Well, I have to admit it’s fun keeping this journal going. Last night I decided to make a list of topics to write about, and in minutes I had a long list of ideas. Some overlap, providing different perspectives on things (like footwork, movement, grounding) while others are perhaps more distinct and maybe esoteric. There’s tons of “X and O” material I could get into, just pure technical analysis, so the question is picking and choosing what to write about next. Sometimes the broader context is important because it provides an analytic framework with which to understand the art.
What I write about is the Serrada system, because it’s what I know best, having taught it since 1986. I was trained not only in doing the art, but also in how to teach it. When I began studying with Angel Cabales, I was already teaching Kenpo in Oakland, Ca. Living in a different city than most of his other students, I needed to bring others into the art so I could have training partners to work with. I was also a bit older than most of his other students at the time, and as I was recovering from a motorcycle accident, dealing with certain physical disabilities (a dislocated shoulder). Thus the focus of my training incorporated the teaching component right from the start, and my students visited, trained with and were even certified by Angel, so I had lots of feedback on what I was doing and how to progress as an instructor.
Learning through my injury taught me patience, and it forced me to pay attention to minute details out of necessity. Angel knew how to use his entire body to work techniques, using core strength, compactness and efficiency. I couldn’t extend my right arm, which was a blessing in disguise. Watching Angel do Serrada, I saw movement I could emulate, and he worked with me to develop the resources I had available. As a result, my focus in this art has been on transmitting key principles, working more on unlocking the secrets of basic movement rather than creating an extensive library of techniques. As a teacher, I consider it my highest duty to give my students a good start. If they can understand WHY something is done a certain way, they will be analytical and self-correcting in HOW they do it. It’s a thoughtful approach, as opposed to just demonstrate-and-emulate. What I do isn’t unique, I just bring in those understandings early, so students don’t have to unlearn a lot of bad habits later.
Probably the biggest meta-message I give is “KISS,” which I explain as “Keep It Simple Serrada.” On a generic level, the majority of movement within Serrada can be found elsewhere, but on a specific level, Serrada has a wealth of detail and an incredible depth of development through attention to these. One has to believe in the efficacy of the approach and work at developing the attributes behind it to really do Serrada right. Some of these are awareness of centerline, using compact, efficient movement, having patience in timing. Serrada reminds me of old shoot-em-up movies, where defenders are told “Don’t shoot till you see the whites of their eyes!” People have a natural inclination to react early with big movements. Serrada teaches holding ones’ ground, letting an opponent come in. This borrows timing, ranging and power, but it takes discipline to make this work. I’m not talking the kind where you do lots of hard training to condition the body, but the mental kind. I’ve seen people who knew other Filipino arts come in and learn some Serrada techniques, or those who went on to learn other arts, but to me what they call Serrada often looks more like the other stuff than what I learned. Their stepping is wider, the centerline not as well defined or utilized, and this affects everything in the system, from check hands to choice of length of stick.
I have nothing against learning other arts; I’ve done plenty of that myself. On the other hand, I’ve heard from several sources (Angel, Cacoy Canete, etc) that each art has its own internal sense of timing its patterns, and what works internally does not always translate effectively into the movement of another system. Mixing and matching moves mindlessly creates what Angel called “spaghetti Escrima,” which is different than consciously changing tactics according to informed decision. I always say people should “know the difference between this and that” because otherwise they don’t know what is what and can’t use either as effectively.
The goal in my classes is to learn the basics, refine them, make them work. Be able to do the moves alone or flowing in “lock-and-block” (numerado) or sparring. Master the timing of the techniques and the angles from the ground up. Learn to make necessary adjustments and come back into basics seamlessly. This allows continuous movement in relationship to whatever needs to be countered. Once these principles have been learned, one can improvise, knowing how to recover from mistakes. People with solid Serrada basics can go into other arts or make their own moves, but when the pressure is on, they will instinctively revert to Serrada. Since this is very defense-dense movement, it’s a solid fall-back position one can rely upon and a good habit to have.