Thursday, July 18, 2019

Bisaya eskrima DVD

I first met Bruno Cancho back in 2008, while on my honeymoon to Barcelona. Previously I had asked one of my arnis/eskrima instructors Dan Lamac about anyone to see for some lessons in that part of Spain, and owing to Dan’s recommendation and contacts Bruno agreed to see me. He happened to be a great guy and an excellent proponent of medio-corto approach, due to his training in Koredas Obra Mano and Balintawak systems of FMA.

Bruno Cancho...

Far forward another decade, and Bruno has spent so much time in the Philippines in the meantime that one has to wonder now if that has not become his actual homeland. His extensive study of Visayan styles of arnis and eskrima turned him into a top notch instructor in his chosen field, i.e. medio and corto ranges of combat. It was, therefore, with great joy that I saw the publishing of his instructional DVD about his school, titled “Bisaya Eskrima, vol.1”.

According to Bruno himself, his system is comprised of 20% long range material (largo distance), so naturally he chose to focus the first video on closer range, as he refers to it corto serrada, utilizing single stick. Even more importantly, this material, to my knowledge, is the first commercially available instructional video on the not widely known school of Arnes Diablo which stresses empty-handed defense against knife attacks.

...and his new work
Regarding the stick, the material covers the basic angles of attack and corresponding blocks and counters, 5 ways of attacking/hitting (nothing to do with the JKD methodology of the same name) and accordingly the five types of counters. Everything is shown as solo and partner practice, plus the very important training method of palakaw.

When it comes to the knife material, shown are the 6 basic angles of attack and their defensive responses, with emphasis on disarming the opponent. Especially interesting is the drilling of follow-up actions after potentially failed primary responses, intertwined with retention options for the knife wielding person.

The quality of the instruction, however, is not the only valuable thing here. Namely, the video is beautifully edited to show the life in the Cebu region of the Philippines, and it gives the viewing experience a special flavor. To top it off, the author features two guest local masters, Rodrigo Maranga of Combate Eskrima Maranga and Danny Vedua of Askal Hybrid Arnis (both offshoots of Balintawak), who demonstrate certain aspects of their respective arts. Complementing these aspects is the fact that the entire footage is recorded outdoors – stick portion either in the parks and woods of the Philippines; knife segment in the back alleys of Cebu, thus giving it additional air of authenticity. NOTE: with the exception of guest instructors, who speak English in the video, the instruction is done in Spanish. Still it did not diminish the viewing and learning experience, because everything is done in such a clear and precise manner (I do not speak Spanish, but maybe my speaking French was of some help in understanding everything).

Going back to my comments of Bruno Cancho’s being a great guy and adopting the Philippines as his second home, the entire profits from the promotional sales of the digital videos were directed to the Doors of Hope organization that deals with prevention and stopping of the sexual abuse of children and women in the Philippines. As if the actual quality of the product were not enough to make you happy about purchasing it, he really did the extra step to make you feel even better about it. You can order the video and see the trailer here:

In conclusion, this is one of the best FMA instructional videos I have seen produced in the past few years, and I look forward to the second volume.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Pieces of the puzzle

All the founders of martial art styles and systems were those rare geniuses that come once in a… No, wait! Really?  If that were true, then how come we have so many of them? Is it possible that just a relatively small place such as Okinawa gave birth to so many geniuses in less than half century, some 150 years ago? Not to mention much larger cultures, such as those in China, India etc. Thousands of martial expressions in the East Asia alone. And there is one more thing… How come we often see quite notable differences among the practitioners of the same system?

If you take a look at the above comment, you will see two equally important attributes being mentioned: personal and traditional. At the first glance those might seem to be contradictory. After all, the whole point of traditional training is to do the things the same way they have been done for centuries, just like the founders, right? Well, sort of. If you think about it a little, and do some research, you will find out that those very founders have actually codified their own personal expression of the previous traditions, and named them (or their students did). Which means, in turn, that tinkering and experimenting with your training is the traditional approach anyway.

But, how is different to modern, non-traditional approach then?

First, nowadays more people have the tendency to give new names to their personal expressions (hey, we live in the world of brands and marketing!), although there still many of those who keep training, doing their own thing, without stopping to think about how to call it. Second, we live in the information age, when instructors are not so secretive and more open towards cross training. It is, therefore, no wonder we can choose among dozens of schools and styles. Matter of fact, we don’t need to pick just one! Heck, why not attend a few and combine the stuff into our own system!?

Wasted time and effort

This is the problem of the media age. It’s just too easy to get lost in the huge amount of information all at once, but without certain filters in place it can be exceedingly difficult to make the right selections and see if they fit together. I remember a guy coming to an instructor friend of mine who teaches sort of JKD-inspired MMA and asking for Wing Chun lessons, in order to better deal with the clinch range. Asked how he would deal with grappling, the guy answered “I do aikido for that purpose”. He did not think for a second about the gap between the underlying principles of the two systems, but started from the perceived strength of each. Also, and even more importantly, he flat out refused to join that MMA+ class (as my friend called it) which already had worked out the work in different ranges of combat; instead he preferred developing his own system after the hefty experience of six month of martial training.

Another issue is the failure to recognize the most probable challenges and problems you would face, depending on your reason for training, but instead focusing the rare extremes that get the attention of the media. This is where people dedicated inordinate amounts of time to various lapel grabs and two-handed holds, while completely neglecting tackles, headlocks and standing guillotine chokes. In other words, inexperienced practitioners engage in cross training looking for solutions, while not seeing the problems in the first place.

The way I see it, there are two paths to finding the proper fit in cross training, and they are not mutually exclusive.


One, join a club/group that does something different than you, and accept being their “toy”, thus experiencing the problems their style might put before you. Then go back and see what answers you can find by digging deeper into your own system, its technical principles and tactical tenets. This may require some adaptation of the stuff you have been already doing, but that is where the  personal aspect comes in.

Two, if unable to solve the problem on your own devices, then go elsewhere for instruction. However, keep an eye open for the potential problems that may arise from their solutions, i.e. opening doors for new problems, especially if those new problems are more serious that the ones you came to solve.

Personally, if training different systems, I usually keep them separated for a while before even looking at amalgamation possibilities. Sometimes, in fortunate circumstances, such possibilities will present themselves, kind of jumping out at you as a pleasant surprise. Other times it will take conscious analysis and pondering to direct your research. Of course, there is always the possibility of not finding the right fit between the two, and that’s perfectly fine. In that case you can either drop one thing, or stay with it for its own sake.

Naturally, you may be entirely satisfied staying for the same system for years or decades, and I have utmost respect for people who do that. Again, people’s motives for starting a martial art may vary widely and wildly, so as long as your are able to find something according to your needs you should be fine…just be honest with yourself.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Knowledge that sticks, in 1...2...3...

The issue of weapons training can be contentious issue from various aspects, be it the choice of tools (firearms circles seem to be ridiculous with constant bickering over the best caliber, makes, models etc.), or relevance of some of those tools nowadays (like, does it make sense practicing fencing). As always, my approach is contextual – the legislation here is very prohibitive of firearms, so I focus on the “weapons” that require the least legal hassle, in terms of owning and carry, and most carryover in terms of training being applicable to various improvised weapons. So, in the end, it means impact and edged weapons.

It is a widespread belief that some of the best methods of use of such implements can be found among the exponents of Filipino martial arts (FMA). While I have found out that there are other approaches that are just as valid, while of different geographical origins, it is definitely true that some of the arnis and eskrima systems (oh, all right…and kali, too) have a lot to offer in this regard. That said, although I have trained in various methodologies, my foundation for weapons handling is the Astig Lameco system of eskrima.

If you run even a cursory research on Lameco, you will find that it is formulated on the founder Edgar Sulite’s background in several traditional Filipino systems, five of them being main influences. Through my own training in the system, two of those have had most appeal to me, one for the blade training – Kalis Ilustrisimo; the other for its impact weaponry training – Eskrima De Campo 1-2-3 Original. It is the latter that is the subject of this article.

Eskrima De Campo 1-2-3 Original was founded by the legendary eskrimador Jose Caballero, and the system is renowned for its highly functional, hard-hitting approach to stick fighting, with no fancy maneuvers, but rather well organized training method of proven and effective techniques and tactics, honed through diligent practice. If you belong to the category of practitioners who seek a highly functional set of tools that you can confidently apply (naturally, after having invested proper effort and hours in training – no magic bullets here), you will feel right at home with this approach.

Due to Caballero’s reluctance to teach his art openly, the system never got the recognition it deserves, and only started slowly spreading in the West over the last decade or so. I was among those that felt frustrated with the lack of relevant sources of instruction, because the bits and pieces I was able to get from my Lameco instructors were very enticing. However, the advent of modern technologies has finally come to the rescue!

Today, the head of the school is Jose Caballero’s grandson Jomalin, who lives and teaches out of Ibo, Toledo City in the Philippines, i.e. the same home where his grandfather taught his handful of students. Owing to the great enthusiasm and tech-savvy of one of the modern day students, guro Paolo Pagaling, maestro Caballero has filmed the entire curriculum as the series of well-produced lessons, which is now available through the website

The technical material is demonstrated by maestro Caballero himself, while guro Pagaling does the narration additional explanations as needed, while the drills and applications are then shown by both instructors. The lessons are filmed against the backdrop of Caballero’s own backyard, which gives additional impression of authenticity, and to me makes the videos more pleasant to watch than if having been recorded in some studio. In other words, this is as close to the private lesson as possible, having in mind the format of the material. You can get free sample lessons on the website, to see for yourself how it is laid out.

Now, at the first glimpse, the program might look a bit pricey. However, if you keep in mind that we are not talking about some sort of the “best of”, “selected techniques”, “peek into the system” etc., but actually FULL curriculum and proven training progression, as well as the fact that the authors are willing to respond to potential questions and help you get most out of the material, maybe even potential certification, I would say it is a fairly good deal. Just check their Facebook page to find out more.

In conclusion, what the authors did with this program is essentially the exact thing that in the 1990’s I used to hope would be the main advantage of the Internet – finding true information from true sources, while dispelling myths and not wasting time on digging through the fluff and artificial mystique that has been surrounding all kinds of human endeavors for a long time. Well, we all know how it turned out with the spreading of internet forums and the ability for every wannabe and delusional self-appointed expert to say whatever they want from the anonymity of their homes and behind their screen avatars. The efforts and results such as the subject of this review are the high points in the presentation and preservation of some traditional martial arts that are out there and in dire need of being properly displayed.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Old School

It was my birthday a couple of days ago, and with “life experience” some things become painfully obvious…or just painful! I guess that if you are even remotely a regular reader of my blog, we agree that physical conditioning is a very important part of one’s training process. Well, as so many other things, that part gets to be increasingly harder to achieve and maintain after certain age. In order to make it, there are some guidelines that may come in handy, as they have proven to be quite effective in my case. With that in mind, do not take these suggestions as any kind of recipe or program, but rather a framework to work with.

First, the main challenge that “advanced experience” presents in view of conditioning (besides the hectic life stuff, with job and family) is the need for more recovery. In simple terms, you just cannot train as much and as often when 40+ as you could in your teens of twenties. Therefore, you need to be picky about what you do and when. Essentially, I strive to have two days off between workout days, which means that I will do dedicated conditioning session two or sometimes three days in a week (if it fits Monday, Thursday and Sunday). Personally, I then focus on strength at those workouts, while using my martial art training sessions for conditioning purposes, i.e. harder drilling to that end.

Basically, this kind of approach is detailed in a very good book “Ageless Athlete”, by Jim Madden. He does include roadwork, i.e. specific conditioning sessions, but in my experience it can be replaced by more skill/drill training slots. Also, I normally conduct strength training in the form of so-called “lazy circuits”, and that that supports the conditioning aspect as well, if done adequately.

Still, there will be stretches of time when the above approach is not viable, so what do you do then? In these circumstances the method known as greasing the groove, made popular by Pavel Tsatsouline’s “Naked Warrior”. Basically, picking two or three essential exercises to be done in single sets dispersed a few times during the day (one arm pushup and one leg squats in my case), enables you to do it even at work or at home…or wherever; so, with good exercise choice and a little commitment it is possible to achieve solid results this way. In addition, I subscribe to the idea of using stairs instead of elevator, walking or running instead of driving whenever possible, doing some vigorous, playful movement daily etc, because cumulative effects can be surprisingly pleasant. 

Finally, it bears mentioning that I do some sort of mobility training every morning, before commencing other obligations that await me. Similarly, before going to bed in the evening, I do a short sequence of static stretching, in order to relieve my mind and body of stress and tightness that might be left from the day, thus maximizing the chances for successful recovery, and subsequently optimizing the further training process.

In conclusion, ageing brings poses new challenges and obstacles, and the chief hindrance in tackling them could be the memory of our younger selves and trying to do things the same way as 10 or 15 year ago. Embracing the new circumstances will allow you to learn more about yourself and your training, and possibly make you even better in what you do owing to this new perspective.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Pinto Power Points

Every now and then any discussion, whatever the topic may be at the moment, might easily slip into some kind of lament over how “the Internet has ruined human life” and everything now is make-believe etc. Well, it is true that when people did not have as much access to information available they used to spend more time in training and less surfing the ‘Net. However, it is also true that back then you were more or less “sentenced” to training only the things you were aware of. The Internet helped put people in contact much more easily, and open our possibilities when it comes to choosing the right place and instructor.

I somehow ran across Nelson Pinto via Facebook, and he immediately struck a chord with me, due to being extremely enthusiastic about martial arts, both as an instructor and as a student-for-life. It would be insincere to say that I did not see a bit of myself in his attitude, hence the positive predisposition. Pinto’s resume is diverse and can be seen on his website, which is also where you can order the DVD’s reviewed here.

Now, you know how all instructional videos start with a disclaimer of liability and state something along the lines of “not instructional, but for informational purposes only?”  Well, the Pinto Blade and Impact Tactics Empty Hand curriculum, with Level 1 being presented here, is actually the closes I have ever seen to such description. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. You see, Pinto’s material shown is obviously aimed at members of his organization and/or advanced practitioners and instructors looking to introduce new or different stuff in their training sessions.

That said, he runs through the material fairly quickly, without going into much detail (again, see the disclaimer notice), but it enables him to cover a lot of ground within the confines of two DVDs. On top of that, Pinto is a very lively and energetic presenter, and it makes the whole watching experience more interesting. I especially liked that he opens the presentation with a subject that is often neglected, i.e. creating opportunities for attack. That is a conceptual subject that can be put to use via several approaches, such as stops, fakes, traps, distractions (VERY good treatise on some aspects here, i.e. how to throw the distracting objects for optimum effect), and footwork, as particularly noteworthy.

Next, the presentation covers 30 basic strikes of BIT curriculum, followed by how to work them on focus-mitts, again with some great insights here. From there, Pinto goes into kicks, partner drills and combinations, with more relevant pointers along the way.
The second DVD moves to the segment about the counters to opponent’s attacks, and later includes more kicks, basic joint manipulations and overall tactical concepts applicable across different physical tools.

It bears mentioning here that one of the high points of these videos is seeing the instructor demonstrates the curriculum against a much larger partner, thus giving more credibility to the material offered.

Nelson Pinto
With all of the above positive features in mind, the possible downsides might be the “home-made” vibe to the production, although both picture and sound quality are just fine, but it is not the professional studio and lighting setting. Personally, I like that the democratization of video instruction has provided the insight into so many people’s ways of work, but some may object, depending on their expectations. The same goes for another trait – Pinto often talks without facing the camera, but he is clearly heard and easy to understand nonetheless.

In conclusion, this is a very good set with good stuff on it, especially if you are looking for a fresh view and approach to some tried and proven material, so that working on it may be done with a new spark of interest. And that in my experience, is always a good thing. 

Thursday, December 20, 2018

More limits

This is sort of a continuation of the train of thought discussed in the previous post on constraints and affordances. Over there I talked most of all about various physical constraints in training, which should, hopefully, make us develop some desired skills and abilities that otherwise would be left underdeveloped.

Another approach to the same tool would be the selection of technical or/and tactical tools to be "banned" in drills or sparring sessions, so that the only desired responses would be elicited in trainees' performance. In this regard there are no limits to how you limit your options (yes, I wrote that deliberately), depending on what you are trying to achieve. Say, in a boxing session allow the use of hooks only (technical limitation), or just lateral footwork (tactical). In a grappling session allow only sweeps from guard (technical), or award points only for getting the opponents back (tactical).

Of course, the ideas and approaches from this and previous post can be combined according to needs and training goals, but you may include other insights as well, if that fits your purpose. The bottom line is - be aware and perceptive of the needs and possible shortcomings in your training, be selective with your criteria for adding one training method or another to your coaching toolbox, see if you can accomplish more by doing less in training, either by limiting stimuli or responses. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Through constraints to freedom

This may seem as a bit of a blast from the past, if you have been following this blog for a while. Namely, some years ago I addressed the issue of adaptability being one of the most important attributes of a good fighter, and what it meant, but this time I would like to address some of the more specific ways to approach this subject in your training. Now, what I am to offer may seem counter intuitive at the first glance, but it is a method of training that has been widely use for a long time and with good results, so bear with me.

If you read the linked article, you will see that I believe in a strong foundational skill set and then incessantly working on developing the ability to respond to the new challenges through exposure to specific situations and circumstances. In doing just that I have noted a natural tendency among the trainees, which in the long-term could hamper their progress in trying to accomplish this goal. What emerges as a typical reaction to such drills is the attempt to extract yourself from the challenging conditions and find the way, as soon as possible, to put your best game to use. An example would be working heavily on your positional escapes on the ground, so you can immediately get back on your feet and start striking the opponent. However, in the transition process you might miss on a number of opportunities to inflict some damage, either by blows or joint locks or whatever, somewhere between those basic situations, i.e. lying down and standing up.

So, how do we learn to recognize opportunities in this "grey area" ? In the coaching science there is a method termed constraints and affordances and it entails limiting the options that trainees have on disposal in dealing with the demands of the drill/situation. That way, they are forced to use other tools, specifically those that previously had not been fully developed and adopted. Here is how the above "transition" scenario is typically addressed in silat classes.

The constraints-led method, however, is not the exclusive domain of traditional/exotic martial arts. Here is the insight into how it could be applied in boxing, to improve the in-fighting prowess among the boxers who typically rely on their footwork and/or longer reach in regular sparring bouts or matches.

In grappling this approach is exemplified in starting all your rolling session from a certain position, the one that is your weak link, maybe spending entire training period doing that; in RBSD/combatives it may be working out of the cornered position; armed systems would stress the use of the "other" hand and so on.

The main challenge in this kind of work is having to face the inner voices that come from one's ego when being forced to step out of the comfort zone. Therefore, make sure to resist the urge to rationalize the weak performances and seek excuses for going back to your feel-good practices. The only way to make breakthroughs in your performance is to "embrace the suck" and keep your eyes on the prize. After all, it is better to suck and be frustrated in training than to suffer in an actual arena of combat, be it urban streets, military battlefield or sport tournament.