3 Ways to Ruin Your Filipino Martial Arts Experience (for Newbies)
Updated: Aug 3
So you'd like to learn some Filipino Martial Arts.
First off, let me encourage you to seek out and study FMA's, no matter what your martial arts background is. As someone who studies FMA's (pretty much) full-time, I love it when new folks join me in enjoying that special burning smell that you get when you work the rattan.
But, there's things that you can do to make your FMA journey, well, kinda suck. Here's some of the ways you can do that:
1) Trying to Learn off the Internet (for free)
There are two ways to learn FMA's online.
1) Join an online instruction program (either distance learning live or video recordings)
2) Try to copy what you see in free snippets of video
Here's how I feel about online learning:
The COVID pandemic changed my opinion some, as we have many providers of pretty good online martial arts instruction delivering some very good content to distance students.
That being said, I still am of the opinion that even the best online learning is a poor 2nd choice compared to live, in-person training with an experienced teacher.
My advice is to only pursue online training after you have absolutely exhausted all other methods to find a teacher of the FMA's near you.
The second category is far, far more problematic (and I actually suspect is common!)
I mean people who are copying snippets of what is usually either a demo or a slice of a seminar they see online and think they know what they are doing, to the point of teaching it to students/peers.
That is, they think they "know" how to do a drill so they think they know how to do FMA's.
Guys, you're missing the context and you're missing a lot of the basics and details of what goes into the drill you're copying off YouTube or Facebook.
It's like you're just eating the crispy crust off the top of a brownie, missing all of the deeper levels of gooey chocolately goodness underneath.
Just like you missed the best part of the brownie, you're missing everything the drill can teach you. You don't "know" the drill at all, even if you can ape the motions of it.
As an aside, I see this done a lot by instructors of other martial arts styles wanting to install a "weapons" program. "I teach eskrima" they say, having never actually trained with someone who knows FMA's at all. If you want to teach the FMA's, train properly in the FMA's.
What we do is so darn fun, and a lot of that fun and excitement comes from the discovery of what's there below the surface (the actual brownie part of the brownie) and you'll never get to the really true fun and utility of it if you don't get with people who know their stuff.
2) Infrequent Training
Filipino Martial Arts are often taught as an add-on to other styles. Unless you're really lucky (as I was), you'll typically train with a teacher or training group once a week at most, and often you're required to study other styles at the school as well as FMA's.
This often leads to folks ONLY actively training FMA's in that once a week (or worse, twice-a-month) class, and often that class is an hour or two at most. Life gets busy outside of class, we often are running around with kids and whatnot, and before we know it, a week's passed and we're back in class again.
Guys, one or two hours a week is not enough time to get good at any martial arts style, much less FMA's. Home practice outside of class is REQUIRED to get good.
"But Chickie", I can hear you object, "I don't have anybody to train with outside of class, and my style is drill-heavy!"
Well, imaginary objector, you probably have classmates besides yourself, right? So arrange with them to train in someone's garage or back yard or in a park or something in between class. If you have a family member or a friend, show them what you're doing (after all, the best way to learn is to teach).
Or you can just do the drills solo as best you can - footwork drills don't require a partner. You can play sinawali solo by hitting a bag or a tree. You can practice your strikes by yourself, too.
There's no excuses for lack of home training that I'm going to buy. You can do it, and you really should.
If you DON'T do home training, you're going to take forever to progress in your style and that can be really depressing. You'll feel like you'll never get good at this, although that's not true - you will get good but it will take YEARS and YEARS and YEARS. That would SUCK.
3) Not Emptying Your Cup
"Emptying your cup" is a phrase many martial artists use to describe opening your mind and seeing past what you might already know and believe to learn something new.
This applies to cross-training in all martial arts styles, of course, but FMA's will often have a very different mindset than empty hand styles like karate or TKD. This requires a student to be open minded and consider the new strategy and point of view that may be really different than what they already believe.
There are a lot of misconceptions about weapons in particular that folk believe as well, and those have to be left behind once you start studying it seriously.
A perfect example is that I had a new student recently who is very well versed in combat sports - boxing and jiujitsu and stuff. Excellent student, very coachable, but it took him a minute to get past the mindset of keeping his weak hand forward (which is the standard in boxing) versus keeping his weapon hand forward. It felt "off" to him, because of course it does, he's used to keeping power hand back.
He emptied his cup and caught on fast and did well in his very first class, leaving happy and energized and eager to practice at home.
I have seen some folks NOT want to empty their cups. To insist that what they already know is better than what we're showing them. To play along with our drills and then go do their own thing, often in a way we think is really risky and unsafe.
That's actually pretty stressful for them. They have to bite their tongues, do what we show, then go home irritated and annoyed versus energized and happy with what they've learned.
That's a miserable experience, y'all. That'll SUCK.
So there's three ways to make your FMA experience suck (for newbies). What other things do newbies do that make their training miserable? Let us know in the comments!