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25 Tips and Ideas for Solo Training in Kali, Arnis, and Escrima

Posted by Tuhon Leslie L. Buck, Jr. on

Right now, we are all craving the opportunity to train, but our options right now are limited with the shelter-in-place orders issued to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Unless you are lucky enough to have a family member or roommate who is also a training partner, you are probably training alone.

Training solo is very important for overall skill development, but sometimes it gets stale. Below are roughly 25 tips and ideas for your next solo training session.

Coordination

Coordination is the low hanging fruit here. It is very well suited for solo training. Here are a few tips and ideas for coordination training:

1. Get really deep in the analysis of your movement and refine the tiny details of your striking, blade edge control, body movement, etc. Observe the small details that add up to make your coordination more refined. Start with the movements that are the most important for your training or those you struggle with the most.

2. Practice specific strikes, combinations, and patterns. Use repetition to find nuances in the movement, decide if you want to change anything, and put in more repetition embedding that change in your movement pattern. Don’t just go with whatever comes out at the moment. Pick the specific things that you want to improve and work on them. After you you are happy with the results, pick something else and focus on that. Instead of trying to improve everything a little, improve a few things a lot.

3. Practice by striking in the air and by hitting a tire or striking dummy. Striking in the air is the starting point for your coordination and good for warming up. However, the whole purpose of your training is to actually hit something, so make sure you include striking a target in your practice. The way you control the strike is very different when you have to adjust to the impact of hitting a target. There are a lot of opportunities to learn something with this. You can fine tune how hard you are hitting, how well you control the your weapon during and after impact, and how smoothly you can transition to the next strike.

4. Go slow and go fast. Go slow to make your movement smooth and go faster to see how well you can maintain good form when moving at a higher speed. Moving slowly will allow you to observe your movement better and be more thorough in how you program every nuance of your movement. Going faster will help you acclimate to more realistic speeds and see where your form breaks down. Practice both ways.

5. Work on coordination for your non-dominant hand. Most of us only have two arms, but somehow we have neglected one of them our entire lives. If one hand is already coordinated, frequently compare the same strike or movement with one hand to the other. You can do this by alternating sides frequently with a single stick or weapon. This approach will help you analyze your movement better while helping you get a more clear mental image of how the movement should look and feel. Double sticks are great for coordination with both hands, but you also need to practice with a single weapon in your non-dominant hand.

6. Develop your ability to strike and use your footwork at the same time. You want to be able to hit and move, not just hit or move. You can practice both striking and footwork individually, then add them together.

7. Free flow. In addition to getting repetition for very specific strikes and combinations, you should learn how to transition to and from many different strikes and patterns. When doing this, try to strike in combinations of strikes, instead of just using a succession of individual strikes. Make your movement continuous. Don’t stop and reset. With this exercise, it is ok to explore various strikes or movements and just see what comes out.

8. Shadow spar. Imagine your opponent, and visualize specific targets on that opponent. Don’t just swing in the air with no thought about what you are hitting. Hit the target that you see in your imagination. Also, aim for a variety of targets. Hit high. Hit low. Hit the head. Hit the hands. Hit the elbows. Hit the knees. Etc. Use a variety of strikes including jabs, power strikes, uppercuts, thrusts, slashes, witiks, floretes, etc. Even though this is more of an open flow where you imagine your opponent moving realisticly, don’t be afraid to repeat the same strikes and combinations to make improvements. Repetition is good for smoothing out transitions and combinations.

For more on developing coordination, see some of our other articles here at Kali Gear:

How to Improve your Coordination for Kali and Silat

Do More Now - Faster Skill Development for Kali, Escrima, Arnis

Mastering the Mechanics - How to Get Results when Learning Filipino Kali - Part 

Fitness

Athletes develop fitness so that they are better at their chosen sport. Soldiers develop fitness so that they can endure the rigors of their work. Whether you train the Filipino martial arts for fun or for defense, being more fit will allow you to perform better and make you less prone to injury. Fitness is also an aspect you can easily develop on your own.

1. Work on your general strength. Being able to move quickly and hit hard are abilities that will improve your Kali. You can improve your speed and your power by getting stronger. By being able to generate more force, you will have the potential to hit harder and move faster. If you do not already, follow a strength training program suitable for athletes, so that you can perform better when training and applying Kali. I am not talking about exercises that are specific to Kali, I am referring to a proven strength program for general physical preparedness. After even just a few weeks, you will find you are moving faster and hitting harder.

2. Work on your conditioning. Develop your conditioning so that you can train and apply Kali without running out of gas. This includes regular conditioning exercise such as running, calisthenics, HIIT, etc. This can also include more kali specific work. Work Kali into an exercise circuit. You can include footwork, striking, and other simple movements. I like combining strikes on the tire with things like sit-ups, and pushups in a repeating circuit of 8-10 minutes. I often do 20 strikes with each hand, then 10 sit-ups followed by 5-10 pushups. Just pick a simple combination or some very basic strikes that you can repeat with good form at high speed. Hit hard, don’t save yourself for the end. For extra credit, try training with your sparring gear on. You will learn the limitations of your gear, get more of a workout, and be comfortable in your gear the next time you spar your training partners.

With any fitness routine, get instruction on the proper way to approach fitness and do the exercises, so you don’t get hurt or waste your time. For more on training fitness and Kali, read our article: Fundamentals of Strength and Conditioning for the Filipino Martial Arts.

Speed and Reaction

Though you may not be able to develop speed and reaction with the necessary partner drills, you can still develop your speed and your reaction time while training alone.

1. Develop your speed with a par timer. A par timer an excellent tool for developing speed with movement. A par timer is set to beep once for the start of a time interval, then again after a set amount of time. The way you use it, is to start moving when the first beep begins. You then try to complete your technique or movement before the second beep. The advantage of a par timer is that you can set it to tenths of a second, so that you can push yourself at the limits of your capabilities. You will have to be honest with yourself about finishing on time and maintaining form. You can record yourself with video to make sure you are happy with the movement. If you do not have or want to buy a par timer, you can use a par timer / shot timer app or even a metronome or metronome app the same way.

2. Develop your reaction time with a par timer. Par timers can also be set to have a random start interval. If you use the random start option, you will not be able to anticipate the time the first beep will sound. You will truly have to react. To do this, you set the timer to random start. You will then push that start button and wait for the beep. The range of time for the random start can be set so that you do not have to wait too long for the beep.

3. Use a video or an audio recording for developing reaction. You can get creative and setup a trigger stimulus for your reaction training. For example: When a movie or television show is edited, the camera angle changes frequently. You can use that change in the TV camera angle as a stimulus to cue your reaction. You can also use an audio source for your reaction training. I used to record cues on a cassette tape, then play it back and react to the commands. You just have to make sure you change it up or make it long enough so that you do not memorize the timing of the cues.

Though these methods above do not have you training reaction with the actual cue you will use when sparring or fighting, they will still help you improve your reaction time. For more about reaction training take a look at the articles below. Though they are mostly geared for partner training, they may help you get some ideas for training in the future.

Reaction Training for Filipino Kali

Learning to React - How to Get Results when Learning Filipino Kali - Part 2

Flexibility, Joint Health, and Injury Prevention

Spend some time working on flexibility, joint health, and injury prevention. Flexibility and mobility can reduce your chance of injury, and it can even give you more options for the techniques that you use.

1. Develop a good warmup routine, and do it before you train or stretch. Warmup your joints and tissue with some light movement. This may include slow strikes with the stick, swinging and rotating your arms or some light calisthenics. You want to get your body temperature up with some light cardiovascular exercise and get your muscles and joints ready for more intense activity. Do this every time you train.

2. Develop general body flexibility. Learn to stretch and mobilize your arms, shoulders, legs and hips. You probably learned the basics of this in your middle school P.E. class. There are many more resources both in print and online for you now. Learn the purpose for each stretch so that you can be sure you do not overlook important joints or muscle groups. Incorporate both static and dynamic stretching as well as mobility exercise for problem areas.

3. Develop flexibility, specifically for the Filipino martial arts. Flexibility in your wrist and shoulders will help you with striking mechanics and precision. Flexibility for the Filipino martial arts includes stretching that targets the wrists and the shoulders. This can often be done both with and without the assistance of your stick. Stretches range from static wrist stretches flexing and extending the wrist as well as dynamic stretches using rotations such as witiks and floretes. Just be sure not to overdo this. Stretching with the use of momentum can go too far if you use too much force or your body is simply not ready for that intense of a stretch.

4. Incorporate injury prevention / pre-hab exercises into your routine. Tennis elbow, lateral epicondylitis, is pretty common in Kali. This can be caused by lots of rotational striking work, such as florete strikes, that causes the wrist to bend and then straighten under force. When you overuse your forearm muscles to straighten your wrist and maintain control, you can develop this issue. If you incorporate a good warmup and a few exercises into your routine before you have an issue, then you may be able to prevent it. Pre-hab includes stretching and strengthening your joints to help prevent overuse injuries. Do some research and get the advice of a doctor or physical therapist to make sure what you are doing is appropriate and with correct form or you may actually cause an issue.

Remember: Injury prevention is important. As someone who has battled many overuse injuries, I highly recommend you take preventative measures against injury and take the proper steps to recover when you are starting to develop one. There are many articles and videos online that address exercises you can do to help you address tennis (Kali) elbow. A quick search will give you plenty of resources.

Self-Evaluation and Feedback

To make improvements, we need to observe the result of our efforts and make adjustments. This includes self-evaluation and feedback from others. Both are very important.

1. Keep a training log. Track what you are doing and what you need to work on in your log. After each session, record what you did well and what you need to spend time developing. Describe the improvements and details about the issues you need to correct. Plan what you want to improve in future sessions. Write a note to yourself so that when you practice again, you will know what you need to work on. This way you can get started right away and not waste any time trying to figure out what to do. A training log will help you direct your training and evaluate what you are doing. Sometimes the act of putting your thoughts to words will help you think more clearly.

2. Set goals for your training and record your progress. Set some short term goals, and be sure to identify how you will know when you have reached them. If you are working on your conditioning and muscular endurance specific to Kali, this could be a certain number of strikes in a time limit. If you are working on coordination and this could be completing a combination with good form, ten times in a row. You could do the same thing with accuracy practice. Try to hit a very specific target or targets on your tire / training dummy ten times in a row using a particular combination. By setting goals and recording your progress, you will have more useful information to evaluate, and you will quickly see what you should spend more time doing in your training sessions.

3. Record yourself on video for self evaluation. Watch yourself to see both what you are doing right and wrong. Use that information to adjust what you are doing. Use it to tailor your training to address anything you want to improve or make more consistent. Look to see if all your movements have correct form and detailed nuances that you want to see. Record yourself moving slowly and moving quickly. The faster you go, the more flaws you are likely to find. Also, instead of recording one long video that you will review one day in the future, it’s better to record yourself periodically during a session, review it and make adjustments right away, during that same session. As an added benefit, when you learn to see the weaknesses in your movement, you will develop the ability to see weaknesses in your opponents.

4. Record yourself on video and get feedback from others. Your instructors, your training partners, and your peers will see things that you do not see. Their feedback is invaluable for your progression. You can easily record yourself and upload it to a private channel on youtube, dropbox, or elsewhere online for someone else to critique. It will help if you explain what you are trying to accomplish so that the feedback will be directed towards your goals. Be sure to give them video of the good, bad, and the ugly, not just what gets you praise. Get a tripod and an attachment that will hold your phone. It’s worth it. Record very short clips with 3- 5 repetitions so they are easy to review. Be graceful when you receive feedback, and be open to feedback that is outside of what you requested.

Knowledge

You are putting a lot of energy and work into learning the art. Make sure you also know something about it. Learn about the history and culture behind it. In addition to training, spend some time studying and researching the Filipino martial arts and the Philippines.

1. Study your art and topics that relate to the style that you train. Read any information available about your specific style. Ask your teacher. Ask other teachers. Memorize vocabulary, think about the concepts, and learn relevant facts about the history and culture behind your particular style and the Filipino martial arts in general. This will make you a good representative of the art.

2. Read about the history of the Philippines. There is some really cool stuff in the rich history of the Philippines! Start with things related to the martial arts and branch out from there. Read about the Maharlikas prior to the Spanish occupation. Look up the story of Datu Lapu Lapu. Read about bloody fights in the Moro Wars. Look up the Battle of Bud Bagsak. Learn about the history of the .45 caliber Colt model 1911 as it relates to the Philippines. Read about the national heroes such as Rizal, Bonifacio, Aguinaldo and many more. Look for historical sources from the Philippines, not just the U.S. or Spain.

3. Study the culture of the Philippines. There is so much. Learn about the various tribes, languages, and belief systems. Check out the many different types of weapons, artifacts, and art from the different regions of the Philippines. Look up Baybayin. Read about the history of the yo-yo. There is a lot of culture to enjoy, and you might find some surprises. Even just looking at photos from the Philippines can be really enjoyable.

4. Study other topics that are related to the Filipino martial arts, self defense, fighting, battle, etc. Read about how blades are made. Learn about edge geometry. Learn to sharpen a knife. Learn about anatomy. Read about military strategy. Learn about guerrilla tactics, that’s what we often use in Kali.

5. Learn some other useful skills that relate to self defense, staying healthy, etc. Learn first aid so that you can help, not just destroy. Read about nutrition. A good diet can help you be better at physical activity and cognitive skills. Find ways to make yourself a more useful person to your family and community. You might find that your investment in the Filipino martial arts may eventually inspire you to help others rather than just hit them.

Final Words

Ok, I think that is enough for now. It’s time for you to get started!

The list above is just a brief introduction to several ideas. With a little research, you can find more information on many of the topics listed above. Check back here for future articles that will go more in depth with some of the topics above. If you have any questions, Let us know!


Practicing solo with a training blade will refine your coordination and your awareness of the edge. Use a training blade to take your weapon control to the next level. Check out the training blades we have at Kali Gear.

SEE TRAINING BLADES FROM KALI GEAR

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