Dacayana UK

FORM & FUNCTION.   By David McGoldrick.

Martial arts are solutions to problems. So, a good MA will look at a particular type of fight and develop efficient solutions for that scenario. So, when I speak of "Form", I am talking about the techniques, skills, tactics, training methods or weapons used. When I talk about "Function", I mean the use, application, strategy or purpose of those forms. Therefore, the forms have a function, or simply put, the techniques have a purpose. The techniques (forms) should fulfil a purpose (function) to provide a solution to the problems of combat. If I made a simple idea seem complicated, that is bad teaching on my part. 

Before techniques are developed, their purpose must be decided. What is the problem? In what type of fight am I? What variables must be considered? Many questions must be asked and answered before determining the appropriate responses.

In Dacayana Eskrima, we are actually studying a number of different arts in one syllabus. The function of the 12 strikes may be to teach us to cut with a long Pinute, but our form is usually done with a stick. The disarms can be performed against the same stick, but they could not be performed against a Pinute. They are different arts. Combat Judo's function is to defend against a knife wielding assailant but it won't work against someone trained in Dacayana Knife techniques. There are clearly areas of our syllabus that have cross over, but don't be mislead by the form. Look at the function first. 

Let's start with the situation. Are we in a competition or a fight? What is the intention? Is this a challenge based on pride, ego or money? Is someone trying to rob, rape or kill us? Is victory or survival more important? Are we protecting ourselves or others? Do we need to restrain, eject, cause pain or damage our opponent? Are we subject to rules, traditions, customs or laws? Eskrima was originally developed through match fighting, probably based on pride. Therefore being victorious was as important as survival and you were more likely to be subject to traditions rather than laws.

The next factors are the protagonists, you and your opponent. Is there a significant size or strength difference? Do either of you have the support of friends or allies? Does anyone have a weapon? If so, what kind of weapon? Is anybody disabled? What relevant skill levels, training or attributes do either of you possess? Is someone drunk or under the influence of drugs? What is the relationship between you? Is your opponent unknown to you, a fellow competitor or a family member? Is occupation relevant, such as being a soldier, police officer or security guard? Do I have a "duty of care" or a "licence to kill"? Am I James Bond? Originally, most Eskrima was based on sword and dagger fighting, which would have negated size and strength differences (possibly with the exception of reach). Friends were more likely to be there to protect you from interference from others. Both parties would have been "compos mentis" and confident in their ability and ready for the fight.

The last factor that I'm considering is the environment. Are we indoors or outdoors? What kind of clothes or footwear are being worn? (I have noticed that I get into a lot more trouble when I wear women's clothes than when I wear men's. I feel your pain,  Sisters!) Are we in a cage or a ring? How much space do we have? Are there obstacles or tight spaces such as corridors and doorways? Will this be a longer or closer range fight? On what type of floor or surface am I? What is the weather like? What is the lighting like? Are there security cameras? (That's for the bouncers). Eskrima fights were more likely to take place outdoors (or where there is cleared space), during daylight, on relatively flat ground, in decent weather. Lighter clothes and shoes tend to be worn than in the west. Sword and dagger fights are long range by nature. 

Eskrima has proven to be extremely adaptable. Originally, techniques were based on these types of "death matches", which were the equivalent of a duel. However, as Cebu (where all the best Eskrima comes from!) became more urbanised, people didn't tend to carry farming tools around with them 24/7. More emphasis was placed on closer range weapons and/or techniques. Eskrima had to work in a crowded street rather than an open field. Surprise attacks and gang fights became more of a consideration than duelling. Exposure to other MAs helped this transition and Eskrima adapted their techniques easily. Some of the original tactics still worked, some had to be changed (I guess the secret is to know which!). In Dacayana Eskrima, we include knife fighting, Sumbagay (fist fighting), Saguidas (pocket stick) and Combat Judo (unarmed knife defence) to accommodate this closer range fighting. Eskrima was also adapted to be used in the armed forces for battle conditions. Huge changes have taken place in adapting Eskrima as a sport to the extent that sport Arnis is hardly recognisable to most traditional Eskrimadors. Although much is being done to preserve and promote Eskrima in the P.I., there is an ever growing following here in the west. As Eskrima comes over to this side of the world, it is being further adapted for our heavier clothes, boots, environment, laws and style of fighting. 

As an aside, the main criteria that people judge effectiveness on, in this modern age of "likes", "comments" and "tweets", are "Will it work for self defence?" or "Would it work in a cage fight?" As we can see from the previous questions, these two scenarios are literally at the opposite ends of the spectrum, yet many believe that they are both an objective measure of effectiveness. Literally, the only thing that they both have in common, is that they are both hard and difficult conflicts. Nothing else!

All of these questions need to be addressed in detail when looking at the function of the techniques. Ideally, a wise and experienced GrandMaster would then come up with the optimum solution to the situation and those techniques would then be practiced until they were good enough to use. This is how form is developed in response to function. This sounds great, doesn't it? So, what is the problem?

Firstly, some people can perform the techniques, but may not know the purpose. In MA, we tend (rightly, in my opinion) to learn the form of the techniques before we learn their function. Think about the Karate Kid. Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel San good form by getting him to wax on, wax off, sand the floor, paint up, paint down, etc., before he told him the function. So for a while, Daniel had the form, but not the function. What if the lesson had stopped there? Timing is a major factor. If the student stopped training too early, or the teacher wasn't willing to teach function until it was too late, then we have a disconnect between form and function. Time can also effect memory, and the student might simply forget the purpose, but not forget the techniques. Trust can also be an issue. What if the teacher doesn't trust the student? The teacher might have a suspicious nature or the student might be untrustworthy. It's perfectly possible that the student or the teacher may be flawed human beings. Either way, the student gets taught the form, but not the function. Poor communication can also be a problem. The teacher may not be good at explaining or the student may not be good at understanding. So, good form may have passed from teacher to student easily, but an explanation of function did not. This could also happen because of language barriers. It might be easier to show the form rather than explain the function. In many MA's that have Kata's or patterns, the function is not as apparent as the form. In fact, they are often called forms. But because they are solo exercises, information such as distancing, targets and what technique you are defending against, is harder to discern. This is not as much of a problem with the 2 person drills that we have in Eskrima. 

The second problem occurs when someone changes the function. What if I learn forms of techniques that were designed to fulfil a particular function, but I now want to use those forms to fulfil a different function. The world changes and so do our demands on a MA. It may be possible that the skills learnt to deal with an old problem may be transferable to a new problem, but we also have to face the possibility that they are not. Some skills are easily adapted, some are not. But just because I could, it doesn't mean I should. For example, I may be very skilled at a technique and therefore be able to use that technique in more scenarios than most people. It might not be the best technique to use for most people but because of my many years of training it works for me. Is it right to teach that technique to a student as the solution to the new problem? I think it's dishonest. I personally love learning traditional MA's. I like working out "What is the situation for which this technique is the ideal solution?" By "reverse engineering" a technique, it helps me understand how warriors think. Some techniques have a wide variety of uses and some are specific to the situation. The key is to understand the difference.

The biggest changes in the functions of martial arts occur when an art that was designed for a particular type of fight is now being practiced as a response to a different type of fight, a sport, a form of exercise or training or educational programme. Huge changes in function should mean huge changes in form, but many people have an emotional attachment to the old forms and try to fit square pegs into round holes. 

The next problem occurs when people develop a syllabus. People build in complexity because they don't want themselves or their students to get bored. It may be more fun and challenging to blend a number of simple techniques together into one complex technique or drill. But it is important to note that complicated things rarely work. I believe that it's important to break things into their individual (and usually more practical) components before teaching complex drills. This requires a lot of patience on behalf of the teacher, but ultimately it teaches the student the point. We can't assume the student understands this. This is evident from the number of practitioners who mistakenly believe that complex is the same as advanced. Another developmental problem occurs when people look at variations. Not every technique was designed for every scenario. I have seen many strange justifications for practicing very unworkable variations. Saying "it's challenging, it improves coordination, you can't rule out the possibility that this could happen, it's just a training method, if you can make this work then it shows how advanced you are" is just silly. More practical variations fulfil those justifications better. But we don't want to question a teacher who is keeping us entertained.

So, what are solutions to the problems of form and function? Firstly, find out the original purpose of a technique. I love researching very old MA manuals and styles. They get you a lot closer to the "raison d'etre" of a technique. We often see that changes in either form or function were not always made for the most logical reasons. Secondly, get more experience of the situation. This is a lot easier to do for combat sports than for real fights. Also, there are plenty of people who are willing to share their real life experiences with you. Just be sure they are relevant to your situation. There are many types of real life experiences. Thirdly, use logical analysis. Many people favour techniques because they have an emotional attachment to them. This is my style, taught by my teacher that I have practiced. This might explain why I want it to work, but it's not a logical reason why it would work. Be extra critical of your favourite techniques. What works for you, might not work so well for your students. Critical thinking does not come naturally to everyone. Lastly, don't believe the hype. There are prevalent ideas in MA's today that are simply not true. They are constantly marketed to promote one style or another until people believe them. Challenge assumptions and think for yourself. Just because it is said, doesn't make it so. 

As an aside, many people come up with "pressure testing" as the ultimate solution to this dilemma. This is rarely carried out objectively and is usually designed to get the required result. If you pressure test on someone who wants it to work, it will. No matter how well intentioned, pressure testing on your own students is about as useless as you can get. If you pressure test on someone who knows what's going to happen (equally unrealistic) and doesn't want it to work (realistic), it's far less likely to be successful. The only real pressure test is reality and there may be some legal issues there. 

There are a lot of considerations before you change or develop a technique, drill or training method. Ironically, many people come up with an idea and then get their students to agree with them. When things don't work, this is usually what they have done.

So, what makes a MA advanced? Is it having the experience to use a small range of techniques in a wide range of situations? Is it having a wide range of techniques and the experience to use the right technique in the right situation? This is the classic Quality versus Quantity argument. But either way, MA's start with function dictating form. In Dacayana Eskrima we practice versatile techniques but we also practice situation specific techniques. I think this is a good balance if you know what you are doing and understand the difference. 

As always, these are my opinions based on my experience. I look forward to hearing from anyone who disagrees with me. D