The Graceful Loser (Strongest FMA, pt III)

In the search for the “Strongest” FMA, you must not pass over the loser. Let me tell you a story.

I arrived in California in January 1999 from Washington, DC. I was very fit, aggressive, and new. As always, I was eager to build my reputation here. Those of you who are Philippine-based know that the Filipino way to build one’s reputation is on the backs of your opponents. So I immediately did a combination of fighting in tournaments as well as dojo-hopped, looking for “sparring partners”. I found three homes for my sparring away from the tournament circuit:  A park in North Sacramento, a school called Tae Kuk Mu Sul (Suk Ku Kim), and a kickboxing gym called “East Wind Martial Arts” (Thomas Gibbs). My opponents from the tournament circuit made up most of the sparring partners, and some I am good friends with to this day. Many of these men were great fighters, and I dare not lie and say I beat all of them. But fight them I did, and when you live the life of a fighter, you get used to winning some and losing some. The great thing about coming back week after week to fight again means that you know eventually, you will one day defeat the man you cannot beat today. When I dojo-hopped in the Philippines, I did not have this luxury, as many masters would not allow you to fight their boys over and over because you will figure them out, befriend them (making it difficult for them to fight you 100% in competition)–especially if they know you will never join their gym. (Side note:  Dojo-hopping is dangerous in the Philippines. I was once taken by some friends to another location to spar because they told me later, that they had classmates who wanted to hurt me since I was a member of a rival gym. Martial arts is taken very seriously back home and although I am a province boy, I spent too much time in America for me to realize how naive I was being)

The two men I will tell you about are old friends I cannot recall their names. One White man and his childhood friend was a Mexican man I can’t remember either first name. Anyway, I met them prior to my division. I was a middleweight, they were both heavyweights. Curious that I was a Philippine martial artist fighting in a Karate tournament, they were ringside for my first two matches. I did a good job intimidating the gym, with my red Gi, my standoffish attitude, and the occasional combination I would throw while warming up. Looking at the physiques of the two men and knowing they were in another weight class, I didn’t mind being friendly because I knew I would not have to face them later. I didn’t even bother asking for a card to see if they wanted to join one of my sparring groups. I won my division and then ran over to see the heavyweights fight. Both men were defeated by opponents just as heavy, and just as (excuse my bluntness) poorly skilled. I was embarrassed for them and their students.

I couldn’t resist. I offered to spar with them.

This story does not end with me telling you how I taught them the secrets of fighting and they became champions. Truth is that I lived too far from them to really connect with them often, I believe that perhaps I was too heavy-handed in sparring, and that I felt they had too much to develop for me to teach them. They did not want to attend my sparring sessions. Pride, perhaps, kept them from reaching outside their gym for more learning and help with their fighting. What they did do, was train together and push each other, and they frequented almost every tournament I attended in our part of the state. They did lose a lot, and still brought students. I would offer tips where I could, but I realized that they wanted to find their way through the maze; and I respected that. Guess what? Over three short years, they improved greatly and slowly. In 2002, when I found myself a heavyweight, I entered a division with both of them and defeated one–but only narrowly. These men taught me something very important by losing:  That experience teaches, even when that experience is what most would consider a negative one. They never appeared depressed or insecure about “throwing away” $45 a weekend. These two gentlemen kept at it, developed a seasoned fighter’s timing, lost the fear of getting hit, learned to use good evasive tactics despite their weight, and became old sages at a game that supposedly only the athletic excelled at.

When I was a young man, I called my grandfather from the Philippines and told him that I had yet to meet an undefeated Master to learn from. His suggestion to me was that I had indeed found great men to learn from, because the worst fighters never admit to losing, and the best embrace loss and are graceful losers. I didn’t fully understand, but I have become one of these men myself. I had no problem admitting my losses even to potential students because the fighters who beat me were superior fighters. And since I was one who crossed sticks or touched gloves with them, some of that superior skill seeped into my own roster of experiences.

The Strongest fighters become the strongest fighters in three steps:

  1. They seek out and face stronger fighters
  2. They find out why they were successful and/or why they failed
  3. The outcome of those fights guides the direction of their martial journey

If you have never lost against another fighter, you either avoided facing fighters altogether or you chose inferior men to exchange with. Contrary to popular belief, you cannot have the “strongest” FMA, you can only be among the strongest. And that place alone is the only place from where you can claim to be one of them. It is irrelevant whether or not you won every fight; the only fact that matters is that you attempted to be one of them.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

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Exceed the Teacher, pt III (Two-Way Street)

It is said that teaching is a two-way street. How true.

I’ve stated in earlier articles that some teachers are more skilled at teaching beginners, some are good at teaching the advanced, and then others excel at teaching teachers–guiding experts and novice teachers to mastery. You have instructors, you have trainers, you have teachers, and then you have Masters. There is a difference, and there is a hierarchy. Often, teachers do not understand the difference; knowing the difference between the types and levels of teachers–as well as knowing your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher–will help them become better teachers. Ultimately, knowing the difference will help teachers bring their students from the beginner level all the way through the ranks, through the different skills and paths of a martial artist to the true path to mastery. It is at this point that the “certificate” denoting you a Master becomes irrelevant, and you know why I call such a thing silly.

In the beginning of a student’s learning career, the foundation must be developed through rigid adherence to basics and structure. Many teachers skip this level and immediately move towards a free-thinking “create your own path” style of instruction before the student has even learned to move his feet. We know why they do this:  It’s entertaining, good for business, gives the student the illusion that they are learning “advanced” martial arts, and it caters to the impatient nature of new students. Yet in the long run, students never develop the strong root they need to become good fighters in the future. I call this the “seminar” approach to learning. Students simply “pick up” what moves they can memorize, and through casual practice–will learn to do a little bit of demonstrating. Nothing is internalized, and often, the student never even develops the physique he needs to be an effective warrior.

At the beginning stage of a martial artist’s education, he needs an absolute authority in the classroom. He does not need a feel-good babysitter who gives the student everything he asks for. This is the issue I have with students with a little bit of scattered martial arts experience when they join my school. He has seen what is out there and foolishly believes that he is too “advanced” for rudimentary training. He feels that he knows the footwork and questions why he is still practicing his steps. He thinks he knows the basic hits of my Eskrima and wants to get to the drills and disarms. Students must learn that this isn’t Burger King; you don’t get to have it “your way” and place an order for learning this weapon and that technique. My job is to get you started on your martial arts journey with as much skill, knowledge and ability as possible; I couldn’t care less if you were bored while you were learning it. So shut up and train.

At the intermediate and advance stages of the education there shouldn’t be much necessity for a skill in communicating to the student. It is there, that the biggest jump in ability occurs. This is where your students are trained, and repetition becomes key and the fighters are developing that superhuman strength I talk about so much. I have visited over 100 Eskrima classes (well honestly, I’ve never counted. It could be 90 or something) and I have yet to see one where students are tasked with striking to a maximum number of strikes. At the intermediate level, “instruction” is not as important as training. The training is physical, and only after that high level of ability is achieved should students return back to the intellectual style of learning.

Here is where we arrive to the subject of today’s article. At the advanced and instructor level of learning, a different kind of teaching takes place and it is a learning experience for the teacher as well as the student. If you have never brought a student to the expert level then you will be 100% in the dark about this experience. This is where you students should rival you in ability and strength; you should have exhausted your knowledge by this point, and you are guiding your students to surpass you in ability and knowledge. Yes, it is a tall order to think that your students will learn more than you know. But it is the pursuit that will push you over the edge to go from being merely a teacher to becoming a “Master”. I call this the “What next?” stage–where my students can beat me in sparring and force me to pull out the animal in order to put them back in check. Very few men reading this blog have the humility to allow their students to reach this level. And even fewer men reading this article have the knowledge and skill base to bring a student to this level. It is where your students are the best in town, where few other fighters from other gyms can rival your own student’s skills–and those students look to you to tell them what to do next. This is why some great amateur fighters stay with the same trainer after turning pro and then can’t win a single fight. It is why some pro fighters make their way through the ranks and then cannot find their place among the contenders. And it is why some trainers bring their fighters to another trainer to prepare them for the next level of learning, the next level of ability, and the next phase of their journey. Simply put, some teachers just do not have the ability and knowledge to bring a student all the way, when that student has exhausted everything you have to give. It is a very humbling, eye-opening experience.

Teachers can sometimes learn in the process of bringing their expert students to the next phase of their martial journey. They must also be honest with themselves and honest with their students about what they can accomplish as well. If you are a teacher who has never fought in the ring, but now you have a student who is good enough to climb in the ring what do you do? Pretend to train him and possibly turn him into another tomato can? Or try to put together a strategy for preparation and see if it works? Or do you take him to another trainer for supplemental training? This is a major decision for the both of you.

Loyalty can sometimes suppress a potentially great student’s path. Pride can sometimes cause a teacher to suppress his student’s potential as well. I see this all the time when young men bypass full-time training for easier paths to instructorship; and then years later they bring their Black Belt students to competitions to serve as cannon fodder for my students. Poor guys didn’t have a chance because they learned from teachers who never learned to fight themselves. Or worse, decades later, when the young man-turned instructor-turned Master now certifies his underqualified student as a Master himself. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Even when you haven’t accomplished those things yourself, when a student has reached the limits of your knowledge and experience, never forget that you still have more knowledge than the student does. Sending him to another limited teacher would be just as counter-productive. This is what you can do. You can allow your student to teach you, through teaching him. I cannot go more into this subject without teaching you things that I have reserved only for my own students. But I want you to know that at the advanced level of instruction, when your students are nearly as qualified as you are, you can learn while you guide him in his learning. You learn together as you bring him through the next level of your own martial journey, and what you learn there will help you when you teach your next generation of students. In the end, you both will be more knowledgeable and qualified to instruct. It sure beats just slapping a title on a piece of paper and selling it to him. Don’t be too proud to admit to yourself that this new level of teaching is unfamiliar territory; believe me–every martial arts teacher must experience it.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

 

Exceed the Teacher, pt II (Lesson from Bouie Fisher)

This article is a nod to one of the late, little-known masters of the fighting arts:  Bouie Fisher. It is also part II to this article–but will ride the topic of fight strategy. I am still putting the article under “Teaching Philosophy”, because the thrust behind my reason for writing this article is to share my view on the journey from fighter to  fight philosopher to teacher, despite the lessons in strategy we will present here.

And pour yourself a pot of coffee or tea:  this will be a long one.

First, for those who are unfamiliar with Bouie Fisher, he is the trainer of Hasim Rahman and more famously, boxing master Bernard Hopkins. These two men are perfect examples of the saying to “exceed the teacher”. Fisher was a good amateur who did not turn pro (or perhaps he did not fight long as a pro). He had eight children with his wife, and the life of a fighter is not financially stable enough for many men to be able to gamble their family’s standard of living on it. I wasn’t there, but I suspect (like many fighters) his wife probably told him to get a job. Either way, Fisher became a trainer and after 20 – 30 years of doing so–retired from boxing. He had a fighting philosophy that was unique, but no champion to prove its worth–or perhaps no student to fully develop those theories into proven methods.

Maybe I should jump in here to say something about that.

Any teacher can come up with a theory about fighting and technique. We do it all the time. We all have students to teach those theories to. But not every student will be suited to completely learn, develop, master, test, and prove those theories. The teacher must either be that fighter himself, or get someone to be that ultimate student. This is the dilemma of striking out on your own and forming your own style. Most teachers, unfortunately, become stuck at the theory level. Meaning, they form the theory and simply start teaching it–skipping all the stages of development. Sometimes it’s due to ignorance. Sometimes it’s due to laziness. Many times it is due to their desire not to have those theories tested, and possibly proven wrong. Ego has kept many teachers’ methods from being fully developed. Fear is the other head of that oppressive monster. Teachers have the dual challenge of devising a superior fighting style as well as finding the appropriate student to carry that technique forward. Many teachers just don’t want to have a champion who is known to be better than themselves. Few teachers, however, are driven to have a student who not only proves his method is superior–not only to exceed his own skills–he is willing to sit in the background and allow his student to rise all the way to the top, even if onlookers fail to give the master credit for the students’ success. One of the things I can tell you about the difference between boxing teachers and martial arts teachers:  Boxing teachers flaunt their students’ successes as for their pride. Martial art teachers promote themselves. Look at the websites. Master so and so will tell you all about his accomplishments, but don’t tell you crap about his students. Boxing teachers tell you almost nothing about themselves, instead choosing to boost up their pupils. A martial arts teachers’ resume is padded with his own accomplishments, while boxing teachers’ resumes contain nothing but students. Think about it. The big lesson from Bouie Fisher was that he was extremely proud of his fighters, and pushed harder and harder for his students to be known as the best in the business. Despite that his prized student was the pound for pound best fighter in the world for years–Fisher was relatively unknown, silent during interviews, and satisfied. Talk about selfless commitment to the role of a teacher…

And let’s keep in mind two things. First, Fisher did not have a lot of fighting experience. He had fights, yes. But he had to cut his fighting career short, so what experience he was able to accomplish, he used as a base for his theories about fighting. His system was mostly untested, by professional fight standards. Secondly, his method represented an older school of fighting. As fighting became more mobile and based on points, rounds became shorter, and the fighting rules were more concerned with safety–many of his methods were being considered outdated. But worse–they were considered inferior to the new methods, which were becoming known for efficiency and less prone to being countered. When he retired the first time in the 80s, Fisher joined the ranks of boxing trainers whose methods were obsolete. Then someone suggested he took a look at an up-and-coming lightweight named Bernard Hopkins.

Bernard had lost his first fight, and was entering the fight game at an age most would deem too old to start a career in boxing. But he was hard-working and disciplined, and these two factors made him a good prospect for tutelage. Those of you who are teachers know exactly what I’m talking about; we all encounter physically talented, but lazy students. You can bring out hard work ethic in a student, but it isn’t easy. When you find a student who is both hungry for knowledge but also naturally hard working, baby you just hit the jackpot. Who among us wouldn’t love to have a gym full of these guys?

I’m going to stop now, because if you’re a fight fan, you know the rest. B-Hop is known as one of the craftiest, old-school fighters in the game. He had lost a few times, but no opponent had ever made him look like a fool in the ring. If you get in the ring with this man, he will beat your ass. You might beat him on the scorecards, but he will leave you lumpy at the end of the night. He is proof–at 48 years old–that old-school boxing is alive and well, and relevant. Not just that, he also proof that a man pushing 50 can still defeat the young men half his age with superior tactics. Fisher’s system was not fully tested and proven, but with the right student as well as the desire to allow his student to surpass himself in skill and reputation–the master is able to see that system become a well-established school of fighting in the community. I predict that old school boxing methods will make a return to the fight game. I am personally not a fan of the flashy style of boxing so popular today.

And let’s take a look at Bouie’s fighting style, shall we?

  • The goal of the fight plan isn’t to rack up points, but to punish and beat your opponent into submission
  • Every technique must hurt and wear down the opponent
  • You keep moving so that opponent’s can only catch you with glancing blows, but
  • You stop only to fire on the opponent
  • Attacks must be delivered from a position where the opponent has trouble seeing the attack as well as
  • Being out of range of a possible counter
  • Keep the feet near the opponent, but keep the angle of your torso away from his line of fire
  • Kill the body with body shots
  • And deliver those body shots from a position that protects you from counter
  • Apply constant pressure on the opponent, anytime he is not punching you should make him eat punches
  • If a split second passes at the end of the opponent’s attack and he is withing range, make him pay for it
  • As soon as your combination attack is complete–move away.
  • Defeat your opponent by keeping him out of balance emotionally and psychologically
  • Rather than move back and forth, move side-to-side
  • Attack your opponent when he attempts to change positions
  • Punch outside of rhythm. In other words punch before stopping your feet (which 99% of fighters do), so your attack will come while you move
  • Block with your elbows and shoulders, not with footwork (compare this to the Ali shuffle/Roy Jones Jr dancing)–it keeps you in range to fire back
  • Within 2 – 3 seconds, shots should be delivered to both head and lower body
  • Attack the hip and the front of the shoulders. It keeps the opponent from being able to punch as well as move his feet. This is an “investment” that will pay off later

There is more to the strategy, but I think this is plenty for you to take in.  I would like to encourage you to check out some old fights and see for yourself how these theories look in application. You may want to add them to your own arsenal. Thank you for visiting my blog.

The Mean and Nasty Old Master, pt II

I want to talk a little more about one of my favorite people in the world:  Old people.

I was partially raised by my grandparents, as my mother could not afford child care in those days. My grandfather, then, took that opportunity to hijack my life and raise me to be a martial artist. Despite that I had some other aspirations, like my siblings, who are very successful–I was bred to do these arts. Many of you may go your whole lives and not encounter someone like me whose parents did not give them a choice about what path to take in life. It is a very un-American concept, disallowing your child to make a life decision such as a career path or who to marry. But I assure you it is a practice that is done more out of love and less out of tradition, and it is not one I regret not a single day of my life.

All my teachers were lifetime martial artists as well. I am not speaking of the guys who just practice and teach the art all their lives. The kind of men I learned from turned down other job opportunities and did this art even if it sent them to the poor house. For them, the martial arts was an occupation, a calling, a lifestyle. Very unlike your military guy-turned martial artist, or your State worker-turned martial artist, or your [insert occupation]slash/martial artist. What I have observed of these kind of teachers, having had 9 such men as teachers, is that they spend their whole lives looking for a student who would treat these arts as a lifestyle just as they had done. The big disappointment for them, as I noted in my last installment of this subject, is that they may never encounter another quite like them. It is no wonder that these men will take their children (or at least their first-born son) and train them, hijacking their lives, to be the perfect product of their teachings.

Let’s discuss the difference between the kind old master and the mean old master. There is a difference.

Without wanting to insult or cause offense–cause you know how much I hate to do that–we will focus on the mean old master and I want you to compare him to the nice old masters you most likely have encountered. The truth is, there are far more nice old masters than mean old ones. There is a reason for that, and that reason is why I gravitate towards them. You may disagree with me if your old manong is a nice guy, but despite what you say, my experiences have told me otherwise. So here goes:

  • He is competitive. The old master is competitive with other old masters. He takes great pride in having students who are the best in his town or province. When he encounters a fighter who is superior to his own, every mistake you make (as his student) is magnified when you lose. He says to himself, “If you had done what I told you to do, if you had practiced more, or used this/that technique–you would have beat him.”  In other words, he doesn’t want any other teacher to say their boys are better than his. The old master has long sized up the other masters and feels he has a better way. One of the things that keeps him in this game is that he is striving to establish himself as the BEST. And now that he is too old to do the things he used to do, he lives through his students to carry the torch. When he is teaching you, he is attempting to recreate himself. He wants you to do the things he can no longer do.
  • He wants you to be competitive. He wants you to be better than he was, better than his first generation of students, better than the other guys’ students. He loves a hungry student who trains like a mad man and struggles to make him look good. Because when you look good, he looks good. Yes, even though you are doing the work, and looking good–he is somewhat vain.
  • He is not a celebrity teacher. Some masters spend a lot of time talking about what they did when they were young. They highlight their past accomplishments and skills, and therefore many do not want the student to exceed the master. But not the mean old master; he wants the next generation to be bigger and better than he ever was. My grandpa would tell stories about his matches, and although embellished somewhat to make him sound like the Filipino Superman–he always finished by telling me that I would be bigger and stronger and more famous than he was. He picked my friends based on if he thought they would boost or hurt my reputation–or help vs. suppress my skill. My teacher Bogs Lao would force me to fight with bigger, stronger, better fighters because he wanted me to improve. There were a few fighters I feared because they were relentless in kicking my behind, and when he discovered that fear he made me fight them more. He did not want to hear that I was nervous, or hurt, or sore, or tired. Bogs built his reputation off of the skill of his students, and was satisfied only with our best. At the same time, he did not tolerate mediocrity. The celebrity teacher doesn’t care if you are the best or not, because regardless of what you do, it will not affect his status as a well-known master.
  • He was a perfectionist. Notice I said “was”, rather than “is”. Is he a perfectionist? You betcha. But the reason he is mean and nasty now is that he was a perfectionist when he was young, so he knows firsthand what perfection looks like. He can tell when you’re really giving your best, and when you’re just tired. The mean old master knows the secret to 110% of your effort:  There is no such thing. It’s just that 99.99% of you will never truly give 100% of your effort. So when you actually DO give it all you’ve got, you feel like you’ve given more. This man knows what you feel like on the 150th pushup, because he’s done it himself, many times. Now take three minutes rest and give me ten more.
  • He truly wants you, your skill, your reputation and the system to outlive him. The mean old nasty master knows this absolute truth about the fighting arts that very few know, and does not exist in most other fields:  When he is dead and gone, when you have graduated from his tutelage, you will never work this hard again. There is a reason why fighters with 50+ fights still pay millions to their trainers when they themselves are great, knowledgeable fighters. That reason is that the teacher sees the mistakes and shortcomings we often don’t see, and they will not let us quit when our minds and bodies tell us to. They will force us to do what we will not force ourselves to do without our lives being on the line. In a real fight you will pull out all the stops to win. You won’t do it in training. But if you pull them all out in training, when you fight, you will have more in the bag to pull out. Reread this line several times until it sinks in. That was one of the secrets of the Masters.
  • He doesn’t care if you like him, or if you’re offended by what he says, or if others don’t like what he has said or how he said it. Because when he is gone, you will love him and appreciate his teaching more than you did when he was alive. This is another one of those absolute truths about the martial arts, that does not apply in many other fields. He is a bitch to learn from, and maybe you didn’t get the training the way you thought it should have gone when you were a pupil, or maybe you didn’t like the way he insulted you or hit you when you got it wrong–but when he is dead, you will miss him and honor him as if he were a parent. I look at the complaining I did when learning Eskrima from my grandfather in the backyard, doing my basic 5 strikes (we have 24, but my first 5 were my daily routine in those days) in 100 degree weather until my hands bled. I longed to learn the other arts, the forms and sinawali and disarms that I read about in the magazines. And look at me now. My students, family members and close friends know exactly what I’m talking about. I am the 43 year old version of that old man. He died when I was 22, and I never took another class, nor another master, since. Old people are like that, they are the way they are because they feel like they have earned the right to say what they say and do what they do, and they don’t care if you don’t like it. Humility causes even old men to bite their tongues. But the men who have taken lives, saved lives, and walked the Earth with the skill to make a Godlike decision–whether to take or not–know nothing of humility. <—- And here you have the main difference between the mean old nasty master, and the nice, sweet one.

But I must make a correction. While searching for clips of old masters on youtube (I had seen an interview with a Master who was the student of Master Lema, bragging that his boys were unbeatable–to illustrate my points), I found this one and realized that I should say that these Masters are not all men. I especially enjoy this clip, because it shows one of those mean old masters in rare form interacting with her student. No doubt, her fighters know a different Master than the rest of the martial arts community. Enjoy! And thank you for visiting my blog.

Taste EVERY Ingredient (Skipping Grades, pt IV)

By the time we get done with this series, you will notice something. I’m not going to explain it right now, because FMA students today are way too anxious to get to the back of the novel. Although the average person who reads this blog is likely not to be a novice in the Filipino art, if you compare your experience to what I consider “experienced” in the art, I would beg to differ. The student stage of the martial artist’s journey is such a wonderful period if you focus too much on the end of the trip you will miss some of the best scenery and stories. Your life as a Guro–if you get there too fast–will be a very bland, uneventful story. The more stories you have as a student, the more spices you add to the soup, and the longer you savor its essence–the richer your experience will be.

Some people only taste a soy-based adobo. Others take in the ginger, the garlic, the pepper, the rice vinegar, the bay leaf, the dried chilis, the onion, the patis (fish sauce)… Even if you don’t know the recipe, if you are a somewhat intelligent adult who’s been around the kitchen, you could taste a dish, then go home and recreate it.

Or counter it.

Martial arts educations I believe are too focused on “achieving goals”–rank and graduations/certifications–that the students do not fully absorb their lessons. We end up with a so-called expert who must mentally recall techniques and request a “feed” in order to demonstrate a technique. This is not expertise, my friends. Expertise is to know the arts like the back of your hand and engage combat with anyone, not know anything about the opponent, and in the course of a few seconds of exchanges, be able to tell you every ingredient in this guy’s arsenal–and soundly beat him by picking the right counter attacks and attack strategy. Too much focus on technique collection, and not enough time on technique understanding and study of strategy. The best lessons, I often say, cannot be learned in a classroom. They are taught through reflection, conversation with fighters and your master, experimentation, and hands-on technique practice.

Tell you what, take your system’s first three hits. Practice only those hits–stroking practice and combinations with the three strikes–for 90 days and minimum of 5,000 repetitions and you will know so much more about those three hits than what anyone can tell you. I must say that in the Eskrima classroom, most teachers know that my approach is best, but they do not use this knowledge because of business reasons. Most true masters do not feel that the average guy gracing their dojo floor has the patience, commitment and diligence to practice this way. However, it is highly superior to anything you can get in a camp or seminar… and I don’t care if Chuck Norris himself taught it. Nothing a Master can teach you in the martial arts is too trivial; it’s just that students want to hurry and get to the next thing or learn something more entertaining to look at.

If I could arm you with a strike that is so powerful that no opponent could stop it. So fast that he could not block it in time. Timing so good that his counter will fail each time you attack him with it. And a grip so strong, that no opponent could disarm you. Would you be happy?

Start with 10,000 hits in practice with any strike. It will take you about 6 months of normal practice to attain it. Spar with this strike constantly. Come up with combinations that feature it. Find ways to stop it. Find ways to counter the counters to it. Sleep with it. Eat with it. Practice it in the mirror when you’re flexing while shaving. 😉  Practice this as if few other techniques exist. Brothers and sisters, I’m telling you, you will discover and own that strike.

But only if you taste every ingredient in that strike. Sadly, chances are that you won’t do it because you find other dishes too palatable to spend that kind of time on one strike. And this is why most people wait for pieces of paper to validate themselves as Masters–while a very small minority walk into the room with NO paper, and the hair stands up on the neck of every man in the room. Prowess, mastery, and true expertise is not endowed to students. They are self-determined, self-made, and self-realized. It’s why no man certified the great Bruce Lee and the great Masutatsu Oyama–and people waited till they were dead to talk about how no one recognized them as billy-badasses. Get this skill and knowledge for yourself, under your teachers, and allow time to make these things absorb into your arsenal. During that process, take the time to learn every little thing about your art.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

By the way, my new book, simply entitled Teaching Philosophy, is on its way and will be released on soft copy through this blog, or hard copy through Amazon soon. More on this later!

The Novice Student (Skipping Grades pt III)

This is a continuation of my series on How to Study the FMAs. The last installment is located here.

If you notice, I named the series “Skipping Grades”, rather than “How to Study”. Ever wonder why?

It’s because martial arts students of the Filipino martial arts–compared to those of other styles and genres of the art–tend to be less committed, less patient, and in such a big rush to become “certified” to teach, they never properly learn the art. If you have ever wondered why I seem to be so condescending to FMA people and down on the arts, despite that I am one myself, this is a big reason. I don’t consider most “experts” of the Filipino Martial Arts to really be experts.

It sounds bad, I know. But when a Korean kwangjangnim complains that today’s students are not committed, he is not speaking with the same breath as an FMA Guro saying the same thing. At least in the most commercial, Mickey-Mouse Dojang you can find, it still takes 2 years of training three days a week, followed by board breaking and sparring and a 3 – 4 hour exam to obtain a Black Belt. But the FMAs? Shit, you and I both know there are assholes out here certifying Guros in a damned weekend. A great majority of the source of FMA being taught around the world–not just in America–is through seminar and correspondence courses. Teachers who live in some other city, coming around a few times a year to teach, and “study groups” being led by “Associate/Apprentice” instructors (aka senior classmates) who are getting their training the same way. The result is that if a Guro decides to open a full-time school to teach Eskrima:

  1. He won’t know how to teach it because he’s so used to teaching on the run, he can’t think of how to teach week after week and make it a practical education, and
  2. Students won’t commit to it, because they are busy or some other lame excuse–when reality is that they’re used to learning on the run as well.

Sadly, we end up with mediocre at best martial arts “experts” and they do not have the level of dominance that an expert should have. Our experts become proficient at giving demonstrations instead of fighting. So much so, that when we actually see someone fighting with their FMA–not playing around, but fighting–we are in awe.

But I digress. This article is about the Novice Student…

Many FMA people come into the art expecting certification and proficiency right away. The rudimentary skills of the Eskrimador require unsophisticated, boring repetitions of stroking practice–numbering in the thousands, for months before delving into finer points and anything requiring more than basic motor skills. Eskrima students have seen tons of youtube videos, many have taken seminars and own several videos and DVDs with intricate strike patterns, drills and countering combinations. So when he walks into a school and a real Eskrima master spends 20-30 minutes of every class making him execute hundreds of the same, single strike–he is bored. He feels like “I already know the #1, why am I still practicing it? When will I learn to *fight*, Mr. Miyagi?”

Don’t laugh. Some of you are old enough to know what I’m getting at.

The heart of Eskrima is in the wax-on, wax-off type of practice. It is there, that what saves your life will be found. It is in this type of practice and consistency that true fighting skill and physical prowess is developed. Not with the stuff that makes for a 10,000-hit youtube clip, trust me. Somewhere buried deep in this kind of practice are the most profound things discovered about fighting. It’s nothing that can truly be taught in a class, it is an enlightening that reveals itself to you through proficiency and familiarity. There may not even be a point where you actually realize that you learned it. This is the first stage of training that the true fighting schools are heavy on, and most of the worst fighting schools are light on:  The DO of the training.

Perhaps I should break and explain before I lose you. I have identified several stages of learning, please remember this, as every teacher must fully grasp this if he is to master teaching, and if he is to help his students master learning. Mark my words on this, and you will one day come to the realization that I have just given you a gem–One must be an expert student if he ever hopes to become an expert teacher or expert fighter in the arts. I don’t want to get too far off the subject so let’s just keep this one short and sweet. In learning you have three stages of being a beginner martial arts student:

  1. Doing. You must do the techniques for at least a year–preferably two years–in order to learn HOW to do the technique
  2. Absorb. You must absorb the technique so that you can execute the technique with your eyes closed, mind closed, and thoughtlessly, flawlessly. This is the stage where fighting with a technique is really learned
  3. Understand/Analyze. I couldn’t figure out which word I want to use, and they both mean the same thing in the context I have in mind. It is at this stage, you have full physical ability with the technique as well as plenty of experience using, applying, countering, and overcoming your opponent’s counter–of that technique. Once you have done this, the student is able to change, modify, personalize, and adapt this technique to any situation

To illustrate, allow me to use handwriting as an example. When a child is 5, he learns his alphabets. He learns to recite them, he learns to recognize them, he learns to write them, sound them out, and form basic words and read them. I have letters my baby boy has written me (he’s 6) where he has phonetically spelled words he has not yet learned to spell, but he tries. By the end of this school year, he will be pretty literate. And it’s taken him about 2 years to learn to read. Can he read now? Yes. But not like he will by the time he’s 7, and keep in mind, he started when he was 5…  Like I said, 2 years. he knows how to write block letters in print. When he uses lined notebook paper, he has a difficult time staying in the lines. Although he gets the concept, he still fumbles with writing and reading. There are plenty of English learners who would love to have his proficiency in reading and writing. Those of us who are adults and speakers of English know that he’s got a long way to go, but hell–he’s SIX! Yet to a Chinese man who does not speak English, my son is pretty good.

Around the second grade, his print is good, and so he is learning now cursive. His literacy is improving, he is reading books on his own. He can read fonts of different styles and knows right away what the words say. He is learning basic grammar and spelling basics, and all that crazy rules you American people have in your language like silent letters and why “laugh” and “caught” don’t rhyme and all that stuff that’s confusing to non-native speakers. If some guy from Mexico bought the Berlitz Ingles course, he’d pay handsomely to have this second grader’s command of English. And you and I know (and I am no damned expert myself)–this little boy is an expert, and he’s been writing and reading three whole years. Long enough to get certified in 4 different styles of FMAs AND Krav Maga.

Finally, by the time the kid is 8, he knows that ghosi can be pronounced “fish” (“gh” from laugh, “o” from women and “si” from mission) without having to think much about it. He will understand that he “fought” yesterday instead of “fighted”, and doesn’t even have to think about it. He can engage in handwriting or spelling or reading contests and be pretty damned cocky about it. His smart ass is intelligent enough to correct his father’s English, despite that his Dad has lived here for 30 years. And get this:  If someone hands him some college ruled paper, he can write and adjust his handwriting to be just as legible as Dick and Jane (and know that this book is not a porno) or a celebrity-style, unintelligible autograph. Even doing it while running his mouth. He has only been reading and writing four years, but he’s pretty literate, wouldn’t you say? Compare that to another 13 years of education, and he’s still the bottom of the barrel in the work force. To someone who doesn’t know English, he’s an expert of speaking, reading and writing English–but he has barely grasped the basics.

And that’s why I named this installment the “Novice” student. He isn’t thinking of college at this point. He’s just learning the basics, doing it over and over and over again. Doing homework, reading comic books, writing tattletale notes to his parents about his sister, writing poetry and stories. Little does a child know, he has submitted to the learning and will properly learn the language and the lessons. The sky is the limit with this kid. He could be the next slam poet, or great orator, or award-winning novelist. But at this point, he knows his place and is just trying to master the lessons before him.

The martial artist on the other hand, daydreams in class about skipping the third grade and going to MIT because he “already knows this stuff”. Unlike the child, there is an asshole or two out there, willing to sell him an MIT fantasy and let him skip first through twelfth grade go straight to the University level. He only has to do it a few times a year and a few camps, and won’t even have to debate with other scholars for his degree or be a resident student.

Told you I digress. I have myself a note here:

Submit to your teacher’s lessons, absorb the training, and let it become as natural as language before attempting to analyze and (canonize) your own method that contradicts your teacher’s method.

Then move on to the intermediate level of learning. (slightly revised)

Hmm. Maybe I should have just said that.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Can’t Steal This Glory

Recently I have had some conversation with a young teacher who is hoping to open his own school and teach a fusion of the various systems he has studied over the years. I certainly have some reservations about his age and level of experience before striking out on his own. Yet those of you who have children older than 15 know that attempting to sway a determined young dreamer’s mind (even trying to talk “sense” into them) is a futile endeavor. Hell, we were all 25 once, and I’m sure you as well I am one track minded once we have a desire to do something.

Opening a school is one thing. But starting your own system?

Why not? Take any system of combat–they all started as a young man’s idea at some point. Sometimes, the young man isn’t as young. Perhaps that teacher had a strong master who kept him long enough to fully develop, but perhaps not. If you look back into most systems’ history, you will find that your founder was young enough to be your son and may have even spent less time learning than you would recommend. There is no sense in arguing with a young man, and the best we can do–if you are respected enough to have his ear–is to guide him toward success.

Any system can be made to work. I strongly believe in this. Show me a guy who swears that some system is garbage, and I will show you a man who never fought someone from that style. What is important is how that system is treated–how the students are trained, how the teachers have tested the system’s principles and techniques, how the teacher has learned to guide the students. Many a young, inexperienced teacher has blossomed into a seasoned expert with the right philosophy and right attitude. It takes years and patience, but every teacher who sticks with it eventually has his coming of age in the art.

Of course, it does come at a price.

The idea that a man can pull himself up by his bootstraps is a valid one. But if he has some help, and at least the right plan, things are much easier. There are several steps to follow:

  • You need a mentor. Yes, you can find your way through the dark without one. But many of the mistakes you will make and lessons you will learn the hard way can be avoided and made easier by having a confidant. One who has your best interest at heart and wants to see you succeed. A martial arts mentor will be the one who gives you good advice without discrediting you. He will hide your flaws, prop you up when you are weak. At the same time, he is not a teacher; your martial arts mentor is simply the other voice of reason who questions your thinking and gives you an alternate view that you may not have forseen. You want to cozy next to either a well-established teacher, or one who has seen more than you can imagine. And notice I did not say well-connected. This has nothing to do with politics, but knowledge.
  • You need training and sparring partner. Someone who is your equal, and definitely not your student. As the saying goes, stone sharpens stone, and if you have a counterpart who is equally strong and skilled as you (or better)–the quality of your martial arts can only improve. Too many martial artists will go through life without one, especially when they are teaching. Imagine a scholar who only associates with students. How can he maintain his skills conversing with people who is not intellectually his equal? I would like to come back to this subtopic at a later time and devote an entire article to this idea. It’s that necessary.
  • You need a rival. All great masters and fighters have a rival. The same way that stone sharpens stone, a blade needs things to cut. How can you tell if your sword is sharp if you never test it against other objects? In the world of martial arts, there exists many so-called fighters and masters who have avoided an enemy their entire career… until they find themselves as old men who are revered for dull lives and experiences and embellished adventures. Even if your rival was superior to you, some of their light reflects off you simply because you were in their presence–whether you beat them or not. Want proof? Real quick, tell me who else Marvin Fraizer fought besides Ali. Who else did George Foreman fight before Ali? It’s not that easy, huh? And let me tell you, Fraizer and Foreman were excellent fighters. But their claim to fame is that they fought–lost, but nearly beat–the great Muhammad Ali. Not everyone will be an Ali. But it doesn’t mean you can’t be a damned good fighter. Avoid guys like Ali, and you never will.
  • You need students and your own reputation. Many martial artists are satisfied with remaining in the shadows of their masters or the popularity of their systems, and fear stepping out into the light on their own. Sometimes, there are very good martial artists who have their own ideas within their systems–some even have ideas that are contradictory to what their teachers taught–but either out of respect or lack of self-respect, they never present their knowledge to the community. You can learn from your teachers, but until you move out from under his wing, there is a level of understanding and development that will never be realized. And let me tell you this:  You honestly don’t need any man’s permission to do so. You don’t. I would like to return to this subject at another time as well.

The word count is coming up on a thousand, so I will close here. But please understand this very important lesson:  When you feel you have matured in the art and would like to experiment with your own ideas, you own technique, and your own students, don’t let anyone steal your thunder. If they do not support you, the journey may be difficult, but it is very far from impossible. Credibility in the martial arts is a self-determined thing.

Thank you for visiting my blog.