Archive for the ‘Training’ Category

Baston Serrada is a dance between the Line and the Circle.
Combat must  be direct. But if you are blocked, go around.

The stick is a strange weapon. Simple, humble and unassuming in design and structure, but potentially brutal and devastating.  The many stories behind the evolution of stick fighting are pretty interesting. From ideas of spontaneous indigenous development to the influence of foreign swordsmanship.  Very interesting, but we are still waiting on our scholars to help fill in the gaps in these stories.


GM Ben Lema, Founder of Lightning Scientific Arnis, doing Baston Serrada

Right now I’m more interested in the different ways sticks are being used in combat and the method of training involved, particularly a method called “Baston Serrada“.  In Lightning Scientific Arnis,Mang Ben called it “working the stick“. But what does he mean by that, and why do we do it?

I’m going to break it down into three aspects.
Goal,Method, Application

The goal of this drill is the smooth flow of movement from defense to attack and vice-versa while fulfilling certain parameters. In the case of “proper” serrada, that would mean:

1. moving to the “outside” off the opponents attack
2. neutralizing the opponents weapon
3. “blanketing” your opponent with your own barrage
4. repeat as necessary

This drill is a blend of hard and soft movements.  The blocks and “checks” are hard while the flow from strike to strike is soft but with enough stiffness that the body recognizes the potential to increase power later on in application.

1. Use your short range strikes to hit and your checking hand to interrupt your opponents motion alternating between them as necessary.
2. Use your footwork to manage the distance between you and your opponent and stay outside his center.
3. Move soft, slow and deliberate in the begining of the drill to develop your timing and accuracy.
4. From contact develop a “sense” of where your targets are.
5. Learn to put your targets where you can hit them.
6. As you progress in the drill, increase the amount of power and speed in your movements.
7. Develop your decision making skills.
8. Develop your repertoire .
9. Develop your control.
10. After learning the template set, learn how to substitute strikes and techniques to see how it affects your position, movement and timing.

The movements you trained are basically action-sets on “triggers”.
In close-combat situations, there is simply no time “stop & think” of the “best possible counter-attack”.  So we are counting on “attacks-made-instinct” in these stress situations. This is also because the combat is too close to be relying solely on vison, so instead we are relying on physical cues and hard-wired reflexes.

When applying Baston Serrada, it is a matter of ANGLE, POSITION and PRESSURE.

1. Changing your angle of attack in Baston Serrada makes you unpredictable, because the strike that connects, is the one that is unseen.
2. Changing your position to be always out of your opponents reach makes you difficult to hit.
3. Constantly hitting and checking your opponent puts him off-balance and on the defensive, so when he is defending, he is not attacking.

What I have not discussed here is the Mechanics of Baston Serrada as it deserves a separate discussion of its own.  So stayed tuned for that one soon.


Of Poses, and Posing Well…

Anyone can fight.

But not all fight well. It is about successfully accomplishing your goal while reducing risk on your person.  So what’s the point I’m trying to make?  I’m going to paraphrase a line from Gavin de Becker’s  book, “the Gift of Fear.”  It’s a great book and an eye-opener and one of the first books that influenced my way of thinking about fighting and self-defense.  To me, fighting is about “high-stakes decision making under complete stress.”

Fighting is a messy deal. It can happen at the worst of times when you are least prepared physically or mental.  Fighting is a non-cooperative activity where the other participant seeks to do you bodily harm.  So to me, fighting smart is about increasing your chances of success in a fight and reducing the amount of risk involved fighting, not just getting the job done. What could be more important to you at that time than protecting your life and the lives you fight for?

I find that all of arguments about which martial art is more applicable in a realistic scenario or which system is more effective to be moot and pointless. Why? Because, there are many kinds of “fighting.”  Prize-fighting, street fighting, self-defense, wars to name a few All of them have one thing in common- a goal. So it makes sense to take actions that support this goal especially since many things are different in each scenario. So to clarify this, let’s outline some criteria to determine what “fighting well” means.  This way, we can evaluate and validate our training, regardless of the art we practice.  This is by no means going to be complete as each art or style will have their own criteria specific to their needs, but it’s certainly a good place to start.

fighting smart is about increasing your chances of success in a fight and reducing the amount of risk involved fighting

Who doesn’t hate double-kills in sparring?  It’s either you were too slow or the opponent was too fast.  Either way, it is energy wasted, time wasted and you have to once again to re-evaluate and re-engage your opponent. This is energy that wouldn’t have been wasted had you been successful.  So put some effort into NOT GETTING HIT.  This means not taking too much or any damage as you fight. In weapons fighting in general, it not a good idea to be trading hits but is something taken for granted with protective gear. To that point, there is still value in the old way of training without all the protective gear.  Simply, you learned once and very quickly that getting hit is not nice at all. This can be further expounded by range or distance. Are you able to stay out of his reach and within yours?  If your opponent is too fast to attack outright, can you take the hits on your defense before you attack. There are many other options better than just trying to bash your opponent faster, harder or more times than he can bash you.  You need to consider that every attack has a cost, and that sometimes the cost can be heavy.

A one-on-one fight is usually assumed to be “up-front” and “face to face”.  The tricky part of this is that all of your opponents weapons are facing you (arms, legs, elbows, knees, head).  Coming in at an angle to reduce the number of weapons he can use on you can significantly increase your chances of success and simultaneously  reduce the amount of risk.

Throw a wet blanket over him I say.  If you don’st happen to have that wet blanket on you, reduce his ability to hit you by reducing his ability to move his arms and legs, by putting him off balance, or by forcing him to go on the defensive.

Tapping your opponent doesn’t really work much.  I will probably serve to annoy or anger him more.  Have a strike, punch, throw, kick etc. that has the potential to knock out your opponent. This needs to be something devastating enough to knock your opponent out and finish the fight.  The premise of this is that, if he is too preoccupied with trying to recover, he is NOT Fighting you.

Knowing how to make an exit in the midst of combat is a useful skill especially if you start to get overwhelmed even if it means going through your opponent to make an exit. Having an exit strategy is very important especially if your goal is saving your life. Prolonged or extended contact exposes you to more risk and danger.

With criteria like these you can evaluate and validate your training methodology and see if you are meeting your success criteria. Tools like this can help tweak your training experience and add value to your understanding.


Language is an integral part of learning. Inasmuch as martial arts is a predominantly physical activity, the transfer of ideas, concepts, principles and knowledge become more efficient with the precise use of terminologies and definitions. This brings to light the situation within the Filipino Martial Arts where there is a huge mishmash of terminologies in a mixed-martial-mess of a combination of Tagalog, Bisaya, Ilonggo, Spanish and English to mention a few.

This has never really been much of an issue to me, until I started teaching abroad. I found that I needed a better understanding of the words I use in class to describe or name techniques. Yes it is very easy to call a technique by numbers. Its efficient when you are trying to emphasize a sequence or hierarchy of techniques. But I find it lacking in spirit to name them that way.

I look at a technique as a self-contained principle. No matter how simple or complex, I look at it as having some guiding logic and reasoning for its existence and importance within a system. I look at it as the description and context that governs the technique. To some degree the names’ true meaning may only be understood by members of the specific style, which also may indicate some level of specialization. I’m finding it also interesting in the cultural aspect to explain things with names that open their minds to the cultural context of what I’m teaching.


To some degree the names’ true meaning may only be understood by members of the specific style


I think it is also important that we keep up the use of the core “old” terms that represent the roots of the systems we practice.  They are like the lines of our palms and fingerprints that identify us and in some ways the FMA family we belong to.

As FMA becomes more and more global, we can anticipate an explosion of new terms as people make the effort to understand it in their own ways. The potential for confusion is there admittedly but if it serves the purpose of progress in training i cant really say anything wrong about it. As FMA grows and spreads and comes into contact with other martial arts, the cross-pollination of terminologies is inevitable.

It is also a sign of the times that as it spreads and comes into contact with other cultures the language with which FMA is taught leaves its mark on it as well like the time when Spanish was the “educated” language of the times of our grandfathers and English nowadays as an international language.

In the end for me it is a tool for communication. I try to find the most efficient way to get the idea across. sometimes it involves creating interesting, whimsical and amusing names, but in the end what is your goal? the message getting across or trying to stick to archaic terminology that people cant connect to? I look at naming as the tool of innovators who are trying to bring FMA into other areas of understanding, trying to expand and expound the understanding through ingenious and creative ways. As our FMA evolves, so should the language we speak it with.

A Reintroduction

A Filipino Martial Art demonstration – Lightning Scientific Arnis by Master Jon Escudero, at the RONI based shooting competition, held at “Neshek Hatzafon” shooting range.

Presenting and demonstrating Filipino Martial Arts outside the Philippines is always a bit interesting and challenging at the same time.   Active martial artists already have a general idea or at least some exposure to it, but that’s something you can’t assume for the general public.  So each time we make a presentation we have to always explain the general context for what we do.  FMA is currently enjoying a boom in its exposure in mainstream cinema.  Click here to see a video list.  Hollywood  blockbusters are featuring it in their fight and action choreography finally become something more than just an obscure, exotic fighting system.

I find FMA truly enjoyable to train in and teach. The myriad different lessons embedded in each technique, the depth and breadth of complexity within the simplicity of its movements, and the variety and flexibility of its applications, keep me deeply interested in its study.

I try to make thing interesting, maybe tell a story, a joke or something amusing, but in the end the moves must speak for themselves.

Enjoy the clip!


toys, toys, toys

One thing I love about FMA is all the toys we get to play with.  Sticks, swords and other sharp objects appeal to the tool-user in me.  Growing up in the 80’s watching He-Man, Conan, Shaolin and Ninja movies whetted my appetite for the weapon-martial arts.  There was elegance and  the element of danger between the  whirling blades.  There was also the mystery in the mastery of something not part of your body, something you weren’t born with. I saw weapons training as a discipline and a means to shape, hone and sharpen the mind as well as the body.  A means to expand awareness, a tool to enhance attributes.  I also thought it was practical. I was first attracted to Wushu for the weapons.  Yeah they were sexy.  But in the end I gravitated to something more…”primal”.  There’s something about smashing two large heavy sticks into things.  Truly, crushing and smashing things can be a lot of fun and thats what I discovered in the Filipino Martial Arts.  Yes, the art of “cutting with the blade”, does indeed exist in our culture, but hey, I was a beginner and was only starting on my path. Down this path you see all sorts of weapons. Strange, cruel, sexy, exotic and some just plain weird.  This is where I find myself. I’ve found many interesting eye-opening principles over the years, many that were just staring me in the face waiting for me to recognize them.  That’s why I do it.  Each weapon teaches a different lesson, a different mindset, different opportunities a different context. Its endless. And with that thought comes countless possibilities, ideas and a better understanding of   the mind and the many ways it has come up with to either destroy or defend. I’ve gotten pretty good at making excuses to buy all these toys. My wife’s heard it all though… I think.