Insights and Training Tips from Tactical Arts


Insights from the Tactical Arts Academy

Top 10 Tips for Learning Kali, Escrima, and Arnis


In more than 20 years of teaching the Filipino Martial Arts, I have seen many students grow from a fresh beginner into a solid intermediate student, then a seasoned advanced student and some on to instructor ranks. Because of this experience, I have been able to observe several trends in the growth a student in the Filipino Martial Arts. I have seen students go through various stages of learning, develop habits that support growth, and navigate life’s obstacles along the way.

Through this, I have been able to determine what key factors result in the long term success of my students. When I start training a new student, I try to set him up for success not just in the short term, but for things that he will need years later in his training. This article includes a list of tips related to those factors. Many of the tips below are common sense, but they are all important. Most of them pertain to pursuing quality training, but some include things like mindset and study habits.

1. Find a good teacher and follow the advice of that teacher.

Do whatever it takes to find a good teacher. A good instructor will take you on an efficient path for learning that will save you years of time. A good teacher will help you avoid developing bad habits. A teacher will also give you coaching and feedback. It is very difficult to identify what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong without someone with experience to help you.

Most of your training time will likely be done alone, and you can use video, notes and books to help you develop, but a good teacher is critical for learning. Fly, drive, walk, save, beg - do what you need to do to get time with a teacher. An ongoing class is great for consistent growth and feedback, but you can also learn by taking occasional lessons with a teacher and working hard on your own.


2. Train Regularly

The key to progress in learning Kali is consistency. Go to class often. Practice at home frequently. Visit your teacher on a regular basis. Several short, focused training sessions are often better than one marathon training session every once in a while.

After your training, associations related to your skill development are processed in your brain when you sleep. Multiple training sessions, with sleep in between, will build more sound and complete associations in your brain. The process of touching on your skills over multiple sessions will help you refine and correct your movement and build a deep understanding because your mind has had more opportunities to process your learning.

Unfortunately, your skills will degrade over time. If you wait too long between sessions, you may backslide and lose progress that you worked hard to gain. To keep moving forward, you must practice often. To avoid losing the edge on your skills, and just maintain what you have, you still need to practice even after you have learned something.

3. Practice outside of class.

Don’t rely on class time alone to develop your skills. Your time in class or with your instructor is for starting new skills, progress checkups, fine tuning current skills, getting feedback, coaching, and training guidance. After that, you must do your homework. Set a reasonable, weekly practice schedule that you can maintain and stick to it. You don’t need a lot of time. Even with 15 minutes, you can to practice one or two things.

Invite your training partners to meet and review the material you both are learning. Time with a partner is essential in the Filipino martial arts. Not only can you practice the drills that require another person, but also you have more minds helping you analyze the material. You will grow faster when you have the insights of others supporting your own study. They will see things you do not see, and they will help you explore your own thoughts about the techniques and drills you are practicing.

4. Review the basics often.

In the filipino martial arts, one set of movements has many applications, so spend a lot of time training, refining, and reviewing those movements. These are things like triangular footwork, basic strikes, combinations, and counters like umbrellas and other basic counterstrikes. Typically these movements are fundamental skills, those upon which your advanced skills depend. Without being competent in the fundamentals you cannot perform more advanced techniques.

To keep your fundamental skills from degrading, practice them often. Incorporate them into your warmups. Take time to review the details and see if there is anything you can improve about them. This will make you better. Because many techniques rely on those fundamentals, just one improvement in the fundamentals will result in improvements in many of your other skills.

5. Swing your sticks and hit tires, a lot.

Practice your striking frequently. Mastering a skill can take a long time, but if you can practice it more often, in a shorter period of time, you will progress faster. For example, instead of practicing once a week, practice once a day. The mileage may be the same, but you will get there sooner. Also, instead of practicing a striking combination 100 times in a session, practice it 500 times. Not only will you have the opportunity to make more refinements in one session, but also you will build more muscle memory, develop stamina, and even endurance as you do it.

Hit tires with your sticks. By hitting tires, you will learn to hit harder and you will develop your grip at the same time. If you pay attention to the results you get from hitting the tire each time, you will understand how to generate more power with better body mechanics. As your arm gets tired, your body will find more effective mechanics for hitting hard without the force generated solely by your arm.

6. Pursue fitness and good health.

Make your body and asset, not a liability. Your body must be ready to perform, it should not impose limitations on your ability to apply your skills. Workout. Develop strength, power, and endurance with a mix of strength training and metabolic conditioning. You need to get stronger in order to hit harder and move faster. Focus on exercise that is short and intense. Stretch and learn what it takes to help your body recover. Training hard in the Filipino Martial Arts may give you some exercise, but it is not enough for well rounded fitness.

Eat right. Help your body and mind thrive. Learning requires a clear mind and good fuel. The right nutrition will help you with that. Just because you can function while eating poorly now, does not mean that you are getting away with it long term. If you are learning the Filipino martial arts for self defense, then you should also recognize that things like heart disease and diabetes are also threats to your life.

If you are looking for way to learn and move faster, and be better at almost anything else you do, including the Filipino martial arts, then investing in your health is a great place to start.

7. As you progress, include increasingly challenging reaction and sparring drills in your training.

You need to be challenged and practice at the threshold of your abilities in order to get better. Drills that progressively allow you to improve your performance under stress will prepare you for application.

Just remember, you cannot go from 0 to 100 miles per hour and expect your skills to be proficient. Make sure you have a basic command of the fundamentals before you include reaction drills and sparring drills into your training. Your movements need to have enough muscle memory behind them so that they will not completely degrade when you are distracted by additional variables and pressures from the drill.

Start simple, then gradually add more pressure (more speed, additional angles of attack or other variables) as long as you continue to see your performance improve. If you cannot get the technique right about 60- 80 percent of the time, while under pressure, then you may need to turn the intensity down a bit, until you can. As you get better, you can turn up the intensity, but keep the success rate the same. Training in this manner will improve your competency under pressure and minimize frustration along the way.

Incorporate sparring after you have worked on other preparatory drills that pressure you. I have often found that when students start sparring too soon, they usually do not have the skills needed to get the most out of sparring and they tend to develop bad habits that are hard to break. Don’t get caught in that pitfall. Work up to open sparring progressively while monitoring your success.

8. Develop the mindset you need to be successful.

There is a lot to developing a winning mindset, but the right mindset will make a huge difference in your progress. Develop a love for the struggle it takes to make yourself better. Be patient. Improvements don’t always come at a steady pace. You will likely hit plateaus along the way. Don’t be discouraged. It’s normal.

Don’t settle for good enough. Work on your weaknesses. Don’t ignore them. Make them your new strengths.

Be tenacious. Issues with time, finances, injuries, life, will get in the way of your training. Find a way to keep going. Overcome obstacles that get in your way.

Keep an open mind. You must continue to grow, no matter how skilled you are. Just because you have seen a technique or drill before does not mean there is nothing left to learn. It should be fun to learn something new, or find an opportunity to get better at something you already know.

Find a way to enjoy the process. If you cannot find a way to be excited about training itself, it will be hard to keep going.

9. Set goals.

Most of us have long term goals, but we often need some smaller goals to help us continue moving in the right direction and staying focused. Identify your big goals like "master the art," "become an instructor" or just "be badass,” then figure out some short term goals that will help you get there. Having goals that you can attain in one session, one week, one month, and one year allow you to see success along the way to your big goal. It not only feels good, but it will keep you motivated and let you zero in on what is important for you to be doing now.

Use visualization to help you get there. If you can see your goals more clearly, then you will reach them more easily. Define your goals by writing them out, visualizing what they will look like, and imagining how you will feel when you reach them. This may include things like being able to react to basic attacks without thinking, being able to strike continuously without pausing between combinations, or feeling like your body is acting independent of your conscious mind. The more vivid your vision, the more likely you are to get there. You can model yourself after your instructor or someone who’s skill you admire.

10. Keep a journal of your training.

Write down what you learn. At first, it feels as though you will never forget what you learned, but after a while, the details fade. After many years, you may have developed a lot of skill, but you will have forgotten many of the drills and tools that got you there.

If you ever decide to teach, a notebook with all your training drills recorded is invaluable. Even if you never plan to teach, a journal with the various drills and techniques you have learned will be very useful for review and refinement as you brush up on previously studied skills. Advanced skills usually depend on good fundamentals. Sometimes getting better at an advanced level is just improving your basics.

In your journal, you can record your goals, log your training sessions, and note what you plan to focus on in your training. Adding your thoughts to each of these will help you keep on track and make regular progress.

Follow the 10 tips above for learning Kali, Escrima, and Arnis above and you will be very successful. Talent in the Filipino Martial arts is developed through good training. Focus on your training and you will reach any goal you set.

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