Secret #4 for Fighting Superiority

Make Use of “Perfect Timing”

In fighting, there is too much reliance on being faster or stronger than the opponent. In the FMA, there is too much emphasis on ideas less practical than that:  untested theories and skills, and prearranged sequences. If you can harness the ability to use timing–and not just timing, but PERFECT timing, then you will be able to land on a faster man, and destroy a stronger fighter.

“Perfect timing” is not the same as “timing”. When you time an opponent, you look for the right moment to land your shot (if you are attacking) or the right time to move (when the opponent is attacking). Other factors are involved as well, like distance, positioning, and angles, but today we will just talk about timing. Timing is perfect when there is no better time to do it; therefore, you have the best opportunity to counter or attack and your opponent really can’t do anything about it.

Example:   Opponent swings a vertical strike at your head with a stick. In many style this is called a #1 strike. Good timing has you fade away to put distance between you and the opponent as you hit his hand. Once you have done that, the opponent is now vulnerable to a follow up strike to the head or a good combination that finishes him. PERFECT timing against the same opponent allows you to skip the fade away and hand hit, and just go straight for the finish. Meaning you do not defense at all, just counter hit the opponent with nothing but power strikes–and you don’t even need to angle away from him, because your timing was so good he had no chance of hitting you at all.

Good timing is based on a possibility of failure and requires you to take precautions (moving away and hitting the hand). Perfect timing is a technique that wouldn’t normally work in a million years, and this is your year. Like I said–there is no better time than this moment. Precautions are not necessary because the opponent, no matter how good he is, has no chance of success.

So what was the secret to the timing in the example?  You initiate your attack when the opponent chambers. If you can do this, it won’t matter what strike the opponent throws, how strong he is, whether or not you’ve moved away far enough, or whether the strike to the hand damaged him, etc. Learn to blast him when he thinks about moving and he won’t know what hit him.

Here’s another secret. Save it, write it down, teach it to your best fighters, commit it to memory and utilize it, because it’s heavy:

The opponent will attack you when two very significant things happen:

  1. When he is ready to attack
  2. When he notices that you are not ready to attack

Your goal is to make sure these things never occur at the same time… from his point of view. Let me clarify:

  • You are ready + he is ready = clash, may the best man win (don’t attack unless you know that you are the superior man with a better plan)
  • You are not ready + he is ready = this should never happen. Do all you can to make sure it never does
  • You are not ready + he is not ready = this is going to be a good fight. But only because you two are equally unprepared. If you find this occuring, either you have met your match or you have some training to do, Lucy!
  • You are ready + he is not ready = GET ‘IM!

Move to keep your opponent out of his fighting stance and needing to readjust. Train yourself to attack from any position (who said martial arts stance training was useless?). This includes when the opponent is in the process of throwing an attack and when he is moving. You also want to train for possible counters to your attack.

Example: You attack your opponent with a left back leg round kick while the opponent has his right in front. You have several things to think about:

  1. what counters can he do?
  2. which directions will he move?
  3. will he attack or will he defend?
  4. what does this opponent tend to do?

In training, you want to have these questions asked. Number 4 is really having a category that all opponents will fit in to. After the fight has started, you will place your opponent into the category, thus giving you your strategy for this fight.

Back to perfect timing, these factors will be useful in executing your plan. There is a moment, a trigger, that pushes your “start” button and gets the attack under way. It is usually a reaction to something the opponent has done, but also depends on where you are in relation to the opponent, how fast he is (compared to how fast you are), whether or not he hesitates or if he is aggressive, how tall he is and whether he headhunts or tends to attack low…

There is only so much I can relay on this blog, but I hope this was enough to get you thinking. So we’ll close here, and I’ve got to clean up this mess (my kids have been in the kitchen, “cooking” and fighting for the last hour… the 8 and 9 year olds) before the wife gets home.

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Preparing Your FMA for Self Defense on the Street

Today I attended a tournament in Albany, CA, with my students and we encountered a former student of mine who is now teaching FMA in the East Bay area, Guro Ramon Espinosa. We were talking about the FMA and how they (mis) treat their empty handed skill, while striving to train “for the street”. I believe most FMA Guros mean well; I simultaneously believe that their training and fighting philosophies are failing them. Call me the FMA prophet with a message! I have been repeating this message for years, and only a few people are willing to listen. In fact, they won’t listen until my ideas become fashionable through some other means of media. I have no problem with this…. the truth is painful to hear, and the truth is not suitable for everyone. These things I will say are repeated over and over again through my other posts, so don’t send me emails about how I am a scratched record, I know! But you need to hear the message again and again until you make a change.

So, here we go!

There was a gentleman there who had a few students I met last year who had created his own style. His guys didn’t do too well, but yesterday, they were holding their own against the regulars. Not bad for a brand new art and newcomer to the Bay Area. The schools out here have been around for years and these guys are some of the toughest in America. This was my first time meeting this man, and after talking to him for a few minutes, I was approached by two other teachers who told me, “you know, he made his own art.”  I answered that all arts were made up at some point, but this guy was “sharpening his blade”. Then I went on to explain what this meant in the FMA….

The truth is that most FMA people are busy learning and perfecting drills instead of learning how to fight. There are many lessons to learn from the old school Filipino masters who learned slowly and patiently, and testing themselves out against each other. There are also many lessons to learn from the many other martial artists around the Orient, who have developed very strong fighting styles off of a few basic principles. These principles are universal throughout the martial arts, and they are universal principles that are applicable in almost any other discipline:

  1. choose a simple set of effective skills in your craft and focus primarily on those skills
  2. perform these skills an infinite number of repetitions to achieve perfection
  3. apply these skills in your craft as often as possible
  4. if available, compare your skills against others in your discipline
  5. reflect on the results and modify your foundation system or system of practice until you achieve mastery

Regardless of what you do, or what style you do you must adhere to this path to perfection. It is said by many that perfection is never achieved. I disagree. Perfection is never achieved in the mind of the practitioner. But perfection is recognized by others. If you really believe that perfection is impossible, there is no reason to practice! Why do this when you can just spend the rest of your life practicing mediocre martial arts? No, we seek to become the best at what we do so that fighting in any situation become effortless and simple. And this where the streetfight becomes relevant to the martial artist. (We will have to visit perfection and mastery in another post)

Fighting on the street is something that comes once in a lifetime for most of us, and depending on who we are and what we do–a little more than that. But for most martial artists, the streetfight is that one moment we’ve all been training for. It represents whether our training has been in vain or has paid off. Almost all martial artists fear this thing; regardless of what false bravado they try to put out, the martial artist is living in some sort of fear of fighting. This is not to call them cowards, but it’s true. It is like the soldier who finally makes it into combat after years of training. Or the police officer who engages his first shoot-out. Unlike them, the average martial artist will never engage in a real fight and on a rare occasion he will encounter the opportunity to do so (and choose not to…. wisely). However, there are many martial artists who will actually have a fight, and for many of them it is the only fight they will ever encounter.

There is a saying in the Filipino arts, that you must treat the opponent who approaches you as if you will never face him again.

We aren’t training that way. No, you are slapping hands with a guy, prolonging your altercation (if you ever had one). You are spending your entire FMA training career developing “attributes” instead of simply learning how to kick someone’s ass. You are making excuses why it is unwise to fighting tournaments because they “aren’t real enough”, yet you do not advocate getting into “real fights”. In other words, you are wasting your time training and training others, because you call yourselves “fighters”, yet you aren’t fighting.

At this tournament, I met some people who had never been to a point Karate tournament before and were amazed at how much slugging was going on. They were told that point fighters were powder-puff matches and people were playing “tag”. Instead, what they saw were fighters–old and young, male and female, beginner and Black Belters–blasting each other with head punches and power kicks to the body. There was one memorable match between two 14 year old girls (Orange Belts) who had more firepower and heart than most FMA Guros I know. There were knock downs, injuries, rivalries (between two Filipino-owned dojos) and many very technical chess matches of strategy, style and pure muscle power.

Tournaments aren’t the street…. blah, blah, blah…

Why do you think it is that the streetfighter–the thug–is so feared? Do you believe it’s because he’s really got better techniques? Do you really believe he is stronger, more fit than you? (Keep in mind, we are talking about a guy who lacks the discipline to work out, and probably eats unhealthy, drinks alcohol and uses drugs)  Is it because he’s been in more fights than you?

The average tournament fighter has hundreds of fights and has very good reflexes and timing, thank you. How many fights do you have?

The streetfighter is feared because he is aggressive. He is willing to hit another man (or woman) he does not know as hard as he can. He will not hesitate to break your nose, to split your head open, to open your skin like a watermelon. You, on the other hand, will apologize profusely if you accidentally punch your training partner in the nose. You have the aggression level of a man in a coma; and even if a guy on the street spit in your face, and punched you in the eye, you will probably still be hesitant to hit him back. The reason is not that you have morals. You’re a fighter, right? But you don’t fight enough to have built any controllable aggression in you to train the way you need to train to be able to hurt somebody! The only way to get this is to spar strangers, with something on the line that will make you work hard for a victory. Nothing in your teacher’s training plan will develop this like a competition. This, my friends, is the missing link to your martial education.

Back to the main idea of this article, in your FMA, you are practicing single stick, double stick, stick and dagger, empty hand drills, empty hand vs knife/stick…. but the one thing you aren’t doing that you will need on the stick is trying to see if your empty hand will save your behind in an actual fight against an unarmed opponent. I recommend starting with a few basic attacks and counters to attacks, then sparring with your brothers and sisters, and then getting into some kind of tournaments to fine tune what you’ve got and to check your progress. Since none of us (I hope) are out there picking fights on the street to test ourselves, we’ve got to do it somewhere and this really is the best place as well as the safest place to do it. The FMA man is living in his imagination too much, while and entire community of martial artists are honing their fighting skill in our absence. Each generation of students we put out are being left behind in the dust, and getting weaker and weaker. Even the McDojos have students getting practical experience in learning how to use their punching and kicking.

And that gentleman with the made-up style? In three or four years, his boys will enjoy many successes and his art will be accepted and respected by his local community. And if any of them ended up fighting on the street somewhere, they will be a lot better prepared to use what they’ve got.

Are you?

Thanks for reading my blog. Until next time…

What On Earth Is a “Supreme” Grandmaster Anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Who Is Really Tough?

The martial artist is really obsessed with looking tough and sounding tough, but does not spend enough trying to be tough.

They like to tout resumes, tatoos, show strength in numbers, and take on the persona of a tough guy… but rarely are they truly strong men, and even more rare will they actually be good fighters. The biggest giveaways are martial artists who add arts and certifications to their belts, body build, and those who teach a lot of public seminars. I have always said that the best fighters among the martial artists are those who fight in tournaments and bring their students to tournaments.

Oh, the tournament is not street, you say.

Okay, tough guy, when was the last time you got into a fight in the street?

We have a saying where I come from (as a teenager)… stop frontin’ dawg. The guys who fight in tournaments are quicker to take the gloves off and hand you an ass-whipping personally, than the dude in the muscle shirt sitting in the bleachers complaining how pussified the tournaments have gotten. This whole “nothing is worthy of my martial arts skills but an actual kill-or-be-killed-streetfight” garbage is making me nauseous, and really, it’s exposing the rainbow sticker in your back window, tough guy.

You see, fighting is a skill. You can be a martial artist and not know how to fight. You can hit focus mitts, strike tires, and slap hands till you’re blue in the face, but you’re not a fighter until you actually start fighting. This is the dry-land swimming Bruce Lee is talking about, not all those stupid drills you like to do. Well, like all skills, you use or lose. You have to stay off the internet forums, out of the magazines, and away from the seminar circuits, and spend more time in the gym training, and on the floor “skilling”. I remember an Eskrima tournament years back, when the promoter decided to hold an “empty hands” sparring division and announced it mid-tournament. There would be no winners and losers declared, no trophies, just to showcase your empty hand sparring skills. Dammit, we had KARATE guys there, and only my students volunteered. It was embarassing. See, we like to show, we like to know, but we don’t like to GO, and we damned sure don’t like to DO.

There is a saying that the empty barrel makes the most noise…

There is another saying, that the toughest men have softness on the outside because their toughness is on the inside. But the most cowardly wear their toughness on the outside, because on the inside they are extra soft.

This article is not just for the Filipino martial artist, but for martial artists in general. It is not just for the martial artist as well… it is for men in general. I can think of an entire generation of young men and teenage boys who can benefit from this lesson.

You see, we tread ground lightly so that if we were to attack, our enemy would not hear us. And there are too many for us to announce ourselves everywhere we go. It is the weak who announce themselves, because they must bluff in order to fool the ones they actually fear.

Return to basics, my brothers and sisters. Train hard, test yourself often, and walk as a warrior carrying a concealed, deadly weapon… among the sheep. There is no need to act tough when you are around those weaker than you are, IF you are really stronger. There is a saying that the real warrior rarely bares his weapon because everyone around him sees that he has it. When you have superior firepower, you enjoy a level of peace those who are vulnerable will never have. Train so that no man threatens you, and you will find that you can simply relax and be yourself. If you do not prepare for combat properly, you will always have to worry, posture and act like a bigger man, and that is no way to live.

Not just that, but you aren’t fooling anyone.


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Cobra Kai Brothers, RISE UP!!! (“Self Defense” Is an Illusion)

This was first written just for fun, then I thought about it, and realized that there is something more here.

I don’t know about you, but in the movie “The Karate Kid”, I actually liked the Cobra Kai guys better. Sure, they were jerks, but as a martial artist studying from physically agressive teachers in a physically aggressive environment, I wasn’t “feeling” the Daniel-san experience. And I certainly wasn’t convinced.

Does this make me a bad guy? I’m sorry you feel that way, but not everyone who doesn’t root for the underdog is wrong.

You see, martial artists have this thing, that they want to believe you can be the weak man, the scared man, the man who is less prepared–and still be victorious over the bad guy. I don’t think so. We are talking the truth here, aren’t we? Excuse me, I’m a practical, forward person by nature. I don’t like to lie, and I don’t like to promise what cannot be delivered. Martial artists want to be the baddest guys in the streets, without doing what is necessary to be the baddest dudes on the street. We want to be great fighters…. without fighting. Huh? What’s that all about? They don’t want to train too hard. They don’t want to dedicate their time, effort, money, blood and tears towards the goal of being a superior fighter. But at the same time, they are constantly looking for the one style, the one technique, method, teacher, who will make them unbeatable. Yeah, so you want to train part time, and not even give 150% when you train, but you think you’ll be able to take on a parolee who spent the last 10 years pumping iron and bashing other people’s brains in… and defeat him? You’ve been reading too many comic book ads!

Here’s the truth about Self Defense:  It doesn’t exist. Sorry. Either you fall prey to the natural-born killers, or you become one. There is no short cut towards success in this arena. Learn to kill people, then train until your body is fully capable of doing it. And even then, you will have to mentally prepare to hurt people. What good is it to be a perfect shot on the gun range, when you lack the emotional and mental ability to pull that trigger with another human in your sights? Your “realistic” self defense class runs a 0% risk of someone getting a bloody nose, yet you believe you will actually be able to prevent someone from giving you one?

You are fooling yourself, and so has your teacher. In this arena–fighting on the pavement–the bad guy is the expert. You will have to be prepared in every way to deal with him. You must be stronger, have better tactics, have more durability to withstand his attacks, and have a mental aggression you can switch on and off at the drop of a dime if you are to beat him at his game. This ain’t no seminar, brothers, I’m talking about a real fight. A guy wants your wallet, or the keys to your car while you still have a 2 year old strapped in the back seat. Two guys have entered your home while you’re in bed with your wife, and they won’t accept that you’ve just given them all the money you’ve got in the house. Some jerk on the subway wants to prove to all the passengers and his boys that he can scare a yuppie, and you’re it. Some young punks need to jump on somebody to validate themselves as thugs, and you’re the one they plan to use.

Martial artists are usually afraid of guys like this, but you should be emulating him
Martial artists are usually afraid of guys like this, but you should be emulating him

I sure hope you can turn yourself into Johnny Lawrence when it happens. He’s the one that most guys are going to avoid, and if they fight him, he’s the one who’s going to ruin their day.

Wait. I’m not saying to run around bullying people. But I am saying to be the guy that no one will mess with. You can’t be that guy acting like a Daniel San. You must train to be indomitable, and learn to do all it takes to exercise this attitude. That means, you’ll have to mix it up in some way; whether in tournaments, on the mat, or in the street, but you’ll have to do something. They say that boards don’t hit back, but then neither do people who get hit by fists that break boards.

 As a martial arts teacher you have to answer a question about your students:  Do I believe that a mugger will be successful against each student of mine? Or will he get his jaw cracked and sent to the hospital? One night very recently, I was teaching a student of mine with this very thought in mind. He is an older student of mine, in his early 50s, has knee problems, an immigrant Mexican who still has the language barrier. He is a family man, doesn’t drink or smoke, and dances at the California State Fair as a part of a Mexican dance troop performing traditional Mexican dances. Nothing about this gentleman says he has a mean streak or any other killer qualities. However, he is a hog on the floor, and trains very hard. Lately, he had told me that he wanted to focus on forms, as his reason for training was more to get in shape than anything else. I hear this all the time, because I have a natural inclination to spend more class time on sparring than anything else. Anyway, I had this student spend more time in my Jow Ga Kung Fu class than my FMA class. That night, after I pondered this question I went out back to get fresh air and when I came back into the gym, I see him in gear, fighting full contact with my young guys from the kickboxing class! Not just that, but he was kicking my guy’s ass!

If Daniel had studied with Sensei John Kreese instead of Miyagi, it would have made a much more interesting movie.... LOL
If Daniel-San had studied with Cobra Kai Dojo's Sensei John Kreese instead of Miyagi, it would have been a much more interesting movie!

The point of this was that as teachers we owe it to our students to gauge our progress as teachers, by gauging their progress as fighters. We need to ask ourselves, “would each one of these guys be a victim, or the vigilante?”  I don’t want to have to worry about any of my students in an altercation, because they are trusting me to prepare them for combat, and I must have a way to know if we are successful or not. One thing I can say about Martin Kove’s character John Kreese in “The Karate Kid” is that he has prepared his students for combat. Can you?

Self Defense as we know it is not preparing you for taking the attacker-victim relationship and turning it around. I want the guy who decides to attack you to walk funny and talk funny for the rest of his life. Let’s look at how we can make this happen…

But next time. The wife just fried me some fish, and I’ve got a plate full of rice waiting on me!

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