In the past year or so, I have been pondering the issue of how to teach speed, timing, and rhythm in Modern Arnis, especially in the context of tapi tapi. One thing that I have noticed is the tendency of too many people being “clocklike” in their timing and rhythm, thereby making them predictable. In other words, their technique are invariably “ONE-TWO, ONE-TWO, ONE-TWO.” In musical terms, they are thinking “whole beat.”  This makes them predictable. Adherence to the “whole beat” turns the technique into a “formula,” a “pattern” or a “habit.” An opponent who knows how to use “broken rhythm” to use Bruce Lee’s famous quote, will have the advantage over one who does not know how to utilize rhythm.

In watching Professor Presas perform tapi tapi, I was always amazed by how he was 4 or 5 steps ahead of his training partner. It was never really about raw speed but his superb timing and rhythm that dictated his opponent’s responses and thereby being set up in the process. There is no doubt that there is a place for learning the gross motor movement of technique and learning various movements. There is a place for learning how to bait, trap, lock, hit, butt, push, punch, counter, off balance and sweep your opponent.

One needs, though, to add in the element of broken rhythm and timing and feeling your opponent’s particular rhythm and breaking it up and putting him back on his heels.

The difficulty is in how to teach this. Part of it is in repetition of the various tapi tapi techniques. As Professor would say “repetition is the mother of skill.” While obviously true of gaining mastery of Modern Arnis, I think that the process of mastery is accelerated considerably when you train with a master or with someone who has an excellent understanding of timing and rhythm.

Lately, one of my students (Terry) and I have been experimenting on developing a set of drills that incorporate the major concepts of Modern Arnis. The inspiration for these drills is Master Ken Smith’s “Slap Off-Pull Off Flow Drill” and concepts that I’ve learned from Master Chuck Gauss. These concepts include the slap off, pull off, clearing, palis palis, abanico corto, switching hands, locking etc. The drills are formulated in a way so that it cycles between both partners as opposed to “resetting.” We hope that the drills will inculcate the correct body mechanics of the major concepts of Modern Arnis. Once that is done, the next level should inculcate the concepts of timing and rhythm into tapi tapi. It is hope that the concepts of timing and rhythm will enable the student to transfer those concepts to joint locking, empty hands, takedowns, knife work, and ground control.

I’ve done some prototype testing among various students and they seem to really like them. I’ve noticed improvement in their timing and rhythm. It will take time to tweak the basic drills and the variations thereof. I admit that I still have much to learn in this area but this is an area where I have made the greatest strides in the last few years.


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