youth has poured years of his life into training rigorously, studying academically in the art, and testing himself over and over until his body is showing the physical effects of serious martial arts training, then why not?

Take a look at these kids.  Can your Junior Black Belter fight like that? If not, you might want to redefine what a Black Belter is. I know children, right here in America, who can probably whip these boys. But you see, the Black Belt is supposed to represent the best you can produce, and too many teachers simply don’t care to raise the bar that high for those who represent him. When I think of a Junior Black Belter, this is the level I expect. They don’t necessarily have to be the best in the world, but they damned sure better be one of them.

It’s just like the title “genius”. A kid can be smart, but he ain’t no genius unless he has proven that he’s a genius. In the world of the martial arts, a kid could be knowledgeable, a kid could be good, but it don’t mean he’s Black Belt material. I’ve had a few parents who needed to understand this…. that the Black Belt is more than a kid who can do nice forms, score points in a tournament and do the splits. There is a lifestyle, a way of thinking, a way of behavior, and a way of treating one’s martial journey that should be developed before a person (not just a child) can be a Black Belter. And it isn’t made for just anyone, and not everyone is going to be able to achieve this–I don’t care how much money or desire you have. It takes hard work, dedication and a true desire to become the goal.

When a child understands this and can make the commitment, DOES make the commitment and follows through, then we can talk about earning the Black Belt. Age at this point is immaterial. I know some very committed and disciplined 9 year olds who will make your head spin, and make some adults look bad. The key is remember that the Black Belt is an honor that must be earned through hard work and separates the accomplished from those who are mediocre. This is the only way the Junior Black Belt is to have respect and meaning.

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How to Supercharge Your FMA Empty Hand

fist.empty hand6 Step Program:

  1. Scrap your whole Program:  You’ve become another martial arts cliche’. You’re nothing special, every other FMA guy in town does the same crap you do, the same way you do it. So start from scratch, and rebuild a new art! Hell, why not? How long have you been studying this art? Don’t you think you can come up with a complete, practical, original art? Start with only the most practical, most devastating and damaging strikes and kicks. Then select no more than 10 good and reliable grappling attacks. Build your methods of attack and counter attack until you have a small set of 20 – 30 useful techniques. Forget the drills, katas, the disarming, etc. Take your small set of fighting skills and create a style-within-a-style. This is your personal combat system, and will be what you train with 80% of the time you train on your own.
  2. Testing:  Vow to yourself that you will spar 100 opponents using only what is in this system. Notice I did not say, “100 rounds”. It doesn’t matter how many rounds you fight, the idea is to use this art against 100 unique fighting styles and unique opponents. You would be surprised what you’ll discover when you do this
  3. Develop:  One of the most neglected aspects of martial philosophy is the necessity for development and tempering. You should train your skill to a high degree. This, my brothers, is not practice; there is a difference. For the casual martial arts student, unchallenging practice is sufficient. However, the career martial artist needs something far more intense. We must train with extremely high repetitions and develop our speed and power to an almost superhuman degree. Many in the arts believe that this is unnecessary or impossible. Let them feel that way; they are not one of us. We only have a short amount of time in our youth to accomplish this and may not have the rest of our lives to ever achieve this level. As you age, your body will deteriorate and physical training will yield smaller gains. It is far better to take advantage of youth while you have it, and have achieved this level at some point in your life… your martial arts will forever benefit from simply reaching this level in your youth. I know martial arts “Masters” who have never enjoyed the prestige of being one of the best in his local community, and there is a psychological barrier to his art’s development and that of his students. To make it easy, commit to performing everything in your personal fighting system 1,000 times in the first 3 months, and then at least 5,000 repetitions as soon after as you can. Do this and call me in the morning; you will never be the same man again.
  4. Forging:  You must utilize impact training in your system. My best friend is a peach tree growing in my front yard. Besides providing my wife and children healthy snacks a few weeks a year, this tree is used to practice my Iron Arm(blocking practice), punching and striking practice, and pulling and pushing. Stand square in front of a tree or Mook Yan Jong (Wooden Man Post) and execute your blocks or strikes against it a minimum of 50 reps per set. If you have never done this type of training before, I suggest you wrap a towel around the trunk (or low branch if you have one available) and secure it with duct tape. Work only one technique at a time. Sometimes I will spend weeks on just one technique per session. In my youth, I worked on a coconut tree at my home in the Philippines for hours before going to class with Boggs Lao, just for him to put me on a free-standing tree log in his gym. You can wrap a jacket, rope or karate belt around the tree/log/dummy to practice your pushing and pulling, and grabs. This will give you a very hard feeling to your techniques, which also doubles as a fight deterrent on the street. No one wants to fight a guy who feels like he can snap your bones like twigs.
  5. Learn from the Japanese:  Get a Makiwara. Or build one. But you must have something besides a punching bag to hit, preferably one that does not move much. I can always tell when someone has training without one, because his technique has a sort of weakness to it that cannot be compensated through weight-lifting or BJJ certifications (lol). And don’t listen to all the naysayers who tell you Makiwara training is bad for the joints, those are just old wives tales told by people who don’t know better. I have never met a man who couldn’t use his hands as a result of the training. Utilize this thing as much as you can.
  6. Your Reputation:  Either teach some students this system and put them in front of opponents, or train like a madman and get in front of as many opponents as you can. Don’t publicize it; just do it. Word of mouth will spread your reputation for you. Document it if you want, after all this IS America, but focus more on proving your art’s worth, one opponent at a time. Forget the websites, press releases, and articles… this is old school reputation-building. As the old Filipino saying goes, a fighter’s reputation is built from the testimony of his opponents, not his friends.

You are a Filipino Martial Artist, so act like one! Want to do something traditional? This is it. Trust me, this is the only path to mastery and respect in the FMAs. You create your own system, you develop true fighting ability, you get yourself a reputation and then you allow your accomplishments speak for themselves. None of those old Masters had websites, or Seminar tours, or PR people. They stood on their own feet, not the shoulders of others, and possessed the skill to back up their reputations themselves. You gotta respect that.

FMA empty hand is a laughing stock. The only people who really believe that patty-cake stuff you do will kick someone’s ass are 12 year old boys, 45 year old men who know nothing of real fighting, and the women you date. Get out, prove to yourself and the world that your empty hand is worthy. The Filipino Martial Arts need it.


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Liberate Yourself from Classical FMA, pt III

To Sinawali, or Not to Sinawali?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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