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  • Writer's pictureRobert Parkes

Fusing Form, Flow, and Function

Updated: Feb 2, 2022

While our training methods have developed over decades of teaching martial arts, they have been particularly influenced in recent times by the pedagogical approach of Grandmaster William Bernas, represented in the diagram above. His teaching method is influenced by his early training in the Wedo tradition (that historically involved an apprenticeship into immediately practical combatives explored through a watch and copy methodology . . . for those with knowledge of the teaching method of Tatang Ilustrisimo this approach will be very familiar); and was complemented by GM Bernas' later study within the structured methods of the Navales Arnis Clinic (that utilised a systematic numbering system and organised progressions, the signature of contemporary forms of the Filipino Martial Arts).

The diagram above captures the specifics of the pedagogical approach and training cycle that we use in our club. We use the logic of this cycle to structure lessons, and the learning journey for each student. The graphic itself was inspired by a diagram developed by Tuhon Arelene Stevens and presented in her recently published book Visualising Flow (p. 43). Her approach there is similiarly structured, but with different foci in each of the quadrants, idiosyncratic to the FMA system she teaches.

Practically speaking, when one learns a new technique, or is practicing a new drill, one works from the first numerical phase through to the last; and this also reflects the overall journey towards mastery of an FMA system as well. However, it shouldn't be understood in terms of starting in one phase, then leaving it for the next. Every time you practice a drill, you re-start in the first phase, and move through each stage to complete the cycle. This ensures that you gain the benefits of each step, and that you don't get trapped inside the limitations of a particular style of training, which happens all too often in martial arts when a certain type of drill becomes over-emphasised.

Concentrating on only one quadrant of the training cycle, or avoiding a quadrant, are sure ways to find yourself trapped or limited in terms of your progress. It is only by embracing all four quadrants that true martial arts mastery can be achieved. Over-emphasing the "Soft" training phases leaves one lacking in intent and stopping power, and with reduced tactical capabilities. Over-emphasing the "Hard" training phases can lead to mechanical inefficiencies, unnecessary injuries, poor control, and a lack of adaptability. Over-emphasising the "Slow" training phases leaves you without an ability to apply your knowledge against a live opponent. Over-emphasising the "Speed" training phases tends to leave you with poor technique, where the subtle differences that make a difference are overlooked, and technical specificities evaporate. Thus, without engaging all four quadrants in your training, one is fundamentally left LARPing (Live Action Role Playing). We have no objection to LARPing. It just isn't what we are offering in our training, and it isn't the path to true martial arts mastery.

It is worth noting that some Filipino Martial Arts systems may start the learning journey in different quadrants, and move through these quadrants in a different order. Every Instructor will have their reasons for the specific sequence they have adopted. Importantly, the best way to become an adaptable and effective martial artist is to ensure your training addresses all four quadrants of the training cycle, for the reasons already outlined. Continuously cycling through these phases provides you with the greatest chance of reaching a stage of martial arts mastery, and this model is thus a useful map to take with you on the journey. Saludo!


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