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Cuentada... my approach

Updated: Mar 25, 2020

I remember thinking how cool it was going to be to be able to do what my teachers said I should be able to do eventually; that being not only to disarm every incoming angle but also counter every disarm and counter-disarm attempted against me, all in a real fight with a tactically intelligent and actively resisting opponent, as opposed to a choreographed drill with a cooperative and habitually acquiescent partner.

The only problem was, while my teachers would go on and on about this mythical group of enlightened grand masters who could do such things with remarkable ease themselves, when it came to what I was being taught, they never actually laid out any real steps to acquire those skills myself.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good yarn as much as the next guy and stories of extraordinary prowess, however embellished they may be, can serve to inspire the next generation of eskrimadors while also passing on the history and culture of the art, as well as the unique personalities and contributions of those who went before.

However, it seemed to me that we ought to be devoting at least some portion of our training to working on doing what they said we should be able to do eventually, but that was not the case, not ever.

Oh sure, they would teach jazzy variations and really interesting and sophisticated ‘progressions’ meant (we were told) to be so deeply ingrained through repetitive practice that – upon necessity – we would somehow transcend the chasm between mechanical training and what the legendary combat general George S. Patton called the orgy of disorder that is battle and have full and unfettered access to everything we were ever taught.

It’s the same paradox that advocates of traditional kata espouse when anyone questions the set-pattern approach to training, except that, in the Filipino martial arts, our set patterns also include set answers to a seemingly well-thought-out list of what-ifs one need only memorize and work like a faith-based, twelve-step program to be ready for whatever may come.

And right about now, I’m probably starting to piss off the followers who staunchly believe their ‘system,’ with its ‘battle-proven’ patterns, is the real deal. How many of us have heard the droning of devotees claiming that theirs is the ‘original’ system?

If whatever the so-called ‘original’ system included in its arsenal of dirty tricks was unequivocally and forever the only true art by virtue of it being the ‘original,’ why isn’t the United States Air Force still flying Orville and Wilbur Wright’s canvas and spruce contraptions?

In my feeling, and I am an admitted iconoclast, if teachers do their job, their students will naturally evolve and advance their ‘system.’ It’s certainly not a negative to move on from the original seed if one has the creativity to do so.

However, as doing so does require a certain degree of irreverence, it can definitely undermine the presumed authority that insecure grand masters of the ‘original’ system tend to hold like guillotine blades over the necks of their followers when they demand blind allegiance, so it’s not a big surprise to me that such excursions are rarely encouraged.

If you haven’t noticed, I’ve sprinkled in a few allusions to the borderline-religious mindset that pervades the Filipino martial arts because I feel very strongly that it is the atheists and heretics, if you will, who have always been the originators, the ones who scoffed at rules, restrictions and rank to forge their own path.

Moreover, what I feel we should take from their example is not only the ideas and innovations they came up with but also, more importantly, their willingness to break from the security of the crowd to venture out on their own.

On a side note, as an artist, I have always found it odd that martial artists are so inclined to follow a certain teacher or system with such unquestioning devotion. In the art world, no one but an idiot would ever say that they paint in the Leonardo Da Vinci style. Only Da Vinci did that and to be a devotee of his ‘system’ of personal expression is a ludicrous idea. Anyway, I digress…