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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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.)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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).