On the website MyFMA, there is an interesting topic in the forum: The Line Between Good and Bad Escrima. There are many excellent responses, and it is worth reading. Please, go check it out. The comments got me thinking. Most of them are on self defense; so, I thought I would take a different view of the subject.
The line between good and bad escrima, or Filipino martial arts, is traditionally focused on applicability. This should be the primary condition on which to base your choice of martial art. Application in defense is the top concern of most students who seek out the Filipino martial arts, but it should not be the ONLY concern. This article assumes that the student has found a school that teaches realistic self defense that the everyday person can learn to do. Here are three secondary attributes that make the difference between good and bad escrima:
- Training Partners: Filipino martial arts are by necessity social arts. While there are ways to study alone, the highest expression of the art requires drilling and sparring with other, non-compliant martial artists. It’s important to find a balance of individuals that challenge us without bullying us. The class that we attend has to challenge us, or the art is simply taking our money. We also have to have a safe training environment, which includes working with training partners who let us progress and grow as well. Stories abound of bullies who show off on training partners who have a lower skill set. This will happen, but a school or art that is full of these individuals is bad escrima.
- Fitness: To be clear, escrima and martial arts are NOT my primary method of cardio health and strength training. They supplement my primary methods of fitness. I think a martial arts class should have a bit of a physical workout. Often, when practicing Counterpoint Tactical System, I don’t notice the workout I’m getting because I’m paying attention and trying to learn. Fitness also means safety. Making sure the art you’re learning is training in a safe way. This means having clean facilities, proper equipment, mats for falling, etc. FMAs are learned to extend your life through self defense, and this thought process should extend to class. Training shouldn’t continually tear down our bodies.
- Fun: The line between good and bad escrima can be enjoyment. When I say that I have fun training, I don’t mean it’s a constant party. Truly I get frustrated at times, and training is difficult and stressful. Overall, though, training and teaching Counterpoint Tactical System is fun. It’s a blast. No matter how effective an art is, students who are consistently and constantly beat on and broken will not continue training. For short amounts of time, a lot of people will stick through. It takes a special person to stick through years of constant beatings. For the average person, training has to be fun. This can and should be done without watering down the fundamental art. I’ve seen very creative ways of making martial arts training fun for the individual: students of the month, recognition on websites or blogs, etc. For me, the fun in the art is the progression of my skills. Essentially, make sure you enjoy training in the art you’ve chosen. If at the end of months of training you look back and aren’t enjoying yourself, can you really say this is good escrima?
When I’m teaching, I try to keep these things in mind for my students. Again, none of these factors trump applicability. If you enjoy the school you’re at but don’t trust the self defense, then you might be at the wrong school. A school that teaches practical self defense, keeps the egos in check, gets the heart pumping, and provides an enjoyable challenge practices good escrima in my opinion.
As you may have noticed, my response is oriented on school/instructor rather than style. That is because I do not buy into the style versus style debates. Styles are fictions. They are philosophies and training methods expressed through the human mind and body. These philosophies and training methods are transferred by fallible human to fallible human. Therefore, mistakes are made. Sometimes portions of the style or art are held back and kept secret. Sometimes, philosophies change from street self defense to competition fighting. Training methods improve as human knowledge continues to improve. So, the style that your teacher’s teacher’s teacher learned is probably not the art you’ve learned. All of this is to say that I don’t think any style is inherently bad and any style is inherently good. What makes a style or system good is the people training in it and the training methods it employs. What makes a style good is if the goals of the person training in that style line up with the philosophy of that style.