Titles in the Filipino Martial Arts

A trend that I find disturbing is the tendency of many in the Filipino martial arts to appoint themselves as masters, with ever more elaborate titles. There is “guro,” “punong guro,” “master,” “grandmaster,” “supreme grandmaster,” “datu,” “tuhon,” etc.

The formula is to choose one of these titles, maybe combine several, get a flashy costume, and pose with weapons in a dramatic, master-like fashion. The stance you pose in should NOT be a fighting stance, but one that looks intimidating.

KuntawMan posted the following on his blog:

“I had always been taught that the title “Master” was to be bestowed not by an organization or by oneself, but by the community you belong to.

I had two significant  experiences with  the title Master around 10 years ago, and I believe that teachers should achieve it this way, rather than to pay for certification. The first was shortly after my arrival to California, when I was still on the tournament circuit and making friends among the instructors. A few times when I had visited a school, I would be introduced to students as “Master Gatdula”. This is aligned with the saying that teachers become masters when the community recognizes you as one.

The second was at Manong Leo Giron’s school and house, when he and Grandmaster Vince Tinga introduced me to another teacher from the Bay as “Master” Gatdula. When I suggested that I was just a teacher, Manong Leo said, “you are a master because I say you are one…” Vince Tinga introduced me to the community as his nephew, and adopted my school as family (he actually taught in my school 7 days a week for nearly 2 years before his death). This is how one becomes a master, not through some ceremony.”

I think Kuntawman has it exactly right: the title is not one that you choose for yourself; it should be one that is conferred upon you by the community. Because it must be earned, you have to do more than get a satin costume and pose with exotic weapons.

By the way, a “datu” is a tribal chief. How ridiculous is it for some white guy to call himself a Filipino chieftain?

In my book, a grandmaster is the oldest, most authoritative representative of his sytem. Grandmaster is not based on how good you are or how many videos you’ve made, but on your status as an authority in the art.

Note the “Weapons of Moroland” in the backgound, which is a two dollar souvenir churned out by the thousands.

Ooh, look! Real ancient Filipino letters of the alphabet! I wouldn’t mess with this guy!

What is the sash around his torso?

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