written by Rick Faye
My name is Rick Faye. I have run the Minnesota Kali Group, a martial arts school in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for over twenty years.
I see we are once again in the midst of controversy as yet another generation asserts itself. There seems to be a new examination of whether drills in martial arts are productive. Along with this seems to go a wholesale disposal of technical information from the arts we train.
First off, let me say that I am adding my opinion as a way to solidify my own thoughts, and to constantly re-examine what we teach and train at the Minnesota Kali Group. I don’t have any great hope of changing minds (they seem to be quite convinced of their own genius). I’m also not here to challenge anyone’s abilities. The J.K.D. family has always been full of people much more physically talented than I.
I will weigh in with what experience I have. It seems to me that Sifu Dan Inosanto has settled these issues at every seminar for the last twenty-five years. I’ll try to repeat, in my own language, the messages that seemed so obvious to me from the very start.
Drills work, and are necessary for most students. Drills themselves are not fighting – that’s understood, and this has been pointed out at every seminar I have ever been to. Drills allow students to go through a progressive learning process, and make the art accessible to many different types of students. Drills help to pass on combative and developmental insights gained over time at the cost of many lives. Drills allow concentrated repetition on important aspects of the art. Drills also happen to be fun, which is important for those of us who don’t spend every waking moment trying to “kick ass” on the next random attacker.
In martial arts we are in the business of trying to modify how people act under stress. This generation has come up with the stunning revelation that personal combat is an aggressive, frenzied, painful and nasty business where things get very difficult. (I’m sure the warriors of the ages will be thankful that someone has finally discovered the true nature of combat.) It will be interesting to see how they go about passing these insights on to students of different abilities, different personalities, different values, and different needs. Could it be that creating drills of some sort would help the student get a glimpse of their instructor’s true brilliance?
I apologize for the tone of these statements, but it seems to me that people are overstepping. Sifu Inosanto, Master Chai, and many other great martial artists have taught us through drills. So now, we have students who make their personal discoveries public, and are inadvertently disrespectful to those who taught them. (Respect of any kind is one of the deeper values that has left martial arts in the last years.) Are they questioning the intellect or the sincerity of these teachers? Either they don’t see these instructors as smart enough to guide students correctly, or they believe they are somehow filling the time with useless fluff. I don’t see either of these as the truth.
There are good reasons why most martial systems take many years to “declare” a student a “master” or even an instructor. The perspective and maturity gained by years in the arts are very important. You need perspective to understand complete developmental cycles for many kinds of students. You also need perspective to understand the many different ways to approach the art. You need maturity to be able to understand the place for your capabilities in life. You also need maturity to assess your role as instructor and as a martial artist in life. The martial artists that I admire are outwardly mild and easily approachable. They think and act on many levels – most of them much deeper than just fighting.
Next point: we have been constantly told three related things. Number one: just because the technique or strategy doesn’t work for you in your circumstance doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. The fact that a technique doesn’t work is not always because it is structurally ineffective. Most failures in martial arts are due to a problem in attributes, such as distancing, timing, rhythm, strength, line familiarization, etc. It could also be that the technique was tried in the wrong circumstance. A gym is not always the best format for each technique.
Two: we should constantly experiment to find what does work for us at this stage of our development. As we experiment with different things, we will find that we are able to do some things quite naturally, and that others will take development.
Three: we should determine what attributes we need to train to become functional in a given area. Many of the drills we do are designed to improve certain attributes. Like weight training, they are more about development than they are directly related to fighting. In many aspects of the arts, we simply need more repetition on specific motions. Drills are often the best way to get the desired repetitions in the shortest amount of time.
Martial arts are an intensely personal search. To discredit anyone’s way of practicing his art, is very arrogant, and not a credit to Sifu Inosanto’s example. Sifu Inosanto has always taught us that each individual will find his or her own way. Some, however, will find their way and then tell everyone about it. This assumes a level of accomplishment, intellect, ability and insight that may not actually be there, other than in the mind of that person.
I believe we can all find something in the arts that fascinate us. Yes, we need to examine the material for function and application. In our analysis, we need to keep in mind a broader context. The art should serve as a tool for self-development as well as self-defense. There is room for more than one area of training. To narrow our focus to include only what works against a determined athlete in the gym when performed by a talented athlete is to set “limitations” on J.K.D. I admire the athleticism and durability of extreme competitors, but it remains a small part of this great art. Extreme contact is not for everyone, and should not dictate our training. “Ultimate” or “Extreme” formats can be learned from, and that knowledge should be added to the things in which we train, not replace them completely.
As for the Minnesota Kali Group, we will continue to use drills to train our students. Making this art accessible to a wider variety of students has been my goal, and I will continue to seek out methods that allow average people to improve their lives. If you get a chance to visit, look forward to working on Thai Boxing combinations, Sumbrada and other great stick drills, a whole variety of drills for sensitivity and body feel, set focus mitt combinations, grappling drills, and equipment training set out in combinations. You’ll find all sorts of students having a great time, and improving in all sorts of areas.
-Friday, December 13, 2002