CTS / Iron Mountain Camp / Martial Arts / Self Defense

How to Choose a Martial Art: Part 4


Welcome to the final post in a four part series about how to choose a martial art. Parts one and two present my history prior to Counterpoint Tactical Systems (CTS). The third part discussed the different categories of martial arts and displayed an example process to evaluate a martial art. I started this series out by by saying that choosing a martial art was easy: just choose CTS. (My friend, Kevin Wagner of Gem City Martial Arts, in Dayton agrees.) Partially, it’s a joke, but only partially. It’s only fitting to end this series with why I chose the martial art that I practice.

Part two ended with me leaving my college martial arts group and headed into the adult, workaday world. As I moved farther away from the martial arts community, I wrote more and more, which eventually would lead me back to Filipino martial arts (FMAs). I was accepted into the University of Missouri – St. Louis’s Master’s of Fine Arts program as a fiction writer. During a writer’s group in January of 2010, some friends began talking about getting together on a Saturday to spar. After listening, I decided to train with them. Evan Ringle (who now teaches at Ryer Martial Arts Academy in Pittsburgh) mentioned that he practiced a Filipino Martial Art. After about a month, he pitched the idea of attending a seminar put on by the founder of the style in which he trained. It would take place in Springfield, MO at Springfield FMA. I had never heard of Zach Whitson before and did some research. I was interested but skeptical. After all, I had never heard of Master Whitson before, and hadn’t I done a lot of research into the martial arts before? (During my time off, I had fallen into the trap of the martial artist as celebrity.) I was on the fence but after researching him, I saw that Master Whitson had trained in and incorporated both Pekiti Tirsia and Cacoy Doce Pares into his system. I had researched and read about the two systems but didn’t train in either art.

At the seminar, Master Whitson covered some basics. He covered the CTS twelve attacks and empty hands vs. knife level one. The techniques were familiar to me from my previous FMA experience. It was the concepts and the training methods that won me over to Master Whitson as a teacher. He talked about how to create our own set of twelve attacks, and while creating your own twelve attacks isn’t that groundbreaking, it was the first time that I’d heard an instructor encourage students to explore and create their own. During the seminar, Zach also discussed how to transition from drills to sparring. The concepts and progression method that he discussed were exactly the missing link that I had been looking for in my college days. I thought that if this is what he was sharing with strangers at a seminar (most of the people attending were not CTS students); then, what was he teaching his advanced level students? Mike Miller was testing for his red belt that day, and Master Whitson asked Evan to stay and sit in on the testing board with him. We were allowed to watch. I asked Zach about his system and got some information from him. As we drove back to St. Louis, Evan talked about Iron Mountain camp. I thought about it, and Evan said he could have me ready to test for Blue belt (the first belt in the system) by then. The price was right, and the camp took place at the end of a very, very long summer of 55 – 60 hour work weeks. I needed a vacation; the camp was located in the beautiful Smokey Mountains of Tennessee.; and I was ready to learn more about the Counterpoint Tactical System. I went to Iron Mountain wanting to learn more, but I was also looking to see what the group was like. After all my positive experiences with martial art groups throughout college, I wanted to be part of a system that got along off the mat as well as on.

Iron Mountain camp 2010 won me completely over to CTS. The material covered that year was advanced well beyond where I was. The advanced students (whose schools can be found on the Links page) answered questions and worked with me and the other novices. There was no rigid hierarchy; I didn’t even know who was the advanced students until the testing phase of the camp began later on the first night. That year was auspicious because I got to see the first wave test for the rank of first black on the second night. They all passed and joined Josh Ryer as CTS black belts. After the testing phases of the camp, the participants gathered together for dinner. It was a gathering of friends and reminded me of a family reunion. The nights were full of good food, laughter, and friendships. I left the camp that year with having 9 of the 10 questions that I’d asked in Part 3 answered. I knew this was the system and organization that I wanted to join.

I’ve tried a lot of martial arts in the past, and none of them have engaged me to stick around for the long haul. So, what about Counterpoint Tactical Systems continues to hold my interest and keep my excited? I’ve been thinking about this for a while now and have found three main reasons. 1.) The way that CTS is organized fits well with my engineering mindset. It allows me and my training partners to gauge our progress within the system. Whether in Dayton, OH or Boca Raton, FL, CTS students all know what blue belt techniques are. It’s uniform, clear, and progressive. 2.) The CTS family is a fantastic group of people. Master Whitson has gathered students that work hard at improving their skills, are talented, and generous with their time. They’ve helped me train at camp, encouraged me to branch out when Evan was heading back to Pittsburgh, and helped me with articles for this blog. Both Evan and Mike Miller have become close friends of mine. 3.) Most importantly, the head of the system, Master Zach Whitson, continues to train, continues to innovate, and continues to mentor his students. During the St. Louis seminar this past May, Master Whitson and Mike Miller engaged in some close quarter stick sparring. When Mike caught him off guard, Zach immediately smiled and pointed it out to the rest of us. As a teacher, he is encouraged and pleased when his students progress. There’s no ego when he trains with us. Simply put, Master Whitson leads by example.

Self defense has always been my primary reason for entering the martial arts, and while I loved basketball and sports martial arts when I was younger, the idea of knowing that some techniques or targets were off limits just didn’t sit well with me. I wanted an art that could prepare me for anything and one that continued to innovate through progressive training methods. It also was important to me to be part of an art where the instructors train with everyone – novices, intermediate students, and experts. I found this art, and I’m passionate about spreading Counterpoint Tactical Systems because of all of these reasons. I hope that everyone who enters the martial arts has the same success at finding their place as I had in finding mine. Also, come check out a CTS class with us. I think you’ll like it.


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