What's it like to train with Mark Mikita?
A few years ago, during a seminar he was teaching on the beach in Hawaii, Mark was asked if there were any aspects of the Filipino martial arts that were traditionally kept secret from all but the most dedicated students.
Unfortunately, that student was a member of a Los Angeles martial arts academy that is known to have a so-called 'inner circle' of students. As is all too often the case in such schools, those privileged few receive personal attention from the school's quasi-celebrity instructor while that student and most of his fellow students have never had so much as a brief conversation with the man they were paying for lessons, much less any opportunity to personally touch hands with him.
In contrast, Mark's response to his inquiry summed up his approach to teaching in a single sentence: The only secrets will be kept by the questions you don't ask.
The one thing you won't find in Mark's school is any permutation of politics. As an avowed iconoclast, Mark has always refused to have anything to do with any organizational body that might seek to exert its presumed authority to influence or restrict what he teaches by dangling or withholding their organization-recognized rank or instructor certification as an incentive to tow the party line at the expense of his honor, integrity and self-respect. Likewise, within his school, there is no self-serving, draconian presence lurking behind the scenes and pulling his strings. If you've ever had the misfortune of training in a school where that was the case, you'll undoubtedly know what we mean.
There is no exclusionary inner circle here. Regardless of race, gender, age, skill level or aptitude, once you are accepted as a student, you will never be precluded from having a direct, personal relationship with the teacher, but know that the responsibility for establishing and maintaining that relationship is reciprocal.
Mark often uses the metaphor of a wheel to describe the best kind of school, with the hub of the wheel representing the teacher and the spokes, the students. Each student has a direct connection with the teacher but it is the connection between the students that allows the wheel to roll and the school to progress.
You might ask what that means for you, the new student. It's simple – show up for class consistently, be attentive and diligent in your training and make an effort to bond with the other students in the school as you join with them in that endeavor. Finally, commit to practicing on your own or with a fellow student daily or as often as you can. If you resolve to do those things (and not just promise yourself that you will), you will advance more quickly. Moreover – if your heart is open – you may actually become the better version of yourself that you now aspire to be... for that is the ultimate goal.
When it comes to the training, Mark places equal emphasis on the beautiful and sophisticated Filipino martial arts and their brutal application in actual combat. To survive a violent assault in the real world, you have to train very deliberately not just to function effectively but to actually thrive in that toxic environment and, to that end, Mark's approach offers a paradigm shift from defensive to more effective counter-offensive thinking and training. While self-defense is one of the most frequently referenced terms typed into search engines by prospective students, the cold hard truth is that no one ever won a fight by defending themselves. Factoring in Murphy and luck, they undoubtedly won it by swiftly turning the tables and taking the battle to their assailant with decisive ferocity. As Gen. George S. Patton put it when he was telling his officers how to train soldiers for combat, you must school yourself to savagery.
Painted on the wall in Mark's school are the words 'Whatever Works' and that is really the only thing the matters when in comes to training to defend your life or the life of another – will it work?
Lt. Col. Rex Applegate, a pioneer of hand-to-hand combat training in the United States armed forces during World War II, had a “test” for any technique, method or system. More a penetrating question than an actual defined test, it was simple: Will this work so that I can use it instinctively in vital combat against an opponent who is determined to prevent me from doing so, and who is striving to eliminate me by fair means or foul?
Teaching battle-proven techniques and strategies for dealing with every aspect of a violent encounter, Mark urges his students to regularly venture outside their comfort zones to test and hone their ability to make intelligent decisions and effectively act upon them under stress.
Known as a thinking man's teacher, Mark's small, mixed-level group classes are often extremely detail-oriented and he teaches every one of them himself, which is rare among teachers of his caliber. And since this is about what it's like to train with him, considering the life-or-death seriousness of the subjects and material covered, new students are often surprised to find that Mark not only allows but encourages an irreverent brand of humor to permeate the practice in a very conscious and deliberate effort to strike a balance and keep his students' spirits from descending into darkness.
As to what goes on in a typical class, partnered practice is the norm, with various combative drills, equipment training, tactical scenarios and sparring taking up approximately 90% of class time.
Mark will use the remaining time to expound on core principles, often delving into applied sciences (such as anatomy, geometry or physics) or looking back over the centuries to investigate the environmental, cultural and historical factors that led to a particular technical advancement in the art, thereby imparting not only the ingenious solutions the founders came up with to counter the problems they faced but also the systematic process they employed in devising them. As Mark does not teach children, he expects his students to possess the maturity to shoulder the responsibility that comes with such knowledge, training not only to develop their skills and keep them sharp, but also to keep them sheathed in all but the most dire of circumstances. Accordingly, anyone looking to become a member is expected to arrive with a fully functioning moral compass and the strength of character to follow it without fail.
Excerpts from 'The Disaster Diaries' by Sam Sheridan
I wandered through the eskrima world in Los Angeles and Vancouver until I found my way to a guy named Mark Mikita, who turned out to be a revelation...
He lectured like a college professor, a good one – encyclopedic, animated, and exhilarated by the subject...
Mark could talk like a doctor about anatomy, about the horrific vulnerability of the human body to his thirsty blade...
Weapons really change everything. Mark liked to joke that the Ultimate Fighting Championship should be called the Penultimate Fighting Championship. I started to realize that MMA, this thing that I had thought of as the be-all and end-all of hand-to-hand combat, was really just another form of sparring...
Mark is an intensely cerebral guy, and his study has been 'intelligent.' I felt lucky to have found him, because at fifty, Mark seemed to me to be entering into some kind of profound, deeper mastery. He was still incredibly fit, but it was clear from old photos and the way he talked that he had been a superlative athlete in his world. Now his mind was expanding. He read, he studied, he pondered and examined his art like a scientist...
He paused, and turned to me for emphasis. "Listen, if you train every day with me for five years and somebody pulls a knife on you and you run? Then I've succeeded."
Mark was by far the deepest student of weapons that I had ever met, and he could very quickly take a conversation about nearly any facet of combat into deep technical places. I have, quite literally, hundreds of pages of notes from my study with Mark, and that was just scratching the surface...
Don't only practice your art but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine.
Ludwig van Beethoven