Monday, August 25, 2014

You Must Make The Art Yourself by Dr. Jerome Barber

As I read through all of the posts on traveling to the Philippines and perhaps being anointed a “legitimate” FMA master or grandmaster, I was reminded of something that I learned from my first SE Asian martial arts instructors, Sifu Don Zanghi and GM Remy Presas, “Make the art for yourself.”  I can’t recall a seminar that I attended with Professor that he didn’t tell everyone present that “You must make the art for yourself.”  Professor Presas was talking about Modern Arnis, his own martial art creation, not some abstract, otherworldly fantasy. 

From 1982 when I first began working with Sifu Zanghi, through the “Dorie Miller Club” in Buffalo and before I joined the “Fighting Back Institute”, that highly directive phrase was stated and re-stated time and time again.  I first heard it from Sifu Zanghi, but he always cited and referenced Professor as the originator of the statement.  By the time I met and began training with Professor in 1983, ‘make it for yourself’ was part of my training mantra.  The orthodox training regime was to learn the techniques, mechanics, footwork and guiding principles of the art and then configure everything to fit your own bodily strengths, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies.

Professor never spoke about ‘the necessity’ of going to the Philippines to acquire any sort of refinement or fine tuning within the art. That is not to say that he would discourage people traveling to his homeland, far from it.  He was very proud of his homeland, his culture and history.  We have numerous private discussions about the Philippines and he was very adamant that I should learn about the Negrito (Mayang, Aeta) people, who  are the original inhabitants of the Philippines.  Those conversations came about because of my usage of a wooden training bolo, the “Negrito Bolo” from his home island.  I had already begun the process of ‘making it for myself’ when I adapted the “Negrito Bolo” into my training regime.  I was exploring and gaining an understanding about the differences between the use of a blunt instrument and a long blade.  I was ‘making the art for myself’ because neither Professor nor Sifu Zanghi, were actively teaching bolo usage as part of Modern Arnis.  My explorations were at first fueled by my conversations with WWII vets, who had fought in the Philippines, their stories about the Filipino Scouts as well as my reading of Professor’s 1974 book on Modern Arnis in which he mentions in his preface that the real weapon of arnis is the long blade.    

I’m a strong advocate of Professors dictum of ‘making it for yourself’.  His commitment to the idea of ‘making it for yourself’ was very clearly stated in his 1983 book on Modern Arnis, when he wrote that “The method should suit the person and not the other way around.  This is known simply as using the “flow”.”  If I can apply the concepts, principles and techniques of Modern arnis as taught to me by Sifu Zanghi and Professor Presas, then adapt those same concepts, principles and techniques to suit my own body, then where is the need for me to go to the Philippines in order to become more proficient in the art?  My going to the Philippines would be for the cultural value, meeting some of his older students, my seniors in the art, and having the experiences that ensued from my travels.  

I’m not one bit opposed to going to the Philippines.  I simply reject the notion that I or anyone else NEEDS to go there if they wish to be viewed as an authentic master of the FMA.  I’ve found some dynamite FMA instructor’s right here in the USA and Canada.  Among those whom I’ve met and trained with several times are Sifu Don Zanghi, Professor Remy Presas, GM Tom Bolden, Ama Guro Billy Bryant,  Maha Guru Roberto Torres, GM Bobby Taboada, Sifu Dan Donzella, GM Sultan Uddin, GP Abon Baet, GM Eddie Lastra, GM Jun de Leon and GM Crispulo Atillo.  All of these men have given me solid, practical information and I’m grateful to all of them for their insights and advice.

I haven’t forgotten the ‘make it for yourself’ principle as taught to me by Sifu Zanghi and Professor Presas.  Nor have I fallen away from another principle that Professor advocated when he talked about “the art within your art.”  Professor emphasized the idea that Modern Arnis helps martial artists discover new things about their own style and use arnis to supplement their own mother-art.  But that is an entirely separate post and this one is already long enough.


Jerome Barber, Ed. D.
GM, Datu & Principal Teacher,                                                           Independent Escrima-Kenpo-Arnis Associates