Last month, I talked about my personal experiences, observations, and chatter with relation to padded sparring competition. Sometimes, things just don't make sense about certain aspects in the other style of training and I'm asking questions out loud that I know people often wonder about, too. Just because we aren't currently active in the padded sparring tournament scene, it doesn't mean we don't know how to do it. In fact, we know how to do it properly, thanks to the teachings of my instructor. So this month, I discuss how the majority of the drills they train in without the gear on doesn’t match up with how they play when they put the gear on, including limited armor application.
Sparring sticks does not a warrior make.
I truly applaud the Senator for his sense of nationalistic pride and desire to promote the indigenous art of the Philippines by encouraging the sport to be included in the international games competition. That is an ambitious and monumental task for someone in that role of government, and I wish him all of the success in that endeavor. To have arnis, or eskrima, be recognized in the right way on the world stage, would simply be amazing. On the other hand, I believe that a high-degree of quality in the instruction is what we need to promote FMA. I’m not talking about these die-hards who are regularly celebrating themselves on IG with medals and trophies in small-time, no-name padded sparring tournaments, like Grandma’s Boy, that mascot/stalker who keeps trolling me on Facebook privately (he should probably take it easy with blowing all of her money on smoking pakalolo). Rather, when you think about it, the whole tournament thing that gets sensationalized in that particular way, is counterintuitive to learning real eskrima.
My instructor reminds us of that, and his emphasis in the training lies elsewhere, developing more important skills that can be used in a practical way, especially the use of the left hand and teaching the sensitivity and recognition in the fighting ranges. About 90% of the drills in that other style are also supposed to develop the left hand, but none of that comes out. All of their training is forgotten when they put the padded gear on for sparring, which means there’s a fallacy in that type of training. What was the point of learning the drills, other than to earn the belt? Conversely, why do they try to bother to learn the long strikes of GM Momoy and his later disciples from 1960’s and 1970’s when that doesn’t come out in their padded play either? None of the other groups in that other style are so eagerly promoting the old Doce Pares. In fact 15-20 years ago, they all used to talk badly against the old ways, instead sticking to what they have always taught, saying it was "much better." How interesting is that? As taught by my instructor, the methodology of GM Momoy’s Orihinal Disciples from the 1950’s and 1960’s contradicts the modern, sport-oriented sparring multiple-styles type of instruction, anyway. Ha-ha!
The sheep who follow this more recent type of contradictory training and try to dress it up on IG and Facebook by showing all of these videos, claiming unity in FMA and all of this positivity talk about #communitynotexclusivity are full of crap. Bob-and-weave in a padded sparring fight? Where is the skill from that? That is not even the science of eskrima. That’s called breaking the rules of engagement and not having respect for the weapon while wearing a custom fencing helmet. Plagiarizing my instructor’s words on "the science" in the training to control the other person isn’t accurately depicted in their chopped and screwed videos, either. Yet, that clone-in-law and his followers are so eager to network among other FMA masters and enthusiasts to promote themselves as being “on the level.” Weak. This makes it difficult for the public, especially their own naive students to distinguish what is real eskrima and what is not. This is the fallacy of training in the other style and nurturing a tournament-type mentality that they're somehow proficient in eskrima in a general sense.
Those are the same contradictory clowns who admittedly study videos of my instructor and his current and former students, trying to find a clue and make sense of what they can only aspire to do in padded competition. Whatever it is they're doing, it's just not gonna work. The total, mindless disconnect from their weapons-based training and how they actually spar is apparent. While they might have maybe half of the parts, it really doesn’t matter, because they don’t have the instructions on what to do with them, especially not from repeatedly watching videos of my instructor. You see, no matter how many times they perpetrate like they have knowledge and they are the best, they still seem to lack an important attribute, a missing ingredient, really. While students hype their claim to program others and over-explain finding pathways to something, they still lack specific, worthwhile habits which should have translated over from their die-hard training. My brothers and sisters-in-training, those who are seniors to me by years of training with our instructor, have achieved the highest level of competition, while the seniors of the mascot/stalker can only dream.
So what’s the point here? The FMA community is being faced with a dwindling number of genuine methods of instruction. Decades after the unification of FMA styles in a sport-format meant to provide safety, prevent unnecessary death, and somehow maintain aspects of the fighting art, there exists a movement to widely promote the Philippine national sport on the international stage of competition. Here in the Western U.S., the problems with that are twofold: some of the current, low-level tournaments are being run by unscrupulous people who would do anything to make a dollar and promote their school, their inflated rank, exaggerated ability, or their style; the other is that beyond the superficial draw to get more people and promote FMA by way of tournaments, people seem to fall under the misconception that padded sparring competition is FMA, and vice-versa, thereby falling victim to the fallacy of the training they are so gung-ho for. The reality is that in these modern times, the padded sparring sport-FMA is only one aspect, with another aspect involving deep-rooted history, and yet another aspect of the fighting art methodologies spreading across islands, and then another about self-defense and survival, and so on.
"THE GOAL IS TO DEVELOP A SPECIFIC SKILL."
Padded sparring competition is not the whole story when it comes to the fighting arts of the Philippines. There are people still out there in the world searching for real eskrima. According to my instructor, most of the mature eskrimadors he’s encountered in his travels, especially those in Panay, are saddened by the phenomena of sport eskrima. He will also explain his views on the science of eskrima, how to develop mastery and find meaning in the movement that he teaches, and how to identify the fallacies in the training. My instructor teaches that the padded gear is good for safety reasons and also allowing for impact at targets. According to the systems he teaches, we train in the rules of engagement with the padded gear on, the point being to develop strategies in hitting and not getting hit in return. He just thinks about eskrima on another level, and we are so fortunate to have that ongoing discussion with him. To me, this is the standard by which we must promote the Filipino Martial Arts - by having credible people continue to explain the depth of their methodology and also explain the real history behind it. Through his instruction, we learn that there is a benefit to using the gear and sparring with all of the padding when the goal is to develop a specific skill. The difference is in how the padded sparring is taught. All of the hoopla and the hype tied to name associations, earning belts, winning trophies and medals is secondary.
I wish we could make the opportunistic fakers I previously discussed go away, but perhaps that’s the influence of commercialism and materialism in the martial arts. While they have volume in numbers and figures, that doesn’t mean they possess the true essence and depth of eskrima. Somehow, they always seem to play dead and then suddenly multiply like roaches, for they still continue to take without asking, without conscience, nor remorse, and only seek to promote themselves at the next event, apparently in Las Vegas with a contradictory #noego. Sending a representative back to Cebu to learn all of the material in order to disseminate to the others ahead of April only proves that. But at least they won’t look as lost as they did at the last seminar. But then again, the rush of new material will be redundant at the next seminar, LOL! Plus, I'm still waiting for them to write a blog against mine, for a #hashtag does not a blog make!
As we await the release of my instructor’s upcoming book, tentatively titled An FMA Journey, we have to keep in mind his ideas and training methodology when he asks, “What is your truth, from the beginning and now, [a] perception of what is written? [Is it] fallacy and/or personal development?” With this rationale in mind, I know that I’ve personally seen a growth and maturity in how my instructor teaches his eskrima. With all seriousness, he called himself a historian when I first met him on that fateful April evening in 2001. He was at the top of my list of martial arts schools to visit when I entered a search on Yahoo!. The experience took a dizzying 5 hours and he was sizing me up, trying to get an idea about what I actually knew about martial arts and FMA, maybe even see if I was crazy. He straight up told me that I didn’t have an “educated” hand, and I plainly admit that he was right. We talked for hours, eventually crossed hands, and he later gave me the permission to train on another day with his guys who were already versed in Wing Chun, JKD, Sikaran, Karate, Judo, Jiu-jitsu, boxing, Muay Thai, wrestling, law enforcement, military combatives, and some other fighting arts.
Looking back now, I can recall the heavy influence of GM Cacoy in how my instructor used his controlling left hand in conjunction with the right hand maneuvering the stick in the close range, and at the same time observed his expanding knowledge and application of the San Miguel System of Eskrima from the long-to-short, and translating that directly to the empty hands. Each time he met one of his personal goals in tracking down the remaining Doce Pares Orihinals, he gladly shared his details of the encounters as well as their knowledge of the training with GM Momoy, for each was unique and exclusive to that individual. Those experiences with the Orihinals made an impression and validated how he was already teaching us. If anything, they helped him to piece together the puzzle to many questions not answered in any existing printed books about the Doce Pares Club of old, and what their respective training methodologies emphasize, and the bigger picture about Cebuano eskrima and the transfer of that fighting knowledge across the Philippine islands. That little-known information is priceless, if you ask me.
That’s my observation into the fallacies of that other style of training, because it’s more suited for sport and tournaments. Regarding my experience, I’ve trained with the world champions in my instructor’s stable of fighters, and I’ve picked up some big wins and just as many losses. That’s why I feel so passionate about what I’m seeing and writing about what I know, and that is all based on having a meaningful experience. So, for all of you out there, how does your experience measure up? Can you really say it was as authentic, if not more, than mine? My brothers and sisters-in-training would relate to me.
Let’s wax the philosophical and attempt to clarify something for a moment: "The truth is in the movement" is a phrase that the clone-in-law and his students took from my instructor. Well, that statement is kind of deceptive. If you really read it closely, you’ll notice that it has a question in that answer. The real questions to ask are: What is the Truth? In the movement? What is that truth based on? Is it one's own interpretation of the truth, or how we perceive the truth? The only way you'll know the answer is if you train in my instructor's methodology. Since the clone-in-law doesn't train with my instructor, the answer is the latter. My instructor taught us that to find the real truth for ourselves, you must first know the 5 Modules of the San Miguel System of Eskrima to discover the truth. Those modules - San Miguel, Bala-Bala Redondo, Estokada, Bad-ay, Bangga-Bangga - are a point of reference to find the truth in the movement, just like a history teacher needs written historical facts to base his teaching, not only because he said so.
With that being said, my frame of mind is all about defining my experience based on my own personal development in eskrima, not bragging like how that mascot/stalker brags. I don’t need to be repeatedly validated like that, because I’m being sincere when I say that whatever superficial experience they’ve got going on over there - with only copying and repeating drills, earning belts, trophies, and medals - is far more limited to that sport and tournament style than they think or even realize. If only the students knew that fallacy, for when they read this, it’s Attack of the Clones all over again. In the meantime, we will continue to follow our instructor and dedicate ourselves to the higher purpose of promoting the deeply-rooted history of the Doce Pares Orihinals of NMODE--DSG, GM Cacoy, Nong Mawe, and the rest of the influences that make up Eskrima Combatives FMA.
Yours truly, putting in "track time" in Moalboal, Cebu, Philippines; Early 2000's.
Credit: Unknown Cebuano photog slangin' action shots courtside
NARAPHIL, or the National Arnis Kali Eskrima Association of the Philippines, was created in 1975, by inviting various schools across the country to share their martial arts through demonstrations and also promote a sporting competition by using the various weapon strikes along with customized, protective body gear and padding in a sporting format with rules. This directly led to an overall decline in the famed death matches, as a series of international padded sparring tournaments were held up through the end of the 1980’s and further led to the eventual development of WEKAF, the World Eskrima Kali Arnis Federation, the blueprint by which so many padded FMA tournaments are modeled after, even in modern times. Subtle changes and variations to helmets and body jackets over the last 40 years are owed to advancements in the design and the use of materials like plastics, metals, and heavier-duty fabrics, could now allow people to take the power of a full power strike and not want to quit FMA training because it hurts. Also, tournament organizers and innovators have had the last four decades to develop their respective marketing angle to attract participants worldwide and build generations of enthusiasts for the sport (2017 FMA summer tour, anyone?). All of these factors are directly responsible for guiding the casual, everyday person, who, upon first mention, associates FMA with either using one or two rattan sticks to hit people, or the modernized, padded competition sparring.
These days, padded competition sparring is somehow becoming synonymous with eskrima, or arnis, as it is formally known according to the Republic of the Philippines National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Declared as the Philippine National Martial Art and Sport on December 11, 2009 through the Republic Act 9850 signed by then-president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, arnis would be further promoted by inscribing arnis within the official seal of the Philippine Sports Commission. According to the Sun Star News Cebu earlier this month, Doce Pares-Hawaii will host the next WEKAF tournament in 2018, identifying a possible venue in the Waikiki area and tentative booking dates. Last month, it was reported in the Manila Standard that the 2019 Southeast Asian Games will feature arnis as a sport, and will likely try to include 270+ arnis clubs from all over the Philippines.
As the host country, SEA Games policy should allow the Philippines to add any sport as long as three other participating countries will compete in the event. However, at the 1st Arnis Congress in January in Mandaluyong, Philippine Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, a former competitor in 1991, and a modern-day proponent of including arnis competition in the 2019 SEA Games, had expressed his disappointment that arnis is more respected and appreciated in the United States and Europe, according to Tambuli Media. Senator Zubiri’s statement is so interesting to me, because we do know there is an interest for FMA here in the U.S. regardless of race, ethnicity, and gender, and yet I've met many Filipinos who've moved to the States since my training started with my instructor, and they frown upon FMA, almost like it was for savages and uneducated provincial-types.
While it can be argued that civilizing this Filipino fighting art through the sporting aspect may have helped bring FMA to the masses, somehow the translation gets lost, depending on who delivers the instruction. Like MMA sparring, which adds gloves, rules and a timer, padded stick sparring also adds a helmet, raw rattan stick, and padded body protector for the safety factor to make it accessible and appealing for all to enjoy. Grappling is optional depending on the group, style, etc.. If we look at it from a cultural aspect, we have to beg the question if padded sparring competition is really an aspect of Filipino culture, or is it something else? Yes, arnis or eskrima, the indigenous fighting art of the Philippine Islands is gaining publicity and is becoming more mainstream as seen in movies and the upcoming 2017-2018 international tournament scene. But do we really need sport eskrima to promote the Filipino Martial Arts?
On social media, you can easily find videos, photos, and hashtags of fanatics like that mascot/stalker, calling themselves modern-day eskrimadors, with battle-damaged body protectors, a custom helmet, or even an overpriced toy lightsaber and fencing mask at the park. These asshats on Instagram (IG) or Facebook (FB), promoting supposed abilities in padded sparring and blatantly focusing on winning little tournaments are clearly doing more harm than good for eskrima. As we’ve observed before, all of the real eskrima training goes to the wayside in favor of the sport sparring style and then marketing to the masses around that. For example, there is way too much confidence, as the mascot/stalker puts it, by “staying in the pocket” with that helmet on, whether it be holding a rattan stick, an overpriced toy lightsaber, or “bladed” weapon. Again, we are not seeing anything impressive there, at all, because they only seek glory while donning the padded gear and portraying some perceived degree of knowledge in eskrima through short, forgettable videos that don’t really show any skills. On the other hand, my instructor teaches us that using the padded gear for sparring is useful in teaching a certain set of skills you could not otherwise develop - for it is actually good for something - the development of a live, left hand!
A few years back, eskrima was featured on cable television shows like Human Weapon and Mind, Body, & Kickass Moves, where padded sparring competition was highlighted, and the latter showing my instructor and his wife control sparring. That’s a great example of two different ways of promoting eskrima training in the “play” of it as my instructor would say. Through controlled sparring, we can see the practical application of concepts and principles with regard to sensitivity, movement, and reaction while using a weapon in a non-static drill. The padded, sport-sparring, also teaches similar concepts, and allows the use of full-contact strikes. Both methods involve safety, control, and following a procedure according to a set of rules and ideas about the training. More importantly, they are simulating some aspect within the training that eventually leads to the real thing, according to my instructor. That is where the separation begins between training and reality.
With regard to promoting eskrima, in my experience, padded sparring tournaments can bring out the worst in people, and also bring the worst people from out of whatever cave they dwell in. Competitors and their trainers will sometimes do whatever it takes to somehow guarantee “the win.” We’ve all seen the dirty fighting tactics in padded sparring, despite everybody knowing that there are rules taking influence from boxing and Tae Kwon Do tournaments. But everybody from the old WEKAF tournament scene has at least one story about that one time, back in the day, that so-and-so did this-and-that. For example, did you hear about that particular world “champion” who defeated everybody in the Seniors 40+ division, while he was still in his mid-30's? Or how about the countless local champs who get a bye (something used to move certain participants into a later round without requiring them to compete in an earlier one) all the way to the very last round instead of fighting through the brackets like everybody else? Then of course there are those tournament organizers who behave like it's okay to bye their own personal students - in the middle of the tournament - all the way to the third round bracket so they don't fatigue sooner and will have enough in the gas tank to last for the championship rounds. They don’t care and they'll do it anyway, even when their own contemporaries shake their heads and argue with them in the middle of a tournament, like my instructor and his wife have protested in years past, telling them they can’t be doing that. These examples are exactly why some people think FMA is shitty - it’s the people like that running the show that are to blame. People will look for reasons to ignore or discredit the fighting art based on lousy experiences just like that.
You gotta ask yourself: Do these councils and so-called self-defense clubs and really need to win these padded fighting tournaments so badly in order to validate themselves? I don’t think it really matters when you know you train with actual champions, like my instructor, his wife and his over two decades of students. But they don’t dwell on being winners, because there are certain skills developed from training with my instructor that got them there. As with anything else, there comes a certain point when martial artists will experience some sort of growth and move onward and upward. You know, there used to be so many competitors and independent competing schools who are now no longer around. Why did they bail and leave? In the end, the tournament is just a vehicle to sell the padded gear, the body jackets, sticks, training daggers, all the officially licensed, authorized merchandise to make some money off of the participants. The bottom line is simple: making money off of the idea that they’re learning a historically named self-defense system when it’s only really one aspect, the sporting-tournament aspect. Dangle a little historical information to make it sound legitimate and official, add a couple of names from the Club days of long ago into the seminar presentation, incorporate a new drill or a long, lost sayaw, and you now have a complete seminar and padded fighting tournament program.
Where is the sincerity of promoting eskrima in that? None of that truthfulness matters when you’re talking about making some money. Practitioners who continue to follow this deception must be in the dark about authentic training experiences in the face of earning a belt promotion, and should reevaluate what they are getting from the training. Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily the case, with increasingly mediocre instruction and watered-down training styles that lean more towards sport. Preserving the legacy of the martial arts, like traditional eskrima or arnis, is something that requires honesty and integrity from all of the people who dare to carry names and titles within the style. This is especially true of people who claim to be a master or above in the Doce Pares of today.
To be continued in TFOPS(AAOIT), Part II in March, 2017
“...they don’t always see the truth. Speaking of that, speaking of that, speaking of that. Anyway, I got you baby, I got a jewel to drop on you. Get up, get up, get up and try again, know what I mean? All we can do.”
We make the moves that break the rules,
a fool and his money are soon parted, so we take from fools;
if and when you ever fall down, get back up,
drop something, stop frontin’, pick that sh*t back up;
stand for something, or, fall for everything,
wait for the right pitch, or miss with every swing;
in the absence of the truth, bulls**t prevails,
so what they did, f***ed around, and threw truth in jail.
The objective is to keep you blind,
so along with the handcuffs on your arms,
they've got shackles on your mind,
seek and you shall find, accepting failure is the only crime,
fall down eight times, get up nine,
n***a! I told you. Honesty, honesty!
-DMX at the 2012 Hot 97 Rock the Bells roundtable panel discussion
This April marks my 15th year as a direct student of my instructor, and I’m proud to train in Eskrima Combatives FMA and learn from the eskrima he teaches. I tend to think of it as time devoted towards learning self-defense according to the processes shared by our instructor, who for many years, has been trying so hard to propagate the certain truths about eskrima as taught by the innovative, late SGM Cacoy Cañete (RIP), GM Momoy Cañete, the Doce Pares Club fighters of old whom we honor as Nong Momoy’s Orihinal Disciples Eskrima--Depensa Seguidas Group (NMODE--DSG), and the teachings from Nong Mawe Caballero, grandmaster of Eskrima De Campo Uno-Dos-Tres Orihinal. I’ve previously written blog tidbits about my instructor’s story, on how certain eskrimadors and others helped to shape and change his perspective about eskrima, which, in turn, he continues to develop and share with us. We look forward to the culmination of his developments in the form his upcoming book release about his journey in eskrima.
Similarly, my instructor occasionally shares things involving history of eskrima, and like wildfire, they spread across the interwebs and reach people all over the world. To me, he’s something of an authority in the particular history of eskrima that he likes, mainly because he’s researching things that nobody else shares. By my instructor’s example, I believe that we’re training for the truth found within the art, and I’ve seen plenty of people come and go from the group, for whatever reason. Some go away for a while and come back, and acknowledge the massive update in the training. Along with a few others over the years, I’ve been there as his partner when he’s shared knowledge in those infrequent eskrima seminar formats, as well as his regular training sessions. Based on those experiences, I’ve been writing blogs from the perspective of an educational basis - trying to inform the public. I’ve been trying my best to tell the story in the ways of eskrima as I understand them from the many hours of instruction under my instructor in trying to dissect the movement. Not too long ago, somebody had let it be known that a guy that used to train with us is now an authority of San Miguel Eskrima, which is awkward, because he’s from our era of training. That sends the message that he’s attained the knowledge in eskrima on the same levels as our instructor. But how can that really be true? Something must be amiss.
Well, we all talked about it. Some of the seniors of Eskrima Combatives FMA HQ and I met recently and discussed this disturbing series of events which, as it turns out, have been happening for years. I volunteered myself to write about it. Tim and Dennis, my brothers-in-training and seniors to me by many more years, were present when this other guy was making the long drive to the garage to occasionally train. I recall after becoming a regular fixture myself at my instructor’s place of training that at a certain point, this guy stopped coming around and was doing his own thing, following another curriculum, and carrying a name that my instructor doesn’t teach. He wasn't even around and didn't put in the same hours that the rest of us did who stayed under my instructor to learn about why he really does things, not just the drills or the way of it. Like so many of us, Tim and Dennis were shocked when it was revealed that these offenses were taking place. In fact, we’re all a bit dismayed at that. It's like this other guy sold his soul to the fictitious Dark Lord Voldemort. But in all seriousness, I think we’re gonna make it right, because we know where we stand when it comes to the truth. You see, we’re all from the same years and the same era. We do know this other guy.
We’ve been training long enough with my instructor to know how his explanations and methods of teaching have been touted by this other guy in the public forum over the years, through previous regional demonstrations, posted videos and photo captions, almost being word-for-word in some cases. This chief leads his own students with the thinking that he’s achieved a depth of understanding, which it seems, has been taken repeatedly from my instructor who was merely teaching them in good faith and brotherly-love. Out of pure love for eskrima and the excitement that comes with sharing the knowledge, my instructor allowed them to experience his teachings. These deceitful actions are a direct slap to the face and an insult against my instructor and the rest of us, for he has broken the code of honor and respect, and shows no integrity. I don’t understand why people would go to such great lengths to allow others to insist that they are an authority of eskrima when it wasn’t truly earned. My instructor leads us by example because he teaches us with the best of intentions. After all, he’s experienced in learning the history from the people who were really there, and he has immersed himself in the data collection.
The stolen moments and shallow actions display the type of thinking that it’s okay to exploit my instructor’s eskrima teachings and not give him the duly deserved credit, likely tied to them having some sort of an ego problem, being prideful, and being guilty of narcissism, or even worse - trying to compete against him for monetary's sake. There’s actually a pattern here, if you pay attention to it. In the FMA community, my instructor has publicly been known to research the truth in FMA history around Cebu and other Philippine islands and find links about eskrima. This other guy has tried to clone himself in what he seems to think is the blueprint in an attempt to reinvent himself in my instructor’s likeness. For example, while my instructor has trained under various San Miguel grandmasters, this other guy tried to do that too. But he missed out on experiencing the Doce Pares Orihinals of NMODE--DSG because at the time he was on a different path, stubbornly trying to appeal to the masses with style, and at the same time trying to exploit accessible grandmasters’ methods, with intent, to reverse-engineer my instructor's process. Another example is that my instructor trained in-depth with Nong Mawe Caballero, the grandmaster of Eskrima De Campo Uno-Dos-Tres Orihinal over the mid-2000’s, and this other guy jumped on that bandwagon with something kinda/sorta like that, too, but we’re not really sure what happened with those contemporaries. That situation has long since been avoided publicly, and belongs up in the clouds.
Either way, the process isn't about collecting drills, as is the case so often revealed as you go back and look through the timelines. The cronies under this other guy had already been caught showing off San Miguel Eskrima based on my instructor’s influence and taught in my instructor’s way to others as if to get recognized and legitimized by the public. Now they branched out to the Corto Kurbada, which is fine. These styles aren't just [ours] as I was told at a seminar. Duh, I get that. Anyone can use these names of when looking at it in terms of style. But that isn’t the point. What breaks my heart, is that we know that they're not teaching their oft-collected drills and forms by using words from their own knowledge to explain the meaning of each. They would have already shown that off. Therefore, they must be hard at work studying my instructor’s videos again, trying to find a clue and make sense of what they’re doing. While they received some form of permission or recognition elsewhere as an authority of something in their eskrima, they continue to use my instructor’s research-based terminology, exclusive techniques from the old masters that have passed away who shared such knowledge directly with my instructor, yet, they can only demonstrate the lowest stages of my instructor’s concepts and teaching process. Where is the credit from using even that? Is it really all the same?
You may ask why others from their organization aren’t so die hard about sharing these same interests in eskrima. What we are really discussing has to do with influence. They were never exposed by anybody who was already into these outside influences, as that would show in the movement from training. Realize that everybody else is interested in following the Curriculum. In my personal experience, my instructor’s eskrima that he teaches has a specific appeal that nobody else knows, otherwise it would have already been shared publicly in books, magazines, and the obvious case of social media websites and apps. Furthermore, it's not like they call my instructor up regularly and chat him up about history and the movement - nobody does that - except only friends who are genuine about FMA and direct students. Of course, there are also those who desperately desire for themselves to be recognized as an authority in eskrima. They so desire to be associated with the Cañete name, what they call in some circles the First Family of FMA, and promoting that more recent connection to the first and second generations of Doce Pares by way of recognized union.
At times, I get a little bummed with some of this so-called representation on the internets, particularly with the way that recent fanboys, students of this other guy portray and perpetrate San Miguel Eskrima. The words they use don’t actually come from the family and elders they are so humbled to represent. Again, they actually come from my instructor. I immediately know it when I see quick clips of made-up drills and forms by this other guy showing a clear influence of ideas taken from old footage of my instructor from previous, smaller seminars and people he’s already experienced. Whenever a new video pops out, the first question in my mind is ‘What did they go and take from my instructor this week?’ Again, that’s the power of influence.
The students of this other guy have no clue what’s going on. They proclaim, “Oh, great class, Master!” But how can that be a great class if it’s the other style? They never show themselves doing the other style on video. Are they not proud of that other style that they wear the belts for? It couldn’t be in the style of the late-SGM Cacoy, for they have no clue about that despite promoting the hashtag #cortokurbadaorihinal, another cheap publicity stunt which insults the honor and legacy of SGM Cacoy Cañete. So what, then, does it take to really be an authority? The habitual trend of inviting grandmasters from Cebu to come here and then exploit them for their drills and notoriety, only to toss them aside when there’s nothing left to take is deeply insulting towards them too, to say the least.
When I see this other guy and and company proudly highlight action shots of themselves doing dos armas drills like 4-open, 4-closed, 6-closed, I immediately know where they got it from. When I see them put out a posting about dakup a.k.a. the seizing hand - I immediately know whom they got that idea from, too. When I see them on video doing the stick and dagger drills of Doce Pares Club fighter and teacher Nong Urbano ‘Banoy’ Borja (RIP), I know exactly whom they got it from. When they proudly use the words of Nong Banoy, like “The truth is in the movement,” (which isn’t even the exact translated phrase, yet these ding-dongs keep promoting it) I know who they took that from, too. Make no mistake - I didn’t hesitate to put them on blast when I caught them taking liberties with my instructor’s hard work and good intentions - and that usually follows with some piece of fanmail garbage in my Inbox. Why? Because I told the truth about something, that makes me the bad guy? F-that.
I’ve seen all sorts of things put up by this other guy. I know it’s not theirs - it’s my instructor’s. When I think about it, I have to ask myself why masters of martial arts would try to screw their own students over like that, and instantly, words like ego or narcissism, or jockeying to be an authority jump out at me. This betrayal is getting even more bold, as if nobody is going to do anything about it. The biggest insult of all is that the students are giving credit to someone else! After doing a simple Google search of words related to the eskrima that I’ve learned over the years, I suddenly realized that these clowns are still taking so many liberties. For example, a student of this other guy was directly quoting SGM Cacoy’s private conversation in the international airport with my instructor and not even mentioning him by name! Neither this other guy nor his student were even present for that moment in the 1990’s, and yet they proudly throw up the words of the late-SGM Cacoy saying “Best to test.” Weak. They even did a video of the double stick drills that my instructor showed in their training garage, and used my instructor’s words “It's like boxing, fast striking” to describe it. LOL! WTF!? Fakers! Not once did they mention in the captions where it came from. Again, it leads back to that mentality that it’s okay to take my instructor’s material and paint the picture on social media that it’s cool and exclusive to them and their teachings. They propagate the claims of gaining knowledge from the elders and at the same time insult my teacher who originally showed it to them. In my line of work, I would call that misrepresentation and plagiarism.
In my professional life, I currently work as a public school teacher of adults with disabilities. As a public employee, I’ve had to go through the necessary requirements to do this type of work, including completing a teacher credential program, earn different State certifications and authorizations, and go through a standard background screening process. While it’s in my nature to help others improve their own lives, I still had to prove my character, my education, and my worth to different government agencies in order to be allowed to share my passion in the classroom and community settings. I’m always educating myself, trying to practice what I preach to others. The point here is that while I am officially trained and certified to be a specific type of teacher - I am not the authority of the educational field - there is always room for improvement and professional growth. If you’re still reading, this is my way of telling you that I’m "keeping it real" about myself and sharing some of my background. That’s why I look at things differently. I’m an idealist in some ways, and will side with the truth when a situation presents itself that seeks to alter the history of eskrima systems that we hold dearly to us.
It hurts us to see things turn out this way. What we’re really seeing is a pattern of disguised insults at our instructor. Quite frankly, I’m sick and tired of it, and I think it needs to stop. Luckily, I’ve encountered artifacts, or rather, data, that will surely put these repeated offenses towards my instructor to rest. So, how can this other guy who was, at one point, a student of my instructor now be considered something like his equal over the span of 15 years? Ho brah, that’s weird to me, to the max. I can’t even begin to fathom why somebody would actually try to do that. My instructor doesn't believe in belts, and for that, some people accuse him of being stubborn. But if we look at the math in years spent training, and the background and whom this other guy earned ranks and authority from instead, it just doesn’t make sense to go through with the charade of being anywhere near our instructor’s years of dedication to the truth in the art. To me, it feels like a stab in the back, or maybe even worse, a stab through the heart.
They say that experience is the best teacher. I’ve been a student of my instructor for long enough to know that when I see something that is exclusive to this group called Eskrima Combatives FMA, like signature words and expressions, specific quotes, and drills that are shared with us, it makes me ill to see them taken and copied. Yeah, they say that imitation is the best form of flattery, but they also say that honesty is the best policy. You know, I’ve been trying to look past the claims by this other guy, even to the point of trying to look at things from an outside perspective, from a point of view other than my own. However, I simply cannot accept that this other guy’s material comes from elders that his student is claiming on social media. It actually makes me mad, maybe even pissed off.
Sure, certain highlighted Cebuanos promoting eskrima in recent times can get a visa and come visit the United States from the Philippines for two or three months and teach their methods. This other guy is allowing others to falsely claim that their information comes from these visiting elders from Cebu, Philippines, and will allow the public to believe that, except that those men, while skilled in their style and methods, don’t really speak English. This other guy and company are not fluent in Cebuano. There is a serious disconnect due to the language barrier. At best, these grandmasters can only show their eskrima, and correct the forms of things, teach the counts in the sets, and show stages of drills. It feels like another slap to the face to insist to others that this other guy acquired high-level knowledge in eskrima this way.
The reality is that we know he encountered the explanations and the ideas on how to understand eskrima from our instructor. Sadly, this other guy must be confused. Maybe there’s nothing else to teach. He must have ran out of standard drilling and forms material to show his students. He can’t dazzle people with his own style. “Great class” his students might exclaim. But he’s plagiarizing my instructor, and the students are too ignorant about eskrima to know that. When the public reads my blog, they’re gonna scream “Oh, sh*t! Who are they talking about?” People will wonder. For sure, this other guy, he’s gonna know.
“Giving credit where credit is due” is a slogan burned into the end of occasionally released videos containing footage from my instructor’s personal collection of eskrimadors or from his own archives on eskrima-related things that he’s taught to others. I’ve gotta hand it to my instructor, that he’s pretty good about updating historical information related to eskrima and maintaining a wealth of notes and artifacts, what he calls the data. I find it offensive that there certain people who take liberties with the data he’s shared with them, and in turn we see them share that same hard work, ideas, and research with their own students and not give my instructor credit. To me, that type of thinking is completely screwed up in the head, one of several perversions found in teaching the martial arts, regardless of the style or organization. Social media in some ways is both good and bad, and depending on which sites you’re on, you may already know about the kind of enthusiasm that fans share for a particular martial arts style, organization, or notable figure.
The difference lies in the fact that at least my instructor publicly explains where any of it comes from. That’s what I mean about giving recognition. I recently interviewed my instructor about these issues and he stated, “I worked for it. I give credit where credit is due. I don’t lie, it is what it is. If I research that, it’s what I found. I never put Master. I never took a title. I tell them to take it away. Those of us who know my instructor, know that he doesn’t take titles seriously, and believes that labels are easily given. He said, “I am what I am. If I’m knowledgeable, I earned it.” On the subject of screwing people over in martial arts, he said, “I never try to con anyone. If I sell something, I have knowledge. If I give a belt, it’s because, One - they’re loyal, and, Two - they’re trying to understand what I’m talking about. I don’t pretend, [or] claim this or that. I only try to be a historian. I never put eskrimador, because I know what that really means.”
Regardless of being American-born or raised in America, we are still Filipino by ethnicity and culture as shared through our parents. Getting closer to the history of our eskrima lineage through my instructor's research encourages us to have more of an appreciation for the beauty and culture of the Philippines. This other guy hasn’t conducted any historical research with the same intensity, passion, and accuracy, or shown the same dedication by putting in work over so many years to attain the knowledge. To me, their intent is so clear. Sadly, taking their short path in martial arts makes the Doce Pares look thin with no substance, and actually invalidates the art, because these crappy people are trying to jockey for a rank and recognize others who would also try to run a game on people that believe they’re training in something useful. In fact, my instructor predicted all of this stuff ten years ago - all of this nonsense - the claims that it’s all the same, the bickering between the factions in their system, the desperation to be recognized, the battle for control, and the arrogance of these copycats being the best, among many other things. We are witnesses to that prediction. He could literally smell the truth about all of these people and more. I’m not kidding. It was only a matter of time, really, before things all played out accordingly. My instructor always said he’d have the last laugh! Ha-ha-ha!
Keeping our intentions positive, we need to be strong and even more vigilant as we continue to share the truth about eskrima. We treat each other like family over there at my instructor’s place of training, give respect to his wife and her siblings and all their kids. We even spend time together outside of training, at family parties, chatting on the phone, connecting through social media, and going out together. We are a part of our eskrima community, and we aren’t going to stand by silently while the takers take from my instructor. We create palaces and prisons for ourselves. How we get better, stronger, and knowledgeable, how we increase our abilities and skills is through our training. We are so fortunate to have my instructor explain eskrima - it is all about the exclusivity of that explanation, and what it could lead to - that’s what we have. By showing the proof in the videos of those unchecked offenses throughout the years, we can hope to move onward and upward towards forgiveness without bitterness. The truth shall set you free!
So what’s the takeaway from all of this? The thing is, I'm not insinuating anything, I'm telling the truth. This is coming from my personal experience. Like a whistleblower, I’m blowing the whistle on some wrongdoings about the institution of teaching eskrima with historical accuracy, which I choose to ascribe myself. My instructor leads by example and gives respect to all of the elders that he’s experienced from the Golden Age of Cebuano Eskrima and whom they came from. This other guy revealing what he knows about eskrima may be sincere in liking the art. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s being truthful about where it came from since I know that my instructor is the true link to where that particular knowledge originates. It’s all about having the credentials, and in the absence of possessing that, at least giving proper credit to others. If we continue to let this other guy and his people abuse my instructor’s words so boldly and unapologetically, their claims and half-truths will become the new accepted truth in the mainstream about the Doce Pares. It’s more than just simply crying about a stolen technique, or who has original San Miguel Eskrima, or us being the best, as my fans have asserted. Rather, this shadowy movement, which seeks to alter the historical accuracy about the systems, hide the actual lack of knowledge in the way it’s currently being taught, and not clarifying whom these ideas truly come from is really about an agenda of greed and feeding the ego. In fact, my instructor prohibited me from talking about this for many years, LOL! Ha-ha-ha! As they say, the struggle is real, and they won't say anything, because the truth hurts them.
Demonstration at Fil-Am Art Live, 2015, in San Diego California - Clockwise from top left: Eskrima Combatives FMA banner; group photo including San Diego Chapter members Lester Laynes, Bernard Garcia, and instructor Ramil Augustin, event host Dr. Marie Zhivago, Magtutudlo Ramon Rubia, and HQ Chapter member Jessica Ritchie and friend, former Ultimate Fighter cast member Steve Magdaleno, (kneeling) San Diego Chapter Instructor Allan Tojino, HQ member and 3x World Champion Dean Mandapat, & Inland Empire Chapter instructor Luis Tuparan; Magtutudlo Ramon demonstrating the movement followed by his explanation with student Luis T.; Lower right - another group photo, and a collection of Filipino blades and sticks on display. Photo courtesy of Allan Tojino.
It’s been a nice, quiet late Fall and early Winter with regular training in the San Miguel System of Eskrima, NMODE--DSG, as well as our continued training in Corto Kurbada using “the principles of,” and Eskrima De Campo 1-2-3 Orihinal. Various areas of training continually interest me, especially separating the unique movements of Nong Banoy from those other, later versions of the San Miguel System and developing them in a more functional way, as taught by his direct student and our instructor, Magtutudlo Ramon Rubia.
Being given an honorary title as an authority in one system of martial arts by someone who openly promotes and favors another system, sounds very fishy. Command, control, dominance, and influence are all words that we associate with the concept of authority. But what really makes a person an authority in martial arts? Authority figures in martial arts organizations enforce obedience, which in turn means that they can kick members out for their misdeeds. They can also dissolve an entire branch of their group on an entire continent, and they can even make formal decisions about themselves in relation to their organization. These situations occur frequently, beyond eskrima and FMA, into other martial arts. We can simply chalk it up to that thing called human nature and taking liberties through a perceived sense of power.
When it comes to eskrima, being recognized as an authority means that an individual has the power to influence others based on their knowledge and their background in the material. So, in essence, having the knowledge is the power, and knowledge can even be taken from stories as told to them by the older eskrimadors. For practitioners who only learn eskrima through random, intermittent visits, seminars, watching videos, distance-training, and occasionally training here-and-there, does the knowledge that they take from these, albeit, brief experiences make them an authority? We must consider these ideas when applying labels like ‘authority’ to someone emphasizing the repetition of movements with no purpose, and instead focus on learning from those who actually used eskrima, and also focus on those who share their knowledge in the application, even through tales and story.
We often hear and read about people who casually attend seminars and collect participation certificates under notable names or styles in the Filipino Martial Arts (FMA), and then turn around and open a class to teach the material they had just learned to others. They may get trolled on YouTube or social media, and even flamed on chat forums like Bullshido, among others. We also hear stories and read about that undying trend of martial arts masters or even casual practitioners and low-level enthusiasts getting certified in a particular FMA and becoming a certified representative of that style after only a few hours, or a couple of days of training. There are even styles that openly promote earning their black belt in eskrima in a record one to three months(!). These newly made ‘authority’-types go back to wherever they came from and show off all the drills that they learned and pawn themselves off as being part of the quality FMA system they were quickly certified in. To me, that hardly sounds authentic in terms of carrying a style when the movements were superficially learned.
After comparing my experiences with our instructor and those that he associates with, I’m of the belief that those short experiences described above only scratch the surface. A person exposed to the material who in turn walks away from the seminar and repeats that same material is only copying and repeating. Was the time really spent afterwards enough to grasp that newly learned movement? In my experience, learning forms, drills, and techniques at a seminar or workshop is only a glimpse into what a whole entire system can entail. Experiences like those are introductions into what some eskrima systems can offer. It's just repeating a drill. Anybody can copy from a video if they watch it enough times and practice repeating it. The question they need to ask is if they had somebody really explain the nuances and what those movements will lead to.
If you take away the photo opportunities, the rank, the reputation and the notoriety, and only focus on the training, you’ll be forced to look at the usefulness and application of what was being taught. Using my own experiences as a reference, I now know exactly what I’m looking for in the training, and it doesn’t take much to realize if an instructor is stuck to the drills and only teaches from that, or if they have a deeper knowledge that I can try to carry on a conversation about. It's always reinforcing if there is a history or tale to be shared during that conversation, and even better when someone can corroborate it outside of the group or system by non-practitioners or rival groups.
I respect those people around me who have been learning about eskrima, because when they share their training experiences and ideas with me, it helps me to visualize what I want to get out of my own experiences.
Of course, I respect our instructor Magtutudlo Ramon and the people that he’s had the opportunity to train with and develop ideas. I also respect other people outside of that training, like those in other systems of FMA that I’ve encountered both through Ramon and outside of his circle. I also respect my older, extended relatives, including my uncles and great-uncles who were alive during World War II in the Philippines - the ones who fought received military burials complete with a full gun salute in honor of their service. While growing up in their presence, decades after the War, I could see that it had affected them greatly. When cousins and I would try to have discussions about fighting against the Japanese army soldiers, they wouldn’t say much, but one could see that they started thinking about it very deeply, because they had a certain stare. They would pat us on the head or back, and send us away to play. I know I can’t really relate to the atrocities against humanity that they personally witnessed, nor relate to the anxiety that one feels when under the constant threat of an invading force during times of war. As we grew into adolescence and early adulthood, we started to learn more.
One particular great-uncle, Mariano Ciubal, now passed away, had a certain tattoo on his arm which dates back to those times of war. He had to use the bolo against Japanese soldiers and adamantly refused to discuss his experiences. He too, had the ‘stare.’ I find him interesting because rather than using a lawnmower, he would take out a bolo and start slashing at the overgrown grass in order to manicure it with a kind of precision. It was also a way for him to stay physically active in his later years leading up to his passing. It was only after his passing that we heard stories here and there about his time as a guerilla, and later as a merchant marine. I only mention him because he had a previous life or death experience using the raw training he received and was forced to apply it to defend himself in the battle-ravaged Ilocos region in northern Luzon. To me, he deserves respect as a person of knowledge to some degree, because he was able to survive during the war and demonstrated having a certain level of proficiency with a bladed weapon to back it up. I only wish he was able to better articulate those experiences as a means to teach others.
I also have a now-elderly, paternal uncle from Bacolod, Negros Occidental in the Visayas region who trained in eskrima. A very devout and religious man, I didn’t get introduced to him until later in adulthood, after years of training eskrima under Ramon. My uncle Nick, whom they call ‘Eking’ describes his style as Tirsia Largo, and mentioned other words and terms relating to his style that have Spanish origins. When he and I sparred, I could see his simple movements that were effective in the fact that he never let me enter his defense and at the same time was using his offense to ‘cut’ me. It was an awesome experience, because I was able to experience his footwork and striking which are representative of that region of the Philippines, first-hand. I asked him why my older cousins never trained when they were younger, and like so many other stories I’ve heard about other older eskrimadors, the sons complained about getting hit, instead preferring boxing, karate, or judo or not training in anything at all.
He later told me about one of two different occasions where he was working at the docks and was challenged to fight by another man using the bolo. Not one to back down from a challenge, he faced off with the much larger opponent. As he was telling his story, he was moving his hands in a motion as if he was holding the weapon and reliving the moment like it was yesterday, describing how was able to disarm the other man of his weapon. At that time, he was already elderly, but he was so animated and was forcing himself to use his energy to share the story with me. He was so tired afterwards. It makes me sad to recall how my uncle Eking told me that he wished we were both younger so that he could share more with me. Even now, while laying in his nursing home hospital bed, he can still make me motion as if to strike him from an open or closed position, and he viciously attacks me with intention. He can still display the purpose in his movement while parrying and checking my arm and explain why.
Ramon calls stories like these ‘Eskrima Tales’ and he has countless stories of his own about the Doce Pares Club members as well as other eskrima styles and groups as told to him through interviews by the older eskrimadors of the Philippines. He shared his own personal tale about his recent trip up to Northern California to attend a funeral. While there, his Uncle Manuel, from Philadelphia, asked him if he still trained in Arnis de Mano, as it is commonly called by many Filipinos of a generation, while in Ilocano, they refer to it as kabaro-an and kada-anan. While standing in the hallway of the mortuary, the uncle was excited to show some footwork and sinawali movement with his hands, which was awkward, given the situation. As the conversation continued, the uncle introduced some rarely discussed family history and genealogy as being part-Chinese, which helped him realize why his extended family members had certain distinguishable facial features and skin color. The uncle from Philadelphia even described another uncle from San Diego who, it turns out, researched the family and wrote a book some decades ago, and knew the late GM Narrie Babao. In this situation, Ramon was able to learn more about himself and his family, as well as open new doors to develop ideas about the history and training.
I love this stuff - learning tidbits of FMA history that goes beyond the recycled tales of eskrima that are, in modern times, popular, trendy, and famous to the digitally connected world, and family history. These experiences cannot be disregarded just because the people they are about aren’t widely known. When I first met him in 2001, he described himself as a historian of eskrima, and it was only later after really training with him that I realized why he would state something like that. His idea is that personal experiences and the sharing of the knowledge is what helps those dedicated to the training to visualize what it was like back then, and how they used it in the fight. So when he goes around, meeting people, following up leads, asking questions, he’s actually putting together the pieces of a puzzle called eskrima, and in turn spending a life's journey by trying to define it based on that particular movement. Those in the know have been awaiting this culmination of his journey in the form of a book that he started writing years before I met him. In my own way, using his example, I’ve started collecting a few eskrima tales of my own, which I will cherish.
All of this other social media hype, like using 15 to 20(really?) #hashtags to glorify silly, small-time tournament footage and allude to being associated with certain eskrima styles is both juvenile and confusing, and really doesn’t show any depth of knowledge in the real subject matter of eskrima. While it may impress people who only know about eskrima from the sportive, superficial level of understanding, those with a deeper knowledge sit back and scratch their heads at why those labels are used when they don’t match the movements, and don’t connect to a real story. The same thing can be said about the Doce Pares Orihinal and mentioning Nong Banoy Borja. If anybody got an idea about that, I think they took it specifically from Ramon because they like what he described about Nong Banoy and they ran with it. In the end, that type of behavior is just name dropping anyway, you know - using somebody else’s ideas, good name, and good intentions to make themselves look like an authority of something - which we look forward to discussing further in the new year.
Some images from the recent Eskrima Combatives FMA Annual Holiday Potluck
Missing: Max Luong, Jessica Christine Ritchie, Alex Dumas, Edward Wedding, Edward Moon, Liza Lauron, Celina T. Duffy, Jesus Suarez, Jose Diaz Jimenez, Jonathan Itchon, Stephen Han, Larry Peralta, Tori Brillantes, Philip Oshiro, Tanimoto Oshiro, Surawit Sae Kang, Dennis Batucal, Chuck Nefkens, Ramil Augustin, and many others from San Diego and the greater Los Angeles area.
L to R: Alan Gonzalez, Luis Tuparan, Eric Jones, Sam Gazmen, Mike Gazmen, San Diego Chapter member Nonie Cruzado, Magtutudlo Ramon Rubia, and Patty.
L to R: Eskrima Combatives FMA students Kevin Keller, Eric Jones, Samuel, Magtutudlo Ramon Rubia, Allan Tojino, Mike Gazmen, Alan Gonzalez, Leo Cabugos; kneeling; Sam Gazmen & Luis Tuparan
Eskrima Combatives FMA, San Diego Chapter member Allan T. explaining the symbolism within the logo inspired by Magtutudlo Ramon, as members look on.
Warming up around the fire. L to R: Eskrima Combatives FMA students Kevin Keller, Dean Mandapat, Allan Tojino, Sam & Sayaka, Alan Gonzalez, Magtutudlo Ramon Rubia, and Tim Suehiro; kneeling: Luis Tuparan
Be on the look out in 2016 for the upcoming blogs from Eskrima Combatives FMA, Inland Empire Chapter, discussing various topics like eskrima and name associations (a.k.a. name-dropping), brainwashing and hypocrisy, and the revival movement in FMA.
Hope you had a Merry Christmas, ho-ho-ho, have a Happy New Year, and all of that good stuff! See you next year!
Panay Eskrima with Chief Instructor Engineer Van Tupas Fuentes of Karay-a Uno Blanco Eskrima and GM Nortega & son of Nortega Eskrima. Photo by Magtutudlo Ramon Rubia.
We've been busy training with our instructor, Magtutudlo Ramon Rubia, in Eskrima Combatives FMA (ECFMA), particularly in the strategies of Borja San Miguel Eskrima and more recently in the Eskrima De Campo Uno-Dos-Tres Orihinal of Nong Mawe Caballero. We've also made some great additions to the ECFMA roster, welcomed new people to train with our San Diego Chapter group, as well as reconnect with Ramon's returning students and acclimate them to the way we now train. Looking forward to even more training, where Ramon teaches us to go beyond the drill and think beyond all of the forms.
There’s been somewhat of a mild buzz regarding what I wrote in my August, 2015 blog, ‘FMA Seminars: Faked or Fact?’ and continued interest from the previous blog in January, 2015. When it's all said and done, this website page Eskrima Combatives FMA, Inland Empire Chapter, features my personal weblog. It is all based on my opinion, taken from years of my personal experiences on this journey in FMA. No one can take my opinion away from me, including you, the reader, nor anyone else. Apparently, there are people who are offended about what I wrote on a particular seminar that I attended, and the truth is, I feel sorry for them. It’s not like I write blogs that divulge any one person by name or their group - I’m writing in general. My blog is now on their radar, and they’re trying to cyberbully me on social media by making demands, putting obscure posts on my wall and feed, and sending veiled threats in the form of private messages. The truth is, I feel even more sorry for their students, because their instructors are dragging themselves deeper into their own muck, with no end in sight, and no way out. When will they realize they’ve gone too far? Perhaps never. The way they conduct themselves continues to be superficial, which is likely their approach to their 'style' of FMA - they haven’t really thought it through yet.
The Filipino Martial Arts community is a unique sub-group within today’s martial arts, where the concept of ‘six degrees of separation’ rings true, meaning everybody knows or is connected to everybody somehow. As stated earlier, I write blogs that do not divulge any one person or group in FMA. Instead, I attempt to write in generalities about my observations, whether they are things on the interwebs or in-person at seminars, demos, or our own practice sessions. If people are getting offended at what I write based on what I am seeing, then my common sense tells me that they must be guilty of doing the very things that I wrote about. They somehow discovered this blog, read my words, and at some point assumed I was talking about them, resulting in them making demands and threats towards me. To me, these threats are nothing more than typical, uncivilized responses to things that swing the balance against their favor, as if this was some struggle for a perceived sense of power or authority, or even that honorary and undeserving ‘rank’ I discussed in August.
I feel sorry for the students of those FMA instructors that continue to teach FMA in a shallow, and immature way, and then act up when they get called on it, because it will continually lead them to resort to unintelligent and uneducated ways of expressing their views, again, on social media. Like little children, they continue to prove my point about having a phony rank and not being intellectual enough to back it up. I make no apologies, since they can’t handle the truth as I see it. But the truths that I reveal clearly make sense to those who continue to follow my blog and agree with better than half of what I write. It's kind of like dealing with people from a cult or those with a street-gang mentality, where the sad reality is that they're stubbornly trying to fill some void or emptiness in their lives. When you try to explain some truth or thing at a level beyond their collective capability, they get mad at you like it’s your fault, like you’re the one with the problem, when in reality they probably just need a hug and to be told that it's going to be 'okay' and to just listen better next time.
Now that I recently wrote and published my observations following a hiatus, some ‘fans’ started making some noise again, whining and complaining because they’re thirsty for attention, regardless if it’s good attention or bad attention. It would seem that they intentionally look for something within what I write and automatically assumed I'm talking about them. That sounds very ego-centric, and shows us their level of thinking about teaching others martial arts. The reality is that It’s not about the people, it’s about their egos and their pride. What are they so afraid of? Being exposed as frauds.
The point of the blogs isn't to take food off of somebody's dinner table. It is to highlight the good aspects of training and point out situations in what remains of today’s FMA that I see as being unjust and clearly not an accurate representation of what true FMA is about. Like I said earlier, I feel sorry for their students, especially those who are genuinely searching for the true FMA. It's a shame that they are distracted by the hype train, with all the uniforms, patches, TV shows, print media, tournaments, trophies, medals, and the celebrity, when it should just be about the training. It feeds the ego-centric social media mentality that shouts "We are the best!" But it's just an illusion. Go ahead and ask their former students, both their high-ranking and casual student quitters and the excommunicated ones, too.
I find myself repeating the same thing in most of my blogs, but the point still remains the same - regardless of styles, the phony, watered-down FMA is all based on marketing, exploitation and commercializing the art and the fighting form for the average person. All the while the lesser known grandmasters of groups teaching real FMA keep quiet, not being as savvy in promoting themselves as their counterparts. They may maintain their own respect locally, but sadly, any last vestiges of their real FMA eventually die with them, without any worthy disciples to continue on.
Again, the exploitation mentioned earlier leads to repeating the cycle of being brainwashed. The phonies, fakes, and scammers will read the blog and always take offense and then resort to extreme behavior to justify their guilty actions or redirect the finger of blame. Like little children, they deny any responsibility and claim they are the victims to this whole situation, seeking refuge and protection from their elders with the real power and influence. It has a lot to do with ego, pride, and a lack of humility, which are words not painted on their HQ walls.
It's very hard for phony masters to change their tune after so many years of ‘teaching’ others and then turn around and admit to their students that their knowledge of certain exclusive FMA systems is not what they are claiming to be. Instead, they continue on, for they have to keep moving and continue the charade. The point is to divert the attention away from their actual lack of knowledge and distract with the glitz and glamour.
So, about that seminar in question, I saw myself as a paying customer. I paid good money to attend and they did not deliver on what we were led to believe we were getting. It turned out to be the same old thing - basic, useless drills and more hype on the microphone. Okay, so the history was a bit vague this time around, and even changed details to fit the crowd of the seminar, mostly new people with a few months to maybe one or two years in their group, as it's never the same history being told at any given time. It was also interesting that the event was not supported or attended by all the local groups from the same organization, either due to infighting or politics, as is the case with organizations with large numbers of students. It was mostly talking, but not much was said. These organizers cannot continue this trend of serving participants the same old thing, year after year, and expect any real longevity in their FMA groups.
Recently, people have been forwarding my weblog all over social media. I think it's pretty cool that they agree with me and send their compliments, especially since we don't even share the same systems! I attempt to write stuff based on the certain truths about eskrima movement revealed to us by Magtutudlo Ramon, common martial arts knowledge, by being honest with myself, and seeking honest feedback from those I train with. Twisting the point of my blogs into an attack against somebody’s family is completely misguided and diverting from the real point of the blog.
Sometimes, when you search for the truth, you uncover things that you don’t really want to hear or know, but they still exist. For me, as someone who is passionate about the path to self-discovery in eskrima, I cannot ignore the truth about training styles, training systems, training methodologies, and lineage. If only their students could look at the facts as I have presented them and ignore the music, and search from within to start thinking for themselves, rather than continuing to search for reasons to justify their brand-name training system and continue that sayaw towards the end of that proverbial cliff of doom.
Back in April, I asked a friend of mine, a master of eskrima in another system, what he thought about the January blog. He said that about 90% of what I wrote in the January blog was true. I really appreciated that feedback, and in retrospect can see why he might not agree with 10% of it. We also talked about attendees in past seminars who spent good money, and were given kindergarten-level drills that they felt should have already been learned from their respective masters. Apparently, some visiting instructors being hosted at seminars think that they can just get off the plane or out of a car and serve the exact same thing like they’ve been doing, every single time they’re in town, for years. That’s why student turnover is high, and attendance is low at their seminars. Being in the presence of prestigious instructors and taking numerous selfie pics will only carry the style so far, simply because people are tired of seeing the same old crap. It’s just not worth it. The same rings true across the pond, when you hear of those unscrupulous masters screwing everybody over in the UK, which I read is full of people that love FMA. If they did that stuff here, they would be in deep poo-poo and would get flamed quickly on the internet, too.
So then why are these other people getting so offended, especially if I didn't mention them by name? Judging by their actions they really must be guilty. When this ‘master’ continues to tell me that they were convinced I wrote about them, they are actually admitting their guilt and truth to the words in the articles. To reveal who these particular people are, would be too easy for me. It’s better for them if they just keep quiet, and stop taking advantage of any more situations. For that, I feel sorry for them and for the fact that it’s even gotten to this point, and yet they still don’t get it. They should do like they’re told by their family and just leave it alone. At this stage, they have much more to lose than I do, that much is clear. The truth, as they say, will set you free!
So, to answer publicly to the person that questions how I can ‘dare and confidently attacking’ them, the answer is that I didn’t name them! Nobody is stepping on them and their family. They say they will never back down, but for what reason and to what end? Defending a rank and title that is only honorary and undeserved? We didn’t even talk about that one time when they barely learned a form on the night before a demonstration, and rehearsed by the restroom of the venue...
I have not ever once claimed in my blog that I know everything about FMA, nor that I know everybody, nor that I can do amazing things in FMA. I don’t claim in my blog I am the best, because I am humbled enough to admit that I’m still learning. I haven’t reached the pinnacle, or end of my journey, and I probably never will. I don’t claim any one style of martial arts is the best in any of my blogs. As Magtutudlo Ramon teaches, it’s not about the style, or any of the style-related trappings, for that matter. It’s about the movement and proficiency with the weapon.
Going back to that eskrima master friend who read and critiqued my January blog, I had to really internalize and think objectively about his words. That kind of thinking comes with personal growth and maturity, not just in martial arts, but in real-life.
Please allow me to be clear and firmly state that this blog is my opinion - you can choose to read it or not - nobody is forcing your eyes on this webpage except you! If you don’t like my blog, stop reading now, and don’t come back and read it. Better yet, why don’t you write a rebuttal to what I’m talking about on your own blog, and post the hyperlink in the comments below so we can chop it up together. As the cliche simply states, ‘the pen is mightier than the sword.’
Above : Group photo featuring Magtutudlo Ramon Rubia (Upper row, 2nd from left), Engr. Devaney 'Van' Tupas Fuentes (Upper row, 3rd from left) of Karay-a Uno-Blanco Eskrima, and Haku Brad Namahoe (Upper row, center) and Eskrima Combatives FMA students after the lecture given by Van.
Below: Slides of photos taken during a recent lecture by Van Tupas Fuentes with an introduction by Magtutudlo Ramon hosted by Haku Brad at CSW Training Center in Fullerton, CA.
It’s been a few months since I published a weblog. My dad got sick from cancer and suddenly died from complications in May. So, I made a personal promise to lay low for a specific period of time, and eventually I started to train and later started writing again. Even though my dad didn’t train, he supported my passion to train, and I will never forget that.
FMA Seminars: Faked or Fact?
Throughout the year, I have been attending local FMA seminars for various reasons like curiosity, respect for certain elders, and confirmation of ideas about certain methods of training and their usefulness. Some seminars were good, while others were just okay, or not so good, all for various reasons. The content at some of the seminars was a glimpse into the training of some of the groups, while other seminars were an orchestration to keep the phony legends and deception going to keep the attention and money flowing to their headquarters. To me, there is a clear difference with what I see as typical FMA seminars, where we are expected to just follow along and go-through-the-motions, and the fruitful ones that leave a lasting impression and promote growth through thinking.
In my observation, those typical seminars are basically the same old story, where some master is selling a generic package of their techniques. While they tend to be more organized with their instruction, they tap into that market of people who just want to see the self-made master, or authentic master or grandmaster demonstrate the moves that can easily be taught and in turn, expect to be able to copy it. They paid good money, after all - they wanna see results!
One seminar that I attended was led by a self-made master with a box of training blades. He started off by dumping a box of aluminum training blades in the middle of the floor and went straight into doing techniques. To me, there wasn’t any explanation of the weapon - we were just told to grab an unsheathed trainer sword and start slashing with a partner and try to follow the blocking. In my observation, the self-made master was claiming a bladed-movement with the trainer blades, but was unable to differentiate his movement from that of a blunt stick.
In this seminar training situation, the stick movement did not transcend to the blade. I personally wouldn't violate the ranges of combat against someone holding a live blade like what I saw - that's dumb - I pictured that I would get cut. Again, the self-made master or grandmaster just demos what can be done with an already unsheathed sword, and carelessly expects others to just follow along. The perfect or ideal target audience in this situation is the person new to FMA or those only interested in drills outside of their usual repertoire. Furthermore, the self-made master used typical “big-words” terminology without any historical reference or analogous Filipino-based concepts as they relate to fighting.
Another seminar FMA group I observed has a really intense demonstration. This group also doesn't use Filipino terms, just words to describe their system as a construct. They execute their drills and hitting with speed and power. Using their generic "V" footwork, they make the drills look good, and there’s even a flow to it all. But at a certain point, one carefully starts to realize that they always end up in the same spot even when they continuously use the same lines of their “V” footwork. What happens when the other guy realizes this and moves off the straight line, beyond the range of what was demonstrated? Truth be told, I had previously seen them spar in tournaments and witnessed their art suddenly disappear, meaning there was no longer a connection between what is “the actual” for them versus their supposed “instinctive” movement as seen in their rehearsed drills or energetic forms. It made me question point of training that way if they don’t fight that way in the end.
Another variable in those typical FMA seminars is the occasional entourage of masters and grandmasters visiting from the Old Country. They fly in, get off the plane, and ready their fancy patches, colorful uniforms and belts. They might show many forms or many drills that kinda look like something trying to be combative, but not really, again with no explanation, nor any real connection to actual fighting. It’s all a big show, a phony presentation meant to disguise a circus full of social media whores selling tournament medals, selling trophies, selling certifications and selling affiliations and associations to their group. Once again, this group of predatory seminar-peddlers is highly dependent on new people with real no clue about FMA.
A good example of this exploitive behavior is when an FMA group manages to get a famous name, somebody notable in eskrima, to train them exclusively until their visa runs out. Their students are mesmerized by that visiting master or grandmaster, but they don’t think beyond that because they’re starstruck on training with a living relic who represents the bygone era of eskrima. The student-victims don’t realize that the real motivation to host the master or grandmaster was for their instructors to be recognized by them, pay for their instructor’s monetary tribute, and become legitimized on social media. Seems legit, right?
Another type of seminar that I attended had a hidden agenda, where these local organizers were trying to make names for themselves and look good to their students, by somehow being recognized as an authority by the head of their own system. In reality, their students, who travelled about 90 minutes one-way, don’t even know any better because they were all starry-eyed while in the presence of grandmasters flown in from the Old Country to propagate their “style.” These organizers are straight-up scammers, trying to promote their agenda of making themselves look good, but in the end it backfired. Nobody could even properly explain the content being taught by the visiting grandmasters - this is a fact. The true skill and the knowledge at this seminar shined through when the true authority in the room - someone outside of their own organization - grabbed the mic and clearly explained and demonstrated the methods - it was Magtutudlo Ramon Rubia!
One major obstacle in training with these visiting grandmasters is that they don’t really speak English. To say that they were able to transfer the knowledge of all the little nuances of their respective systems that day is not plausible. They couldn’t verbalize or articulate the little things, each only showing one technique, and demonstrated their stick play in the very short time they were allotted. In fact, the grandmasters they were trying to headline were actually sidelined during the 5+ hour seminar to only about 30 minutes of instruction from each. I feel bad for those visiting grandmasters, because they were forced to look silly by forsaking their own superior methods of eskrima in order to keep everything status quo, and reluctantly taught the fake eskrima as directed. The use of the visiting grandmasters’ likeness on the flyers using hashtags was nothing more than a vehicle to promote the business-side of tournament sparring and tournament forms, certificates, trophies and medals, as is the case with this style.
When we take a look at the character and background of those unscrupulous organizers, you have to remember that they come from the thinking that being given an honorary rank makes them an authority in FMA - this is false. It’s all about the knowledge, which is something beyond their grasp, especially in the methods with which they claim. They’re still at the elementary level of copying drills and forms from other people and repeating the process. It doesn’t matter how many videos they put up, or how many tournaments they win, or how many sticks and blades they collect, the skill and knowledge still doesn’t shine through. In fact, one of them isn’t even a real master, albeit, a part of the bloodline and surname. During my era of training, they were too busy selling sticks, raising a family and taking care of babies. As a matter of fact, they weren’t even recognized on the Headquarters black belt listing until more recent years - I know because I used to check the list regularly until I stopped giving a crap. Even their own people know this phony master, but they don’t say anything.
In contrast to those “typical” seminars, are the kind of seminars that make you think. The true grandmasters and masters are able to transcend the physical movement with their words. These instructors use historical references to make their point both by building on the attendees’ prior knowledge, and by using facts like geography and written accounts. They educate those attendees beyond the superficial, generally accepted view about FMA with what can be described as true FMA from their own personal experiences. Furthermore, the masters and grandmasters who traveled around the Philippines and have immersed themselves in aspects of the various local cultures, are able to dispel the superficial, generally accepted ideas about the training and the people in Philippines as written online and in certain books over the decades.
This past August, our instructor, Magtutudlo Ramon Rubia, introduced Engr. Van Tupas Fuentes, of Karay-a Uno Blanco Eskrima from Panay, who gave a lecture to the group of attendees in the subjects of Pilipino warrior arts and sciences, hosted by GM Brad Namahoe at Erik Paulson's Combat Submission Wrestling World Headquarters in Fullerton, CA. Topics included an introduction on the language and geographical location of the Philippine island of Panay and how it relates to eskrima, further conclusions about the existence of kali based on his travels to deep, remote areas of the Visayas and Mindanao, and comparing and contrasting the traditional mindset of blade versus training in stick. He later explained, in detail, the anatomy and symbolism of a particular talibong with scabbard, given as a gift to his friend and our instructor, Magtutudlo Ramon Rubia.
Van also briefly discussed sportive and survival dumog from Panay and took questions from the group. Learning about eskrima from outside of Cebu was an eye-opening experience, as it directly correlates to the philosophy and approach to how we learn in Eskrima Combatives FMA. I admired the lecture for many reasons, including hearing of his own experiences in seeking the truth about eskrima. While Van could have easily showed us drills, which is common, what he described showed that he’s into the art for more than just teaching drills - it’s about the blade culture.
What I’ve learned so far is that there are those who want to get a good sweat and do FMA drills, and there are those who dedicate themselves to seeking the truth about eskrima. Filipino Martial Arts or Filipino Fighting Arts or Pilipino Warrior Arts and Sciences is more than just collecting drills. It’s a never-ending process that involves the most dedicated individuals continually striving to take themselves to another level. They search for meaning from the movement. If an individual is properly trained, they might come and attend these out-of-the-ordinary seminars to get an idea to propel their view. If they see something unique, some special nuance or attribute, it will either confirm or force them to reject their existing ideas. They will question if what they are doing outside of the seminar will lead to the same thing, or if it can only be accomplished in a way different from their own process.
I was able to meet up with Van and Ramon initially for a dinner and some coffee with Alan and Leo, two of my brothers-in-training at Eskrima Combatives FMA. We got a second dose of Van's insight a week later while listening to his lecture at CSW, and even a third later that same night while sharing another meal with him and Ramon and Leo again. The lasting impression I got from Van is that he is a very deep and knowledgeable individual, and I can see why he and Ramon are friends. It’s about the mindset, which Van and Ramon plainly emphasized to us and in my estimation, is becoming a rare trait among those in pursuit of revealing the truth about FMA, and they both share it.
There is too much ‘sport’ emphasis in today’s modernized eskrima. I plainly admit that I've said it before - tournaments are fun, and possessing great cardio and using a great hitting pattern prevails at the padded tourneys they are oriented towards. If winning eskrima tourneys are the focus of what eskrima groups are into, then good for them. But too many bad habits are learned and programmed when you spar with the gear too much. The average person would pretty much blame the system for that. Rather, what is being taught in the system and the level of expertise and understanding by the people teaching it is to blame.
This statement actually transcends eskrima, and describes other arts as well. It's a common complaint by martial artists looking for the ‘real thing.’ However, the focus of this writing compares classical expressions of eskrima to those popular, modern, tournament-oriented styles. Real eskrimadors, like those from Panay and Negros, can distinguish what is really combative and applicable from what is tournament hype and fluff. Did we even talk about the footwork? We'll save the footwork discussion for another blog entry.
Sadly, the forms of this particular sport eskrima system of multiple-styles don’t have a real meaning - they are only meant for tournaments. Let’s take their basic 12-count form for example and break down each move. Everyone who knows it, knows the numbers or ‘counts’ and will count aloud up to 12 when twirling this form. If we look at it as moves rather than counts, we see that the first part is a forehand and backhand arko, an upward twirl, followed by another forehand and backhand arko, a sungkit thrust, a flywheel, and finally a downward, backhanded strike. After some practice, they can twirl it really quickly. I know this form is typically taught to beginners, and repeated throughout the length of stay for a practitioner of this system. This form is commonly twirled en masse when the big names in their system come to town for their annual 'Final Tour' seminar.
Questions come up if we look at this 12-count form as more than just something to do at practice, like what does this form develop? My answer is that there are a lot of principles and concepts that can be taken just from that 12-count movement alone, as Magtutudlo Ramon teaches us. But those who know this form wouldn't be able to properly articulate it. If a new student with no experience in eskrima learns this form tonight, can they use it in a real fight against somebody tomorrow? The answer is probably ‘no’ which begs the question about the point of needing to learn that particular form. Is it because it's part of the Curriculum? Of course. We must be mindful of the fact that with the practitioners of this other system, there is truly a disconnect between the drills and forms that they spend time learning to earn the belt promotion, and the strikes and strategies of the padded sport sparring - all of that training stuff goes out the window when they put the gear on and just bang on each other with sticks and helmets.
Today’s era of Instagram, YouTube and Facebook eskrima, including the conglomeration of multiple-styles, is taught by copying and not much explaining. Typically the instructor stands in front of the students and ‘shows’ the drill or form from the Curriculum. The students copy the form or drill and repeat, and they cycle through the elements of the Curriculum for the session. Upon closer inspection, all of the twirling forms and eskrima drills start to look and feel the same, still kind of empty, because it was just learning counts and the rhythm of those counts. Similarly, the true meaning of the strikes within the 12-count form is lost, due to the endless cycle of copying and not explaining the historical Five W's - who, what when where, why and how about eskrima. They were too busy learning the 'counts' rather than learning the actual moves, and the training partner is just standing there with their arm sticking out. The sparring doesn't match this training, either. Their connection within the movements doesn't exist. Go ahead and ask somebody who has been training for years in that system where the strikes and forms really come from, who used the style, what the strategy is behind that movement, etc.. They can't answer, because everything is watered down. The essence of their eskrima must then be lost, because it's something they do just because it's part of the Curriculum.
On the other hand, Eskrima Combatives FMA is about knowing through feeling. Magtutudlo Ramon refers to this as the random approach. This alternative view and presentation of eskrima leads to what we know to be a personalized, self-discovery. Referring back to the previous writing discussing what Magtutudlo Ramon refers to as the trainer-based method and using the random approach, the practitioner experiences the nuances of eskrima first-hand. The goal of self-preservation is acquired when you train in the different systems of Eskrima Combatives FMA, including the San Miguel System of Eskrima, De Campo Uno-Dos-Tres Orihinal, and Corto Kurbada. You end up owning the movement, where it becomes a part of you, rather than a series of copied movements and playing follow the leader. The other method of tournament-oriented eskrima is empty and pointless.
One might presume that the random approach is esoteric and too removed from how people expect to learn martial arts today. In actuality, when you train in the random approach, the reaction to execute this movement is natural. No bootleg moves, no more copying for the sake of copying until you’ve memorized it - you become the artist. The few, select forms and drills we train in initially are immediately applicable, and they actually work to teach you to strike and move. Your experience in learning eskrima becomes individualized in the one-on-one, live training. There is no distance learning here. All of the cool videos found on the Eskrima Combatives FMA websites, while entertaining and inspiring, are nothing compared to the first-hand training experience, and touching hands with Magtutudlo Ramon, our instructor. He is our trainer, and he is a martial artist.
Instagram, Facebook and YouTube have their fare share of videos ‘showing’ eskrima. Some of it is vintage and authentic, from the personal collections of people involved in eskrima at some point in their lives since the advent of home video recording. The rest of the videos are part ego and part copying somebody else, somebody real. In relation to today’s eskrima being taught, very little is explained in these videos. It’s funny to think that the people who actually know enough to explain what is going on in some of these videos will get ‘trolled’ by internet tough-guys and keyboard warriors, which to me shows a sad state for eskrima. If very little is being explained in the videos, we can then assume that very little is actually being understood by the people posting the video, especially when it doesn't contain any names of the drills or forms they’re doing in the video. Thankfully, Magtutudlo Ramon not only identifies who is in the video, he explains what it's about. To be more than just a creepy lurker, or an everyday viewer, and make assumptions about eskrima based on what we see, all we have to do is ask him.
The funniest videos, or rather, the most awkward, are those involving eskrima groups wearing their particular school uniform, but showing the moves of another system and playing if off as their own. Again, there’s no explanation. If they’re only showing off, and not saying anything, does that make it authentic? Do they really own the movement in the video, or are they pawning off somebody else’s material as their own? This parasitic trend of copying real eskrimadors in words and moves behind their back, and not giving credit where credit is due, has clearly got to stop.
This is my blog, a collection of thoughts on my journey in eskrima.