The FMA as a platform for cross-training

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Perry Gil S. Mallari

Perry Gil S. Mallari

It’s been said that you can build anything on a solid foundation. The teaching methodology of the Filipino martial arts (FMA) focuses on principles rather than techniques and that is why I believe that FMA adepts would not have a hard time understanding other martial arts.

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True, a student can memorize hundreds of techniques but would not he be better off if he knew the principles behind the techniques so he can make his own techniques? In short, the traditional FMA master believes in the adage, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.

Teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

The conceptual nature of the FMA encourages its adherents to investigate other styles for this is the natural inclination of a martial artist empowered by the understanding of the underlying principles of combative movements. The majority of FMA practitioners I know train in other martial arts in addition to their arnis, escrima and kali.

Among FMA luminaries, there is perhaps no one that could match the extensive cross-training experience of Dan Inosanto.

The man, known as Bruce Lee’s protégé, in addition to his mastery of Lee’s jeet kune do and the FMA has also trained in numerous other systems among them, French savate and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. In an interview by Jose Emiliano Alzona published in the December 1990 issue of Black Belt Magazine, Inosanto shared his thoughts on cross-training, it reads, “I’ll use this analogy: it’s like interior decorating; you can only put furniture into your house if it fits. You can only extract knowledge from another system if it fits your mode.

Understanding how your body works is the key. If you can adopt a particular wrinkle into your system, fine. What Bruce was saying is have an appreciation of other arts, even if you may not use them. When I teach the Filipino martial arts, I apply the jeet kune do concept. I’m not teaching jeet kune do, but I apply the concepts so students can absorb what is useful. If you’re sharp, you can go in and out of different disciplines or systems and find what is useful to you. That’s research. Once you do research and development, you will go beyond systems. You can flow from one discipline to another if you have the understanding.”

Certain FMA principles would prove useful in shortening one’s learning arc when cross-training in unarmed striking and grappling arts.

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 escrimador cross-training in kickboxing or boxing, immediately has a basic grasp of how these other disciplines work. He knows that a horizontal angle of attack is still a horizontal angle of attack only this time he would be using a hook punch or a roundhouse kick as a weapon instead of a stick or sword.

The concept of symmetry found in double-stick drills like sinawali also has universal applications. Sinawali drills, which mimic the woven pattern of the sawali (woven split bamboo mats used to construct walls in the Philippines) teaches a practitioner to relate the movements of his weak hand to that of his dominant hand. With a thorough grounding on this principle, an escrimador cross-training in the punching and kicking arts immediately holds certain advantages like better coordination as well as the ability to link movements from both sides of his body.

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 quickly.

If a practitioner is discerning enough, he would soon realize that a lot of grappling principles are also covered in FMA weapons training. The principles of joint locking for instance, can be learned by observing 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. So, an escrimador cross-training in the grappling arts would make faster progress by being aware of and by applying these concepts.

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1 Comment

  1. I agree on what you wrote, but the student or practitioner should always bear in mind that, if blending in some other discipline, they should always remember which is FMA and which are the other discipline. Some other discipline like Taekwondo, says that the hook kick is theirs, but most of the FMA historians says that the “biakid” was introduce to the Koreans by the Filipinos, during the Korean war in the 50’s. And now the world thinks that it is Korean.

    FMA forever!