As we head into the New Year, it’s traditional to reflect back on the previous year and make resolutions for the new one. I’ve never been one to stand too firmly on formalities, but sometimes the shoe fits, so here’s my personal snapshot through the lens of FMA.
The one constant in our universe is change, which is always flowing. We perceive this as time, but it isn’t always a constant. Ancient Greeks divided time into chronos and kairos, regular and sacred time. The former is the physical measure; the latter is metaphysical perception, defined more by the internal meaning of events. We experience this in a myriad of ways. Sometimes the current is slow, as in periods of recovery or rebuilding strength. Other times it seems to rush by, sweeping us unpredictably, while still other times we sense a measured pace towards a firmly held purpose.
This past year held significant events, the seeds of which are just starting to germinate. These relate to the ascension of a new generation of masters in the arts and the energy that they bring.
There were two losses that touched me in particular, George Brewster back in Massachusetts and Sonny Umpad out here in California. Mr. Brewster I only knew by email and phone, but he struck me as a gentleman of the old school: polite, knowledgeable, and experienced. The same can be said of Sonny. These men contributed not just skill but style, as in how they lived their lives. Both left successors who, by the very nature of attraction, exhibit many of the qualities of the men they chose as teachers.
Change often begets confusion, even under good circumstances. It is said that wise people learn from the mistakes of others, so perhaps here is a chance for some of us to learn from each other, both the new from the old, and the old from the new.
2006 marked the 15th year since the passing of grandmaster Angel Cabales, and the 5th year since that of grandmaster Remy Presas. There often seem to be patterns that follow the death of an influential or charismatic leader, and this is true of social groups from sewing clubs to nations. Serrada feels like it has found some equilibrium, while Modern Arnis is perhaps still earlier in the process.
Unless there are clear instructions for successorship, which are supported by a strong consensus, those close to the old source of power vie in competition to fill the vacuum at the top. Like the blind men describing different parts of an elephant, this can be perceived variously.
There are those who lay claim to the old power structure, and there are those who break away or innovate to validate their own creative impulses. Much has been said about the merits or demerits of either proposition, but Angel Cabales said it often and well with the words “The people will decide!” He recognized that there would always be competition to be “the best” and success or recognition would ultimately go to those who proved their value within their community.
When groups splinter, there is usually a strong emotional charge as people choose sides. Sometimes this creates rivalries that last for generations, but this isn’t necessary. New wounds are felt the strongest, but then there is healing as time (chronos) reinstates the illusion of stability. Young masters mature through life experience and come to value different perspectives.
Perhaps it is because we live in a time of interconnected worldwide transportation and communication that we might be more able to evolve past limited perspectives. We are aware of so much going on the world, we can see how small our own niches are compared to the whole, and how much potential there is for growth if we focus on resources we haven’t tapped, rather than fighting over the scraps that we have.
2006 was a year of coming together, particularly here in NorCal. Serrada had its most significant gathering since Angel died, and Sonny’s students came together to support him and begin carrying forth that art. Thanks to Alex France, those of us here in the Bay Area were treated to a rare series of seminars by visiting masters and grandmasters. Finally and significantly, a major new venue for showcasing the FMA opened up through the USFMA Federation, which was organized as the sponsor to incorporate Filipino martial arts into the annual Disney World Festival of Martial arts.
All of these events show the positive energy that is created when people come together. If we want to see the FMA grow in popularity, and to see schools and teachers doing well, we have to continue to put in energy and support the arts. After all, we, the participants, ARE the art. It only exists through us, so here is what I’d like to see people do: Support FMA events!
Attend seminars! This doesn’t mean you necessarily want to learn a whole new system or that you are being disloyal to your teacher. It’s a chance to see how others do similar things, and what is different. If I get one good idea at a seminar, it’s good for a lifetime. Diamond hunters don’t expect a rare gem every day and knowledge can be like that too. Even if I don’t add new techniques, I can add understanding of what others do and how they train, and of course there could be other people attending the seminar with whom to connect as well.
Now, I’ve been to seminars where only a few others came, which is their loss, not mine. Some seminars have even been cancelled. This is a shame, reflecting more on the community than on those offering the event. It is as though the arts are held in such low regard that there isn’t enough interest to even see what is offered. If people don’t support seminars, they won’t get them, and then the alternatives are either to travel ourselves to distant schools or to insulate ourselves in our own groups.
Tournaments! Now I know not everyone likes these, but there are many reasons to attend even if you don’t compete. First, where else are you going to find as many people who share your passion for these arts? I remember men like Angel Cabales, Sonny Umpad and others standing together, talking and watching, back in San Jose in 1988. The founders of the Dog Brothers began to germinate their ideas that day. In 1989 WEKAF was founded, first bringing together many styles from different countries. If you go to major events, you get to see, meet and interact with folks you might never otherwise encounter. Those opportunities are rare and valuable! I can’t stress that enough.
For those who do compete, there are other reasons. Competition is a chance to test yourself, to see what you’ve learned and what still needs further polish. The element of stress changes things, whether fear or excitement. Fighting new opponents without the safety net of predictability is as close to real fighting as many will experience. Win or lose in the judge’s eyes, the chance to learn something is always a win-win opportunity.
For more than 20 years I’ve heard the FMA called “the next big thing.” Now we have the chance to show that we have grown, and only we can show that it’s truly our time to be recognized in our own right as a powerful force within the martial art community. If you’ve never been to a tournament, the time is now, and if you have, your continued support is urged. The first major USFMAF event is the national qualifier Feb. 3-4 in Anaheim, Ca., with seminars on Saturday and competition on Sunday.
ESPN2 covers these events. I watched the demonstrations posted online from the Disney national championships in Florida this past October. Darren Tibon took a demo squad to give a preview of FMA for the next tournament. Their performance (about 1hr 21 minutes into the show), following a number of demonstrations by various champions, was stunning in its intensity. The announcers clearly were impressed, suddenly re-energized towards the end of a long day and evening. The authenticity of our arts is what first attracted me, and that was the impression I saw in the faces of those announcers. It is what we, as a whole, have a chance to bring and showcase to the world. The benefits down the road come to all of us if through our efforts and enthusiasm we attract more people to train seriously in our arts.
The USFMAF is not about any one style; all are welcome and encouraged to participate. It is not competing against other organizations; there are WEKAF members who are proudly supporting this new effort to promote the arts. Show up. Bring friends and classmates. Learn, have fun, make friends. You will grow in the art, and the art will grow in you, and through you.
Most folks reading this are avid FMA’ers, but whatever you do, I’d encourage you to find and follow your passion this year, to make it one of personal growth. Through our efforts we become the change we wish to see. This is true of us as individuals, and it is multiplied through the power of working together. Remember that beyond our style, our lineage, our allegiances, we are connected through common goals, and beyond that, our humanity.