One of the biggest reasons that I got into the martial arts, aside from self defense, is for self improvement. Filipino martial arts, and in particular, Modern Arnis has been wonderful for me in this regard.

Early in my martial arts studies, I had a desire to study weapons, thinking that it would be cool to move from empty hand self defense to using self defense tools. Like many, I thought of weapons in a very narrow way. So when I got into Modern Arnis, my initial thinking was that it was great to learn how to use a stick and “stick fighting.” Many years later, I have come to realize that Modern Arnis and Filipino Martial arts in general is much more than just about “stick fighting.” Ultimately, it’s about what the stick teaches you. The stick has, for me, evolved from being a weapon to being a tool for self improvement and personal development.

The stick teaches you angles of motion. It teaches you reaction speed. It enhances your hand speed. At the intermediate and advanced levels, it teaches you counters for counters, trapping, baiting and joint locking. However, the stick goes beyond the physical. It also teaches you to link different ideas and concepts. This was one of the greatest gifts that Professor Presas gave to his students. The stick also gives you real live feedback in your training, especially when you engage in tapi tapi with a training partner. It gives you a way to measure your progress compared to a year ago. How does your tapi tapi look compared to a year ago?

And yes, while tapi tapi involves training with a partner, the real benchmark is not how you compare with others but how much progress you have made over time. Your strengths will be on display but so will your weaknesses. Are you going to spend time working on your strengths or on your weaknesses? For example, are you willing to put in time to work on left hand techniques?

Yes, there is a place for competition. But, in the area of self improvement the real competition is within yourself. Do you get angry when somebody “looks better” than you or bests you in tapi tapi play? Or do you take those observations as a chance to grow and become better? If you look better than somebody or beat them, do you then become complacent? Anger. Complacency. Arrogance. Do you execute techniques the same way every time? Or are you willing to put techniques into different contexts? You can think of other aspects of the human condition but they are all essentially battles within ourselves. This is where self improvement comes into play.

Self defense and self improvement. Those are the reasons that I practice martial arts and particularly Filipino Martial Arts.

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