The FMA Flow
If I would be asked to name the most distinctive movement characteristic of arnis, escrima and kali collectively known as the Filipino martial arts (FMA), I would say it is the flow. It is hard to capture the essence of the flow through words but its workings can be seen when an FMA master performs his art seemingly without thought, seamlessly transitioning from one movement to another while blending his energy with that of his opponent’s.
“Combatively, the flow is like a flash flood in the desert. It moves to the places of least resistance and overwhelms them with sheer unchallenged momentum. In escrima and kali, the body moves like that while the weapon, particularly the stick, ricochets from hit to hit, accentuated whenever possible by the momentum of the fighter’s body,” wrote Dan Inosanto in his book The Filipino Martial Arts (1980).
You cannot force a novice practitioner to learn the flow; when it happens it happens. It is like learning how to ride a bicycle or learning how to swim, you will be able to do it when your body finally learned how to do it.
Paying attention to certain elements however could speed up progress and further improve the quality of your practice.
One would notice that FMA masters flow with a certain degree of detachment. When they flow, they are in the here and now and yet in a way are detached from it. The closest thing that you can compare with the flow is the experience of driving a car. At first, you are overly conscious of the various elements of driving like your hands on the steering wheel, your foot on the accelerator, the other vehicles and the pedestrians outside. But as you get better at driving, you become oblivious of these things and you just drive.
The flow is the distinctive characteristic of FMA weapons and empty hand techniques.
I would say that the ability to flow is a mark of high skill and mastery because of the delicate balance it entails, which is the merging of the conscious and the unconscious, “The conscious knowledge of correct and incorrect moves serves as kindling and logs to a fire, but in the white heat of the event they are burnt into non-existence, as the reality of the flame takes over – flames originating in a source beyond conscious know-how, melding athlete, experience and play into a single event. This is not to belittle deliberate training and practice, for without wood there can be no flame. Perhaps we can speak of two stages, conscious and unconscious, neither of which could operate without the other,” wrote Michael Murphy and Rhea White in The Psychic Side of Sports (1978).
I believe that mastering the flow requires an altered state; being in alpha as opposed to beta or normal awakening consciousness. Jose Silva in his classic book The Silva Mind Control Method (1977), explains the distinction between alpha and other brainwave patterns, he wrote, “When you are wide awake, doing and achieving in the workaday world, you are in Beta, or "outer consciousness," to use Mind Control terminology. When you are daydreaming, or just going to sleep but not quite there yet, or just awakening but not yet awake, you are in Alpha. Mind Control people call this "timer consciousness." When you are asleep you are in Alpha, Theta, or Delta, not just Alpha alone, as many believe. With Mind Control training you can enter the Alpha level at will and still remain fully alert.”
Silva points out that being in alpha allows you to do certain things differently. This explains why individuals who can access this state at will whether in martial arts or other endeavors possess clear advantage over those who cannot, “The Alpha dimension has a complete set of sensing faculties, like the Beta. In other words, we can do different things in Alpha than we can do in Beta. This is a key concept in Mind Control. Once you become acquainted with these sensing faculties and learn to use them, you will be using more of your mind in a special manner.”
A good teacher is essential to attain mastery of the flow. Only a good teacher can correct your structure and feed you with the right rhythm and amount of energy during practice so your body can instinctively learn how to flow. Incorrect structure and too much or too little energy employed during practice would result in imperfect flow.
A good escrima teacher can guide you effortlessly into the flow much like a master dance instructor lead his student from the mundane into the most complex of moves. Once the student learned the fundamentals of the flow under a qualified teacher, he should practice with different training partners so he could learn to blend with different types of structure and energy. The flow is no different from other FMA skills; you become good at it by practicing it over and over again. Without a doubt, practice makes perfect.