Producing Good FMA Instructors, pt III

When I first began teaching, I was 15 years old and my Jow Ga Sifu, Master Dean Chin, had just died. Within our Kung Fu school, most of my older brothers were Sifu’s age or older and no one thought in a million years that we would be left with his legacy so quickly. A year earlier Sifu had told my Si Hing, Master Raymond Wong, that if anything would happen to him (Sifu) he would be responsible for my training. There was an agreement among us that I would be studying to become a teacher, and I was expected to be at the school every weekend, training for most of the day. The year Sifu died, Raymond had me teach the first half of his class and we would watch and talk to me about how I did. Soon, Raymond had me teaching entire classes and when he opened his school in 1987, I was one of his instructors (along with Sifu Craig Lee). The process of me learning to teach took about 4 years, longer than most people take to get a Black Belt.

Over the years I studied other Masters and Instructors, and their teaching methods. I noticed early on how teaching method directly affects student skill. Some teachers, like Raymond and Sifu Chin, seemed to abuse their students (this is an exaggeration–I am referring to the intensity of their clases), which resulted in highly skilled students. Others were too conceptual, and their students received no physical benefit from the training, only academic learning. One of my Si Hings, Master Rahim Muhammad, who taught the second class I attended at Jow Ga (along with countless more) treated children as if they were adults. He still gave information in bite sized pieces, but even today at 40 years old, I remember conversations he had with me when I was 12 about admiration, importance of practice, controlling one’s tongue–very profound lessons for an 8th grader. This is significant, because while others simply taught me technique because I was a child, Rahim actually spoke to me about philosophical ideas.

As I grew up, I observed how each teacher passed down his lessons and I would then reflect on how those lessons would be absorbed. At a young age–considering that I planned to be a teacher–I became a student of how to teach the martial arts. I read books, I read magazines, I talked to my Si Hings about their ideas about it. Years later, I spent countless hours with Master Boggs Lao, talking about his teaching philosophy. Boggs was an amazing teacher, because every single student in his schools was a good fighter. That was no exaggeration… every student.

During the year that preceded me opening my own school, I spent entire days with my Grandfather revising my method, and how I planned to utilize it. I was teaching for a Karate school chain, Kim’s Karate, and putting my ideas to work. In a short period of time, the students went from mediocre to fired up and kicking butt within a year. Some of these students had not trained hard for years, and within months they were formidable. Together, we drew the entire curriculum and method of delivery in a series of 3-ringed notebooks I carried with me everywhere I went.

Over the years, I added and took away and modified my method. As always, I put my ideas on paper and then reflected on it before instituting in the gym. This is an important lesson about teaching:

You must think about teaching–your curriculum, how you will teach the material, how the students will receive, practice, and develop the material, and how the lessons will be tested and refined. This “thinking” must be on paper before being thought through, then it must be thought through before being put to use.

Many teachers do not think of the art of teaching, and the result is that their students do not learn the lessons well. Of course, we begin with a good curriculum, but you must also have a method of delivery. Once you have identified your instructor candidates, talk to them about the art of teaching and give them a basic format… they will take it from there. I don’t believe that a formal course in teaching is necessary; about half of one’s ideology is self-reflection. However, you should provide input, commentary, and supervision.  I recommend allowing your students to teach classes while you observe, and doing this for at least 6 months and giving your feedback. As you “teach” your students how to teach, he will be developing his own ideas and methods in his mind and putting those ideas to practice while he is teaching classes.

The art of teaching, is just as important as the art of fighting–it is just the next level of development for the martial artist.

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Producing Good FMA Instructors, pt II

The premise behind my teaching philosophy is that we are first, trying to build strong fighters and secondly, trying to train new instructors. Underneath that philosophy is a second, more traditional philosophy that we “graduate” new instructors rather than create hierarchies of them. There are already hierarchies among martial artists based on skill, age, popularity of the style, ethnicity, lineage, fame, and many other things! In the Philippines–as in many other cultures–the influence of the media can often skew perception of what is most important:  skill/ability and knowledge. I believe in training the best possible fighters we can, and then teach them how to duplicate this feat so that they can produce quality students as well.

That said, once my boys have proven that they are the best fighters in their local community–even better than me–they deserve to be “one of us”. Why slap a “first degree” label on them and then allow some out of shape, less knowledgeable 7th degree (who probably holds a political or self-promoted rank) to look down on them?

I also believe in testing behind closed doors, and making these tests grueling tests of strength and courage–rather than some arbitrary “show-me-what you’ve-learned” dog and pony show so popular with the kids these days. Maybe I am just old school and my ideas are outdated; in my day we earned our stripes. I wouldn’t like the idea of doing it all over again, but I wouldn’t hesitate for a minute because it’s what made me who I am today. Your expert candidates should remember the end of their journey as fondly as one remembers completing a anguishing uphill battle, akin to braving dangerous waters or crossing burning sands. Not a party, but a survival.

The other side of me says, train them properly, and then introduce them to the community as your new instructors/experts, but ask members of the community to come and test your students themselves.

In my school, we do both. I train my guys as well as I can, I test them frequently, give them a huge undertaking (which they are in the middle of completing) and then introduce them to the public. Anyone who wants to doubt that they are the best fighters in the land are welcome to come to the ceremony and prove it.

And here, you have rule #2 to producing good instructors. After developing them as good fighters (rule #1), you have to prove to the instructor candidate as well as the public just how good they are. However you wish to do it–a test, a tournament, or simply to just declare them the best–your new instructors will be terribly ineffective if any of them doubt that they have reached the pinnacle of their ability. At this point, you are responsible for making sure that these instructors have their own experiences to teach from. Not the stories that you have lived, or in the stories of the ones who came before you, but their own. They must have walked the walk in order for them to ever talk about it.

Remember all those debates about whether one could be an effective teacher if he were not an effective fighter? Well, save it, because for these guys, such a discussion is immaterial. They will have an easier time selling memberships because skill sells. They will have plenty of good lessons to teach, because there is no better lesson than experience. They will be qualified to make innovations or alter their teaching and training methods, unlike many of their armchair counterparts. They will even be spared the task of fighting for respect because one thing about good fighters, as long as they are fair and just, everyone respects them. Not necessarily like them, but in their face they will be respected.

In part III we will talk about the technical side of teaching the martial arts…

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Perfection and Mastery in the Martial Arts

Can one ever actually master or otherwise achieve perfection in the martial arts?

Of course the so-called “experts” of the FMAs will answer emphatically, no. I expected that. Why? Because the Filipino martial artist today really has no depth to his martial arts due to the industry’s commercialism. He lacks strong understanding of fighting strategy and practical fighting skill–let alone any philosophical knowledge–so he must look to the Kung Fu movie… yes, I said it: THE KUNG FU MOVIE, to learn how to think and act, as a teacher of the martial arts. He believes that FMA teachers are supposed to be quiet, humble, neutered monks who avoid eye contact and speak in parables. As if the fighters who once challenged each other to test and prove skill and build reputations and forging new methods of fighting only existed in stories and anecdotes. Sorry, but that ain’t us, it isn’t our culture. This, my friend, is a warrior culture, not a temple!

I really hate to admit this because I love my kababayans (countrymen) so much, but even many FMA people in the Philippines do it, too. They try to be fake Filipino monks, with this air of peacefulness and non-violence they have to put on. They read American martial arts magazines to see what the trends are in the “sophisticated” side of the world, and then mock those trends back home. I mean, am I the only guy who notices Filipino pop stars wearing cold-weather gear while on stage performing Rap music in Taglish, in the Philippines? Where its HOT? What about Catholic Filipinos running around in Muslim costumes to live up to the imagery of Dan Inosanto’s Kali Warrior? Wrestling with karabaw in the mud and wearing straw hats and naming everything in this beautiful art rather than using numbers like the rest of us?

Sorry, I lost my head for a minute.

Anyway, while many Filipinos are peaceful, friendly, non-violent people, our martial artists are not. We don’t wear belts and hang up certificates because we don’t need them. We brag. We talk trash. We look at foreign arts and think, I can whip that guy. We try to make our students better than the lousy students up the road or in the next town. We still train well into our 50s and will cross sticks (and hands) with you to prove how good we are. We drag our students to matches to build our reputations, we train harder when they lose, and then we tell potential students that we have the best fighters in town because this is what we strive for.

All that to say, this fake-me-out humility in the FMA is new, it’s phony, and it sucks. It’s not a Filipino martial principle. If all you strive for is mediocrity, why are you even training? Are we not training for combat? Who are you preparing to fight? A boy scout? A 60 year old man with a walker? Are we not studying to win fights, but studying to fight only to a draw? Come on, people, we are allowing our weak counterparts to represent the art of our country of origin! And they are doing all the talking!

Perfection in the martial arts is possible. Mastery in the martial arts is the goal. If you don’t believe that it is possible or that you are capable, then I say you are unworthy of calling yourself a teacher–let alone Master–of the Philippine martial arts. The purpose of training hard is to forge the body into something that cannot be duplicated in a gym and 99% of the martial arts schools out here. We are developing our skills and our bodies so that no man on the street poses a real threat–armed or unarmed. And while it is true that this goal is not right around the corner, it is a possibility that will meet us halfway if we devote enough time and energy towards it. The martial artist must never be satisfied with his skills, because this is what keeps him in the gym and at the top of the food chain.. and out of the hospital or the morgue. He is alway striving for a better, stronger, faster punch or kick. He wants to possess an unstoppable attack, and and impenetrable defense. He wants his knife to have a light saber-like ability to penetrate anything, and for his stick to crash through any defense. He is always striving for more, better, faster, stronger. He is always demanding his body to put out more, and he gives it the attention it needs in order to make sure that he remains capable of keeping up with his desires. He has turned down other endeavors for his martial arts journey; therefore, he enjoys a level of skill and confidence most of his martial arts peers only dream about and pretend to have on the internet and around kid brothers. In the company of his inferior martial arts counterparts, this is the only time he can really be non-violent and not have to pretend to be peace-loving and humble; these people are truly no match to his ability.

When I see mediocre martial artists acting like they have no fear, and then attempting to outsmart those with more physical prowess, I laugh because I know that it isn’t arrogance. Rather, these men really are insecure, and they are hoping you are not as bright as they are so that they can feel superior about something. Now, when he says that he doesn’t believe in mastery and perfection, he’s telling the truth; he doesn’t believe in it… for himself. When he claims to have no fear in combat, he is again telling the truth! He feels no fear of fighting, because he has no intention of ever fighting and will avoid it at all costs.

Want a test? Ask a martial artist you know about fighting, sparring and competition. If he gives you the speech about how fighting has nothing to do with sparring and competitions, or how even NHB fighters are not going to be effective on the street, you are in the company of a martial arts “wuss”. lol

These guys use logic to explain away how martial arts ain’t about fighting, and how the guys who do fight “just don’t get it”, and how guys like me who talk about fighting are the real cowards… It’s all to distract you from the fact that he can’t fight, and that his martial art is weak.

The bottom line:  If a man spent his lifetime training his arts, refining, testing and training even more, he will one day master his art; it is the only outcome. If he spends enough time fine-tuning, revising, fine-tuning some more, revising, and then fine-tuning some more–looking at his skills critically and attempting to smooth out the rough edges and build up his weaknesses until they disappear–he will one day perfect his art. But only when he has spent a good portion of his life in pursuit of these goals will it happen. And finally, others must see and recognize the results before he will… Only then can one truly say that the goal has been reached. He may be confident, but never satisfied with his skills; although he may be pleased with his accomplishments, he will always believe that he is capable of achieving more.  Remember this saying:

The Master is never satisfied with himself. Perfection is always close, but never completely within one’s grasp. Only when he sees how close he is to it, will he actually achieve it. It is a level of attainment for onlookers to enjoy–it is never for the Master himself.

When you are training for combat, you are aiming for mastery and perfection so that you will arrive at the highest level of physical ability possible. There is no other method of studying and training in these arts. This is why I say that for the serious martial artist, “part time student” status does not exist. This is not an undertaking or a hobby, it is a lifestyle. It is not a career for the teacher, it is a calling. You cannot claim to be a martial artist and separate it from your identity. We do this for life because it takes a lifetime to  complete its goals. Yes, the art in its truest form is not for everyone. But it is here for everyone that wants it; you simply have to pursue it. And pursue it long enough that someone tells you that you’ve got it. It’s complicated and complex, but it’s just that simple.

Thank you for reading my blog. Hopefully most of you are not more confused than you were 15 minutes ago.

If you like what you’ve read, you’re going to love my upcoming book, Mustafa Gatdula’s How to Build a Dominant Fighter in 12 Months. Available December 2009, but you can order advance copies by visiting my Offerings Page!

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Training versus Teaching Students

Original, unedited post from 2006. We will have a more detailed, edited post up soon, but I thought I’d tease everyone with something from the “kuntawman” archives:


training vs teaching


many FMA people, i noticed, spend a lot of time teaching the student and not training them. what makes a fighter effective, is what he can do, not what he knows.

there’s a lot of 400 pound couch potatos who “know” how the Clippers can win a game, but they are not very valuable to the clippers themself, are they. not saying they can’t coach the clippers, but who will give them the job.

martial artists spend too much time with knowledge not enough time with skill. this is bad for the art, because it allows us to respect ideas more than skill. how many discussions have we battled because some people believe you need to “know” how to teach, more important than you “know” how to fight. i’m sorry, if a man cant fight, i would not study under him, i dont give a damn what he knows. if you will spend hundreds of dollars to follow a guy and you dont care about his ability, then you really dont want to fight.

this is why the tournament is so valuable to the martial artist. especially for FMA artists, because there is so small numbers of arnis people around that are willing to fight, the last thing we need is more FMA philosophizers. Philosphy and ideas mean nothing if you do not make them work. and skill is developed in training, not practice, and definitely not in learning. you can learn how to throw a punch but it is the guy who threw it thousands of times, full speed, full power, that will be successful in a fight. no matter how many different ways you learn to throw that punch.

so fma people, train your skill, stop taking all these damn seminars. the rest of the martial arts world is laughing at us because of our 9th degree masters who cant fight. and stop putting down tournaments like WEKAF, unless you are willing to go there and prove that you can do it better.

Producing Good FMA Instructors

The business of the FMA has helped the traditional teacher find a way to make a living and grow his art and school, but it has weakened each generation of students as the years go by. But all is not lost!

In the past two decades, the Filipino arts have become diluted and commercial. In fact, the trends have helped the FMA Guro disguise his weak art and appear to be one of tradition and authenticity. I believe that the new trend in the Filipino arts have led to a return to the old ways of doing things; despite that they think they have come up with something new. I recently read a blog (http://www.hertao.com/blog/category/filipino-martial-arts/) that had many good “innovations” in the way the martial arts should be approached. While I do not agree with everything he writes, I am glad to see that there are a community of martial artists who look at their arts critically and through the eyes of a fighter, not just as a Filipino martial artist. Had this gentleman simply gone to the source of Philippine arts, or the lesser-known teachers, he would have saved himself a lot of headache, wasted time and energy, and basically learned pure practical art instead of a bunch of fluff. I had long stated that the commercialism in the FMAs would lead to people thinking that REAL Filipino arts consisted of nothing but fancy drills, kenpo-like techniques, and lot of posturing and trash-talking. Philippine martial arts are not even considered fighting arts, except by people who don’t know what they’re talking about. This is why the only good fighters you see in the media representing Philippine art are repping Muay Thai, BJJ, or some other art for their real fighting.

Years ago, I sparred a seminar-trained FMA guy because of my mouth, and he thought he would shut me up. Guess what he used to try and get me? Very bad, poorly-skilled boxing. After I realized that although he had done some sparring–but had the skills of a green belt pee wee division fighter–I point fought him to demonstrate the differences in our levels of skill. All he could say after we were done was that I was “quick”. Poor guy didn’t even realize he was beaten by what he and others like him called a “game of tag”.

Back to our discussion, there is a small, but growing community of FMA fighters who are really fighting, and they are rejecting the usual okie-doke. I love it. But they will need this guidance:  Learn how to turn your fighters into teachers, and your system will both grow and continue to produce future generations.

In the upcoming articles, I will outline the steps to helping your students get from good fighter to good teacher. There is a debate about whether you can be a good teacher without being a good fighter, and whether you can even be a poor fighter and still produce teachers. Just to save you guys the confusion (and since this ain’t some damned forum, it’s my stinking page), let me get right to the point on this one:

Emphatically, NO. If you can’t fight your way out of a paper bag, you will not be a good teacher. You MUST be a good fighter if you are ever to produce good students, and the only guys who think you can are butt-wipes in denial who are too closed-minded to admit that 1. they can’t fight, and 2. their students can’t fight.

So, there you have rule #1 for producing good FMA teachers. Teach those bastards how to fight. And if you are not confident enough to bet money on one of your Black Belt candidates against any man in the room, drop his status from “candidate” to “student” until you can. Trust me, slap a certificate on a guy with mediocre skills and you are setting him up for failure (or doomed to life as a seminar junkie who must surround himself with friends and certificates while arming himself with excuses not to fight). Put your guys against other fighters to get their own experiences and build their pre-promotion reputations. Train them hard, so that you know they’ll be equipped with good skill. Give them enough time to develop and prove to themselves that they know that they know what they’re doing. And finally, when you promote them, don’t insult them by creating levels of instructorship; either they know their shit or they don’t. They’ve come this far, they’ve paid their dues… don’t subjugate them by fluffing levels between them and you.  Allow them to graduate from student to peer among teachers… not just a “junior teacher”. When you get a law degree and pass the bar, are you a lawyer? When you get an MD and pass the necessary exams, are you a Doctor? Sure, there are those who are better than others, but they are still experts, lawyers, doctors, etc. Just make sure when you bestow rank that they deserve it.

Next article, we will talk about how to teach your teachers how to teach. (whew!)

Thanks for visiting my blog. Until next time….

What On Earth Is a “Supreme” Grandmaster Anyway?

Is this a cat who used to train with Diana Ross in Motown, or something?

Is it that grown men–FREE men–calling another man “Master” isn’t enough? You need to lower yourself and grovel even lower?

Is it that having your butt kissed by your students isn’t enough? Don’t let me get graphic here, guys.

The FMAs have become so mainstream, it’s disgusting. Let alone that we no longer have the natural-born killers representing our arts like we did 20, 30 years ago. We have degenerated to self-promoting ranks, selling teaching certificates, promising students that they will be unbeatable in “10 seminars (ahem, easy lessons) or less”!  Our arts are now “too deadly for tournaments” and now we have to listen to the same garbage we use to laugh at being spewed by our own masters and many of you feel obligated to defend it!

Come on now, big boy… you don’t really believe that your master is undeafeated in 100 death matches, do you? See if you can get him to spar ONE “bloody nose” match with me, will you? Oh, he’s old and I’m young. Okay, since you are the one holding his jockstraps, and plan to be the “inheritor” of his system, why don’t you fight me in a light contact, friendly match?

Oh, I see. Your grandmaster is a direct descendant of Lapu Lapu. His art is 8 generations old. Okay, name each successive grandmaster/grandfather going back 4 generations.

These guys will tell you that their art goes back 9 generations, but they can’t name their great, great grandfather. Come on!

Instructorship in the FMAs use to be a graduation. Once you’ve learned an art, you knew it, and your rank depended on your skill level and knowledge base. Now, it is a level with titles and numbers (6th degree Black Belts). People ran out of numbers to give themselves–I actually met a guy who told me his Great-Grandmaster was a 15th degree Black Belter (whew!)–and titles, so now they are reaching for more things to call themselves. Heck, next these guys will start calling themselves the “Pope of Arnis de Mano”, or “Great Grandma Guro”. This is getting out of hand!

When my guys have learned my art all the way through, they will know more than I did when I first opened my school because I have had 18 years of knowledge more than I did at 22. They should be better than I was because they had more classmates than I did. They deserve to be more than just my Instructor-level student; they deserve to be my peer. And that’s the reason for these higher numbers and lofty ranks. Teachers want to remain superior, despite that they no longer can do what they use to, and that their Black Belt students will be better than they ever were, and that’s just plain wrong. What says more about a teacher:  His best students are still lesser skilled than they are at 40 or 50? Or his best students surpasses his own abilities?

May I suggest, brothers and sisters, that the best Master should be able to produce students who become better than the Master himself. I am 40, I have arthritis. Two weekends ago I performed 100 pushups–which is a basic requirement of my advanced students–and I ached for nearly 7 days, when I use to do that as a part of a regular workout. By contrast, my advanced Kuntaw students do this regularly as a warm-up. I blistered last week when I threw 1,000 strikes with my sticks (yet I was shooting for 2,500… remember the “Challenge” article?). 1,000 hits use to be a demo I performed for students complaining about 500 hits! I am a shadow of who I was, as are most men calling themselves “Master” and “Grandmaster” or more. Still, it is ego that makes some men accept this fact and still shoot for more power and arrogance, and cease to strive for improvement.

My Grandfather once said that a man’s fighting career should end in his 30s, when he begins his teaching career, then becomes a master in his 40s, when his peers begin to consider him a master. But he must continue to hone and improve his skills until his body quits, and this would be in his late 50s and 60s. My Grandfather could still spar at 78, and he never adopted the title of Grandmaster. I’ve seen only a few old men who could compare to him at an advanced age, yet most Masters with fewer abilities and younger years dare to make up titles like “Supreme Great Grandmaster” and stuff like that?

The FMA way of doing business just perplexes me, and we are going by the way of Big Business Tae Kwon Do with the ranks, multi-level marketing schemes and de-emphasis on skill development and testing. When men make up these crazy titles and wear them proudly and without shame, I know that my beloved FMAs have become the next Amway.

I believe that when a student graduates from the Advanced Level, he should have two or three more levels to aim for:  the Expert level–when he has learned the entire art and can utilize the art with great effectiveness;  the Teacher level–when he has attained an entire fighting career worth of his own fighting experiences as well as supervised teaching experience; and if you decide to (I don’t), a Senior Teacher level–which is your political/business/social status level (which I believe any rank higher than a 3rd Degree Black Belt is anyway). There is no need to test at those levels; you’ve seen what they can do in class and on the mat. I would hold a presentation ceremony and maybe a demonstration, but nothing more is necessary.

I had always been taught that the title “Master” was to be bestowed not by an organization or by oneself, but by the community you belong to. I had two significant  experiences with  the title Master around 10 years ago, and I believe that teachers should achieve it this way, rather than to pay for certification. The first was shortly after my arrival to California, when I was still on the tournament circuit and making friends among the instructors. A few times when I had visited a school, I would be introduced to students as “Master Gatdula”. This is aligned with the saying that teachers become masters when the community recognizes you as one. The second was at Manong Leo Giron’s school and house, when he and Grandmaster Vince Tinga introduced me to another teacher from the Bay as “Master” Gatdula. When I suggested that I was just a teacher, Manong Leo said, “you are a master because I say you are one…” Vince Tinga introduced me to the community as his nephew, and adopted my school as family (he actually taught in my school 7 days a week for nearly 2 years before his death). This is how one becomes a master, not through some ceremony.

Like I said in my previous articles, return to basics. Train yourself, train your students, give them plenty of opportunity to prove their sklls to you and themselves. Don’t try to make money off them forever. Give your students the respect they deserve and give your art the respect it deserves. Don’t pimp your martial arts. If you want to pimp something, throw 24s on your ride, put some bass in your trunk, but leave the arts and our traditions alone.

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