Becoming a ‘tactical trainer’

The writer teaches gun defense to members Russian military. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

The writer teaches gun defense to members Russian military. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

I remember some of the words of Sensei Richard Kirkham in his article The Effects Of Ego When Teaching Martial Arts: “Granted some ego is needed in order to teach, but there are those who teach for themselves, and those who teach for their students. In the few cases I’ve seen the god complex in a martial arts instructor, it’s generally been for the instructor. Even one very good combat veteran martial arts instructor whom I personally knew seemed to teach for himself.”

In the world of Filipino Martial Arts (FMA), egos are overflowing. A newbie is almost always a walking mouth, a character that he probably acquired from his teacher. Egos overflow even among those who possess honorific titles like Masters, Grandmasters, and the pepperoni pizza sounding title of Supreme Grandmaster.

FMA’s greatest evolution happened in the past 10 years, sadly it is also the worst, as most FMAers now are sitting on a carpet of lies and misleading promotions; from their own history, to the way they label their arnis/escrima techniques. A lot of FMA groups are now marketed as “tactical” and the teachers are self designated “tactical trainers.”

But in the strictest sense, a tactical trainer is a designation given by an authorized organization under the government of a certain country. It is not a corsage that you can just pin in the chest area of your shirt, nor it is a ball cap that you can easily wear over your head.

Pat O’Malley, a respected teacher of Filipino Martial Arts for 35 years in The United Kingdom told me these bitter truth: “More recently there is a new craze that to my mind puts a bad light on what is a beautiful practical art. That after an individual learned a few basic principles of the FMA, they obligingly don combat trousers, stick on a rig with a few cool looking blades, and all of a sudden they are a world authority as a tactical combat trainer. And unfortunately it is a very common thing in the Philippines because they know that people (especially foreigners) are gullible and will believe simply because they are Filipino FMAers and they wear all that funky looking combat gear, that makes them the real deal. If there is one thing that has a good chance of ruining this practical art and making us a laughing stock then it’s the Tactical Trainer.”

There is nothing wrong for Filipino teachers of escrima-arnis (call it kali if you want to sound American), to dream big and make it big in the business of teaching FMA. But it sounds so ridiculous to make unsubstantiated claims to attract attention. Stuntman and Hollywood fight choreographer Sonny Sison shared his insight on this matter: “When I hear the word ‘tactical,’ images of warfare or law enforcement comes to mind. I think that systems who label their style ‘tactical anything’ use it to bring some sort of legitimacy to what they know or teach. But most use it strictly for marketing purposes. Most have never even seen actual combative warfare, much less gotten into a fight and have had to use what they know. The inherent definition of tactical is that it’s planned. Where FMA is concerned, actual fighting is spontaneous and unpredictable therefore how can it be tactical? Any weapon, be it a firearm, knife or whatever, can be used for fighting, even a regular kitchen knife. Should that be labeled a ‘tactical meat cutter?’ So the word is used too far out of context. Where FMA is concerned, it is even done more so. I have yet to come across Tactical Kung Fu, Tactical Karate, or Tactical Tae Kwon Do, yet aren’t these systems taught to military and law enforcement as well?”

So how does one become a tactical trainer? Felipe Jocano Jr., A well-respected Professor of Anthropology at The University Of The Philippines and a long time teacher of FMA questioned the whole idea of becoming a tactical trainer.

“Contrast to strategic, which is about the broad end and vision; with regards to warfare, the broad purpose for the prosecution of the conflict. The term tactical is used by military and law enforcement personnel to describe aspects of their work, namely the prosecution of conflict and containing the same [military]or the enforcement of law and order [law enforcement]. The word is very specific; it is all about the means to an end, the techniques executed in pursuit of the objective.”

By definition tactical is an adjective—of, relating to, or constituting actions carefully planned to gain a specific military end (The New Oxford Dictionary of English 1998).

It is different from the term strategic, which is about the broad end and vision; with regards to warfare, the broad purpose for the prosecution of the conflict.

Clearly, a tactical trainer should be working for the military, and not just a guest trainer for the weekend.

When military and law enforcement agencies, especially in the Western world started recruiting martial artists for additional training to enhance their skills, suddenly the martial arts world began hearing about tactical and combat martial arts. Instructors began marketing their knowledge as tactical and combative to the general public. Interested individuals could now take classes from these instructors and masters who claim to have trained military and law enforcement personnel. Since then, it has become a trend for egoistic martial arts teachers who were given a chance by the police or the army to teach on a weekend, to carry the title of a tactical trainer.

This practice of labeling and rebranding is common within FMA circles. Apart from the use of the words “tactical and combat,” other changes have included replacing the terminology—“stick and knife combatives” in place of arnis, kalis and escrima; “edged weapons” as a generic term for the traditional names bladed weapons; “impact weapons” as the term for the practice of baston or olisi, and “open or empty hand combatives” in place of suntukan, buno, sikaran and other native names of FMA unarmed skills.

Modernization has its ups and downs. On the one hand, part of this increase in interest has resulted in adapting the traditional arts to new fighting environments, and changes in the way conflicts happen. On the other hand, many instructors have cashed in on the trend and started marketing themselves and their arts as tactical despite their lack of experience or training in military, law enforcement or security work.

I have known and met people who have taught a few members of the military and law enforcement. That is, their instruction was not part of any agency program but simply on the basis of the interest of the person concerned. These instructors were honest about their role as civilian instructors and by doing so bring more admiration to their martial arts. On the other hand, I have also met instructors who are teaching combative methods to members of certain government agencies but it was not clear whether they were there as civilian teachers or were trained agents themselves teaching other agents.

Being commissioned to teach military, law enforcement and security agencies is considered a high honor in martial arts circles. These elite instructors resemble the nobleness of ancient warriors in their role as protectors of the community. It is no wonder then that many martial arts teachers are eager to teach within these agencies and some of those who have succeeded have used their status to promote themselves and their arts. But what is really disturbing is the number of people who carry the title of tactical trainer but lacks the competence.

Going back to the definition and nature of tactical, the term also seems to mean streamlined, as in modified to suit the nature of modern day conflicts. There is a deeper meaning to the term tactical and therefore, care should be taken when using it as a label for certain martial arts. Tactics are carried out to complete a mission. Therefore, an instructor of tactical martial arts should know what he or she is all about and is very clear on it.

To the legitimate tactical trainer, knowledge and skill in other areas, not just in martial arts are important. What are these areas? The art of course—how to use it, how to apply to the body, the different possible variations of its usage. And then there’s first aid—how to deal with injuries. If the instructor is teaching members of the military, he or she must be familiar with the tools and weapons at hand; if law enforcement, familiarity with legal doctrines concerning the use of force. If the field is private security, then one must have a firm grasp of ethics both personal and professional. Many people skimp on these but a professional deems being considered an ethical person paramount meaning one must have a strong sense of personal honor, keeping one’s word at all times. Good communication skills (how can you teach if you don’t know how to explain) and a stable psychological profile is also a must. Simply put, there is more to being a combatives instructor than simply being a tough fighter.

So, are you a tactical martial artist? A teacher of tactical martial arts? How much do you know about these other areas of expertise? Where is your training pedigree from? Who taught you and is there documentation or proof of your training? What are your professional credentials? Before carrying the title of ‘tactical trainer,’ be sure to have your answers to these questions ready.

Daniel “Mumbakki” Foronda is an MMA champion and a Filipino martial arts expert. He is currently based in Russia where he is a combat tactical trainer to the country’s Military Special Forces.


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1 Comment

  1. “Simply put, there is more to being a combatives instructor than simply being a tough fighter.”

    Such a true statement. Wasn’t arnis historically taught with a bit of panghihilot and anting-anting? Not that I’m saying we should revert to that practice, but merely agreeing there are more sides to this seemingly violent activity.

    Thank you for an insightful article.