- by Rich Acosta
To fully understand the Filipino Martial Arts (FMA), you must first come to understand the people and culture from which it evolved. Many FMA practitioners believe that what they practice is "Filipino" and yet the true essence of the FMA eludes those who have had little or no exposure to Filipino culture or any first generation Filipinos for that matter.
Filipinos are practical by nature, creative, scholarly and amicable. On the other side of the coin, they can at times lack patience, and also may reveal the violent side of their nature when provoked. This is who we are, but perhaps this is not common knowledge to many practitioners of the FMA outside of the Philippines. This may be the reason why the training in many FMA systems has become so seperated from its original Filipino roots.
The Filipino Martial Arts have been around since 700 AD, perhaps even earlier. Only now do we have form exhibitions, full contact tournaments with far too many restrictions, full body protective gear, which often limits the body’s range of motion, for sparring. As well as training drills from A to Z which can make students too reliant on the structure of their system, inhibiting the creative process, essential to combative training.
FMA instructors are opening schools that could not survive without a tournament presence to promote their schools. Founders of modern FMA systems are creating training practices, which could be dangerous in an uncontrolled, unprotected environment, infusing arts that don’t necessarily complement the FMA. Students are becoming obsessed with collecting preset drills, inhibiting their ability to function outside of the limitations of the fixed patterns of attack and defense.
Now don’t misunderstand. I am a firm believer in the benefits of controlled sparring, coordination drills, and the stamina training it must take to prepare for a tournament or full contact sparring. I’m sure that there are some very good fighters being trained this way, but there is a difference between training for competition and training for combat and self-preservation. The main difference being that combat has no rules or restrictions, such as areas which you can attack, and the manner in which these techniques are delivered; as is often the case when dealing with tournaments and competitions. In a violent confrontation there are simply techniques that either work or don't work.
The Masters and Grandmasters that I have had the privilege to meet in the Philippines were taught the art as a means of survival, not sport. They endured the hardships of their training not for enjoyment but rather for its necessity. Training was not systematic and opportunities to test their knowledge could happen anywhere for any reason and possibly with multiple attackers, without rules or restrictions. Many of the systems in the Philippines teach techniques that cannot be placed within a preset drill, as the finality of the outcome provides no room for counter let alone re-counter. Masters and Grandmasters have often lamented about how the combative essence of the FMA has diminished due to the trend of sparring with protective gear, which often results in carelessness and sloppy, often brutish technique. Some Masters are disappointed by the segregation and ill feelings between competing styles of Arnis that eminate from the competitive attitudes often caused or inflamed by the tournament cirquit. But they can do little to control the condition of the arnis community even in the Philippines, because the allure of championships, and trophies have become more important than the art itself.
To re-infuse the essence of our art, we must think practically. We should be creative in our approach, training for maximum efficiency in a simulated combative environment, taking into consideration every possible permutation. This is probably for most of you something that you may not find presently in your school. So that is where Filipino "impatience" factors in. Train yourself. Find a way to workout with a friend, or a group of friends, on a regular basis with as little protective gear as possible (maybe just padded sticks and one or more people wearing headgear, groin protection and knee pads), without any restrictions. With weapons, and without. Training with speed and control, remember that they are your friends and you should all practice without seriously injuring each other. Everything you learn should work for you real time. If it doesn’t, make it work. Everything just takes practice. Practice with people who are interested in helping you learn and grow in skill. The reason most instructors won’t train their students in this manner is because they are, wisely enough, probably afraid of being sued. But you shouldn’t let that get in the way of taking your training to the next level. Also Filipinos are an amicable and accommodating people. A good attitude is perhaps one attribute that could serve to protect you more so than any technique you may learn. Lastly you should remember that although Filipinos have a very hospitable nature, you should never take this for granted or you might experience what lies on the other side of that calm exterior. Respect is everything to a Filipino. Always keep in mind that the respect you give is the respect you earn.