Arnis sparring – ”No wind”

A variation of light sparring with live sticks and no protection. ”No wind” means the speed is kept low, so that the stick shouldn’t make any sound in the air. Filed under: arnis-eskrima, PTG, sparring, video


Upcoming Changes

Just a heads up. Between now and New Year’s, I’m going to be making some changes to my blog in an effort to update it. The blog may be down for a bit, but I’ll be back. I’m also aiming to massively step up my game with my videos.

In the meantime, Ron Balicki has a great idea for a fighting flashlight.

Balicki Light

Balicki Light 2


Balicki Light 4


Teaching Notes for New Teachers of the FMAs

Concerning the Art of TEACHING the FMAs…

I’ve mentioned several times on this blog that in the Filipino Martial Arts world, we have many ways of teaching fighting and drills but very little addresses how to teach students. We’re not talking about how to teach a seminar; I am referring to lessons on how to teach full-time students of the arts. There are plenty of books about instructing in Japanese, Korean, Chinese and sports styles. However, the FMAs have come up very light on the subject of what methods produce the best product in the classroom.

Shameless plug:  I’ve compiled a book on tips for doing so. While not exactly a manual on HOW to teach from beginning to end–actually, it is a compilation of articles from this blog about the art of instruction for FMA teachers–you should head over to Amazon and get a copy. Without a doubt, you will find plenty of useful information within its pages.

Last night I attended a class being taught by two of my students and wrote down some notes offering them feedback on teaching for results. This may irritate them, but I really don’t care. Once a teacher, always a teacher. Although I am an unlettered man, I proudly boast that I consider myself a pretty darned good teacher of the fighting arts. When I transformed from martial arts fighter to martial arts teacher, I closely studied the art of teaching. I talked to my teachers in depth about why they did things the way they did and got feedback on what they found to be most effective. I visited other teachers and coaches as well, and exchanged ideas with scholars about the philosophy of teaching. In fact, I meet at least once a month with a local scholar, Dr. David Williams, who is holds degrees (including a PhD) in subjects from History to Education. And what do we talk about? Teaching. Those lessons are universal, and if you’ve never read about the art of teaching–you’d find a gold mine of information talking to the masters of taking uneducated and making them smarter than yourself.

At the core of my philosophy is this:  Endeavoring to produce students who are more skilled than myself.

Often, martial arts teachers love their teachers so much, they refuse to change anything that their teachers taught. They admire them and believe it to be betrayal to stray from anything their masters did or said. In my opinion, one would honor their teachers more by strengthening their master’s legacy by making sure it improved with each coming generation. Even if it meant you had to scrap the program and rebuild it, simply by being in your teacher’s lineage you make him or her proud by putting out the best students possible. My students mostly teach, from periodic classes in their home to community centers to commercial locations. The only thing they have in common besides the same system is that they produce good fighters–and that is good enough for me.

Back to the purpose of this article.

So I wrote down some notes that I texted to my student, and I would like to share them with my readers. Hopefully, you will find some value in them and can find a way to incorporate them into your own method of instruction.

  • Use a base curriculum with base attacking techniques.  Rather than teaching a handful of techniques and defenses and drills, I favor developing a core set of attacks and counter attacks that can be mixed and matched when in application. Have sets of punches and kicks, hitting or slash & stab combinations. These combinations serve as your base for training. You will have some that are best for initiating the attack, pursuing a fleeing opponent, countering an opponent’s initial attack, etc. You will find that by training these base attacks and not having too many of them, your students’ reaction will be second nature and the same base attacks are applicable in many situations and they are executed without thought.
  • Separate beginner line drills from your intermediates and advanced. Often, in the classroom, you will have several different skill levels and ranks in the same session. It isn’t necessary to have your advanced guy doing exactly the same drills as your beginner, especially when the advanced guy has techniques that he needs to hone and develop. Plus, it makes the class more enjoyable when they are able to focus on rank-specific skills.
  • Spend time on stretching. It isn’t necessary to have a long period of time spent on stretching, but make sure you give it some attention. Many of us want to get right to technique, but remember, the students have to develop their fitness level and without it, their techniques will be less effective. In the FMAs, particularly, we often believe that sticks and knives render fitness irrelevant. I totally disagree. Your weapons skill becomes relevant when you tire, get a cramp, or gas out while in combat. Stretching is needed for more than just kicking–it helps you move efficiently, have superior balance, and more agile.
  • Always train the core fighting techniques. Every system has a set of basic fighting skills that must be trained EVERYTIME your students step on the mat. You decide what those techiniques are, and make sure that even though other styles may have them–no one else does them better.
  • Periodically explain, in detail, your basics. You would be surprised how many advanced students execute their basic skills sloppily. My philosophy is that sloppy fighters are the result of sloppy teachers. You can never review the details too much. Our goal is perfection, but perfection for the martial artist is an ever-moving level that one should never say we achieved. The closer you get to it, you will realize that there is more you can do to improve. Give your students all the corrections they need until they are near perfect, then make them train while performing nearly perfect technique
  • Speaking of perfection, does practice make perfect? No, perfect practice makes perfect. See above ^^^
  • Make sure to scan the class ranks for hand position, footwork and execution. Often while training we will be more focused on counting repetition than making corrections. Take the time to watch your students and notice when hands are dropped or out of position, footwork is off or unbalanced, and techniques are not executed crisply. As a fighter, one should already have developed this habit. (One reason I believe highly in competition fighting) When a hand is dropped or the opponent stumbles, your trigger should automatically fire. And so should your “teacher mouth”…. POW! Protect ya neck, kid.
  • Return to strength exercises frequently. Legs tired? Rest em, but drop and give me 20 while resting them. This is a big thing for me. Everyone under me has a strong physique. EVERYONE. The best time to perform strength exercises is when you are tired and somewhat fatigued, because doing so develops courage, pain tolerance and heart. Students can never get too much of it too. Even if you have not come up with the best strategy, your students will be stronger and more fit than most opponents–and dominate.

Make sure that as teachers, you focus on making better martial arts students. One cannot accomplish this by simply coming to class and counting out reps or regurgitating techniques. Mold your students carefully, and temper their skill through pain and sweat. I hope you find these tips valuable.

Thanks for visiting my blog.


The First Class

Stepping into a martial arts school for the first time can be daunting. There is so much unknown about the classes that it is worth learning what to expect. I decided to make this post about my local Counterpoint Tactical System club – Saint Louis Counterpoint Martial Arts, or STL Counterpoint. A prospective student can find the styles of martial arts that we teach, our history, and a bio on the club leaders elsewhere on this site. This post is about beginnings. The first class is an introduction to the art and to the club members. STL Counterpoint practices two martial arts – Counterpoint Tactical System (CTS) and Cacoy Doce Pares (CDP). Regardless of what we’re studying that week, the general instruction plan will be the same.

STL Counterpoint Logo


During the first class, a new student will be introduced to the eskrima stick, also known as a baston, garrote, or olisi. Focus is placed on learning the correct body mechanics when striking with the stick. We train in a relaxed manner that emphasizes form. This means that the student learns how to hold the stick properly, the various striking surfaces, how to generate power, and some angles of motion.

Filipino martial arts and Counterpoint Tactical System, specifically, are dynamic martial arts; so, the new student learns footwork as well. Angular footwork from traditional Filipino arts is introduced immediately. This aids in the self defense goal of escape whenever possible.



Again, form is emphasized during the first class. This means I talk a lot about proper body mechanics as the session progresses. We use a flexible, mutli-level approach that accommodates all skill levels, which means anyone can start at any time. Each class has an outline, but instruction responds to the student’s grasp of the material not a timeline.

Photo courtesy of Tim Gwilt and Gwilt Martial Arts

My responsibility as an instructor applies the moment that training begins, whether the individual is a lifelong student or drops by for one visit. You can read what makes up my responsibilities here; it boils down to providing a high quality, safe learning experience.


Because CTS and CDP are rooted in traditional arts, STL Counterpoint does bow in and out of class. This gesture is a sign of respect between instructor and student – respect for the knowledge and respect for the effort given during class. Class is informal after that. Working with partners is essential to proficiency in the martial arts. We start working partner drills right off the bat. Questions are encouraged during training because they require deeper thinking about the art.


In any martial art, the question of safety must be addressed. At the start of class, we lend out protective equipment for the class. By focusing on proper mechanics, the student is learning to be a safe training partner. Drills proceed at a slow pace.

When’s a good time to start?

Now is the only answer to that question. Now is the best time to start.


The first week of instruction is free. Both Monday and Wednesday classes are free to try. We want prospective students to come in and experience a couple classes to see what we offer. In addition to free classes with STL Counterpoint, our partners at Team Kali provide free instruction during that same week.


Real-Life Combat: Man vs. Bear


Hunter Brandon Johnson went into the forest to look for a bear that his hunting partner had supposedly killed. Without warning, the largest bear’s head he had ever seen clamped its jaws onto him, breaking his arm. His only weapon was a knife with a 5-inch blade. He stabbed the bear for all he was worth.

Three times the bear broke of the attack, and returned, until the third attack when Brandon shoved his knife down the bear’s throat!ndon was armed gave him his only hope of survival.

It’s a simple lesson, but as far-fetched as the odds of survival may have seemed, the fact that Brandon was armed gave him a shot at survival.


Australia’s Toughest Man

InstructorAustralia’s toughest man is scheduled to teach combat to Australian commandos. This is a guy who once strangled a Taliban commander in hand-to-hand combat. His technique looks like no-nonsense, effective stuff. (Go here:

I think it’s much better than the US Army’s regrettable turn to BJJ, which involved rolling on the ground as a strategy. While you may have to go to the ground, you should plan on staying upright, and you’re better off using improvised weapons instead of trying to wrestle your way through a life-or-death struggle in a combat zone.

The aim is to simplify the hand-to-hand system taught to Australian troops, which I take as a promising sign.

“It will be a progression of their natural skills but it will be a lot simpler than what we’re teaching them at the moment, so their skill retention will be higher. It will be easier to train the instructors in as well,” he said.
“The program we run now is not a bad program; it’s just very complicated. You watch the guys’ confidence fall as they work through the five days of training now. I think this will make guys more confident and enhance individual capability as well as team capability.”

See the video here:


Swiss Hostage Escapes Abu Sayef in Philippines

In this case a Swiss hostage in Jolo (Do NOT ever go to Jolo, Sulu, Tawi Tawi in the Philippines!) made a gutsy escape attempt. despite being cut, he prevailed and escaped. As I’ve often said, there may not be a clean, easy way out, and victory comes with a price.



2014 Iron Mountain Camp Testing


Testing for rank is part of any Counterpoint Tactical System seminar with Master Zach Whitson. Iron Mountain camp is no different except in one way. Black belt testing is only conducted at the instructor’s camp. Since I’ve attended camp, the testing schedule has remained the same: Friday night is white belt through brown one and Saturday night is for the black belts.


On Friday night, individuals tested for blue, green, red, brown three, and brown two. I helped Bill Graves test for his brown two belt; so, I missed most of the testing. Since I wasn’t testing, I got the chance to help out. I was a little rusty, but I enjoyed it. The brown two curriculum is a lot of fun. It is always great to watch a test without the pressure of being under scrutiny yourself. Bill did a great job. He has the best third hand striking of anyone that I’ve worked with thus far. I would love to step outside and see what he was doing. From my vantage point, there was a lot of simulated eye pokes, pushes, and controls. Sparring is also part of testing in CTS. Bill and I went last. We put on the safety gear and let the padded sticks fly. Bill passed his test, as I knew he would.

Congrats to those who passed.

Saturday night was the first degree black belt test. The exam began as daylight was falling, and on Saturday, the electricity failed in the convention center. The air was muggy, and the windows were all steamed opaque. Five candidates stood up in front of the testing board. Three were from Ryer Martial Arts in Pittsburgh, one was from Haastyle Martial Arts in Boca Raton, and one was a direct student of Master Whitson. Each of them had worked hard and spent years to get to that moment. Each had taken different paths to get to that point. They would not be deterred by darkness or heat.


The lights and air conditioning came back on about a quarter of the way through the test. Everyone seemed to settle after that. First degree black is a big curriculum block. The double stick tactics have a large number of drills. This block has both symmetric and asymmetric training. The candidates did some drill sparring with the espada y daga. It wasn’t free sparring; they chained some drills together into a flow. They ended the test with knife versus knife sparring.


During examinations, Master Whitson likes to through curveballs to see if we know the material or if we’re just parroting back what’s on the DVDs. This curveball was double stick shadow boxing. Each candidate had to create their own double stick combinations one at a time in front of all the watchers. It was interesting to watch each person create a flow that incorporated all they’d learned.


Since I will be testing for my first black belt at the 2015 camp, I took notes of what was being required and what notes were given. I didn’t pay attention to individual performances, but I know they all did great. Congrats to Thomas Slack, Jaime Dillon, Jessica Levine, Rauhit Ashar, and Bryan Vinik. Their hard work, and their effort paid off.

wpid-saturday-black-belt-011.jpg.jpegSee you next year!


Larga Mano

Some thoughts on Larga Mano:

There is a difference between Larga Mano and using a long weapon.  Just using a long weapon does not mean you are playing Larga Mano.  Often I see long weapons used in close quarters or Medio range; even as close a Corto.  But this is not Larga Mano.  There are principles to Larga Mano that include range, footwork, timing and tactics.  Larga Mano principles can even be applied to empty hands if you think about it.  The choice of weapon is not all we should consider when evaluating Larga Mano theory and application.  GME Leo used to be adamant about staying out of range if at all possible.  Why fight close when you can stay away from the opponents weapon while still delivering killing blows?  This was the Larga Mano principle at it's best; utilizing reach, weapon length, environment and tactics to stay out of range while delivering strikes.  The student of Larga Mano should always stop to check range while doing drills and exercises.  If you can check with the off hand, you are in De Fondo range, not Larga Mano.  If your opponent can still reach you with his weapon, you are still in De Fondo range.  If your footwork is short and choppy, you are not in Larga Mano range.  Most importantly, if you have to shorten your strikes to bring the last three inches of the blade onto target, you are not playing Larga Mano.  One more key element, the student of Larga Mano should never bend at the waist to get out of or into range.  This upsets the balance and makes the practitioner vulnerable to counter attack or being pulled off balance.  This means you have to work those quads, everyone.  Get down there and do your elastico drills!  See you all in class.  GLM


Preparing Your Eskrima for the Street

Is your Eskrima still “street-effective”?

One of the things drawing street defense/self defense enthusiast to the Filipino art is our simplicity and our effectiveness for the average man’s needs. I ask if your FMA is “still” street-effective because over the recent 30 or so years that the FMA has been noticed by the mainstreet, most styles have lost that edge. Perhaps your Grandmaster’s Eskrima was good for defense and street fighting, but most likely over the two or three generations that it got to you–your art very likely has lost that “ummph”:

  • Teachers have focused on developing their skill at putting on nice demos, rather than fighting
  • Teachers no longer put students up against other students out of concern that those who lose in matches may become discouraged and quit
  • Eskrima curriculum have started to focus on fighting other Eskrimadors, rather than what will be encountered on the street (honestly, how many arnisadors will be robbing people at night?)
  • The turnover of new student to new instructor is much quicker these days, and schools are graduating very inexperienced new “experts”
  • Very little interaction between Eskrimadors and non-Eskrimadors, so the arts are not addressing alternative views of combat
  • The “Militarization” and “Exotication” of FMAs has killed our simplicity. Rather than focus on weapons that normal people carry, students are learning to use exotic weapons, Rifles/Bayonets, killing as the only option, and dealing with “enemy” rather than “attackers”
  • Shying away from competition are creating generations of Eskrimador/Arnisador who are afraid of confrontation and mixing it up
  • Very little time is spent on skill development, favoring fancier techniques and drills over the basic, bone-shattering strike that Eskrimadors of old relied on

I am not interested in getting into an online battle with modern Eskrimadors over the (excuse the bluntness) bullshit most teach these days. Such conversations are best handled in person anyway. However, this is a conversation that we in the Filipino Martial Arts community should have. There are many Eskrima and Arnis teachers giving good martial arts while focusing on the street encounter, but they have not been able to find a way to market the pure art in order to make a living. So the best Arnis is often found in backyards and garage classes, and the guy getting the gigs at the State Fair with the cute demos with Techno music and shiny weapons get all the press. When non-martial artists decide to look for self defense, he is passing up the traditional guy for the one with the busy Youtube channel and “Good Morning America” appearances. No problem, but will those students really be prepared to defend his wife and children when he needs to?

Did YOU get an art that meets that need?

If a guy visiting your school told you that he wasn’t convinced, would you be able to defeat him without cutting his throat or simulating a scene from an R-rated film? Fighting doesn’t always need to end with you murdering someone, you know. There is a name for a martial artist who fears getting his hands dirty and his face bruised so much that he reacts to a possible ass-whipping by dreaming of killing his opponent:  A pussy. There is a saying in the arts, that the higher your skill level, the less lethal you need to be. If a man attacked you, and you had the prowess of a Mike Tyson, and he had the prowess of a 12 year old girl–would it be necessary for you to take his life? Of course not. Then train until your physical ability and skill makes any man on the street as harmless to you as a 12 year old girl. If you train in an art for 20 years, and you are still afraid on the street, your art, your Guro and your training has failed you; you are still a pussy. Like I said earlier, excuse the bluntness.

So here are some tips to help you change your program into a street-worthy one that allows you to defend yourself with the appropriate level of force needed…

  1. Forget what your Grandmaster said about “strength not necessary”, that’s not true. Develop your physical strength until you are physically stronger than most guys walking on the street. Trust me. Most Eskrimadors do little to no strength training at all (ditto that for cardio), or they pump iron to look tough; this isn’t what I’m referring to. You must have usable, raw power and strength. When you grab an opponent, you must have enough strength that he cannot easily escape it. When you strike him, it should feel like a sledgehammer. When you cut him, it should penetrate all his clothing and deep into his muscle. When you struggle with him for your weapon, you mustn’t tire easily and you should be able to overpower him. When you train for strength, you want these things in mind–not how you’re going to look in a T-shirt. As I tell my teenaged son, it’s a fight–not a fucking beauty contest. Train as if you were trying to win one.
  2. Spend ample time developing each strike in your numbering system for destructive potential. Many Eskrima programs really gloss over their striking system. You learn the 1-12, but only until you remember which strike to throw automatically, when you hear the number called. You need more than that. You want even your pokes to feel like you’ve shot him. Matter of fact, have you ever poked or thrusted anything full power? Most FMA people have not. If you haven’t done it before, try it. Thrusting with a stick is a specialized skill, and most people do not have it. Grip strength is vital with such strikes, as are the targets. Get a wall, tree or punching bag, and thrust it 500 times. You will learn a lot about that strike that most people have never thought about; and then when you do, you will understand more about a thrust with a knife… which, by the way, most FMA people do not really know how to defend against. Every strike in your style’s arsenal must be fully understood and fully trained. Once you do so, you will understand
  3. The Attack. Most Eskrima is Defense-oriented. But fighting is Attack-oriented. When someone asks to see your system, how do you respond? I’ll tell you, if you are an FMA man, 9 times out of 10, you must ask him to attack you with a pre-chosen strike or stab, then you show him. How can you beat a man when your ability an knowledge is centered around a half-hearted attack that stops short of hitting you? Here is a good way to demonstrate your art:  Tell him to attack you, and then fight him. Or just have him fight you. But that isn’t what most of us are taught to do–we are mostly trained to put on a demonstration of drills and abecedarios/numerados. You aren’t preparing for an FMA demo, you should be preparing to stop a man trying to hurt you. So practice hurting him.
  4. Spend less time on the choreography, and more time on the unexpected. You know what I’ve noticed? Fighting and training in the FMA often looks nothing like each other. One of the main reasons is that while the choreographed stuff is good for teaching basic skills, most folks train with those things all the way through their training. At some point, one must put down the drill, pick up some sparring skill, and do it until the sparring looks like the drill. But it’s not just FMA guys, I have this same opinion of Kung Fu people. We simply need to bridge the gap between what we’d like to do, with what we are able to do. Often, the skill of sparring is learned separately from the skill of that art. A good way to illustrate is by looking at sparring at Arnis tournaments–everyone is fighting with exactly the same skills and techniques. It’s not supposed to be that way, as each style is distinct from the others. However, if we do not develop our system’s techniques enough, we rely on the same point-scoring skills that the next guy is learning. This is where art and sport are supposed to compliment each other, but instead, we treat sport AS art.
  5. Think outside the box. Why are we only learning stick vs stick? Why only knife vs knife? How about knife vs grappling, or your stick against two unarmed attackers? Do that, and you will discover a whole ‘nother dimension to the FMAs that may excite you. And it’s more likely that you will run into that, than another Eskrima-trained dope fiend on the street.

And #5, I’m willing to bet a cheese sammich on that ^^ fact.

No further commentary necessary. If you’d like to add to the list, please post it in the comments section below. Thank you for visiting my blog.


Ana Julaton Wins!



Ana “The Hurricane” Julaton is a Filipina-American boxer (with the cool middle name of Bonifacio, like Philippine national hero Andres Bonifacio). She was the first to win the Women’s WBO Super Bantamweight and IBA Super Bantamweight titles, and has now gone into MMA. She lost her first MMA match to Malaysian Ann Osman. She rebounded solidly last night with a unanimous decision victory over Egyptian Walaa Abbas. (Also go here:


The one takeaway from the fight is the power of the short hook/uppercut in the clinch. You can see this at 1:34. Ana lands several vicious right hooks to the ribs, then comes up to the head. Abbas literally runs away from these punches.


If we look back on the early karate vs. BJJ matches, in which grapplers dominated, the karate and kung-fu people had no short punches. According to karate practitioners, a hook is not a real punch. Yet it is the shortened weapons such as the hook, the elbow, and the knee that are the striker’s strongest weapons against the grappler.



2014 IMC Curriculum: Part Three

Here is the final report the curriculum of the 2014 Counterpoint Tactical System Iron Mountain camp. This last section covers the Standup Grappling and Double Knife level one drills that we did. The double knife section was a mind bender. Each person has so many options that the drill is more like sparring than a drill. Check it out, and thanks for reading.


2014 Iron Mountain Curriculum: Part Three

For the 2014 Iron Mountain instructor’s camp, Master Zach Whitson covered qigong, Cacoy doce pares, kenpo technique, standup grappling level two, and double knife level one. Friday morning, we covered qigong and Cacoy doce pares, and on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, the kenpo technique was taught. On Saturday afternoon, Master Whitson taught a neck crank series from the standup grappling level two curriculum, and Sunday morning was the introduction to double knife level one. These sets of curriculum are advanced black belt material in the Counterpoint Tactical System. I looked forward to seeing these two blocks because they are a sneak peek to where the CTS practitioner is going.


The neck crank series from standup grappling level two was intense. We weren’t too far into it when the lights went out. Unfortunately, after the lights went out, the camera on my phone had a hard time taking decent pictures. I got a few but not as many as I would have liked. The air conditioning stopped along with the lights. Forty plus people in one room working on grappling creates a lot of body height and humidity. It was about halfway through when I had to go out into the cold to cool off. The distractions were unfortunate because the material were quality reactions after stopping a wrestler’s shot. Of the twelve manipulations we learned, I had only seen two prior – the cross face and a choke that most BJJ people would recognize as a guillotine with a rear naked choke arm position.


This neck crank flow is brutal. The techniques come from catch wrestling and fit well with a self defense mindset. For the CTS practitioner,  we keep in mind that in a self defense situation grappling may happen on an asphalt or concrete floor with the potential of multiple opponents. Our grappling philosophy is to put the attacker on the ground but to remain on our feet. If we are put on the ground, our goal is to get back up as quickly as possible. The CTS philosophy is one of counter and recounter. So, our standup grappling contains counter wrestling to stay standing. This lock flow works with takedown defenses.


My favorite neck crank was the first one we learned. It’s called the grobbit (or grovit? groffit? Please, leave a comment if you know the true spelling. A link would help also.), and it is miserable when applied on you. I liked the simplicity of it. It was quick and efficient. I will have to work on applying it in flow, of course. The grobbit and the other ten manipulations that I haven’t seen before were all techniques that seemed like a logical extension for someone exploring wrestling. They weren’t ancient secrets; anyone could go to a catch wrestler to learn them. I enjoyed the innovative uses of techniques already studied, like underhook and overhook.

Billy Robinson Teaching the Grovit


For some of the techniques in the flow, Master Whitson showed expansions. The manipulation would have a takedown with it as well. The one that I remember most prominently was an alligator roll from a front headlock. There was also an ankle pick from the underhook and chancery position. I look forward to studying the standup grappling level two curriculum. Wrestling has a philosophy of embracing the grind, and based on what we learned that afternoon, this block will fit that philosophy.

Sunday - Double Knife 26

On Sunday morning, we started the last curriculum section of camp. Master Whitson taught a double knife level one drill, which is double sak-sak versus double sak-sak. It is similar to the single knife level one drill that I’m currently learning. The addition of another knife for you and your opponent dramatically changes the situation. I think that I am able to do the base drill decently. There are match positions where it’s easy to forget who’s leading the drill. Similar to the other knife drills, the double knife drill incorporates standup grappling, clipping, timing changes, and disarms.

Sunday - Double Knife 31

Master Whitson spoke a bit about double knife before the drill began. He defined the four types of grips – double sak-sak, left sak-sak and right pakal, left pakal and right sak-sak, and, finally, double pakal. Each has its own particular strengths and weaknesses. Double sak-sak seems to be good for keeping distance from your opponent; whereas, double pakal is probably grappling intensive. The mixed grip – one sak-sak, one pakal – seems the most confusing to me. Zach only taught double sak-sak; so, that’s the only reference I have. Master Whitson explained that these drills tend to look like sparring once the practitioners become proficient at it.


Double sak-sak was confusing for a while until I recognized the similarity to knife level one. There are both obvious and subtle changes that distinguish it. There were numerous cuts and thrusts that make the drill lethal if both people are at an equal skill level. I really had to work at taiji speed with this drill because there’s so much to pay attention to. Any slight opening results in two knives attacking you or one knife attacking and the other clipping your wrist. I remember that if the attacker doesn’t pull his arm back on the first thrust of the drill, I put him in a straight arm bar. It will take a lot of repetitions at slow speed paying attention to form to ensure all the subtlety is explored.

Sunday - Double Knife 29

The double knife curriculum was the lesson I was most looking forward to at this camp. It’s highly improbable that I’ll ever find myself with two knives fighting someone with two knives. The drill, however, is useful because of the attributes that it can develop. I loved it. Pairing the double knife drills with the espada y daga and double stick drills trains both sides of your body. You can work symmetrically or asymmetrically as a well rounded martial artist. Plus, this drill is a just a lot of fun.


Both standup grappling level two and double knife one have been moved to new locations in the curriculum for 2015 and beyond. With the color belt curriculum set, Master Whitson is looking at the black belt progression with the goal of efficiency in learning. Advanced black belt material is being combined to maintain three blocks during each belt level. For me, this means the espada y daga material that I’m learning has expanded to included drills and tactics as well as the twelve attacks. The black belt blocks have more material than the color belt blocks, which I think is expected. The complexity level increases as does the time required to gain a minimum proficiency in each block.

Sunday - Double Knife 34

The curriculum at this year’s Iron Mountain camp maintained the level of quality I’ve come to expect year after year. This camp saw a wide range of material that covered multiple areas of self defense. We learned a little bit of history and got a glimpse of our future as members of the Counterpoint Tactical System. I have a lot to incorporate into my practice. But I’m also curious about next year’s curriculum.

The final part of the Iron Mountain review will be the 2014 Iron Mountain Testing Summary.


2014 IMC Curriculum: Part Two

The second part of the curriculum write up has been posted to my blog. On Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, we studied the kenpo techniques that Master Zach Whitson combined with Filipino Martial Arts to form the kenpo counterpoint one drills. We learned a lot of great techniques to build a counter-recounter drill based on FMA concepts. Check it out.


2014 Iron Mountain: Curriculum Part Two

Friday - Kenpo Master Whitson and Mike

Friday after lunch we started the study of kenpo techniques. Kenpo is a hard martial art which is in opposition to what we studied Friday morning (click here for part one). Ed Parker intended the art of kenpo to be the study of motion. It is a highly organized martial art. There is a base technique to be learned first and an extension or finishing technique for later.


Before the Filipino martial arts, Master Zach Whitson studied Ed Parker’s American Kenpo. From these two arts, Master Whitson designed kenpo counterpoint to teach his kenpo students the countering and re-countering skills of Filipino martial arts. In the creation of this drill lay the seeds of Counterpoint Tactical System. Most of CTS’ advanced students have a background – if not a black belt – in kenpo. Master Whitson holds a seventh degree black belt (senior professor rank) in Parker’s kenpo. It’s an understatement to say that kenpo has played a large part in this system.

At this point, a disclaimer is necessary. I have no experience in Ed Parker’s American Kenpo apart from Counterpoint Tactical System. All the technique and knowledge that I have of that martial art is directly through CTS and talking with other CTS practitioners. I am rare in this system due to my lack of kenpo history. Therefore, any mistakes about kenpo are mine.


Kenpo counterpoint one (KCP1) drills begin at third degree brown, which is halfway on the journey to first degree black belt. The first set combines kenpo techniques with the counter and re-counter philosophy of pekiti tirsia and Cacoy doce pares. The result is a partner drill where the attack shifts back and forth. It is similar to hubud drills from FMA. The driving force behind the set is to teach students countering and countering the counter. It covers a number of attacks to demonstrate that counters are possible everywhere. These drills also teach that countering relies on timing. There comes a point when the technique is locked in, and by taking a slow exploration of the drills, the CTS student begins to find that timing.


During camp, Master Whitson taught us the kenpo technique sequences from which he built the KCP1 drills. For me and other students without a kenpo background, the base technique was the focus. The technique extensions were also taught. So, for the students who had the base technique down, they were able to focus on the extensions. There are sixteen individual drills that make up the KCP1 set, and I believe they come from sixteen techniques. We began with raining claw, which is a defense against an uppercut. My favorite technique set was/is snapping twig, which is a defense against a grab.


David Curet is the camp's videographer.

David Curet is the camp’s videographer.

Everything we learned had a precise sequence with specific targets. It takes an adjustment to learn this way for me. The approach is more restrained than the FMA that I’ve learned so far. Due to weather, it took us two sessions to cover all of the sixteen techniques. Friday afternoon, we had to shift from the field to the convention center. We lost a bit of time as everyone transitioned from one locale to the other. It was worth it, though.


Master Whitson’s ability to combine arts is something that I hope to gain in my study of Counterpoint Tactical System. I am at a stage where I’m still discovering how CTS interconnects with itself. The kenpo counterpoint set as a whole seems to be one martial art viewed through the concepts of another. At this camp, we were given the other half of the coin for the kenpo counterpoint one drills. We’ve studied and will continue to study FMA concepts. Now, we have the raw material to which those concepts were applied.


I like the kenpo counterpoint one set because it’s a platform to further study countering in a way that my brain will process. I think of the drills as an engineering problem. There is a start, a set of tools, and a destination. How you get there is up to you! The two students practicing the drill are given a pre-determined number of tools – sixteen, in this case – which avoids inaction due to overwhelming options. The two create their training by mixing and matching drills, speed, feel. The training can isolate an aspect by focusing on repetitions only two of the drills at a Cacoy doce pares speed and lightness. Or it could be a pre-arranged sparring type of training at speed. The drill adjusts to the students needs.


Master Whitson taught us the raw material of the KCP1 drills. We covered the sixteen sets that were modified into the kenpo counterpoint drills. The campers learned the beginning – the kenpo techniques – with a defined end in mind – kenpo counterpoint one drills. All of my engineering training sees this as an opportunity to reverse engineer the process of creating KCP1. I have more FMA to learn before the reverse engineering will work correctly. But now I have an example of how to create drills out of arts that might not have the flow of FMA. As I’ve said before, Iron Mountain camp is CTS Christmas.


2014 Iron Mountain Curriculum: Part Three – Black Belt Material



Submit your Comment to the Government of Ontario (Canada) to Exempt Mixed Weapons Martial Arts from the Criminal Code

STICKFIGHTING WORLD wants to make the FMA community aware of an opportunity for you to influence government policy regarding Combative Sports. 

The Government of Ontario has presented a list of 9 combative sports that are to be regulated and exempted from the Criminal Code  - Mixed Weapons Martial Arts (including FMA) is not on that list!

We need as many people as possible to ask that Mixed Weapons Martial Arts be exempted from the Criminal Code so that STICKFIGHTING WORLD and other Weapons Martial Arts events can continue to occur in the Province of Ontario. If this does not occur - use of weapons in martial arts may be outlawed!

Follow the link and then click on the "Comment on this proposal via email" link at the bottom of the page.

Full Proposal


Designated Amateur Combative Sports

Ministry: Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport
Regulation Number(s): n/a
Bill or Act: Athletics Control Act
Summary of Proposal: In June 2013, the federal government amended Section 83 of the Criminal Code to:

- exempt amateur contests in combative sports on the Olympic/Paralympic programme (currently boxing, judo, taekwondo and wrestling) from the prize fighting offence; 

- provide provinces with the authority to designate additional amateur combative sports for exemption; 

- allow provinces to require amateur contests in these sports to be held with their permission; and 

- allow contests in any other amateur combative sport (i.e. non-Olympic; non-designated) if the province has provided permission. 

For the purposes of Section 83 of the Criminal Code, the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport proposes that the following amateur combative sports be designated:

- boxing 
- jiu jitsu 
- judo 
- karate 
- kickboxing
- mixed martial arts
- taekwondo
- wrestling
- wushu

Under the ministry's proposal all amateur contests in these sports would be exempt from Section 83 of the Criminal Code

The ministry is also proposing to provide the minister with the regulatory authority to permit contests in additional amateur combative sports. 

The ministry is not proposing additional requirements to hold amateur contests in these sports at this time. 

Pending the approval of the proposed regulation, the ministry would consult the combative sport community on the development of additional safety requirements for each of the designated sports proportionate to the risk they represent.
Further Information:
Proposal Number: 14-MTCS001
Posting Date: October 24, 2014
Comments Due Date: December 8, 2014
Contact Address: Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport 
Sport, Recreation & Community Programs Division
777 Bay Street 
Floor 23
Toronto Ontario

General Inquiries 
Phone: 1-888-997-9015
Fax: 416-314-7458 
Comment on this proposal via email


I apologize for the months of inactivity

Sorry, i have a few things on the backburner, but not very much has given me the kick in the ass to finish writing them

in the meantime, my teacher just put up a new site!

i think he’d want me to plug his site, so i will. he’s got a lot of pretty cool information on the “blog” portion of his site, and it’s definitely worth bookmarking his stuff


2014 Iron Mountain: Curriculum Part One

The main draw for Iron Mountain is the curriculum. It is an instructor’s camp even though not everyone there is currently an instructor. Master Zach Whitson designs the camp agenda with the higher ranks in mind, which means that advanced Counterpoint Tactical System curriculum is taught. For non-black belts like me, it’s CTS Christmas. Camp is also an opportunity to convey updates to the existing curriculum – more on this in a different post.

Friday - Qigong 02a

For 2014, the curriculum ranged from fourth degree black belt to third degree brown belt material. Master Whitson taught qigong, Cacoy Doce Pares, kenpo technique, stand up grappling, and pekiti tirsia double knife. This camp covered internal martial arts, single and double stick, empty hand, grappling, and double knife. That’s quite a range of material, and the camp is planned with enough time to get a basic grasp of the material. For the beginning practitioners, the lessons can be overwhelming. I know they were for me during my first camp. That’s why it’s important to work with a variety of people at camp. The more experienced CTS people are always helpful.

Friday - Qigong 04

Each morning of camp starts with qigong practice from Wu style Taiji. We worked two postures Kan Zhuang and Li Zhuang. These are then combined into Alternating Kan Zhuang and Li Zhuang. Master Whitson says that, “This is internal training that allows you to launch a powerful attack while maintaining softness and relaxation during the movement.” He characterizes this practice as a long term study. The internal martial arts do not have the immediate results like an external art; so, patience is needed.

Here’s an example of Wu style:

At this year’s camp, Master Whitson explicitly said that internal practice is going to be incorporated at the higher black belt levels. It’s well known that he works on internal practice with his more advanced students, but this is the first year that he’s formally said it’s part of the system. He is still experimenting with the organization of the upper black belt levels; I’m unsure where the material is located. Master Whitson mentioned what grade he thought it’d fit, but I didn’t write that down in my notes. The internal arts are north of fifth degree black belt, though. This means that I have plenty of time to practice the postures.

Friday - Qigong 06

Qigong practice has been a part of every camp that I’ve attended. It is one of the more difficult practices that we do at camp. Standing still and calming the mind are weak areas for me. I enjoy it, though. This practice provides a mental break between everyday life and camp. It creates a space in my mind for training. Qigong has been an acquired taste, though. For the first two camps, I was impatient to get to the good stuff like espada y daga or Cacoy Doce Pares. Still, I paid attention and followed the practice because I trusted that Master Whitson had a purpose for it. For the last three camps, that trust has paid off a little more each time. I still struggle with this practice and think that I will throughout my life. I’m beginning to think that with qigong the real rewards are in the struggle, not in the destination. I, of course, reserve the right to change my mind if I ever arrive at the destination, but I’m enjoying the struggle nonetheless.

Photo courtesy of Carl Carey


Photo courtesy of Tim Gwilt and Gwilt Martial Arts. Click on the picture to see more photos from Mr. Gwilt.

After qigong, Master Whitson showed the first pre-arranged sparring set from Cacoy Doce Pares. This set is a counter-recounter drill that is made of one strike met with one block on three alternating angles. The training partners are constantly moving from offense to defense while working both right and left sides of the body. I use pre-arranged sparring to develop other attributes like relaxation and to soften my touch. Master Whitson has told me in the past that pre-arranged sparring should be almost meditative. This means being in the moment or the pattern will break.

Friday - Doce Pares 05

After a bit of practice, we moved onto an arm drag series off a forehand strike. Cacoy Doce Pares is a short range art that includes grappling. The arm drag series is set ups for locking and throws from eskrido – Cacoy Cañete’s mixture of eskrima and judo. The series works well with pushes and controls. We also got an example of an arm drag off a backhand strike, but, instead of going into a different series, we got a new tie up. It’s a subtle timing manipulation that requires practice. I found it out of tapi-tapi-on but struggled to see it in the Jennifer drill.

Photo courtesy of Tim Gwilt and Gwilt Martial Arts. Click on the picture to see more photos from Mr. Gwilt.

I love anything involved with Cacoy Doce Pares. The system has unlimited potential because its training model allows exploration. I’ve begun applying this training model to empty hands and knife. As I get deeper into the espada y daga curriculum, I’m sure the CDP method will be integrated as well. The sparring focus allows the practitioner to go beyond the drill. It allows for creativity, attribute enhancement, and the opportunity to see if techniques work.

Friday - Doce Pares 03

CDP also emphasizes softness like an internal martial art. This softness allows the practitioner to spar safely into advanced age. Tactically, the softer opponent provides no energy for a training partner to interpret. This integrates well with the internal martial arts practice. A few years ago while sparring with Master Whitson,  I was being way too heavy. His response was to use pushes and control from Taiji to counter my heavy forward pressure. It was a fun example of how to blend arts and a good reminder to lighten up.

Friday - Doce Pares 04

After the tie up, Master Whitson showed a double stick set for CDP that was new to me. It was a double stick version of the Cacoy Doce Pares twelve attacks. We added some linear footwork with it – step throughs and one hundred eighty degree turns. Then it became a partner drill with the footwork simplified. While this was brand new material, it built off the CDP twelve attacks that I’ve been doing for years. It was easy to pick up. The drills gave a bit more of a view into CDP as well.

Photo courtesy of Tim Gwilt and Gwilt Martial Arts. Click on the picture to see more photos from Mr. Gwilt.


It was then time for lunch. The group got together for a photo with the beautiful hills in the background. The morning focused on the internal martial arts. I don’t know if Cacoy Doce Pares qualifies as an internal art but it had that feel. The focus on relaxation and flowing with energy instead of fighting against it is what makes me wonder. I have more research to do into the internal arts; so, I could be wrong. We switched gears after lunch; the afternoon focused on an external martial art.

Photo courtesy of Carl Carey


2014 Iron Mountain Curriculum: Part Two – Kenpo Technique

Updated 11/26:  Master Whitson provided a better example of the Wu Style Taiji; so, the YouTube video has been updated.


Learning the Rhythm of Styles (Knife At a Gunfight)

I would like to introduce you to a concept that few fighters understand, but many great fighters use to their advantage.

There is a little-known characteristic of fighters that few fighters are conscious of, which is the rhythm of styles. A system’s rhythm owes itself to a variety of factors:

  • the culture of the system or the system’s founder (or teacher’s own culture)
  • the preferences of that system’s founder/school’s teacher
  • the physical attributes of that system’s founder/school’s teacher
  • the specialties utilized in that particular style or school

Notice that I did not discuss the system’s students or fighters. This is because I consider the rhythm of a system to be a separate characteristic of a particular fighter–although the one can affect the other or not be influenced by the other at all. This idea is very complex, so I will try my best to explain it as best I can in less than 1,000 words.

We all know that rhythm is almost synonymous with timing and speed, but there is something else that defines rhythm. It is a pattern that the mind thinks in that manifests itself in movement and reactive timing. One often finds this rythm in dance, but it also shows itself in speech; think of how a stereotypical New Yorker may speak faster than the southern drawl of a rural Virginia dweller or someone from Mississippi. While we may limit our understanding to simply speech, as a Filipino and as a martial artist I find there is also a varied level of patience and in other places such as culinary styles…. in the Southern American cooking, dishes are prepared with a slow simmer, stews, smoked meat, etc., where New England dishes are made quickly–like how they cook lobster, or a 20-minute pizza or 5 minute cheesesteak. This may seem like a stretch, but I also notice it affects the learning of its martial arts students (in the region) and their taste in styles and philosophies (such as one style schools vs schools offering many add-on styles).

In fighting, different styles move, think and react differently. In boxing, for example, fighters work in combination on quarter and third-beat burst. Yet in Wing Chun, fighters work with single strike attacks and react to attacks in a STOP-WAIT-TRAP/COUNTER. It is difficult to describe in writing, but imagine a block against a punch (stop), attacker follows up or defender counters, then the defender traps/checks and strikes simultaneously. These two rhythms make for different results and have their own advantages and disadvantages. The boxer can make himself difficult to block. However, he would miss more of his attacks–while the Wing Chun fighter is more accurate with his attacks. One is not superior to the other and in order to be used properly, the correct rhythm must be learned and applied for the techniques to be more effective.

The above example explains why many self defense experts speak about boxing not being effective for self defense, while the martial arts would be more appropriate. At the same time, many MMA fans would say that boxing is more effective because its rhythm is more applicable to the octagon than Wing Chun. In a self-defense situation, like upon entering a car, in a stairwell or elevator Wing Chun’s rhythm applies better–unlike a parking lot brawl versus a wrestler in mutual combat.

Likewise, when a Wing Chun man tries to box, he may not be using those techniques in the correct rhythm. Or if a Karateka attempts to box, his rhythm is off with exactly the same techniques. This is one of the mistakes that many cross training martial artists make. Too often we scrape the surface of an art with little regard to the true essence of that art, as if the only difference between styles are the techniques and prearranged sound bites so popular with cross trained artists. One needs to learn more than just moves and techniques and drills. Just as you cannot learn a foreign language by only memorizing phrases–the mistake martial artists make is to reduce an art down to a few catch phrases… a drill here, a defense there, a takedown or disarm over here. When you only know how to say “Hello”, “Goodbye” and “Where is the bathroom”, you cannot say that you speak that language–even if you know 50 such phrases. In the martial arts, we have men who have memorized these phrases, combos and drills–and it enhances neither their native tongue/art nor their knowledge of the new language/art. So in this light, a Wing Chun man still thinking like a Wing Chun fighter–throwing single punches and learning defenses from only jabs, crosses and one-two combos–will never capture the essence of boxing to put that knowledge to good use. And when he boxes, he fumbles around like a bodybuilder in a dance contest.

The rhythm of the various arts will control how you apply their attacks and counters. Some types of defense rely on a broken rhythm. For example, point Karate fighting has the same rhythm as a point boxer like Roy Jones Junior or Sugar Shane Mosely. These men rely on the broken rhythm–the split-second change of tempo, speed and direction–to land big, fight-ending attacks. They do not chop you down like a Muay Thai fighter, which I liken to the Klitchko brothers. The Muay Thai fighter also fights in spurts, but he does not rely on accurate, pinpoint punches. Instead, he hits whatever is present, like a chest or arm. Over time, the opponent slows from pain and fatigue and then the fighter moves in for the kill. The point fighter instead will move and force you to follow him, he will change direction or feed you fake attacks, he will sit further away and make you reach to hit him, and when you miss–or when your technique falls short–he flies at you faster than you can get away and he lands his attack before you know what hit you. It isn’t speed, it’s rhythm. The point fighter needs range and distance. The Muay Thai fighter needs to be close to you. At the distance a Klitchko fights, Roy Jones doesn’t have room to apply his weapons. At the distance and tempo Roy Jones fights from, the Klitchkos cannot use their weapons. In this example, you have two different rhythms of the same art, from two different styles (Slavic boxers, vs African American boxers…. who are unlike British fighters or Mexican fighters), and even then–all those boxers fight on a similar rhythm if you compare them to Karate fighters. This is why I call this The Rhythm of Styles. You must be able to sense, identify and adjust to rhythms, even when cross training.

Understanding this difference will help you apply new arts properly. As an Eskrimador, you cannot box like an Eskrimador until you have learned to box like a boxer. As a Tae Kwon Do fighter, you cannot kick like a Muay Thai fighter (or vice versa). My grandfather observed years ago of my own Kung Fu training, that one reason he liked my teacher was that we were not Kung Fu men who only knew how to fight Kung Fu people. If you look around at the traditional martial artist, you may notice that many of us treat combat as if everyone in the battlefield fights the way we do. And if they want to simulate other styles, they do so with the same rhythm we use for our own styles. Learn this small, but complex concept and a whole world of new skills and methods will be revealed to you. It cannot be learned simply by scraping the surface of arts in a seminar, or by copying skills learned through observation. Conversely, you cannot fully understand how to fight those stylists by merely observing or having one or two matches. This is a concept that is very deep and has an infinite number of lessons. One could cross train for 20 years and only skim the surface of many styles and really learn nothing, or one could study and train intensely and gain another world–or one could refuse to cross train altogether and learn to use his art to adapt to the various rhythms and come up with Eskrima vs boxing, Eskrima vs Muay Thai, Eskrima vs Kendo, Eskrima vs Judo, Eskrima vs a gun….

And this ^^^ concept is one of the secrets of the Masters. Simply put, write this down:

Learn to use your art against other arts.

Learning other arts is futile, unless you also learn how those arts are used.

It is more important to learn how you art must be adapted to fight other styles, than it is to actually LEARN other styles.

and finally–

To hell with “don’t take a knife to a gunfight”, learn to beat guns with your knife.**

Please go to Amazon and check out my books! (I’ve got three on Amazon) You won’t be disappointed!

Thank you for visiting my blog.

** If you dont think the knife can beat a gun, you have more to learn in Eskrima…


Ninth Degree Eskrima Masters

I never really understood this one.

Let’s just say up front that I never liked the Black Belt ranking structure for the Filipino arts. I don’t have a problem with that structure being used for students as a way to designate the various levels of learning and accomplishment. We even tried it twice in my own school. It wasn’t for me, but I do understand why it is used and how it may be useful. Personal preference, to be honest.

For the expert (Black Belt) level, however, I totally dislike it. Here’s why.

In the Filipino arts, unlike in Karate, Kung Fu, Judo, Jujutsu, Aikido, and the like–we do not have the number of skills and techniques that they do. Our curriculum is more like boxing, with a small number of actual techniques, and a focus on skill-in-technique and strategy. Honestly, one could learn all the basics of boxing in a few months, just like you could in the FMAs. There are those who have more than others, but overall, we have fewer items to learn in our systems than in other mainstream arts. This is why so many of us feel we can impart the Filipino art through DVD, the internet and in seminars. It sounds normal doesn’t it? You can teach your whole curriculum by DVD so why not?

Question. Can you teach all the basics of, say Baseball, on a DVD? Of course. Now could a man who learned how to catch, hit, throw and run by DVD play baseball at the college level and be formidable?

If you answer “yes”, I’ll pause while one of your colleagues slaps you.

Of course he can’t. You can learn how to hit, throw, catch and run by DVD, but you sure as hell can’t play with any level of skill unless you got out there and played several seasons worth of games with actual teammates, a coach and rival teams. If you believe you can, no wonder the Filipino art is one of the most bastardized arts in the world–we are in BIG trouble. The truth is, this art is too complex if you’re dealing with more than just slapping hands together and playing pattycake with sticks to have a crash course and think you can defend yourself against determined, ruthless attackers on the street.

Back to the subject of rank, students have skills that have to be taught on a schedule. They must be learned in a specific order, and one skill builds the capacity to learn those of the next level. If you can’t perform or execute the lower skills with any proficiency, the skills at the higher level will be even weaker because they are standing on weak skills as a foundation. At the same time, belts may be necessary to define what point a student has achieved in his learning. I get that.

At the Expert level, however, in the Filipino arts most of your learning should be over. I can’t imagine what else a student has left to learn new once he has been studying for 4 or 5 years. Once your student arrives to this point, that you have given him the Black Belt or expert rating, he should represent the best you can put out. You should feel totally confident that any caller who knocks on your door for a match should be the victor if he fought on your behalf. If you do not have that kind of confidence in him, then perhaps you may be awarding Black belts to students before they are ready.

The question is, which Black Belt/Expert philosophy you believe in. Some believe the Black Belt is “the beginning”, which would make it an extension of the students ranks. Some believe it is the end of the long, arduous road to expertise. I liken the Black Belt status with the college degree; either you are qualified as a manager, accountant, school teacher, etc., or not. Now there are certainly levels–the Master’s and the PhD–but they have very specific skills to learn in order to earn those titles, and they have a number of years of study assigned to them. Unlike in the martial arts, the skill and knowledge difference between a 2nd degree Black Belter and a 3rd are completely arbitrary. In some systems, that is not true:  I have heard of systems that have curriculums all the way up to the third or fourth degree Black belt. There are forms to learn, techniques to learn, and physical/strength feats that must be accomplished for those levels. Do we have them in the Filipino arts? I think not.

And this is why I am against the idea of Black Belt levels in the Filipino arts. At most, we should have three: the expert, the teacher and the master. Experts know the curriculum all the way through and have excelled at it. Teachers have the additional skill of knowing how to to teach the material. Masters have mastered the technique as well as the art of teaching. Anything more than that opens your art up to rivalries and conflicts due to politics, disagreements and ego. Look at your own systems, am I right?

Either you know the material or you don’t. Nothing to argue about that, if you test your students properly. Anyone who doubts that student is qualified is welcome to come and *test* his knowledge personally. Either you can teach the art or you can’t. This test is not taken by the teacher, but his student. If you doubt that I know how to teach the art, send your best guy to try out my best guy. No need for a ten year internet war, you can settle this disagreement in an hour. Lastly, on the subject of mastery, if you do not have at least two generations of students under you, you are no master. At its most basic level, “Master” is another word for “grand-teacher”. Your students have students? You’re a master. There are other definitions of the word, but let’s save that for another article.

One last thought:  Testing. Test your students on other students, or test them yourself. Do not rely on streetfights to “prove” your student” ability. In my opinion, teachers who talk about their students beating up men on the streets are either lying, or they are encouraging their TRAINED students to attack UNTRAINED men on the street who neither are physically their equal or unaware that they are fighting a trained fighter. That is both dishonest and unethical. You want to see how tough your guys are? Then don’t pick on some unwitting thug on the street; call another gym who has tough guys, and get them together. Then make sure they show each other gratitude and respect when the fight is over, regardless of who wins. Then you and the other teacher, regardless of who won the most matches, do not brag about who beat who or mistreat the reputation of the losing school. This is how real teachers conduct themselves. One of the secrets of the masters. If you ever meet a man who brags about how many men he’s left in the dust and naming names, know full well, that you are not speaking with a mature master. He can brag without belittling the men who have helped him build his skill, knowledge and reputation–thus, earning his rank. And the real teachers will ensure that their expert students follow the same path he followed himself. Trust me, very few 9th degree masters have a teacher who is a tenth. Because a man who has earned his way all the way through rarely puts himself above his teachers. When a man  or woman becomes a Black Belt, he or she deserves to simply be among those of us who came before him. Hierarchy isn’t necessary; he’s earned his place.

Thank you for visiting my blog.


Why I Require Competition

Let’s begin by stating that I actually don’t require competition of all my students; only the ones who wish to one day teach. I will not grant a student permission to teach if he or she has never fought in competition. However, if a student was only interested in fitness, self defense or anything else–competitive fighting is optional.

Now, let’s get to the meat.

I have only heard of teachers downplaying competition fighting here in the West. No one in the Chinese circles do it. No one from Korea. Definitely, no one from the Philippines. Here in the West, we pride ourselves on innovation and making our own paths, we worship the words of Bruce Lee and his “style of no style” philosophy. Yet I challenge the idea that anything in Western innovation is really “innovative” and original. After all, where do we get our ideas from?

Someone else.

And these new styles? That are combinations of other styles? Even if you believe that you combined the best of the systems, you are actually doing something that is very Asian, and very traditional. Think of the so-called “pure” arts you used to combine into the new art. Did they not come from other arts? Was Shotokan not a blend of other master’s techniques? Was Jujutsu always a single homogenous art, or were there many schools and different masters and systems that made up what we call “pure” Jujutsu? Bruce Lee helped the Western martial artist break away from the classical mess many of the masters brought to America, but he actually taught the western martial artist something that has always been in the Asian martial arts… You learn and develop what your master taught you, you tested it, you tasted other flavors and twists on the arts, then you absorbed what you found useful and you create your own path.

Creating your own path, my friends, does not mean you start creating your own system as a beginner. That’s just plain stupid. Get your foundation, then when it has been established–you create your own path.

But this article is not about creating your own path, not really. It is about why I make my guys fight competitively and why many of you do not. I had to tell you about “Create Your Own Path” first, to tell you the flaw with it (which explains why many of you shun tournaments). The flaw is this:  Once you have created a system or training method, you must test it against other systems and training methods. “Test” is a word we must explain too. How do you test a technique or skill? You spar, right? At least, I hope you do. When you have decided that you’ve discovered a better way to do what you teachers taught you to do it, how do you know that your way is indeed a better way? Some guys will say it works better for them to fight or train in this new way. “Works”? In what way does it “work”? When you have taken stick from Modern Arnis, trapping from Wing Chun, punching from boxing, grappling from BJJ, knife from the Sayocs, situational self defense from Krav… you must train this new method against hostile opponents who intend to defeat you for two very important reasons:

  1. To discover the inner workings of the technique. Techniques work differently in practice and while rehearsing than they do when you are faced with someone whose only goal is to make you fail. Someone who does not care if you get hurt, if you are offended by what they do, if you do not learn from the outcome of the match. Training partners, then, are not qualified to help you discover this. By using your new method against a new fighter each time you step on the floor, you have a split second to adjust to the new fighter’s rhythm, strength, strategies, and speed. On top of that, you must think fast, because you only have the duration of that match to discover, adjust and apply–and you may never get a second chance to try it again against that same combination of attributes. One match, can teach you what 10 years of practice cannot. You can discover a whole lot of worms from one can delivered by ONE opponent in ONE match. Look at how Bruce Lee changed his entire method after one 15 minute fight with Wong Jak Man. This is not a matter of “testing” what you know. It is strictly for “learning” how your new system feels on the road, in the rain, going uphill, turning corners, going 0-60, downshifting, braking… all the things you would discover if you bought this car. Too many of you are teaching systems that you’ve never taken off the lot. Using this method will help you understand your new system better.
  2. To prove to yourself, your students, and your community that your new method is effective. After years of test driving your new skills, you must then set out to PROVE its worth. This again, is what too many new Masters and Grandmasters are doing with their systems. Sure, it looks good on paper. It looks amazing at the last gathering, on youtube, in the demos. But can I bet my life on what you’ve just put together? Anytime you open your doors and hang your shingle, you are saying to the potential student that yes, you can trust your family’s life on what I put together. How dishonest for a teacher to tell his student that he can put away his gun and trust his wife and children to get behind him and these skills… on a fighting system that the teacher himself has never fought with? I have noticed many teachers downplay the effectiveness of their art. They will tell you that their new art is valid because it came from blah blah blah and master quack quack quack. Few teachers will look you in the eye and say “My system will defeat anyone who tries it out, even YOU”, without blinking. Why? Because he’s done it before, and he has full confidence that he can do it again. Teachers must have full confidence from experience in what they are doing. Not to make blind promises as part of some ego-serving sales pitch.

So, master so n so tells you he tested his art and his advanced students test their art out weekly in training. Really? How? Most likely, sparring. Now, in these sparring sessions, can classmates whip out a knife and stab their opponents? Can another student jump out of the shadows and help another student beat down his opponent? Can he smash a brick over his head? Can he kick him in the nads? Can he poke his eyes out? Can he bite him? No? Why not?

Because they are fighting for simulated combat and with rules of the dojo. RULES OF THE DOJO.

Quick, somebody remind me why most of these masters don’t believe that tournament fighting helps with fighting ability?

If your teacher has told you that sparring in tournaments develops bad habits and is unrealistic and is nothing like a streetfight, tell him Mustafa Gatdula wants to know what the fuck are they doing in their dojos? Are your drills allowing kicks to the balls? Do you guys have time limits? No-hit zones? Please, save that for someone else. Everyone has rules, even those No-Rules NHB contests.

Tournaments are the safest place to find aggressive, like-minded opponents who will do their damnest to make your technique fail against theirs. Sure, there are fouls and bad calls. But if that scares you into never competing again, I think you’d better take up panty-sewing, because there isn’t one of us who hasn’t lost a fight because of a stupid rule or bad referee call. Suck it up, and get em next time.

Back to the main point of this article–I make my guys fight competitively before teaching because I need for them to know and not fear the taste of defeat, they need to know what it feels like to actually HIT another man, to develop the speed and timing that comes with trying to beat another fighter to the punch, to test his power against another man who is testing his power, to learn to think quick, and finally–to put his own ideas to the test to see how they work, and prove to himself that they work before they teach their new ideas to my future Grandstudents. Too many teachers are out there teaching stuff they never took beyond the drawing board and youtube channels. Anyone in my lineage will know where they stand in comparison to other fighters, and they will be able to look any student in the eye and say–in my experience, this is the best way to do it. Even if they believe their way is better than their own beloved teacher, Mustafa Gatdula.

Thank you for visiting my blog. Make sure you check out my new book on Amazon entitled “Philosophy“!


Metrodome Helps Fire Victims by James U. Sy Jr.

The management of Metrodome Entertainment Mall with the cooperation of all its tenants and their employees as well as customers pooled their resources together and organized a charity event for the benefit of the 94 households that were affected by the huge fire that hit Purok Katilingban, Brgy 39, Bacolod City last September 2, 2014. The philanthropic work was held on September 5, 2014, 10:30 AM, at the Brgy 39 Gym. The outreach consisted of a feeding program, where arroz caldo, bihon, bread, and juice drinks were given to the affected families; games for the children; and the distribution of 94 packs of relief goods which included clothing, 1 kilo rice, and grocery items. Sponsors of the charity work were CP Tyne Consultancy Management, e-Bingo, Fireworks Bar, Jojo Vito Prints & Pieces, Metro Bazaar tenants, O’Fisher Spa & Wellness Center, Offshore Bar, Philippine Call Center Institute (PCCI), Psalmstre Enterprises, Remnant School, and customers Mark Vargas and John Calumpiano.


BCC Sum-ag Campus Celebrates “Buwan ng Wika” by: James U. Sy Jr.

Mrs. Grace P. Lumawag, the Adviser to the Kapisanang Filipino, chaired the “Buwan ng Wikang Pambansa” (National Language Month) celebration last August 29, 2014 at the Bacolod City College (BCC)-Suma-ag Campus (James U. Sy Jr./CMAS photo). The Bacolod City College (BCC)-Suma-ag Campus successfully celebrated the “Buwan ng Wikang Pambansa” (National Language Month) last August 29, 2014 at its campus grounds. Spearheading the celebration was Filipino and Values Ed Instructress Grace P. Lumawag, the Adviser to the Kapisanang Filipino, with the full support of both the BS Business Administration (BSBA) and BS Industrial Technology (BSIT) departments under their respective Program Coordinators (PC) Felipe F. Chin Jr., CPA, MBA, and Engr. Robert Ildy Lasuay. Ma. Johanna Ann R. Bayoneta, Ph.D., School Administrator, and Elias Alias, Ph.D., Dean of Instructions, graced the event. Later that noon time Teacher’s Education and Office Administration Program Coordinators (PC) Ramie Mabayag and Mario Pao also dropped by. The sections of the campus with Filipino subjects set up booths displaying and selling different products and exhibits and each section had their own representatives who were in barong Tagalog and baro’t saya. The morning competitions included literary and performing arts activities such as Hataw Pinoy, Balagtasan, isahang tinig, dalawahang tinig, talumpati, deklamasyon, poster-slogan making competition, and kompuso. The afternoon festivities featured physical games such as fliptop, kadang-badang, hatakang lubid, luksong tinik, luksong lubid, sakbuhan, patentero, and sipa (tumba patis). The 2014 officers of the Kapisanang Filipino and their members were instrumental in the success of the event as they prepared the logistics and facilitated the events. The current officers, coming from both the BSBA and BSIT departments, are Michael Morales (President), Roland Talafiero (Vice President), Mary Christ Bustamante (Secretary), Jonel Pecha (Treasurer), April Badajos (Auditor), Ronalyn Camillada and Deo Paran (PIO), Ravena Mulyer and Yza Marie Limaco (Business Manager), Ronel Sogilon and Calderon (Sgt.-at-arms), Princess sarah Ampil (Lakambini), Benjamin Marañon (Lakan), and Bhea Rose Magallanes and Ivy Calago (Taga-awit). BCC-Taculing Campus, which houses the Teachers’ Education and Office administration departments, on the other hand celebrated the “Buwan ng Wikang Pambansa” simultaneously with the Nutrition Month last August 22, 2014. Former President Fidel Ramos signed Presidential Proclamation 1041 in 1997, declaring August“Buwan ng Wika.”


De La Cruz, Tizon, “Princess & Prince of the Ocean” by: James U. Sy Jr.

Princess De La Cruz and Mark Allain Tizon, both of Marketing Management 3A, were crowned “Princess & Prince of the Ocean,” beating 21 other couples representing the different year levels and sections during the BS Business Education and BS Industrial Technology Day last September 3, 2014 at the school grounds of Bacolod City College (BCC)-Sum-ag Campus, Bacolod City, as one of the official activities for the institution’s week long 17th Foundation celebration (James U. Sy Jr./CMAS photo). Princess De La Cruz and Mark Allain Tizon, both of Marketing Management 3A, were crowned “Princess & Prince of the Ocean,” beating 21 other couples representing the different year levels and sections during the BS Business Education and BS Industrial Technology Day last September 3, 2014 at the school grounds of Bacolod City College (BCC)-Sum-ag Campus, Bacolod City, as one of the official activities for the institution’s week long 17th Foundation celebration. The duo also swept the competition by snatching the Best in Costume and Best in Presentation. The coronation was the culmination of the morning activities, which started off with a Parade of Ocean Costumes leading to BCC’s Sum-ag Campus. Marvin D. Tugon of Entrep 2C, painted in Avatar-style blue skin and wearing a gold chestplate complete with abs, uttered one of the more favorite lines for the crowd, “Aanhin mo pa ang kalabasa kung crush mo lang naman ang nagpapalinaw ng iyong mata.” Some of those who represented their classes were Julyn Tamayo and Jerymie dela Paz (MM 4A),Dina Mae D. Estraño and Perseus Maquimay (MM 1A),Lezette Amana and Randel Tupas (MM 1B), Mia Janelle Ligeslador and Miku Villaruel (Entrep 1B),Renee Rose de la Paz and Edbert Villas (Entrep 1C), Chris Chen Serie and Jaymar Caudazo (Entrep 1D),Celeste Pastorende and Erick Jacosalem (BSIT 1B), Jenms Ann Ababao and Florie Jhon Edubas (BSIT 1C), Lanie Asupan and Arnold M. Duadores (Entrep 3B), Charyain Palermo and Samie balenario (BSIT ELEX 2), Jane Tamba and Edmond E. Artista (BSIT Civil 2), Mae Oloroso and Ramiro Mina (MM 2A),Ma. Katrina Valery Donato and Marvin D. Tugon (Entrep 2C), April Joie Lagarto and Luel Sahot (BS Entrep 4B), Rhoda Mae Gabales and Alexis Brian de Belen (Entrep 2A),and Jonalex Piadoche and John Bohn Grande (Civil 3), Special guest was former BCC President Dr. Norma M. Juarez-Roque, now a member of the isntitution’s Board of Trustees. Judges were Krisna Gold Bawin, Christine Faramiran, and Jeffren Hur Bibiano Van. The Marketing Management 3A and 3B set up the Marketing Trade Fair at the sides of the competition area, selling different products, mostly food items. The BS Business Education and BS Industrial Technology Day was organized by the different school organizations - Marketring Management Society (MMS) under its President Jeffrey J. Talaman, Junior Philippine Entrepreneurs’ Society (JPES) under its President Jesreal Bancaya, and Society of Industrial Technology Students (JITS) under its President Kriska Joy Theresse Jaunto - with the support of the BS Business Education (BSBE) department under Program Coordinators (PC) Felipe F. Chin Jr., CPA, MBA, and BS Industrial Technology (BSIT) department under Program Coordinators (PC) Engr. Robert Ildy Lasuay.


Uy, Apuyon, Bocario 2nd Place in NOHS Quiz Bee by: James U. Sy Jr.

Joann Dominique S. Uy of Negros Occidental High School (NOHS) with mom, Elsa S. Uy (James U. Sy Jr./CMAS photo). Joann Dominique S. Uy, Donnabell Apuyon, and Adrian Bocario, all of Grade 9 Alastair, placed 2nd in the Quiz Bee last August 29, 2014 at the Audio Visual Room (AVR), Negros Occidental High School (NOHS), Bacolod City. The NOHS Quiz Bee was organized by the Aralpan Department for Grade 7 to 9 and 4th year students. The competition covered history and current events about the school. Uy and Apuyon also Negros Occidental High School (NOHS) and placed in the top 5 of Quiz Bee competition of the 2nd World Youth Day local celebration last August 30, 2014 at the Quadrangle, Riverside College, Bacolod City. About 8-9 schools competed in the said event among them Bacolod City National High School (BCNHS), Medel National High School, and Singcang National High School.


Gimotea Rules COS it’s all PLAY III by: James U. Sy Jr.

Some of the participating cosplayers before the start of the COSPLAY Parade organized and presented by SASinc. Entertainment under Manager Ritchie Vargas recently at the SM City Bacolod Food Court. The event was attended by 39 cosplayers from different schools (James U. Sy Jr./CMAS photo). Bea Alyzza Gimotea, cosplaying as Lightning Farron, was declared the grand winner of the COS it’s all PLAY: Third Encounter, presented by SASinc. Entertainment under Manager Ritchie Vargas, last August 30, 2014 at the Food Court, SM City Bacolod. A total of 11 cosplayers competeted in the said event. Special awards were also given to six other cosplayers, namely Ma. Cristina “Tin-Tin” Aguilar as Lili of Tekken 6, Hercz Drake Arsenio as Optimus Prime, Axel Leopold Olavia as the Birdman, Jiro Yoshimura as Pyramid Head, and Gwenneth Luzuriaga as Tinker Bell. As a prelude to the competition proper, the COSPLAY Parade was held by SASinc. Entertainment last August 17, 2014 also at the Food Court, with the participation of a total of 39 cosplayers portraying different anime, movie, video game, cartoon, superhero, and manga characters and coming from different schools like UNO-R, University of St. La Salle, and St. John’s Institute. Competitors at the COS it’s all PLAY: Third Encounter were given 1-2 minutes to best portray the character they were representing and they were judged on the following criteria: craftsmanship (40%), accuracy of costume (30%), stage portrayal (20%), and audience impact (10%).


International Balintawak Fall Camp

GM Taboada's fall camp will be held October 3-5 in Dallas, North Carolina. The event will be hosted by Ormaza's Family Karate School. The official camp flyer has been posted in our "Events" section.


GM Taboada Seattle Visit - Recap

Thanks again to GM Bobby for visiting Seattle and conducting another outstanding seminar. Kudos to the entire Balintawak Seattle family for contributing to the success of the event. GM Bobby was impressed with the rapid growth we have had since he was last here in 2011, and the quality of our members. A special note of thanks to Guro Patrick Schmitt who flew in from Cleveland to assist GM Bobby and support the event. Some of the pictures have been posted on the website, more will be posted on Facebook as additional pics come in (there were lots of pictures taken, please share). The next event is GM Bobby's International Balintawak World Camp October 3-5 in Charlotte, North Carolina - time to start preparing if you're thinking of attending...


Martial Art Seminar with Grandmaster Brian Jones

We'd like to thank Grandmaster Brian Jones for returning to Hackney, where he introduced Escrima in the 70's, and delivering a brilliant seminar yesterday. It was also great to have Master Ricky Crofts, Master Jay Dobrin & Master John Morgan assist and share their experiences and knowledge.

It was a real pleasure have you all come down and we look forward to seeing you soon.


Escrima Nightclub Self Defence Seminar

Here is a video from our recent Nightclub Self Defence Seminar.

Is your martial art / self defence / combat training effective outside the gym?

Our nightclub / bar seminar gave students an insight into the challenges faced defending your self in a different environment while also trying to protect those you are with. 


Moving On

My Bamboo Spirit Martial Arts website has gone through an overhaul and, quite frankly, it's long overdue. It's still a work in progress. In addition to the overhaul, I have migrated this blog over to the new website.

You can find the blog at:

Please bookmark the new blog address as I will be blogging from this site from this point forward.

Thank you for your support!


Stick sparring variations

At the end of our first outdoor De Campo training of this year, we worked on 2 live stick sparring methods: ”no impact” and ”no wind” - gratitude to Benajmin ”Lonely Dog” Rittiner of DBMA for the idea! Pinoro Training Group, April 2014 Filed under: arnis-eskrima, PTG, video


GM Taboada Seminar June 14 & 15

Seminar update: we have changed locations for our seminar with Grandmaster Taboada. The new location is MKG Seattle:  10714 5th Ave NE,  Seattle, WA  98125

Online registration is now available, please go to the "Seminar Registration" page.


From a private FMA session

Short video from a private training session with Roland, working on Kalye Todo Arnis (short range stick fighting system) and Igmat Baraw Knife Fighting System. Filed under: arnis-eskrima, PTG, video


Misdirection and Attention


The above video is an interesting and fascinating one to watch. Obviously, I watched this from a self defense and martial arts perspective. It raises the interesting issue of how much attention people pay to their surroundings. Going beyond the pickpocket aspect of this video, what I found interesting was Mr. Robbins' description of attention as a limited resource.

I often walk in my neighborhood and, a number of times, I have walked by teenage girls who never noticed me. Why? They were engrossed in their smartphones as they walked by me. Clearly, they would not have been prepared to defend themselves if I didn't have their best interests at heart.

But going beyond the issue of pickpocket victims and potential sexual assault victims, I'm also thinking of my parents, one of whom has dementia and the other is a severe stroke survivor. I'm thinking of the senior demographic in general. While I'm not comfortable in painting this demographic with a broad brushstroke, a large number of seniors appear to be vulnerable due to being easily confused and distracted by potential scammers and criminals who surely know how to play the seniors.

A good way not to become a victim is to pay attention to your surroundings and to the people in your environment.

What are your thoughts on this video?


Our next FREE Urban Escrima Self-Defence Taster Session!

Our next Urban Escrima Self Defence seminar takes place on Tuesday 25th at 7.00pm and Thursday 27th at 6.30pm at London Fields Fitness Studio, London, E8.

This is a fantastic opportunity to try out REAL Self Defence for FREE.

Please contact us on: to book your place!


Blind Sensei Love

Let’s get it straight. We live in a capitalist society, and you’re paying for a service when you sign up for martial arts lessons. But in any other service you’d be looking for quality results- modern martial artists have developed some freaky stockholme syndrome to their teachers. Instead of being critical of the services they pay for, students have developed some sort of blind love for sensei. In doing this, students who normally are owed services for their payment, often feel like they owe their teachers for all they taught, and all they gave back was loving devotion, forgetting the monthly fees entirely.

Let’s go back in time- there was once a Filipino Martial Artist. He had never finished high school (though if I recall correctly, he left school very, very, early), and was working as a chef. Normally, he would have spent his life in poverty, but as luck would have it, he found a student who paid for the teacher’s way out of the country.

For years, this student had become the “number one student” of this martial artist, until the day when a sponsor came and whisked the martial artist alone out of the country, leaving his original sponsor behind. Over time, the former number one student faded from memory, his name only to be heard in passing.

As luck would have it, I have met that number one student’s son. He said something along the lines of, “that guy just got a big head.” And honestly, even that’s something everybody knew.

You know what? It’s just getting goddamn cumbersome tip-toeing around this guy’s name. I could not give a damn about offending him or his slaves.

Bobby Taboada got a big head. He is not an amazing martial artist, he is a lucky one. No matter what anyone tells you about the Philippines back then, there were no deathmatches. Nobody randomly dying in the streets because of a duel. The Philippines are not a lawless country. There are laws, just as much as there are lawmen.

Bobby Taboada is a dishonest businessman. He teaches people a completely different style than he was taught, even though he was taught differently. He teaches his own new style of Balintawak, but the adaptations from the old style are not improvements in the slightest. If it was such a terrible climate in the Philippines at the time, and dangerous to be a martial artist, then why did they have to change it? Well the answer comes in one of Bobby’s videos- to add  “Hollywood” to it, and because the original stuff was “too dangerous.”

Despite that, Bobby Taboada is essentially the word of god in the FMA community.

But how come his students haven’t wised up, that none of them are getting even close to the glory of Taboada?

And the answer is- blind sensei love.

You see, students tend to trust their teachers in most cases, not just martial arts. We trusted in school that 1+1 is 2, and look where that got us. But grown adults still retain this, especially in the foreign atmosphere of a martial arts gym.So when sensei says that when he does this, you do that, you will do that and not anything else, because you haven’t been taught to distrust him.

Be careful- ask questions, and expect straightforward answers. Look at what your teacher is doing, and if it differs greatly from what you’re doing, he’s holding something back. And he has absolutely no right to.


Meeting GM Bobby Taboada

On Sunday April 26, 2009, after I arrived at Ike Sepulveda’s house, along with Terence, I was introduced by Ike to GM Bobby Taboada, who received my handshake warmly and with a friendly smile. I said “it’s an honor to meet you.” We all sat down for a delicious brunch served by Ike and his wife, Ina, and lots of conversation with GM Bobby.  How this meeting occurred is an interesting story unto itself.

I moved to the Toronto area from Columbus, Ohio in June of 2007 after marrying my Canadian wife and started teaching classes at the local community centre in Oshawa in February of 2008.  One of my students apparently told Ike Sepulveda, a resident of Ajax, about me.  Sometime in March of 2008,  Ike paid a visit to one of my classes and introduced himself. He brought along his rattan canes in a stick bag.

Ike indicated to me that he trained in Balintawak escrima but did not elaborate further. To the best of my recollection, he watched the first half of class. During a ten minute break in class, he asked if we could “play” and I replied “sure.”  Due to the fact that much of the tapi tapi of Modern Arnis is rooted in Balintawak, I delighted in this opportunity and found a lot of similarities. After we played, I thanked Ike for the opportunity. I said to myself “I really like this man.”  I obtained his e-mail address and we exchanged a few e-mails over the course of the next few months.

In May of 2008, I received an e-mail from Terence who inquired into the Modern Arnis classes I was teaching. I invited him to try it out. Terence became an instant Modern Arnis addict, so much so that we jokingly say that we need to form an “Arnis Anonymous” organization! Terence has introduced me to many aspects of Filipino culture, cuisine, and language.

In February of 2009, Ike paid a surprise visit to my Modern Arnis class where we conversed during a break. During this break, I introduced Ike to Terence. During our conversation, I asked Ike about the Balintawak Convention he attended in Las Vegas in November of 2008. He said that he had a very good time and that the training was quite good. At this time, I had no idea of the Balintawak connections that Ike had.  Indeed, he did not reveal much to myself or Terence. At this meeting, Terence and Ike exchanged e-mail addresses and began corresponding.

I would occasionally ask Terence if he had heard from Ike. It appeared that the correspondence increased over time to the point where Ike admitted to Terence that he was taking a month’s vacation to visit the Philippines and hinted that he was going to “train.” We thought to ourselves, “wow, we’d love to train for a whole month like that.”

One day I dropped by Ike’s Copy Zone shop in Whitby to have business cards and flyers printed. When I entered the shop, Ike saw me and greeted me like a long time friend and welcomed me to the back of the shop where he introduced me to his wife, Ina, and a couple of his employees.  While attending to my needs, he showed me YouTube video clips of Balintawak. I recall that he showed some by GM Nick Elizar and some by GM Nene Gaabucayan. I told Ike that I understood that he was going to the Philippines on a long vacation and he replied in the affirmative. I asked him if he was going to train while over there. With a shy smile, he said “yes.”  I was happy for Ike that he had this opportunity, still not knowing his connections.

After coming back from the Philippines, he revealed to Terence that he had trained with GM Nick Elizar. I was amazed that he had the opportunity to train with an esteemed Balintawak Grandmaster like Nick Elizar. But Ike was to reveal more. In an e-mail to Terence in mid-April, Ike revealed that GM Bobby Taboada was coming to stay at his house on the weekend of April 26th and that Bobby was a personal family friend. Ike further revealed that he was inviting us to meet Bobby on the Sunday of that weekend. Terence informed me of these developments. I said “Whoa, back up, GM Bobby Taboada is a personal family friend of Ike’s?” I then began to learn more about Ike’s interesting background.

Through my training in Modern Arnis, I had heard many stories of GM Presas’ training in Balintawak under Timoteo Maranga, Rondolfo Mongcal, and the revered Grandmaster of Balintawak, Venancio “Anciong” Bacon. I had also heard that Professor Presas and GM  Bobby Taboada were very close friends. So, when Ike revealed that GM Bobby was a family friend and asked if I’d like to come over and meet him,  I said yes as Ike’s house is only a 15 to 20 minute drive from my house.

What I learned was that Ike, his older brother, Butch, Nick Elizar, and Bobby Taboada all had trained under GM Teofilo Velez at the same time. In addition, Ike’s brother, Greg, trains with GM Nene Gaabucayan and GM Ising Atillo in Los Angeles. His brother, Butch Sepulveda, was the founder of the Gold Chapter in Cebu and is also the Treasurer for the World Eskrima Balintawak Arnis Federation (WEBAF, Inc). Ike continues to train under GM Nick Elizar and GM Ising Atillo in Los Angeles. Needless to say, there has been a family history of involvement in the art of Balintawak Arnis for quite some time. It was through this involvement that Ike’s family became friends with GM Nick Elizar, GM Bobby Taboada, GM Nene Gaabucayan as well as the Velez brothers.

At our first meeting, GM Bobby, Terence and I ate a delicious meal and conversed about Filipino Martial Arts, Professor Remy Presas, Balintawak, and a few other topics. Of course, we went out to the garage to train with GM Bobby and had a ball with the session. GM Bobby was not in the area to teach a seminar; I got the impression that it was more of a weekend getaway for him. The training and the conversations made for a grand time. After this meeting, Terence and I said to ourselves “We’ve got to get GM Bobby and Master Chuck Gauss together.”

Both photographs courtesy of Jody Melanson. The second photograph is the post garage workout.

A year later, GM Bobby came back to Toronto to teach a seminar at Sean Tyler’s Raging Tiger dojo. The day before the seminar, Terence and I had the opportunity to meet with GM Bobby once again during a Lechon at Ike’s house. When I approached him, he remembered my name as well as Terence’s right away. I had a hell of a time at his seminar and kept noting the similarities between Balintawak and Modern Arnis. Again, we resolved to set something up between GM Bobby and Master Chuck Gauss. That day (April 26, 2014) is now going to become a reality and it's going to be a great seminar!

I’m looking forward to seeing GM Bobby again in April. The atmosphere at this seminar is going to be pure awesomeness.


GM Bobby Taboada and Master of Tapi Tapi Chuck Gauss Seminar!

An exciting Balintawak/Modern Arnis seminar will be taking place in Pickering (Toronto), Ontario on April 26, 2014 at the Harmony Martial Arts Center. I am quite excited about this pairing of these two phenomenal martial artists, who excel at Filipino Martial Arts.

GM Bobby hails from Cebu City, Cebu where he learned the deadly art of Balintawak escrima under GM Teofilo Velez, GM Villasin and GM Bacon. After mastering this art, he moved to New Zealand and lived there for 12 years, teaching Balintawak. In the mid 1990s, GM Bobby moved to North Carolina where he has resided since, teaching classes and seminars worldwide, being one of the most visible ambassadors of Balintawak.

Master Chuck Gauss was a long time student of Professor Remy Presas. Prior to training with Professor, he was a life long martial artist, beginning at the age of six. He has studied the following arts: Judo, Japanese Jiu Jitsu, Tang Soo Do, Tae Kwon Do, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Small Circle Ju Jitsu, and Modern Arnis. Along with six others, Master Gauss was promoted to the level of Master of Tapi Tapi in December 2000, soon after Professor Presas was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Professor himself declared that the level of Master of Tapi Tapi was the highest level of proficiency in the art of Modern Arnis, having demonstrated the ability to utilize the lightning quick counter for counter fighting strategy integral to Professor’s art.

While these two gentlemen have not met each other, they are connected to each other through Professor Presas. GM Bobby was close friends with Professor Presas and, in fact, Professor was his best man when GM Bobby got married.

This is going to be an exciting joint seminar. Below is a flyer and two video clips of each of them.


A Champion For What?

"This is life! This is what made you! Hundreds of millions of sperms, all equals, all swimming to see which will reach the egg first, and only one will see the sun, the light of the moon, only one can make you! To be born is the biggest victory against the biggest odds in the biggest competition anywhere, ever—ohhhhh, what a champion! But a champion for what? To watch television, drink Coca-Cola and eat McDonald's? No! We must continue with the same effort we achieved by outswimming millions! We must keep proving we are worthy of that victory!"

- Radomir Kovacevic (1954-2006), champion Judoka and coach.

This comes from one of the best pieces of sports journalism that I've ever read. See: American Dream

If you have the time, read the article. Grab a cup of coffee.

For more on Mr. Kovacevic's life, see this Wikipedia article: Radomir Kovacevic

Even more fascinating there is a six part documentary on him on YouTube.

I like watching people who have a sense of purpose in their lives and I have to admit that it drives me crazy to see people be unmotivated, waste their time or go through the motions. You only have limited time on this planet. What are you going to do with your life? To be the best that you can be or waste your time watching tv?  Or be someone who wants something for nothing? Do you want to face challenges or avoid them?

Mr. Kovacevic had a good point. The fact that you were born means that you have been given an opportunity to do with your life as you please. Either you waste it or make something of it. I'd prefer that you live a life of facing challenges. You are going to fail sometimes. But it's all in the effort, isn't it? Why not prove that you are worthy of having been born?  Why not put forth your best effort every single day? I would not want to be on the death bed and say "I wish that I had tried harder or had done this....."


The Old Style and the New Style

After I came home from Sydney, I was really bored. I hadn’t found any students to teach (and still have not) and hadn’t really gotten any practice for a while. I was getting rusty (this blog actually helps me keep a tiny bit of my edge by keeping me thinking about arnis), and I was desperate for just a tiny bit of training. So I went back to my old gym to show off (I am not a good man), and learn what kind of techniques are more prevalent in their arnis, now that I am more experienced to know what’s going on.

It was.. very different. Everything was still pretty much shite, and their empty hand techniques and authority over their weapon following a grab was pretty much non-existent. After we both struggled to get used to what we were doing, he comments that what I was doing was the “old style” and what he was doing was the “new style.”

That never really raised a flag in my mind up til now (because I’ve been struggling to add more content for a while haha)- what is the difference between the old and new styles, and why was such a big incongruency between the styles? To understand, let’s go over the differences between the styles.

In “Old” balintawak, there is a shorter training time (1-2 years), in which you learn attack and defense simultaneously, train active hands, and you learn most of the martial art in a systematically grouped method. However, in “New” balintawak, there is an indeterminate training time, which could take as little as 5 years, and up to never.  The student is taught how to defend in the beginning of his or her training, and progression to attack is very, very slow. Students are not taught how to retain control over their weapon hand, nor how to impede the movements of their opponent’s weapon hand. Finally, although they teach the groups, there is one fundamental difference about the groups they teach- the key concepts are never taught properly, which allow for zero variation of the groups themselves. Supplementing the groups which have now been delegated to a simple kata are THOUSANDS of other moves taught “At random.”

At random is a term describing a different method of teaching- one that’s even older than the “Old” balintawak I have been taught. Essentially, every technique is learned individually, and then practiced repetitively. For instance, if you’re learning a disarm, you would have someone strike at you badly (see: bitchmade), and you would strip them of their weapon. Do that a certain number of times, and then trade roles. Maybe after they’d show you some variations of that same move, but they wouldn’t explain WHY the move worked and WHEN to use it.

But why would the “New” balintawak community go back to the At Random method? It’s actually pretty simple- the grouped method is too efficient.

Let’s head backwards in time- to an Attorney, known as Jose Villasin. This man is a fucking genius- let’s take a moment to appreciate that. He literally invented the grouped system, and its a bloody marvel (I’ve asked like 3 different people from the UK about this article if I was allowed to use UK-ese terminology, they all ok’d me) in its own right. Not only does the student side of a group teach an extremely important concept, but the instructor side does as well. It systemizes multitudes of techniques by its characteristics, so that when faced by an unknown technique, you can simply take note of what its accomplishing, and defending against that. Not only that, but it also teaches you how to mix groups together, as no group only works on one of the core concepts. For instance, group 2 employs its own concepts up until the point where an opening is discovered to progress to group 1, or 5.

However, not very long after the grouped method was discovered, Villasin discovered that it was too effective. Brand new students would be finished training in no time at all, flooding the market with instructors. Rival schools could be finished learning their secrets in a year, maybe two. And so while the Balintawak club kept the grouped method, it removed the most important part for higher levels of the martial art- the teaching of the core concepts. This extended the training time because the students would take a much longer time to truly understand what they were accomplishing, and removed variation from the groups, and the variations were to be taught at-random. 

It’s an infinite shame that the grouped method isn’t given the respect it deserves, but it’s just how it is. “Big name balintawak” has brought back “New” balintawak, and with it has come hordes of instructors that either lack the fundamental understanding that all practitioners need, or instructors that are unwilling to teach correctly.


"Finishing Moves"

No matter what anybody tells you, there is no technique that has no defense. There is no way to guarantee that your weapon is going to meet your opponent’s face, just various techniques to try and get around or destroy his defense. But don’t get me wrong- it’s still a dangerous martial art, but I believe it is so because of its realism- there is more to a technique than its execution, because the followthrough is just as important- every move can fail, so you should learn the countermeasures to every counter measure.

Now you might be thinking- “thats an awful lot to learn, mystery tumblr guy! I don’t have time for this shit!”

And, well, you’re right and wrong. Right because there are countless techniques that fit underneath the arnis spectrum, and wrong because not very many of them are worth learning (lol). There are actually quite a few moves you DONT EVEN NEED defenses to- just realize when they’re spending more effort than they should be, or overstepping their boundaries by doing a stupid move like hitting your knee when you’ve got a strike ready, loaded, and course set for their skull.

As my instructor said, “IT’S NOT FUCKING ROCKET SCIENCE, MATE.”

There is no such thing as a finishing move in arnis, because if you’re doing it right, EVERY move is a finishing move. If you get struck in the head with a big wooden stick, you have just enough time to say “oh fuck” before the second and third strikes come to kill you. Like I said before, every time you get hit in a fight, it reduces your ability to defend yourself. Except for the head. You get hit there, it eliminates your ability to defend yourself, so try not to get hit there.


Kind of late thanks

I’ll just say straight out- I should have given mention to my teacher here a while ago, but I guess I didn’t want to send unneeded attention his way, but now I guess any attention is good attention when you’re running a business.

My teacher is one John Russell of Sydney, New South Wales, and he taught me Balintawak. Pretty cool guy, taught me nearly everything I know, and what I already knew I had to throw out or heavily modify it because it was shit.

anyway, his old site is

and you can (probably) reach him at

His new site is coming up in a few weeks, and I’ll both edit this post and make a new one if it does.


Fall Camp was Outstanding!

Thank you to all the Balintawak Seattle members who travelled cross country to Charlotte, NC, for GM Taboada's International Balintawak Fall Camp. Congrats to the following on successfully passing their respective level requirements:

Azeem McDaniel, Level 6
Josh Faram, Level 6
Raul Tabile, Level 5
Shahid McDaniel, Level 3
Sarafine Apadolo, Level 2
Jeff Pearce, Level 2
Bo McClune, Level 1

This was the largest contingent we have had participate in camp - you represented Balintawak Seattle well!


Interview with an Urban Escrima Student - Catherine

Catherine has been with Urban Escrima almost from the beginning, so we are really pleased to be able to see what Catherine thinks of her training and the club.
Please introduce yourself, where are you from and what do you do?
I’m Catherine Webb.  I’m from London (Hackney, to be exact)and for half the year I write novels, and for the other half I’m a theatre lighting designer.

What type of books do you write and are you working on anything at the moment? Do you have a blog or website or something where we can keep up to date with your work?
I write fantasy books, with a bit of other stuff thrown in.  I started writing quite young, so as Catherine Webb I’ve got a series of eight or so children’s books which sort of grew up as I did.  Now I write mostly as Kate Griffin, writing books set in London.  However, at the moment I’m writing something completely different – a detective story, set in 1550s Istanbul. It’s not my usual kettle of fish, but I have a massive soft spot for the Ottoman Empire (doesn’t everyone?) and the 1550s are a fantastic bit of history where the world is at once swashbuckling medieval, and simultaneously full of gunpowder and intellectual turmoil.  I keep a blog  - which has all my information on it.

How long have you been training in Escrima Concepts and what grade are you?
I’ve been training about a year, and I’m level two.

Are you currently training in any other martial arts or have you done anything before?
I did a tiny bit of karate, and a bit of jiu jitsu while at university.  My chief memories of karate was being shouted at, and having to crawl up the stairs to my dormitory room after Friday class, almost physically unable to bend at the knees.  Jiu jitsu was better, but there was a lot of bowing, tumbling and wondering why the person I was supposed to throw bodily to the floor using only my hip and circular movement, had to be six foot five and weigh seventeen stone.

Why did you choose to train in Escrima Concepts? And what do you most enjoy about your training? 
I chose Escrima slightly by accident.  I was feeling very unfit, but knew that if I was going to get more exercise I wanted to learn something useful while doing it.  I also knew I didn’t want to be shouted at by an angry Sensei again.  There was an offer to do classes at the London Fields gym, and I saw Escrima on the list.  After looking it up on the internet, it seemed a lot more interesting than other martial arts I’d tried, so I gave it a go, and have kept on giving it a go ever since!

I think there are two things I like most about training.  The first is that, even within certain techniques, everyone does it in a slightly different way.  I really appreciate this, as it both broadens your options and simultaneously forces you to learn how to read whoever you’re working with. For example, when sparring with one student, over time you come to notice that he’s good with his live hand and always steps through, which in turn forces you to change what you do.  But when sparring with another, you realise that this student always does smaller, tighter moves, and doesn’t necessarily put in his live hand, or only does on certain shots.  It’s such a flexible, friendly environment that you can actually get to think about, not merely what you’re doing, but what everyone else does and how that might affect you – and I really like that.  The other thing I love is the technical nitty gritty; I really enjoy that moment when you suddenly understand how doing something simple, can lead to something devastating.

Are you currently training in any other martial arts or have you done anything before?

I did a tiny bit of karate, and a bit of jiu jitsu while at university.  My chief memories of karate was being shouted at, and having to crawl up the stairs to my dormitory room after Friday class, almost physically unable to bend at the knees.  Jiu jitsu was better, but there was a lot of bowing, tumbling and wondering why the person I was supposed to throw bodily to the floor using only my hip and circular movement, had to be six foot five and weigh seventeen stone.

What do you feel is the most important thing you have learnt in Escrima so far?
Get out of the way!!

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of taking up Escrima Concepts?

When I started, I used half a broom handle to practice getting comfortable with the movements in my living room, as training with any sort of weapon felt really odd for the first few weeks.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions that seem trivial or daft, because they’re really not; and remember that if Nigel says something is ‘kinda… okay’ you can probably be really pleased.

Thanks Catherine!


Just Like Playing the Guitar

Yes, in eskrima both are hands are used, not only that, parts that are also more proximal to the trunk. Just like playing guitar, both hands are used and just like playing the guitar, both hands play different but congruent roles. One is doing the strumming while the other is changing the chords. Think the same way in eskrima, one hand acts differently from the other.


Cebuano Eskrima: Stalking the Elusive Adepts

Cebuano Eskrima: Stalking the Elusive AdeptsI am almost done with the sequel of Cebu Eskrima: Beyond the Myth. I don't know exactly when can I publish this book, since I am running out of budget, but I will finish book, entitled, Cebuano Eskrima: Stalking the Elusive Adepts. But do we need another book on eskrima? I simply do not know,


Write the Correct Words, Tat Kon Tou

Many people try to write things about Joe Go's TatKonTou . . . and almost always they got the spelling wrong. The conventional way to transcribe it is Tat Kon Tou, not Tat Kun Tou or Tat Kun Tao. We are not saying that these people are showcasing their ignorance on the subject, but their blindness of the details. Remember folks it's Tat Kon Tou, even though this Hookien word is popularly written as kun, the correct way to write it, is kon. And it is not tao but tou. If they cannot even spell it correctly, how much more, know things about it?


A Manual on Palakabanate


I took notes on what he was teaching starting February 14, 1989 until the day he died and continued to write down things related to Tat Kon Tou, Gokosha and Palakabanate and collated them all. I had had it in a manuscript first then finally I am able to finish transcribing it in a more readable form, few days ago.
I am codifying it, believing that in the distant future somebody will appreciate the same.
What's next? I don't know. Simply do ot know.


A Book on Sungay

The curriculum of TatKonTou is quite long, so I decided to codify just an excerpt of it, focusing more on the use of the sungay.In this work, I codify and describe the details on the use of sungay. Hopefully I can publish this small book in the near future.


Leadership in a performative way.

A Good Leader is A Good Follower…” These are the words that I value most during my training in the Police Academy. And in my training with the Tabimina System I’ve come to encounter this principle in a performative way.

In the Tabimina System, one must undergo the Healing Stage. It is a must for all practitioners it is where we begin to open new discoveries of our selves under stress. As what Sir Bob would say “Who are you under Stress?”. Next is the Sharpening stage, it is the refinement of skills that are being tested beyond our comfort zone and the question Sir Bob would ask you is  “Are you compose under stress?”. Then as the practitioner improves he/she will begin to train to feed.

Feeding is the avenue where one will discover himself gradually. It is also the key in the understanding the Tabimina System. It is a journey to self discovery. Feeding is the performative way of leading. I began to understand this when i started to Feed. Allow me to pick some views on the book I read written by John C Maxwell about leadership and here it goes:

“The ability to lead is really the collection of skills, nearly all of which can be learned and improved. But if you want lasting improvement then you must undergo the process. In the process it implies the statement  “For as long as a person doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, he isn’t going to grow.””

In this year’s gathering, Sir Bob emphasizes on the two attributes of the feeder. These are the Physical Attributes and the Internal Attributes. The Physical attributes involves the feeder’s physical fitness as well as his skills attained as a feeder and The Internal attributes involves the character of the feeder these encompasses Humility, Obedience, Sacrifice, Patience, and Dedication. Both attributes must level up simultaneously.

My Ciong, before we became feeders we were receivers. And that is the solid foundation of Tabimina System. We must not forget that before we became leaders we were followers. Humility and Patience are one of the virtues we must learn in feeding and so does discipline and obedience  because if we don’t attain these we don’t grow as a feeder. We have to play our role during practice. We are not only feeders but receivers as well.

Everyone has the potential of being a feeder, but it isn’t accomplished overnight. It requires perseverance. It doesn’t develop overnight. It takes a lifetime.

Feeding and Leading have one of the same ingredient and that is SERVICE. Allow me to share some thoughts about Service.  What is Service? Go through such pain and suffering without complaining.  Serve the lowliest and the poorest without counting the cost nor asking any in return. Learn to appreciate the beauty of the common things around you. Glad to be alive but not afraid to die.

And there is a saying that states ” If we wish to be great then we must be a servant of all.” Serving others who follow you really purifies your motives and helps you gain perspective. It  also brings to the surface any impure motives of the followers.

Great Leadership means Great Service. Great Service means Great Sacrifice. If we want to be feeders then start serving others. Continue Feeding and Continue Serving. As what our Great Feeder (I am referring to Sir Bob) would say “I am your servant.” Let’s Feed, Let’s serve. Let’s Lead.…


Promoting Good Health with Corn Corn

K'se Trevor

Black eagle escrimadors supporting - King Corn - Corn Corn with a healthy refuel of KOOLau (PNG COCONUTS) juice Cleveland Markets

Corn Corn

When Escrimadoes thirst, they fuel up with the power of fresh drinking coconuts.

about 2 months ago


Grand Masters of the UFMAC recognizing Master Carlito Bonjoc, long time friend of Maestro Sonny Umpad

Today it was an honor that I was invited and got to witness UFMAC recognizing Grand Master Carlito Bonjoc, long time friend of Maestro Sonny Umpad ! Congrats GM Carlito!

Grand Master Robert Castro also introduced me to all the Grand Masters as one of the lineage holders of Maestro Sonny’s curriculum and promoter of the FMA. I was grateful to be in the room with all the greats of the FMA and honor them as my elders and for paving the path for martial artists like myself to thrive in and share the arts to the world. 


Today Master Carlito Bonjoc of Mata Sa Bagyo martial arts school is recognized by 6 different Grand Masters and Masters including Eskabo Daan Grand Master Robert Castro, Grand Master Michael Giron of Original Bahala Na, Grand Master Max Pallens of Senkoteros, Grand Master Dexter Labonog of Bahala Na Multi-Style, Master Emil Bautista of Kajukenbo Self Defense Institute and Grand Master Alfredo Bandalan of Bandalan Doce Pares of the Unified Filipino Martial Arts Council (UFMAC). Congratulations to warrior and leader, Master Bonjoc for all his contributions to the Martial Arts and Filipino Culture!

UFMAC, is an organization formed by a panel of current Grand Masters from different martial arts systems and their mission is to provide an open forum for the preservation, promotion and unification of the Filipino Martial Arts community. I will share more about this experience and some of my personal take aways soon. I definately wanted to get these images out to show that our culture and our arts are thriving but stay tuned for the specifics of the story. Congratulations again to UFMAC for being organized to promote the culture and our teachers as well as to GM Carlito for all his contributions and hard work! 

Jay Jasper






Brawl Video – Self Defence Lessons

This brawl video shows some good self defence lessons. Chest pushing -> wild punching -> shirt,hair,standup grappling -> ground grappling ie Muay Thai -> Wrestling -> BJJ. But that you don’t want to get stuck grappling – someone else can then come and punch/kick you in the head…

Lot’s of people were hurt, but imagine if improvised weapons (beer bottles, bricks) had been used – even worse… :-( And like most fights, any of them could have just “counted to 10″ and walked away – always the best approach :-)



Knife Flow

Here’s another snippet from our flow. We were just warming up for one of our performances for our beloved brother Eric “E” Fructuoso RIP. As always, random flow and highly improvisational. And a touch of goofing around to keep it lighthearted.  Enjoy!



Violence in Sydney (and Australia)

One of the strongest motivations of students to the martial arts is that of self defence. Indeed, a great deal of effort is expended by many organisations to demonstrate that they are able to provide potential students with the most effective techniques available with which to confront adversaries and defend themselves. It is common wisdom within the martial arts that society is unsafe and time should be expended to learn ways to mitigate the risk of wandering our streets.

It is perhaps worth noting at this point some of the common ways martial arts schools and martial arts teachers promote both the notion that students need self defence training and that they are the best ones to provide this. Some of these techniques are so obvious that they present like embarassing cliches. An obvious one is seen on the covers of local and imported martial arts magazines: photos of fierce looking instructors in the midst of dealing out robust counter attacks to opponents. Sometimes these even feature the whites of the instructor’s eyes a little too prominently.

If we open these same magazines, we often find whole sections devoted to dealing with attacks. In these, various styles and instructors are often profiled. Up to a point, they offer the reader a way to compare various styles. In these, many instructors appear to take great delight in demonstrating how much just retribution they can dish out to their would-be assailants. While not universal, it is useful to note the photographs of attackers in these sections and others: they are often hooded or have partially concealed faces. Where their faces are visible, these are often snarling, aggressive and wide eyed. You won’t find any attackers wearing purple poker dot pants in these, nor will you see any braces, pimples, glasses or poodles. Attackers will almost universally be large, mature, male and wearing street clothes.

I could go on, but you get the point. These types of portrayals serve a particular purpose. They are designed to instill in the minds of potential or actual students a particular perception about the society within which we live. In addition to these devices, a great many martial arts teachers will go a step further (if given the opportunity) and draw your attention to the real examples of violence in our society. They aren’t hard to find. The media eats up stories of violence, particularly when these include the presence of a weapon or there is the opportunity to broadcast frightening images.

In an environment which has been primed via words and images to accept violence as a default condition, it isn’t a big leap to use actual events to confirm these beliefs. This is a classic example of confirmation bias. It is phenomenon that we can readily observe as operating on the group dynamics of many martial arts clubs and groups.

While there is no doubt that Sydney (and indeed Australia) can be unsafe, the above representations and beliefs need some serious challenging. However, in challenging these beliefs, there are a number of significant implications for martial arts training. A lack of desire to confront these implications is likely to reduce the desire of many practitioners to ask some hard questions.

Firstly, we can view ABS statistics on crime and violence in Australia. From the Victims of Assault stats, we can readily observe that the Northern territory is easily the state or territory within which one is most likely to be assaulted. Note that as a resident of NSW, there  is a less than 1% chance over the course of an entire year that you will be assaulted. If we look further at breakdowns of age and gender, it can be seen that after the age of 24, the likelihood of being assaulted decreases significantly (note also that it is more or less split 50/50 male/female).

This isn’t something you see on the front cover of MA mags or in the paid results for Google: “Hey! You’ve got a 1% chance of being assaulted this year! It could happen to you! Come and learn devastating techniques to ensure it doesn’t!”.

Another interesting feature of assaults which doesn’t quite square with the promotional materials of many clubs is the relationship of the victim with their attacker. Again, the mags present the attacker as someone who is anonymous (either that, or the guy defending himself has a lot of friends who like to wear their hoodies low, never make eye contact and drink their espressos in dark corners behind industrial bins). In fact, what the stats say is that while, in the case of male victims, the most common attacker is unknown to them (at 40% of the total), the majority of attackers are known to the victim in some form or another (ie the remaining 60%). The difference between genders is striking also: over 60% of female victims are assaulted by a family member.

Finally, a couple of the big ones: where does the assault occur and was a weapon involved? As can be seen from the stats about weapon use and location of the offense, NSW is the state in Australia where a weapon is least likely to be used in an assault. At just 7.1% of all assaults, the chance of being assaulted with a weapon is getting pretty small. By my calculations, if the overall assault rate is 975 per 100,000 persons, then assaults with a weapon are just 69.225 per 100,000. This means there is just a 0.069225% chance that you will be assaulted with a weapon in NSW in any given year. When you consider also that male victims are assaulted in community areas (ie public spaces) in just 38% of cases and that 64% of female assaults occur in residential locations, then the industrial bins and parking lots so prominent in martial arts magazines and websites start looking very out of place.

The conclusions of this are far reaching. These statistics call into question the legitimacy of the hard core self defence regimes which exist in some clubs and the validity of the motivations of a great many practitioners. This takes nothing away from the genuine concerns many people have for their safety and solace that training in combative and martial arts gives them. However, it does raise serious questions about the legitimacy of any ongoing efforts by martial arts teachers and clubs to frame our society as unsafe. It also raises questions about the role that martial arts teachers and clubs have in challenging these types of beliefs when they are exhibited by students. In the specific case of women’s self defence, it appears significantly more likely that women will find themselves victims of domestic violence than random assaults on the street. This doesn’t seem well reflected in martial arts literature or marketing or the courses offered by many clubs.

Of course, this needs to be done with sensitivity: many students are attracted to the martial arts precisely because they have experienced violence. My own observation is that almost all students of the martial arts begin their training in large part as a result of heightened fears for the personal safety. This is all too often borne out of traumatic past experiences- be those experiences direct or indirect.  Some students continue to experience violence well after taking up martial arts. These fears need to be addressed in a manner which is sensitive to the difficulties being faced by the individual, but which also ultimately result in the individual realising that while we do not live in a non-violent utopia, we are not in any immediate danger. Martial arts training should result in students becoming better adjusted to the realities of our society. One of these realities is that Sydney is not a particularly violent city.


More Burpees and Bulgarian Bag stuff…

Though I am a firm believer that regular skill practice is important; I’m still a proponent of fitness/conditioning as a cornerstone to good martial arts/self defense practice.  The upside to breaking out of the ‘gym rat’ workout mind is that I can work out anytime, anywhere as long as I have enough space to swing a jump rope or a bulgarian bag.

  • 50 Burpees
  • 5 Open spin/Burpees (left and right) x 5 sets
  • 6 Power Snatch/Arm Throw x 6 sets


NAS Competition

Today -sunday the 26th of August 2012 two of our exponents Carl Arganda and Wesley Kaese competed in the Qld National Allstyles Tournament fighting in the continuous sparring and competing on a very high level their efforts were not unnoticed and have fared themselves and the UFSDS /BBEAE club really well - I would like to congratulate them for today :) - WELL DONE! National All Styles August 26 th 2012



I was just thinking of how we all have to prioritize our lives in these busy days. Giving up time in one area of our lives to spend that time with something or someone else.

Understanding that we have commitments to family, friends, employers and ourselves. We tend to be so busy we can lose sight of what is really important.

I do not believe we will be on our deathbeds asking for just one more hour practicing Martial Arts, or another hour at work or another hour at the bar drinking with strangers.

Make sure you have your priorities in order, you may not have the chance to fix it before your life on Earth ends.

Guro Ben


Integrated Training: Fitness/Conditioning and Performance/Conditioning

It’s been a while but I’m back on track after nursing two frustrating injuries back to ‘working’ order.  I’m not 100% yet, but at least I can do some things.

The lemonade I made from this big bag of sour lemons was spending time thinking about how to train in a way that will:

1.  Allow my body to heal while I’m attempting to avoid getting fat, dumb, and lazy.

2.  Maintain some level of performance/skill during recovery/healing.

3. Aid healing/recovery with a little activity.

Believe me when I say my usual tendency is to dive in and tough out the recover, but at 43… my body isn’t as springy as my mind thinks it is so I have to adhere to my own “Train Smart” motto to avoid taking two steps back in the recovery area.

SO… How do I get the most bang out of shortened workouts?

INTEGRATION!   Blending fitness conditioning with performance conditioning so I can do maintenance in both areas with shorter workouts.  Shorter workouts mean less risk of breaking myself again and integrating fitness and performance training means changing motions more frequently and reducing breaking myself through repetitive motions.

I haven’t reinvented the wheel by doing this by any stretch, but it was a good lesson to take out of this injury.  Thinking ‘tactically’ about my workout routines in order to accomplish a clearly defined goal (stay fit, heal, avoid re-injury) was more important than just following a routine or ‘system.’

I had to rethink what it meant to ‘train smart’ in this case.

Here is the full routine that is highlighted in the video:

  • 100 rope swings (single and double)
  • 10 front steps/rope swings
  • 10 back step/rope swings
  • 10 forward ‘triangle’ steps/rope swings
  • 10 backward ‘triangle’ steps/rope swings
  • 10 sidestep/cat stance/rope swings
  • WORK
  • 100 double foot skips
  • 100 running skips
  • 100 ‘Ali shuffle’ skips
  • Repeat the footwork/swings again
  • *repeat the WORK/REST cycle for 3 rounds*

Here’s another application of an INTEGRATED training model for Quarterback training.



We are bringing in local talent to train our students with seminars in Balintawak Eskrima, Tactical Machete / Axe and MARPPIO Modern Arnis.

I want to be able to share information with our Students and Instructors to give them a larger foundation to help them grow in the Martial Arts. Utilizing local Instructors here in Michigan allows them to personally train and have access to these Instructors more readily for their own training when they become Instructors themselves.


Teaching is it’s own art…

Obviously I am partial to all things USMC (Once a Marine… ) but in this case it is also a good example of the difference between

training instructors vs. training ‘martial artists.’

This is a short (and obviously promotional) video on the Instructor Training Program at Quantico, Virginia for the MCMAP (Marine Corps Martial Arts Program).  These ARE NOT ‘martial arts’ students.  They ARE instructor trainees.

What’s the difference?

The focus is not primarily on technical skill, it is on how to teach these skills.  Notice too that there is strong emphasis on role modeling (teaching by example) from personal behavior and historical examples.

Most recreational martial artists are really teachers first and practitioners second.  But, how much ‘teacher training’ have they received or sought on their own?

You can’t teach well if you don’t know what you are teaching, true.  But how many of our fellow ‘martial artists’ (who really are teachers of martial arts) have not spent even half as much time on learning to instruct/coach/mentor as they have on perfecting their technical skill?


The Race that does not Exist

“Imitate me as I Imitate Anciong.” These are the words that Sir Bob said to me in one of the trainings I attended. I started training Tabimina Balintawak since summer of 2006, from then on things became different. From the outlook in life, awareness of the surrounding, enhanced senses, sharpened reflexes, and many more. It is a continuous and endless learning.…There is always something new…

And then, I was caught up in a race which I thought it was. A race wherein I was tempted & I quote “Tempted” to become a better and fiercer fighter. I was tempted to be as Forceful as Master Dag, Swift as Master Flint, Intimidating as Master Chad, Cunning as Sir Jojo, and Great as GM Sir Bob. In short, I was starving for power, pride, and respect until I left myself unchecked that led me crossing the line & disregarding the chain of command. But thanks to Sir Bob for correcting me and leading me away from those temptations & showing me my true path. The timing was perfect.

The Third Gathering of Tabimina Balintawak was an another eye opener for me. A Literally Wide-Eye opener. Why? Because I saw my oldself on both the receivers and some of the feeders who are caught up in a race. And at the back of my mind i was smiling. Brothers and sisters of TB Family, there is no race. Don’t get caught up with it because it doesn’t exist. There will always be greater and better than you are.…and also lesser than you are.…

The 3rd Gathering’s theme was UNITY but there are some who are caught up with that non-existing race which divides the family. I repeat THERE IS NO RACE of who is the best or who is better but there is a ROAD to self-discovery. My Brothers & Sisters let’s harness our UNITY with HUMILITY. Let’s help each other and build up each other not only as an International Organization but also as a FAMILY because that is Tabimina Balintawak is all about.…FAMILY.

And lastly.….let’s Imitate Sir Bob as He imitated GGM Anciong. Allow me to expound it. We just have to Imitate Sir Bob and not BE LIKE Sir Bob because there is only ONE Sir Bob.…

There is No Race .….only a Journey to the road to Self-Discovery.…Keep on Playing with those who Imitate Sir Bob…



Balintawak Eskrima Enhances Speed and Pace

The importance of pace and speed is best indicated in the subsequent phrases: "When the opponent cuts you through the skin, cut him through the bone." Samurai Saying A fragment of a second would mean the difference between life or death in an actual mortal combat. This is the reason why the attacks, counter attacks, and defensive moves of Balintawak Eskrima go with gravity.


Balintawak Eskrima Defense and Footwork

In Balintawak Eskrima, an efficient block is actually executed quick and sufficiently strong to stop the actual momentum from the offense, as well as extended limited to a range necessary to soak up the inbound impact. By no means block together with your arm prolonged far out.


Inner Tube + Duct Tape + Flat Rope + Play Sand = DIY Bulgarian Bag Fun

This is my DIY (Do It Yourself) “Bulgarian Bag

After tripping over this exercise tool and watching some videos of how it is used, I thought it was a pretty nice way of getting a challenging workout… but the ‘real’ ones that Ivan Ivanov created are a bit pricey to test drive.

But, thanks to youtube, I found some DIY tutorials to cut the price from $211 – $155 (Leather costs more than canvas) down to about $30.00.

It is ugly, but like my camera equipment, its a tool for getting ‘pretty’ results not to look pretty.

Cut the inner tube, fill with sand, roll the ends toward the inside of the arc (better handles), and zip tie them closed.  Then duct tape the ends tight for grips.  I added the flat rope loops for some of the spinning exercises and to vary the hand positions for triceps/bicep exercises.  Mine came out to be around 39 pounds at first, but was too heavy to start with so I reduced the heft to about 30 pounds (between the 26 pound “medium” and the 37 pound “large” bags Mr. Ivanov sells) which is probably still a touch heavy, but my pride won’t let me go any lighter.

The variations on bulgarian bag exercises are endless, but this is a series of simple (but definitely not easy) exercises that I started with:

5 Rounds of:

10 “open spins” (full circle rotations to the left for 10, then right for 10)

10 push ups (which I varied with ‘frog’ push ups and ‘climber’ push ups)

5 Rounds of:

“Snatch Jumps” (execute a classic ‘snatch/clean’ motion’ with the bag landing – GENTLY – on your shoulders then jump/throw it back to the start position)

10 Repetitions of the TacArnis Concept Footwork patterns.

I shot the video on on my deck for better light and more room (because my wife likes nice things in her house to stay nice) – please don’t think I’m all hardcore/Rocky IV about this stuff.  It was 30 degrees and the deck was a little slick.  I have enough room for this routine in my basement and the floor is much safer there.

There is a learning curve to using the Bulgarian Bag, but I know that applying the “Form, Power, Focus, Speed” training concept from the Kenpo/FMA blend that is the foundation of TacArnis, this will be a fun/challenging addition to my fitness program but also develop kinesthetic awareness that translates to TacArnis training as well as overall health/fitness.

I strongly suggest ensuring you have enough room and a safe space to exercise in with something like Bulgarian bags or any exercise routine for that matter.


Burpees, Body Weight, and Bands

In a previous post I mentioned “Instructional Alignment” is a fancy way of saying that TacArnis uses the same concepts to instruct that students will apply as tactics.  This goes for our conditioning/fitness component as well. The conceptual lesson of “FLOW” is challenged when we combining conditioning exercises with TacArnis strikes/drills – creating ‘gut check’ experience.  As a drill “FLOW” is a basic drill in FMA to teach the more important idea of “FLOW” as a state of mind – KEEP GOING!  Even when you are tired, stressed, scared or injured.  KEEP GOING!  Taking concepts out of the physical drills and recognizing them as Concepts/Ideas means remember that they can be applied in other ways – and that is the bigger lesson.

I know I’ll catch flak from FMA/Martial arts purists out there, but the goal of TacArnis is not to teach “FMA” as “FMA.” It is to USE “FMA” and other martial skills (and ‘non martial art skills’) in order to “Train Smart” for self defense success.  The concept of “FLOW” as a state of mind is as important (if not more so) than mastering a drill that is meant as a primer for basic physical skills.

  • Burpees (0:08 to 0:29):  I have to confess that I have a love/hate relationship with the Burpee exercise, but it’s like one of the best whole body exercises you can do, so I do it.  For this workout we did the following:
    • 1o burpees w/4 punch combo (Jab/Cross, hook/hook) Tom punching
    • 1o burpees w/4 punch combo (Jab/Cross, hook/hook) Paul punching
    • 10 burpees w/single and double siniwali
    • 1o burpees w/bob and weave defense and 4 punch combo (Jab/Cross, hook/hook) Tom punching
    • 1o burpees w/bob and weave defense and 4 punch combo (Jab/Cross, hook/hook) Paul punching
    • Total 50 burpees per person.
    • NOTE:  You can give the ‘focus mitt guy/gal’ a longer rest by having them not burpee if needed BUT it will add time to the overall goal of 50 burpees (or whatever total number you are shooting for).
  • Body weight (0:30 to 0:36):
    • 10 body weight/partner squat lifts combined with bob and weave defensive movement Tom lifts
    • 10 body weight/partner squat lifts combined with bob and weave defensive movement Paul lifts
  • Bands (0:37 to 0:39): SOLO
    • 2 x :60 intervals continuous motion w/the band wrapped around your chest or waist to ‘punch it out’ – Tom
    • 2 x :60 interval continuous motion w/band wrapped around your chest or waist to ‘punch it out’ – Paul
  • Bands (0:40 to 0:52)
    • 2 x :30 intervals continuous motion with partner hold (use the stick to save your hands) stick and empty hand – Tom
    • 2 x :30 intervals continuous motion with partner hold (use the stick to save your hands) stick and empty hand – Paul


So What Makes a Martial Art Work? The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (Part 2 of 2)

“An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it.”
Mohandas K. Gandhi
Political activist and spiritual leader

In part one of this essay, we had established that each encounter is situational and that one of the biggest challenges to proper execution of any move in the martial arts is to pull it off accurately in real time. Attributes like timing, speed, balance, range, strength, body movement and angles of attack are universal and are used to achieve different effects in different arts. The key is taking these attributes and harnessing them via an effective system to train a student to develop productive and positive skills. The aim of every system should be to enable students to develop appropriate responses and learn to execute moves in real time. Easier said than done.

In part two of this essay, I shall discuss what I believe are traits and characteristics of effective martial arts and teaching systems and how Tabimina Balintawak exhibits these traits. Much has already been written about how the system works and training progresses so I will only be highlighting certain aspects of the training. During the course of this essay, I will make references to practices I have observed in other arts. Please note that I do not mean to discredit any art nor do I mean any disrespect. Rather I seek to use a wider base of examples so that learning and discussion can be more meaningful. I would invite all readers to keep an open mind and give this essay a fair reading before making judgment. Now that all the formalities are out of the way, let us begin our discussion in earnest about what works in a martial art.

1. Attacks must be random and dynamic
Here is a hard truth: many martial arts and martial artists do not train for the “what ifs”. What if my opponent moves or blocks? What if I miss? What if he does not go down? What if my disarm goes awry? Many systems have students practice using compliant opponents i.e. students allow themselves to be used as dummies in order to for their partner to practice and learn. For example, to practice a throw, one student may allow another student to move in and execute a throw without resisting. The attacker gets to practice his throw and the defender gets to practice protecting himself when being thrown. (Guess who has more fun.) Many weapon arts also have one attacker strike and then “freeze” so the defender can practice a block and execute a counter-attack. This can be followed by more strikes, disarms and/or a takedown. It may be hard to make out but this “freezing” does take place quite a bit. At higher levels the “freeze” may be very minute because advanced students move faster and can take advantage of this gap but it is still there.

Right now many are probably going to say, “Hang on! Isn’t that the whole point of training? To get so fast that we can recognize opportunities to attack and execute our moves?” I agree completely but I am of the view that this kind of training is incomplete. Before the flaming begins, please note that in and of itself, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this freezing. Sometimes, this is needed to allow a student to practice and achieve a greater degree of finesse. However, if this is the only way to practice, then something is lacking because everything is still cognitive and ultimately students are trained using memory and anticipation which is completely different from reaction. Both sides know their roles (i.e. who is attacking and who is defending) and what is coming (i.e. who is going to end up on the ground). So the outcome has more or less been determined. This is why there is a lack of randomness and few are trained for the “what ifs”. What if a student is non-compliant and resists? What if I don’t want to be disarmed and keep up my attacks? What if my partner panics and swings wildly at me? Can all of us effectively handle a non-compliant partner?

Tabimina Balintawak, on the other hand, is completely random. From day one (and this is typical for any new student), we spend about 15–30 minutes on the 12 basic strikes and counters and from there it is all random. There is no set way in which the feeder or attacker will come at us and where, when or how he will strike next. As the training progresses, the student or defender learns a greater variety of moves and counterattacks so his repertoire is widened and the attacker himself cannot always predict how the defender will counter-attack. At the highest levels, the distinction between attacker and defender is blurred since all moves are non-choreographed and both sides have no clue anticipation what is coming next. It is completely situational and both must react based on what happens at that point in time. Who gets hit, disarmed and/or thrown off balance is really up in the air. By engaging in the process of agak (or play as we love to call it), we are training for all the “what ifs” because we actually execute them and test ourselves and our opponents. If we never train for the “what ifs” then we can never discover the truth of what happens for ourselves.

2. There must be a strong element of defense
Looking at the human race, it amazes me how we have made it this far. From birth, we are completely defenseless and totally reliant on a caregiver for the first few years of our lives. Animals have to learn to move by themselves within hours of being born or risk being eaten. We learn to walk after a year or so. Some animals are immediately left on their own the moment they are born but manage to survive. Granted we have a fantastic brain which does make up for it in later years (although some people I have met make me want to believe otherwise), we are completely vulnerable for the first part of our lives. When provoked, we can instinctively lash out by punching, kicking, slapping, biting, pulling and shoving. However, we do not seem to have any instinctive defense against punching, kicking, slapping, biting, pulling and shoving. Animals, on the other hand, have survival mechanisms and are not defenseless. When chasing a zebra, lions have to be extremely careful of their prey’s powerful hind legs for a kick can seriously hurt them. I am pretty sure zebras do not sign up for classes to learn how to kick.

This leads me to ask what defense mechanisms do we instinctively have? For the life of me I cannot think of any other than running or hitting back and even the latter does not seem effective against a skilled or armed opponent. This strongly suggests to me that as human beings, we have lost our defensive capabilities and must re-learn them. Too many arts focus on strikes but pay little attention to defense; believing that “the best defense is a good offense.” I believe that the best defense is a good defense. Before the objections come flooding in, I would also like readers to consider the previous point above about randomness in attacks. If one can successfully fend off truly random attacks then one has a strong defense.

Right from the outset, Tabimina Balintawak focuses on developing a strong defense as our most fundamental tenet. Again, attacks are random and students are trained to react appropriately. It is through such practice that students develop their own sense of timing and good body mechanics. The key to strong defense in Balintawak is good body movement — not the weapon. If our defense is completely dependent on our weapon, then we are virtually naked without it. On the other hand, our body is our greatest weapon and ultimately that is what we are training; the stick is only a training tool for the body and this ensures that we are never truly defenseless. We have a saying when we play: “My defense is my problem. Your defense is your problem.” So in short, there cannot be a truly strong defense without genuinely random attacks.

3. There must be stress
Many arts allow for students to practice when there is little stress. The result is that many are unprepared for the adrenaline dump that kicks in during high-stress situations like sparring, fighting and ambushes. Many may now ask, “Isn’t the whole point of sparring to get students to put everything together and practice their attack and defense?” I would answer “yes” and “no” to that question. “Yes” because sparring is supposed to do that but “no” because it does not always managed to do so.

I have come to learn that true skills can only be installed and accessed under stress. When we are under stress in an adrenal situation, when we are tired, fatigued and desperate, our body will react the way it knows best and this is when we show who and what we really are. Think about it – if one normally train and practice under safe and sanitized environment, and everything he does are systematic and planned? What would likely be his instinctive response when fists are flying and $#!* hits the fan, fine motor skills or wild haymakers?

However, all is not lost. Some people do learn to deal with it over time and get better with more sparring. They get more confident and more adept. But that still leaves us with 2 common problems.

Firstly, what about those who give up because they do not want all that sparring? Let’s face it — sparring often hurts. At some point or other, we have to ask ourselves if all this sparring is worth it if we get more banged up from it than from actual fights and ambushes. The easy option is to give up. Some may say, “Too bad. He’s weak and can’t hack it.” I disagree with this response and shall explain why shortly.

The second problem is that no matter what, sparring will have 3 R’s present that can limit an art’s true effectiveness: Rounds, Rules and Referees. These 3 things will ensure that at the end of the day, no one gets hurt too badly and everyone lives to spar another day. For those who still believe their arts’ sparring is effective in all scenarios, I would like to invite you to do a Google search on “London Prize Fighting”. Not to take away anything from anyone but the things these men did to one another were so brutal that it would make many professional fighters today consider a career change if they were asked to fight like that.

Tabimina Balintawak offers a solution to both problems. All attacks used in this system are on the right spot and students are taught to defend accordingly. We emphasize accuracy of strikes and accurate defense. What is the difference between this and close-quarters point-sparring? 2 things — range and stress. Because Tabimina Balintawak is so close, there is a real sense of danger that is presented to the student at all times. It is the job of the feeder to constantly challenge the student by pushing him to the brink of jeopardy and then getting him to move and react to defend himself. The result is that students are never truly comfortable and it is under these stress-filled conditions that skills are imparted and installed. Also, there is progressive stress. As the student progresses, the attacks come faster, harder and are far more difficult to counter. This ensures that students are constantly challenged. So what you will see from the outside is sticks flying and bodies moving with no damage or injuries to either party. This solves the problems of discouraged and damaged students.

4. There must be continual learning
In general, I do not like belts, ranks, grades, titles or certificates within the martial arts. The reason is because I feel it is too easy to get comfortable. Our instincts teach us to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Having the entire class stop what they are doing and greet you when you walk in is very flattering. Being called “Master” wherever you go is very pleasing. Walking around with a black belt is something many are proud of. Again, in and of themselves, there is nothing wrong with any of this. The problem comes when this stops us from learning anymore because we think we have “arrived”. In reference to my friend Josh Walker’s earlier article, we think we have learned all there is to learn and stop getting “IT” anymore because it is too easy to stop learning and just enjoy the position we are in. To me, all of these accolades are mental traps and must be handled carefully. That is why the only belt I care about is the one that holds my pants up.

In Tabimina Balintawak, there are no belts or ranks. In order to understand where we are and who we are up against, we simply play. It is a performative art. We seek to be able to perform under stress so belts hold little meaning for us. Learning should be ongoing and limitless. From discussions with my Balintawak instructors, we have all come to agree that learning is endless. Even the most adept at the art are constantly learning new things about themselves, new things about their students, problems they had not previously encountered or new solutions to old problems. As cliché as this may sound, it really is a journey and not a destination. There must be growth and evolution.

On a personal level, I have come to see that the finishing line keeps moving further and further away from me. I know I am progressing but with each step forward, I realize that there is so much more to learn. I now believe I will never learn all there is to learn but I sure am going to enjoy trying. On a larger level, many arts I see are facing a difficult choice — change and adapt to today’s context or maintain their course in line with tradition and purity. There is nothing wrong with either choice and I have no views about it either way but I do have 2 concerns.

My first concern is when instructors from arts with a long tradition and lineage insist that everything they have to teach is still applicable and useful in today’s context. Remember that many arts were developed for specific contexts in mind and these contexts may not be the same today. It is thus vital to be clear exactly what we are training for — combat, fighting, self-defense, sport, competition, performance or health — because the teachings and objectives are not the same all across the board. My second concern is with arts that insist they have all the answers and have no need to grow and learn. I think it would be useful to be truly honest about the limitations (where applicable) of every art. Consider the situations we find ourselves in everyday — the clothes we wear, the places we frequent, the people we associate with and the things we carry with us. Is this commensurate with the things we do in the context of our training?

I must acknowledge that all these ideas are not entirely my own but I do hold them to be true. They have come from a combination of my past observations, discussions with friends and experts, research from books and the Internet and teachings from my instructors. Isaac Newton put it best when he said, “If I have seen a little further, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” Credit must be given to those to have worked long and hard to seek and understand these truths and who have dedicated their time to sharing it with others. Again, I am not claiming that Tabimina Balintawak is the “most effective”, “the deadliest” or “the best” — only that it works. I would like to invite all readers to examine and reflect upon their own training and systems in light of the criteria above. Does your training involve all or only some of these traits? If your training involves all these traits, then congratulations — you are learning something wonderful and genuine and I encourage you to apply yourself to it wholeheartedly. To those who may feel that something is missing, I encourage you to examine exactly what is missing and to seek to understand what really works and what does not. At the end of the day, we are all responsible for for our own education. If we are not progressing at the pace we should be, then I think it is necessary to examine why. I do not expect all readers to agree with everything that I have put forth but I do hope that I have helped to shed a little light on a subject which so many people feel so passionately about. To round off, if there is only one thing I could share with you, it would be this:

Train the way you fight and fight the way you train.

Stay safe and keep playing!

About the author:
Marcus Poon is a middle school teacher in Singapore teaching Social Studies. He is married to his job (the beautiful woman who sleeps next to his snoring form every night might have something to add but this is his blog, not hers) and is an avid student of the martial arts. He also likes pizza and for people to send him money. (Hey that mortgage isn’t going to pay itself.)


Translation of Weapons Training to Empty Hand Training

A lot of people ask me about the translation of weapons training to empty hand training in Arnis. Many people are drawn to the style by the promise that a practitioner can learn how to use a particular weapon and then apply the same movements to other different weapons and empty hand training. I have a few thoughts about this topic, and a few principles which should be borne in mind. These centre upon the fundamental differences between weapons and between weapons and empty hands.

1. Empty hand training is bilateral; weapons training is unilateral.

While it is important to consider that we are naturally right or left handed, there is no inherent difference between our two hands. Both may be used almost equally as well for almost any function- grabbing, striking, pushing, pulling, manipulating, deflecting, catching, etc. This is in contrast to using a weapon. In single handed weapon training (ie blade, baton, stick), the weapon hand takes on distinctly different advantages and disadvantages when compared to the live hand. This necessitates that the weapon hand be used for some things and the live hand (empty-hand) for other things. there may be some cross over, but this is limited when compared to two empty hands. Even with double weapon training, one hand tends to be dominant.

2. Empty hand strikes tend to be linear; weapon strikes tend to be circular.

While this oversimplifies things a little, I think it is fair to assume that for generating power and striking targets, weapons training tends to involve more circular strikes than comparable open hand training. Forward and reverse knife techniques, single stick training and short sword all hold approximately true with regard to this in comparison to open hand. This isn’t to say both can’t be used for linear and circular strikes, simply that there is a preference depending on whether a weapon is being used or not.

3. Empty hand fighting requires relatively more stability from the feet than weapons training.

Another oversimplification. However, consider how most short and medium length weapons (blade, baton, stick, short-staff, single-handed sword, machete) are used. Spears, naginatas, long poles and other long heavy weapons are likely exceptions to this, but they do not translate to open hand and are another debate entirely. As an attacker, it is possible to deliver very powerful attacks with a weapon while standing on one foot. This is not the case for empty hand work. There are exceptions and situations can be designed or manipulated which demonstrate otherwise, but this holds true in general.

There are of course other points of difference too. However, the point of this is simply to answer the question Does Arnis weapons training translate to empty hand training? My answer is Yes, it does. But (there is always a but), all other things being equal, a specialised style is superior to a generalised style. That is to say, while translating a stick fighting style to an empty hand application will give you a solid (basic) empty hand system (as is the case in Balintawak Arnis), you can’t escape that the movements were originally intended for usage with a stick. You will have to adjust the empty hand version at least a little. And, to make it really good, you will have to adjust it a lot. At this point, it may not look much like the original stick fighting style.

And, this is what we tend to see in the FMA: as techniques from a specific weapon are applied to a broader range of weapons or open hand they are either changed to be more specific to the new weapon or they are retained as is and do the job, but not quite as well as a dedicated system (though with far less effort and time expended to acquire specific skills).


My Second Seminar with Master Steve Tappin

Escrima Concepts Seminar September 2011I was kind of surprised to notice that about 3 years have gone by since my first encounter with Master Steve Tappin, the founder of the Escrima Concepts style, a complete fighting system that teaches weapon based attack and defences to start with and the explores what happens when you have no weapon available.

One of  my main purpose of attending a martial arts seminar is to have the opportunity of learning, usually new things, from a master or instructor that is usually not available for local tuitions, and share with a few others his/her expertise in a session that is normally longer that the average class. However last Sunday I was particularly lucky; I attended, together with 3 other CARISMA members, a seminar organised by my friends at the Cambridge Kung Fu and I was pleased to find out that just 13 people, including us, were taking part to the event.  The real luck was having Master Tappin in person taking care directly of us for a generous amount of time and really ensuring we would get a great training.

Master Tappin’s teaching style is very clear and effective and he always manages to simply explain the essence of why one thing should be done in a certain way and shows it directly, helped by his expert son Wayne.  It’s shocking to see a man who had a broken back and an injured knee, somebody who struggles to stand and limps visibly but then, when demonstrating a technique, moves with the speed and the grace of the great martial artist he really is.

Weapons are tricky to handle and they open a complete new dimension about what should and should not be done while fighting.  While I don’t feel my skill level has grown substantially I can acknowledge I learnt a lot of useful concepts and by repeating and rehearsing the moves my skill will improve over time.

Whether you have experience in weapon based training or, like me, passionate and curious about exploring a new art I would definitely suggest to join one of Master Tappin’s seminar at your earliest convenience.

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Testing in August.


Well I was very impressed with the latest test results for the 6 students/Instructors this past Saturday. Impressed because of the improvement made by them and the fact that the majority of the training was done by Guro Kathleen and Guro Allen to get the students ready for this test.

It demonstrates the hard work of both the testors and Instructors to commit themselves to the training.

Dr. Presas is coming in a couple of weeks and we all look forward to his teaching and sharing. We always have a great time, even if we are sore for a couple of days afterwards.

Everyone is welcome to this years Seminar with Dr. Presas no matter what skill level you are, beginner or advanced, you will learn something new!

Until next time,


Guro Ben



New Info


Gerry Tablada and Rich Mitrak will be testing for Likha Apat is today at 1pm.

September 10 and 11, 2011, Mataas na Guro Dr. Remy P. Presas will be here for our annual MARPPIO Seminar in Michigan. Everyone one is welcome regardless of experience.

We will be having a Staff meeting shortly to discuss events, curriculum, student information and the next testing board.

We are adding "Modern Combatives Training " as a seperate curriculum and certification for our Staff and Students.

This will be a complete course on Self-defense and Personal Protection. The course will cover all aspects of hand to hand combat, to include knife, gun, multiple attackers and scenario / environmental training to cover car jackings, hostage taking / kidnapping, womans self-defense, etc.

This will be an ongoing and evolving curriculum to address modern personal protection issues.

Until next time,


Guro Ben


So What Makes a Martial Art Work? Taking a Long Hard Look into the Nature of Martial Arts (Part 1 of 2)

“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.”
Galileo Galilei
Italian astronomer, physicist, mathematician and philosopher

There is a great deal of debate within the martial arts community over which system or systems are “most effective”, “the deadliest” or “the best” and also which fighter is the “most effective”, “the deadliest” or “the best”. Perhaps there is no clear cut answer because it seems to be a chicken-and-egg situation. A good fighter can be good because of his natural talent and take a system and make it work. Alternatively, a good system can bring out the best in an individual and thus make him a good fighter. Of course, these are not the only scenarios — it could be a combination of other factors and not every art is based in the same context so it is not fair to say “Fighter A from System X is definitely better than Fighter B from System Y.” Ultimately, this blog does not seek to argue whether the fighter or the system is more important (partly because I have no clue how to answer it). Instead, this blog will focus on one part of the equation — the system and how it can make a student a better martial artist.

In the first part of this essay, I will seek to delve into the nature of martial arts and fighting and examine the unique nature of each encounter. In the second part, I will examine exactly what makes any martial art effective and how Tabimina Balintawak exhibits these traits and features. Before we proceed, please let me state that I am not claiming that Tabimina Balintawak is the “most effective”, “the deadliest” or “the best”. I believe that every art has something to offer — it is only whether we as students of the martial arts have truly understood our discipline’s teachings. What I am saying is that Tabimina Balintawak can work.

Looking at the previous sentence, I would imagine that more discerning readers would want to clarify this statement. By saying that Tabimina Balintawak “works”, exactly what do I mean by that? Is it an effective art when it comes to fighting? Is the training pedagogically sound as a method of instruction? Can the system and its teachings be replicated, passed on and used to enhance a student’s skills? I would answer “yes” to all these questions. I firmly believe that in order to be effective in enhancing a student’s skills and understanding, an effective martial arts system must exhibit certain traits and later on I will seek to illustrate how Tabimina Balintawak uses these traits to help its students grow.

Now let us first examine the nature of martial arts and fighting. There are certain attributes that are universal when it comes to martial arts and fighting — timing, speed, balance, range, strength, body movement and angles of attack. Physics, Geometry, Biology and Biomechanics all come together in a harmonious display of skill and butt-kicking. I believe every martial art is just an interpretation and expression of these attributes. From my observations, all techniques, applications, strikes, throws, kicks, locks, and takedowns are just examples of how these attributes are used. So long as you are acting from a position of strength (i.e. you are balanced and well-positioned to strike or defend) and your opponent is acting from a position of weakness (i.e. he is off-balance and poorly-positioned to strike or defend), then just about any technique can be successfully applied.

Before I go on further, let me further clarify something that I believe to be a universal truth — every encounter is situational and contextual. It is hard to effectively pull off any maneuver when both attacker and defender are both well-balanced and prepared. Instead, we should recognize that certain moves will only work at that point in time. For example, it is hard to successfully execute a strike, weapon disarm, throw or takedown on a prepared defender. The key to successfully pulling it off is to diminish his ability to defend or retaliate first and then execute the move. Going straight in for the move without doing so (or going in naked, as a dear friend of mine likes to call it) is a sure way to make your own life difficult. It is similar to using the jab in boxing. The jab is a great way to distract your opponent and throw him off his game. While unlikely to knock him out, it is a great set-up for a power punch. The key word here is “set-up”. You must first set your opponent up by stunning him, pulling him off balance, moving off-line or just plain distracting him. Then, at that point in time will you be most likely to successfully pull off your move. If you are not fast enough to execute the move then or if your opponent is fast enough to recover, then the window of opportunity has passed and both must look for or create the next opportunity. This is why every fight is situational — techniques do not always work because every situation is different. No two fights will ever be identical because no two fighters and no two scenarios will ever be identical.

Sadly, too many martial artists are either unaware of or reluctant to acknowledge this truth. Some days you can get it right and some days your opponent is able to defend himself. Too many people then fall into the trap of becoming armchair fighters and internet warriors. “If he does that then I would do this …”, “If he goes there then I’ll snap his neck by doing this …”, “Yes, you could do that but then you haven’t considered this killer blow from below …”, “But then you’d be open to my killer-spinning-jump-three-quarter-pike-twist-flying kick”. Basically most of such arguments take the form of “If I were there then I would have done this …”. The problem is that we were not there. If we were in that situation, could we have recognized what was happening and pulled off an effective counter at that point in time? If we can, then good — we have achieved something. If not, then there is no point discussing what could have, should have and/or would have followed. If it is just plain talk, then anyone from a 10 year-old Ninja Turtle wannabe to his 80 year-old arthritic grandfather with hip problems can be a grandmaster/tuhon/guro/pak/dato/sifu/sensei. Look at the comments on any martial arts video on YouTube or on any martial arts forum. How many people actually consider the unique context of each encounter when posting? How many have shown a clear understanding of the universal attributes listed at the beginning of this paragraph? How many comments look like they came from pre-pubescent boys who know nothing about martial arts other than what they see from “Street Fighter” and Jackie Chan movies? You know the ones — they usually take the form of “You suck and your system sucks. Go and die.” (I swear I saw that in a forum once.) The discussion quickly degenerates and profanity normally follows from multiple parties. I understand this may be very jarring to many people out there but consider this — can we always pull off all our moves all of the time? Why or why not? Now would be a good time to take a long hard look at ourselves and be honest in our reflection. This is the crux of it all — can we pull off whatever we talk about in real time?

The lengthy and long-winded paragraphs above have been an attempt to offer some insight into why martial arts may not work all of the time or more accurately, why we as martial artists cannot perform all the time. This still leaves us with our original question in the title — all other things being equal, what makes any martial art work? How can one tell whether a system is effective or not? So far we have established that each encounter is unique and reacting appropriately in real time is far more difficult than discussing techniques. So how can we learn to recognize attacks and then react appropriately? That is where a good system comes in to teach us how to respond correctly and that will be explored in the second part of this essay.

About the author:
Marcus Poon is a middle school teacher in Singapore teaching Social Studies. He is married to his job (the beautiful woman who sleeps next to his snoring every night might have something to add but this is his blog, not hers) and is an avid student of martial arts. He also likes pizza and for people to send him money. (Hey, that mortgage isn’t going to pay itself.)


The Pitfall of Anticipation

In Balintawak, a student is placed in harm’s way from day 1.  Since Balintawak is defense oriented martial arts, the student is taught how to defend and counter appropriately and efficiently.  The student is then exposed to the 12 basic strikes and learns 12 basic defense and counter.  The 12 basic strikes will then be given in random to develop the student’s reaction and eschewing anticipation.  The students are then subjected to scenarios of attacks, equivalent to a simulation of a real fight and are taught to defend and counter appropriately, thus making a counter to counter play.  We call this motor-skills installation in Tabimina Balintawak.  The installation takes place in our nervous system, not necessarily in our brain. To elaborate further, imagine yourself unknowingly touching something that is hot like a pot, or an oven, or your car being in the sun in the middle of the day.  The reaction time pulling your skin away from something that’s hot is so fast; your brain is late in analyzing that it is in fact hot.  That’s because a human being perceives the stimuli based upon our senses, before reasoning.  In this instance, our sensory receptors perceived pain, before our brain can analyze what type or reason of pain it is; i.e. hot.  But if you anticipate touching an object, but you don’t even know if it’s really hot, and yet you thought that it is hot, your reaction time is slower because it causes hesitation, and mainly because the brain was involved.  You assumed something that is not.

Tabimina Balintawak emphasizes a strong defense as taught by Great Grandmaster Venancio ‘Anciong’ Bacon, and enforces zero mind, because MEMORIZATION can lead to ANTICIPATION.  How many times have we experienced this in life, when we say the word “I thought?” Meaning, we we’re anticipating something that didn’t arrive.  Now put this in your martial arts training, how many times you failed to respond, and caused your reflexes and movement to deteriorate, because the movement that you memorized, the one you anticipated, did not emanate. Now put this in a fight scene, where life and death matters, can you still say the word “I thought?”  One false response to an incoming attack could cost you your life and the life of your loved ones.  So it is essential that we traverse into a path, where the choices we make will not breed any regrets, hesitations and insecurities.

Once the brain is involved in defending, the reaction time is magnitude slower.  This is what normally runs through your head, “If he punch me here, I’ll do this, or if he kicks me here I’ll do that. What if he blocks my strikes? What if, this and that?”  The eyes will interpret what it sees, then your brain is analyzing the data through a process of deduction, and then back to your limbs.  And although the transmission of signals via our neurotransmitters to the neurons is fast, it is still not enough to cope with the incoming threat. This is mainly because there are other factors that come into play such as psychological and emotional state e.g. fear, panic, agitation, distraught.  You may be able to defend the incoming strikes, but with bad posture and detrimental reaction, and the technique that you pictured in your brain will never materialize.  You will miss your opportunity to counter attack mainly because you are trying to fend off the attacker and figuring out what to do next.

A lot of martial artist nowadays also performs numerous drills.  When you are doing something unfamiliar, they often ask, “What kind of drill is that?” Drills are series of patterned movements, to develop a student’s sensitivity, speed, timing, accuracy and rhythm.  Because the drills are memorized, unknowingly the brain picks up these patterns and in turn converts it to anticipation.  To prove my point, perform a drill and right in between the drill, do an attack that is not part of the drill and it must be performed without the defenders consent.   The questions that arise are, “Was he able to block the attack?  If so, how was his composure?  Was his reaction productive or detrimental?”  The second time you perform the drill, the student will now anticipate the unknown factor.  His movement will then deteriorate, in short erratic.  Sir Bob has always mentioned, “Anything that is unknown, you will get hit.”  So what Tabimina Balintawak does best is exposing you to what is unknown and learning how to deal with it precisely and efficiently.

This is where the folly of memorized pattern lies.  It is efficient to a certain level, but at the same time it develops what we call, false sense of security.  Anticipation can create a lot of defensive holes.  And the sad part is most people don’t even realize that they have defensive holes, which makes them vulnerable to a skilled fighter.



What Weapons Does Balintawak Arnis Use?

Balintawak Arnis is a single stick system. It has evolved from a short sword system (or systems). In its current iteration, it focuses on single stick applications at close range. However, contained within the system, there are applications, sets and drills for a wide variety of other weapons including forward and reverse short bladed weapons, short sword or machete, and any other rigid, short or medium length, hand-held weapon which is weighted or edged. The majority of applications can also be used without a weapon (ie applied to empty hand).
The grouped Balintawak Arnis stick fighting system is divided into a number of sections and each of these can be applied to a variety of weapons as follows:

12 Basic Strikes of Balintawak Arnis

On the attacking side, the 12 basic strikes can be readily applied to almost any short or medium length weapon held in a forward position. Many of the strikes can also be applied to a short weapon held in the reverse position and to empty hand. Similarly, on the defending side, almost all defences can be applied to short and medium weapons held in the forward position.

Group 1: Vertical blocks and freeing your stick

Group one teaches the feeder side how to block and the receiver side how to destroy blocks. Group one Balintawak Arnis techniques can be applied to single stick, short and medium length edged weapons and, in some cases, short weapons held in the reverse position.

Group 2: Striking and defending the butt

Group two teaches the feeder side how to use the butt of the weapon to strike and how to use the live hand to attack. The receiver side learns to defend butt attacks and attacks from the live hand. Group two Balintawak Arnis techniques can be readily applied to short weapons held in the reverse position as well as single stick, and medium bladed weapons held in the forward position. Group two can also be readily applied to empty hand techniques.

Group 3: Fencing and applications to the sword

Group three teaches defences against thrusting attacks, particularly those with an edged or pointed medium length weapon. There are few (if any) applications to empty hand, short weapons or weapons  held in the reverse position in this group.

Group 4: Abanicos

Group teaches a variety of defences to atypical attacks and abanicos. Some of sequences in group four are applicable only to medium range striking or edged weapons. However, others may be applied readily to empty hand defences and short weapon held in the forward position.

Group 5: Disarming your opponent

Group five teaches disarms and defences to disarms. The techniques contained within group five may be applied to single stick as well as short and medium length weapons held in the forward position, or short weapons held in the reverse position.
One interesting thing about Balintawak is that it is not a requirement that you fight with the same or even a similar weapon as your opponent. With the large overlap of techniques and application of these between different types of weapons and open hand, one is able to use the Balintawak Arnis system with or against a wide variety of different types of weapons or open hand.


Training Day at Five Dock, Sydney

Recently Scott Brailey and John Russel organised a training day at Five Dock. The following are some shots taken from training on the day.

Group 1: lift and strike

Group 1: lift and strike

Feeder side (left) about to block receiver side’s (right) counter after lifting to free their stick.

Two-handed sword application from Quebec Kali

Two-handed sword application from Quebec Kali

Quebec Kali, taught alongside Balintawak Arnis, can be applied to a variety of weapons (single and double stick or sword, stick and blade, staff or two-handed sword).
The application of the two-handed sword is being practiced here.

Balintawak Arnis Stickfighting Training

Balintawak Arnis Stickfighting Training

NOTE: If anyone would like a photo of themselves removed from here or the Flickr side bar, then just let me know :).