An Eye-opening Experience Cross-Training in Filipino Martial Arts

A couple of years ago, I did some cross-training with Chris at a Filipino martial arts school in my area. We enjoyed it for a while, but our interest waned. This school’s teachings were largely based around practicing very set sinawali (patterns), which were fun at first, but we eventually felt that it wasn’t taking us any place new, that there was a flatness to the general approach to training.

Last month, I was given the opportunity to meet up and train with Filipino martial arts instructor Guro Mark Mikita. This man is no weekend warrior. He is a consummate martial artist who has dedicated his entire life to his training, having trained over 46 years, nearly every day, and for long bouts, he was putting as many hours into his training as most people do into their full time jobs. And it shows in the way he moves and teaches. Here is a photo of him (can you believe he is in his 50s?!?!)


During one training session, I was feeling very much ill at ease performing a relatively complex sequence of movements involving a stick in one hand and a knife in the other. This was particular hard for me because I haven’t done much in the way of weapons in any of my previous training, let alone a different weapon in each hand. And the sequence itself was quite complex. Guro Mark then explained that this was a “machine-gun” approach to teaching and learning. You make the movements so complex and hard to keep up with that you have no choice but to just absorb the over-arching principles behind the techniques rather than rote memorization. My brain did indeed feel quite broken initially. But as the training went on, l got little flashes of understanding about the kinaesthetics behind the techniques, which are vastly more important that the techniques themselves. You can get a sense of this watching this video of him below.

Guro Mark also showed us a number of times how the same movements that are done with the weapons can also be done with no weapons at all. The commonality of technique from the weapon work transfers over into the empty hand work. We didn’t focus on this, but later on, after I had done a lot more practice of a particular weapon technique, I tried the movements without the weapons and it was very easy for me to make the transition despite the fact we hadn’t been training it. It is true that I have more training in empty-handed combat methods, so it makes sense I would find it easier not having those pesky weapons cluttering up my hands, but the flow of movement is still quite different. I had learned that flow from the weapon work itself.

I can see now that the flow of movement that is characteristic in the Filipino martial arts has a lot of development potential for me as a Jiu-jitsu practitioner. But it’s not just that which has piqued my enthusiasm. It’s also Guro Mark’s way of imparting the knowledge, guiding students to learn the underlying principles by allowing them to develop their own personal experiences with them. I am feeling truly inspired by it all and am looking forward to spending more time exploring it further. If you’re ever in LA, be sure to look him up at the Mikita School of Martial Art.

Some people say there is no point in cross-training in other martial arts styles, that focusing all your training in a single style will go further towards becoming a master. I don’t really buy that. There is a classic Japanese saying, “There are many paths to the top of Mt. Fuji.” One path might take you so far, but you might encounter a blockage that leads you to explore another path, or several other paths. And those paths might be easier for you, while simultaneously being harder for others. We all have different physical attributes, learning styles, and personal inclinations. By trying different styles of training under different types of instructors, you can get flashes of insights you might not get exposed to in your usual circles. This doesn’t mean you have to give up your former style. You can learn from multiple styles and instructors to improve your overall perspective of martial arts and self-defense as a whole. That being said, I wouldn’t advise a beginner martial artist to over-diversify. It can be confusing to someone who hasn’t already developed a base and an understanding of how to compartmentalize one’s learning.

Have you ever cross-trained in other martial arts styles? If so, what kinds of benefits did you experience from it? Please share your thoughts in the comments. 🙂

Comments (5)

5 thoughts on “An Eye-opening Experience Cross-Training in Filipino Martial Arts

  1. I train in shorinji kan jui-jitsu, I started in my mid thirties in order to regain some fitness (and have fun) after 10 years of sedentary life. I have been training for nearly 4 years, several times a week at the start. Last year, after only a few kyu, I hit a plateau: I am/was very tense and started to feel regular ‘discomfort’ in my hip after throws which is why I started to consider practising wing-chun once a week while still going to my usual club. The cross training is helping me enormously with my posture and my relaxation, consquently I am now finding jitsu easier even if both style have really low overlap.

    1. I’ve trained in Wing Chun in the past. The flow of movement has some similarities to the flow of movement in Filipino martial arts, particularly the empty handed part. I could imagine why that would help. 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

    2. Thomas, that’s great to hear. I can empathize having started in Shorinji Kan originally.

      I started in Shorinji Kan Jiu-jitsu here in Canada just over 12 years ago now, and six years ago started training with Lori Sensei. While the styles have very different initial focuses, I’ve found that the elements in which they differ have actually crossed over the most, with lessons learned in striking and police style escorts & locks teaching me things about how to more efficiently perform and teach throws from Shorinji Kan. And even the basic stuff I’ve learned so far from Guro Mark Mikita is already giving my options in both my Shorinji Kan weapons work and improving hand speed for Can-ryu police escorts.

  2. Great to hear that you gave FMAs a shot! I totally get what you said in the first paragraph about training in set patterns. While training in sinawali patterns is useful and there are quite a few self defense applications from the sinawalis, just training the pattern alone without applications is pointless. What I love about the FMAs is the underlying philosophy of “counter for counter” and “the flow” which should fit right into the Can-Ryu perfectly. I really advocate cross training but it has to be done smartly and only after you’ve established a good foundation in your base style.

  3. That some techniques have similarities. Like the defanging of snake in Eskrima is also taught in Kenjutsu. Also, the you shouldn’t over-extend your body when performing a slash is both in kenjutsu (shinkendo) and eskrima (kalis ilustrisimo).

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