The afternoon is humid in Valenzuela City, Metro Manila and “Gabay” Ricardo Forlales is holding mitts for Jiar “The Twister” Castillo, more popularly known as the one-eyed URCC fighter and champ of the local reality combat sports show Fight Farm.
This series of drills that revolve around the theme of triads isn’t new, but the striking is crisp, swift, and changes at the turn of a dime in a pre-practiced mnemonic that mimics many Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) techniques, which Forlales’ striking system is informed and inspired by.
It seemed like a complex pre-rehearsed dance that required hundreds of hours of training and memorization, so I was a little surprised when Forlales assured me that I would absorb this knowledge easier than grappling. I was both surprised and amazed that it did work and that I have imbibed the first four sequences and could recall them easily within the first 20 minutes. Having studied Muay Thai off and on for just a year, it’s nothing short of a miracle. Forlales simply calls it “Striking Protocol.”
“The numbering system is very rampant in the teaching of martial arts,” said Forlales, who is simply called “Gabay” or “Guide,” by all his students. “But having practiced FMA for a few years, it made me realize that the numbering system is just a tool. When used well, a good product can be produced.”
Central to the idea of Striking Protocol (or SP for short) is the concept of the triad. The umbrella of FMA, like stick and knife fighting arts Arnis and Kali, prefer the odd number system when it comes to drills where number one feeds the first stimulus, and the last two react to that stimuli.
“It is a continuous loop,” explained Forlales. “[In FMA] three is a magic number. First count is the stimulus you react to. Second is the counter to that stimulus. The third teaches you to counter the counter. And that is one full count where you can later add up variations and small tweaks to increase the difficulty depending on the student. The odd number is there because, at the end of the series, the first to initiate the drill will be the receiver of the stimulus. There is no reset.”
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Practitioners of FMA will be familiar with this in the Palis Palos parrying drills and the Hubud Lubod opponent connection drills where empty hands follow the same flow.
“The things I teach are what I call the ‘industry standard’ and I likely teach the same jab that the other coaches teach, barring the fact that there are variations to the jab,” Forlales explained, noting that true innovation in the stand-up arts is quite a feat. “But I have always hated the idea of having technique number one used to defend against attack number seven. I've always taught that it is inefficient and won't work in actual encounters—because it is very unpredictable,” he adds.
Forlales is one of the founders and proponents of the self-defense-oriented Sagupaan System, head coach of Brawlers Lab in Valenzuela City, and one of the most sought-after striking and conditioning coaches for Filpino MMA fighters.
The first Striking Protocol basic seminar was held in November 2016, attended by numerous fight enthusiasts and fitness coaches, who have also gone to the two levels of seminars that have been held since. Forlales was vastly interested in the effects of the system for the MMA fighters he was training. Would people already versed in the fighting arts be able to open themselves up and absorb this with the same efficiency?
So far, Striking Protocol has helped inform the stand-up game of URCC bantamweights Jiar "The Twister" Castillo (Fight Farm Champion), Jonar Oyo "Head Hunter" Cruz, undefeated female ex-URCC bantamweight Geli Bulaong, and Bernard “Burn” Soriano of One Championship (whose conditioning is also handled by Forlales). There are also amateur fighters like MMA rookie Edrion Macatangay and boxer Marlon Rodriguez who’s had two impressive amateur boxing matches by simply sticking to the core of the SP concepts.
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“What I notice is just the difference in the delivery of their strikes, the crispness of the hits,” Forlales explained. “Regarding the stance, making them play the neutral stance of an MMA fighter proves to be a good middle ground to work with. The SP system made it really easy for me to warm up to a new fighter, challenge a skilled one, and device a strategy for a fight for a pro,” Forlales added.
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“The system works because it was made really simple. Like I only prefer high percentage combo punches and I use the body play to make the movements more efficient, so students report feeling that they are going through their academic years that leads to a bachelor undergrad course in a really unbelievably short time,” Forlales explained.
Unsurprisingly, for Forlales, this last conceptual addition to the SP system was inspired by his time studying Jeet Kune Do. “Make it simple, was what JKD taught me,” said Forlales, referring to the Bruce Lee quote: "It's not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential."
“That is because we have cut off what is not needed. It will give you the concepts and theories and then make you learn what you only need to learn, disposing of all the unnecessary ‘elective subjects.’ And this has made students react well, whether the stimulus is visual or auditory,” he explains.
SP is still in its early experimental phase and it remains to be seen how entirely successful it will be in the cage. Something which Forlales will be able to see first-hand when Burn Soriano fights on July 7, in One Championship’s Battle for the Heavens at Guangzhou, China.
Forlales has high hopes that combat sports fighters who would like to understand the rationale behind the drills, patterns, and training that their coaches make them do can use this indigenous system to get an edge in competition with specific rule sets.
Forlales grins, “Some of my guys complain that I tend to have too much fun creating puzzles for them during mitt work. I think this is a positive thing because the puzzles are designed to respond to the natural reactions of whoever they are going to fight next. Solve that puzzle, win the fight.”