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Are You Sabotaging Your Training Part 1

Updated: Oct 25, 2020

Attribute Development and the Genius behind Filipino Drilling

Part 1

Include these training methods and habits to make your time more well-rounded.

Anyone who has taught Martial Arts of any kind long enough, will tell you that there is a continuum of development for everyone. Within this continuum, specific attributes are developed that, in the end, hopefully lead to being a proficient Martial Artist. For the purpose of this article a “proficient” Martial Artist is one who can apply their skills outside of the school in unpredictable and violent circumstances. All too often the student emerges from otherwise quality training, unprepared for just how violent, violence can be. Neglecting certain aspects in our teaching can be disastrous for the student. In the end we sabotage them and ourselves by either misunderstanding the reasons for specific drills or the complete avoidance of them all together. Violence is at best chaotic. But by paying attention to specific areas of our training and adding some long proven methods, we can better prepare our students for a truly violent encounter. Lets take a look at some of these attributes and methods and identify how training in Filipino Martial Arts develops them.

Spatial Awareness: Spatial awareness is the ability to be aware of yourself as well as your opponent and your environment. It’s the knowledge of objects in relation to yourself in that given space. Spatial awareness also involves understanding the relationship of these objects and/or opponents when there is a change of position. This attribute is essential in a combative environment. To correctly asses the range and distance between you and your opponent as well as any other threats, accomplices or escape routes. This is an intense Condition Orange. Total awareness of you and your relationship to your current environment and threat. Typically, Spatial Awareness becomes more acute as the threat becomes more serious however through training, Spatial Awareness should become a constant. For the sake of training we can lump these areas into two parts, 1) your opponent or opponents and 2) your surroundings.

Your Opponent(s): This attribute is developed by basic weapons drills as well as drills for empty hand. Correctly assess your range. In the world of FMA and specifically weapons work, range is critical for the successful completion of any given technique. Too far away and it won’t work too close and you are out of position to execute properly. The training of weapons is central to establishing this skill and it does so very quickly. For this reason, the majority of Filipino Martial Arts I know of and have trained in tend to teach weapons immediately. As you train, you begin to develop the ability to accurately assess range, angle, approach and subsequently utilize the proper response given that knowledge.

Your Surroundings: A lot of this side of the attribute is developed by Verbal Instruction and the development of self-preservation habits. Not being in a condition white. Oblivious to who and what is around you. This is often instilled by a competent Instructor. Constantly drilling into the student, the need to be aware. In short you must be aware to not become a victim. It also includes habits of arming yourself with a weapon. One planned ahead of time or a weapon of opportunity. It’s the evaluation of exits, routes and a habitual threat assessment. If this becomes second nature it will not be a stressful habit. It will be an automatic one and few will even recognize that you do this.

A particularly great training drill I always incorporate is the multiple opponent sparring drill. The student begins sparring with one student, then on cue a second student joins in. The fighter is directed to pull his/her knife on cue as well as sheath it for return to empty hands. This goes on alternating from one to two opponents. The student fighting gets to experience multiple opponents at one time as well as differing one on one opponents coming in and thus varying the ranges constantly. Just as no stand up fighter should fight a ground fighter on the ground, each new opponent brings a different range skill to the mix. This requires the fighter to accurately assess the range/skill threat as well.

There are many more benefits that come from these drills and drills like this. It’s also a tremendous weapon drill.

Variations on this drill (best with 10 or more) is to at some point allow an “anything goes” cue allowing all fighters to go to whatever range utilize whatever weapons they find on the floor or around. The goal here is simple. Get to your feet and get out alive. See how many shoot for that! The results will be great to process after it’s all done. This brings me to an important point; Too often processing after a drill like these is not done. This time to self-reflect, assess, get feedback is crucial to each student’s development. Never let a class break without this process time. It’s also a great time for the Instructor, particularly if they are just beginning to teach, to get feedback and see what is working and for who. Remember, people have different learning styles and some may require changing something up for them to fully grasp what is available to them.

Another great exercise is to instruct your students to observe the behavior of others then next time they are out and about. Assess who looks confident. Who looks shy and insecure? Draw conclusions on what their body language is telling them. Two things develop from this. First they begin to pay attention to behaviors and witness what predators will be assessing in others to identify potential victims. Second, they begin to recognize these same behaviors in themselves and can begin to eliminate them.

Finally, to fully appreciate spatial awareness, its critical that the FMA student assesses the availability of any improvised weapons lying around. The Filipino Martial Arts, perhaps more than any other, has the ability to utilize almost anything as a weapon. Students not only learn to use the intended weapon, Knife or escrima stick for example, but also they learn that the attributes of those weapons apply to many everyday objects found lying around anywhere. From pool cues and cue balls to bottles and rolled up news papers.

Line Familiarity: The ability to identify both a line of attack presented to you as well as your line(s) of response. The development of line familiarity is as closely joined to footwork as it is to spatial awareness. It’s all connective tissue so to speak. The age-old establishment of lines of attack and the development of angles of attack within the Filipino Martial Arts various systems has greatly reduced the time needed to develop this attribute. It allows the student to quickly identify the correct angle and line through established rote drills. Commonly referred to as “perfection drills”. It is here the students develops the cognitive knowledge of these angles and lines but also through the many repetitions, the muscle memory for automatic response. Instinct. If you recall from the fist article, this is how and where you “find home”. Familiarity and instinct. Knife sparring develops this skill as no other can. Guru Dan Inosanto calls this developing the “mobility system”. He has gone on to say that “to beat a knife fighter you have to be a knife fighter”. Believe it or not, the knife is simply too complex of a weapon and your chance of surviving a knife attack increases with your understanding of the weapon and how it works increases. These are the angles of attack, the lines, If you can control the lines you can control the fight.

Sensitivity: The ability to sense and/or feel your opponent’s movements and pressure can only be gained by competent instruction and time spent drilling correctly. Often confused with “softness”, Sensitivity can also be hard. Its knowing when to respond to your opponent’s pressure with force and when to evade it with flow. Never is this attribute so important as it is when the art is bladed. Force against a blade at the wrong time can get you killed. Likewise, softness against a blade at the wrong time can also get you killed. The response of one over the other is not a matter of a cognitive decision as it is a physiological response. You feel the correct response. Learning to “roll” an angled attack from a stick or knife. The automatic and instinctual action of protecting vital areas in all your responses are only gained through correct drilling. Here the student MUST know what the goals of the drill are. What are we shooting for? Sensitivity drills such as Chi Sao and Hubud/Lubud are essential tools for the development of sensitivity. I have had a well-meaning (perhaps) assistant Instructor of a well-known Martial Artist correct my technique by criticizing that I am too tense. Although that certainly is often the case with new students, I was not. I was applying pressure I assumed he would pick up and giving him an opportunity to respond correctly. He did not. Again, going soft isn’t always sensitivity. It’s crucial to understand this difference so the student can correctly train all aspects of a drill designed to develop sensitivity. Sensitivity drills must, at all times remain “intentional”. There is a purpose to your movement. This is easily sabotaged for the student when they are left training only for sensitivity in softness at the expense of understanding and applying correct pressure and power. Too often power is lost in our stick work. When it is introduced by another Instructor down the line, the student often struggles with it. They simply did not train in that way.

Endurance: Bruce Lee said “we spend too much of our time learning techniques and not enough time spent conditioning our bodies to perform them” If our classes spend time only in sensitivity, perfection and technique development drills and limit our conditioning drills, we will lose an altercation from fatigue. Physical conditioning must be done in all ranges of combat and with all of our tools. When adrenalin is pumping and your heart rate increases your ability to remain in control of your breathing and thus endurance is greatly challenged. Drilling that takes the student from weapon to weapon as well as from the ground to stand up and back and forth again is very important. Another great drill for stick work is to have a feeder hold two sticks together in front of them while the partner is doing a 25 count of any one of the sinawalli forms. The feeder counts out loud. I prefer 6 count as it works both left and right and one count isn’t done until each side is complete. Try to get your students up to 50 counts. Keep in mind that most endurance specific drills are static drills.

Intelligence/Awareness & The Mind: The idea that because you train in martial arts means you are prepared for a violent encounter is a sad misrepresentation. It’s also a dangerous assumption. Of the arts I have been blessed to train in and be exposed to I can firmly say Filipino Martial Arts are the most realistic for todays encounters. The fact that it’s a weapons based art at its base is central to the effectiveness of the Filipino Arts. Perhaps it’s the constant threat of an edged weapon in the Philippines that mandates this. Perhaps not. In any way you see it, the only arts realistically presenting any hope of self defense against a knife are those arts that train it. But, this only gets a student so far. There is much more to survival or better yet, domination in a violent encounter. Hollywood has done a great job at misrepresenting violence for the most part. Although we are all inundated with violence in our living rooms from T.V., it does a terrible job at showing just how very violent violence can be. When it happens, its seldom pretty and the response is seldom artistic.

There are levels of violence. Meeting a drunk at a bar is one thing, The misfortune of meeting a non-communicative psychopathic personality disordered individual is an entirely different thing. Bent on killing you or at least causing serious bodily harm, they can randomly strike quickly with little warning. The ability to assess these people and respond with the correct tool at the correct energy (full force body behind everything you throw at them and to the correct target) is central to survival. Simple pain will not deter them. How often have you experienced pain training and continued to go. Nothing short of crippling, devastating injury, blindness, or incapacitation will stop them. Today’s student needs to be prepared in their training to accurately and ballistically hit the correct targets with the correct tools. Weapons preferred, but in the absence of one and the inability to find an improvised weapon, then elbows, knees, headbutts, and your brain are your only options. The use of Kino Mutai, Filipino biting, pinching and eye gouging is a great art to employ in these situations. Particularly the biting and eye gouging. There is no issue of a fair or unfair fight on the street. Only survival and your FMA must prepare you for this extreme event. These situations are times when there is no communication, You are way past any ability to negotiate and realistically, there never was such an opportunity. To borrow from Target Focus Training, “You want to shut down their brain”. Their ability to plan, follow through and act taken away by injury. And, you want to do this quickly. Your brain must be as prepared as your body. Prepared to identify the threat, prepared to act on that decisively and finally prepared for the end result of the violence that came from yourself. Repetition, Repetition, Repetition is the key. A constant drilling for muscle memory in your responses. This is the “martial” part of our arts. Sifu Paul Vunak used to ask who we were training for? Who is the monster in our heads that make us perfect this stuff? Answering that question is a great tactic as you train.

Its imperative that often we try to make some of our class times utterly serious, and not too social. Occasionally try to limit storytelling, visiting, laughing or even talking at all. Try to find the seriousness of what we do and why we do it. Find your focus and your “warriors mind” Many Filipino men and women died bringing us these arts. On a battle field, in a jungle, and even on the streets. Focus on accuracy of your strikes even at the expense of going fast in training. Focus on your entry skills, weapon identification with your opponent and train responding to each and every possibility.

As you develop these attributes and begin to train in this manner, you will be surprised at just how fast, efficient and effective your responses can become and you will not be sabotaging your training. All the perfection and sensitivity drills you do are to enhance these responses as well as give you more options.

Train smart.

Part 2 will cover developing ingrained self preservation habits that can save your life. How to “find home”

Jim Miller is a Senior Instructor in Filipino Martial Arts and Jeet Kune Do. He has trained under many FMA, Silat, Muay Thai and jiu-jitsu Instructors over the past 37 years. His school, Innovative Fighting Arts is located in Emmett Idaho. Jim works with military and Law Enforcement and offers Intensive Personal Training Programs as well as regular classes.

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