Health, Fitness, and Martial Arts

I don’t regularly run fitness and conditioning segments when I teach a Kali Silat martial arts session, just a light limbering up and warm up.

Not because I don’t value strength training and cardio conditioning, but because I think those are matters that supersede martial arts training.  It’s a personal issue that I expect every individual to treat as a matter of life, not as a class you take, or a pastime.  As a martial arts Instructor I have other things to cover with you, not personal nutritional diagnosis, meal planning, and fitness training.

Your personal health and fitness are not the instructor’s responsibility, it is yours. 

Fitness Motivation: No Excuses!

(Photo credit: UrbaneWomenMag)

 Rather than spend time on a martial arts classes, I’d recommend spending time learning to cook and eat nutritiously. Go to a regular gym or do it at home, but do strength and cardio daily, on your own, for yourself, not for a belt or certificate.

Also, often there may be a mix of types of student in the classes.  Yoshimi Osawa, 10th dan Judo master, believes there’s 3 types of practitioners: recreational, technical, and competitor.  Here’s how he defines the types of practitioners: Recreational – practices for enjoyment, Technical – studies, practices and teaches their whole life, Competitor – is only able to compete for a limited time.  In a general martial arts class you probably have the three types.  Therefore, it’s unfair to the recreational practitioner to have them go through the mandatory rigors the competitive practitioner must go through to achieve their goals.

Bear in mind, the glory of the competitive martial artist is short lived. Think of the lines “My candle burns at both ends, it will not last the night, but ahh, my foes and oh, my friends, it gives a lovely light!”  The lifelong practitioners may be the recreational and technical ones! I for one would prefer longevity and good functional health over momentary success.

I’ve been with a group that trained everybody as if they were a competitive athlete.  I was in my early 50’s and most other practitioners were 20-25-30 years younger than me.  I couldn’t keep up with them.  The intense strength and conditioning aimed at a 20 year old’s capabilities became an obstacle to my growth and development.  The wear and tear the younger ones could recover faster from were for me more significant injuries, and not even directly related to the art.

For myself, I do cardio and strength training on an almost daily basis not for the sake of athletic competition, but for the sake of healthy living.  I try to maintain a decent weight for myself, a higher than average level of flexibility, stamina, and relative strength for a man my age.  When I was 20 and in the Marines, I had much higher standards, but I was living as a military man ready to engage in the ultimate competition, life and death combat at a moment’s notice.

Which brings me to another point: obese, fat, Karate masters.

Picture of an Obese Teenager (146kg/322lb) wit...

Picture of an Obese Teenager (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many are obese for no good reason like injury, or medical issues, but just due to lack of health consciousness and fitness.  Being 100 lbs. overweight is unhealthy no matter how you slice it.  And “eating a lot” is not an illness, it’s just gluttony, and not a martial virtue.

Being the physically demanding, hard contact activity that it is, you can look at the very heavy martial arts master and think “if I hit you and then just ran around a little, you’d kill yourself, by having a heart attack running after me!”

Obesity signals lack of stamina and endurance, lack of flexibility, slower reflexes, limited range of movement.  Martial art training makes demands of these qualities.

For the long time student, certainly the “master,” unless he’s a Sumo practitioner, only a reasonable degree of overweight should be acceptable.

From a beginning student, lack of fitness is understandable; part of what they should get from the training is knowledge and discipline.  Discipline they can apply to a whole range of life experiences and issues, like nutrition and fitness.   Maybe I’m old fashioned, but that’s what I’d expect from extended martial arts training.

There’s a matter of credibility involved in claiming mastery of a physically demanding activity such as martial arts.   A persistently overweight person will not be able to achieve higher levels of martial arts performance.  A persistently overweight “master” cannot himself perform at peak condition.

A few pounds overweight for a non Olympic athlete is OK (my opinion, not a medical declaration). Most people that go to a martial arts place for an hour or so about 3 times a week .  That’s not enough time for serious strength and fitness training, and martial arts training.  Put in personal time for health and fitness and get martial arts knowledge and skills from your martial arts class time.

Right now, I’m off to the gym, for my personal health and fitness sake…

Martial Arts Halls Of Fame And Associations

The soul can never be cut to pieces by any weapon, nor burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind. Bhagavad Gita 2:23

…or glorified by a plaque and picture. Rickbo.

I am in no martial arts hall of fame, or currently member of any association. There are so many martial arts organizations these days!

I’ve been a member of a couple.  Not too many, since monetary fees are involved, and I can think of other things to do with those monies.  But I’m not big on being part of martial arts organizations.  They don’t really serve my needs in an extended manner.  Often, they really don’t contribute much to your martial arts skills and knowledge.

If you look you’ll see on some martial artists’ bios that they are members of many organizations, and in many halls of fame. They are in photos with many great martial arts celebrities.  Those are supposed to validate the martial artist; “He is so great he is in a picture with someone else who is great!”  It becomes a kind of competition; “How many awards do you have?  How many celebrities are you in a pic with?”

I am suspect of that kind of validation.  Actually, I find it superficial.  You see, I grew up believing that the greatness created by martial arts training was mostly invisible.  It was beyond physical skills, and certainly beyond photo ops, even beyond the validation of a plaque.

I too have some photos with martial artists, some I’ve trained with extensively, and some just a few times.  I’ve trained with more people than I have photos with. Why? Because we spent our time training.  But, I would invite my friends, teachers, students, and any others, not to use the photos or certificates, or even belts, as an accreditation of my soul or my character.  For that you have to experience my presence.  Everything else is easily deceiving.

In Zen, the Satori; the transcendent experience of the sublime, in a manner, your mastery, is said to occur as a transmission beyond the scriptures.  That means that the experience did not come by passing a standardized test and getting a certificate or diploma, and  it is not validated by a declaration, paper, or external symbol.  Many masters are mostly unknown and not easily recognizable.

Let’s be honest, you pay your way into most Martial Arts Hall Of Fame things.  When you join an organization you get an “In Good Standing” diploma, and I’ve seen where people have paid to attend a seminar, not participated, and went and got a photo with the master.

Wherever I live, I try to establish a relationship, a simple relationship, with a martial arts instructor, club, or school where I can learn, train, or teach.   I’ve been fortunate in always finding one.

I have joined organizations, but ones where I could actually benefit because of regular training opportunities. When that has exhausted, I moved on.  I have high regard for many of my seniors, the instructors I’ve trained with, but don’t ask me for puppy dog like worship, which I’ve seen become one of the requisites of these organizations.  Like President Obama said in a speech today “it’s not gonna happen.”

I’m happy being an active martial artist without personal celebrity, and without the validation of multiple organizations.  I don’t even have many facebook connections, and I like that.

I understand the marketing value of the fame, but my martial arts practice is a personal thing, not a corporate one, and,  like I express in my addendum to the epigraph, celebrity and external validation do nothing for the soul.

Martial Arts, Martial Combat Training, Martial Sport Training.

When I train an offense/counter offense skills I am training 2 out of the three, combat and sport.  I’ll come back to why not 3 out of three later.   I have little doubt that a trained boxer will outperform an untrained street fighter as far boxing in a street fight.  He trains a sport but that sport has substantial combat applications.  Individuals who take their military combat training seriously (oh yeah, there have been and will be slugs) are not people you want to tangle with in a bar, but may have no real sense of the sport aspect of their training, or the “art” of it all.

When I was in The Marine Corps decades ago, we used to joke about how little “Martial Arts” training we underwent, but that we were still bad asses.  Those half dozen or so moves we did train had a lot of body, heart, and soul into them.  We trained them for “KILL” mode and that counts for a lot.  I saw a supposed martial artist spin crescent kick a brig guard once, a decent kick too, only to get tackled and beat pretty good for that offense by a martially unsophisticated Corporal.

Yes, it’s not the martial art, but the martial artist that accounts for the quality of the art.  I’ve heard it, and said it as well.  But substitute “mode” here, martial mode not martial art, not yet, and what I’ve got to say may make more sense.

“Art” is really hard to train, says someone who went to art school (me).

Salvador Dalí, The Persistence of Memory (1931...

Salvador Dalí, The Persistence of Memory (1931), Museum of Modern Art (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is not a mere matter of skillfulness.  We distinguish different modes and potential expressions of artistry such as visual arts, literary arts, musical arts, and movement arts such as martial arts, dance, or even gymnastics, but not every skillful expression in a particular mode is art.

The Art part, with a capital A, takes place in the invisible realms of life, of living, and of the soul.  I have learned visual modes of expressions and martial modes of expressions in the classroom.  I have learned the Arts of these in contemplative moments, in moments of personal challenge or crisis, through desire, fear, love, hate, confusion, weariness, and more, then repeat, then it infuses into your mode.  That’s when the mode becomes art.  The skillfulness may be higher or lower than another’s, but true artistry has no degrees.

It used to be said that kids could not be blackbelts because they lacked wider life experience, and the blackbelt was not just reflective of skill, but of wider ranging maturity.  I agree.  We can teach martial modes, or expressions such as Karate, Escrima, Kung Fu, but not every student will be a martial artist.  Even the skillful student may not be a martial artist, and that part is hard for the observer to determine at a glance. However, it seems we’ve tacitly agreed to acknowledge skillfulness over maturity, and adding youthful athleticism and resilience to the mix how can you not have an eight year old 2nd degree blackbelt?  Sarcasm here!

As martial arts instructors I think we train and teach 2 out of the three.  We train martial combat skills for fighting and self defense, and martial sport skills for the competitive individuals.  But the “Art” is not something we can give, it has to come from the student, and involves more than just skillful maneuvers.

Home Training

Some of my training group members get together with each other and train on their own during the week. 

That represents a sincere interest and dedication, and is also the way you make it your own.  That makes what you are training a way of life not just a class you take.  I hear from everyone and his brother “You a martial arts instructor? Well,  I took taekwondo once”  and they are obese, stiff as an oak, and only shuffle along as a walk.

Joe and I were talking today, and mentioning Master (and I don’t use the term loosely) Jhoon Rhee.  At some TV gala thing, he took the stage, mentioned that among the benefits of TaeKwonDo training are flexibility, and while in his suit, raised his leg, grabbed it with his hand and held it over his head, after that he mentioned strength and did a bunch of pushups and situps in front of all present. 

I don’t remember when it was exactly, but it was a show hosted by Wesley Snipes.  However,  a few years ago at age 80, at a  Washington DC congressional reception, still looking fit, he performs 100 pushups in under a minute, and does a full split. That I have the link for:  Master Jhoon Rhee 80th Birthday   

His martial arts is a way of life, not just a class he took.  Even with periods of non training due to life events or medical issues, you can have martial arts as a positive and beneficial way of life.  Make it your own.

Now, on another note:  train well and practice safely.  We did a lot of lock flows, do them to a point of giving and receiving pressure, but not to do damage to each other, the joints on the human body are its weakest points. Save the snapping and breaking pressure for an assailant.  We trained a lot of disarms and tactics.  Remember, the best disarm is not to be in the neighborhood, second best is a really hard hit to the head, third is to discover it in process, without tunnel vision looking for it. 

See ya’ll next week.

Be well.


What’s with the personal development stuff??

It’s a part of me, my life and practice as a martial artist, where I come from, and where I want to lead others to. 

Almost everyone with a belt , certificate, or a little experience, can teach a martial art.  Traditions provide a template for what to teach, in what order, and a baseline for achievement, mostly having to do with memorization. Get a snazzy logo, set up a shingle.

Personally, I am not interested in being a regular martial arts instructor.  For me, martial arts from the beginning, were not about the awesome power, skills, and physicality obviously visible.  It was about the self control, self perfectionism, and expanding consciousness that I saw, that some of those things represent.

I remember one of my karate instructors, Sensei, now Shihan, Charles “La Pantera” Bonet.

photo by Rick Vargas

Charles “La Pantera” Bonet.  photo by Rick Vargas

He  would occasionally shout at us when we were under performing “You think that punching and kicking is what makes you a black belt?  I can teach a monkey to punch and kick, but that won’t make him a black belt!”   I understood that to mean that he was looking beyond the surface, to the consciousness which animates the body, and to see there developing intelligence, sensitivity, the progress of evolution in relation to knowing ourselves and others, and values, not just how solid our front stance was.  Many instructors can only look at your front stance. That reduces the potential richness of martial arts training to an activity like gymnastics or boxing…

Well, it’s true.  Some instructors can only teach the physical aspects of a martial art. The other aspects require having been instructed in such things to begin with.  For example, not many instructors have much if any instruction or experience in the arts and practices of meditation, and may consider it trivial in spite of scientific evidence of it’s benefits to the brain, consciousness, and body.

Few have spent significant time in profound thought or study about the human condition, therefore, in discussion can only offer uninformed or unthoughtful opinions on matters of life in general.  Ego, elsewhere considered an obstacle, is paramount in many aspects of martial arts life and instruction.  Humility is often replaced by ritualistic, cultural acts of respect (nice bow!)

About my group under Sensei Bonet, we did learn to punch and kick, and quite well 🙂 and my classmates from 30+ years ago are renowned masters with great skills. But even the least among us, skill and credential wise, were being taught to become potential “masters” of ourselves. That’s where I’m headed, and the journey I invite others to join me on.

In my training group, your self awareness is important, and the physical actions, a tool for developing that self awareness.  I have two pet peeves: your breath, and your gaze, vital to the functioning of your body and mind, and coach you accordingly.  Helping you to manage your tensions, fears, and emotions is an ongoing goal.  The expansion of your consciousness, intellectually, academically, socially, etc. are important to me.

In the process, you might learn to punch and kick real good too!

That said, I am not a suitable instructor for everyone.  I don’t give belts or certificates.  I’m not really training anyone for a fight sport.  I don’t even follow the structured progression of a particular style.  I scrutinize character.  I prefer adults with full lives over youths with nothing better to do.  I like the freedom of greeting the group, and starting with something that feels like the right vibe at the time.

I have a degree of skills that qualify me, and though certified, I feel the terms “Master” and “Guro” are overused. I understand that in the Filipino Martial Arts it refers to a teacher, but, I have studied under people with whom the term Guru meant a “dispeller of darkness”  a rather serious metaphysical matter.  I’ll use the term with teachers I have trained under, but am not too quick too call anyone that off the cuff.  My friends call me Rick and if they want to use another appellation I suggest “Coach.”


Im giving a talk Saturday, February 23, 6:30pm at:

Half Off Books
2641 Enterprise rd.
Orange City FL 32763  Phone: 386-917-0100

Personal Protection For Everyone
The New Self Defense Paradigm

A fun and illuminating short lecture and demonstration on the matter of self defense for everyone, not just young athletes, professional responders, or martial arts experts.
Coach Rick specializes in short term self defense training for regular people, with average physical attributes, and little to no interest in “martial arts.”  If that
sounds like you at all, come enjoy this one of a kind seminar.


Kali in the Park again, Deltona Florida, various locations

Location: We will generally meet at Campbell Park in Deltona, Sunday afternoons at 1pm.  By invitation we will meet at various locations, outdoor and indoor in and around Deltona.

Martial Arts and Personal Protection training drawn from the arts of the Philippines and Indonesia, adapted for you, today, here and now.

Fun and easy to learn.   Super Graceful. Effective.
Timeless self defense and personal protection skills.

Fluid and fast.  Not focused on athletics. Learn, train, and develop according to your capacity.  Ideal for mature men and women.  Safety conscious, ego free and “bad ass attitude” types free.

No uniforms, no belts, no certificates.
What matters to me as a coach through martial arts training is your personal development, personal knowledge and skills, and your personal best, I think anything else is token, egocentric, short lived, and even meaningless.

Men, Women, Adults of all ages encouraged! 

There is a small fee for this training,email for current location and fee, but:

INSTRUCTOR RESERVES THE RIGHT TO DECLINE AN INDIVIDUALS PARTICIPATION AT ANY TIME.  The training is intended for law abiding, well mannered individuals of good character and sound mind, as determined by the instructor.  For insight into the practice and the instructor see the blog at:

Practicing Martial Artists Welcome.  A lot of schools say they “do a little” Kali, Arnis, Escrima.  We do the opposite, we do it a lot.  Complement your Karate, TaeKwonDo etc. with the truly wide ranging richness of this art, add diversity to your personal knowledge with this exotic skill set.

SINA TIRSIA WALI s the name of the base “style” I teach.  In addition, it is freely intermixed with elements of other styles I have trained in, and even with other martial arts and general life experience, to provide you with the best that I have, as much as I can.

Contact Information:  Coach Rick,
Located in Deltona, Fl
Other Details
Finally, Martial Arts Training, for people who don’t want all the muss and fuss of traditional martial arts training.  Topics Covered
  • The 64 attacks
  • Sinawalis
  • Specialized Seminars
  • Many partner practices and drills
  • Empty hand combat training
  • Free Flow (better than Katas!)
  • Private Training Available
  • More! Much, much more.