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While visiting and training with a friend in NYC this past weekend my friend asked me a question following one of our training sessions and that question was, “how do your skills compare to your Eskrima teachers?” I told him that my teachers were ten times better than I am at Eskrima. Then he asked the same question about my Silat teachers and my answer was the same. He looked a little confused and said, “Your skill is so much better than mine and your teachers are so much better than yours so what does that say about my knowledge and skill?” There was an uncomfortable silence and then I said, “We must train hard every day in order to improve our skill in the martial arts and even if we train very hard all our lives, we may still never be as good as our teachers”.

Later, I remembered my friend’s question when I returned home and then thought to myself, what if students of other teachers, Grand Masters, and Great Grand Masters said the same thing? I mean what would students of SGM Angel Cabales say if the same question was posed? What about students of SGM Remy Presas or the students of SGM Leo Giron and all of the other SGM’s or GGM’S of FMA or any other art?

Should we strive to be as good as or better than our teachers? The answer is of course yes to the aforementioned question but if we look inside ourselves and truly evaluate our own ability with honesty, are we really on that path? Some might say that it’s not a matter of comparison in skill with our teachers or senior students and they may be correct.

If we deduce that we will never be as good as or better than our teachers are we content with mediocrity because we are lazy practitioners? Or were our teachers’ anomalies as far as martial arts are concerned with skills that remain unmatched by others in their particular system?

One of my teachers and dear friend told me once that it’s not about the person, it’s about the art. If this is the case, are we doing the art a disservice if each practitioner down their respective lineage chain exhibits skills which are lower than the lineage holder above them?

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Interesting question. Each person has his own unique interpretation of Arnis. I am not the same as my Grand Master even though he is my teacher for several reasons. He is Filipino and I am American. He is nearly 70 years old and I am only 30. I am over a foot taller than he is and out weigh him by over 100 pounds. Personally, I find it hard to compare myself to my teachers because we are so different. I dont worry about being better than my instructors, Grand Masters, and SGM. I just try to be the best Escrimador I can be. 

Hello Wesley,

 Thank you for joining this discussion... It is true that we all have our own way of doing things, this is undeniable but what I'm referring to is skill and not what we look like.  Currently I have more than 70 students, some of them train with me daily while others come only when the planets are in perfect alignment and the sky is clear and the birds are singing.  We are all one family and I appreciate them all but the difference in skill is very evident between those that train daily versus those that don't.  I use my teachers abilities as a guide to gauge where my skills should be according to the arts that I practice.  If my teacher's skill in Eskrima and my other teacher's skill in Silat are very high which they are, and my skill is very low, then there is a reason for this.  Either I am a beginner and haven't trained long enough yet, or I don't train as hard as I could or should. 

 If you were a teacher of martial arts, would you be content with students that represent your art that were mediocre?  If so, in time your art would become insignificant in terms of its effectiveness compared to other styles or arts. 

 A student is a direct reflection of their teacher so in time his or her students will become like their teacher in many ways so if a student after many years of training is just average then it was a direct reflection of their teacher.  As a teacher I will not allow anyone to represent my art in a mediocre way would you?

It's hard to say because each person has his or her own set of skills. Without a clear line drawn between what is good,what is average and what is mediocre it's difficult to answer that question because we might have differing opinions on what is good and what is not.  On occasion, I ask my instructors if I am at the right place in my training. The best answer I ever got was "Are you where you think you should be?"

Zach,

Another great topic.

I get where you are going with your logic.  If each successive student is less skilled than the teacher before, then there is an inevitable result.  The art is doomed to die of mediocrity.  We have all seen this.  Worse yet, if the successive leader of an art is a worse teacher than the GM (less able to communicate the "Art") then you have the possible double whammy of poor skill and bad communication.  That just speeds up the process of decay.  Add to that the sweet taste of ego stroking given by subsequent, ignorant students and this thing will rot to the core.  We have all seen that. 

The unspoken truth here is that every student should surpass their master.  If the master is truly humbled to his art, this is what he wants.  Yet none of us wants to be the one who admits they are better than their teacher simply because we respect them and that would be just rude.  I have seen students who are better than their masters.  They have taken what they were given and built on it to become even better.  They will always say their teacher was their superior; that's good manners.

Personally, I will never match my Master's skills because I will never have the experience he had during the war and because he had 75 more years in this art than I had and he always had an edge.  He saw deeper into the art than I will ever see.  That doesn't mean I stop looking, though.  Maybe someday, I will come close but match him?, no, never.

 

Thanks

Great contribution to this discussion Guro Lawrence, I definitely concur with your thoughts.

Mr. Motta pretty much said what I'd say but i'll ad what I can. The head of a system should obviously be highly skilled. Now how good are the guys closest to him? On a scale of 1-10 if the master is a 10 where are his top guys in relation to him? Surely, if his top guys are a 5, a 3, or lower in comparison one of three things is possible:

#1 The master hasn't been able to find a student dedicated to stay long enough to reach higher levels in the art. This can easily be answered by how long his senior students have been training but it also leads to another debate.

#2 The master is a good practitioner but not a good teacher.

#3 The master is withholding knowledge to maintain dominance over his students.

Top students within a system should be approachable to their masters in skill. Many top students would not admit this and may humbly consider their masters far superior but if quality is to remain someone somewhere within a system must reach the same level of skill as a master or diminishing returns will result. Consider BJJ and the Gracie family, at one time they were the top of the BJJ game, while there are other BJJ masters outside the Gracie family, the Gracies were certainly responsible for much of the popularization of the art. Now how many grapplers today could give the high level Gracies a challenge or even beat them? Not to downplay the Gracie skill but there are probably many out there that could. To me this is an example of successful transmission of a system to the next generation. FMA is fundamentally different from grappling so perhaps this is a poor example but I'm just trying to add some thoughts to the discussion.

Zach,

To me it's about being the best I can be. If I become better than my teachers, then so-be-it. I know I've had some of my students become better than me, so-be-it.

Guro Dave

Thanks for your input Guro Dave and I definitely concur.

I'm new to martial arts but I can say as with anything in life, you get out what you put in. Everyone is in martial arts for varied reasons and everyone's time constraints are different as well. I think your belt should reflect your skill. It's more than just knowing the moves or meeting the requirements. It's understand the art. With any leader, it's our job to make sure that the people under us know more than we do. It's your job to give that knowledge away and our responsibility to take it and improve upon it.

Fair questions.  One thing I would note is that many of the men you mentioned, particularly in their later years, dedicated their lives to the study, understanding, and teaching of their respective systems.  There is no way, in few classes a week and the occasional seminar, that we are ever going to achieve that level of mastery, even over the course of a lifetime of training.    

There are very few people in who can earn their living by teaching and promoting FMA.  Even if they did, the likelihood that they could put the number of hours of practice and teaching in over a given week that some of the great masters did, is very low.  

Hello Jason,
Thanks for your input on this thread. I almost agree with everything that you wrote but I believe that it's possible depending on the drive and motivation of the practitioner. We say that we have busy lives with things such as work, school, and family but those great masters were busy with the same things so why were they able to become such great martial artists? I absolutely agree that it can't be done with minimal training.

Agreed that it can be done, but it is certainly not likely.  Let's take the names you mentioned above (Giron, Cabales, Presas) and add in some others (Gaje, Sayoc, Inosanto, Illustrisimo, Villabrile, Canete, Bacon, etc.) and think about how they spent their lives in their later years or, in some cases, are still spending them.

When they were younger, they might have had day jobs to pay the bills, etc. but for many their lives revolved almost entirely around teaching and practicing their system, particularly in their later years.  

There are some students today who have the desire and the means to do some of those things (Tim Waid for example, went to live with Gaje in the PI for several years because he wanted to learn), but it is exceedingly rare.  

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