A Training Group?

Rick Vargas Kali Silat and Self Defense Training Group.

I lead and teach what I call a Kali Silat and Self Defense “Training Group.”  It’s not a martial arts organization, school, or even exclusive style.  I don’t promote, give belts, or certify anyone.  It’s my vehicle for sharing martial arts I have learned and still study, with interested men and women.

Admittedly, there is little interest in what I choose to do because so many people are about emblems, belts, certificates, patches, and the whatnot trappings of martial arts.  My training group doesn’t even have uniforms, wear what you’d like.

What’s a Training Group?  Why a training group?

Isn’t a “school” or “dojo” better?  Well, more profitable maybe, better; maybe not, and here’s why.  I am not a member of any martial arts organization that I provide kickbacks to.  I don’t pay annual dues, attend mandatory camps, re certify every year, or have to maintain a certain number of members under me to maintain my “qualifications.”

Those are often part of being a school or organization.  It’s good for the style or organization, but can be a burden on the local instructor who just wants to help others.

I can help others with my humble martial offerings.  I have past training, knowledge, and skills that cannot be taken away from me, memberships or not.  I study, train, and develop martial skills and concepts continually.

I have a core of materials I like to teach, from among my own past training and certifications, but it’s not a mandatory set for each student.  Sometimes I train one student in one set of skills and another in a different set.  Why?  Cause I focus on the students’ needs and capabilities.  Some want to learn basic no frills self defense.  Cool, we can do that.  Some want to learn to express themselves through the beauty of martial movement.  Some want to learn exotic fighting skills.

Then there’s the matter of abilities and capabilities.

My older students don’t train in high kicking taekwondo techniques, those take longer to develop skill in, so why require they work on that?  But, boy they can whack you with a stick!  Mature female students don’t often want to train full contact kickboxing, but benefit from learning how to defend themselves from being grabbed in an elevator from a molester.

Some of my students are not athletic, they can’t do 3 minutes worth of a drill all at once, in a self defense situation they won’t win a fight.  But I’m not preparing them for the Olympics, they have to train to make one move, their first move,  and it be an effective move.

School and organizations can’t provide this level of flexibility.

I haven’t really trained gun defense.  One of my students mentioned he had.  I asked him to show me and now I’m learning from him, and can share it to the group.  That’s something else a school or dojo won’t do; bring in influences outside of their “Style.” If I think it worthwhile we will fit it in to the training.

Another student is a high caliber wrestler.  Chatting with him I found he’s of the opinion that someone who is a quality striker doesn’t have to master wrestling like him, that he’d focus on teaching the striker about getting up from takedowns, cause he says, and I accept, a wrestler will get you down!  I can’t wait for him to add some of that to the mix.

In the training group environment I can customize things more for each member.  If someone doesn’t get the 26-31 of the 64 attacks but likes the sinawali’s,  we can work more on those.  Don’t want to kickbox but do want to learn to defend yourself against a grab punch, we do that on that basis.  You like Kali and Silat movement just for fun, I think it’s fun too.

The environment of my training group is friendlier and more casual than Karate training in my early days.  We could not budge from a stance, could not look around, could not speak or scratch an itch.  It’s effective but archaic training  I can teach you the same things without terrorizing you in the process, and you’ll learn just as well, if not way, way, better.

In my group if you need to go to the bathroom just don’t do it in the middle of defending against a punch, you don’t have to ask permission, need a drink of water, get it.  Feel tired, sit out for a bit shame free.

Yet, it’s not for everybody.  Mercenaries, Seal Team Six, Professional cage fighters, Bodyguards and Bouncers will find this training group underwhelming.

It’s honestly designed for the average person who would like to learn some self defense and martial skills, without the stress of the killer training you find in MMA gyms Marine Corps boot camp, or the goofy unrealistic training of the average karate school.  It is exciting and often fun.  That’s why I run it as a training group.  We train, in a variety of things.  We converse and laugh.  We train with a focus on the individual. We train seriously and for fun.   It’s a training group intended for responsible grownups.

Come Join us Saturday mornings 10am Black Lightning Martial Arts in Dbaru

Coach Rick

A Dime A Dozen

Martial arts instructors are a dime a dozen.

There are people who will teach you kicking, punching, throwing, and choking all over the place. They’re looking to train fighters, warriors, champions, masters, and build dynasties around their name or style.  Some will develop a chain of schools to further their name.  They design logos and patches that look fearsome.  They are often 6 feet plus tall and 350lbs of badass, and propose to teach 5 foot 1, 90lb ladies, to defend themselves, just like he would, never mind the disparity in size and strength.

Hmmm, maybe I’m not a martial arts instructor?

For me the  old days are the 60’s and 70’s.  That’s when I was a child and young man in the martial arts.  The first thing you were taught then was restraint, what not to do.  Don’t wear your uniform in public, in fact, roll it up and hide it.  Don’t play around doing techniques with non students, and not in public.  Don’t brag.  Don’t make a move in class that the teacher didn’t say to.  Don’t speak unnecessarily.  Don’t have a conceited, angry, jealous, or self pitying attitude.

These days it’s not uncommon to see someone wearing their white, black trim, TKD uniform with “Master Lee Fighting Tigers” name and phone number logo in bright colors shopping in the mall.  I’ve seen a whole family like that: mom, dad, and 2 toddlers!  Obviously they weren’t told about restraint.  Teenagers horse around in the park doing unrefined beginner round kicks and trying to body slam each other to show who’s kung fu is better.

I notice there is seldom any real conversation between Instructors and students.  They come to the dojo, bow in, start doing the 1-2-3’s of whatever movements, 45 minutes later teacher and students go home.  I can remember classes where there was discussion, during class, sitting on the dojo floor.  Discussions about human nature, fear, and survival, not just abut the next tournament or belt testing.

Don’t bother asking these sorts of people about their martial art.  They know the location of their school, but no background of the art.  They don’t know anything about their particular lineage, or even the authenticity of their instructor.  They don’t even know the distinguishing characteristics of their art.  “Uh, its Chinese.”  “Master Joe is a master.”  “I’m 15 years old, got my 4th degree black belt in 2 years.”

This of course relates to the quality of most of the  martial arts students out there.  They’re throwing punches and kicks and each other around, terribly!  The lack of restraint they start with leads to lack of control.  They have no balance, in the  most basic sense of the word, like being able to stand on one foot without wobbling.  Unless you have a serious handicap, a black belt should be able to balance on one leg.  Higher skill?  Execute that round kick broken up into 4 parts holding each for 5 seconds with poise and balance.  What about precision?  Movements should be executed with optimally defined mechanics.   But if you start with an out of balance wobble, that wobble only get bigger each step of the way.

You look sloppy.

That is the instructor’s fault.  For letting you get away with it for the recurring income sake.  For not teaching restraint, humility, and perseverance. Qualities which transcend mere martial arts training.  They especially leave out love and compassion.

But those are the qualities I look for  in a student.  Those are the qualities I want to impart in a student.  The kick throw punch stuff should build on that.  As a martial artist I’m looking to help make the world a better place, not fill it with super power assholes.

A few years ago one of my instructors; a long time quality practitioner and well regarded master instructor, decided we would eschew the titles of Master, Sensei, Shihan, etc. and just be called “Coach.”  I like that.  The Asian titles lack the same significance in our culture versus theirs.  We can be respectful without being reverential.  “Coach” implies that we are working together for an improvement, potentially in each other, whereas the other titles imply a distance, a separation; “I have achieved and need do no more, you must try to be like me.”  A coach personalizes for you. A coach  cares about you as a full package; body, mind and spirit.

Me, I am a “Coach!”  I’m still working for improvement  on a lot of the same stuff.  Also, and this is not too fine a point; A coach is looking to make you better at something, even better than he  might be himself!

Want an example, look at the boxing world, the fighters who make tens and hundreds of millions of dollars per fight, who are their coaches?  Older guys with Parkinsons, arthritis, slow and stiff, overweight.  Most of them CAN’T fight well.  What makes them the guys who “coach” the young, agile, prime of their life athletes?  That they are capable and skilled at improving their prospects to excellence.

So.  I wont be one of the “dime a dozen” martial art instructors.  I’m a Martial Arts Coach.




Violence & Self Defense

Self Defense

Self Defense (Photo credit: Pioneer Library System)


Reasons for human violence include the same ones in the animal kingdom such as necessary sustenance and mating, and are further complicated by various degrees of mental illness, avarice, baseless anger, randomness, and conceit.  The foundation for a particular act of violence is often hard to pin down, but we can all agree we don’t want to be the victim of violence regardless of the case.

What to do to avoid being a victim? I’m not sure it can be totally avoided, but we can and should try to minimize the odds against us.

First Line of Defense is: Know Thyself!  Are you a five foot one inch tall, 95 pound woman, with a baby always in tow, or a six foot four, 280 pound gun toting MMA fighter.  Are you handicapped in some way?  Are you experienced in dealing with particular types of people, are you an off duty cop, Nay Seal, or ad agency receptionist?  Knowing your capabilities and especially your liabilities can guide the level of risk you should take in particular situations.  An heavyweight MMA fighting Navy Seal who is unarmed, wearing a leg cast, on groggy pain medication, should know that at the moment he has the same capabilities as that five one woman.

Second line of defense is avoidance.  Don’t enter high risk areas unnecessarily.  You approach an elevator, the door opens, there’s a homeless looking guy inside holding broken beer bottle in his hand, and he says “what floor.”  Don’t go in!  An obvious example, but if you’re a 5’1” woman with a baby in tow, don’t go in, avoid it.  Even there; ego may make that woman think “I don’t want to seem scared!” and therefore not avoid a potentially dangerous situation.  Men are not exempt.  Men are even more likely to puff their chest, look him in the eye, get in the elevator and say “Was up?”  Then turn their back on him.  “Ill take the next one, I’m waiting for someone” is a good response short of backing away, which is a better response anyway.

Entering where there’s a crowd of drunks, a bunch of hyped teenagers who are into showing off to each other,  a dark hallway, rounding unknown corners, are all situations where if violence occurred, we wouldn’t be surprised after the fact.  Use that knowledge before the fact

Third line of defense is anticipation/preparation.  Anticipate that encountering violence in our increasingly populated environment is a possibility, and as a matter of caution, do some anticipation and preparation.  Close your doors, set the alarm at night, use familiar, lit streets and passageways, be aware of the behavior of the people around you.

Learn some self defense and fighting skills, get some knowledge along those lines.  It may be a little or it may be a lot, that’s a call for you to make.  You can do a 5 day a week, 4 year course, or a one day seminar, or anything in between.  Something is better than nothing.  Think!  Consider scenarios, what the natural response would be, what a successful response would be.  This you can do on your own and establish a loose game plan for an event like that.

I teach Kali Silat martial art, and self defense.  Learning a few punches and kicks without the context of understanding violence is only minimally helpful.  I know of a seasoned, experienced fighter, who got mugged and beat up by a couple of thugs.  Normally, he was capable of beating the crap out of them.  But in his head he had ignored the possibilities of violence in the world.  That’s why I put the physical training last in order of knowledge of dealing with violence.  The intangibles of self knowledge, awareness, avoidance, forethought, and reasonable expectations, can preclude the need for a violent physical encounter.

Be Safe.  For more information on the Rick Vargas Kali Silat & Self Defense Training Group use the contact form below.









Warriors. I’m not one.

English: Two Marines from 2nd Marine Aircraft ...

English: Two Marines from 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Fwd) practice Marine Corps Martial Arts Program at Al Asad, Iraq. Here, Corporal Robert Lemiszki performs the shoulder throw technique on Corporal Halie Kennie. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So often I hear from martial artists, instructors, and others, talk about being “warriors.”  God help me I think that term is over used, yes, even in the context of martial arts. 

You may argue that martial does mean war, and I can argue back just as righteously that it has more to do with military, and that you are not a warrior unless you are in the distinct “warrior class” of a society, in most modern societies that means the military.

You may be a fighter, but not a warrior.  A warrior is part of a group that fights for more than himself.  They make themselves available full time to die for the protection of others.  He/She fights for the tribe, the village, the country.

Most martial “warriors” I meet these days train part time to fight for the personal glory of a winning performance in a tournament.

I, and many others have been there done that (Marine Corps here, baby)!  I did my turn, I don’t do it anymore, and I’m on to the next stage of my existence.  I’m not a warrior. No shame in that.   I am a householder, an educator, a family man, hopefully a good contributing member of my society.  That also means I have the highest regards for those true warriors that are doing their turn now.

I think it almost diminishes their worth when some un-thoughtful knucklehead calls himself a warrior cause he “likes to fight.”  Martial artists are not necessarily warriors, and I think the qualifier is the “art” part of the term.  Art implies a creative continuity not an expectation of possible death in the process.  Fighting isn’t enough to make you a warrior, it is an availability and willingness to die, for others.

Fight, train martial arts, but respect and honor our true warriors by not trivializing the term.

Disappointed at the state of martial arts in my area.

I’m disappointed at the state of martial arts in my area.

But that’s no excuse for the lack of common courtesy displayed by most instructors to a visitor walking in the door.  Of several schools I have visited, the most common reception is…nothing, they may glance your way, then ignore you, presumably because they have a class going on.  Not acceptable.  Courtesy is one of the values they supposedly teach, yet given the opportunity with a visitor and potential customer, the teachers neglect it.  At this point the visitor should be passing negative judgment,  I do, just as unapologetically as their pretension of importance.  I have sat through an entire class without anyone greeting me.  It takes a split second to graciously call out. “Hello, welcome, If you can wait I’ll be with you shortly,” and in a gap, and there are gaps, approach the visitor and offer information, or ask them to stay a little longer so you can speak with them.

Which brings me to my next point; the brusque “Can I help you?”  “Yes, I want three pepperoni pizzas and a bottle of coke.”  It’s a martial arts school, what can they possibly be there for, hmmm?  Usually it comes off as “Whaddaya want?” and sort of standoffish.

How about “Hello, Please come in.  I’m Mr./Mrs. Soandso, the instructor,  your name?  Are you interested in martial arts/do you have any martial arts experience?”  In a courteous and pleasant manner.  Respect and engage the visitor, don’t treat them like they are disturbing you, how dare they, you have a black belt…

I’ve had one guy talk to me for twenty minutes, without knowing a thing about me, or asking me anything other than “you lookin to train, you wanna join our school,” telling me all the martial arts he knows, everything they teach, even telling me “I can teach you how to fight…”  I barely got a word in edgewise that I was just visiting schools to get to know instructors, and thanks, I gotta (want to!) go now.

The teaching and training. It is boxed in with kid stuff, public performance, athletics, and tough guy posturing and focus.  What’s missing?  The part of martial arts that is martial, effective, and for everybody including women, and post 40 year olds.  Back to this later.

Some of these instructors can’t do their own class, they are out of shape and look like they don’t really train much for themselves, they just “teach.”  I think you, as an instructor should maintain a degree a training for yourself.  There is a conundrum though.  It”s tricky, because in boxing for example, the world’s best trainers are older, heavier, and some even have severe medical issues.  What’s the difference?  The boxing trainers don’t have the image presumption that they are qualified because they themselves are great fighters.  They are great “coaches.”

Walk into a common martial arts place and they guy will puff his chest, center his belt, and point to a picture of him in a fighting pose “that’s me!  I can make you like that!”  Most great boxing coaches don’t have that air, or anything like that to prove.  They’re valuable because of the quality of knowledge and skills they impart to their “students.”

Rigidity.  I have been fortunate to have instructors who encouraged you to learn from other instructors and systems, and who themselves drew from other sources and even adapted or innovated.

However, most taekwondo instructors and schools “belong” to one organization or another, and stick to the book of that group, nothing outside the tradition permitted, only one variation of round kick allowed.  Most MMA schools springing up all over the place do not train weapons.  Krav Maga is popular, but would never incorporate Systema or JKD training in their space.

Rigidity also presents itself in how they can train students.

Apart from the “kid stuff” and athletic stuff, most are hard pressed to train the more mature individual.  Someone in their 40’s & 50’s who is more stable and can now do things they’ve wanted to but couldn’t in earlier years.  Those individuals will be out of place physically and psychologically in the atmosphere of the Spartan “fighter” and lots of other “conditioning” training which is set to the standard of someone half their age.  With that individual I would go straight to the art and skills training in the available training time, after all that’s what sets martial arts apart from zumba…

So,  I’m doing my own thing.

I train a small group in the outdoors and privately cause schools won’t make a time slot for what I do.   It’s diverse training, based in Kali Silat, and drawing from JKD, Kickboxing, Systema, and my own experience and innovation.

I try to make sure that the average, mature, non martial arts, non athletic, man or woman can learn what I teach, a little self defense, and feel comfortable while at it.  I train for myself pretty consistently.  I continue to expand my knowledge and develop my skills appropriately.  Most of all, I endeavor to live out the values that I learned from the martial arts, including courtesy, respect, sensitivity, and generosity.  🙂

English: Pictogram of Mixed martial arts