Saturday, August 29, 2015

Today is MAPA 6!

Today is the sixth gathering of the Metroplex Arnis Players Alliance.  If you're anywhere in the area, come on by - click HERE for the event details.

When it all started, lots of people thought that it wouldn't be able to last very long.

The idea of a quarterly gathering of Filipino Martial Artists from different schools, teachers, and traditions, getting together to cross train and get to know each other seemed unworkable.  People would fight over lineage, or rank, or who's better than who... we'd be lucky to have more than a couple of gatherings before it fizzled out.

Yet, here we are, having our sixth gathering!

None of that has happened, and I'm glad to say, thanks to MAPA, I belong to a larger community of players than I suspected existed around me.

Myself and some friends at MAPA 5.

We've been able to forge a seminar where there is no rank, there's no arguments over which style is better than which - it's just four hours of people playing together, learning, having fun, and creating a larger community.

I will say, however, that the original vision has yet to be fully realized, because most of us come from what I'd call "related" lineages, most of which lead back to Professor Remy Presas in one way or another.  We were hoping - and still are hoping - to get a huge variety of FMA traditions and lineages participating.

You see, we really do want to get as many different FMA traditions as we possibly can, because we know and respect most of the other "families" in the Filipino Martial Arts and we'd love to learn more about them from people who practice them full time.

As for me personally I don't want to change teachers, organizations, or arts. I just want a bit of exposure in a fun and friendly setting to get to know other FMA's and their players better.  I think the different perspectives these folks bring to the table make me better at what I do.

We have lots of FMA people here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and there are some very close to me that just can't or won't come to a MAPA gathering.

Why is this?  I'm sure there's lots of reasons.

Maybe they've just happened to be busy the six times we've held an event.

Maybe they are afraid that other teachers will "poach" their students.

Maybe they think that their tradition and teacher is the only one worth following, and the rest of us are beneath them and not worthy of study at all.

Maybe the idea of having no rank in the room and being a student as well as a teacher at the event is too much for them to contemplate.

Maybe they're afraid that they will learn aren't as good or as special as they think they are.

Maybe they think they're holding on to some secretive tradition.

I can't say why for sure.  I do know one teacher, when asked to participate, completely missed the point of what we're trying to do, and offered a bounty for each student we could bring to him.

It's a shame, though, because I know that these folks have a lot of offer, and I think they'd have a heck of a lot of fun playing with the MAPA crew.

So I'll be in Mesquite today, banging sticks with old friends and new friends.  If you're around, you're always welcome to join us, no matter who your teacher is, no matter how experienced you are in the Filipino Martial Arts.

Just come and play!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Lesson From Virginia

As you're probably aware, a terrible act of murder was committed near Roanoke, Virginia on Wednesday, August 24, 2015.

This murder was committed while the victims were on live local television.  Shortly thereafter, the murderer uploaded the shooting from his own point of view to his Facebook and Twitter accounts.

That's right, this scumbag recorded his murderous act and uploaded it.

I won't link to the videos, as I think many of us have seen them, and honestly, I don't want contribute to the pain being felt by the friends and loved ones of the murder victims - Alison Parker and Adam Ward - and the survivor, Vicki Gardner.  I am also not interested in debating the merits of gun control here, nor racism or whatever else you want to try to blame for this act other than the scumbag who did the killing.

Like me, I hope you are filled with best wishes and sympathy those who loved Mr. Ward and Ms. Parker, and wish Ms. Gardner a speedy recovery.

Before I go further, let me state this very clearly - the victims are in no way responsible for anything that happened.  100% of the blame goes on the scumbag killer.  And no, I will not name him, as I don't want to contribute to his notoriety.

I've seen a lot of people second guessing the situation, and claiming that if any of the three had been armed, they might have survived, etc.  I don't know about that, and honestly, it's not what stood out to me.

These people didn't see this coming, not at all.

First, they were in a quiet, sparsely populated semi-rural area in the early morning.  Not a place most people would expect violence to occur.  I bet most of us wouldn't have been on any special alert for anything bad to happen (if you're honest with yourself, anyway).

Second, all three were focused on each other - Ms. Parker and Mr. Ward due to the nature of their jobs, and Ms. Gardner because she's being interviewed and is focused on the process of that.

It's especially striking as the perp walked up to them, brandished and then lowered his weapon once, before finally raising it again and firing - there seemed to be some time to react before he actually fires.  If anybody had been engaged in situational awareness at all, it's possible that one or more of the victims could have responded in some way.

We'll never know, of course, and it's very possible that nothing they could have done would have changed the outcome.

For me, the lesson from Virginia isn't about carrying (or not carrying) weapons, or anything in the terms of physical resistance to an attack, really - it's the lesson of situtional awareness.

It's unreasonable to expect any of the three would be engaged in being hyper-aware of their surroundings.  The cameraman is not aware of anything he doesn't see through his lens.  The reporter is focused on giving a good interview for the camera.  The interviewee is focused on trying to get her points across to the live audience.

The scumbag killer knows all this, and takes supreme advantage of it.

I can't help but think if there were a third person - a helper of sorts, maybe - for the news crew, that maybe, just maybe, the scumbag murderer's approach may have been noted, and maybe the alarm raised.

Not saying it would have saved anybody for sure, because that's impossible to know.  I just can't help thinking that maybe they'd had a better chance, is all.  I'm sure for people in the business, they'll say that's impractical due to the cost, and that's also something we have to consider, too.

This isn't the first - or only - assault on a reporter in the field, this is just one of the worst.  A helper on the team, maybe even someone with self defense and/or martial arts training, might help alleviate the danger for reporters just doing their jobs.

It also occurred to me that there's a big lesson here for those of us who teach self defense.

We martial artists tend to spend a lot of time on the physical aspects - dealing with physical attacks, hurting the bad guy, and escaping.  I think we could - and should - spend a lot more of our time on situation awareness training if we claim to be serious about self defense.

We can't just stay focused on punching and kicking (or shooting, if we teach people to carry firearms in self defense where it's legal to do so).

I'm sure in the coming days there will be more lessons to learn.

Right now, I'm sickened and appalled that any human being could conceive, plan, and carry through on such an evil act, much less record it for the world to see from his point of view and share it.

I'll leave it to others to make their political and social points in the wake of this tragedy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

True to Form

Like many other martial arts, Modern Arnis has forms (kata) - we call them "anyos".

We have forms with a weapon, and forms that are empty hand.  There are four (well, technically five, when you string them together) weapons anyos, and ten empty hand anyos.

Me doing Anyo Tatlo in competition. Hey, I took 2nd place!

We are lucky in that Professor left us recordings of the anyos as he originally created them, as well as we still have plenty of his first generation students teaching the anyos.  There's very little ambiguity or guessing as to what's going on.

Some of us love the anyos and teach them as important and integral parts of the art. But some of us aren't as wild about the anyos and don't teach them at all.

I fall somewhere in the middle ground of those positions.

I think the anyos can be very helpful, but, I am glad we do not spend an inordinate amount of time and emphasis on them as other arts like the karate or taekwondo families of martial arts do.  I think if you do that, you end up trying to cram students into a specific interpretation and way of doing the anyo, and I'm not entirely certain that's what is supposed to be happening in our art.

If you look at the videos below, you'll see a bunch of variance in how the anyos are performed.  As my teacher tells it, Professor was good with that, as a person with a background in, say, a hard art like Karate is going to do a form very differently than somebody with a background in a very different tradition, like Kung Fu.

Like the rest of the art, we can make the anyo conform to each individual Arnis player.

So, here's Datu Tim Hartman with Anyo Isa - the "classical" version and the version they do in the WMAA.  I use this as a reference video often.

Click here if you can't see the video.

Here's Anyo Isa from the World Modern Martial Arts Academy.  Note how this version is 100% a blunt weapon interpretation (versus sword) - I like this one a lot.

Click here if you can't see the video.

And here is a classic video of all four anyos from the late Bob Quinn. This is another video I use as reference all the time.

Click here if you can't see the video.

As you can see, all three versions are similar, but not identical.  Heck, we see variance within our own school - and that's ok!

So tell me about your forms, if you have them - is there only one way to do them, or are you more flexible?  Do you know what the meaning of each movement is?  I'd love to talk about it!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Sumbrada with the Big Stick

Before I begin this...  as long-time readers of this blog know, I am very, very wary of people trying to learn martial arts techniques via video only.  Therefore, please do not attempt to copy what you see here unless you are already pretty well versed in the concepts and weapons.  What is shown here can be very dangerous if performed by people who do not have some experience already.

Sumbrada (sometimes called a box drill) is a drill in the FMA's where two people trade off a set of strikes and blocks.  Each partner "shadows" the other, back and forth, and eventually, each partner will end up trading the same set of strikes and blocks.

Here's the guys at the Kali Center explaining the basics of sumbrada.

Click here if you can't see the video.

There are tons of variations of sumbrada, including free-flow where the strikes aren't necessarily pre-determined and aren't perfectly shadowed.

It's a fun and useful drill.  In fact, it was one of the first drills I ever learned, and we play it often. I was playing sumbrada when I had the worst injury I've ever sustained in the martial arts - a torn calf muscle - and ended up sitting on my butt reading books by Professor on the sidelines for six weeks.  It's a fast moving drill, and you can play it so many ways - long range, short range, inserts, variants on the strikes...
I'm trying to trap his elbow just enough to slow him down so he can't defend
against the #12 strike (top of the head) that's coming.  I'm mean that way

My teacher, +Mark Lynn, has adapted the sumbrada patterns to the Kobudo weapons.  Thus far, we've been focused on bo and tonfa (because the current crop of Kobudo white belts - of which I am one -  are studying bo and will be starting tonfa in the fall, and the Kobudo black belts are working on tonfa vs. bo material now).

I wanted to share with you some clips of this work, as I think you guys will enjoy it - especially those of you who are Kobudo students.

The first one is what FMA players will recognize as a standard #1-#3-#12 sumbrada.  This is what we'd call the basic, #1 sumbrada with the bo.

Click here if you can't see the video.

I've removed the audio, by the way, because we were doing a lot of talking that isn't really relevant outside our training group.

You may have noticed that there are a bunch of "holes" in this drill set - that is, lots of openings for attack and counter attack.  This is partly by design of this drill - eventually, while playing the drill, you "see" the holes and take advantage of them.  We have deliberately kept our thinking in line with the one-steps and forms we've learned - our Bo Ichi, Shuji No Kon Sho, and a form called Shihon No Bo - in order to support the forms and to show how they are, in fact, applicable in flow.

The #2 sumbrada with the bo takes a move out of our Bo Ichi and inserts it at the #12 strike - a "high low high" strike/blocking pattern.

Click here if you can't see the video.

As you can see, you really need to be on the ball with this one, as a mistake could end up with you getting a bo strike to the chin!

The #3 sumbrada we came up with takes a move directly from Shuji No Kon Sho.  We've actually found another variant (not on video) that works as well, but the targets are slightly different.

Click here if you can't see the video.

I came up with this variant, and Mark, being the kind of teacher he is, incorporated it into what he's teaching.  This one, as you can see, has the potential to disarm your partner (as Mark does to me, and as we've verified playing this a bunch of times).  We actually have a second variant that we haven't filmed that involves a pass versus a block, but it's still the same exact set of moves out of Shuji No Kon Sho.

One more thing on the bo sumbrada - we were working another time on trying to incorporate other moves, specifically a poking strike.  This is where we were looking at one of the more obvious holes in the sumbrada and were speculating on ways to "fill" it.

Click here if you can't see the video.

This is another one where you really better be paying attention or you'll eat the bo.

Finally, I'd like to share with you Mark's really awesome bo vs. tonfa sumbrada.  What's cool about this is that it's not strictly mirrored, because it can't be!  The bo is a very different beast than tonfa, in terms of range, power and strategy.  Thus, it's not truly "shadowed" as a basic, traditional sumbrada drill typically is.

I left the audio because Mark is explaining the tonfa side (for the most part) and I think you'll find that interesting.

Click here if you can't see the video.

If you think that there's a little bit of a pucker factor when he flips that tonfa at my head - you would be correct.

So, these are the ways that Mark has adapted the sumbrada drill to Kobudo weapons.  If you know sumbrada, and know other weapons - you can do it too!  This is one huge benefit of cross training - discovering where a different point of view might actually help you to learn what you already know a little better than you did.

Have you adopted the training methodology of one art to the weapons (or other principles) of another art?  I'd love to know your experiences!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Value of Values

One of the main "taglines" for our martial arts school is "Modern Martial Arts with Traditional Values".

What we mean by this is that we teach a modern martial art without a lot of the traditional martial arts trappings like uniforms and belts and yelling and learning a bunch of foreign words and etiquette, but we still teach and try to live a lot of what most of us think are "traditional" martial arts values.

I wrote about this not long ago and you guys were very helpful in that regard, thanks.

Image found here.

I've been thinking about values, and how we, as martial artists and martial arts teachers, tend to emphasize these to our students, but... we don't live it.

Going by how people have responded when I ask about it, it seems like most of us believe that values such as honor, integrity, courtesy, etc. are critical when it comes to being a martial artist and living the martial arts way.  Indeed, some of us will claim not teaching moral and ethical values along with martial arts skills make it a lesser martial art (or not really a martial art at all).

If that's so, how come we don't live those values, especially online?

This is partly due to the phenomenon of people being ruder online than they would normally be in real life.  There's lots of discussion about this out there, but here's a nice article that talks about it more detail:   Why Are People So Damn Rude Online?

Frankly, I've found myself enjoying online martial arts communities less and less, as I see far less substantive discussion based on mutual respect and a desire to learn and share about the topic we're all passionate about, and more commentary that is derogatory, prideful, sexist and racist, and disrespectful of honest difference of opinion, to the point that people get into online (and even offline) brawls over it.

It's the same hackneyed "My art is awesome and yours sucks!" and "If you disagree with me I'll beat you up!" and "If you don't do what I do, you're a weak, womanish scumbag!" (because womanish, for some people, is the worst possible thing you can be).

Combine that with the incredible amount of people out there who do not train seriously but claim to know as much as people who do, or have fraudulent lineages or training... it's just not very fun or interesting. I find I spend time in these communities now to find new Martial Arts bloggers I can read, follow, and interact with privately, as that's more useful in the long run.

This is a huge problem on Facebook but I've even had to block people on Google Plus (which is rare - G+ is a MUCH better forum for substantive and respectful discussion than most other social media channels by far).  Really, any martial arts community online that isn't heavily moderated is going to be this way, and even the moderated forums have problems.

I'm not claiming I'm innocent in this - I, too, have had my share of this behavior, and if you're honest with yourself, so have you.  We martial artists are not immune - in some way, we're worse, because theoretically (at least for those of us who claim to follow the path of Budo or other well-known value systems in the martial arts) we know better.

So, if this is true, what is the real value of teaching ethical values in the martial arts?

If we don't - and maybe we can't - live those values in our daily lives, what's the point of it?  Is it the attempt to teach what is ideal and hope we all try to live up to it?

I'd really like to know what you think about this - and how we can work on being better at living what we teach.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Let's Talk Sticks

We recently had to order a lot of arnis sticks for our martial arts school, and I thought I'd give you some perspective on what it's been like for us to order them, work with them, keep them in repair for as long as possible, and pros and cons of different materials that I have experience with.

You may have different opinions and experiences - and if you do, please do make comments because I'd love to collect all sorts of tips on this topic!

NOTE: We work with 26-28" long sticks in my style. Yours may be longer or shorter, and go with the same length your partners work with.



You can find a lot of resources online to purchase rattan - and you want RATTAN, not bamboo, it's easy to confuse the two.  We've been buying from Frank's Canes in large lots to keep the costs down.

You can make your own by buying longer lengths of rattan and cutting them down, and here's some excellent guides to do that:

Stickgrappler - Fashioning Your Own Sticks

Stickman - Secrets of Rattan

How to: Homemade Rattan/Yantok Arnis Sticks (video)

But I don't have the time or inclination to make my own, so I purchase them pre-cut (28") and pre-straightened.

For day-in, day-out work we like to buy the rattan that has NOT been shaved, because I think it feels more substantial in the hand.  You may prefer shaved sticks -  I don't think it matters much in terms of durability, as a training partner of mine has shaved sticks and his have lasted several years now.

One thing to really understand is that a small difference in diameter - a matter of 1/4 inch (about 6mm for our friends who use metric) bigger or smaller - results in a HUGE difference in the size of the stick in the hand.

Below are 3/4 inch (1.9 cm), 1 inch (2.5 cm), and 1-1/4 inch (3.175 cm) diameter sticks.

We use the 3/4 inch for our Kids Arnis program.  Our adults have been loving the 1-1/4 inch for the workout they provide (they are heavy!).  Me, I typically work with a 1 inch diameter stick, because I have small hands.

One note - I find that the thinner the stick, the more likely it seems to be for people to put out a thumb or finger to steady the stick, for some reason. I'm not sure exactly why this is, but it seems to be true - heavier sticks seem to train people to keep a proper closed grip. Maybe they feel like they have to, I guess, or the stick will fly out?

As for glossy finishes, burn patterns, and what have you - if you enjoy that stuff, have at it.  Personally, I can take it or leave it.  The glossy finishes can chip and flake over time and feel sorta sticky in my hand sometimes, and I don't seem to get that slightly-burning hot rattan smell when we're playing hard and fast.

The smell of hot rattan is AWESOME and not something I want to give up for my sticks to look pretty.

I love the smell of burning rattan in the morning.

I strongly prefer to avoid the fancy carvings in the ends.  I think it weakens the stick a little bit, and I'm always afraid of getting a cut from one of those notches.

Working sticks are going to get broken, taped over, and will eventually die an honorable death, so they won't get to be pretty forever anyway!

Oil curing rattan sticks: it's not something I've done, but you can buy oiled sticks (for example here) or oil cure your own.  Since I found ZERO reference online on how to do this, I asked my friend Stickgrappler over on Facebook if he had a reference, and his friends Don Wagner and Kevin Badger Jones chimed in with the following advice:

Get a 1 meter/3 foot PVC pipe (longer than your stick) and get two caps for it.  Cap it, and fill the pvc with linseed oil.  You can try drying out your sticks in an oven at 350 degrees until they stop steaming, but Don (in favor) and Kevin (not in favor) were split on this step.  Put the stick in the PVC pipe, and leave it for a few weeks.  Then remove the stick, wipe it clean, let it dry, and cover the ends with glue.

Any mistakes here are in my own understanding, not in their advice.

Again, I've never done it, but that's the advice I've been given - let me know if you do it and how it works for you.


Other than rattan, I've worked with white waxwood sticks, the Cold Steel Polypropylene stick, and bahi sticks.

I like white waxwood a lot.  They're tough (I have a pair that are seven years old and still going strong), they vibrate less in the hand, they're not very heavy (about the same as rattan) and they feel really good in the palm.  The problem is that they are incredibly LOUD and if used repeatedly against rattan sticks, will cause the rattan stick to break a little sooner than they should.  I think if you go the white waxwood route, everybody training should use the same material.  But be aware that if you do, it's going to get REALLY loud in small enclosed spaces, like a garage.

I do not like the Cold Steel polypropylene sticks much, personally, but I see why other people are liking them a lot. They're incredibly durable, so the cost is very reasonable all things considered, and they are a little quieter than natural woods.  But... by default they come far too long for my art and cutting them down is harder than you'd think.  We've done that, and the cut end isn't quite as... finished... as the other end.  The poly sticks are also a VERY dead stick in the hand (white waxwood still vibrates, just not as much as rattan), are very heavy, and honestly, I don't find them to be comfortable in my hand like the natural woods are.  I suspect you'll have the "shred rattan" problem white waxwood, bahi, and other hard woods would have vs. rattan, because they're so hard.  I use mine for bag work only.

Bahi - I love, love, love my bahi sticks.  BUT - not for everyday use.  First, they're slightly too long by default (no way I'm cutting them), they're heavy, they can dent vs. other hardwoods, and honestly, I wouldn't want to get accidentally hit by them (versus rattan, which sucks but doesn't hurt much by comparison). I think you could end up with something broken!  My bahi sticks (and if you get kamagong, you'll have the same problem) are real-deal fighting sticks, not training sticks.  I use them for bag work and for forms when I want to be fancy.  They feel AWESOME in the palm and are very dense and heavy - the best of all the sticks I own.


If you want to cure or burn your rattan sticks, see the above links for tips.  I typically never do this, myself.  I'm just too lazy for it, and honestly, my working sticks are there to work, not look super pretty.  If you need to straighten them - sometimes happens - do look at the first link above (Stickgrappler's post) which has some great tips on straightening the rattan.

Even run-of-the-mill but straight plain-jane rattan sticks might have rough edges, either at the tips or along the nodes.  You can use a Dremmel tool or sandpaper to smooth the edges out on the tips and at the nodes, and to remove jagged pieces of rattan skin that might be left.  Some people like to tape the nodes with electrical tape.

For "kid" sticks, you want to cut down sticks to 24" or so (depending on the child) if you use 26-28" or longer sticks like we do.  If you do cut them down, be sure to sand down the cut edge. Sharp edges easily lead to cuts.

Always be sure to mark the end of your sticks with a something to tell that they're yours. Most people use their initials (I'm not most people - mine are marked, as you can see in my profile picture, with the number 23). If your tips are burned and darkened,  you can use liquid white-out or a bright fingernail polish.


Long story short, if you hit stuff with your rattan sticks, they are going to eventually crack and break. When they crack, unless they are BUSTED (like below), you can easily repair it with electrical tape. Wrap it around the crack a few times, and you're back in business.

Then, you really should hold the end with the tape to extend the life of your stick as much as possible.

We used to use duct tape, which is stronger than electrical, but over time, it gets gummy and heavy, and it made it difficult to use the duct-taped side of the stick. It becomes a club. We keep electrical tape in our stick bag for repairs - but I've heard some people use medical tape as well, which is even lighter than electrical.  You can also use hockey tape - I don't generally use it but some folks swear by it.

Over time, you'll find yourself preferring one end of the stick to the other (yes, you can tell which is which), and by default, the other less-preferred end will get most of the damage.  Don't get too attached to the idea that your stick has a "handle", because that way, making the switch to primarily using the other end is much easier.

One big downside of heavily taped sticks, though, is that they tend to get "sticky" to other sticks. This can cause a hitch or two in drills like sumbrada.

Don't let your sticks get (and stay) wet, because rattan will absorb the water and warp.  I tend to keep my sticks in my stick bag (which is just a re-purposed softball bag), away from the elements if at all possible.

Just to be extra cautious, you might want to store them long-term flat (versus standing up), especially if you live somewhere really humid.  White oak and other larger weapons, if stored leaning against something, will warp.  I've never had that happen to any of my rattan (or white waxwood or other sticks) but theoretically, I would suppose it's possible with rattan as well, although I've never seen it personally (I've lived in relatively dry environments since I started playing Arnis).

Eventually, your rattan stick is probably going to end up like this:

Depending on where the break is, you can cut it down and use it as a palmstick (dulo-dulo), Other than that... I'm open for suggestions on what to do with broken sticks.  I've not quite solved that myself yet.

So there's my thoughts on the acquisition, preparation, and care of arnis sticks.  I'd like to hear YOUR experiences and tips!

Friday, August 14, 2015

FACE-OFF FRIDAY: Is MMA a Martial Art?


Let's consider "Mixed Martial Arts".

These days, there are people claiming to teach, train, and have rank in "Mixed Martial Arts".

Some people claim this is a legitimate natural progression in the combative arts and is becoming a new, accepted term for a hybrid modern martial art.

Others will claim that MMA is a blend of existing martial arts and is not actually a martial art in its own right.

But I want to know what YOU think.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Entropy Game

We had a really interesting discussion the other day about the nature of how we train, how we think, and chaos.

Pretty deep stuff for a martial arts training session, I know, but bear with me.

Then we talked about the nature of unconsciousness when I knocked him out.

One of my training partners is at the stage of his development where he's going from learning patterns and set responses to specific situations to having to learn how to act and react to what is in front of him.

My friend is a very organized and concrete thinker.  He's one of those people who likes things just so.  He is that kind of martial artist too, sort of - he works very hard at understanding the patterns of what we do, so he can competently execute what he's learned when presented with a specific situation.  He can do so with precision and skill.

That works very well, at the beginning of our journey.  We learn action and reaction, attack and defense, if (a) then (b).  If you're an organized mind, you can - and do - memorize all of this. This is the time where your training really boils down to "a collection of techniques".

The problem is, the nature of conflict and violence is that it is not organized or orderly.  It's chaotic, in the meaning of "unpredictable".  People don't always act or react in the ways we might expect. The technique you've learned for situation X may fail... so now what?  A guy doesn't attack in the way most advantageous for him (in fact, he does something really dumb) - how do you react?  What happens when you are presented with something outside the set of techniques you've memorized?

If you cling too much to patterns and order, you'll fail to act properly in chaotic situations.  You'll freeze during the fight.

This is one of the great leaps forward in development in our art - the ability to take the patterns and drills you've learned and apply them to more chaotic situations.  I suspect that this is also true for every martial artist reading this.

I think most of us train this way.  We start with basic, orderly patterns, isolated in time and space.  I punch, you block and react.  I kick, you avoid and react.  I do this, you do that. Over time, the incoming attack is more complex, and so is your response.  As you gain a lot more experience, there is less isolation in the attack, and the more options you have to cope with the situation you are presented with.

Thus, learning the martial arts is an entropy game. Training in an orderly way - known, set patterns and drills - eventually must lead to situations where it's unknown how or where an attack (or counter attack) will come.  We have to learn enough to be able to take what is presented to us and act, immediately, versus waiting for the patterns we recognize.

Image found here.

Of course, conflict is NOT a closed system, but an open one, and we can and do impose order (or patterns) on the situation at hand. But we can't expect to do so for very long.  The patterns will dissolve back into disorder once again, until we can impose order on it again.  And so on, and so on, as long as the conflict lasts.

This is not just the nature of how we train in the martial arts.  It's the nature of the known universe.  It's how things are.

We have to learn to live in a chaotic world - or rather, to survive in it. While we try our best to "arrange" the conflict to suit us, we aren't always successful in those attempts.  We have to have many ways to respond, depending upon what's presented to us - single attacker, multiple attacker, armed, unarmed, intent of the attacker, left or right handed, trained or not trained, range... we are bound to see what we don't expect to see.

We can't freeze when the unexpected happens.  We have to act and react, and we don't have time to think about it too much.

This is a "higher" skill level of the martial artist.  It's not being able to do so many techniques, or being able to kick or punch with perfect technique.  It's the ability to cope with the chaotic nature of conflict, and survive.

How do you play "the entropy game" in your training?  I'd love to know your thoughts!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Four Awesome Things About Being A Filipino Martial Artist

I've written about the downsides to being a Filipino Martial Artist, so now I'd like to talk about the upsides.

It's Exotic 

Being an extrovert, I've always been the type of person who likes standing out from the crowd.  I've had funky hair colors, unusual haircuts, and enjoy flashy jewelry.


When it comes to the local martial arts scene, we FMA players tend to stand out.  Our uniforms tend to be brighter (and of a different cut - when we wear them at all), many of us wear our belts the Modern Arnis way (knot on the right hip), and we always have our sticks with us at a minimum.

Other martial artists  - after they realize that it's a thing - tend to ask a lot of questions about who we are, and what we do.  It's like being a person with a heavy English accent (any kind or any region) living in the United States - we find it glamorous and interesting and we love to listen to that person talk.

It's Versatile

The basic FMA training methodology has students learning to fight with a weapon first, then progressing to the empty hand.  It involves a lot of drills that gives a person a lot of repetitions, often with both your strong hand and your weapons.  Our sticks are often taught as stand-ins for other weapons (like a machete), we typically study more than one length of weapons, usually a knife, and we often study using weapons in both hands as well as just one hand.

This leaves us with the ability to be pretty flexible when it comes to using other weapons, (such as many of the Japanese or Okinawan weapons) as well as being able to find and use weapons of opportunity we'd find around us (like pens, or broom handles or what have you).

We're basically the MacGyver of the Martial Arts.
Image found here.

It's not that we'd use a weapon - such as a tonfa or sai - from another tradition AS that tradition would.  It means that we can use our own methodology and adapt that weapon to what we already know very quickly.  I can do Arnis with Okinawan weapons - I have, many times, even before I started studying them.

Combine that with the empty hand training - I'd say it makes us pretty darn flexible as martial artists go.

We tend to have a "Meritocracy"

I wrote that lineage in the FMA's can be a tricky business.  But the flip side of that, is that it means a little less who you studied with or under in our culture.

That is, we tend to judge each other not by who our teachers are, but by our own individual merit.  Ultimately, it doesn't matter much if I studied with one of the most prestigious teachers of my art; what matters is how I play my art myself.

In this, we're a lot like the combat sports, where your win/loss record is more important vs. who your coach is.

This also makes us a little more egalitarian, which I think will make us more attractive to people in the West over time.  I prefer a more democratic environment, so that suits me really well.

The FMA's Are the "Art of Choice" for Hollywood Fight Scenes

We are still waiting for our "Bloodsport" or "Enter the Dragon" or "Karate Kid" (the real one - the Ralph Macchio one) - the movie or TV show that will make the Filipino Martial Arts known and more in demand with folks looking to try the martial arts.

But over the past ten years or so, Hollywood fight scenes have borrowed more and more from the Filipino Martial Arts.   From the "Bourne" movies, to the "Arrow" television show, to the film "I, Frankenstein", to "Mission Impossible"... more and more, anything weapons-based on film is coming from the FMA tradition.

Diana Lee Inosanto and Melissa McCarthy training for "Spy".
Image found on Cold Steel's Instagram page here
Ed Skrein, who played Francis - um, I mean "Ajax" - in the new Deadpool movie - was exposed to kali (among other arts) and calls Kali his "fitness obsession" in this interview here.

So it's a cool time to be studying FMA's, as we can say, "Nightwing?  Yeah, you can learn to fight like him."

So there's four awesome things about being a Filipino Martial Artist.  Do you have more?  I'd love to hear them!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Why I'm Against Online Dojos

Technology is an amazing thing, and in many ways, have made the life of a modern martial artist better than ever.

One development that bothers me, though, is the idea that one can learn a complete martial art from scratch via an "online dojo" - which is really just an easier and faster way of learning by book or video or DVD.


So when I say "online dojo" I mean those older methods too.

There's a lot of online dojos out there (and I've written about a specific one here and here).  There are also plenty of people with fraudulent martial arts claims trying to make a quick buck off of the unsuspecting naive (typically) young martial artist.

But there are good and respected martial artists getting on this bandwagon too, and that bothers me a lot more.

Let me state up front that I believe that video can absolutely be helpful to supplement an experienced martial artist's training.  Going to a seminar and then buying a DVD of some of the material covered in depth to watch after is perfectly fine.  Using your teacher's supplemental videos to help you study at home is great, too.

Both of those examples involve live training with other people, though, in something you've been shown live.

I'm talking about the claim that you can learn a martial art, by yourself, never training with another person or a teacher in person in what is being taught, via video.

We see this a lot with weapons, usually performance martial arts.  Usually these are not actually teaching how to use a weapon, it's teaching someone how to do a form holding a weapon, or tricking with it (like bo spinning - which isn't that hard).

Using any weapon without proper supervision of someone who has experience and is trained is incredibly dangerous, including the XMA-style performance martial arts dancing stuff.  All you gotta do is google a weapon and the word "fail" to see numerous examples that people were willing to put online.

So easy when you use the word "nunchucks".

It's no better in the empty hand arts.

My criticism fundamentally boils down to this:

How can a student be certain he or she is practicing the proper stance, the proper footwork, the proper angles, without someone experienced watching over him or her and being corrected?

How do you prevent students from developing very bad habits at home that could hurt themselves or other people?

And finally, if you offer an online dojo program...

Would you ever claim that your online dojo student is as good as the equivalent student who studies with you in person?

If you do (and you see this, and you think I'm full of it)... I'd like to see some proof that an online student IS as good as a student that studies in-person with you.  For example, let's see an example of an online student winning an official sanctioned tournament - but please, for something other than dancing with weapons (which most tournament weapons competitions are), because that's not that hard to do, even without your tutelage.

If you wouldn't make that claim, then  why offer inferior training under your name?  Because these online students believe you are making them as good as your in-person students at a fraction of the cost.  They are YOUR students, in YOUR lineage.

Why water down your legacy like this?

I'd like to know what you think about online dojos (and that includes learning by book, video, DVD...).  Did you learn this way?  What was your experience?  I'd love to know!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Four Downsides to Being a Filipino Martial Artist

I love Arnis, I really do.

I love weapons, I love the practicality, I love how it conforms to me (versus the other way around) and I love that it's a living art, always growing and changing.

But there are a few downsides to being a Filipino Martial Artist.

Nobody Knows What It Is

Even inside the martial arts community, Filipino Martial Arts are relatively obscure.
Yes, it's a thing.  I promise.

For example, take what happened when I started my kobudo class a year or so ago. I wear my belt the correct way - for me, anyway, which is knot on the right hip - I had to explain that no, I wasn't making a mistake and that my belt is not crooked. That's the way we wear it in Arnis - and I am an Arnis black belt - so I'm wearing it correctly.

When I said the word "Arnis" (and the other common names for my art - escrima and kali), I got a lot of blank looks.  And this is in an organization where my teacher has been active for years, and has taught many seminars on techniques we use in the Filipino Martial Arts!

Go outside the martial arts community, and it's worse.  It's usually just easier to say "Filipino Karate" and leave it at that.

People Misunderstand What the Sticks Are For

Some people, thinking that they're being clever, will say, "Why do you train with that stick?  You don't walk around with a stick in your hand!"

Except for sheriffs in corrupt small towns.

This invariably comes from primarily empty-hand martial artists.

Our training methodology starts with the easier thing to learn - weapons - and moves to the harder thing to learn - empty hand.  Its similar to how soldiers or warriors typically train - they'd never start empty handed first; they start weapons, then then they learn empty hand combat (if they did at all).

Also, we use the stick as a stand-in for lots of things - improvised weapons, for example, but also edged weapons like machetes .

Finally, we understand that much of what we learn to do with sticks is also for the empty hand, so we're actually training both at the same time.

Lineage and "Style" Can Be Tricky

It's not uncommon for martial artists in other arts to discuss lineage.   We do have lineage - kinda - in the FMA's, but it's not always the same thing as other arts.

For example, although I use the term "Modern Arnis" a lot, I actually study and teach Presas Arnis, which is my teacher's blend of techniques from Modern Arnis (Remy Presas) and Kombatan (Ernesto Presas), via Hock Hochheim (but he doesn't use Hock's curriculum).  Modern Arnis itself is a blend of many different FMA lineages as well as including elements of Small Circle Jiu Jitsu and Kyusho (pressure points).

So what I have a black belt in is not exactly the same as Presas Arnis taught by other groups/people (such as that taught by Datu Tim Hartman's World Modern Arnis Alliance).  It's my teacher's blend of the two (plus elements of other things he's studied as well).

My Black Belt Certification

In other arts, this is sometimes seen as problematic - because it looks like my teacher has created his own art.  This is not actually true - he hasn't and doesn't claim such.  But I do things and know techniques that Modern Arnis players don't typically know, at least in the United States (in the Philippines, it's different - of course), because of the Kombatan stuff we do.

But because FMA people are constantly training with different teachers, groups and traditions, and are always pressure testing and changing and innovating stuff...

It's hard to say the difference between (X) style and (Y) style to people outside the FMA's (heck, sometimes it's hard within the FMA's as well).  There's so much commonality, and then there's big differences too (such as being 100% blade vs. blunt or blunt/blade).  Some of us stick spar, and some of us don't (we don't, much, actually).

So, yeah, lineage and styles are not as concrete a thing with us as they are in other arts.

One other thing that makes it tricky - there are as many different version of the Filipino Martial Arts - lineages and teachers - as there are families and islands in the Philippines.  So while I know about the close relatives of my art (like Balintawak), I may not know much about lineages coming from other parts of the Philippines, especially Luzon or Mindanao (versus the central Visayas).  So I can't say much about how "legit" one linage of FMA might be - because the concept isn't exactly the same as in other traditions.

People Think We Can't Fight Empty Handed

This is related to the "misunderstanding the sticks" thing, and I think that's partly bad marketing on our part.

You tend to see FMA videos and demos that are weapons based - sticks, swords, and knives.  This is because it's our core reputation, and what differentiates us in the martial arts world.  It's exotic, and kinda flashy.

It's the cool stuff.

If you can't see the video, click here.

In the above demo, you see a lot of flashy stick/blade work, right? Because that's what you want to see, it's what we tend to do.

And thus, the reputation that we're ONLY a weapons art, and that we can't fight empty handed.

Not true, guys.  We do kicks, punches, locks, takedowns... just like you empty hand guys do. Our version just isn't as flashy, and at least speaking for my art, we tend to stay in medium/close range, so you won't see big flashy high kicks in our art.

For example, here's a clip of Professor Remy Presas of Modern Arnis teaching/talking about empty hand stuff.

Click here if you can't see the video.

So yes, we can totally fight empty handed, and we train it all the time.  You just don't see it much outside of our own community, because you guys always want to see us bang sticks instead.

So, there's some of the downsides to being a Filipino Martial Artist.  If you play an FMA, what else do you struggle with?  I bet those of you who play even more obscure (in the west) martial arts have similar issues - I'd love to hear about it!