Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The MBC Instructor Certification Process

One of the most common questions I get regarding Martial Blade Concepts is “What do I have to do to become an instructor?” The answer, in simple terms, is to first learn how to “do” MBC and then learn how to “teach” MBC. In reality, however, it’s not that simple. It's also not for everybody.

If you’ve been around the traditional martial arts for any length of time, you’ve probably seen your share of black belts—both good and bad. In most systems, earning a black belt is validation of your mastery of the basics, as well as a transitional point from student to instructor. Unfortunately, having the physical skill to do something doesn’t mean you have the ability to teach those skills to someone else.

Teaching, by itself, is a skill set. Doing it effectively requires the ability to communicate, to organize and present information, to answer questions, and to be sensitive to the learning abilities (and disabilities) of different students. When it comes to teaching physical skills to others, it should also include the ability to adapt techniques and methods to the physical attributes of different students to enable them to achieve the specified goal.

One of the unfortunate by-products of traditional martial arts training methods are the structures of discipline and respect associated with another culture. Respect and discipline are good things and should definitely be part of the martial arts. However, the cultural traditions and rank hierarchy of a martial arts system can be easily manipulated to fuel an instructor’s ego and as an excuse for lousy teaching. If you ask “Why should I punch this way?” the instructor's answer should provide some insight into the logic and mechanics of the movement that helps you learn more effectively. If instead you get “I’m the sensei (sifu, guro, pendekar, master, etc.). You do like I say,” the instructor either doesn’t really care about teaching or is unable to teach effectively. Either way, you, as the student, lose. Fortunately, it's a free country and part of the reason you're training in the first place is to learn to deal with abusive people appropriately. Walk away and find an instructor who knows how to teach. 

Because these problems are so pervasive in the martial arts, for many years I purposely chose not to have MBC instructors. Over time, however, I realized that by keeping MBC’s standards high and emphasizing the “why” of what we do, I attracted like-minded people who shared the same commitment that I do to teaching well. With their heads already in the right place, implementing an instructor program made sense.

To try to share MBC as broadly as possible without diluting its meaning, I’ve created a number of levels of “instructor” and clearly defined each to avoid misunderstandings. I also tried to establish a system that allowed potential students to easily identify legitimate, authorized sources of MBC instruction. As an author, I understand copyrights and intellectual property pretty well and know that once I share something with someone, it’s very difficult to control what he/she does with it. However, as founder of the system, I CAN control who I choose to recognize as an authorized source if information on the system. As such, the first rule is that if someone is not included on the contact page of my web site, he/she is not a recognized or authorized MBC resource.

Those I do choose to recognize fall into one of several categories:

The most basic level of MBC “instructor” is a Study Group Leader. A Study Group Leader is someone who has actually trained with me at some point and has expressed a strong interest in learning and sharing MBC faithfully. He may be an instructor of another discipline, but more importantly, he has convinced me that he has the character to continue his study of MBC faithfully and is willing to guide and work with others in the process. Study Group Leaders typically organize training groups and work MBC/CBC material from my instructional DVDs.

The next step up is an Affiliate Instructor. Affiliate Instructors are people who already have extensive teaching experience on their own and have convinced me that they do it well. They have also convinced me that they want to faithfully represent MBC to their students. Even if they teach other knife disciplines, they are willing to share “pure” MBC with their students when the students ask for it. I don’t mind if these instructors show two different approaches to knife tactics, as long as the student knows which one is MBC and the instructor represents the MBC method as faithfully and accurately as possible.

Associate Instructors have trained extensively with me and have fully mastered all the required skills of MBC and CBC (Counter-Blade Concepts), even if those skills are not well suited to their physical attributes. They have also successfully passed the MBC Proficiency Test—a comprehensive skills evaluation that is given at the annual Martial Blade Camp event in Colorado. This test requires that the student demonstrate the ability to perform all the skills in the MBC/CBC systems on demand and demonstrate in-depth intellectual knowledge of the material as well. If the student passes and I feel that he has the ability, knowledge, and basic skill to teach and represent MBC well, I award him Associate Instructor status. If he successfully displays the physical skills of the systems, but does not demonstrate either the proper intellectual knowledge of the system or the attitude necessary to represent the system, he received a Certificate of Proficiency, but not Associate Instructor status.

Once someone is recognized as an Associate Instructor, I focus on providing him with the knowledge, information, and insight necessary for him to become a true teacher of MBC. Typically, this involves having the Associate Instructor work with me at seminars or in small-group sessions during which I explain the details of MBC’s teaching methodology and how to apply it to different student groups and types of learners. This instruction also addresses teaching left-handed students and students with physical limitations.

When an Associate Instructor has progressed successfully in this process and has gained adequate experience by teaching his own students, he may test to become a Certified Instructor. This test requires that he repeat the physical testing process that he went through to become an Associate Instructor, and that he successfully teach one or more blocks of instruction at Martial Blade Camp. Very few MBC practitioners make it to this level.

MBC does not require formal recertification, as all instructor certificates clearly state that I, at my sole discretion, may revoke their certification at any time if they fail to faithfully represent the spirit, intent, ethics, and skill level that define the MBC system. If that were to happen, the instructor’s status would be revoked and that revocation would be documented on the MBC web site. Unlike some arts and instructors, I will not indulge in revisionist history and will not pretend that I never taught or certified someone when I did. However, if an instructor misrepresents MBC or fails to uphold the standards I’ve established, I will no longer recognize him as an authorized representative or a qualified instructor of the system.

If you’ve read this far, you may have already guessed that MBC does not certify people by mail, nor do I operate three-day certification workshops that trade dollars for diplomas. While I’m certain that I could make money by doing so, my conscience, my pride in my curriculum, and my commitment to the MBC instructors who have worked so hard to excel in the current system won’t allow it.

I understand that MBC’s structure does not make it as accessible as many commercial martial arts. I regularly receive e-mails from people asking when I will be teaching a seminar in their home town. The honest answer is probably never. Thankfully, I also receive many e-mails from people asking where I will be teaching and where my instructors are located so they can plan their trip to visit us to train. In most cases, those are the individuals who have already done their homework and know what MBC has to offer. They are also the ones who ultimately progress through the system to become instructors.

MBC is what it is because of the high standards I’ve set for it. I’m proud of it and I’m honored to have a cadre of talented, dedicated instructors that share it faithfully and without compromise.

Thank you for your interest and understanding.

Stay safe,


A list of MBC instructors and study group leaders is available on my web site at: http://www.martialbladeconcepts.com/contact.htm

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

MBC Tools

Hello MBC Enthusiasts:

Long time no blog…

I apologize for the long lapse since my last post, but to be very honest, I wasn’t sure that my blog posts were reaching anyone or doing any good. Fortunately, some dedicated MBCers set me straight and let me know that they actually do read the blog and find it a useful resource. Feedback is a good thing… A lot has happened since my last post and both the MBC system and the MBC community have continued to grow and evolve in a dynamic and positive way. However, one of the most positive developments has been the recent availability of MBC-specific “tools,” like the Spyderco Yojimbo2, a high-quality Yojimbo2 trainer, and a custom rebirth of my classic Ronin fixed-blade design.

The Yojimbo2 was announced at the 2011 SHOT show and immediately started generating interest and orders. By the time the first production run was completed in November 2011, the knife was deeply backordered and sold out quickly. After almost a year of constant production, demand still exceeds supply, but it’s definitely easier to find now.

The Yo2 is a significant improvement over the first-generation Yojimbo. It features refined ergonomics, a shorter, more compact handle, and a longer blade. The blade is hollow ground for increased mass and tip strength, as well as a long service life of the edge. I removed the jimping (grooves) from the thumb ramp of the blade to avoid hot spots that could abrade the user’s hand and to be easier on pockets during the draw. The high-strength Compression Lock mechanism features a much-improved detent to keep the blade securely closed during carry, while still offering convenient one-handed closing. A four-position clip completes the package, making the knife configurable for all carry styles.

As we all know, the best way to ensure that you have the skill to use your Yo2 effectively is to train with a high-quality training knife that accurately replicates its shape, size, and balance. Thanks to the talented Steve Rollert of Keen-Edge Knives, such a trainer now exists. CNC machined from solid aircraft-quality aluminum, it accurately mirrors the weight and balance of a live-blade Yo2. The detail of the machining is incredible, and it even features a CNC-engraved MBC logo on the handle. Through a licensing arrangement with Spyderco, Steve is able to make 200 of these trainers per year. They are currently being offered through Stay Safe Media and directly through Keen-Edge Knives.

Those of you who have been following my knife designs for a while may remember my first Spyderco design: the Ronin fixed blade. The Ronin began as a custom collaboration with knifemaker Mike Snody and evolved into a production project with Spyderco. Due to difficulties with sheath production, the Spyderco Ronin had only one production run of 1,300 pieces. If you can find one in the secondary market, they fetch a pretty handsome price.

After countless requests from folks looking for Ronins, I approached my friend and veteran MBC practitioner Mickey Yurco. Mickey is an extremely talented knifemaker and a retired law enforcement officer. After a little persuasion, he agreed to do a limited run of custom Ronins to be sold exclusively through Stay Safe Media. Hand ground from 440C stainless steel, Mickey’s Ronin’s feature shorter handle scales made of polished G-10. His improved design includes a tapered single guard and exposed index finger groove that also function as the retention points for the custom-molded Kydex sheath. The result is an exceptional sheath fit that is far superior to first-generation Ronins.

Per my agreement with Mickey, he will produce 10 knives per month for one year, yielding a total of 120 pieces. Most have black G-10 handles and clear pins, but Mickey occasionally mixes in a few other handle colors to keep things interesting. I have been carrying my personal Ronin for several months now and absolutely love it. If you’re interested in one, they are available while supplies last exclusively from Stay Safe Media.

It’s great to finally be able to refer people to tools I trust, made and sold by people I trust. Life is good.

Stay safe,


Friday, March 23, 2012

How Much Technique is Too Much?

How much technique is too much?

When I was young and new to the martial arts, I wanted to learn as much as possible. At the time, I thought that meant learning as many different techniques as I could. Whether it was 20 different defenses against a rear choke or every mutation of an outside crescent kick, I wanted them all.

Later, when I was involved in several self-defense situations, I found that I invariably used the same simple techniques. Because they were simple and powerful, they were the natural go-to choices when I had to respond reflexively.

With this experience in mind, I tried very hard to make MBC—and everything else I now practice—as simple and straightforward as possible. Rather than focusing on numerous angles of attack like the traditional Filipino martial arts (FMA), I focused on categorizing angles from the defender’s point of view and based on the natural range of motion required to defend against them. For example, if the defenses against an angle 1, an angle 6, and an angle 10 are basically the same thing, angles 6 and 10 aren’t all that critical to learning functional self-defense. They all fall into one of four “zones” (Zone 1), so they can all be treated as an angle 1. Attacks on the centerline could be deflected into one of the four zones and then processed accordingly.

Taking that concept a step further, I defined the Defensive Responses of the system based on the physical “possibilities” and the target priorities that achieve predictable stopping power. I narrowed these Defensive Responses down to four—the pass, follow, crossada, and meet. Four Defensive Zones, four Defensive Responses, and 16 basic techniques made for a very simple, easy-to-understand system of knife tactics.

That basic system worked and still forms the foundation of MBC today; however, it does not include other very functional, practical, and combatively useful tactics. It also “forces” the inclusion of some Defensive Responses that are not the most practical choices for a particular angle of attack—at least when considered in a “matched-lead” context (i.e. right vs. right).

After codifying the basics of MBC, I continued to explore other martial arts and other approaches to knife tactics. I kept an open mind and applied my experience as an intelligence analyst to the problem. I evaluated drills, techniques, and tactics as objectively as possible based on the potential combative functions they offered. At the same time, I resisted the urge to accumulate techniques just to expand the system of have something new to practice. In fact, I actively tried to eliminate techniques that do not have high potential with regard to combative function.

Through this process, I am confident that I have made MBC a complete, highly functional system that is extremely versatile and scalable. It offers sound, combat-effective solutions to a full scope of potential violent attacks, provides built-in back-up and alternative tactics, and integrates all these with an exceptional level of clarity and understanding at both the conceptual and mechanical levels. The result is considerably more than 16 basic techniques and the tidy, simplistic logic that I still teach beginners on the first day. The additional techniques, however, are well worth the effort. The reason is that they were chosen to provide efficient function that didn’t already exist in the core techniques of the system.

For example, the Roof Block is a very efficient way of defending against an overhead attack. Back when MBC used to include the “Four-Count Crossada” and “Six-Count Crossada” drills, it was easy to relate the Roof Block to the “opening” crossada against angle 2. Over time—and the experience of teaching literally hundreds of students—I realized that the practicality of the opening crossada as a defensive response against an angle 2 was very limited. I ultimately decided to eliminate it and the Crossada drills because there wasn’t enough functionality to warrant keeping them.

Interestingly, this led to a deeper understanding of the “shoulder block” or pluma (“pen” block) movement that is used to defend against the angle 2 in the Sumbrada drill. In the context of the “16-techniques” approach to the system, the shoulder block (checking with the palm of the left hand and draw cutting edge up with the right) was, for lack of a better word, “unclassified.” It didn’t fit any of the Defensive Responses. However, when I dispensed with the opening crossada for angle 2, I had to determine whether the crossada—as a Defensive Response in any form—was still valid for angle 2. What I discovered was a more efficient version of the shoulder block. Rather than checking to stop the attacking arm and then draw cutting it, the movement was much more effective (and easier to learn) as a “push-pull.” Checking the arm and then shoving it into the upturned edge of the blade is much more powerful and comfortable. It also preps the next movement—a downward cut to the triceps—by shoving the arm away and into the perfect range for that cut.

Since the hands move in opposite directions to create a shearing force, the “push-pull” defenses for angles 2 and 4 are perfectly functional expressions of the crossada concept. More importantly, they’re simpler and more efficient than the classic “opening” crossadas.

Where does that leave the Roof Block? It is now “unclassified” based on the 16-technique quantification of the system. However, it’s still worth learning, as are hubud, punyo sumbrada, palisut, and the other highly functional tactics that are also included in the complete MBC system, but not conveniently categorized in the basic 16 techniques.

If you’re interested in this topic and want to explore it further, Stay Safe Media recently released Martial Blade Concepts: Volume 4. This DVD provides a comprehensive “review” of all the combative applications of MBC’s standard-grip system. In the process, it also allows the viewer to understand the full scope of MBC’s technique and understand the logic behind the choices I made in refining the system. Viewed as a complete body of work, it reveals the extensive “common ground” that exists between the vast majority of MBC techniques and clearly illustrates the simplicity and versatility of the core movements. Viewed step by step, it allows the student to analyze and appreciate the reasoning for the inclusion of specific techniques outside the four Defensive Responses. Along the way, I reinforce critical concepts of the system and explain how most techniques are subsets of other movements and how “live-hand” tactics share the mechanics of weapon-hand movement.

In reality, MBC: Volume 4 is much more than a “review.” It brings MBC full circle and offers a complete menu of its standard-grip combative applications, clearly demonstrating the versatility, completeness, and brutal combative efficiency of the system. It also provides the student with basis for evaluating his or her own progress in the defensive application of the system and offers an incredible resource for “one-stop shopping” when it comes to choosing the techniques that best fit your needs and your personal expression of MBC. If you view it—and the MBC system—in its entirety, you see everything we currently have to offer and receive a thorough explanation as to why I choose to offer it. If that’s too much for you, that’s fine. Scale your study and you’re your expression of it accordingly.

How much technique is too much? That’s for you to decide based on your personal level of motivation, skill, and physical ability. As we say in MBC: “You don’t have to fight like me; you just have to fight well.”

Stay safe,