If you’ve ever seen an old Ronnie Ricketts movie, or you’ve chanced upon old masters practicing in Luneta Park, then you’ll know just how deadly our country’s local flavor of combat can be. Whether you call it Arnis, Escrima, or Kali, our knife- and stick-wielding national sport is no joke.
As cool as the Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) are, though, it’s hard to imagine how all that stick-twirling wizardry would fit inside the arm-cranking, jaw-breaking world of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Being handy with a weapon is cool, but they’re banned in the Octagon, so our old arts wouldn’t be much use to an MMA fighter, right?
Well, not exactly. At least not according to one master. Steve Compton is an England-born martial artist residing in Australia, and currently a coach to several UFC fighters. His lifelong study of combat has seen him earn high grades in styles like Jeet Kune Do, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and Filipino Martial Arts.
He was ranked by the legendary Dan Inosanto as an instructor, and is currently a second-degree master in Escrima de Cuerdas. He routinely flies here to refine his skills, and spreads the word about FMA across Australia. In short, he’s as well-rounded a badass as they come. A modern-day Mr. Miyagi—though we wouldn’t call him that in person, lest we earn the ire of his rattan stick.
While the techniques of Escrima might not directly transfer to the cage, Compton believes their underlying principles can play a big part.
“In Filipino Martial Arts, there’s no concept of trade,” he explains. “If I’ve got a blade or a weapon, I can’t take one to give one. In some kickboxing circles or in boxing, I can think ‘This guy doesn’t hit hard’ or whatever.”
In an arena where gloves are smaller, though, trading blows becomes a less tempting proposition. Like with a knife or a stick, one strike could end your night. Compton says: “When you fight in MMA, those four-ounce gloves are so unforgiving. Plus if you’re a striker and you make one mistake going back, the fight could be finished right there.”
Compton also believes learning our art’s versatility in all ranges of fighting can help in MMA. “If you dump someone in Thai Boxing, they can get back up again usually. But with MMA, it follows down so it’s a continuous strike. I think it’s the same thing with a weapon. You don’t just hit him in the head and walk away, you’ve still got to deal with it.”
Of course, what many may not be aware of is that the Filipino Martial Arts also contain forms of boxing and wrestling (called panantukan and dumog, respectively). Are those just as effective as their more popular counterparts? Once again, it boils down to what lies beneath. Compton says if a concept from FMA works, then he’ll incorporate it into the game as he sees fit. Those same principles of punching and controlling an opponent in western boxing and wrestling, he says, can also be found in the Filipino forms.
“A punch is a punch,” Compton espouses. “Bruce Lee said that. Don’t sweat where it comes from so much If you’ve got two arms and two legs, it’s even to a degree. It’s how well you’re trained, how well you understand it, and how many strings to your bow [you’ve got].”
If you want to catch a glimpse of how effective the principles of Filipino Martial Arts can be inside the cage, catch Compton’s students Damien Brown and Ben Nguyen in action this weekend at UFC 221 on the undercard of the Luke Rockhold vs. Yoel Romero interim title fight. And yes, Nguyen is the fighter from that oh-so-sweet viral video: