Rants and Raves

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

My martial arts study - Pekiti Tirsia Kali

In this age of mass-produced cheap firearms martial artists are often asked, “What good is that stuff? Why don’t you just get a gun?”

This is a fair question and deserves reasoned consideration. To begin with, it is often neither legal nor desirable to carry a gun. Handguns are a significant bother to carry and more and more public places require passing through a metal detector on entry.

And, if you go out for recreation where alcohol is served you are under legal and moral obligations not to carry. In the ordinary course of events a firearm will not be available most of the time, so one possible answer to this question is, “So where is your gun right now?”

Secondly, the use of firearms IS a martial art by definition and firearms training is a part of advanced training in any comprehensive modern art. So another answer to that question is, “So why do you think that because I study martial arts, I ignore firearms?”

And most importantly, self-defense is not the only or necessarily the most important reason for studying martial arts. Aside from self-defense people study martial arts for sport and recreation, health and exercise, the fellowship of like-minded comrades, for the cultural experience and for spiritual reasons; the development of character, self-confidence and self-knowledge.

So taking into account all of these motivations, I would like to explain why I study martial arts and why the Filipino art of Pekiti Tirsia Kali in particular.

When I was a teenager I studied Judo/Jujitsu and Karate, then virtually the only Asian martial arts available in the States. Since then I have studied various other Asian martial arts plus Western boxing and fencing. I am ranked in Wu Wei Gung Fu (a Wing Chun-derived style) and have intermediate to advanced level training in Thai boxing, Jujitsu, classical Wing Chun and various other martial arts including a few other Filipino styles. I don’t disparage any of them, but I now make the central focus of my training Pekiti Tirsia Kali for reasons I'll explain.

I first encountered Pekiti Tirsia when I was in university from a fellow graduate student who had had the opportunity to study with Grand Tuhon Leo Gaje in New York. After we went our separate ways I didn’t find the opportunity to train with PTK again until making contact with the European branch under Uli Weidel many years later. Nowadays I travel to Dallas on a regular basis to study with the art's senior American representative Tim Waid and try never to miss an opportunity to train with Grand Tuhon when he's in the area.

These days I study PTK because it fulfills my personal needs for a practical reality-based martial art and for reasons that go beyond that. My reasons include:

PTK is practical. Real fighting is about weapons, and the world is full of objects that are potential weapons: sticks, knives, bottles, rocks etc. Training solely for empty-hand fighting one-on-one is training to duel, not for self-preservation.

But empty hand fighting is an important part of training, because a weapon may break, be lost or an assault may come by ambush when there is no time to draw a weapon and response must be immediate.

The way one teacher explained it was, "Karate means "empty hand". We are not empty hand, it's just that whatever is in the hand is whatever's in it."

Ring sports such as the various kickboxing or grappling styles have good empty hand skills, but train on a smooth padded surface with good traction, a gym mat or boxing ring and don’t include weapon defense. PTK footwork is designed for surfaces that might be irregular, angled away from the horizontal or slick and training takes weapon involvement into account.

PTK is a comprehensive art. It includes the use of long and short, impact, edged and flexible weapons, firearms, and in the empty hand component, striking with all natural weapons, throwing, grappling, locking and breaking techniques.

PTK is both traditional and modern. PTK, like the traditional warrior arts of most ancient cultures, is not artificially divided into armed and unarmed arts, nor does it specialize in one branch of martial skills such as kickboxing, wrestling etc.

It is modern because it is adapted to modern conditions and modern weaponry. It is close to its origins as a combat art­ and was created by exponents who experienced real combat where failure meant death or crippling disability.

PTK is a versatile martial art because of its origins. The cultures of the Philippines were in contact with virtually all the cultures of Asia and much of Europe.

Martial arts influence each other either by fighting each other, whereby they learn to adapt to the technique and technology of the other arts, or by friendly contact whereby they exchange ideas, often first the one then the other.

Unlike Japan, which went through a long period of self-imposed isolation during which Japanese only fought other Japanese, the Philippines has been in constant contact and conflict with other cultures, both Eastern and Western, from prehistory to the present day.

It has a logical training progression; PTK gives the student something that is of practical use immediately. A few elementary stick techniques can be used effectively right away, but the art has depths that one can spend a lifetime exploring. The root motions taught at the beginning can be applied to a variety of different weapons or empty-hand applications. The art is holistic and principle-based rather than a collection of techniques.

This makes PTK ideal for police and military training. Empty-hand, impact and edged weapon training is important for police and military personnel, but training time is often limited by the demands of all the other skills that must be learned.

PTK is not sport but can be practiced sportively. I do not disparage combat sports and enjoy watching them, but my interest is in martial art. Making an art into a sport inevitably degrades combat effectiveness because the techniques used must be limited for safety reasons. When bouts are won on points, weapons are often modified in unrealistic ways (by making them lighter for example) to score points better. For reasons of fairness, participants often compete in weight and rank classes, which is utterly unrealistic for real combat. And when sport becomes professional or semi-professional with tangible rewards for competitors, very often sportsmanship and character development suffers. And a competitive attitude, which is healthy and normal for sport, fosters ego, and ego is death in real combat.

Nonetheless, students often want the chance to test their courage and skill in a controlled setting. For the development of martial skill and warrior spirit this is best done among friends in an atmosphere of fellowship. In contrast to sport, where a competitor will either defeat you or be defeated by you, a comrade in the art by giving you his best effort is helping you improve your skill. Regardless of who wins the bout, both are in a very real sense, winners. And who would not feel reassured by the possession of friends with formidable skills in these times?

PTK fosters health and fitness as well or better than other martial arts and can be practiced into advanced age. Use of the sticks is a resistance exercise that does not damage the joints and tendons when practiced correctly. It promotes flexibility, which is probably the most important factor in countering the effects of aging, improves and maintains coordination and muscular efficiency and takes the boredom out of regular exercise. Practiced solo it is ideal for meditation in motion, which is according to a Zen proverb, “a thousand time better than meditation in stillness”.

Like other martial arts, PTK has a spiritual dimension and fosters the development of character and self-knowledge. Man is an aggressive species, the descendant of animals that hunted in packs and fought for territory, dominance and access to resources. We carry that heritage in our nature, and the history of the 20th century has shown that attempts to change human nature only result in death and suffering on a gigantic scale.

But Man has an ethical and spiritual side that can confront his animal origins and discipline his nature to a higher purpose. We can tame the beast within only if we are not afraid to face him. The aggressive instinct that motivates theft, bullying and murder can also motivate the protection of the weak and helpless and the defense of family, nation and personal honor when disciplined and trained. Martial arts training in its highest form is all about this.

We live in an age in which paradoxically, weapons of unimaginable power have brought war and violence back to where we live. The danger of thermonuclear annihilation has lessened, but the danger of terrorism and warfare on the neighborhood level is increasing. The arts of personal combat are not obsolete, today they are more important than ever.


  • At 4:21 AM, Blogger Jabo said…

    Excellent post! Often, people without experience in martial arts dismiss it as "brutish." People on the other side of the stupidity spectrum who do martial arts do so only for their vanity or insecurity. I'm not sure why I'm writing all this apologia, but I think it's because the post is an example of an viewpoint that is off the spectrum.

    You inspired me: I've been aching to get back into martial arts (have spent the better part of the past 2 years doing intensive physical training) and pekiti tirsia now seems like the way to go. Or at least a way to look into going.

    I have a tiny bit of karate from youth and about 2 years of Brazilian jiu jitsu from a few years ago.

    Actually, after all this ramble, I have a very simple questions: you know if there's a decent pekiti tirsia trainer/studio in Israel, where I'm currently living?

    Thanks for the post.

  • At 7:07 AM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    The PTK Global Organization website is here


    I'm afraid there is no PTK instructor in Israel at present (until I can get there maybe...)

    however, the head of my other style Wu wei Gung Fu is in Israel, see here:


  • At 9:12 AM, Blogger gun-totin-wacko said…

    Sounds interesting. I definitely want to get into a good, solid, worthwhile form of martial arts. However, I have crummy knees, so I'm not sure that it's a good idea.

  • At 5:35 PM, Blogger Galt-In-Da-Box said…

    This sounds very intriguing! I'm definatly visiting the website, and if there's a school nearby, will investigate.
    Another point is, firearms can be confiscated by the authoritarian state, martial arts training, not so!

  • At 3:47 PM, Blogger Jim Sullivan said…

    Mr. Browne,

    That was a very coherent and ringing justification for the study of the martial arts in the modern world.

    I enjoyed reading it. I echo your thoughts and would add that for myself, I rarely feel better than when I learn to do something I never thought I would be able to do. And few things today give that opportunity like the study of a martial art. Most things don't encompass both the mind and the body the way a martial art does. There is sport but sport just doesn't teach, in my opinion, like a martial art does. Though the study of a martial art has drastically improved my skill as a short stop.

    Thanks for a good read.

  • At 10:00 PM, Blogger gun-totin-wacko said…

    "And, if you go out for recreation where alcohol is served you are under legal and moral obligations not to carry. "

    Don't know why I didn't think of this before, but there is an exception: If you're a 325 pound black man that plays pro football, none of this applies. Shaun Rogers of the Detroit Lions allegedly got into an incident at a strip joint some weeks back. According to some witnesses, he was drunk AND carrying a pistol-possibly openly.

    By my count, being a native Michigander, assuming he did have a pistol on him, that's a minimum of 3 felonies, possibly more. Carrying into an establishment that deals with alcohol, carrying while intoxicated, possibly brandishing, and that all assumes he has a permit to carry.

    But no word on any repercussions for him. Most likely, the people at the bar decided to forget everything. Except the stripper he allegedly groped, who now (last I heard) is suing.

    Equal protection under the law, my aunt sally.

  • At 8:22 PM, Blogger Galt-In-Da-Box said…

    There is no such animal as "equal justice under law" anymore.
    It has been replaced by special privileges for some at the expense of others, and the lading of the individual with collectivist guilt trips based on the alleged misdeeds of one's ancestors.
    This modern legal concept is called "social justice".


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