The journey of an audience: #CRinFlorida Day 2 Reflection

These next few days I’ll be sharing my personal reflection on a climate leadership conference I’m part of; this is the second installment. I do this to capture the raw emotion in my daily reflection in order to help me with my later writing. If these posts benefit you, too, in any small way, please let me know via a comment. Thank you.

A scenic route is the journey of an audience–this was the biggest take away for me from the gathering today. The audience can be made to feel happy, disgusted, empathetic, and emboldened–all these in order to get them to say “Yes” and/or “I will join you.”

There is a way to engineer a presentation so that the audience goes through a variety of emotions that prime it for empowerment, and then mobilization. We can use emotion to leverage the audience’s attention in systematically walking the audience toward action.


There is no rigid or standard formula in building this emotional and cognitive journey by the audience. There is only the practical insight that being an ‘audience expert’ is as important as being a ‘subject matter expert’ in moving an audience toward action. The method is neither exact, nor clearly defined so it is challenging to describe the steps via a blog post. There is a hierarchy of priorities when communicating: the key point, the evidence for the key point (3 take-aways, max), and additional but optional detail that helps drive the message home.

I also share an image I found online to show how an audience journey could be deliberately engineered; see below.


For additional resources, google Anthony Wilson from Executive Influence Pty Ltd; he gave the workshop on communication strategies.

That giving a presentation is both an affective and cognitive experience was/is not a new idea but the engineering of it as a deliberate journey is an interesting idea worth practicing.

Sorry class, you will be my guinea-pigs. It’s for science! And sustainable development! And hopefully also for your empowerment.


‘Pang-ngawat’/’pagtanggap’: The value of ‘receiving’ in Filipino Martial Arts


This post is about the Ilokano and Tagalog ideas of ‘receiving’, or ‘pang-ngawat’ and ‘pagtanggap’, respectively. I start with a context in FMA training and conclude with possible applications in life. My point is that learning ‘pang-ngawat’ or ‘pagtanggap’ is vital to one’s development as an FMA practitioner, in particular, for it teaches the value of resilience, in general. ‘Pang-ngawat’ keeps the Ilokano grounded in reality and ‘pagtanggap’ keeps the Tagalog grounded in their own self-belief.

FMA context. There are two central training techniques in FMA: (1) copying a teacher’s moves and (2) training with a partner ‘to feed’ and ‘to receive’. Copying is the more elementary of the two for it involves no physical contact with another player. When we copy our teacher’s movements, we are at the very beginning stage of learning: we are passive consumers–neither expressing ourselves through our own natural movement, nor responding to an actual strike. While there is some degree of conceptual understanding to be achieved from copying, this training technique’s limitation is that the lesson cannot be felt, only imagined. It’s like learning a song, but singing it without feeling its full meaning.

Training against another player is more advanced. Your partner reacts and completes your movement with a counter-attack that you not only feel, but also anticipate sometimes with a healthy measure of fear and always with a dose of anxiety. In both training techniques, most students focus on learning proper offense–how to strike at every angle in the right form, right foot work, and with the right body mechanics–leading them to master how ‘to feed’.


‘To feed’ in FMA is to offer a strike at a specific angle in proper form in order to achieve two goals: to execute a strike being learned, and, more importantly, to help the recipient learn how to react to the strike. ‘To receive’ is to respond to an offensive strike: to block, to deflect, and to grab. In the continuum of feeding and receiving, most learn primarily how to be on the offensive. Most learn ‘to feed’ routinely as structured lessons; most learn ‘to receive’ via thematic seminars as advanced specialties.

Most practitioners, then, primarily learn how to be hard, dismissing the lesson in being soft as conditional (learn only ‘to receive’ once I’m good enough or advanced enough). Intuitively, we know that most things that are hard full-time ultimately break under repeated stress, and that most things that flex, that absorb, bounce back. This tells us that learning how ‘to receive’ is equally important in our development as FMA practitioners. Indeed, knowing how to block well, to deflect well, and to grab well positions oneself for an effective counter-attack by developing one’s ability to sense an opponent’s true intention from feeling the direction of his/her strike.


In addition, knowing how ‘to receive’ in FMA helps us conquer our own fear and anxiety, while simultaneously magnifying these in our opponent. When you can receive a blow, you strengthen yourself and demoralize your opponent by showing him that you will not break despite his repeated attacks. Counterintuitively, when you can expertly receive a strike you form a shield, thus, the common term used for it in FMA, ‘sangga’.

Application in life. In Ilokano and Tagalog, the words used to mean ‘to receive’ are ‘pang-ngawat’ (pang-nga-wut) and ‘pagtanggap’ (pug-tang-gup), respectively. Understanding the depth of both terms extracts the culture-bound insight within them. Both have two primary meanings. ‘Pang-ngawat’ means both to receive and to understand; ‘pagtanggap’ means both to receive and to accept.

The combination of receiving and understanding in ‘pang-ngawat’ teaches us that ‘to understand’ has an additional dimension of ‘to receive openly’. The nuance in ‘pang-ngawat’ reminds us to be present when we perceive in order that we see, feel, and hear fully. If we are to be adaptive–if our goal is to interpret our environment accurately and respond to our environment in a way that meets our personal needs optimally–we must allow as much input in. Receiving openly is key in the process of understanding. Often, because we do see the value of having good understanding, we take in such a small subset of info that it is impossible to guard against that which is incomplete or biased. One consequence is we consume only information that fits our own worldview, and we lose our natural defense against our own biases. Needless to say, if our goal is to understand, we must, therefore, remember to first ensure our perceptions reflect reality, especially in an age when our online activity enables marketers to profile us and, through our gadgets, inundate us with targeted info they think we want to consume. We must go back to the basics and take more proactive control of the data we consume and operate with so that unexamined inaccurate data do not take hold. Because we adapt to what we perceive as real, we should not construct a warped reality defined by our biases.

The combination of receiving and accepting in ‘pagtanggap’ teaches us the value of finality, a necessary condition for moving on. The nuance in ‘pagtanggap’ reminds us to be accepting of what is. If we are to be adaptive, we must learn to accept the truth about the world and, more importantly, about ourselves. Accepting is a key dimension of receiving, philosophically and behaviorally. When we accept, we acknowledge what is real, what is true emotionally and cognitively, enabling us to respond to our environment in an adaptive way. ‘Pagtanggap’ is not associated with any one emotion: we are neither happy, nor sad; we just accept that it is what it is. When we deny what is real, we behave in a maladaptive way, and we don’t get our needs met because we act without acknowledging what our true needs are. We should be accepting of our true self–our weaknesses, our fears, our limitations–so that we can self-improve. Accepting oneself is key to building our own self-belief, to strengthening that which is weak, and to bettering ourselves.

The Ilokano and Tagalog are resilient people. One manifestation of their resilience is their spin on martial art, escrima and arnis. Because language and the vocabulary we create in it says a lot about how and what we think about the world, examining ‘pang-ngawat’ and ‘pagtanggap’ helps us benefit from the insight of the Ilokano and Tagalog. We learn, for example, that understanding and accepting are important dimensions of perceiving reality, or receiving it. These nuanced dimensions help us be more adaptive. In FMA, they show us the legitimate value of training ‘to receive’ not just ‘to feed’.

Photo credit: Sam Buot, Sr.  

Is there innovation in martial arts?: Training with Guro Bill Aranda


Reposting. Originally posted on January 22, 2013.

Dynamic systems theory says novelty, or innovation, is built into systems; it’s always there because solutions — some of which may need to be novel ideas — are always available to a system internally when that system goes off balance.

My evolving view of martial arts nowadays is that FMA is not a system; gung fu is not a system; karate is not a system. None of the specific martial arts is a system. They are subsets of a larger system: using human limbs in offense and defense. From this perspective, innovation is always there for it comes from human creativity, which has neither beginning, nor end. We can imagine a beginning and an end to human creativity, but that imagination arises precisely from the power of creativity.

Over time, fighting within the limits of two arms and two legs came to be formalized into and represented by the different fighting styles. I think this view is older than Bruce Lee, by the way. Humans have been fighting and adapting to each others’ fighting styles for as long as we learned the limits of talking and decided to develop effective ways to punch and kick, and throw a rock or a stick at each other.

The value of the question

If we resolve to answer the question for ourselves — is there innovation in martial arts? — we could guide our skill development. We can either focus on the medium (i.e., techniques, drills, style), or we can search for principles.

On one hand, if we focus on the medium we develop a skill within the limits of the medium; true enough, if you focus on stick-fighting exclusively, you will be really good in stick-fighting, but not necessarily empty-hand, if you don’t expand your training outside the limits of using sticks.

On the other hand, if we focus on learning principles behind the medium, we find more opportunities in offense and defense; true enough, if you learn the principle of ‘palm-up/palm-down’, for example, you can figure out the logic behind effective offense and defense more easily.

My teacher, Guro Bill Aranda, tells me that he teaches me what he learned, not what he was taught. To me that means the same thing that I’m now looking for: not a style but how to optimize how I naturally fight, i.e., uncover and hone how my body naturally moves. Why would one want this? So that you fight with more fluid movement without thinking; so that you fight according to the way your body naturally moves.

In this sense, all fighting is both unique and common. A #3 strike is either going to come from the center line, or outside it. Whatever unique path or extra steps we take to get to the target from inside and outside the center line is and can be unique to how we naturally move, but ultimately, the strike can only come from inside or outside the centerline, i.e., the expression may be unique, but the principle is the same.

So, is there innovation in martial arts? My personal take is yes and no. It is both/and, not either/or. Innovation is possible and not possible. I say this not to be philosophical, but to express a nuanced view of martial art innovation.

It is possible  when you focus on the medium, or the martial art style, or physical expression. It is possible if you think in terms of ‘hardware’. For example, there are multiple great leaps of innovation from propelling an arrow to sending a bullet downrange. The hardware is  unique in each lethal expression. Soon, I am sure we will be shooting laser beams, not bullets, at each other; once that day comes, we will have made another major leap in innovation in terms of the medium.

It is not possible when you think of ‘software’ – the underlying principle or meaning behind the use of an arrow or a bullet, for example. It is clear that the principle behind both is that of sending a projectile at high speed to penetrate a target. When you see that there are key principles at work, and that these principles are fundamentally the same, it is not possible to innovate. There is one underlying principle behind any punch, or kick, or arrow, or bullet: thrust forward toward the center of the enemy. Principles are limited and immutable.

In many ways, this ‘both/and’ perspective is what FMA and ‘gung fu’ teaches us: there is innovation between the blade and empty-hand, between the stick and the blade. At the same time, the underlying principles behind strikes are the same throughout time.

Life application

In life, we have it within us to help ourselves, because novelty — new ideas, innovation, solutions — are baked into each of us. We use innovation to problem-solve, to adapt, to overcome. But it is also true that nothing is entirely new under the sun. There is no new principle of being within our shared human experience that is completely brand new. Because we live in closed system, planet Earth, with the pretty much the same environmental stimuli over time, there are no new principles of being human under the sun. What is only ever changing is our engagement with others for each of us are inherently, boundlessly creative.

Through our engagement with others, we see our strengths and our weaknesses, and our interrelatedness to everything. Alone with our thoughts, in our inner world, we can find ways to best adapt and survive. But we are flawed; as a result and necessarily, some of our ideas, no matter how clearly we think we understand, will invariably be flawed in some way, as well. It is only also through our engagement with others in our environment and in the quality of our relationships with those we engage that we find what is true, the right path, the meaning behind personhood, behind community. Engaging the world is key to being more fully effective and human in the world.

A student learning to fight has it in him to sort out how to use his limbs efficiently and effectively, and how to use tools as extensions of his limbs, if need be. But it is also true that he only learns to fight because his neighbors provoke him, or his teacher shows him principles and teaches him which techniques will work or not work in a fight.

Extreme weather: Heavy rains, floods are ‘new norm’ By Sen.


Extreme weather: Heavy rains, floods are ‘new norm’ 


1:38 am | Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

Typhoons are normal occurrences in a tropical country like the Philippines, with about 20 typhoons hitting the country every year. Lately, however, the Philippines has been experiencing increasing torrential rains even without typhoons. Intense rains, flooded streets, heavy traffic and stranded commuters are becoming part everyday life in Metropolitan Manila and other parts of the country.

The heavy and excessive rainfall we are experiencing is part of what climate scientists call “the new norm.” This means we are experiencing weather extremes that are more widespread and harder to predict.

As the Philippines is an archipelago, 70 per cent of its towns and cities are built on the coasts, areas highly susceptible to floods and storm surges. And as extreme weather events intensify, our communities and citizens, especially those unprepared and therefore vulnerable, are exposed to greater risks.

A 2013 World Bank report showed that 74 per cent of the Philippines’ population are vulnerable to the impact of natural hazards. The Philippines recorded 2,630 disaster-related deaths in 2012, a global record for that year.

The challenges brought by the new norm are daunting, but the solution can start with us, with simple personal practices, and everyone’s effort put together. After all, it makes a big difference when a tree is planted in every yard, or a plastic bottle is recycled instead of being dumped in a pile of other non-biodegradable trash, or when households, thinking of the welfare of others, manage their waste, or even as simple as buying only what we need.

Environmental audit

We are not lacking in laws and policies that should help us achieve sustainable and disaster-resilient communities.

The list is long and includes the Philippine Environmental Impact Statement System, Marine Pollution Control Law, the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, Renewable Energy Act, Environmental Awareness and Education Act, Climate Change Act, the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act and the Act Creating the People’s Support Fund.

A great number of environmental and climate change laws, however, is not a guarantee of security.  Unless these laws are strictly enforced, they are nothing more than scraps of paper.

Many of these laws were passed decades ago; others are more recent. Different times present different challenges, so the first order of the day is to ensure that our laws are responsive to present challenges.

We must also ensure the effective and legally compliant implementation of environmental and climate change laws. To establish the state of implementation of these laws, an environmental audit is necessary. Regulations arising from these laws need to be looked at and implementation details covering licensing and permitting procedures, monitoring, inspection and data collection have to be reviewed.

Above all, the state of enforcement needs to be assessed for it is by effective enforcement that we can ensure compliance in practice with environmental legislation.

Funding, the usual theme of the implementing agencies’ excuse for implementation and enforcement gaps, also needs to be reviewed so that our expectations of agency performance can be matched with the means to deliver.

This environmental audit, which I will pursue as a priority, will bring together the experiences and opinions of experts, government agencies, and the public, with a view not just to identifying the issues, but more important, to demolishing the roadblocks to implementation.

Let us take a look at the implementation of the decade-old Solid Waste Management Act.  Statistics from the National Economic and Development Authority show that only nine out of 17 local governments in Metro Manila have submitted a solid waste management plan.

Meanwhile, only 414 of 1,610 local governments nationwide have complied with the national plan as of 2012, which translates into only 25.7-percent compliance rate.

Perhaps, local governments can learn from the small town of San Francisco in Camotes Island, Cebu, which received the 2011 United Nations Sasakawa Award for Disaster Risk Reduction for their “purok system.” Residents implemented segregation at source, strictly enforcing their “no trash segregation-no collection” policy.

A paragon of community-led waste management is the third-class municipality of Hinatuan in Surigao del Sur, whose townspeople worked together in cleaning clogged canals, their surroundings and seawater, and regulated the use of plastics. Their waste management program was so effective that they won the 2010 Zero Basura Olympics, a national advocacy campaign geared toward a zero-waste Philippines.

Strengthening defenses

In building resilience to natural hazards, we need to ensure that the national and local governments are always prepared to respond to disasters and all sectors are engaged in disaster risk reduction.

Toward that end, we must develop an efficient system of gathering and disseminating hazard and risk information that is linked to early warning systems. For weather and climate, the long overdue modernization of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration must be prioritized. Part of that effort is keeping our meteorologists in the Philippines.

We should protect our farmers and fisherfolk from the impact of typhoons and recurring weather extremes like the El Niño and La Niña phenomena, through social protection programs such as crop insurance.

We should also invest more in renewable energy and ensure proper management of our natural resources.

We need to improve the country’s water management programs, land-use policies, building and zoning plans, enhance the resilience of our schools and hospitals, promote sustainable housing, and improve urban and rural development planning.

We should promote green infrastructure by creating green campuses with forest parks and vegetable gardens, practice waste segregation, and build rainwater catchments. We can build on the gains of the Best School Forest Park, a nationwide public school project of Luntiang Pilipinas and the Department of Education.

We must strengthen livelihood for the poor and the vulnerable by promoting green jobs and skills in agriculture, forestry, horticulture, environmental information technology and other careers that contribute to environmental preservation.

We should also establish proficient and efficient health emergency management systems, especially in major urban centers like Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Metro Davao, to save more lives and limbs and to deliver emergency medical services in times of disaster.

We can also look into creating community-based ecotourism codes that promote tourism and environmental conservation. The Bohol Tourism Code is a good resource for other provinces looking to have their own ecotourism programs. Bohol developed an environment-friendly ecotourism industry featuring a cultural adventure that combines the efforts of five municipalities: Maribojoc, Catigbian, Balilihan, Cortes and Antequera.


Geohazard maps

Meanwhile, we must use geohazard maps in urban and rural planning, including the relocation of vulnerable communities to safer places. Barangay Andap in New Bataan, Compostela Valley, is a purple area on the geohazard map, which means it is highly susceptible to flooding. The disaster triggered by Typhoon “Pablo” last December could have been prevented if the risks and vulnerabilities of the area had been known and dealt with early by the community and local officials.

In contrast, when heavy rains brought by Typhoon “Gener” caused major landslides in the populated barangay of Cunsad in Alimodian, Iloilo, in July 2012, no casualties were reported, because when the natural signs of impending disaster showed up in the area early on, the municipal government immediately asked the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to help assess the risks. The municipal officials heeded the advice of geologists to relocate the residents, saving the lives of everyone in the community.

Today, all 51 barangays of Alimodian have hazard-risk maps and they are aware of the dangers they face from typhoons and other natural hazards. And they know how to keep safe from harm during typhoons.

On top of all these, we need to conduct an effective and interactive education and information campaign to make people constantly aware of dangers posed by natural disasters, encourage them to participate in the reduction of disaster risks, and engage them in environmental conservation efforts.

We cannot prevent typhoons, but the many good practices and success stories we have tell us we can weather the challenges of the new norm.


(Editor’s Note: Sen. Loren Legarda is the chair of the Senate climate change committee and a United Nations champion for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation bestowed in 2007.)

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Excerpts from my soon-to-be novel…


Sharing a couple of excerpts from my first historical fiction novel…It is abundantly about Filipino martial arts (FMA) on the surface, and the first contact with Spanish conquistadors, but it is also about the resilience of an ancient people that derived wisdom from a keen understanding of their environment and each other, and a healthy respect for the spirits of the natural world.

Nearly eight years in the making, I will keep you posted when the novel finally comes out. Aiming to get it out there by October 2014 for Filipino American History Month. I look forward to your feedback.

Copyright © 2011 by Russell B. Vergara WGA Intellectual Property Registry #1508807

Excerpt #1

Bagitong-a-wigwigan paused for a second to allow Aponidaydayawen to react. But what the messenger did not know is that Aponidaydayawen already knew what was to be asked of him, thanks to bimmake loyal to him who knew those close to the elders. From the hundreds of clans among the Ifugao there were probably over seven hundred bimmake already in service, and another one hundred in training. Aponidaydayawen expected to hear what he heard. He knew the elders well; he had served them for years, and understood the decision-making conventions they often used. When caught in a difficult situation, they reliably favored a course of action that saved face. Aponidaydayawen knew that the elders would avoid the possibility of a showdown with him and his bimmake by demoting him.  He played along to protect his sources.

“May I go on, my lord?”

“Please, messenger. Go on.”

“The elders see a need to punish you, and ensure balance: make sure everyone who is watching knows not to disobey the elders, and that there are consequences if one does. Your punishment is to be stripped of your title as mangipangpangulo of the clan’s bimmake.”

Bagitong-a-wigwigan paused once more to soften the other blow yet to come. He searched for a reaction in Aponidaydayawen’s face; there was none.

“May I go on, my lord?”


“The eight bimmake most loyal to you are stripped of their bimmake status, as well. You are all forbidden to leave the village and to engage in any village affair. If you must leave, even for personal errands, it needs to be done under specific permission from the elders…I know this is difficult to hear, my lord. I am simply the messenger.”

“I understand, Bagitong-a-wigwigan. Is that the end of the message?”

With his open right palm down, the messenger cut the air before his face to signify that he had reached the end of his prepared message.

Excerpt #2

“I am so tired, manong. And I’m glad you are here,” Bugan responded.” Our brothers have been my strength this whole time … but we still look to you since you are our eldest brother. We need you. – When will you finally settle home?”

Aponidaydayawen felt the sting of guilt. He could not respond immediately as a good answer eluded him.

“I do not know. Our clan continues to need me and my men, and I don’t know when our duty will be over.”

“You’ve said that so many times, manong, but you always manage to find another mission. It’s not just us who need you – so do your wife and your young son. They are managing without you but is that the life you want for them – a life without you?” Bugan asked.

“I’m fulfilling my sworn responsibility …” Aponidaydayawen responded.

“No, manong, you are making a choice,” Bugan replied. “And you continually choose your duty over family.”

“I am a bimmake.

“You are a selfish dreamer!” Bugan shouted, her grief and anger in full bloom. “And like every other dreamer, you hurt the people who love you most! … We carry the weight of the world with you, and daily live up to your unrealistic and unfair sense of responsibility for others, whether we like it or not … What have others done for us? We have our own problems to solve. Why not let others do the same with their own problems? Worry about their own? Fight for their own? Advocate for their own?”

“Because they cannot!” replied Aponidaydayawen, upset. “Not every one has the same fighting spirit as you and our younger brothers. There are many of our people who need to borrow the strength of others, who depend on the might of others. These are the people whom I have sworn to serve … and I cannot turn my back to them. They are not as fortunate as you. You, our brothers, mother – you may not see me as much as you would like, but you do not need me to survive, to live a quality life. You have everything you need.”

“… Except you, manong. You have given yourself to others and you continue to choose them over your own family,” Bugan said. “I do not fault you, manong because I know you do not know how to live a different life; you get hopelessly lost when you try. I know living your life the way you do is how father raised you — a conscientious member of our clan. I just want you to appreciate the sacrifices we are making because you have chosen this path. I feel badly for your wife and son, the most. They need you more than you think…And this is what I believe…Many of us largely misunderstand the community. Some view it as a child who waits to be served, who needs to be coddled. Others view it as a parent who is inflexible and to be feared, who must be followed at all times. Not many view it as an adult, who competently blazes her place in the world, who has her own vision of how the world ought to be, and who strives to do her best in living a life that is honorable and right…The community does not need you, brother. It is stronger and more resilient than you think.”

FMA lessons on voting (Part 3 of 4)


In full contact Filipino martial arts (FMA), overcoming your opponent in the ring is only part of what needs to go in your favor to win a match; you also have to win over the judges, who do their best to score the fight objectively, but also look for other things.

FMA judges also look for four items: good offense, good defense, ring generalship, and respect for the art. When applied to the world of electoral politics, these criteria for judging full-contact FMA show us dimensions of political combat that could help us, as voters, more easily extract meaning from complex, confusing, and deceitful political campaigns.

Grand Master Conrad Manaois, founder of Manaois Systems Intl, Pilipino Combative Systems based in Los Angeles.

In this third installment of four, I unpack one potential use in electoral politics of the FMA value of ‘ring generalship’.

On ring generalship: FMA judges look for a fighter’s ability to cope with all kinds of situations which may arise in the ring/match and to foresee and neutralize an opponent’s attacks, thus, convincingly demonstrating full control of the ring/match. A fighter who is viewed favorably is one who knows and demonstrates clear control of the tempo, rhythm, and ultimately outcome of the match.

Applying ‘ring generalship’ on voting. As voters, this discussion helps remind us that our voting behavior is under our control. No matter how hard campaigns try to sway our vote, the voting decision ultimately rests on us. Sounds needless to say, but campaign ads have a way of sowing confusion and doubt in our own independent judgment; and for good reason, for to convince you to vote in a specific way is the design of campaign ads.

More importantly, we are susceptible to errors in reasoning, otherwise known as fallacies; in fact, there are hundreds of these common fallacies that we commit, some created unintentionally, others created intentionally in order to deceive. See here for a list of 207 fallacies and their explanations.

GM Manaois and Guro Moses training knife counter for counter.

Fallacies, again reasoning errors, are persuasive when they should not be. But if you view your mind as the ring in a full-contact FMA match, then it is clear that in the battle to sway your vote, to sway your voting reasoning, you must control the ring.

A pattern fighter vs a non-pattern fighter: Which one is Romney?


Romney fights dirty, and using the metaphor of Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) we can gain insight into the strategic-thinking behind his campaign and this high-stakes political combat that is the presidential race.

In FMA, your fighting style does not always depend on your authentic personal fighting style. How you fight in the ring is a creative, expressive process most of the time, but it is also a calculation about the school and background of your opponent. What you know–your technique–does not guarantee a win. To win, you need to not be rigid and fight only in your true way; you need to be wiser than your self. Winning a full-contact FMA fight, in other words, is about substance and style.

In FMA, there are fighters who naturally are more defensive, and there are others who are more aggressive; some are more strategic, generating fewer but more accurate hits that reliably score points, and there are others who are more naturally busy, generating far more strikes, even if many are flurries not intended to sting or even score big. Those who fight like this, who strike for the sake of being busy, do so in order to overwhelm, to control the pace and tempo of the fight, which is often viewed as ring generalship. Personally, I have my misgivings about this way of winning fights; the art is lost with it, the soul of FMA is degraded by it.

And then there those we call pattern fighters and non-pattern fighters.

Pattern fighters fight with a clear predetermined, pre-packaged series of strikes carefully and deliberately honed to be effective offensively or defensively. Pattern fighters are deadly. One should re-think fighting toe-to-toe against a pattern fighter because that is his game plan.

If you get drawn to fight strike for strike against a pattern fighter, you have already lost. You are doomed to be overwhelmed, taken off balance — and even if you recognize the pattern, the sheer speed with which you are struck with multiple hits renders any response too-little-too-late. This is why a pattern fighter is deadly. This is why some schools train fighters to fight this way; it maximizes speed and power.

But a non-pattern fighter, to me, is deadlier because of the complex mess s/he creates in the ring, and consequently, in the opponent’s counter-strategy. Philosophically and functionally, disorder gets an edge over order, in my opinion, because it is harder to figure out. A non-pattern fighter taxes one’s training and creative capacity to adapt and overcome. A non-pattern fighter is often more eclectic in his/her use of techniques, and/or exploits expert footwork to evade and assault.

Applied to electoral politics and the 2012 U.S. presidential race, in particular, this ‘pattern vs non-pattern fighter’ binary is intriguing because it might help us figure one candidate we can’t quite figure out, namely Romney. I ask myself, if he were a FMA fighter in the ring opposite me, how would I classify him? And my reflex answer is that he is a pattern fighter: he has a long record of being a panderer, a flip-flopper, someone with no core, someone who bends with the political wind.

But justifying this classification is exactly what makes me rethink my reflex answer because a non-pattern fighter is, by definition, someone who is flexible stylistically, someone who bends with the wind, so to speak.

He can’t be neither; so could he be both? And as a reflective voter, I ask myself why Romney might craft a political combat strategy where he is everything to everyone. And my most compelling rational conclusion is this: he needs a path to not losing.

His path was pretty narrow to begin with competing against a popular incumbent. As we have grown to know Romney these past several months, that path to victory has only grown even more narrow. Given this perspective, his campaign, in many ways, is by design a flirtation with self-destruction for his party, and because of this failure is simply not an option.

If Romney loses, Republicans lose big. So the gamble is serious, and losing is deadly for a party clearly out of step ideologically and demographically–perhaps for the long-term–with an electorate that appears to be trending toward center-left.

Romney, if he were an FMA fighter, is a desperate fighter fixated on winning at all costs, including fighting dirty. Obama and the Democrats are wise to know this, and to engage him in political combat accordingly.