THE PEKITI WAY: Teaching the Pekiti-Tirsia system, then and now.

Here are two lesson plans for teaching the Pekiti-Tirsia system; the Classical way, which Grand Tuhon Gaje learned as a child in the Philippines (with some examples of how he modified the lesson plan in the US): and the PTI way, which is how PTI instructors currently teach the system.
In this essay I am showing only the lesson plan for Solo Baston/Sword for the sake of brevity. ( 1 )

Classic Teaching Order.
This method is based on how I learned the system in the 1970s and 80s, but this plan itself was based on how Tuhon Gaje learned the system as a child.

It presupposes that students will train for long periods of time in regular weekly classes. Our schedule in the late 70s was two weeknight classes of 2 hours each, plus a 6 hour class on Saturdays.

1. FOOTWORK: When Grand Tuhon Gaje began learning Pekiti-Tirsia as a young boy, the first thing he was taught was footwork and spent three years in this stage. ( 2 ) This was also among the first things he would teach when he came to the US, but here he incorporated basic stick work into the footwork training as early as possible.



Keep in mind that footwork is not a dance. It is there to serve a practical purpose. It is not simply moving the feet, but moving the body, to put you in a position of advantage.

Footwork in Boxing & Filipino Martial Arts

2. STRIKING: After footwork, the next stage of training was a basic nomenclature of strikes:

The first stick training I had from Tuhon Gaje was in a set he called "Multiple Attacks." This was warmup for the full set of strikes of the Abcedario. You could think of the multiple attacks as the "vowel sounds" to help develop the subcomponents needed for the full alphabet.



After the Multiple Attacks came the Abcedario, a much longer set of strikes comprising 12 strikes in 12 categories of attack.

Solo Baston ABC notes

Pekiti-Tirsia Solo Baston Abcedario


3. BASIC TIMING DRILLS: When Tuhon Gaje was being trained as a child, the stage after the Abcedario was the 4 Wall drill. This was the first point where young Leo had stick-to-stick contact. This is very much a “learn to swim in the shallow end of the pool” drill when it’s first taught; but moves onto a more active stage as the student progresses, as I explain in the video below:




In the NYC group in the 1970s, after an abbreviated version of the Abcedario and Four Wall drill, the next step was a long period of two man timing drills. These originally were intended as timing drills for the advanced solo material. For example, Break In - Break Out was the timing drill for the first two sets of Seguidas, while Segang Labo was the timing drill for the third set of Seguidas. We learned these drills first, separate from the advanced sets associated with them. After three years of training on these drills, Tuhon Gaje made an abreviated version of them for the 64 Attacks form, so we would have something to show at the forms competition at our 1978 tournament.

The first time we had a formal test was during this tournament, Leo had us recite the same bit of history before we did the 64 attacks form. One by one each of us stood before the judges and said the same thing “On April 27th, 1521, Ferdinand Magellan,  while circumnavigating the world, landed on the island of Mactan in the Philippines, where he was killed by Datu Lapulapu.”

Of course, this got monotonous after a few people gave the same exact speech. So 17 year old me, being a smart ass gave the speech as, ““On April 27th, 1521, Ferdinand Magellan,  while CIRCUMCISING the world, landed on the island of Mactan in the Philippines, where he was killed by Datu Lapulapu.”

Since the judges had heard this speech several times already, they all just nodded their heads and I went on to do the 64 Attacks form. All the other students caught what I had said though and when I was done, Tom Bisio turned to me and said, “Now I know why the Filipinos were so pissed at Magellan.”

In PTI we have not had the students test on the 64 Attacks form for many years. Instead, we just test them on how well they understand the timing drills the form is abased on.  Here I am at 17 years old at the 1978 tournament, testing on the 64 Attacks form.



Many of the drills in Pekiti-Tirsia begin with a three step process of Attack-Counter-Recounter. That’s why you will see so many triangle diagrams in my written notes. (see the end of the video below for an example of these diagrams.)

Solo Baston Drills.

Pekiti Tirsia Solo Baston Sagang Labo


PTI Teaching Order: Whenever I was sent on a followup seminar by Tuhon Gaje in the early 1980s and I asked what I should teach first, he always said “Teach them 5 Attacks.”

Since the early 1990s, I have started beginners in Solo Baston training with the 5 Attacks Subsystem. This mini course combines elements of the previous teaching sections into a more compact unit, designed to give my adult students a quick understanding of the minimal elements they need for effective sparring as quickly as possible. Essentially, I took the 4 diagonal strikes from the basic 5 Attacks (since almost all weapon based martial arts have at least these four angles) and brought in advanced theories (mainly from Contradas). My goal was to take a small number of simple movements and expose students to as wide a variety of theories as possible.


Pekiti Tirsia 5 Attacks Subsystem. Mini Lesson: Forward and Reverse Strikes (without footwork).


I do a similar progression when I teach basic boxing. I start with the lead jab (punch # 1), and teach how to counter every other punch using only the jab. Then I teach the same process using only a cross (punch #2) , then only a hook (punch 3), then only an uppercut (punch 4). In each section I ask the student to choose the footwork needed for that particular combination: “Which footwork do I need to counter a jab with a jab, with a cross, with a hook or with an uppercut?”

Then we do the same drills with two punch combos (1-2 vs 1), then three punch combos (1-2-3 vs 1), etc.




Once the students get comfortable with these combinations I then have them go through “Decision tree” training. These are drills which make then choose how and when to use each element of a drill. In the 5 Attacks Subsystem, I often start this drill with ranging footwork, which looks like this:

Here are two ways I usually set up the decision tree drill for the 5 Attacks:

1. The opponent is attacking you with angle 1. You must counter with each of the four angles ( 1, 2, 3 & 4 ). Now choose which footwork works most efficiently for each strike. For example, you can counter an angle 1 with an angle 1 while using a short, simple sidestep. However, if you are using an angle 2, then you would need a longer sidestep in order to “slip” his angle 1 attack and counter attack with your angle 2. Let’s call this the "1 vs 4" drill.

2.  He is attacking with each of the four angles, but this time you can only counter with angle 1. Choose which footwork works most efficiently against each angle. Let’s call this the "4 vs 1" drill.

In boxing terms, in the 1 vs 4 drill your opponent can only punch with a jab, while you are countering separately with each of the four punches.
In the 4 vs 1 drill he is punching with each of the four, but you can counter only with your jab.

Your goal in these drills is to learn how to counter each of the four attacks with each of the other numbers, therefore if X = “counters”, then you could write this out as:

1 x 1, 2 x 1, 3 x 1, 4 x 1 (or J x J, C x J, H x J, U x J)
2 x 1, 2 x 2, 2 x 3, 2 x 4
3 x 1, 3 x 2, 3 x 3, 3 x 4
And so on.)

The foundational drill for the 5 Attacks Subsystem is the Matrix drill.

"A" in red denotes the Attacks, while S = single beat counter, D = double, T = triple and Q = quadruple.

Matrix Definition: “In mathematics, a matrix (plural matrices) is a rectangular array or table of numbers, symbols, or expressions, arranged in rows and columns, which is used to represent a mathematical object or a property of such an object.” ( From

Matrix Development: I had noticed in the Pekiti-Tirsia tournaments of the early 80s that many students whose training came only from seminars tended to rely on the 1 and 2 diagonal cuts as their main entry technique, with very little variety in their attacks. ( So much so that one of my students won his division simply by following my advice of “cut with 1,2,3,4.” The addition of the 3 and 4 cuts threw the timing of the other beginners in the tournament completely off. )

Later in the 80s, one of the first drills Tuhon Gaje had us work on for Solo Contradas was to do a set of the Abcedario, but chambered from just one shoulder. We would fire all 12 hits first from the right shoulder, then all 12 from the left shoulder. He told us that a good fighter should be able to throw any strike from any chamber and to counter any number with any other number if he understood how to use footwork properly. When we learned the full Contradas sets, you saw a real emphasis on scrambling the basic numbers of the 5 Attacks so you would hit with any order other than 1,2,3,4. The principle here is that a person trained in weapon work has probably gotten the sequence of 1,2,3,4 in their basics and also learned to counter that sequence with the same numbering when first learning counters. Therefore, one of our early 5 Attacks drills was to counter each number with anything else but the same number.

As the years passed, another difference between the original students from the 70s and 80s and newer seminar students, was that the later tended to look for that one big strike during sparring. Meanwhile the old school students tended to attack with more combinations of at least three strikes at a time.

Therefore, when I was developing the 5 Attacks Subsystem, I tried to put these concepts together in one package: 4 diagonals as the foundation, hitting from angles the opponent was not used to, and hitting with multi-strike combinations.



(The beginning and end of this video shows some of the drills we are discussing).


The next step in the PTI curriculum after the 5 Attacks Subsystem is the Solo Abcedario. This will give you all the basic strikes that are not in the 5 Attacks. After this comes the drills of the 64 Attacks. From this point on, you would be following the curriculum that I learned from Tuhon Gaje in the 70s and 80s. (3)


Here is a warm up drill for solo Contradas and Recontras, showing how a few simple grip variables can greatly effect the leverage and power of the weapon.  (In this case, either one or two hands on the weapon, and where the second hand is placed).


PEKITI-TIRSIA Stick grip drill

Here are the first few techniques of Solo Contradas. If you are familiar with the 5 Attacks Subsystem, you will see how heavily I borrowed from this set for the subsystem.

Solo Contradas: S1, T1


After learning an advanced set, it was very common for Tuhon Gaje to have us go back to a basic technique or drill and incorporate the advanced theories into it.

This video shows the Break in-Break out drill, but instead of the basic box pattern we had first learned with it, I am teaching it using Contradas entry timing at the beginning of the drill. In the last 15 to 20 years, I have tried to compress the learning curve for my students and try to teach the advanced theories as soon as I can, whenever teaching the basics.



Most of the advanced solo material in Pekiti-Tirsia is divided into 3 sets of 12 techniques. Each category explores how to solve a different problem using a specific set of tools. You should look at these sets not as magical techniques written in stone, but simply as 12 samples of how to apply a principle using a particular tool to solve a particular problem.
If your tools or problems are different, then you should learn to apply the principles you learned in each set and modify them to your specific needs at that time.

In the current PTI curriculum, advanced solo stick/sword work is taught in the following order.

Seguidas: “Bridging.” Seguidas is useful when your opponent is equal to you in physical attributes, so you must use more efficient techniques to win.
Set 1 teaches you to hit from long range.
Set 2 teaches how to bridge the distance from long to middle range.
Set 3 is a close quarters set, that also teaches weapon retention techniques.




Contradas: “Counters.” Contradas can be used when the opponent is physically stronger than you, or when his weapon is heavier than yours.  
Set 1 teaches quick combination strikes that are not committed and leave you an escape route.
Set 2. Expands the principles of set 1 and applies them to multiple opponents.
Set 3. On the surface this set shows a movement for movement counter to the first set of Seguidas, but it is also teaching you the principle of how to counter any combination strikes.



Recontras: “Recounters.” Recontras can be used when your opponent is faster than you or has better endurance, or when his weapon is lighter and faster.

Set 1 teaches joint destruction.
Set 2 teaches uses for two hand grip on the weapon.
Set 3 teaches hitting with your left hand, while you have a stick or sword in your right hand.




Juego Todo drill:

I learned what you see in the video below as the Juego-Todo drill, in which you put together everything you have learned in a free flow drill that still has rules: ie I should hit his weapon hand without making contact with his weapon. The principle here is to use footwork and timing to control the distance and hit without blocking. Therefore, when you hear our sticks hit, it means I messed up. If you just hear me hitting his limbs, then I’m doing it right.

FAST STICK WORK. Pekiti-Tirsia at Kenpokan Dojo. Hanover, Germany. 

We did the Juego Todo drill after first getting the structure and subcomponents from the Offensa-Defensa set:



Range Sparring: The bridge between drills and full sparring was a period of range sparring. After about 18 months of solo baston drills Tuhon Gaje began our training in sparring. He had us stand at a distance so that the tips of our outstretched sticks were about 3 feet apart. He then told us to maintain that distance while we “sparred” from that range. We were trying to score hits in our minds, as if we had been closer to our targets. Of course, as a teenager doing this, I was more concerned with “winning” than learning and so most of my attacks “scored” in my mind, while most of my opponent’s attacks “missed.” Meanwhile, the older, more mature guys in the class remembered the purpose of the drill and were calling out when it actually did look like you scored on them and they would encourage you to try that combo again so they could learn to counter it.

This range sparring period did not last very long (I think it was less than a month) and then we moved onto full contact armored sparring. But even here, we did not jump into the deep end of the pool in our first dive. We had a few sessions of specific targets: first only the weapon hand, then either arm, then adding the head, then the lead leg.

This prevented us, when we did go to full sparring, to avoid so many pit falls I see many modern students fall into when they don’t go through this step by step progression; such as only going for head shots, or “playing tag” in their sparring, wherein they trade single attacks back and forth from range but don’t accomplish much. In my opinion, it was this step by step training that made the difference between learning how to fight and learning how to fight well and shows up in the way the old school guys fought and how so many fight today.

REVIEW: The way Pekiti-Tirsia was taught to Tuhon Gaje as a child in the Philippines was in this progression:

1. Footwork.

2. Basic Strikes. 

3. Simple two man drills of Attack and Block.

4. Complex two man drills of Attack-Counter-Recounter. 

5. Advanced Attack combinations: (Seguidas, Contradas, etc). 

All with a great deal of time and many repititions done at each step.


In the PTI curriculum we teach Pekiti-Tirsia in this progression:

1. 5 Attacks Subsystem which combines elements of 1, 2 & 3 from the classical progression.
2. Solo Abcedario (full nomenclature of strikes).
3. 64 Attacks with drills (with associated complex two man drills).
4. Advanced Attack combinations.

In less time and with less repitition than in the old days (not because this is better, but simply because that's all the time most working adults have to train). (5)  

The streamlined format of the PTI curriculum is based on teaching a different group (adults) in a different environment (mainly through seminars) than the classical progression. Is it better? That all depends on who you are teaching and how much time you have to teach them. I would say the old ways are better for the needs of the students in the environment and times it was taught in and the new format does seem to have benefits for the students training in the environment they are in today.

Train hard, but Train Smart,

Tuhon Bill McGrath

For info on this year’s PTI camps, seminars, local and on-line classes, visit the PTI seminars page:


1. The classic way to teach the Pekiti-Tirsia system in the Philippines at the time that Tuhon Gaje learned as a child was to teach all the solo stick/sword material first “A through Z” before moving on to Doble’. This was also taught A through Z before moving onto the next weapon system (Espada y Daga. Next was Daga y Daga. Empty Hands was taught last under the classical teaching method).

2. When Tuhon Gaje moved to the US and found that most of his students were adults with prior martial arts training, he changed the order of teaching and followed a curriculum that for the most part taught all the “A” level techniques across all the weapons, then all the B level material, then all the C level, etc. The curriculum and ranking requirements you see on the PTI website simply follows the order I learned each section of the system and received the corresponding rank.

3. Conrado’s plan for young Leo was to train only one year in footwork. For more info on this read:

4. The point when Pekiti-Disarma is taught is the main deviation from the order in which I learned the system. Originally the full set of solo disarms was one of the last things I learned from Tuhon Gaje and he told me this was the last thing he learned in the solo stick/sword material. When I submitted the PTI curriculum and rank chart to Tuhon Gaje for his approval, I had put the Pekiti-Disarma at the end of the Solo section. He asked that I move the Disarma from the end to a place between 64 Attacks and Seguidas. He said he didn’t want students to get Seguidas too quickly and that if they could pass the Pekiti-Disarma set, only then would they deserve to learn Seguidas.

5. The one advantage of modern training over the old days is that we now have videos to review during our home practice sessions. Therefore, we are not as dependent on high repititions as a mnemonic device to remember individual techniques.