I had always had an idea in my mind of how a martial art should be but despite travelling the World never really found that model until I found Filipino martial arts. In a fantasy World I wanted an art that could in the best James bond or modesty blaise tradition despatch opponents with ease and at the same time be realistic whilst taking into account weaponry and multiple opponents. I always thought this was an idealised fantasy though I saw glimmers of it whilst training in Japan. I got the impression that the late Don Draeger was searching for this same synergy when I met him in ’74.
Training in a lot of different arts from a traditional basis was good but I got the impression that you were training in a library or museum where there where lots of techniques to learn but a lack of resolve to functionalise it in a fluid way. Then In 1979 I saw a tour de force exhibition by Dan Inosanto and Jeff Imada at a seminar I hosted in London’s Ivanhoe hotel. All of us who were there that evening were blown away. We were treated to an exhibition of skills that flowed seamlessly from double sticks to single stick to knife to grappling to empty hands and from standing to the ground. It had no order, it wasn’t a drill that they were doing it was just flow from technique to technique. Not outright free sparring but as good as you can get without punching them in the nose. I’ve seen Dan demonstrate thousands of times since then and it’s always good but that evening we saw him letting go and just going with the flow. It was fabulous.
Filipino martial arts is all about it being all in, all the time. Though known for stick fighting anyone who doesn’t factor in the use of the free hand or the hand holding the stick to punch you is misunderstanding the art. Similarly, grappling and throwing are integral parts of the art. The reason one may practice only the stick in a training session is that it’s the hardest skill to get down if you are new to the art. Only once the stick skills are down can you then punch away and keep it real. Obviously safety has to be taken into account. Similarly with the empty hands skills of Kali the basic assumption is that he is armed with two knives and that he has four or five mates with him. I often joke on seminars that even if he’s naked and in the middle of the desert that he still has two knives and has his mates hidden in the sand!
Most of the Panantukan or Filipino boxing drills are in reality knife skills adapted to empty hands but with the realisation that any combat will flow between these two it may start as one and end as the other; from empty hands to weapons, or, from weapons to empty hands. This freedom of expectation is what makes it devastating.
When I’ve taught police SWAT personnel, Secret Service or other security people what I’ve often found is that though they are excellent in their procedures they sometimes have an inability to flow from one thing to the other. If fighting has taught me anything it’s that if it can go wrong it will, and you’ve got to be ahead of the guy mentally. Not just in doing techniques but in stealing the moment. The moment when things change and he’s reassessing and wondering which template to use you’ve filled that minute because you’ve trained that way. Is it easy and does it work all the time? Of course not but at least you’re thinking correctly. Who’s next. Where’s the knife, whats my escape route? Where’s the gap In his timing. These are the questions that need to be answered
Why bother dealing with knives and multiple opponents until you’ve got some handle on single opponents you might say, and to an extent they’d be right but there are huge strengths in training in an ‘integrated’ way. The training methods and routines in Filipino martial arts are scaleable and adaptable and go like fighting, from small scale techniques to large scale conflicts. As it says in the ‘Art of war’ by Sun Tsu “Fighting the many is like fighting the few”. However, the templates and techniques used in Filipino martial arts are transferable also between weapons of all sorts and empty hands so when you learn one thing you learn five.
Of course you still have to fight your single opponent and that’s always difficult no matter who you are. However street fighting is different from competition, often more burst like, spiralling and mobile at times incredibly intense then momentarily calm. The more aspects of this you can approach in training the better. Constantly changing scenarios are just one part of this. Getting used to positioning yourself so that you offset potential follow up attacks from other individuals, or from a hidden weapons, means that you leverage your knowledge and really get to know your stuff. Surprisingly it improves your leverage and body mechanics too. When I say to students ‘ you should move that leg to make this technique work better’ some change but some are lazy and don’t really make the connection. When you say ‘ better move that leg as he’s going to stab you in it’ everyone moves the leg. The ‘all knife-all the time’ ethos has always been there in the art though maybe not emphasized as much as it should be. In reality it’s ‘all everything-all the time’ Doing the training without having these other challenges would make it boring. Once you’ve embraced the idea that he can punch, kick, grapple, stab, slash and call on his mates to help, revitalises any training you’re doing.
Simply thinking about the next weapon or person makes you flow more with the technique you’re doing as you let your body take care of that whilst the ‘you’ in you concentrates on strategy concerns like; were do I move next, or what direction do I throw/dispose of him when I’ve hit him five times. You’ve just got to think out of the box. Then practicing has a different flavour every day. Add sparring to this mix and you’re zooming.