Dacayana UK

SECRET TECHNIQUES. Part 1.   By David McGoldrick

There is a huge fascination with the idea of secrets in the Martial Arts. Some people are enthralled with the idea and others just laugh at it. But in the back of your head, you always wonder if there is something being kept from you. Many experienced instructors will get their student's attention by saying "The secret to this technique is...". If your students are losing focus, this is guaranteed to work. Many Martial arts books are titled "The secrets of...". This will definitely sell more copies. We all love the idea that there is something secret that we could know.

So, what is a secret? Simply put, it is something that we don't know. Sometimes this is because it is being deliberately withheld, but often it is just because it is an advanced technique. The nature of a well laid out syllabus is that you must learn simpler techniques before you learn complex ones. To the student, who doesn't know the syllabus, higher level techniques seem like a secret. To the teacher, who knows the syllabus, they are just advanced techniques. It is a matter of perspective. Advanced techniques are often just a combination of basic skills. You must be good at the basics before you can combine them. It's no secret. It is interesting how some Martial Arts consider longer patterns and combinations to be more advanced than shorter ones. In reality of course, they are really only a test of memory. Some people are naturally good at learning, but usually the more we learn, the better we are at learning. 

Other arts consider higher skill techniques to be more advanced. Some people are naturally stronger, faster or more agile than others. Sometimes after years of training, we develop these attributes. So if a technique requires agility, agile people develop competence sooner than others. If it requires power, stronger people excell first. So, a technique may seem advanced if you don't naturally have the attributes to perform it. 

Advanced techniques might also be counters to basic techniques. Obviously, you must learn to do the basic technique to a high standard before you learn the counter attack. In Dacayana Eskrima, a great example of this would be Close Range Balla Balla (CRBB). You need to have good basics in order to perform CRBB. But you need to perform CRBB well before you counter it with Palasuts or Disarms. There is a logical progression. If I can't wait to demonstrate the disarms on someone who hasn't yet learned CRBB well, I am inhibiting their ability to learn. It might look impressive to them, but this is really poor teaching. It is often said that you need to be patient to learn Martial Arts, but I think you need to be more patient to teach it. Of course, many other Martial Arts have counters to their own techniques and the same logic applies. 

It is also interesting to note that what might be considered an advanced technique in one art may be seen as a basic technique in another art, and vice versa. I have already discussed in a previous article how weapon techniques in FMA are taught to beginners, whereas hand to hand combat is usually taught in the advanced syllabus. This is the opposite of nearly every other art. In grappling styles, striking proficiency may be regarded as an advanced skill and many have diagrams of a man standing in his underpants with arrows pointing at his vital parts. In striking styles, even basic grappling techniques may only be taught to higher grades. There are many ways to the top of a mountain.

Now let's move on from the confusion that sometimes "advanced" equates to "secret", and look at secrecy in the Martial Arts. There is a well established and logical reason why secrets exist in Martial Arts. Most MA's were developed within a family, a clan, a village, a tribe or a country for the purpose of fighting the neighbouring family, clan, village, tribe or country. The strategies and tactics that you and your fellow students were learning were designed to defeat your neighbours. Absolute loyalty was essential. If you were a traitor, a show off or a spy then you might show the enemy the tactics that were designed to defeat them. They would then know what they needed to counter. This is not as paranoid as it sounds. It is very common to have secret strategy meetings in business, politics and sport for this very reason. During WW2, the Germans got hold of Captain Fairbairn's Hand to Hand combat training films and got their Jiu Jitsu instructors to develop a system to counter the British army techniques. 

So, you can understand why many MA groups had initiation ceremonies, tests of loyalty, blood oaths and even branding or tattoos before you learned anything. Some styles were only taught within a particular tribe and you simply couldn't learn it if you didn't have the relevant family name. The art was, literally, a family secret. Now, when I think of a family secret, it is usually "Your uncle Paddy is an alcoholic" or "Why did cousin Mary emigrate to America so suddenly?". In my family, my brother assures me that I am the family secret, which is a bit harsh. Dacayana Eskrima is described as a family art, that means a lot more than "we are friendly and welcoming" (which we obviously are!). It also has historical and cultural significance. It expresses loyalty, sharing and watching each other's backs. We cooperate rather than compete. We strive to improve ourselves and each other and act in the best interests of the group. So, the martial art is one part of the idea that there is strength in numbers. I know, I'm an idealist, there is nothing wrong with that. Similarly, the title of Datu is not just a MA title. It carries with it all of the historical and cultural significance and responsibility that being the chief of a tribe implies. There are no honours without responsibilities. 

Historically, in some arts, there was the concept of having inner circle or closed door  disciples. Regular martial arts training was given to everyone and secret training was only given to the inner circle. This was often used in Chinese MA's where the Kung Fu school acted as a front for a Triad. The teacher would use his classes as a recruitment ground for the best fighters to be invited to join the gang. Once they were in, the inner circle disciple would be taught the higher level techniques (and probably get to practice them on rival gangs).

Of course, moving up to the next level and learning the new techniques associated with that level makes us all feel special/important/warm and fuzzy. This has, to a great extent, been formalised by the belt system. Having the goal of moving to the next belt is one of the best methods of keeping students training that I have ever seen. So whether you like belts or loathe them, they are very effective at getting students to train and the training is the important bit. It takes years or decades to learn a martial art, not weeks or months, so keeping a student training over the long term is the key to their success. 

This reminds me of a very old Japanese style where you received a secret scroll after 5 years of training, another one after 10 years and the final one after 15 years - ingenious! Secret scrolls sound like a mythical fantasy, but actually, it was common for a style to have a record of its techniques in scrolls. These scrolls could be passed on to the GrandMaster's eldest son and/or senior student when he retired or died as proof that whoever had the scroll was the new GrandMaster and inheritor of the system. Usually, these scrolls would be jealously guarded because of the knowledge and status that went with them. Interestingly, some of these scrolls are published and available for anyone to see for the price of a book, some are collectors items and are worth a fortune and some are...well, I could tell you, but I would have to kill you! 

Apart from the advanced techniques discussed earlier, what types of techniques were regarded as secret techniques? The obvious answer would be the really nasty, maiming, permanently disabling or killing techniques. These may not require a huge amount of skill but they do require knowledge. Any decent MA Instructor would (I hope) be reluctant to teach these types of techniques to civilians without knowing and trusting them, as well as having faith in their maturity and self control. I realise that teaching someone to drive is probably more likely to lead to death, but driving has a different intention. As for teaching someone to shoot, I can't answer that. 

Another category of secret techniques would be secret or hidden weapons. Usually small weapons that are easy to conceal in your hand are kept secret, until it's too late. Tiger claws and knuckle dusters are excellent examples. In Silat, the Kerambit knife is usually considered a secret weapon for this reason. An opponent is far more likely to attack you with empty hand techniques or closer range techniques if he thinks you are unarmed. (I'm very unlikely to have to defend myself against punches if I am holding a big machete.) Once he is in close, he finds out that you were armed when he wakes up dead. This is why true Silat Masters laugh at people who flip the Kerambit around for show. They clearly have no understanding of the purpose of the weapon. In Dacayana Eskrima we also have weapons that are easily concealed until it is too late. The pocket stick (Saguidas) can be easily hidden in your hand and gives a tremendous striking advantage over an unarmed opponent. Holding a dagger in a reverse grip can easily conceal it behind your arm and gives a huge and deadly close range advantage when your opponent unknowingly closes the distance. Is this a secret technique? Some people could consider it so.

We touched on another area of secret techniques earlier. Often, a technique might be taught and then a counter technique is taught later. But what if I spent my whole life studying a style only to realise that it had weaknesses or flaws. If you have an analytical brain, it must cross your mind that no style is perfect. Given enough time and thought, surely the one person who has studied a style the longest is in the best position to work out how to beat it. What do you do with this information? It may be possible to adjust the style and make improvements. But there are reasons why you would not. What if you have promised your teacher to keep the style intact and not to change it? What if you don't wish to change a style that is 95% effective for the sake of a few counter measures that only you have worked out? What if the flaw undermines the whole approach of the style and you can't make minor changes without destroying an otherwise effective system? What if you don't have the kind of mind that is good at restructuring the system? It might be easier just to keep your discoveries secret. Maybe if I pass the information on to my trusted inheritor, then future generations will work out a solution. But I definitely don't want my enemies finding out the flaw in my system. By the way, it's a fantastic mental exercise to try to work out the flaws in your own system, especially if you think it's perfect. It's what any intelligent person would do. 

There is also an interesting oddity with MA's that have katas, forms or patterns. Nowadays, it is quite common for people to learn a pattern and later, when they have gotten to a high level, their teacher shows them the secret applications of the movements. This is complicated by the fact that many high level martial artists don't really know how to analyse the moves properly and many times the commonly taught applications of the techniques don't really work. This is gradually becoming less of a problem as more people take a serious interest in analysing patterns. The interesting oddity however is that in many cases, the actual practical fighting applications used to be taught first. When the student could fight, he was then taught the pattern, as a method of remembering the entire syllabus. Some of the older and more advanced forms are whole styles of fighting. So, being taught the kata or form was almost like a teaching licence or an indication of seniority or competence, at a time when very few people were literate. The reasonable assumption was that if you had been taught the kata, you must be good at fighting. How times have changed!

This leads us to some of the psychological aspects of secret techniques. Imagine being an old GrandMaster who has been teaching your style all your life. You are surrounded by your students and they are really good at what you do. How do you keep them in line? How do you keep them loyal? How do you keep them needing you? You don't want them to get arrogant or leave you on your own in your old age. Maybe you haven't treated them so well and you sense that some of them may challenge your authority. You are the boss and you have a reputation and position to uphold. Do you see where this is going? If you tell them that you have secret techniques that you will only share with your most loyal students on your death bed, that's better than any pension plan. If that technique is the "5 point palm exploding heart technique" then your students are not only loyal, they are afraid of you and won't challenge you. What's more, your students will tell everyone (in confidence) that their teacher knows these super powerful, deadly secret techniques and is probably the greatest Master on the planet. Suddenly, the enrolment at your school goes up for some reason. Why didn't you think of this ages ago? You have just learned a fundamental lesson in economics. The more scarce something seems, the more value is placed on it. In the very early 70's everyone wanted to learn Kung Fu, but Chinese masters would usually only teach Chinese students. I knew an American who was told that if he wanted to learn from a Chinese master, it would cost him U$100 per lesson. He saved up the money and paid it to the master. The master showed him how to form a one knuckle fist, dropped him with a punch to the solar plexus, and told him "End of lesson!". Of course, the student didn't know whether he was being tested or conned, but he told me that he never forgot that technique, practiced it all the time and used it to win numerous fights. So, maybe it was worth $100. I was told of another man who paid thousands of pounds to learn an ancient secret technique only to find out that it was a pretty simple combination. In these cases (and I suspect most cases), the real secret is to take a good  technique and practice it a lot. 

Whether the secret is a really effective deadly technique, a disappointingly simple technique or the secret is that there is no secret, we all want to know what it is. It is our fascination with secrets that is probably more powerful than any technique. 

In part 2, I will be revealing some of the actual secret techniques in the martial arts. D