• The FMA-MMA connection

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     Rennie Ross (right) demonstrates a Filipino knife fighting technique.

    Rennie Ross (right) demonstrates a Filipino knife fighting technique.

    It’s always a pleasure to meet like-minded martial artists. As a practitioner and proponent of Filipino martial arts (FMA), I see the FMA as a perfect complement to any fighting art.

    It is my sincere belief that a martial artist of another style or system could reap enormous benefits by studying arnis, escrima, and kali.

    Rennie Ross, founder of YawYan Kampilan shares my point of view. Ross who trained in YawYan under Eric Albotra, and in Dekiti Tirsia Siradas under Gerson “Nene” Tortal Sr. and Jerson Total Jr. uses FMA to improve the performance of his mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters.

    Ross and I agree that learning FMA weapons principles could shorten one’s learning arc when training in striking and grappling arts plus it develops important combat attributes like power, speed, kinesthetic sensitivity and coordination.

    “Because in FMA weapons training you are being taught how to handle scenarios with your opponent carrying a weapon, so it’s a situation where you won’t have a second chance if you make a mistake. So a pattern of attack is continuously repeated so that your movement and reflex would be automatic,” Ross said.

     A YawYan Kampilan fighter unleashes a ground and pound technique  on a foe.

    A YawYan Kampilan fighter unleashes a ground and pound technique on a foe.

    Unlike most martial arts, arnis, escrima, and kali training begins with weapons and then progresses to empty hands. It is a common premise in FMA that perfection in weaponry skills first would mean perfection in empty hand skills later. Weaponry training is a great way to build power. Stroking exercises with a heavy stick for instance develops torque.

    This is similar to why boxers of the olden days chop down trees with an axe during training to develop torque in their punches.

    Both hand speed and speed awareness can be developed through FMA training. In weapons based systems like arnis, escrima, and kali, the hands are bearing the weight of stick or sword nearly all the time. Take away that weight in empty hand fighting and the result would be greater hand speed.

    High-speed knife drills and double stick drills like sinawali can heighten a martial artist’s awareness of motion. It’s like getting used to driving a car at 90 mph then suddenly lowering the speed to 60 mph. The latter is still fast but if you’re used to cruising at 90 mph, it seems to be a lot slower.

    Filipino knife drills are excellent for developing kinesthetic sensitivity. In FMA training, wooden knives are treated as real and any contact with the body is considered critical if not enough to end a fight. This kind of training demands a very high level of kinesthetic sensitivity. Again, when one returns to empty hand fighting, a practitioner would discover that his kinesthetic sensitivity has greatly improved.

    “It would not hurt to try to incorporate FMA in their [MMA fighters] training.  It would enhance their awareness because they will be trained to handle weapons, which are more dangerous than a punch or a kick,” Ross commented.

    The basic angles of attacks of the FMA (commonly 12 angles) are transferable from weapons to empty-hand fighting. FMA practitioners knew that the angles of attack remain the same whether you’re armed or unarmed. Thus, an MMA fighter who cross-trains in FMA would grasp the underlying principles of all combat motions. He knows that a horizontal angle of attack is still a horizontal angle of attack regardless if he’s using a hook punch, a roundhouse kick, a stick or a sword.

    “FMA is a complete art.  From weapons to hand to hand combat, and some FMA system incorporates dumog at buno which is our local version of wrestling and submission fighting. So in essence they [FMA and MMA]are not really a world apart,” said Ross.

    The concept of symmetry found in double-stick drills like sinawali could prove useful in MMA striking. Sinawali drills, which mimic the woven pattern of the sawali (woven split bamboo mats) teaches a practitioner to relate the movements of his weak hand to that of his dominant hand.

    The sense of spatial relationship or the ability to judge the efficient distance for fighting learned in weapons training could also be transferred to empty-hand combat. Simply put, if you can duck under a stick swing you can also duck under a punch. It’s the same thing with power generation. Lessons learned in stick fighting like putting one’s weight behind the blow, how to create torque in strikes as well as knowing the distinction between follow through and snapping hits would largely help in understanding the dynamics of punching and kicking.

    If a martial artist is discerning enough, he would soon realize that a lot of grappling principles are also covered in FMA weapons training.

    Ross explained that this could be observed when training in disarming techniques: “There are situations where an attacker is holding you by the neck while a bladed weapon is aimed at your body, disarming the weapon and escaping from the hold/choke from the neck is part of FMA training.”

    Indeed, the principles of joint locking can be learned by observing FMA disarming techniques. Besides direct hitting, a disarm is accomplished by twisting a joint (commonly the wrist, elbow or shoulder) beyond its normal range of motion or forcibly toward the opposite direction of its natural bend. An effective way of doing the latter is by putting a fulcrum under the joint to facilitate dislocation (the fulcrum can be a limb or a weapon such as a stick). These fundamental principles can be applied to other joints of the body like the neck, the spine, the knees and the ankles.

    While MMA fighters are formidable inside the cage, the majority of them are ill prepared to fight against weapons. Being a weapons-based system, the obvious benefit one would get from FMA training is functional skills with the stick and knife. Even with the advent of modern weapons, skills in impact and bladed weapons will never become obsolete.

    Weapons are great equalizers. Even if a martial artist is extremely proficient with empty hand techniques, there are situations where using a weapon is more appropriate like when one is injured or is overwhelmingly outnumbered.

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