GUEST ARTICLE – “POINTY END GOES IN THIS WAY” FROM MR. JOHN KOVACS, M. A.

Seems like an eye blink ago when I was sixteen. This thing called time has over taken me. A mere moment ago I was young kid living in New York City. I was young teenager enjoying the seventies in the Big Apple and all that it offered. How can you even begin to explain to the young people of today that they really missed out on some the greatest music that ever will be? Or what a disco experience was like? How does one describe the smell of the old Bowery along with CBGB’s and the grit? When I visit Forty Second Street today, it looks like Disneyland to me, Lion King Reigns supreme. Gone are the porn shops and Kung-Fu stores that sold posters of Bruce Lee. Union Square Park is so gentrified I feel like I am in a foreign country.
Martial Arts in the City were a very different thing back then. You knew peoples provenance. If your lineage was not traceable you were put on notice. A few guys from an infamous dojo on the lower East Side would have fun “visiting” people who seemed suspect in their so called “credentials”. Tournaments pitted “East Coast versus West Coast”, “Karate versus Kung-Fu”, and Aaron Banks put on the greatest martial art extravaganza on the planet. There was still some semblance of stylistic “purity” back then, in that you could tell a Goju-Ryu man from a Tae Kwon Do man. Shotokan was clearly distinguishable from various Kung-Fu. No such thing as what is now called “MMA” back then. Although when we had style versus style disputes in a tenement hallway or South Bronx rooftop, things became a bit dicey to say the least.
When it came to the street of course it was all about survival. We had guys who would show us “Jail House” boxing, and we would always have fun with the brothers “slap boxing” in the street. Improvised weapons ruled the day. Cheap, simple and efficient were the guiding ideology. None of us knew anything about “FMA” back then. We had seen some Iaido and Kendo but not much else. Some guys knew a bit about native weapon fighting from family, like some guys we knew from the islands. I had experienced a bit of Magyar Gypsy knife while visiting Hungary. But nothing was fancy or full of heavy “theory”. Pointy end goes in this way was the operative theme.
Quick deployment and concealability, and the ability to ambush someone dominated our approach. An icepick in a paper bag was unseen but felt when thrust forward. A cheap fish weight attached to a dog collar hit like a black jack. A box cutter and screw driver were subway specials – and I don’t mean the sandwich version.

Cheap, accessible and disposable made sense to us. None of us could afford a nice knife, although some guys would carry a Case pocket knife. We knew about the “throw away”. We learned that from many of the underworld types – gangsters, gang members and guys we knew from the “joint”. No glamor in shanking a dude multiple times with an ice pick. No movie fantasy about guts spilling open from a box cutter slash through a thin t-shirt on a hot summer day. When the stuff hit the proverbial fan it was on.
Today I see a lot of what I call “fancy stuff”. Expensive exotic looking curved knives from faraway places are sold all over the internet. Beautiful folders and fixed blades that while costly and nice eye candy, you would be hard pressed to throw away if ever used. I see knife “templates” that while fun to practice, are too complicated to perform under unpredictable circumstances and duress. By and large I don’t see deployment taught and the need for a truly predatory mind set. Some guys are making money selling workshops teaching the fancy fluff and stuff. While I don’t begrudge them in trying to earn a living, it would be nice if they could interject an occasional “real” method or principle in what they propagate.
But I get it. People say they want to learn “self-defense”. But in my experience when you attempt to teach that, people get appalled. They blanch and change color right before your eyes. They say things like “wait that is too intense for me, can you tone it down” or “I don’t know if I could ever do that to somebody”. But teach them a form of religion disguised as martial arts, or a form of rolling around the mat like dogs in heat, and they sign up in droves. Some families have made a great deal of money brain washing the masses on the efficacy of their invincible legendary methods. And yes, maybe on some beach in Brazil, mano a mano with mucho machisimo, it has validity, but in crowded bar, or moving crowded subway car, I don’t know. If you are in the street when you are being ambushed by multiple predators, probably armed and in low light conditions, it ain’t a Jackie Chan movie. And a huge obese aging pony tailed Aikido Guy who never gets a scratch in the movies when fighting the bad guys, is not coming to your rescue. And what if the defender is unarmed? Are people by and large still so gullible? The first mistake of a defender is that he was caught unarmed. And if he is armed, he needs to be trained and willing to use his covert weapon of choice.
The combat mindset should be an important principle to inculcate. Does not matter what you know if you are not willing or unable to make it so. Keep it simple. Learn blunt impact and edged weapon methods with an eye toward ultimate survival. Become familiar with firearms. It never ceases to amaze me how so many martial art “experts” I know who are teaching public workshops and classes know nothing about firearms. They self same Guros also make lame excuses about this ignorance. But yet they often teach gun disarms! In my simple logic how can you defend yourself against something if you don’t know how to use it and how it functions (and hence its strengths and weaknesses)? This is also my logic when I see martial art “experts” teaching students how to defend themselves against a blunt impact weapon or a knife. And of course if you don’t understand the mind set of true predator, it puts you in a moral and ethical conundrum. The predator has no “compassion” or “empathy” as a so called “normal” person would be conditioned to have. So that passive “just re-direct and control” “non-Violent” approach is gonna get ya killed. Doesn’t anyone see the lack of logic in the term “non-violent” martial arts? Self-protection will be anything but non-violent.
Train hard. Use your common sense if you can. Become well rounded in your approach. Keep it simple. Don’t buy into the fancy stuff. And if you do, have fun with it but don’t confuse it for authentic self-protection. If you train in a so called martial-art for the exercise benefits, that’s wonderful. But try to comprehend that authentic martial arts for real world survival is not about just the workout. If you live in a gun culture please at least become familiar with what that means. You don’t need to be an expert shooter by any means. But at least have a cursory knowledge for your own benefit.

 

“MIND ARNIS”

Though many are aware of the brutal effectiveness of the Filipino martial arts, many are not as clear on HOW they’re so effective in conditioning the brain neurologically (and one of the reasons I find it difficult to give them up after so long). The FMA are extremely progressive and, though many will tell you they’re simple, they are not…they are highly-complex in their wiring and very unique in the landscape of Asian combative arts. Those that call them simple are not wrong, just at a different stage of learning. Here are just some reasons that may or may not be familiar to instructors and, if you can use this to understand your arts just a little bit better with regards to training students, then the article has served its purpose:

  1. Transference and improvisation. A universal approach to the utilization of tools. A simple breakdown in the type of tool but a vast diversity of usages within that construct. Stacking fundamentals, I call this. Grips, methods of striking, parts of usage, deployment-concealment-carry, angles & levers in a plethora of impact, projectile, shielding, bladed, puncture and flexible weapons. Once one knows how to understand this, everything becomes a weapon and utilization becomes simple. The complexity lies in training the brain to see not only potential arms but escape routes, patterns, body language reading, target assessment and a host of others.
  2. A focus on the mental – to quote my instructor, environmental factors, advantageous positioning, targeting (as opposed to sequenced responses), improvised weapons, attack flow and mental switch. This, coupled with an instructor willing to learn the latest in terms of modern neurological learning technology, leads to a devastatingly-prepared mindset in the modern FMA fighter. *There can be a heavy investment of time that can go into the understanding of the FMA. In my 20+ years, to comprehend fully my path, I delved into Historical European martial arts, Western fencing, boxing, shootwrestling (to understand buno – indigenous Filipino grappling – more clearly) and tai chi/qi gong (body relaxation to understand flow and sensitivity more in-depth, though admittedly not the same in scope). NLP admittedly helped greatly to understand and explain the conditioning process, why and how it works and how it applies to the FMA conceptual methodology. (And not the New Age flight 2-day certification seminar type for self-help and wellness purposes but a hardcore learning methodology and teaching tool.
  3. Adoption of concepts and methodologies to serve the purpose needed. Pinoys are a pragmatic people with regards to combat-function over form and whatever is needed to get from Point A to Point B. If it works, it’s “stolen”, thus keeping a constant evolution of both the look and development of the arts (in experienced hands with those having ongoing and consistent training) Western fencing (from Spanish, Dutch & Portuguese occupation), Western boxing (from WWII and post-WWII interaction with American soldiers), Chinese, Indian and Pacific Archipelago influence all may have had an impact on the FMA. While some will argue that this makes it impure and not distinctly-Pinoy, it is (whether accepted or not) one of the elements that makes the FMA as brutal and effective as they are-pure or not. (And who cares about purity with regards to survival and getting home to one’s family anyway)
  4. The use of geometrical shapes,  and patterns. It is often like utilizing a mathetmatical equation in relation to combative analysis. Footwork, angles of attack, entry points, movement, reading opponent and situation, cutting triumverates, quadrants of attack, patternization. Thought-provoking and cerebral, the FMA breed by nature many intelligent and practical exponents. (Logical and applied concepts easy to pick-up, easy to explain)
  5. A circular learning curve and distribution of knowledge not linear)-no progression of skills over time, whatever needed is taught in a connective learning circle to other skillsets, thus creating a learned connection to a vast network of integrated abilities, easier for the brain to access under duress as opposed to constant skillset selection based on range, arms, number of attackers, etc. (There is no continual adding of different abilities but a small nucleus of functional tools that connect to every other on the circle and in a hugely-diverse manner)
  6. Dealing with the angles over specific responses to specific strikes. (Less options, more function, less complex selection for the brain to undergo under the extreme duress of combat.)
  7. A focus on reactionary skill, instinctive response and attribute development as opposed to sequenced response and perfection of technique. This creates an innate, unconscious and uncatalogued answer to whatever given stimulus is placed in the way of achieving the goal-everything becomes a target to attack, offensive mindset *Often developed using “flow and sensitivity” drills which, though unique and highly-developed, tend to work best with knowledge of what specific attributes are being developed and the drill itself being limited to 2-3 steps and in both rhythm and broken rhythm for rapid conditioning and application. (heavy repetition on basic skills and concepts in a short time frame, a natural development process that the student often isn’t even aware of and leading to the end result – fighting functionality)
  8. Smooth and seamless transition between the ranges of combat (corto/close range, medio/middle range, largo/long range and in many systems includes various others – the mind/psychological warfare, weapon crossing/touch range, distance/no touch but with rapid gap close available, standing grappling, groundfighting) (a set of skills and target acquistion ability conditioned from whatever position, range, scenario – one universal mentality, not accummulated skillsets)
  9. Bilateral interaction, coming from a focus on weaponry early-on in training. This often mistaken for ambidexterity but that’s not the case. Both sides of the body are utilized functionally and with effect, though not of equal development. Often, one will hear an instructor explain this as ambidexterity, for example, doing equal stickwork on both sides to build both up (sinawali, for example). If one is truly proficient and knows these arts, one is already training with both hands regardless of holding a weapon or not. With stick in your strong hand, your other or “live” hand should be in constant motion-checking, pinning, striking, gouging, throwing. Bilateral interaction is not ambidexterity and the focus should be on developing one’s strong hand with strong supplemental support of one’s live hand, which often turns out to be the more deadly one with a highly-skilled practitioner. (seamless utilization of a full arsenal of tools making a multi-dimensional practitioner)
  10. An immediate initiation into the world of weapons. This allows for supercharging of distance, range, timing, movement and power development sets and psychologically eases the transition to empty-hand training and the usual fears that come with it. How much easier is it to gauge these elements in a weaponless environment when you’ve already had a stick, wooden knife or cane zing by your head with gust of wind? (psychological desensitization to fear, pain, resistance)

Though many are familiar with the physical part of distributing knowledge, there are distinctly neurological, psychological, anatomical and mental areas that, if done correctly, speed up the learning curve exponentially if compact reflex drills, progressive resistance training, pressure-testing and dynamic and visceral scenario training are used in conjunction. It takes an astute instructor to be aware of how to develop a student combining these elements with the mental/psychological and this simply cannot be learned through the seminar-only, the 6-month crash course, casual/sporadic learning and the quick certification routes. They are highly-evolved and complex systems that take time, neurological connection and an application under fire with care from one who understands all elements. Most exceptional instructors  I’ve met and trained under seem like they’re making things up as they go with no gameplan whatsoever and this mistaken perception could not be further from the truth. This, the backyard teaching philosophy, the seemingly-unsophiscated manner of syllabus and its distribution, the nonchalance of the instructor…are perception only and most of the absolute best are low-key, seemingly-simple individuals with an unorganized curriculum who are fighting-focused. If you know of or are being trained under one, listen closely until starting to connect dots you didn’t know existed. It’s a long learning curve but worth the investment.

SOME MYTHS: (though another article is needed to delve into this) Sinawali/2-stick drills build true ambidexterity, v-stepping is the predominant and only method of footwork you’ll need (you’ll usually know who’s pressure-tested/fought with minimal or no protection/done resistance training from this one as replacement stepping and the shuffle take front and center), a huge number of angles of attack need be trained for effectiveness (Back in the fightbooks of medieval Germany/Italy, they used 7 angles, including the thrust but infinite variations and combinations can be made from this template), defanging the snake is all that’s needed in weapons combat/defense, biomechanical cutting is always the quickest and best way to shut down and stop the human body (adrenaline factors/depth of cut/sharpness of knife/cleanliness of cut/dynamic movement factor), “trapping hands” or de cadena works the way it does in the club (though “trapping” is an element used regularly in boxing, grappling, clinchwork but not in the way most FMA people train it), knives magically appear in your hand whenever needed (deployment/weapon retention/concealment & carry skills need to be implemented into one’s training), that if you train with weapons you’ll simply conquer any attacker as you’re a “weapons man” now (you’ll need more and nothing is a fast guarantee of success with the vast number of scenarios that can unfold), that gunting/nerve destructions/pressure point attacks shut down the moving adrenaline-filled human body (later that evening they can hurt like hell but hardly helps in the moment), that complex flow drills build attributes or that some flow drills build attributes at all (drilling for the sake of drilling, becoming a drillmaster or not knowing the reason for your drilling makes it moot, period).