Monday, January 30, 2017

One is the Loneliest Martial Arts Number

It's very common, in online martial arts communities, for there to be someone asking for advice about training solo and seeking online resources for assistance.

Invariably, the answer will be that you can't effectively train in the martial arts solo.  That to really understand what we do, you must work with other people (you cannot imagine how people can and do move, you must see it to understand).

Yours truly (left) getting schooled.

The excuse for solo training is usually that the individual in question can't find anybody to train him or her nearby, or, that they don't have enough money to train.  We experienced martial artists - especially those of us who have moved around (like I have) know that there's plenty of ways to train legitimately with people in real life that don't cost an arm and a leg, and it's the rare place (even small towns) that doesn't have someone offering training or that you can find to work with informally.

I know what you're thinking, Mr. Solo Training Guy.  I don't know how hard it is to find people to train with.  I would point out that I did start in a commercial school initially but I moved cross-country a couple of times to places my training partners in Mississippi did not have connections to, so I had to search hard for people to train with. Heck, I trained in tai chi in Las Vegas for free, in the park near my house at the time via Meetup,com at one point.  So I know it can be done because I've actually done it.

It sucks that a lot of good and great martial artists and training groups suck at the internet, so they can be hard to find.  I do feel your pain.

My advice is to KEEP TRYING.

By the way, the other solo training excuse I see a lot is that they "don't have the time" to get with other people to train.

Yeeeeeaaahhh... no.

And that's all I have to say about that one.

I know I've said it before, and I'll say it again now, and I know I'll be saying it in the future.

Solo training is NOT the way to train as the primary way to learn martial arts.

Solo training - practice, of course - and video instruction as a supplement to live training is absolutely useful. I totally agree there.   But to train solo, all the time... nope, that's not gonna work, sorry.  Nope, you're not different than the rest of us.  You need at least one training partner to work with.

A very real, but usually underappreciated, consequence is the loneliness and the lack of community that solo training brings.

Generally speaking, outside of "Oh, that person is a martial artist" and all of the attendant misconceptions people have about our weird little hobby (hands as registered weapons with the cops, chop-socky hands, "I bet you could kick my ass", etc.) - nobody really cares about what we do.

I know, it's hard to believe, but nope, the normals really don't care about the interpretations of that kata you're working on, or a deep analysis of that last UFC fight, or that latest insight on how you might use a weapon in a specific situation.

Dr. Cox is a normal.

So it's a relief when you get together with like minded people and can share in the community that a common interest brings.

A few other benefits of training with other people is that you get to explore ideas you can't figure out by yourself, you get to get exposed to viewpoints that are different than yours, and you get your assumptions challenged.  It not only makes you grow as an individual martial artist, you also get that warm sense of community that such interactions bring.

I can tell you that the very best training experiences I've ever had were ones where I felt accepted as part of a community.  Nothing - and I mean nothing - beats that feeling.  I'm a relatively extroverted person who doesn't have much trouble in social situations, mind you, but I've seen introverted people who struggle with social awkwardness come alive in these training situations.

It's a kind of happiness you can't get training by yourself.

If you're training solo, I advise you to work hard on seeking out live, in-person training partners.  If you're reading this, you're probably not in the Alaskan Bush or Antarctica or something, so I bet if you put yourself out there, you'll find other members of this hobby looking for people just like you.

Martial arts training should not be a lonely endeavor.

How do you connect with your martial arts tribe?  How do you think working with other people helps you?  Or do you think that solo training is not only okay, but preferable?  I want to know what YOU think!

Update, July 2018:  I moved a month ago, and I can tell you, for a fact, that this post is absolutely true.  We sought out the martial arts on Meetup in our new city, found one (and it's free to attend, y'all), got talking to the organizer, and through him I was introduced to my new full-time karate teacher.  So no, I'm not buying the argument that there's nowhere to train or that everything costs too much, guys. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

My Week in Stick Chicktivity - 01/28/17

Here's how my week of training, writing, teaching, and miscellaneous Filipino Martial Arts-y goodness went.

What have you been up to this week?


Saturday: "Normal" Saturday - kobudo, arnis, and a little bit of Okinawan Karate club practice.  I finally hurt myself with my nunchaku - my stance was wrong and my angle of striking was slightly off and I hit myself on the bone just above my ankle.  That was fun.
Sunday:  Hubby trained while I did chores.
Monday:   My night off.
Tuesday:   Taught at Mid-Cities Arnis.  We're working on the mechanics of stances and kicks.  We introduced the walking cane as a weapon in our adult class.
Wednesday:  I was sick and couldn't go to class.  Which I really needed, dammit.
Thursday:  Taught class at Mid-Cities Arnis.  Worked on striking mechanics and strike/kick combos.  Worked on the Dos Manos drill in the adult class.
Friday:  Taught class at Mid-Cities Arnis.  Sinawali and stick sparring.

No new pics of me this week, so this one is from our last gathering. We have another one today.


Here's the original content I posted this week:
Monday:  Newbs, Peers, and Experts - Why You Must Train With Each
Wednesday:  Reputation and Rank

And here's what I re-shared this week:
Tuesday:   Pondering Promotions
Thursday:  Rank Hath No Privilege
Friday:  FACE-OFF FRIDAY: Earning Rank Online


If you haven't had this happen to you practicing disarms, you haven't done it enough.  I love it when "Enter the Dojo" is well-grounded in truth.

Here's a fantastic interview with +Hock Hochheim you should read: 10 Questions with Hock Hochheim

And here is a very thought-provoking look at self defense and knife attacks.  Self-Defence Against Knife Attacks: A Full Review


I usually write this on Saturday mornings, but today I got up at the crack of dawn (before dawn, by a couple of hours, actually) so we could drive down to Houston for our first intra-state Texas Modern Arnis Coalition gathering.

This is basically the same deal where we have been getting together here in DFW to train our brown belts, but including our Houston area friends.  We're planning on getting together twice a year, and this is the first one (hey, if we're going to go to Houston, do it in January, right?  We'll host it some time later this year).

We will also be going to the shooting range Saturday night- and it's been FOREVER since I've been so I'm stoked - and then on Sunday we are going to go to the Space Center before driving back home.  It's going to be a long, busy weekend of training and fun!

And for my friends who celebrate it, Happy Lunar New Year!  Have a happy and prosperous Year of the Rooster!

So what did YOU do this week?  What did you train? What did you teach?  Did you see any really cool martial arts stuff online?  Let me know!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Reputation and Rank

Rank is a big thing in the martial arts, isn't it?

Who's got which rank, and from whom, whether or not a person is worthy of the rank bestowed upon them (on in some cases, that they've purchased or conferred upon themselves), the privileges and responsibilities that rank implies, how we confer it upon each other, and what rank means in our style and the martial arts in general.

Heck, I write about it all the time here on this blog, don't I?


It's something deeply ingrained in our culture.  Even in arts that don't have "ranks" - they still have mechanisms that function as ranks in other styles (such as fight records or levels of instructorship).

One aspect of rank that I've been thinking about a lot is how it functions as a short-cut to creating a reputation for each of us.

That is, outside of the people that we train with on a daily basis, our rank is a way for other people to create judgments about us when they don't know us well.   They can generally assess what skill level we might have, how much knowledge we might have, what we can and can't do on the mat without having to run us through our paces.

Rank tells them what they expect from us and how much they can trust us and our ability and skill.

If I claim to be a high-degree black belt in a style, I better be able to prove it on the mat against skilled people in my style, period.  It's expected that I can do so at a level that is markedly different than, say, a mid-kyu level belt or even an 1st degree black belt in my art.  Or, if I am injured or aged, I might not be able to do everything a younger or able bodied person can do physically, but I understand the deeper levels of my art and can at least articulate or teach it.

If I can't, my reputation (rightly) suffers.

That's important, because reputation goes hand-in-hand with rank in the martial arts.  It also affects those around us as well as ourselves directly.

I am a 2nd Degree Black Belt in my style.  My skill level when playing with others is a reflection of my teacher and my training partners and those who signed off on my certificates as well as myself.  So it's important that I display the skill level my teacher says I have, because it's not just my own reputation on the line, it's his, too.

If a teacher or organization confers rank upon someone who doesn't seem to display the skill set or understanding that rank implies, then the teacher or organization's reputation will suffer in the wider martial arts world.

Or to put it in simpler terms: If I suck, it implies that my teacher does, too.

It's true, but I swear, it's NOT HIS FAULT!

This reputation and rank thing goes both ways, though.

If get my rank from someone well known and respected, my reputation is better than someone getting the same rank from someone unknown.  A black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from a Gracie family member is a much bigger deal than from Joe Schmoe in Nowhere, Kansas, right?

Of course it is.

So if I get my rank from a teacher or organization with a poor reputation - a black belt mill that sells rank - I could be the world's best martial artist ever but my reputation will always be tainted, and my rank always questioned because of the reputation of those who conferred it.

Over time, reputation can and does change. If you repeatedly prove yourself on the mat, regardless of your rank, you'll get the respect you've earned, maybe above (and regardless) that your official rank implies. Consequently, if you repeatedly epic fail in training, the benefit of the doubt you're given based on rank will be degraded.

After all, the proof is ultimately on the mat, isn't it?

One aside to this, and what got me thinking about it at all, is taking isolated instances and using them to judge a person's rank worthiness and reputation.  One instance - one fight - does not a martial artist make.

For example, I've had days where no matter how hard I worked and no matter what I did, my brain and body would not cooperate and I moved and looked like a beginner with no skill.  I've had other days where for some reason I was ON TOP OF EVERYTHING and looked like I really knew my stuff, way above the level I really am.

It takes time and repeated exposure to truly judge a martial artist's skill and "rank-worthiness". I don't think it's fair to damage (or enhance) a person's reputation based on a single outing or exposure, just like a short snippet of video is not enough to tell you much about a person or style's worthiness, either.

So how does rank and reputation go hand-in-hand in your style or art?  How is it earned or degraded?  I want to know what YOU think!

As an aside, I absolutely DID have this song running through my head while writing this post. Its message is not what I'm saying here at all, but heck, dude, it's Joan Jett.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Newbs, Peers, and Experts - Why You Must Train With Each

Most folks will tell you that to make real progress in the martial arts, you need to train with other people - that you can't train martial arts solo and be a truly "great" martial artist.

If you've read this blog for a while, you know that I totally agree with this point of view.  While solo training definitely has a place (and is necessary as well), I don't agree with folks who think you can only train by yourself and "learn" martial arts.


However, the benefits of training with other people vary, depending on the experience level of yourself and of person or people you're training with.  You run across all levels of experience in martial arts classes, training groups and meetups, and seminars.

Basically, you can train with people who are less experienced than you are, people who are equally experienced as you are, and people who are more experienced than you are.  You get something different from each.


When you train with people who are less experienced than you are, you end up being in "teacher mode", even if you're a relatively low rank yourself.  The benefit to you while you are doing this is that you end up having to think hard about what you do know, and discover ways to communicate that information that may be different than the way you think about it.

After all, if you really want to understand something, explain it to somebody else who doesn't think like you do.

This often happens to us in martial arts classes where we may not be instructor rank but the teacher trusts us enough to take newbies under our wing to work on basic techniques. Or we get paired up with a newbie at a seminar.  Or it could be a way to help us grow if we are studying long-distance and can only see our teacher once in a while (this is common in my style, actually).


This is your peer group, the people at the same level of understanding as you are.  What's great about training with peers is that you get to relax a bit and just "nerd out" a little.  That is, you and your friend(s) can settle in and just work hard, without having to slow down to explain to anybody else (or on the flip side, having to assimilate new information from someone more experienced).

I call this "play time", where you can just work hard and have fun.  I think it's less challenging than working with newbies (as you don't have to work as hard mentally to explain things) and also less stressful than working with higher ranks (as you aren't worrying about how you look to them, or trying to understand what they are doing).

It always devolves.

Play time is important, and you should make it part of your training every chance you get.


For continued growth, training with more experienced people is required.  There is always - ALWAYS - someone better than you are, either in time in the art or in skill or in talent.  I believe we have to be challenged in order to keep developing.  We have to be challenged.

You sharpen your knife on something hard and gritty, not something pliable and soft, right?  The same thing goes for your martial arts skills - you have to have someone better than you challenging them in order to keep them sharp.

Nobody wants a dull knife, right, Gordo?

There are many big-time famous top-ranked martial artists strapping on white belts in other arts and getting back in student mode, for example, so even if you reach the pinnacle of what you do, there's always a way to keep growing. 

I think that any chance you get  (in a seminar, in a camp, in a class, and in an informal training situation) to train with experts, you should take it.  Failing to do so hurts you.

So there you go - the reasons why, in my opinion, you have to train with newbies/lower ranks, peers, and experts in order to have a well-rounded and growing martial arts education.

What opportunities do you take in your training to study with people who are less experienced than you are?  More experienced than you are?  When do you get "play time"?  Let me know in the comments!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

My Week in Stick Chicktivity - 01/21/17

Here's how my week of training, writing, teaching, and miscellaneous Filipino Martial Arts-y goodness went.

What have you been up to this week?


Saturday:  Okinawan Karate and Kobudo class. We ran through material from all of our weapons - bo, tonfa, and nunchaku. All of us were incredibly rusty and need to practice more - especially me.
Sunday:  There was a football game.  I don't want to talk about it.
Monday:   Older Daughter and I saw the series finale of "Sherlock" at the movie theater.  It was awesome!
Tuesday:   Planned to teach class, but my car died (it's a 12 year old Prius) while I was out and I was stranded!  I used a Lyft to get out other car and we figured out it was a dead key fob.
Wednesday:  Class at Hidden Sword.  I was covering class, and one of two things happens when I get to do that -either we're going to geek out on something OR we're going to hit bags.  I had the class hitting bags this time.
Thursday:  Taught class at Mid-Cities Arnis.  Worked on on the two-bone block, comparing it to sinawali blocking and when to use which.
Friday:  Taught class at Mid-Cities Arnis. Played with sinawali and then we stick sparred in our kids class,  In adult class, we had a make-up for a missed class this week, and we worked on the Dos Manos blocking drill.

Beating up on children is SO FUN!  Yay!


Here's the original content I posted this week:
Monday:  What's My Motivation?
Thursday:  The State of the (Filipino) Martial Arts Industry - My Two Cents

And here's what I re-shared this week:
Tuesday:   That Guy: Ranky McGee
Wednesday:  The Monster Post of Martial Arts Marketing Tips and Tools
Friday:  FACE-OFF FRIDAY: Kids in Combat Sports


New episode - an EPISODE - of "Enter the Dojo"!

There's new episode (finally!) of the Martial Arts Business Podcast.  I highly recommend this podcast and you should give it a listen. Subscribe on iTunes or on Stitcher or go HERE.


"Normal" day of Arnis and kobudo practice, for a change, plus the training session we are calling "Team Karate" to practice our Okinawan Karate stuff together.

So what did YOU do this week?  What did you train? What did you teach?  Did you see any really cool martial arts stuff online?  Let me know!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The State of the (Filipino) Martial Arts Industry - My Two Cents

My friends +Kai Morgan and +Brian Johns both wrote excellent, thought-provoking pieces on the state of the martial arts industry, with Brian's focus on our little corner of it (the Filipino Martial Arts).

You can read Kai's piece HERE and Brian's HERE.

I've been thinking hard about Kai's piece ever since she wrote it - about my own future in the martial arts, where the "industry" (and it is an industry, friends, like it or not) is going, and what I hope to accomplish in the long term.

Brian's post digs deeper into the subject, down into the details, and goes along with what I am also seeing in my own research and my own experience.

So what's to be done about this issue of declining interest in the traditional martial arts?  Does this mean we have to teach MMA?  Does this mean that the traditional martial arts are dying off and irrelevant?

I don't think MMA will drive out traditional arts, but we do have to re-think how we present what we do and what we know to modern audiences.

That means looking at everything we do with a critical eye and deciding if we want to do a martial art that is growing and changing to meet modern needs, or we are doing a historical preservation of a no-longer-relevant martial art system.

It might mean that we have to chuck out some things we've come to believe are important - cultural things we do, the way that we were taught our art, and some of the trappings - the "brand", if you will.

Oh yes, I went there.

Before you recoil at this idea...

Do you think that Samurai, back in the day, didn't learn and innovate to changes on the battlefield when new things were introduced and conditions changed?  Do you imagine that sumo is the same today as it was 100 years ago (or any fighting sport for that matter that's been around for a while)?

Of course they changed.  We can, and do, and should also, unless our purpose is preservation.  Nothing wrong with preservation but keep in mind that it appeals to a very tiny fraction of the small percentage of people in the world interested in the martial arts in the first place.

So let's assume for now that you want your martial art system to stay alive and relevant to modern times, and is not a preservation.

I know, I know, tradition!  What your teacher taught you!  Lineage!  Learning a foreign language! It just isn't "martial arts" without all those things!  You're watering down your art without that stuff, right?

Weeellll... maybe.  And maybe not.

How is MMA and its "feeder" arts - typically Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and other closely related systems such as western boxing and catch wrestling - seen by people outside of the martial arts world?

Well, there's two camps. There's the people who think it's one step away from the old Gladiator days and is nothing but a dumb and brutal combat sport. And there's the perception that MMA fighters are the most effective, fit, and pressure-tested martial artists on the planet.

Combine that second perception with very good marketing and you get why MMA is blowing traditional arts out of the water.


If you teach traditional arts, I challenge you, as a thought exercise, to consider how you'd present what you do and know in a modern context.  Would you ditch the gi and belts (not required - BJJ is popular and has those, y'know) and the foreign words?  Are you up-to-date on the latest in best practice for fitness and health in your exercise-oriented warm-ups?  Do you spar enough and apply enough pressure testing to what you do?  Do you hit the bags often enough?

Just think about that, and see what you could do to shift the perception of that your traditional martial art system is only good for teaching kids focus and discipline and irrelevant to people over the age of 16.

So let's shift to my corner of the martial arts world, the Filipino Martial Arts.  I've written about this before (Filipino Martial Arts - Why We Don't Make the List) and I agree with much of Brian's diagnosis.  We are TERRIBLE at marketing ourselves, many of us have no idea how to run a school outside of a small training group no bigger than what we'd do in a park and we do a bad job in communicating that FMA's are fine for kids (yes, kids can learn sticks really well - they take to it naturally and they're fun).

We've been experimenting and honestly, we haven't hit upon our home run yet.  We shifted away from the sticks-and-knives traditional marketing approach of FMA's and instead we're branded as "Filipino Karate" for our kids program (we still use sticks but it isn't every class), and a self-defense oriented adults program based on +W. Hock Hochheim Combatives  "Force Necessary".  We haven't seen a big difference in that change, just yet, but now that we are past the holidays we have a small uptick in our attendance.

I think that aiming at a niche market will be the way to go.  We also tend to draw adults in their late 30's and older here in our neck of the woods. Some have martial arts experience, some don't.

Perhaps, at least in North America, that's our sweet spot in terms of age?  People who don't want to or can't compete at a high level in things like BJJ or Muay Thai or MMA, but still want to learn something perceived as effective, which is where we definitely have an advantage?

Maybe.  I'm interested in what other FMA folks have to say on this.

I do know this FMA's are going to go by the wayside, at least in North America, if we don't do something about it, and soon.

Monday, January 16, 2017

What's My Motivation?

A friend over on Tumblr (her blog is here) mentioned the other day that she was having trouble getting motivated to go to karate class.

She's been in "competition mode" for a while now, and she's no longer in that mode - she's not going to compete and she isn't focused on that goal any more.  So now, she's having trouble finding her reason to go to class.

I've had those days.

I started to give her the standard, "Here's the reasons you should be training" spiel a lot of us give - that we should be focused on personal growth, etc. but it just sounded... wrong.

Because it is wrong.

Who am I to say why anybody other than myself should be motivated to train in the martial arts? We all have different agendas for training and we all have different goals.  We aren't all motivated by the same things.  Some of us need having a concrete goal in front of us to strive for while others don't need it.

Me, I train for my health, mostly - my mental and physical well being.  I like how the martial arts keeps my mind sharp and my body moving. It's an endless puzzle of new information that's always waiting for me to figure out.  I sleep better and I'm less stressed when I'm training than when I'm not training.

But other people want and need the pressure that competition puts us under in order to keep focused, and that's okay, even if it isn't my thing.  Others need that constant goal of the next rank to keep training. And that's okay, too. Over time, as we do this long enough, our goals will change naturally.

I think it becomes a problem only when our goals change and we don't change our expectations... and we lose interest in doing this crazy little hobby of ours.

Take achieving the rank of black belt.  For many of us, it's THE goal when we train - and honestly, we martial arts instructors sometimes make that rank so mystical, so magical, so important sometimes that we give the impression that it IS the only real goal in training.

Yes, yes, black belt is only the beginning... we say that, but do we live that?  I don't think we do, sometimes.

Depending on the style, it can take anywhere from three to five, or even ten or more years to achieve this rank.  We work so hard for it, and we achieve it...

Many martial arts schools do a poor job in a training plan and helping students stay focused and motivated beyond black belt.  This is one reason why so many of us quit at this rank and move on to other stuff to do - the next rank isn't as, well, sexy as black belt, is it?

Or take schools that are very focused on competition.  Fantastic, but what happens when you can't compete any more, or if the circumstances of your life don't allow you to train to the level required to be successful in competition?  How do you stay motivated to come to class if you can't do what everyone else is going to do?

It's like beating the final boss in a video game you love to play, and now the game's over.  Some gamers will restart the game and try to play it a different way (and some games are smart and build in or sell other stuff to do after you beat that final boss), and others will move on to another game.

We achieve a goal, we move on to the next one.

My friend said she needs to fall back on "discipline" to keep going until her motivation returns.  I agree to some extent, but to me it sounded like going to class was more of a negative thing, than a positive thing.

I think my friend needs to find new goal or a new motivation very quickly, or karate class will be a chore and an obligation and a negative, not the fun and positive thing it's supposed to be.

I can't say what that goal will be for her - I can't choose for her, after all - but I hope she finds it soon, so she can continue to train and keep her love for what she does.  I would hate to see her associate her classes with negative feelings.

So what motivates you to keep coming to class year after year?  Have your goals changed over time?  Let me know in the comments!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

My Week in Stick Chicktivity - 1/14/17

Here's how my week of training, writing, teaching, and miscellaneous Filipino Martial Arts-y goodness went.

What have you been up to this week?


Saturday:  We have a new schedule at Hidden Sword.  Younger Daughter in Tae Kwon Do early in the morning, then I do kobudo there, then I do Arnis.  Plus, we practiced Okinawan Karate a little bit after Arnis class.  Long day with lots of good work done!
Sunday:  Got caught up on chores.
Monday:   My night off.
Tuesday:   Taught classes at Mid-Cities Arnis.  We worked on stances and our "circle" self defense escapes in the kids class, and we worked on the angles of attack and combos on the bags in the adult class.
Wednesday:  Class at Hidden Sword.  We played with inserts - punyo entries for the most part - from various angles to see what works, and what doesn't.  Also got my final crowns for my two new front teeth - yay!
Thursday:  Taught class at Mid-Cities Arnis.  More stance work and front kicks in the kids class.  In the adult class, we worked on supported blocking, for the most part.
Friday:  Taught class at Mid-Cities Arnis.
No pictures of me this week, so here's one from last week where we are talking about the value of the week in kids class.


Here's the original content I posted this week:
Monday:  Kobudo Update
Thursday:  Helpful Tips for Newbies (to the Filipino Martial Arts)

And here's what I re-shared this week:
Tuesday:   Let's Talk Sticks
Wednesday:  You're Never Too Old to Start the Martial Arts
Friday:  FACE-OFF FRIDAY: Is "Karate" a Generic Term for "Martial Arts"?


+Colman Fink posted this, this week, and it's awesome.  I am always fascinated by the similarities - and the differences - different cultures and peoples have with similar or identical weapons.

For someone like me, this video from +EnterTheDojoShow is as funny as any of the "ninja" videos.  I still laugh out loud when I watch it.


It's going to be a long martial arts day today!

It's the Saturday I train in Dallas, so Older Daughter and I go over there for an hour or so of Okinawan Karate and then I have my two-hour kobudo class.  Older Daughter will continue working with our Karate teacher during my class, so we'll both be whupped by the time the day is over.

Hubby is going to go train in Arnis with our TNT Martial Arts friends in Stephenville and then attend a Muay Thai seminar (neat)!  Younger Daughter will be tagging along with him after her morning of Tae Kwon Do.

So what did YOU do this week?  What did you train? What did you teach?  Did you see any really cool martial arts stuff online?  Let me know!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Helpful Tips for Newbies (to the Filipino Martial Arts)

So you want to try the Filipino Martial Arts.

You've seen us on YouTube or in the movies, you've maybe had a bit of exposure at your dojo with someone who own a pair of sticks, and you want to learn a lot more.

Been here, done this. Image found here.

But where do you begin?

Fret not, friend, your pal the Stick Chick is here to help you out.  Here's some tips to help you get started with swinging the sticks.


One confusing thing for outsiders is that we use a variety of terms to mean the exact same thing.  Arnis, kali, and escrima are just different words referring to martial arts styles that start off using weapons - sticks, swords and knives - early in training.

Which word any given system or style uses depends on where it originated and what the lineage is, and here's the kicker - you can find different words in the same area (for a lot of reasons). Escrima and arnis are derived from Spanish words (esgrima-fencing and arnes-harness) and kali is a native word, possibly borrowed from Indonesia.

So there is no "mother" term or style (even though some of us will claim there is), really, and if you aren't already connected to someone to train with, use all three terms when searching online or asking around for people to train with.


Some of us have kids programs (my teacher does, and I do, and folks I know do) but generally speaking, our styles haven't been shifted in focus for kid students.

Part of this is the belief, at least in western culture, that weapons (and the honest, serious use of them) is not for children.  I don't personally agree with this, but that is our cultural bias, for the most part.  So if FMA is taught to kids outside of the Philippines, usually it's taught as some add-on material for kids who have trained a long time and are highly ranked in their base arts.

I am all for beating on children with sticks.

So, if you are looking for a style that is NOT kid-oriented in the West, the Filipino Martial Arts will fit the bill most of the time.


You have to find someone to train with in person.  Video training is fine as a supplement but you can't copy what you see in video and "learn" FMA's (or any other martial art, in my opinion).

Some of our styles - including mine - have forms (we call them anyos) but the level of emphasis really depends on the group, and honestly, most of what we do are drills, not forms.  You cannot learn FMA's solo.  It simply cannot be done.

It can be difficult to find a teacher or training partner, though, if you don't already have a connection.  Lots of folks in the FMA world - heck, the martial arts world overall - aren't very good at marketing nor are they found easily online.

So here's some places you can look:

Your local martial arts school of ANY style (karate, taekwondo, etc.).  You can visit the instructor and ask them about FMA's in your area.  Did they attend any seminars?  Where were those hosted (the hosts are probably offering FMA training of some sort, most likely).  Do they offer any FMA training?  Do they know anyone?  FMA training is often an add-on extra sort of art for exiting programs, and you could get connected to a teacher this way.  As an aside, if you have a martial arts supply store in your city, you can go by and ask them there.  They are usually well connected to the martial arts community in your area and can probably recommend a place to start.

Online.  I actually originally identified my current teacher this way!  I found him on Martial Talk.  Other forums you might check are FMA Talk and   There are pages and groups on social media dedicated to the FMA's (check out FMA Informative for FMA news world-wide). And of course, you can search with keywords on Facebook, Google Plus, or Twitter (your local area and "escrima" "kali" "arnis").  Also don't forget to search Meetup.

Create your own group.  This is tricky, but... you could get together with a friend or two, and you guys can decide to travel to seminars and training sessions with teachers in your chosen system, learn what you can, and then come home and train.  Over time, you can use video to supplement that seminar training, but you need to do the in-person seminar work as your foundation, then go home and you guys can work with each other.  You can organize your group among your friends, or you can use Meetup or Craigslist to find people to train with.

One note - it is NOT unusual for us to train in small groups in parks.  Do not let that be a reason not to check out a group - plenty of great teachers do this.


The number of styles and systems in the FMA's probably can't be counted and the differences between us are sometimes are as many as the similarities.

If he's counting FMA styles, we are going to be here a LONG TIME.

Some of us emphasize the blade, some of us don't.  Some of us train only right handed, some of us are ambidextrous.  Some of us work a lot of empty hand and some of us don't.  Some of us use belts and uniforms, and some of us don't.  Some of us grapple, some of us don't.  Some of us use weapons other than the stick and knife, and some of us don't.  Some of us spar, some don't.

Some of us are in small family systems that are kept as "pure" as possible, and others of us train in modern hybrid systems that are constantly changing and adding and subtracting new stuff over time.

Don't fret to much about which style or system you are going to learn - that you must be in such-and-such style or Famous Filipino Martial Arts Teacher's lineage or that what you learn must match what you've seen on YouTube.  There is so much variety, and so much variance, and it can be so hard to find a teacher in general, so it's better to train in what's available then to avoid training because it's not a famous system or the one you believe is "best" based upon an outsider's point of view.


Early in your training, you're going to get excited about what you're learning.

You will want to go online and try to pick up more via video, or you'll want to go to every seminar you hear about (especially if it's someone well-known, such as Dan Inosanto or Doug Marcaida).   It will be sorely tempting to try to absorb every bit of information in the wider FMA world that you can possibly try to absorb.

Avoid this temptation.

That cupcake is the Inosanto seminar next weekend.

The thing is, there are so many variants of striking patterns, what kind of footwork is emphasized, which drills are seen as most important, and other things, that a new person who is not well grounded in her own style's fundamentals can get very, very confused.

Your teacher could say that (x) is important, where another teacher would disagree and say that (y) is more important than (x).  You will see skilled and respected people online do things your teacher would cringe to see being done and it will make you wonder who's right (the answer is - both are, see below).

Or you just might have trouble remembering that a #3 strike in your style is not the same #3 strike in another system.

These differences are usually just matters of strategy and preference (versus being "right" and "wrong") but you can't discern this until you have a solid understanding of your own style.

So when you're new, only go to seminars that your teacher recommends. If you watch FMA video online, don't try to adopt what you see in those videos with what you are doing with your teacher (unless, of course, your teacher says you should).

So get moving, and get training in the Filipino Martial Arts today!

If you're looking and just can't find someone in your area, you can reach out to me privately on Twitter, Google Plus (see sidebar) or on my Facebook page, and I'll see if I can help you find someone or offer advice.  I do not ever recommend newbies train solo via video, so if you're determined to do so, good luck to you with that, because I won't endorse that strategy.

I hope these tips help you get started in training in the Filipino Martial Arts - let me know how it's going!  Experienced FMA players, did I miss any important tips?  Put those in the comments.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Kobudo Update

Here I am in my last year of kyu-rank kobudo study, and overall, I've learned a lot of stuff I didn't expect (and fell in love with nunchaku, even, as silly as the weapon is from a practical point of view). 

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I've been in a program studying kobudo weapons with AKATO.   I am working towards earning my black belt under them.  As of this month, I'll have been in the program for a full two years.

New students generally aren't allowed to join the class mid-session. They must wait until the next one. So, the people who started in January 2015 are a "class" and those of us who stick through to the end and pass our black belt test will have all studied together for about three years when we're done.  Then a new class of kyu-rank students will start, and we will join the Black Belt Class.

Our green belt test. About half of the people here are still studying with us.

In the black belt class, we'll not only study the four weapons we've covered, but we'll also get to study kama and my favorite weapon, jo.

We started as a huge class (seriously, it had to be about fifty people).  Now we have about 20-25 depending on the month.  Attrition took far more men than women in the program - there were FAR more men than women when we started - and now we're about evenly divided by gender, which is pretty cool.  I bet only a fraction of that group will continue on in the black belt class, but hey, you never know.

We've studied bo, we've studied tonfa, and now, we're working on nunchaku.  Shortly we will be taking on sai, and then we'll be testing for black belt.

Honestly, it's hard to describe this class to people who aren't in the martial arts.   Heck, even people in martial arts - but not ones that do weapons - have a hard time understanding what I'm studying. Usually I describe it as just "Okinawan" or "Japanese" weapons, but if pressed, well... this is how I tell folks to picture it, except we don't study sword in this class.

Leonardo is NOT in our Kobudo class.

Being a weapons-oriented kind of person, I am finding that this study (along with my normal Arnis training which covers stick, knife, and short sword) has helped me really appreciate the commonalities and the differences between various weapons.

You learn why you can't and shouldn't hold a bo in a grip like you would a baseball bat (but you should hold an arnis stick that way).  You understand why dual-wielding is not always the advantage video games might portray them to be.  You get to work ambidextrously.  You get to understand the differences in range, the advantages and disadvantages of long weapons vs. short weapons. With the study of nunchaku, you add in flexible weapons, and that's a whole different ball game.

Best of all, you learn not to fear weapons.  Respect them, yes, but don't fear them.

I would not choose to fight empty hand vs. a weapon if I get my druthers.  I actually would prefer not to fight empty hand vs. empty hand, as I am a short, dumpy middle aged woman who is at a severe disadvantage vs. most of the likely people who would offer me violence.  If I can have something to help me survive, I'm a LOT happier.

Give me a tool, please.  Any is better than nothing at all.

I don't always get to choose what's available to me, though. Working with the various weapons in kobudo helps me develop the skill to use similar objects in self defense situations if necessary.  So that's another nice thing that kobudo has done for me.

Have you studied weapons?  What did you like about it?  Dislikes?  Do you think it's practical, or do you think that time is better spent studying empty hand?  Let me know in the comments!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

My Week in Stick Chicktivity - 01/07/17

Here's how my week of training, writing, teaching, and miscellaneous Filipino Martial Arts-y goodness went.

What have you been up to this week?


Saturday:  New Year's Eve - the last day of 2016.  I'm sure everybody was happy when the year finally turned over!
Sunday:  Went to Richardson TX to watch the last Chiefs game of the year with friends and a hundred other fans with Chiefs Fans of Dallas.  The Chiefs won (and the Raiders lost) so it was a great way to start the year off right!
Monday:   After putting away everything holiday oriented, went and trained in Kobudo and Arnis.  My friend Robert Harland was passing through town and joined us.  It was a fun day.
Tuesday:   Taught at Mid-Cities Arnis.  New year, and lots of new students, both in our kids classes and our adult classes.  Glad things are picking up.
Wednesday:  Our Pomeranian, 11-year-old Chewbacca, passed away in her sleep after a short respiratory illness.  It was completely unexpected and a devastating loss.
Thursday:  Taught class at Mid-Cities Arnis with our new students. Happy for the distraction of having them, let me tell you, because things are not good.
Friday: Class at Mid-Cities Arnis.  Introduced sticks and stick sparring.


Here's the original content I posted this week:
Monday:  Plans and Goals for 2017
Thursday:  The Cult of Black Belt

And here's what I re-shared this week:
Tuesday:   A Stick is a Stick is a Stick
Wednesday:  Five Awful Reasons to Try the Martial Arts
Friday:  FACE-OFF FRIDAY: Are Values Necessary?


Chewbacca. She was the most badass Pom ever.

Other stuff happened this week but I was kind of preoccupied.  There was a new "Enter the Dojo" video on Tiger Tuesday (below) but if I missed any other cool stuff, please, let me know.


Everything is getting back to "normal" training-wise.  I have Arnis and Kobudo today.

I'll tell you what, having martial arts to distract me is a very, very good thing.

So what did YOU do this week?  What did you train? What did you teach?  Did you see any really cool martial arts stuff online?  Let me know!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Cult of Black Belt

Over at Martial Arts Mind, there was a great article posted challenging the mythology we build up around black belt in the martial arts world.  Take a moment and read it:   “Ordinary People Never Get Their Black Belts” (And Other Lies I’ve Been Told)

Specifically, the post is challenging this:

And this:

Long story short, the article makes the point that if only a very few people are making black belt - which is, generally, a simple measure of mastery of the BASICS of what we teach, for the most part - then we are failing our students.

Not that we should water down what we teach in order to have some arbitrary percentage of students - that's not what he means.  What he means is that this somewhat elitist attitude lets instructors blame students for their failures, not themselves.  In any other educational setting, the fail rate of 90% of students to "graduate" and master basics would be a scandal and we'd be asking serious questions about the competence of the teacher in question.

In the martial arts, we treat it like the norm.

The point, of course, isn't that we should lower our standards, it's that we should become better motivators and teachers of what we offer to our students. 

I think that we can also help with this problem by demystifying the rank of "black belt", and stop treating it as it's some far-off, incredibly difficult goal that most people can't and won't ever attain. 

I am somewhat ambivalent when it comes to ranking structures.  I understand the purpose and function and agree it's a necessary evil. BUT, I think we put far, far too much emphasis on it, and we end up confusing the belt or rank as the goal we're chasing, versus acquiring martial arts skill.

When it comes to black belt, we sure have built up a mythology around the black belt rank that just sticks in my admittedly-somewhat-egalitarian craw.

I mean, isn't is supposed to be just a measure of mastery of the basics?  Isn't it really just a high school diploma in the martial arts world?

Then why do we treat it as if it's some sort of incredibly difficult rank that only the very elite have any hope of attaining?  We don't have the same attitude when it comes to other educational endeavors.  We don't act like only a small percentage of students have the chance to earn a high school diploma, or a certificate of mastery in some other skill.

The pursuit of black belt, in a nutshell.

Why aren't we, as instructors, doing a better job of helping our students graduate?

Add in other trappings around black belt - special entrances to the mat, a culture of deference to black belts at all times, special changing rooms, special privileges (or exemption from tasks or work that we ask lower ranks to do)... it becomes cultish and insular and exclusionary.

Is that what we want?  Do we want mastery of basic skills in the martial arts to be so difficult that only a very small percentage of people have any hope of doing so?

I don't!  I want lots of people training, and I want them to know that if they stick with it, they, too, can master the basics.  That the martial arts is for all of us.

Do you think that black belt needs to be demystified a bit?  Or do you like the idea of black belt representing only the elite in your style?  Let me know in the comments!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Plans and Goals for 2017

It's become a tradition for me here at the Stick Chick Blog to make plans and goals for the upcoming year each early January.  To see my prior efforts in this regard, see my lists for 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Once again, I want to remind you that these are NOT "New Year's Resolutions", as those are silly and most people give that stuff up by the end of January, and that's certainly not MY intention.  I'm different.

It has nothing to do with the sticks, knives and other weapons I tend to tote about with me, nossir.

This year I'm going to look at this a little differently.  In prior years, I wrote a concrete list of things I'd like to do or accomplish, for my martial arts training, for my blog, and for my life.  Then I checked back every so often to see how I'm doing on that list.

Eh, that's not really doing it for me. Things change, often rapidly, and new opportunities come up that may interfere with what I think I want or need at the end of the prior year.  It's silly to call a goal "failed" if it no longer applies.

So, instead of a checklist of "stuff", this year I'm thinking of my goals and plans in terms of a theme.  My focus this year will be to do things that will contribute to the theme of the year.

That being said, I've decided that 2017's theme is:
Why strength?  I have been feeling for some time that there's a gap in where I want to be, and where I am, in terms of being strong.  I'm not physically, mentally, emotionally, or financially as strong as I want to be.

Let's take each of those points and define ways I can tackle that in 2017.


Will I be able to accomplish this year what I have failed to do for the last two years and get into SOME sort of program that will make me physically stronger?  If I want to do things that will play into this year's goal, I have to.

I'm on the slippery slope to 50 years old, and while I do not expect myself to ever be as strong as most of the people I train with (young males for the most part), I can still do things that will result in 1) not losing strength I already have as well as 2) improving on that strength that's already there.

This will also include making sure I stay physically healthy as much as I am able.  Not only avoiding injury if possible, but honestly, I need to make sure I am carving out more time to heal and rest.  I've been running (pretty) hard for a couple of years.  I get sick more often than I'd like, and I need to do everything I can to make sure I don't lose a week or more to another migraine.

Another way to enhance my physical strength is to be better at my technique - that is, I may not be able to hit as hard as someone bigger and younger than I am, by pure muscle, but the force I generate can be overcome my lack of physical strength due to using good technique.


I am an other-directed sort of person.  That is, I don't have a lot of internal motivation to do stuff - I do better when I have to meet with another person.  That's why I go to classes and a bunch of seminars and make "appointments" with friends to train, versus training solo in a park or going to the gym.

Without that appointment, I tend to procrastinate and get distracted into doing stuff that maybe isn't the best use of my time.

I have got to find a way to work in this fact with my need to do things on my own, without having that "other" trigger to get motivated to do stuff.  This may be having to make "appointments" with myself, perhaps, but I have to get better disciplined at that sort of thing without needing other people.

Long story short, I need to develop better work habits, both in my hobbies and in other areas of my life.  That's how I'll become mentally stronger.

Yes, I find this as disturbing as you do.


I think this is one area that I'm generally pretty strong in, but like all things, I could use a little improvement.

I need to stay focused on those things that make me a better self, vs. things that weaken or diminish me.  I would also like to become more charitable in interpreting the behaviors and statements of those around me.

I am not certain concrete steps I can take in regards to this (if you have suggestions, let me know in the comments!). 


This facet of strength is actually related to a long term shift in thinking I've been undergoing.

I'm less into things these days, and more into experiences.  For me, becoming "rich" isn't having a big house, or cars, or what have you, it's being able to live my life getting to do the things I'm interested in doing in family life, martial arts training, writing and studying history, just to name a few pursuits.

We've set a new rule for now - every new item in the house means two items leave (that is, not things that we use up, like soap and food, but objects). Not only do I think that will curtail purchases we don't need to make, it will mean that every purchase we do make will have to count more.

So, my new bo and my new naginata means four knick-nacks gathering dust go to the donate pile. Hey, if I donate all this stuff, that also makes me financially stronger due to the tax write-off - SWEET!

So in 2017, I will do a much better job in spending money for experiences, not things, and not wasting it on things I don't absolutely want more in my house than the two things I am going to have to give up to acquire it.

Less of leaving large piles of cash lying around for babies to throw out the window, too.

This facet of strength also relates to this blog.  I've just passed the three-year anniversary of the Stick Chick Blog back in December 2016.  It's time for this blog to grow up a little, and I will be moving to a new platform and a new look very shortly - and a new mission.  Stay tuned for this big change, as big things are coming and I'm pretty excited about the potential.

So there you go - this new year is all about strength, baby, and I'm going to stay focused on whatever it takes to be stronger in 2017.

So what are you thinking you'd like to achieve or improve in 2017? Let me know in the comments!