12 Tablets of Roman law on public display.

How to structure a martial arts organization to reduce the effects of politics and increase its longevity: (Originally published in the Fall 2000 PTI newsletter as "Pekiti-Tirsia International in the 21st Century").

By Tuhon Bill McGrath.

The practice of public or commercial teaching of the Filipino martial arts (FMA) is relatively new compared to the martial arts of northern Asia (Karate, Kung Fu, etc). For centuries in the Philippine Islands, teachers would only teach their own sons, grandsons or nephews or perhaps boys from their own village. There was no ranking as such. A man taught what he knew to his relatives and that was it.  No one questioned that the boys received the full teaching from their father or grandfather (and very often the very fact that they were being taught at all was kept a secret).

In the countries of northwestern Asia (China, Japan, etc, as opposed to S.E. Asia, .i.e. Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc) with their centuries-long history of commercial schools, there was a great wealth of experience as to the technique of running a school and a system of martial arts. In most FMA schools they do not have the same institutional experience of teaching those outside the family of the instructor as do systems in most parts of N.W. Asia.

In FMA today we often see a situation when the head of a system dies that is much like the situation when a rich man dies. Long lost relatives appear out of nowhere, claiming part of the estate and family members argue over who gets which piece of furniture. Neighbors come claiming that parts of the estate’s land that adjoins their own was really theirs all along.

When I was tasked to form an organization to oversea the Pekiti-Tirsia system, I wanted to set in motion a process that would solve some of the problems one sees in martial arts when questions of rank and succession are not clearly documented.

Two lessons from history helped me in my search for a way to structure Pekiti-Tirsia International (PTI) in a way that will help the Pekiti-Tirsia system grow for another 100 years.

Lesson 1. This comes from the early days of the Roman Republic in which the laws of the land were written in stone and clearly posted in the center of the city for every citizen to see.

Lesson 2. This comes from the U.S., where a soldier does not swear his oath of loyalty to a man (the President), but to a law (the Constitution of the United States). If a President tried to subvert the Constitution, Congress could vote to impeach the President and the military would be bound by oath not to interfere with the process. It is not any one President that makes the U.S. the great country that it is, but the Constitution and that is where the soldier’s oath of loyalty lies.

PTI structure based on Lesson 1.
I believe that there should be no question who holds which rank in PTI and what is required for that rank. Therefore, on the PTI web site you will find the system outline and the requirements for rank clearly documented for all to see.

When someone first becomes a PTI member they receive a PTI test book (the “blue book”). On each page of the test book you will find the name of a block of techniques from the rank structure. A line is there to be filled in by an instructor when a student first completes instruction in these techniques. A separate line is under this to be signed by a PTI Guro when a student has passed his test in that particular block.

Each rank in a PTI members test book requires a certain number of specific blocks of techniques to be completed. For example, for Yakan rank, a student must be tested on and pass the following:
Single Stick Subsystem, Doble 12 Attacks, Hand vs. Knife Basics and PTI Kickboxing. Lakan rank requires Solo Baston Abcedario and Adcedario De Mano.

When someone does reach instructors rank under PTI, in addition to issuing them a certificate, I announce the fact on the Internet for all to see.  In this way no one can falsely claim instructorship under PTI.

PTI structure based on Lesson 2:
In addition to structuring PTI in a way that helps prevent abuses by the students, I have tried to structure it in a way that helps prevent any possible future abuses by its instructors.

For example, I am aware of a style of Kung Fu in which, after one of its masters died, the senior students under him began to argue among themselves as to who had the full system and therefore who should succeed him. According to another master from that system, this deceased master caused this problem before his death. He would take aside his senior students one by one for private paid lessons during which he would tell each one of them that they were the only one to get these secret techniques (all he did was remix a few forms to make them look new).
After he died there was an unnecessary break up of his senior students because he looked each one of them in the eye and told them “You are the only one I have taught this advanced form to.”

I know of a different master in a different art who began to break his existing system into small pieces and calling each of these pieces a “secret” system he had never taught before. He then began to sell off instructorships in these systems.

To avoid future PTI instructors abusing the system and its students, I made sure that there are no secret techniques in the PTI curriculum. Granted you have to study and pass A before you learn B and Y before learning Z but all the techniques themselves are clearly listed on the PTI website and you can view samples of these techniques on my YouTube channel (

My purpose in doing all this was to separate rank from politics.

There is a tradition of honorary ranks for senior black belts in some of the northern Asian systems. Hence a 6th degree black belt has no more techniques than a 5th degree (you would have learned the full system by 3rd or 4th degree). However in many systems a 6th degree would have trained more students to the level of full instructor than a 5th degree (and thereby done more to insure the art’s survival).
This to me is a legitimate use of rank for those who have completed the full system, but have not yet received masters rank, and is reflected in the PTI rank between Mataas na Guro and Tuhon, namely Magino'o Guro (or Elder Instructor).

(You can view the PTI rank requirements here: )

What I don’t want to see happen to PTI is rank being given out to whichever instructor brings the most students to his master’s seminars.

One of the first things I did in PTI was separate instructors rank from honorary rank. Grand-Master Gaje often did this in the early days.  If there was someone he wanted to honor for their contribution to the system, he would give them a membership promotion award or a plaque with the name of a Philippine city or province that famous fighters or a patriot came from. This was often his way of saying “Thank you” without the confusion of an honorary rank award.

Similarly, PTI Directors are appointed because they do something to propagate the system, either through hosting seminars, or through their own teaching of the system. Therefore I don’t make the official PTI representative in an area an instructor, instead I make them a director. In this way I have kept instructors rank separate from those other functions necessary for the operation of any large organization.

PTI Certified Trainer:

The average time to first level instructorship (Guro Isa) in PTI is 5 years.
What do you do when an instructor from another FMA system wishes to teach a section of the PTI curriculum that they are proficient in, but don’t yet have full instructorship in Pekiti-Tirsia? I designed the Pekiti-Tirsia Certified Trainer program as a stepping stone to instructorship. Once someone has reached instructor level skill and knowledge in any one block of instruction they can ask to be tested as a Pekiti-Tirsia Certified Trainer in that particular block. This allows an instructor who is certified in another system of FMA or a senior student to teach a segment of Pekiti-Tirsia with authority, without having to wait the five or so years it takes to learn all the techniques required of instructors rank. Similarly, what do you do with a dedicated, but physically handicapped student? A student with only one arm could become a certified trainer for many single stick techniques but would have obvious difficulty with getting certified as a full instructor of Doble or Espada y Daga. I have tried to address these issues with the Certified Trainer program.

University model vs Franchise model:

Grand Tuhon Gaje would often call the Pekiti-Tisia system the “Graduate school of martial arts.” I took that idea to heart when I organized PTI and wanted to structure the organization as a martial arts university; in which students would learn a known curriculum and then graduate with their degree, after which they would go out to compete in the free-market of ideas.

This was opposed to what we might call the “Franchise Business” model, in which a school or teacher would be tied to the head of the system financially for the life of the school. While the franchise model may work well for a chain of fast-food restaurants, I don’t think it is a good model for a martial arts system to work from. A fast food franchisee is constantly purchasing official supplies and products from the parent company, while a PTI Mataas na Guro has finished the system and graduated from his course of study and therefore has no requirement to go back to his own teacher for new material. When I put together the structure of PTI I thought it would be neither fair to the students nor good for the long term health of the system in general if instructors were tied financially to “headquarters” for the life of their teaching career. (As for why this is so, please see the examples given in “PTI structure based on Lesson 2”).

Many students of PTI Mataas na Guros do join PTI, but this is voluntary and comes mostly from the benefits of membership (the Blue Book for testing and the member code for discounts), instead of a requirement.
No student at any of the schools are forced to become PTI members.
My only “requirement”, in this area is that the director of a PTI club be a PTI member. This helps pay for the club certificate I send them and hopefully gives them the feeling that they have some “skin in the game” in our organization.

How to guard against hero worship (and why you should):

If you have ever attended one of my seminars, you know I truly live up to that universal law of martial arts: “The better the techniques the instructor has, then the worse his jokes will be.”
My practice in class is to tell really bad jokes to lighten up the mood. And you will often hear me using deliberately self-depreciating humor about my age, or my hair line, etc. I do this for a very specific reason. There is a danger in most martial arts training, but especially in combat oriented arts, to turn the art into something of a cult. The young men in class are especially susceptible to this as there is a natural instinct in them towards hero-worship of the instructor. From there, it is just a short step to go from a healthy respect for your instructor on to that type of blind loyalty and obedience that gets students in trouble morally, financially or legally. The wise instructor will actively work against this trait by moving the focus off himself and towards what should be the goal of martial arts training, namely the good things that brought your students to your door in the first place, (learning to defend themselves and their loved ones, a fun way to exercise, the satisfaction of getting really good at something, etc).

In conclusion:

Finally, there is a principle in the Bible that states “To whom much is given, much is required.” Which means that if you are blessed with great riches, you should not hoard them in your basement, but use them for good.

Pekiti-Tirsia is one of the best, most complete martial art systems in the world and I feel it truly has many, many good things to offer people if taught correctly. I have tried to structure PTI in such a way as to aid those instructors who will use Pekiti-Tirsia for the good of its students and for the good of the system.

I hope in this way Pekiti-Tirsia will survive and grow in the 21st century.

Any suggestions to move Pekiti-Tirsia International further towards this goal will be welcomed.

Tuhon Bill McGrath

12 Tablets of Roman law on public display: