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.
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.
ESCRIMA/ESKRIMA, KALI AND ARNIS ARE THE SAME "THING"
One confusing thing for outsiders is that we use a variety of terms to mean the exact same thing. Arnis, kali, and eskrima (often spelled "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). Eskrima 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.
FMA'S IN THE WEST ARE USUALLY FOR GROWNUPS
Some of us have kids programs (I used to, and I know folks who 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.
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.
THE STICK IS A BLADE, EXCEPT WHEN IT ISN'T
Rattan sticks originally were just stand-ins for bladed weapons. Training weapons, like Western Martial Arts used blunted or wooden swords. Rattan is used because it is plentiful and cheap in the Philippines, and as it turns out, there's a safety factor to the material (you're less likely to get seriously hurt).
Many FMA styles keep to this idea - it's a blade, and a blade only. They are never fighting with a blunt weapon.
Some styles use the stick as a stand in for a blade, and as a blunt weapon in its own right, often using it as a stand-in for other sorts of improvised weapons. This changes some of the things you can do and what risks you have to pay attention to versus being a blade only.
My style actually does both.
We also train knife to some degree, some a lot heavier than others (I am unaware of an FMA lineage that doesn't train knife but I suppose it's possible - if you know of one, let me know). If you train in FMA's, you're going to want one or more good training blades. I recommend you don't use those stick-looking wooden tantos because you don't really get the pucker factor you do with more realistic looking training weapons.
TRAIN IN PERSON
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 MyFMA.net. You can search with keywords on Facebook, MeWe, Instagram or Twitter (your local area and "escrima" "kali" "arnis"). Also don't forget to search Meetup - that's how you'd find ME in Kansas City!
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.
FMA'S ARE FRAGMENTED
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.
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.
STICK TO YOUR STYLE WHEN YOU'RE NEW
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.
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).
After you get grounded, then feel free to cross train and go to ALL the seminars!
If you're thinking of trying to train in the FMAs, I hope you find this post helpful. 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 or on my Facebook page, and I'll see if I can help you find someone or offer advice.
Note: Don't ask me which online-only program to join . I do not ever recommend newbies train solo via video only, so if you're determined to do so, good luck to you with that, because I won't endorse that training 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.