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!