Saturday, September 24, 2011

Roger Agbulos: addendum

I have to admit that I am very happy about the reactions that have followed my previous post. However. it dawned on me, at one point, that maybe some of the readers would like to see how it all looks in action, so if you are one of those, check the following video clip, also edited and put together by yours truly.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Roger Agbulos - bridging the generation gap

With the unfortunate and premature death of Punong Guro Edgar Sulite, his Lameco system of eskrima seemed to have taken something of a back seat in the world of FMA. However, there have been some of his close students, members of what is know as Lameco SOG (Sulite Original Group) who have continued to train hard and tried to spread the knowledge of their beloved teacher.

SOG - the backyard days


One of those is guro Roger Agbulos, a true exponent of all the qualities that Lameco stands for. Even though the passing of PG Sulite has left his backyard group in sort of a vacuum, some of them have continued their training and research of the roots of Lameco. Guro Agbulos was one of those, and he turned to some of the predecessor styles of Lameco, specifically Eskrima De Campo JDC-IO, under professor Ireneo Olavides, and Ilustrisimo under the tutelage of late GM “Topher” Ricketts and GM Reynaldo Galang.

With late GM Christopher Ricketts


Through this training, guro Roger was able to develop a thorough understanding of the principles of edged and impact weapons combat, especially in the tradition of functional approach, as this striving for the functional means of fighting were installed in him during his formative years under PG Sulite. The constant effort to develop the best ways possible to deal with a weapon wielding attacker in the real time and under pressure lead to the dedicated and committed research and practice of techniques and principles that had shown to satisfy the criteria of functional performance in combat.

After a few years of such work, guro Agbulos has devised his own teaching progression and training methods, aimed to bring the trainee to the desired level of performance as quickly and efficiently as possible. Due to the nature of such working ethic in training, this system of teaching and training was named Astig Lameco, where astig is the Filipino word with the meaning of “hard core” or “diehard”. In the best tradition of his teachers, guro Agbulos has kept his focus on functional combative performance and has been teaching a group of students with the zeal to train in this manner, thus honoring the name of the system. However, despite the tough training and hard work, the atmosphere during the sessions and among the group members is familiar and relaxed, which in turn enables the students to ask questions and look for the answers, in order to bring their progress up to speed. Ultimately, although the work in Astig Lameco is focused on tried and tested principles that hold for the grand majority of situation that combat might present before its practitioners, it is still meant to be one’s own personal expression of those principles, in line with personal characteristics and requirements of the particular situation.


Essentially, Astig Lameco is a training methodology. Namely, in my view the main feature of this system are not its techniques as such, but rather the training method and learning progression that makes those techniques work in a real-time environment.

The Astig method uses pretty much the same techniques as many other FMA and other weapon-based combative schools, but instead of emphasizing the smorgasbord of possible technical maneuvers and combinations for their own sake, the accent is on the development of practitioners' personal physical attributes and proper MECHANICS of DELIVERY. In practice it means working on a limited number of tried and tested functional techniques in such a way that a trainee is able to develop an "internal", corporal understanding of the essence of those techniques, hence being able to use them under constantly changing environment of live combat. From that standpoint, one might say that the training methods of Astig Lameco are more in line with boxing than other, more traditional styles of martial arts.


As a result of this methodology, guro Roger is sought after in those martial art circles where a functional and readily applicable ability in weapons use is required, so he has been providing consulting and advisory services in various combative circles, among the reality-oriented schools and methods (KAPAP, BASH etc).    

With Avi Nardia and Albert Timen of KAPAP

Besides excellent training methods, guro Agbulos has also worked out an equally good teaching progression. Unlike with many schools where the technical material is presented and demonstrated, more or less randomly, rather than actually taught to their students in a systematic and meaningful fashion, in Astig Lameco the material is actually presented in a unique order – according to the chronological needs of the trainee. Namely, when one wishes to learn about combat (and not theatrical versions of it), he or she needs to learn some things in certain order. The first thing you need to be able and do is get out of the harms way, when on defense, and actually reach and inflict damage on your opponent, when on offense – hence the need for solid footwork, and a stance that enables most efficient delivery of that aspect.


 Next in order, you need some tools to use on your opponent, so basic striking angles are taught, either with a stick or a knife. At this point, another landmark of Astig comes in, i.e. the approach according to which the offense and defense are really one and the same. Namely, guro Roger teaches us to make our opponent feel the pressure even when attacking himself, which in turn is achieved by using our striking to defend, but it is only possible with well-developed footwork. Really nice thing about guro Roger’s progression is that each block of material acts as a foundation for the next one, thus making it easier to acquire and apply, if worked on diligently. 
Sparring is a regular part of training sessions

With his unique dedication to preserving the true nature of the FMA legacy and enjoyable personality, supported by the excellent teaching methodology, it is no wonder that guro Roger Agbulos is getting rave reviews of his seminars and workshops. It is therefore no wonder that his Astig Lameco is spreading, so currently, besides the central school in Los Angeles, one can find chapters in Texas, Canada, Philippines, Central America and Europe. If you ever get a chance of joining the training of Astig Lameco, jump on the opportunity, you won’t be disappointed. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Book review: Jogo do Pau - The Ancient Art and Modern Science of Portuguese Stick Fighting

Over the past 23 years that I have been actively involved with martial arts (never as a professional, but most of it as a full-time practitioner), and some thing of a book lover alongside, the number of books relating to various aspects of martial arts that have passed through my hands are innumerable. Many of them were good, many not really, but a few have proven to be excellent. It means either extraordinary in their attention to the fullest possible coverage of a more or less narrow subject, or outstanding in the completeness of their treatment of a subject.

Luis Preto’s Book “Jogo do Pau – The Ancient Art and Modern Science of Portuguese Stick Fighting” falls in the latter category. Since the first reading of the book (and I still read it regularly, at least couple of times a year), I was very impressed with Mr. Preto’s clear and well thought out presentation of the material in the book. Sure, his expertise in the subject is unquestionable, and his enthusiasm and love for the art he practices/teaches is almost radiating from the manual itself, but there are other authors like that, too. In my view, the thing that makes Preto stand out is his craft in intertwining all the various aspects of Jogo do Pau and making them flow really well in his presentation.

The book is divided into three sections, each with several chapters:
Part I - History and some technical notions, i.e. terminology and gear used in practice.
Part II - The “meat” of the manual, explaining the techniques and strategies/tactics of this approach to fighting. The chapter on Single Combat is brilliant and offers excellent advice with regards to tactical preparation and understanding of any combative encounter, regardless of the martial art you practice, but especially pertinent to any armed method.
Part III - Covers the author’s approach to training methodology, based on his extensive study of modern training science. It is this segment of the book where Preto really shines. He pulls no punches in criticizing the outdated and inferior training methods (but never for the sake of being rude). On the other hand, his arguments in favor of the methods he offers are rock solid and well explained. It is also this particular section of the book that I believe is a must-read for everybody seriously interested in training martial arts, especially so if you plan to teach as well.

                                                     Luis Preto with his teacher Nuno Russo

Mr. Preto has somehow managed to cram a lot of excellent instruction in this manual, and cover a lot of ground – technical, physical, mental/psychological. Still, everything is composed and illustrated so well, that it all fits together superbly. As a result, you don’t get the feel that corners have been cut in some parts, in order to make other ones more fully explained. Another thing that I was stunned with in the end is that all this has been achieved in a book that spans barely over 200 pages in volume! A true miracle, if you ask me.

In conclusion, this is not the perfect book on martial arts, but it is the one closes to the optimal I have found so far. I am not going to say that it “belongs to every martial artist’s library”, because it really does not belong to a bookshelf – instead it should be in your training bag or always on your reading peace of furniture. It really is a practical manual, in the best sense of that word, and so you should use it. I did and I am glad to have done so. Today, my training and even more so teaching is largely influenced by the material from this book.

It is worth saying that Mr. Preto has recently started out a series of books on individual subjects in martial art training and I am looking forwards to reading to those as well eventually. The one I will dare recommending even without seeing it first (yep, that confident!) to everybody reading this review is his book of progression in training, i.e. “How to Sequence the Teaching of Technique and Tactics”.


With my next post I will start reviewing various martial art products and events, so a few words about it are due in advance. Being utterly uninterested in the materials that offer little value and adequate information, my reviews will be covering only the material I find recommendable. It means no bashing and thrash-talking about certain products (even if well deserved), simply because it will be a waste of time. However there MIGHT be two exceptions to this rule: 1. if particularly requested by at least a few of the blog readers; and 2. if I feel it is specially important to warn about the crappy "quality" of the subject at hand.

That said, if something is not reviewed here, it does not necessarily mean I consider it unworthy, but may simply be the matter of time constraints (not getting to it yet) or that I do not have it for consideration.

With the ground rules set - see you all in my next post!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What do I want out of it...

In the light of my previous post, I guess that some of my handful of readers might ask: “What do you look for in a martial art”? It is a fair question, especially since those criteria will have major impact on all of my future articles, rants and reviews that will hopefully appear here.

Before going into more detail about my own preferences, there is one thing that, I believe, has to be present in any case, i.e. whichever of the previously mentioned motives you have to join a martial art group. Consistency is what will be the decisive factor in my decision to either go for something, or just skip it. By consistency I mean the inner logic of the fighting system at hand – the coherency of its ideas, concepts and principles. There really should not be any colliding and/or opposing principles in a martial art, otherwise it would be confusing for the students and probably ineffective in its desired combative goal.

In traditional martial arts and systems, if the instructor is offering contradictory advice it usually means that he or she does not really have a full grasp of what they are doing, so maybe they should reconsider being an instructor in the first place, or at least the curriculum they are teaching. One thing is for sure – you should be reconsidering continuing your training in that environment and with such an instructor.

When any of the modern and new, especially eclectic methods are at issue, it could be one of the two things: one, the system itself is not worked out properly; two, the instructor is inadequate, just like with the traditional school. Of course, some of these modern schools are still very much work in progress, so if the leader/founder/creator is an able performer and can even teach the technical part of the material well, maybe he is just still looking for the right way to organize his teaching, hence the occurrence of “gray areas”. If so, it might be worth staying around and seeing the whole thing grow…or move on, if your needs are more pressing and urgent. Ultimately, it is your choice.

OK, so we come to my own criteria. Essentially, I am sort of a martial art junky, so it is possible to see me doing various things for various reasons (again, see my previous article), but there are still come common denominators that I will seek. For starters, healthy atmosphere is a big thing. While I could sometimes learn somewhere despite the instructor’s deviated personality, rotten relations among the practitioners etc, it is bound to be short-lived, even if the technical material itself is good.

Secondly, good training method is also held in high regard. It means that if having to choose between a great master in performance, but utterly unable to teach, and just a solid guy who has good training methods with consistent results, I will end up with the latter. Training methodology is a big thing in my book, so I will not settle for those who refuse to improve on their work due to laziness, ignorance, insecurity, ego and other personal reasons that only hinder their students’ growth. All that said, sometimes there are those master performers who do not even care to teach others. When stumbling across one of those, I will try to glean as much as I can and then attempt to organize the knowledge on my own, while maybe even finding some adequate training methods myself along the way.

Next, I prefer teachers/coaches who do their best to explain what they do in the simplest and most understandable way possible, in opposition with those who reach for pseudo-philosophy and mystical quasi-explanations to actually keep their students in the dark.

 Naturally, sometimes those of higher education will use the terminology that could throw off some of the inexperienced students, but if it is in the function of making the instruction more focused and dense, I am all for it…and the students should take additional effort to understand. Warning notice is due, however. Some people will just use big words and gobbledygook for the sake of sounding smarter, while actually saying nothing of substance so beware of those. See, you should have paid attention in school – it would have been easier to discern between the two kinds.

Finally, whichever art I might choose to get involved with, has to contain some direct combative value and relevance. Ideally, it should offer a good balance of effectiveness and efficiency, because the former will make the goal clearer, while the latter will keep me challenged and stimulate me to stay with it for longer periods of time. Now, my personal preference is that the direct combat applications need not be spoon fed and all laid down for me. In my experience, if I have to work on my own on interpreting things and exploring the possibilities, the findings tend to stay with me more readily and with quicker integration into my toolbox.

In the end, currently my longest lasting “love affairs” in martial arts are the systems of South East Asia (Filipino, Indonesian, Thai) and western methods (Russian Systema, fencing and MMA). That said, I am always trying new things out with an open mind, but at the moment, these form the lion’s share of my interest and research.