Form versus Folly: Trying to Make it Functional
In a particular eskrima system that we do not train in, the San Miguel is nothing more than the name of a long form, which we are supposed to trust, so we're told. They try to use names of famous eskrimadors and their respective exploits in history to market this particular brand of eskrima to take money from the uninformed public. Their form is simply a collection of flowery movements that loosely resemble elements of the San Miguel System of Eskrima. Proponents of this other, ‘modernized’ eskrima system incorrectly state to their followers that the San Miguel is just a form - this is false. This form has even been known to be performed in seminars and large events to the sounds of ballroom dance music, like cha-cha or something, to make it look graceful and sweet. There are strikes mixed with fancy twirls, low crouch stances, and a bunch of other choreographed moves that are taught 'by-the-numbers' or counts of each move, strike, or step. Marketed as the 'final' form, the general public is ignorant to those who try to capitalize on this fantastic story being told.
I personally find it boring to watch. The San Miguel ‘form’ is so long in duration, that the average person would quickly lose interest watching it being performed in its entirety. I can attest to this fact. At first glance, it’s seems like more of a dance, rather than something useful for a combative situation. Viewed in this way, the San Miguel ‘form’ looks kind of silly, and makes it hard to take the name San Miguel Eskrima seriously as an actual system, or rather, a strategy, depending on how it’s taught. A martial arts practitioner seeking to go deeper in eskrima could be turned away by the superficial, flashy tournament forms that were actually meant to attract new ‘believers.’ In fact, I’ve heard many times that people avoided training in this particular eskrima system because said practitioners look too flowery while striking, more like dancing, or even worse.
In Doce Pares Orihinal - the San Miguel System of Eskrima (SMSOE) as taught by our instructor, Magtutudlo Ramon Rubia, each of the grandmasters had their own version of how the San Miguel is executed as a form. What that looks like depends on the decade in which they trained, taught, and fought for the Doce Pares Club. While there was an evolution from the 1950's through the early 1990's, at the root of it, San Miguel footwork enables the practitioner to move quickly while striking. Keep in mind that when we talk about mobility, in our view, this is not a simple boxing-style of footwork that shuffles or walks back-and-forth or side-to-side. By training in the ways of Nong Momoy’s Orihinal Disciples of Eskrima--Depensa Seguidas Group (NMODE--DSG), proper body mechanics is brought into play, and we learn to keep our balance when striking our opponents. We learn mobility from the classical teachings of the SMSOE in order to not get hit. In other words, the San Miguel footwork has a lot of variability in movement, while simultaneously allowing for continuous striking patterns. This translates to dictating the opponent’s movement in a fight, where they become ‘guided’ by reacting to your strategy in movement. Your understanding of this application enables you to become the 'puppet master,' pulling their 'strings,' creating opportunities and missteps with which to capitalize on.
A sad truth, is that this could never be taught through the watered-down movement found in the modern ‘conglomeration’ of styles being marketed today. Instead, this is actually found in largo mano eskrima training, where you learn the ‘long’ and translate it to the ‘short.’ It doesn’t work the other way around. I’ve personally trained in elements of that particular system and occasionally attend seminars out of respect. But there are several differences in the ways that we train. They don’t teach that a fight is never stationary or what it means to have ‘proper’ body mechanics because they don’t train in the ways of utilizing movement as a strategy. These naysayers caught up with superficial things like ‘style’ are quick to criticize San Miguel Eskrima, because they haven’t gone deep enough into eskrima to understand it. They’re missing the bigger picture, or global view of fighting using the basic, classical eskrima principles found in the SMSOE. To relegate or dismiss the ‘old’ ways of moving and training as inferior to the ‘modern’ eskrima styles, is highly ironic.
For years, Magtutudlo Ramon has been discussing the trainer-based method of learning that is taught in what we now call Eskrima Combatives FMA. If I jump on YouTube and search eskrima videos, I’m certain that a statistically significant number of videos will reveal that the trainer-based method is beyond the grasp or mentality of the people in the videos. This does not mean standing there in front of your trainee and throwing a ‘Number 1’ forehand strike and leaving your extended arm out there for them to attack you. You’re both standing there. A real fight is never standing still. That type of eskrima training is dead, with no purpose. The trainer isn’t conditioning a response in the form of a threat. Training with a 'one-armed bandit' doesn’t teach the give-and-take found in the trainer-based method of teaching eskrima. Simply feeding the angles in a static way, like the methods, becomes too predictable and unrealistic. I can easily imagine that military servicemen, law enforcement personnel, catch wrestlers and MMA guys who are looking to hone their impact weapons skills might take one look at this training and decide to look elsewhere.
Taking the trainer-based approach to learning eskrima a step further, I believe that training in ‘live’ blade is the ultimate teaching tool. Magtutudlo Ramon is able to explain many of the nuances of live blade training, like using the bolo from the master bladesmiths in Leyte. This is not the same as using an aluminum trainer with a vinyl sheath or some padded stick used to simulate live-weapons training. This is the real thing, which throws all of the phony gimmicks and fancy moves-training out of the window. To take yourself to the next level, Magtutudlo Ramon teaches us that you have to go to the ‘edge’ and put yourself in harms way. I’m speaking personally because I know the pain of getting cut and being stitched up as a result of it. Live blade is not a toy, and requires a skill that is far beyond the average novice or intermediate who only trains in stick, let alone graduates away from trophies and medals.
Following his extended travels throughout the Philippines, and having met many masters and grandmasters of eskrima, Magtutudlo Ramon Rubia was the first person Stateside to promote the ideas contained within the eskrima that he teaches, that ‘the truth is in the movement.’ This is a very profound statement, which is often duplicated, but never imitated properly. He teaches us that in the end, it’s not about style. It’s about the movement, and finding a connection in that movement. For these reasons, he teaches us to honor the Nongs, including Doce Pares Club Grandmasters Momoy and Cacoy Cañete, Nong Banoy Borja , Nong Ben Culanag, Nong Naro Mendoza, Nong Junior Mendoza, and Nong Mawe Caballero of Eskrima De Campo Uno-Dos-Tres Orihinal. Magtutudlo Ramon never fails to give any of them credit when showing their unique movements, their techniques, and sharing with us their words and mindset towards training. We are proud to be his students and to be recognized as such.
We are reminded that if we continue to study the history of eskrima and its deeper aspects, certain truths will be revealed, especially if the prized information comes from outside the conventional or accepted circle of knowledge. The problem is, most people who have valuable information about eskrima pass it on through oral traditions, unsuspectingly allowing those who would capitalize on it to either publish articles or somehow take the information and use it to appear as if they are the authority on the matter. Like I’ve written before, it goes back to what we call the protocol, which in other words, means giving credit where credit is due.
This is my blog, a collection of thoughts on my journey in eskrima.