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5 Essential Technical Skill Sets to Develop for the Filipino Martial Arts

Posted by Tuhon Leslie Buck on

The Filipino Martial Arts offer a wide variety of techniques that range from striking, locking, and breaking to trapping, disarming, and takedowns. The options are vast. With so many options, it can become challenging to focus training on core elements that will make you effective and well rounded.

In budgeting your training time, it is best to spend the majority of it on skills that will get you results. Typically these are fundamental skills, skills that permeate all other skills. For example, if you cannot recognize or create an opening, then entering to successfully apply a trap, lock, or disarm will be very difficult to do. However, once you have developed fundamental offensive skills, simply learned how to get in, then you can apply many of your other techniques such as trapping, locking, disarms, etc.

For the purpose of this article, I will focus more on technical skills than tactical skills, but you certainly need both. Technical skills are largely related to the physical execution of the technique or movements, whereas tactical skills relate more to your choice of timing, position, distance, and manipulation of the situation to gain an advantage over your opponent.

Footwork Skills

A critical skill in any conflict is mobility. Mobility allows you to control distance, change angle, and position for advantage. Mobility allows you to evade and attack. In the Filipino Martial Arts, that mobility is based on dynamic footwork. Footwork skills are fundamental. Without basic footwork skills, you cannot survive.

Footwork allows you to control distance. It will allow you to get close in order to attack and get away when your opponent tries to hit you. If your opponent moves forward, you can move away. If your opponent retreats, you can advance to a better position.

Footwork allows you to move to a position of advantage. An example is of this is flanking your opponent. Flanking allows you to position yourself at an angle where your attacks are strong and those of your opponent are limited or weak. This is because your opponent’s weapons will not be centered on you, but your weapons can be directed towards them. Good footwork allows you to move to your opponent's flank and disengage at a more favorable angle as well.

Footwork will make you harder to hit. A moving target is harder to hit than a stationary one. If you stand stationary, in front of any opponent, you will end up exchanging blows. With edged weapons, that means you will die. By continually moving in and out of range, and in different angles relative to your opponent’s position, you will become more difficult for him to target.

Footwork combined with striking will make your hits more effective. This is because footwork will help you get more explosive movement in your hips and put your bodyweight behind your strikes. Footwork, or the placement of the feet is often the starting point for generating power through body mechanics. The feet either move or must be positioned correctly for the hips to move, and it’s the hips that supply the largest amount of power to the arms. If you want to be able to hit with a lot of power, develop your footwork. Imagine getting a running start before you hit your opponent. Footwork allows you to generate power.

Typically, footwork in the Filipino Martial arts is based on moving diagonally and laterally in reference to the opponent. This is done to gain a flanking position, to avoid fighting toe-to-toe, or to be more difficult to follow. Footwork should be trained in every session to allow it to feel natural when used with other skills. Build a habit of moving continuously. Train yourself so that if you are standing still, you should already feel like something is wrong. In fact, train your footwork until standing still feels unnatural.

Striking Skills

Striking skills rank among the most crucial skills needed due to the predominance of weapon use in the Filipino Martial arts. Striking skills include the ability to deliver a diverse set of blows and combinations with speed, timing, power, accuracy and precision.

Striking is the primary skill of both attack and defense in the Filipino Martial Arts. Though there are many locks, traps, takedowns, disarms, etc, striking skills are the core of both weapon applications and empty hands techniques. This is because striking skills, including counter striking, deflections, etc. are needed for other skills to be effective. If you cannot enter or protect yourself against the strikes of your opponent, then you will be unable to set up locks, takedowns, or disarms.

Good striking skills offer many options. Striking skills will allow you to hit fast, hit hard, and hit using a variety of combinations, angles and striking methods. Methods of striking include fluid, broken, circular, jabbing, cutting, slashing, thrusting, etc.

Striking should be used in conjunction with footwork. To hit a target, you must be at the right position and at the right distance. For this to happen, your footwork must support your striking. When the two are in sync, your attacks and counter attacks will be the most successful.

Learn to strike and move at the same time. You should not need to stop in order to strike. If you must stop in order to strike, then you will be more predictable and much easier to hit. By moving (using your footwork) and striking, you also benefit from the mobility that makes you harder to hit, and the power that you generate from the footwork.

Striking skills are relatively easy to develop, but they should be practiced and refined in nearly every session. Practice striking from different loading positions. Your weapon will not always be in the same position when your opponent attacks. The more versitile your striking skills, the easier it will be for you to adapt to different situations. Better control of your striking will free you to manipulate timing, distance and other tactics that will put you ahead of your opponent.

Evasive Skills

You need to be able to evade and disengage without getting hit. To do so, you need to train evasive skills. Evasive skills include the use of footwork, body, head, and hand motion to avoid contact and vulnerable positioning.

Evasive skills are critical to protect your weapon hand. One of the primary tactics in the Filipino Martial Arts is to attack the hand. The intent is to disable the weapon hand so that the opponent cannot deliver additional weapon attacks. The fight now becomes that of an armed opponent fighting an unarmed opponent. When the hand is disabled, the battle is won.

Be able to evade attacks to the hand. You want to win the battle of the hand. To do so, keep your weapon hand moving at all times. Avoid stopping, because your hand will be easier to hit when it is not moving. Evasive techniques usually include circular motions, sudden direction changes, and altering the arc of strikes in mid flight to reduce exposure.

Evasive skills include the use of distance and body positioning to avoid attacks. This can be as simple as stepping out of reach, leaning back, leaning inward, or ducking to slip a strike. It can also include subtle shifts in your position to angles that reduce your exposure. An example is blading your body when you enter for a counter offensive strike or leaning to the outside of your opponent’s weapon hand to stay out of the immediate reach of his other hand.

Evasive skills complement offensive skills. Even if you have initiative and enter offensively, you must also be able to disengage quickly. If you linger too long with a trap, takedown, or disarm, your chances of getting out without getting hit drop exponentially. If you stay in too long, even someone with no training will hit you.

When disengaging, you must be able to do so without getting hit in the process. If your entry is perfect, but you do not cover your exit with strikes and good positioning, you will get hit. All too often, in sparring, I see students sacrifice getting hit in order to hit the opponent. This is not good Kali. Though you hope to immediately disable your opponent with your entry, don’t count on it. Have a plan for getting in and getting out, unscathed. The old three second rule in the Filipino Martial arts is after either three hits or in three seconds, you had better be out or otherwise completely dominating.

Evasive skills include getting out of situations that may leave you vulnerable. In the Filipino martial arts, positioning of the feet, body, and hands can all be used to gain an advantage over the opponent. The intent is to find an angle and position where your options are open, but the opponent’s options are limited. This can essentially funnel the attacks of your opponent into more manageable angles and more predictable maneuvers. Understanding this use of positioning, you can use evasive skills to escape attempts to put you into such traps.

Evasive skills will help you survive attacks from multiple opponents. The Filipino Martial Arts is designed to work when fighting more than one opponent. To do this, you must be able to disengage. If you focus entirely on one opponent, then you will likely leave yourself exposed to an attack from another. By being able to engage and disengage quickly, you are less likely to be trapped in an exposed position by multiple attackers.

Counter-Offensive Skills

Counter offensive skills include techniques that not only protect you during an attack, but also immediately attack your opponent’s exposed targets at the same time.

Counter-offensive skills allow you to seize the initiative from your attacker. Typically, the opponent who initiates an attack has an advantage. By being the first to engage, he can create a situation that is best suited for his success. He can choose the location, the time, and the nature of the attack. The defender can only choose his response. Because the defender is reacting to the actions of the attacker, he is behind with little time to make a decision.

Using counter-offense instead of defense will help you reverse this if you are in a defensive situation. Unlike purely defensive techniques, such as a block, counter-offensive techniques combine both defense and offense. A block will protect you for a brief moment, but a counter offensive strike will allow you to reverse the threat back towards your attacker. Once faced with a threat, the attacker may himself become defensive and reactive. It is in this moment that you may have an opportunity to follow with another attack and take the initiative.

Counter-offensive skills are more versatile than purely defensive skills. Purely defensive skills such as blocks, protect you, but do not turn the threat back towards your attacker. Good counter-offensive techniques both shield you and attack the opponent all in one movement.

This adaptability of counter-offensive skills gives you a larger margin for error and more options than a technique that is designed simply to block an incoming strike. If you miss the opponent’s hand while attempting to use a counter-offensive technique, you many still be able to deflect or block an incoming attack with the same movement.

An example of this adaptability can be demonstrated with an umbrella technique. When properly done, the umbrella is a counter-offensive strike to the opponent’s weapon hand or arm. If, when performing the umbrella, you were to miss the hand, you may still be able to shield yourself from the opponent’s blow with your weapon. This ability to adjust is what makes counter-offensive techniques more versatile than simple defensive techniques.

Counter-offensive strikes and combinations are often based on the same gross motor movements as offensive strikes and combinations. This is another example of how counter-offensive techniques are versatile. With counter-offensive strikes like these, you can adapt your strikes on the fly when the situation suddenly changes. This can happen when you begin to deliver a combination of offensive strikes. If the opponent delivers an attack at the same time, you can slightly modify your strikes so that they become counter-offensive.

For example: If you and your opponent both attempt to deliver an angle one diagonal strike to the head, but your opponent is slightly ahead in timing, you can tighten the arc of your strike to hit his hand and simultaneously shield your head. This is a better alternative to just exchanging blows to the head. Techniques like these give you more options as a fighter with just a few combinations.

A good understanding of striking angles, together with timing, and distance perception is important in executing counter-offensive techniques. Counter offensive techniques are typically strikes that are tight and direct. Though the opponent’s weapon hand or arm is often the target of counter-offensive techniques, the head, neck, body, or legs may also be targeted.

Offensive Skills

Offensive skills include techniques that allow you to initiate a planned attack against an opponent wherein the timing, position, and situation of the attack are based on your choice.

You need offensive skills. You need techniques and tactics that will allow you to engage an opponent. You need the ability to enter and attack. Most of us only intend to use the Filipino Martial Arts for self defense, but offensive techniques are necessary for defensive purposes.

Even if you are only developing skills for self defense, you still need techniques that allow you to initiate an attack. You may need to attack someone in order to protect someone else. You may need to attack in order to create an opening for your escape. You may face multiple opponents and need to bring the fight to one opponent to prevent the other attackers from closing on you all at once.

Having offensive skills will prevent you from being limited to only counter striking and fighting defensively. At the very least, learning offensive techniques will help you to understand offense.

Understanding how offense works will allow you to form a better defense. If you are aware of techniques and tactics used for offense, then you will be able to better develop your defenses against those attacks. After you train offensive techniques, then you will have much more familiarity with what factors need to be involved to make them viable. This knowledge is invaluable in stopping attacks directed at you.

Offensive skills will allow you to force your opponent to react to you. Ready or not, he will have to react to your movements as they come, with no time to plan and very little to analyze. Offensive skills will allow you to dictate the pace and direction of a fight or match. On offense, you will be able to plan your attacks and engage when you are ready. This is a much better scenario for you and one that will give you an advantage.

Offensive techniques should be supported by tactics that give you an advantage. It’s not enough just to be able to strike hard and fast, you must have an approach that minimizes your exposure and limits the options of your opponent. Though common, running forward, while swinging wildly is not a good offensive approach. It leads to an exchange of blows, not just a delivery. You need more than just aggression. You need aggression combined with sound tactics that will take your opponent off-balance.

There are many types of tactics that can be used for offense. Good offensive tactics include indirect, confusing, or false attacks, baiting maneuvers, and rapid deliveries of strikes at multiple angles. These tactics are all designed to lead your opponent out of a favorable position and create openings for you to exploit. When using good tactics with offensive techniques, you will be less likely to absorb blows from your opponent and more likely to win by keeping him mentally and physically off-balance.

Final Words

The skill sets mentioned here are very broad in scope, but they are truly fundamental. There are other very useful skill sets, but these are at the core. Many other skills sets fall underneath the broad categories discussed here.

When you devote your time to training, make sure you are giving adequate time to develop each of these core skill sets. Within these categories, add layers of variety so that you have more than one approach to the many challenges you may encounter.


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