Beware of the Orphan

The Quran warns us to be kind to orphans and treat them justly. These are the most vulnerable of us:  the orphan is parentless and has no one to protect him or speak for him with the fervor that a mother or father would. The orphan is often poor and disadvantaged. The orphan usually has no ties to familial lines or lineage. And finally–the orphan has little loyalty he owes.

So beware the orphan.

Many poor, lonely, disadvantaged youths have grown up to be feared, loved and respected men. One such man was Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. Others include Julius Caesar, Malcolm X, Cyrus the Great, Nelson Mandela and former President Bill Clinton. The same argument can go for allowing a fetus to grow to term, or not banishing the child product of a rape–you never know what this child will grow up to become. You slight a child when he is young–treat him poorly, dismiss his worth–or treat him well, and you may very well come to regret or be glad of the actions you took when he grows up. That poor little dusty kid may grow up to become a powerful and grateful ally or a powerful and vengeful enemy.

“But what is all this ‘orphan’ talk about anyway?”, you might wonder. Because in the martial arts, we have many orphans who deserve better treatment than many of us administer. I am a martial arts orphan. My Kung Fu teacher died when I was 15, and I was the youngest of the advanced class. Two of my older brothers in the family took me under their wing, and I grew up to become one of the senior Sifu of the American Jow Ga family. In the same year, I lost contact with three of my teachers–two due to the Mt Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines and the death of my Grandfather, leaving me teacherless at 21 years old. Without direction, I first became a reckless, misguided martial artist who drank heavily and got into fights in night clubs and openly challenged the seniors in my community–but due to the efforts of some close martial arts and boxing family members and friends I was brought back to the middle and guided to become a respected teacher. Meeting me today, you would be surprised to find out I took my last martial arts class with my teachers at 20 years old.

On the other hand, I have a good brother (ST) who joined the Kung Fu school in 1986. It was a year after the death of our teacher, and the same year that the headquarters’ leadership split and went their separate ways. My brother was first the student of my older brother, and then went to study with a few other brothers. One could say that he was a martial arts orphan, because on at least three occasions, he heard the ill-spoken words “I am your Sifu now.”  Were these men who wanted genuinely to teach him? Or did they see a young lion cub growing before their eyes, and wanted to be one to feed him? Sometimes, teachers will adopt an up and coming tiger in order to take credit for his skill when he is older. You can see it in some students. They are hard working, they are athletic, they are strong and fearless. But worst of all–they are naiive, easily misguided, and easy to take advantage of. I have seen it many times; I’ve even lost some of my young lion cubs to such teachers.

So twenty years later, you have a fighter, now mature and powerful, skilled, experienced and intelligent. And there are some who would like to discredit him, take credit for him, or see him fail because he was not easy to manipulate when he grew up.

We also have orphaned teachers–men and women who have teachers, but have broken away from tradition in order to create their own paths. They may have had two or three teachers and wanted to combine their systems. Perhaps the teachers disallowed the fusion or excommunicated those young teachers from their schools because they went their own way. Or (using myself again) the young teacher relocates to a new city where he has no lineage or home organization to hide behind. The community doesn’t want to recognize the credibility of the young teacher and his school. Or they gang up against him because they see that he has potential to become a pillar master in the community. Let me tell you; these young, wet-behind-the-ears fighter/teachers won’t stay young and wet-behind-the-ears forever. That’s all I’m saying.

I would like to bring your attention to two young orphaned martial artists…. ready?

Bruce Lee and Remy Presas.

They both came here without the strength of numbers behind them. Neither one carried a certificate or fancy titles. Both used titles that were self-declared. And both taught systems that they came up with in notebooks and in their minds, testing with themselves as crash-test-dummies. When some doubter walked up and said, “How do I know that crap you’re teaching is valid?”–who did they put forward to accept the challenge? No one; they had to do it alone. And many well-connected, big name martial celebrity have been put on their ass by the young, unconnected, no-name martial arts orphan without a school or master to run and cry to. Validation for the true martial artist is a very lonely fight; it is self-declared and self-proven.

And dare I say it… The martial arts orphan is among the strongest of us, simply because they dared to go it alone. The next time some 20-something freelance Sensei, Sifu or Guro walk through your doors–show him respect. He just might end up the next Remy Presas.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

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The Mean and Nasty Old Master

This will be really quick. I am sure I’ve posted on this subject several times before, but I felt compelled to write on it one more time.

Experience has told me that when I meet a rude, nasty old man who appears to not want new students–I should perhaps tolerate his barbs and earn the right to learn from him. Some of you martial arts-consumers probably couldn’t fathom what I mean. I will attempt to convey pronto.

Much of the martial arts that is easily found for anyone with a few bucks–whether by seminar, video, youtube clip, or dojo–is decent, good material. However, most of it is not taught correctly and that fact alone renders the validity of the art and techniques irrelevant. I could know how to throw the most vicious and powerful hook; one that Mike Tyson himself would feel all warm and fuzzy about if he saw me hit someone with it. Yet, if I don’t properly train you on how to actually DO that technique correctly–if I don’t pass on to you the full understanding of how to counter with it, how to counter the counters your opponent will throw, how to force the technique through if the opponent closes his openings, how to generate power with it when I’m exhausted, how to use the technique against a faster opponent… everything that should accompany the knowledge of how to throw that hook, your knowledge will be as useless as your 11th grade Spanish class. It’s not in the knowledge, it’s in the application. Those things cannot be learned from a teacher or medium that is ill-equipped to ensure you possess those things. In other words, a qualified teacher. And not just a qualified teacher, but a teacher that will not end the lesson just because he needs to get to the next city and collect another $5,000 bucks. A teacher who will stay with you until you fully understand all those things–not one who will just drop the technique on you and hope you practice when he gets on that plane. Or a method of learning that is over when the pizza arrives and you have to shut down the computer.

The best teachers you will find are not going to be accepted by the masses. He will be patient with information he imparts to you. He will be an absolute authoritarian in the class room. He will not give you breaks when you feel like you will pass out. He will tell you to shut up and train when you ask to learn those cool weapons on the wall. He will make you train the same techniques until you hurt, train till you get bored, train till you get mad and quit. Because the kind of training one will need to totally submit to  in the effort to attain the level of skill that satisfies him enough to promote you will suck. It will be less attractive than anything money can buy. It will be harder to obtain and and moment you will be allowed to say that you “know” it is a vague, mysterious point in the future that seems to move further and further away each time you think you’re getting closer.

And most people who pursue the martial arts is not wired for this kind of commitment. This is why some martial arts students still have their first set of sparring gear to show friends, and why others (very few others, I might add) can’t even remember what happened to their first set of sparring gear because they’ve owned about 50 sets in their lifetime. I would say that the percentage of martial arts students who really want the real, serious stuff is about a fraction of 1% of those who actually sign up for a school. Notice I am not including the guys who “self-train” and only work out in small groups and attend seminars:  The most serious of martial arts students will actually commit to a teacher and school and stick with it for years–1% of them. Sadly, most of the schools that one would find are not led by a teacher knowledgeable enough to provide this kind of training as well.

So, what happens is that martial arts students will join a school, achieve the Black Belt, train for years after that, then leave to seek out something/someone higher and deeper, go from school to school, style to style, and if he’s lucky–one day he may encounter that old man who may or may not have a school.

Let me tell you about that old man. If you know or have learned or seen anything about the martial arts–he has seen and learned and knows more. Depending on his age, he may have forgotten more than you have seen. If you truly are the serious student of the arts that you hope to be–he was once a man like you, encountering a man like him. Sometimes, that old man has a school and will be open to taking on students. If you approach him correctly, he will teach you in the manner that is necessary to achieve the skill level you covet. More likely than not, if he takes you as a student, you will get the foo-foo lessons and will have to prove yourself to get the real lessons. You may have to grovel. In this day and age, whether you are in America or the Philippines (trust me, they are getting pretty bad in the Philippines these days)–students try to control their teachers with power of money and the power of going elsewhere–and you won’t grovel. Or on the other hand, he may not want to take on any new students. He believes that today’s student is an uncommitted, impatient, lazy oaf who does not deserve his time and knowledge. Your money and flattering compliments mean nothing to him. You must convince him to take him as a student. He had schools, many years ago, just like he had a wife. His students ruined him financially by quitting and/or paying tuition late. His students made him second guess his chosen calling by being far less than appreciative and consistent than he had been in his youth. They were lazy and complained too much. In all these years, he was unable to find a student willing to sleep on floors, sit at his feet, and pay his stinking bills on time. So here he is, at the dawn of his life, with all that knowledge and skill and experiences… and along comes one more asshole who interrupts his nap, talking about he’s a *different* kind of martial arts students. Yeah right, go stand in line kid. They all say that.

So he takes you as a student, finally, and shows you his first three hits in his system. He sends you to the back yard or the classroom, and tells you to throw 2,000 strikes and let him know when you’re done. After that workout, you attend one or two, but then work gets busy. Or the cost of a plane ticket doesn’t justify the four days of callouses and sore joints you experience–just to go home empty handed. Or you find an authorized representative of a well-known master who will introduce you to a celebrity master or two. For the rest of your life, possibly after that mean and nasty old master had died, you recall that time you got ripped for $300 worth of shit lessons in some old codger’s back yard. You are still searching for the path to mastery, unaware that you had and lost that one brush with the possibility of achieving it. So, like the rest of the guys you once said you’d be nothing like–you join associations, you pad your resume and rank with easy-to-obtain add-on arts, you avoid the younger versions of that old man to hang out with non-confrontational sissies like you. And you wonder if true masters and martial arts secrets really do exist.

They do.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Forgotten Key to Dominance in Street Self Defense, Pt I

One of my frequent debates is over the subject of self-defense. In this series, I’d like to introduce my basic approach to preparing students for Street Self-Defense Dominance.

We often get potential students who will come in and tell us something silly like, “I’m not looking for a full martial arts program, I’m just looking for some basic self defense.” If you’re a school owner, you know what I’m talking about. We encounter these guys all the time. Hell, many teachers even create courses just for them! But self-defense is a fallacy, isn’t it?

Let me explain with an analogy.

I’d like to win debates with scholars. I have no education. Please just give me the basics, so that when I encounter your basic, run-of-the-mill, knowitall PhD, I can defeat him in an argument with the skills you give me.

So, you do what I do, and tell this uninformed sucker that he is not going to find it–save for a few unscrupulous charlatans who will promise to fulfill this unrealistic request and thusly, take his money.

And what does he do then? He buys books. He buys videos. He tries to self-teach at home with a dictionary and a “How to Win Arguments” books or two. Except for a few equally equipped buffoons in his circle of friends–he can’t impress anyone but a guy who simply doesn’t speak English. This is what your average quasi-military, Israeli, street-oriented self-defense  seeking, unwilling-to-commit-to-anything-serious nut is going to do.

And there are a crapload of people out there willing to teach him what he claims he wants to learn. The sad thing is, he will never learn it. He is looking for a short cut, and short cuts don’t exist in the real world. Here in my town, I’ve seen a flyer that says, “Be a world class MMA fighter—or just look like one”. <— That is what most self-defense courses are promising. Don’t really become a fighter, just pretend and dress up like one. I can teach you stop an attacker who just spent the last 5 to 10 years working out, who’s had so many victims he can’t give a real number, with just a few moves–and get this:  Strength is not necessary!

B.S. Yeah, and you think you might be able to teach a guy who could barely read (or can read pretty well but lacks the qualifications) to win a debate against a scholar. Trust me, it’s the same thing.

Understand this:  the guy on  the street knocking people over the head to take their money is an “expert” at fighting. Believe that. He’s done it a lot. He’s had live practice. He can do it with his eyes closed. He has a sixth sense to spot victims. And in a few months, we are supposed to teach you how to stop him–even without making you just as strong as him? Friend, please. Just to get through kindergarten, it will take 9 months of learning 4 hours a day, 5 days a week just to get the basics. And you can’t even commit to half of that to learn how to save your life! Wow. The world really is flat.

Here’s the thing:  Self defense is an illusion. When you are attacked by a wolf, you need to be able to transform yourself into a wolf/tiger/whatever to stop him. You can’t be a sheep with teeth. Unless you live in the world of make-believe. When you want to protect yourself against wolves, you will need to equip yourself like a wolf. And if some guy will spend a prison term preparing himself to fight YOU and take YOUR money–you’d better be willing to spend the same amount of time getting ready. Don’t forget this:  A few months before announcing to yourself that you’re ready to defend yourself is not enough time.

Oh, wait. You didn’t know that you get to determine when you’ll be ready? Why do you think Krav Maga classes give out 6 month memberships? Because that way, their students can join 6 months before a mugger decides to attack them!

Seriously, preparing to defend yourself on the street is a full-time thing. There is no shortcut to preparation. The more time you spend preparing, the better the chance that you will be successful in fighting. It isn’t painless. It is very time consuming. It is life-consuming. There are no Cleft notes version of the training either. Either you learn to be a fighter, or you just sign up for a foo foo class to look like one. The first key to self-defense is to know that there is no such thing as self-defense. Only Street Dominance. And that path to proficiency is a long, uphill battle where you don’t get to know where the point of arrival will be. Don’t focus on the destination, just the journey. If some guy tells you he has a better, shorter, painless way, ask him how many times he had been punched in the mouth, and how many people he’s punched in the mouth.

If he is qualified to teach you properly, the answer to either question will be a simple “I can’t remember”. And by the time you arrive, your answer will be the same. To prepare students for street dominance, it will take a physique-altering, life-changing, full-time commitment. 6 months will barely expose you to the surface.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Learn to Fight by Fighting *Back*

A week ago I was talking to a gentleman who is returning to martial arts training after about 20 years of a layoff. From what he tells me, the school he belonged to in the early 90s was a good one. While still commercial (I believe the teacher’s name was Jack Corey/Curry, cannot recall the man’s name I had met), his teacher had a healthy balance of children and adults–fluffy as well as killer training.

Let me break to give you some advice. We teachers encounter former martial artists and self-claiming experts all the time. I have a technique I use when talking to someone which helps me gauge who I am speaking to. Some of you call it the “BS detector”. My BS detector has 2 catalysts:  Lineage and Technique. When having a conversation, you can quickly find out the caliber of martial artist you are in front of (or gain a sense of what kind of art he was learning) by asking about his lineage, and then engaging him in a conversation about technique. Without spending too much time on it, what your fellow discursist says will give you the scoop on whether this guy is just flapping his lips or whether or not he knows what he knows. Saves time.

So he began in Korean martial arts, and in that school he gained plenty of sparring experience. In addition, and most importantly, he learned from his teacher the importance of drilling and training. Not “drilling” like many of you might think:  as a younger man, he would execute hundreds of repetitions of strikes, punches, kicks, blocks and combinations per session. He is now in one of those “fluffy” hybrid schools, but he still retained the hard-work ethic of his teacher 20 years ago. I like this guy.

In his former school, he fought against others with backgrounds in Karate and Tae Kwon Do, who punched like Karate and TKD people. In his new school, his classmates use semi-boxing techniques and Wing Chun. I can imagine this would be a very frustrating adjustment. We talked about working with punch combinations, spending more time sparring to develop the sixth sense for close-range/in-fighting, and other tips. But he mentioned that his specialty years ago was in counter-fighting, and how it simply doesn’t work against these guys.

I disagree.

First, I’d like to say that any fighting style can work against any style. Fighting is not an exact science, where boxing beats grappling, and kickers beat boxers, etc. While some techniques may be better suited to counter other techniques, there are so many variables to determine what will work vs what won’t work that it would be impossible to make such a judgment without actually slugging it out. And even when you resolve an argument that way, it only proved that fighter A can beat fighter B with that technique. Someone else using the same technique may have more or less success, depending on his attributes and abilities.

So, I gave the gentleman some basic, generic advice, and I hope you can draw some benefit out of the same tips. I will only list a few.

Tips for Counter Fighting

  • First, counter fighting as a strategy is not necessarily “waiting for an attack”. I find this misconception to be the norm for FMA fighters, as many of our styles teach the counter as the primary form of learning to fight. Think about it. When you ask an Eskrimador to show you something, what is the first thing he says? “Feed me a number X”. Basically, he has not learned to attack, so in order to apply his art, he needs you to attack him first. That’s why–
  • Counter-fighting is also called Counter-attacking. I prefer to use the term “counter-attack” over “defense”. We are not just trying to stop an opponent–we want to BEAT him. You can’t beat a man with blocks, and you can’t beat him moving defensively. Therefore
  • Rather than sit and wait, throw attacks at your opponent to get him to block, move and most importantly—> Attack. You get your opponent to attack by attacking him. Then, when he attacks you on your command (remember you knew he would attack because he’s actually attacking you back), counter that. Where I come from, this is called
  • “Controlling the fight”. If you don’t feel like fighting, move around. When you’re ready to attack, stop moving and counter him as he chases you, or attack him to get him to attack you back. This really is a “chicken-before-the-egg” strategy. Who is actually countering whom? Good questions. Here’s the answer:  Whom cares? Really!
  • The idea is that opponents are most vulnerable when attacking, and the counter attacker is actually determining when the two combatants will engage. He seizes the opportunity to attack by doing it while the opponent is busy attacking. It is very hard to throw a block while punching or kicking when you didn’t know an attack would be coming.
  • I consider blocking and evasive movements performed without an accompanying counter to be a waste of time. Basically, your “shuffle-back, catch, return jab” could have ended the fight simply by changing it to “shuffle-forward, catch AND return jab” all in one motion. Don’t miss the opportunity to end the fight simply because you were selfishly trying to protect that pretty face of yours. Take the punch on your forehead and make him eat a fist before his jab/cross/kick has had an opportunity to retract.
  • Remember this very important rule of thumb, if nothing else. Matter of fact, I’ll highlight it:

There are three best times to hit an opponent:

1. While he is punching

2. At the moment he completes the punch

3. Immediately after the completion of the punch (while retracting)

Each of these points has a set of techniques that fits the point. And the timing must be perfect. So in countering, you don’t want to learn timing, you want to learn perfect timing. A fraction of a second off from that moment, and you will miss your mark.

Back to the man I had met, we will have to meet in person for me to show him how to improve his success in sparring with those guys. But the above advice will help him utilize his preference to counter attacks instead of initiating them.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Exceed the Teacher

I have long held the opinion that the best teachers train his students to beat him.

Many take pride in saying that they could never best their masters, as if to say that “My teacher was so good, even as an old man–he could beat me and all my classmates.” Supposedly, this meant that because the speaker had a master who was that good, he must be that good because he is his student. How untrue. Now, if you trained full-time as a young man, and can not develop the skill using knowledge an old man gave you to beat the old man who can no longer do the things he used to… One can deduce one of three conclusions:

  1. Your teacher was not that good.
  2. You are not that good.
  3. You are lying.

Hope this doesn’t hurt too much…

First, a good teacher must at least be able to duplicate his own skill in his students. He should be more knowledgeable by the time he is a teacher than when he was young. He would know all the mistakes he made when he was younger. He would foresee the barriers to perfection he encountered himself, and remove them so that his students do not have to face those hurdles. On top of that, many of the lessons he learned on his own, through reflection, experimentation and practice should have all been manifested in his teachings. Ultimately, they should have all come out in the next generation. Each generation of students should be an improvement over the previous generation, as the teacher becomes more experienced and knowledgeable as he ages. If not, then his teaching has not benefited from experience. Either that, or the teacher possesses the knowledge, but not the ability to transmit the knowledge. Bad teaching.

Secondly, a student must be able to take what the master has taught him and drill them to proficiency. He must baptize himself in the memory and stories of what his teacher once was and strive to exceed that level. What good is a student if he cannot live up to the expectations of his teacher? Of course, your masters took pupils to make sure that his knowledge and experience is not wasted. If the master spent all those years researching, training and testing–and then taught someone, and that someone is inferior to his own ability–what good was it? Teach to create something mediocre? Do businessmen go into business to barely scrape out a living? Students who accept mediocrity in order to brown nose their teacher’s legacy are indeed unworthy of being taught. I would hope that my all my advanced students can defeat me. I take pride in being able to still move like a young man at my age, but there are many things I can no longer do. I’ll be damned if I pour 7 years of instruction and eating home-packed lunches in order to give my students better training and instruction–just for them to be unable to whip a 43 year old, balding man. Exceed my ability, or you are a waste of my time. Please aspire to become better than me. That’s why I teach.

Lastly, there is a misconception that your martial arts is superior if your teacher could defeat everyone, including you at your fighting peak. Please. That stuff is for Kung Fu movies. In the real world, people get old. We get thyroid disorder, arthritis, cancer, we gain weight, we get tired, some of us have suffered brain damage from fights when we were young (all of the above). No one expects you to look like you were 23 at 43, except in Hollywood. If a man must embellish stories to make himself look good as a teacher or student of a teacher, then I would say that man suffers from misplaced priorities. And the more dominant your master was when he was young, the more beat up he will be when he is older. Yes, we will stay in somewhat good shape for men our age. But fighting damages the body. Show me a former fighter who at 50 does not have old stitches and missing teeth and joint problems, and I will show you a man who spent all his time on the sidelines–not the mat. Like I said, I love to see old fighters who can still move. All of my teachers were such men. But they were all shadows of what they once were, and there is no need for me to make up stories of how they somehow found the fountain of youth. If you want credibility, then let’s tell credible stories. My teachers lived hard lives. They were not always law-abiding men. They had things in their lives I would be embarrassed to post on this blog. But they had good fighting arts, and my youth was proof of that, and my students’ skill is proof of that.

If you want your fighting art to be timeless, them train your students to beat you. There is no shame in losing to a student; it just means their master was one hell of a teacher. If you are a student, try, try, and try again to kick your teacher’s ass. Because when you do, he gets all the credit you want him to have.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

The Higher Form of Martial Arts

I started to name this article “The Highest Form of Martial Arts” after a conversation I overheard today. I was reading a book today (The Essential Rumi, if you must know. I happen to love poetry) and engrossed in trying to make sense of the stanzas.

Side note:  Poetry and martial arts are very similar animals. On the superficial level–which anyone could interpret easily–both are simplistic and can be faked. But on a very deep level, the true essence the master is trying to impart may require the gift of understanding or intense study and reflection. One day, I will explain why I say this.

Anyway, as I read a group of young men were sitting nearby discussing Kung Fu. They are studying with a teacher I know personally, and because I know him and his type–what they talked about did not surprise me. See, in the martial arts, the apple falls near to the tree. And a teacher’s preferences, prejudices, dislikes, misunderstandings, specialties, and shortcomings will almost always be manifested in the student. Unless, of course, you have a student with the “gift of understanding” or ample time to study and reflect on his teacher’s lessons–and his own experiences. The path to growth for the martial arts student can be determined by the teacher, be limited by the teacher’s lessons, or they can surpass the teacher’s teachings.

So today I will only focus on one thing I heard:  The highest form of martial arts is self-preservation.

I disagree. Not only is this statement misguided and shows the lack of progress in the art, this is a very selfish and immature belief in the art. Let me explain.

When we begin study in the art, most of us do so for selfish reasons. We want to lose weight and look good. We want to learn to fight and feel like a hero. We want to feel safe. I know those goals don’t sound very selfish to you, perhaps I should say they are “self-centered” reasons. Either way, once you develop your skills to proficiency, it is natural to want to share those skills, am I right? That is the natural path for advanced students and experts in the art; we want others to be healthier and more fit. We want others to be safe. We want to protect our loved ones. We want to teach others to do this for themselves, as did we. This is why many martial artists will most likely become a teacher or a protector of the community. Can you see where I am going next?

I would like to take it one step further, if you will.

Self-preservation is natural for any man, even one who does not know the martial arts. If you arm a man, and then attack him, the most basic thing he will do is use that weapon to protect himself and protect the people he loves.

But what about arming a man, and then he witnesses a complete stranger under attack? How many of us are prepared to risk our own lives to protect someone we have never met? We don’t know if we will be hurt in defending that person. We don’t know if the “victim” deserved to be attacked. It would take a special kind of man–a special kind of martial artist–to use his weapons and skills to come to the aid of someone we have nothing to do with.

We live in a world where people will be saved by CPR, and then turn around and sue the man who administered CPR for breaking our sternum. We will sue a police officer attempting to protect us from our own, drug-crazed child, for trying to kill us and the only way they can protect us is to kill our child. We are in a selfish, ungrateful world. I came to the defense of a woman who was abused by her boyfriend years ago–only to have the boyfriend (with the victim by his side) call the police and accuse me of attacking him. It is no surprise that many will hesitate to assist with someone in danger.

But my feeling is that fear of helping someone backfiring in our face is not the concern. I honestly believe that most people do not come to the aid of someone in danger–even a child–because of the fear or being hurt themselves. And for the martial artist to train for 5+ years, be willing defend himself–but unwilling to defend someone weaker and more vulnerable, to be disgusting and cowardly. 12 years ago, I had a student who was attacked by a small group of three men in a restaurant while with another beginner. The student defended himself well. He suffered a broken nose, but all three of his attackers suffered injuries, including broken noses and lacerations. They stopped the fight when they were too exhausted to continue fighting, and my student victoriously asked them to continue fighting and they declined. Yet his classmate did not help, and the result was that I suspended him for a month to think about the consequences of his cowardice. Out of shame, perhaps, the student never returned. Some may disagree with me and my decision to admonish my student. They were both beginners. They were both trained well, and much stronger than the average punk on the street. But even if they were advanced students, the willingness of a martial artist (or lack of it) to jump in an altercation to help someone else is true courage. Courage is not fighting a man you know you can beat. It is not struggling to stay alive. It is not having the absence of fear. Courage is doing what you fear doing, to place yourself in an unsure position, where you may be hurt–and there is NO benefit in doing so. You cannot teach courage; it is something that is a by-product of good martial arts teaching.

And that is the higher form of the Martial Arts:  To use your weapons to defend someone else, when there is no benefit or threat to you or your loved ones. Consider this:  A chicken will fight to defend himself or his chickens. If you are a martial artist who will only fight when threatened personally, or your family is threatened, you have the courage level of a chicken.

But fight to defend a total stranger, and I will admire you as a true hero.

I found the following clip, which should illustrate the cowardice, versus the courage of total strangers. Please watch the video in its entirety, and have a talk with yourself about this article. Thank you for visiting my blog.

 

The Master Student (Skipping Grades pt II)

Much has been written on the subject of teaching the martial arts, and even more has been written about the technical and historical sides of the Martial Arts (even the Filipino Martial Arts)–but very little has been written on teaching the Filipino martial arts, and even less has been written about learning the Filipino martial arts. Not one to follow the masses, I am more inclined to eliminate competition for students by creating my own niche. In other words, I prefer to offer what most people don’t.

I have addressed many times on this blog how the trend in the FMAs is to skip to instructor status too quickly. Not only students are guilty of it; in fact, I believe that it is normal for students to want to move too fast. Just as a fighter will push for a championship fight much too soon because of bravado and youth–the martial arts student is over eager to move through the ranks. The role of teachers, then, is to guide the student on a calculated, patient, goal-oriented path to proficiency. Because of the nature of the martial arts business, the biggest violators of patient progress are the teachers themselves.

Therefore, I decided to give advice for the martial arts student, including those of you who consider yourselves and “expert” in the field.

If you go back and reread my last article, entitled “Skipping Grades”–I stated:

You cannot become a Master teacher, until you were first a Master student.

Over the years, I have seen the curricula and ranking structures for many FMA styles and systems. One of the things I have noticed is that they are teacher-oriented. What I mean by “teacher-oriented” is that most FMA masters look at every martial arts student as a potential teacher. So (I’m guessing, in his mind) he is teaching you for the purpose of preparing you to start your own club, rather than teaching you for the purpose of developing the best fighter he possibly can. If you ask me to be fully honest with you of my opinion–he sees you as a source of income, and that’s why there is the rush to help you start clubs. But anyway…

Those curricula are top-heavy with advance/instructor ranks, and very light on beginner ranks. This does not give students ample time to fully master their basics, and does not teach them to thirst for knowledge. “Thirst for knowledge”, by the way, does not mean “I want to learn more”. There is a difference. Curiosity is “I want to learn more”. Thirsting for knowledge means that your life’s essence depends on quenching that desire to learn more. You will travel hundreds of miles, sleep on floors, humble yourself, take a quest to find a teacher, practice for hours on a single technique, and sip and savor the tiny droplets of information your teacher gives you. You are grateful for whatever he has shared, and you are not forcing him to teach and promote before he is ready to do so by holding his livelihood hostage at wallet-point. (Yes, too many martial arts students force a teacher to avert his teaching plan to avoid losing students because of poverty) When you are thirsty–dying of thirst–you are satisfied with whatever information you can get, and you will do whatever it takes to get it. That’s what a man without water in the desert does–he treasures the little bit of water he is given, he is fully grateful for it, and he will literally cross burning sands to get it.

Those of you “drinking from hoses” know nothing of this kind of learning.

Some people skim the surface of many arts from many masters, and their quest to find that information is no harder than the effort it takes to write out a check. But if you want to know what’s in the water, you have to go deep. Everyone who skims the top of a lake only gets what falls in or rises to the top. He only sees what everyone sees. He gets all the dust, the bugs, the dead organisms, the leaves. He can only tell you what a man on the shore can tell you about that art. But the man who dives deep to the bottom of that lake and studies it from the inside–that man knows all the secrets and treasures the lake holds, and only those who venture with him can understand it. But it is a dangerous path. It is not easy. For a while, people on the shore won’t even know you’re down there, and you must be satisfied with that. You can’t worry that no one knows who you are, or that the water you experienced is alien to those at the top with their cups and water hoses. You know things about that lake that most men won’t even believe exists. When you hear a man say canned -isms, like “there are no secrets in the martial arts” or “the only secret in the martial arts is practice”–trust me, he has never been to the bottom of the ocean.

As a martial arts student, you must be patient and trust that your master can take you there. You cannot look at other gyms and youtube clips and wonder “why we don’t have that either”. You mustn’t challenge your teacher’s philosophy towards the art, or lust for famed teachers and lofty titles and ranks. Just study the art, practice and train, and perfect the art. Even if your teacher is not the Master-teacher that you were hoping he’d be, you will discover things about the art that most men are unaware of, and you will have skill that most men will never possess. Chase paper, and you will have it. Chase skill, and you will have that as well.

The martial arts student learns the art. The martial arts master-student will master the art. Mastery, my friends is not supposed to be a rank you are awarded by friends in a ceremony; Mastery is a plateau that eludes most men, including you. Stay in constant pursuit of it, and you will find yourself there. Except, you won’t realize it because only a man who is in a constant struggle for it will achieve it. Men will swear you have arrived, and if you agree with them you prove them wrong. The Master student does not aspire for rank or titles, he aspires for knowledge and skill. He will spend twice as long in his lifetime as a student and practitioner than he will as a Master.

And if he is claiming a level higher than Mastery, I would say that either he is doing so for business purposes or he is wrong.

One final piece of advice for becoming the Master student:

Understand that the role of Martial Arts Student is a serious role, and treat it as such.

Each time you undertake a new art, you should jump in headfirst and become obsessive about it. Those of us who have pursued multiple arts tend to expect our prior experience should “count” in the learning of the newer art. I disagree. If you believe it “counted”, then I would say that you will never truly understand the new art. You must know the true meaning of “empty your cup”, not “pour that tea in with this coffee”. A man who cannot crawl in his new dojo is not humble enough to learn the new art. It cannot be rushed. You must spend as much time practicing the new art as you did when you trained in your original art. You must put in the same amount of attention and dedication as any other student of that teacher. You must be capable of isolating the skills the new teacher gave you and use them without tapping into your other style’s techniques. This is how you learn a new style. That master did not learn in one day, and neither should you. But if he did, if that master learned through seminars before attempting to teach you, understand that he skimmed the surface of what he sees as a pond (which may in fact be an ocean-deep sea) and now you are skimming his cup. Watered down like you would never believe.

There are stages in learning the art, and you must go through and spend ample time in each stage, mastering each stage before progressing to the next. You must experience those stages in the correct order, and you must not think about what stage is next. One day soon, we will visit those stages.

Thank you for visiting my blog.