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.