Building Courage in Martial Arts Students

This is something I’ve written on in the past, and I thought I would revisit the topic. Building courage is one of the most difficult skills to have in teaching the martial arts, and not many teachers have this ability. In fact, I would dare to say that not many teachers even realize the importance of developing this skill.

I believe that the average martial arts program only addresses the technical aspects of the martial arts:   punches, kicks, self-defense, weapons, etc.  But the deeper levels of the art involves those things you cannot touch; they are things that change the character, the behavior, the personality of the fighter. We want to affect more than simply the physical appearance of the student, but the way he acts and thinks. Building courage is one of the most important of those changes.

In many cases, courage is a by-product of good training. As a man (child or woman, I’m speaking in the general sense) sees his physical strength increase as well as his knowledge of fighting techniques, he will feel protected. “Protected” is the important word here, as the fear men feel is from their vulnerability–the lack of protection. When he feels like he cannot be hurt or is not in danger, he does not experience fear. But when he feels as if he is in danger or may be hurt, even the skilled fighter will experience fear. The secret to removing fear is to train our students until they feel as if they can defeat almost anyone you put in front of them. In other words, we need to see to it that our students are so well-trained that they believe that they are unbeatable. I do not want to waste so much time talking about how to accomplish this, as most of this blog is dedicated (as well as my book) to building a dominant fighter, so let’s talk about the fighter who still experiences fear although he is being properly trained.

So, the question–I believe–is why would a student still be afraid, although he is being trained?  There are several areas that may not necessarily be covered by a good training program. I don’t believe they are at the fault of the teachers, as many systems simply do not address all the areas:

  • Defense against weapons–most FMA systems will address weapons vs empty hands, but most do not actually teach fighting versus those weapons. Facing a real weapon is scary. The first weapon I faced was at the ripe old age of 19, and was at my sister’s birthday party in the Philippines. One of the men I was fighting had a pipe, and guess what? None of the skills against the stick I had learned came out in that fight. In fact, do you know what I used to combat him? A well-placed roundhouse kick… to the jaw. On top of that, he darned near broke my arm, and I still have the scar from the pipe, as it broke my skin. The next weapon I faced came about 5 years later, and it was in Baltimore, and was a knife. Fortunately for me, I had a knife too, and the guy ran. But the fear was only there for the pipe. By the second time, I had fought many times against a wooden knife and had a plan. Some call it stupidity; I call it preparation.
  • Combat against several people–I had been “jumped” several times throughout my childhood, and I learned early on that I was stronger and had more endurance than most opponents I may face. The first time I fought a group, I was 11, and scared as a mouse. By the time I was 13, it was no longer an “attack”, but a “fight” versus a group of people. Fortunately, as an adult, I have only had one incident when I was outnumbered and actually fought… and that time was my fault–I approached them. But I did have a few near-incidents, and I believe that my lack of fear is what kept me from having to fight. If I seemed afraid, a fight would have been unavoidable. However, preparation was not so much sparring against a group in training, as much as it was simply being in top shape and very strong. Again, a by-product of proper training.
  • The practice of facing fears–this is perhaps the second most important of them all. Remember, from earlier articles, I quote the saying that courage is not really the absence of fear–but the willingness to face and confront them. Many fighters, especially older students, will be nervous about sparring. In order for many teachers to hold on to students longer, they will not force students who are afraid of sparring to do it. It can be the act of sparring, or sparring with heavy contact, or even a certain classmate or exercise. As teachers, we must recognize when students fear something or someone, and work to remove that fear. There are several ways to do this, but I feel the best way is to just talk to your fighter about his fear and then have him face it regularly until he is no longer afraid. One of my strongest memories of my teacher, Boggs Lao, is his insistence that I fought with a classmate I feared name Bernard. He was one of those really aggressive fighters who would hit you hard–even hard enough to knock you down–and I don’t think I ever saw him lose a match. He drove an 80-something Toyota Celica hatchback, and I remember looking to see if that car were outside before arriving to class. If I saw it, I knew Boggs would make me fight him that night. Eventually, I sparred him daily at lunch time, and within a few months, I was perhaps the only student who could handle Bernard. And guess what? I was perhaps the only one who was not afraid of him (except for Lakeim Allah, who matched him in every department except speed)… Boggs told me after I was promoted to Black Belt, that he knew I was afraid of Bernard, so he made me fight him until I lost the fear.

We do not want to overlook our student’s fears. When they do not face them, they will end up as martial artists who do not have the courage level of a warrior. When they are taught to deal with fear, they can then deal with almost all of their fears.

I hope you find this article helpful. Thank you for visiting my blog.

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thekuntawman Is An @55Hole!

Yeah, I admit it… sometimes I can be one.

But don’t you believe for a second that I’m an “internet warrior” who hides behind keyboards and will turn into a pussycat when you meet me in person. Everything I say here I would say to your face, so I guess that makes me an @55hole. But what would you have, a person who gives you their opinion? Or a liar?

Guys, you are supposed to be warriors. If your feelings get hurt so much that a man has to bite his tongue to spare you some hurt feelings or dignity, maybe you need to take up another hobby, like toenail painting or something. Hell, you already wear scarves and sarongs…

By the way, MORO Warriors… the wearing of silk by men is a big nono. No true bladed style goes blade to blade, even in drills. And safe sparring is how the real Masters developed and compared notes. Any Filipino master who tells you he was killing other masters when propogating his fighting style is pullling your leg.

No, wait… no sugar-coating…. He was lying to you.

Here’s another one:  Every Filipino fighter you meet–whether you are American, Fil-Am, or another Filipino–is looking you up and down, and he thinks he can kick your ass.

Get over it.

So, I’ve got one more. About 99% of the time, people who are jerks to me online are nice and respectful in person. Funny how that works out.

So, FMA people who claim to fight “for keeps” on the street, break limbs and gouge eyes, and kick butts and take names, but they won’t engage in a light contact (or full-contact) match with us sissies is full of it too. Assholes.

Here’s the thing about the martial arts, especially Filipino martial arts.  We all think we have a better way of combat. Not our own way, but a better way. This is what we all should be striving for, not to kiss and hold hands on facebook and take pictures for each other’s websites and promote each other to another degree Black Belt in seminars. No, we should be developing our styles and skills and getting together to see if those ideas we came up with are valid. Fighting is all about seeing if our method of fighting will stand up to the next guys. We should certainly be doing it. Is it such a crime to say it?

Of course not. Unless, of course, your thing is not fighting at all. Let’s call a spade a spade. Most of you are not really training for fighting! Most of you are rehearsing drills and choreographed fight scenes and fraternizing with buddies and classmates in the name of comraderie and brotherhood. You pat each other on the back pretending to be buddies, and exchange war stories about that time some jerk hit you on the hand in sinawali practice or invaded your websites by questioning the validity of your style out loud. Come on, ladies!

And no, not every disagreement has to end in “shut-up-or-come-down-and-I’ll-kick-your ass”. This is what children do. Want to kick somebody’s ass? Don’t invite them to your house to play, you show up at their doorstep. At least that’s how it’s done in the Filipino arts.

Oh, I forgot, I’m not a Master of the art. Fine. Then prove it.

Anyway, martial artists have to develop thick skin. We need this to learn how to Master ourselves, as many a so-called great man has been undone by his emotions. Mike Tyson was undone by Evander Holyfield in both fights. It wasn’t a great skill difference between them, and ole Mike could have pulled out at least a good chance by sticking to what he’s been training to do since the age of 12. But when he failed to control his anger, it screwed him. He lost his ability to move when he wanted to, he couldn’t think, and ultimately lost the fight because of his lack of composure.

Martial artists have to welcome conflict and learn to face it head-on. If some guy can get a rise out of you with words, how will you react when he jumps out of the shadows and knocks you over the head with a stick? He won’t announce himself, I can assure you. We practice defending ourselves by defending our way. We learn to develop the physical by mastering the emotional and psychological battle. A guy who says, “I don’t think your art works” should be met with either a counter argument, or an offer to test that theory. Not by a bunch of guys bragging about who’s ass you kicked when you were in high school. Unless somebody says, “you suck” or starts name calling, you are just letting someone’s counter opinion to what you do get under your skin and you’re supposed to be tougher than that.

Everytime you engage in combat, my friends, your opponent is trying to prove that he is a better fighter than you are. Get used to it. But the less you get in front of opponents, the easier it will be to unnerve you with words. That’s why it is said that a fighter cannot surpass the toughness of his emotions and his skin. Learn to debate without emotion and ill feelings. At least this way, you look like you can fight.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Bag Training Basics

You wouldn’t think martial artists needed instruction on how to use a heavy bag. After all, the only thing you need to know is to hit the bag with power and keep going until you’re out of gas, right?

Brother, you are soooo missing the boat. There are many advantages to training properly with a heavy bag, so let’s explore them, shall we?

  • First, I recommend training by the round or by the set. Training by the round can be short, like 30 second rounds, to long, like a 5-minute round. Training by the set can be either short sets, 10 – 20 reps, to long sets, 100 – 500.
  • If you train by the round, increase the intensity when using shorter rounds, and pace yourself with longer rounds. With a short, 10 – 30 second round, you want to use quick bursts of power and speed. With the longer rounds, you should incorporate footwork, move around and attack from different angles.
  • With the sets, I suggest always using footwork with each rep. “Footwork”, as in advancing/attacking footwork when you execute each rep.
  • Speaking of footwork, don’t just stand in one place throwing punches. There will almost never be an time when you will do this in fighting, and doing so in training is bad for your fighting skill. Move around and attack from a distance. One of the common mistakes people make in bag training is standing too close to the bag. Think about how far the opponent will stand to you in fighting, and keep yourself at the average distance.
  • Penetrate the bag. This is what develops speed and power simultaneously. Very often, fighters will push the bag with their punches and kicks. The idea is not to see how far you can make the bag swing, but how loud you can make the bag sing. Proper power will collapse the bag and fold it in half. Sink your fist, your foot, your elbow, your knee, your stick into the bag.
  • Train your combinations on the bag, and make sure to have good speed and power on every part of the combo. Often, people will run through the combination and have power only on the last movement.
  • Swing the bag back and forth, or side-to-side, and hit the bag at certain intervals. This is good for timing, accuracy, and power, as you must now pick the right moment to land, and still hit with power.
  • Practice what I call “break-away” skills. Stand close to the bag–close enough to kiss it–and then jump away, as if evading an attack. Launch your attacks at certain points of your “break away”:  as you move away, as soon as you land, or after a fraction of a second after landing. This develops good countering skills.

You can use your imagination to incorporate your style’s skills with how they can be utilized on the bag. This way, you have more than just a sitting target, but something similar to having a moving opponent/training partner. There is a world of techniques you can do, but this should get you started to better training. Hope this article was helpful!

Thanks for visiting my blog!

How to Attack, Part II

Make the Opponent Chase You

The header of this article seems to contradict the title, doesn’t it?

Good. See, the smart fighter must do that, confuse the opponent. If you are too easy to read, you will be easy to defeat. We don’t want the opponent to believe that we will be easy to defeat (whether or not we really are inferior as fighters), because we don’t want to empower him. You would be surprised how much stronger a confident fighter will be, and how the same fighter will weaken if you can take away that confidence.

At the same time, you have an advantage in having an opponent think he is superior, when he isn’t.

More confusion.

You can take away the opponent’s confidence by hitting him harder and faster than he is hitting you. This will take away his aggression and put him on defense.

At the same time, if you can make him more aggressive, you can lure him into making fundamental mistakes–like underestimating you, or attacking so recklessly he neglects his own defensive protections.

Yes, more confusion…

You must confuse your opponent as often as possible. Allow him to gain momentum by baiting him into attacking you, then hit him with a powerful counter. Have him chase you, and then take advantage of his forward movement and make him run into a trap. Convince him that he is the inferior fighter by beating him to the punch, and then put him on the move. Force your opponent to move away from you, and then catch him while he is in motion. Start out fighting left foot forward, and then switch your feet once he settles into a rhythm. Attack more with your feet, and then close the distance and slide him a barrage of hand techniques and punches. Try to pull him into a grappling or clinching fight with you, and then when he attempts to put distance between you and get away, attack him with your feet and long range punching.

Bottom line… your opponent must never know what to expect. The moment he believes he has figured you out, you switch your tactics on him. Each time you switch tactics, range, rhythm, speed and timing, and power levels, he finds himself trapped and another notch is taken out of his energy and confidence level. By the time he realizes that he is being outsmarted (or not)–the fight should be over. Finish him.

This is one of those advanced-level things that is not easy to pull off, and takes a lot of wisdom and gaminess to execute. It is the favorite tactic of many old men that they use to defeat younger men. My good friend Billy Bryant used it to beat me many times. My grandfather used it to beat me right after I had placed high in international competition. Master (forgot the first name) Bae of Angeles City, Philippines (he was a Korean) used it to beat me when I was 19 and actively kickboxing… and he was easily in his 50s. I use this tactic now when I fight younger, more energetic men. But there is a catch:

You must understand many techniques, strategies and skills in order to use this method effectively, as using a style that is unfamiliar or inferior will still result in your failure. When you switch techniques, you must use techniques you are good at.

Younger men who are still in the process of developing their skill at certain strategies and tactics will find it difficult to “switch”, because the techniques are not ingrained well into them. Older men use it because we usually don’t have enough endurance to stick to one for very long (LOL!!), but also because we know how confusing it can be to have to change strategies in the midst of a fight. However, you can use this technique at any experience level. This is the fighting technique known by many as “Palit-Palit”, a classical Eskrima style that can be universally applied to any style of fighting.

Try it, perhaps with three techniques at a time, and do this for 3 months before switching to another 3 techniques. Good luck!

Thank you for visiting my blog!

Where I Would Like to See FMAs

I was reflecting on the dissatisfaction I am experiencing with the state of Filipino martial arts tournaments. There is no secret that I would like to see empty handed fighting divisions in FMA tournament. But I think our Eskrima tournaments can use an overhaul in the way the stick is applied in the sparring division (not to mention a complete BAN on Eskrima “kata”… I just don’t like them!) because one thing I do agree with many of our Eskrima brothers is that our tournaments simply aren’t “real enough” (are any tournaments short of death matches really real enough?). There are a few ways we can modify how our tournaments are arranged.

First, I believe that the weapons we simulate in tournaments should be judged and ruled as whatever those weapons are supposed to be. So in that case, I believe that a hit to the body should count for only 1/4 of a hit to the head or a hit to the forearm or hand. In Eskrima tournaments, we simply don’t award enough for hits to the hand, whereas the hand and forearm are perhaps some of the best targets for stickfighters and knife fighters alike. A hit to the head is something that shouldn’t be necessary to hit 25 – 50 times in order to win a match; three times should count as “game” to an automatic win.

Secondly, if there were bladed divisions, such as Bolo or thrusting sword divisions, we should use the Japanese style of “Ippon Kumite”, meaning that an unanswered, killing blow that is recognized by all judges would automatically count as a win. That would alleviate all the back and forth confusion/trading that modern Eskrima is known for. To be honest, when I competed in the Philippines, we always knew who was winning. When I watch the tournaments today, it is very difficult to score. I actually prefer the point system used by some of the Stockton Eskrima clubs to score their matches. However, I do miss the combination-style hitting that I train to use.

Lastly, focus should be on the landing of strong, clean blows that–in real combat–would incapacitate the opponent.  If we did this, we could actually have challenging matches with not just our Eskrima sticks, but allow the use of other weapons, such as the spear, the staff, the knife, and even the Bayonet. (Yes, the Bayonet. Maybe some of you from the province forget that our old men taught this weapon as part of the Eskrima we studied. Some of us are actually embarassed by this weapon, as if the Bayonet made our systems look “country” and unsophisticated. Check out Big Stick Combat’s article on this weapon)  Doing this will really raise the esteem and respect of our native arts in the minds of spectators and participants alike.

My inspiration:  I read Darrin Cook’s article a few days ago on the bayonet, and thought about a Japanese weapon that is very similar to the Bayonet art I learned as a teenager, the Naginata. When I was a young man, I had the chance to spar with a young lady who had learned this weapon as a girl, and found that the techniques she taught me (after whipping me good) were identical to the Bayonet techniques I learned as a boy. When I searched youtube for something similar, I came across this clip (below) of a Naginata competition, and I realized that this is how I’d like to see the Filipino Martial Arts showcased–in a way that highlights its strengths and allows it to keep its dignity as a fighting art despite being a competition/spectator sport.

Please check it out and see if you agree with me. Thanks for visiting my blog!

Making of a Master, pt II: The 99th Technique

There was once a Master of barehanded fighting, who was known for having 99 techniques in his system. He was very picky over who he would accept as a student, but–like all Masters–needed to eat, so he often took students. Although he accepted students when he would rather not have, he insisted that pupils started with the first technique, and earned the next successive technique through many grueling tests.

Students rarely held on past the 20th or so technique, but occasionally a student seemed promising and would make it to near 70 or 80. As the numbers neared 90, the tests became more challenging, and the Master demanded more and more from his student. Many years passed, and the Master was now in his 60s, never having any student make it all the way to the 90th technique. However, one student did everything right. He was now at 89, and the Master began talking to him about humility and service and patience.

The student was young, but diligent. His only fault was his ego. The student would work hard to improve his skill, but it seemed as if it were not so much to make his art better and earn the next technique–but to make himself look good, as this student liked to brag. The Master, knowing this, began to slow his pace of teaching, until he finally reached the 98th technique. At this point, the teacher stopped teaching… instead choosing to make his lessons lectures on character and philosophy. The student, having bested all the local champions and even some masters, began to show a lack of patience, and started to doubt the existence of a 99th technique.

One day, he approached his Master, and discussed leaving his teacher and starting his own school.

The Master insisted that the young man had much to learn, causing the student to smirk. The young man invited his teacher to test his skills. If he could not beat the young man, he should be free to go. If he was overmatched, the student would stay.

You should know what happened next… The student fought–and was defeated by–the 99th technique.

There are many lessons behind this popular story. But I will focus on its application for the teacher.

  • Teachers must always keep their skills superior. Not just because you want your school to look good by having a skilled master, but you should retain the ability to test your students yourself for as long as you can. My own grandfather was still sparring me when I was in my 20s, and he was in his 70s. It gives your students a reason to try hard. Lazy, out-of-shape teachers do not motivate student bodies. You are better able to get your points across when you can demonstrate the material you teach in real time.
  • The best learning one can receive is learning that comes the hard way. This is the most reliable information a student has:  those things that he has seen, felt and experienced. When a student is spoon-fed his lessons, he has no reason to believe in it, outside of blind faith. Save that for religion. As a fighter, you need real, practical experience.
  • Insist that your student earn their knowledge, if you are concerned about your art being respected. If the art is easy to come by, the student will cheapen it, as your art is something to be bought and sold. Treat it as a family heirloom and your students will value it as well.
  • Only promote students when they have allowed themselves to be molded into just the type of martial artists you want them to be. You do not owe them anything, as their teacher. In this industry, certification is earned, not purchased. If there is more for your students to learn, make sure they learn it! Do not reward mediocrity. Doing so lessens your value as a teacher.
  • Your art is something that should be bequeathed to only those who have demonstrated that they will do what you ask them to do. Now, this is only if you value your art as such. Some of you see your art as not much more than a commodity. If you are one of them, this article is not for you. The rest of you are teaching more than just techniques. You are passing down the lessons you learned from a lifetime of experiences, and these things should not be handed over to just anyone with a buck. You are bestowing your legacy as well, and how you treat it will reflect on how you will be remembered.
  • I have always been told not to teach everything in my art. Even a student of 8 years can betray you or go away. Always keep something for yourself. When you are satisfied with the progress of a student who has learned all you are willing to share with, then reveal it. This is why some Masters adopt certain students as “sons” or members of their family. This is also known as “bayat” or “bai si” in some cultures…

Not all of you will possess this kind of information, or some of you will develop your arts to this level. Learn how to treat your system; it will be preserved for generations. Fail to do it, and your art will fall by the way of splintered subgroups or even dissolve.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

How to Link Blade Fighting with Stick, with Empty Hands, Blah, Blah, Blah…

This is just one fallacy in the Filipino arts that doesn’t seem like it will ever go away.

Have you ever seen one of those “Streetfighting Tai Chi” guys demonstrating how the exercise of Tai Chi can also be a deadly combat art? I have, and what I see are guys who kinda can fight force-fitting their applications to their Tai Chi into “combat situations”. And–no joke–I even saw a guy demonstrate a “hidden” arm bar submission ON THE GROUND, that some master buried in his art several hundred years ago! Yeah, right.

The truth is, you can probably find a “practical application” in a disco dance, if you look hard enough. You know, all those shuffles are really hidden leg attacks, and the finger-snapping they do is symbolizing bone breaks. Martial artists have this technique called “Oh-we-have-that-too” and the connections are hilarious.

So, who came up with this idea that everything in the FMAs are connected anyway?

😉

Okay, we won’t answer that. I’m tired of not answering nasty email accounts from jerks too cowardly to email me threats from their OWN email accounts, let alone use their real name:

From: “L4928@aol.com” <L4928@aol.com> To: THEKUNTAWMAN@yahoo.com

You can and will be arrested here in the USA as a terrorist for any threat or attack you make on anyone. I have notified the authorities about your internet terrorist threats and you will be dealt with accordingly. Here in America we all have freedom of speech and freedom of religion, if someone says something against you or your religion, so what it is only words. You e-mail account has been traced, and you will be tracked. If you do not like the American way of life then, GO BACK TO YOUR COUNTRY. By the way, I am a Guru in the philippino martial arts, also 3rd black in Kenpo, also 1st black in Lima Lama, also phase 1 instructor in Jeet Kune Do Concepts. Good luck to you here in the USA and remember follow our laws and you will enjoy your stay, however if you act like a terrorist then you will be treated as one, just watch the news and you will see what happens to terrorists who attacks Americans or anyone in the USA.  

I’m sorry to bore you with stuff like that. I just find it really, really funny. Just thought I’d add a little humor to the mix. Back to the subject at hand…     

So, we martial artists can find places where all this stuff is connected by digging and digging and digging for new ways, or we can take the skills we already know within our arts and make them better. It seems that these days, martial artists spend all their time trying to find connections. We can replace our strikes with a cut, replace this hand block with a slap to the throat, and this step with a foot stomp to break his foot at the instep. Then I can put in this elbow destruction from Muay Thai, and then and arm crank, and bite his nose off…. LOL     

I know I pulled a little bait-and-switch with the title of this article, but I just wanted to appeal to your desire to find Filipino Secrets that will help you win fights in ways you can’t find on Youtube or DVD. And to be honest, I can teach it to you. But you have to study from me; I’m not going to put it here on the blog. What I will do is give you strategies and basic techniques to get you on your way. All that “stick is a knife is a machete is a whip” crap is just that–crap. Sorry! Like I said, you can find similarities, but your time is better spent developing fighting skills for exactly that… Fighting. Not demoing neat ways to connect the systems. Not demonstrating how your fist is basically a knife (cause it’s not). Just plain old kicking somebody in the pants so bad, they scream everytime they see a Filipino flag.  

And that–not good grades, or connecting the systems, or killing people with your bare hands–is what the Filipino martial arts is all about… studying and developing the most efficient ways to hurt a man or stop him from hurting you.  

Save all the linking stuff for the folks over at Match.com.  

Thanks for visiting my blog.