Sunday, April 05, 2015


"does the hand go on the left or the right?"
"which leg do I step with?"
"punch, elbow and knee? Or elbow, punch and knee?"

The first time I saw Guro Fred move I thought "Damn, he's fast..."  Seven years later at the recent Japan seminar in Tokyo on 28/29 March, probably the 1,000th time I saw (and felt) Guro Fred move I thought "Damn, he's REALLY fast..."

That was a great weekend filled with fellowship, great training, really cool techniques and, as always, a lot to learn.  many things Guro Fred said that weekend resonated with me, just as they did in Singapore when I started. One of them is about not being a "prisoner of the technique".  What does this mean?

In many traditional martial arts, especially arts which emphasize kata (forms), we are forced to mimic the instructor and do exactly as he/she does. At the beginning this is mostly about gross movements such as which leg is forward and which movements are in which sequence.  As we progress and begin to understand the purpose of the movement more, we observe more detail about specific angles, direction, weight shift and complex combinations of movements that yield different results.  As always, any deviation from these patterns is WRONG.  The goal is to burn into your muscle memory a very precise set of motions in a very specific sequence.  Used properly, this training builds the body, posture and breathing.  It creates a strong will and mind/body harmony and also disciplines the spirit.  This is admirable, but it is NOT FMA.

In the Filipino arts, individual expression is the goal.
Our instructors' job is to give us the right basics, the correct concepts and principles and teach us how to reinforce them through drills and exercises and examples.  Then they must allow us to express them (and expand them) our own way.  Your Kali must be YOURS and can be no one else's.  It is an expression of who and how you are as much as, ultimately, what you believe.  You can learn an awful lot about somebody through physical contact - yet another reason why our Kali Family is so close.  What you show is what you are, there is no way to hide that.
Thus, it is important that you learn to break free from the boundaries of what your instructors show you and find your own Kali, or what Guro Fred called "your flavor".

Boxing is a great example.  Boxing fundamentals are largely the same.  They consist of the same basic punches and the same basic footwork - no "hidden techniques" or "secret death punches" (not legally anyway).  At the same time, no two champion boxers box exactly the same.  They always express their uniqueness and individuality through the way they move, and this is one of the things that makes the "sweet science" so fascinating.  The physical chess is about more than just the punches - it is indeed a mental game.  So is Kali.

Like little children, at the beginning we learn by mimicry.  We imitate the movements and sounds of our parents and observe everything they do.  This is necessary to build the basic motor skills and building blocks of language.  However, if there were no individual expression then children would only ever say what their parents have said (scary thought) or do what was done before.  As parents we rightfully encourage our children to "be themselves" and to "express themselves", to explore their world (safely and with supervision of course) in order that they can discover their way.  It is no different for Kali instructors. As we learn, grow and EVOLVE, we expect our students to do the same.   The drills are designed to encourage exploration and should be used as such.  The goals is ADAPTIVE FUNCTIONALITY, the ability to take the principles and concepts we know and apply them effectively to any situation - physical, mental or spiritual.

In Kali, there is no rule book.  Instead, it is best to think of the techniques, patterns and drills as a set of guidelines, behind which sound fighting principles exist.  In class, pay attention to what your instructors do, but also let your mind consider the possibilities from each step or place. Seek what is efficient, what works best for you and what matches your body and your personality.  Rejoice in every discovery since this is what helps you to become an expert of motion.  Keep your sense of wonder.

As Madonna said "EXPRESS YOURSELF."

Break Free.    

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