"12 Basics..." Guro Azeem McDaniel

sonder
n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.
— Dictionary of Oscure Sorrows

Who are you? How do you define yourself? What's your story?

I define myself as pretty much a street guy. I was born in Seattle and grew up in bad areas. I’m a good person. I define myself as a religious individual. Basically a family man. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell, how I define myself.

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How were you exposed to Balintawak?

I have been doing Eskrima for a little over 15 years. Basically, I saw Bobby at a demonstration and it just attracted me. It spoke to what I already was, with my personality of being from the street. It was directly to the point, there was nothing fancy about it, and it was the end of the story. I was taken by it. I liked that Grand Master Taboada focuses on the body being the weapon and the stick being an extension of that. I thought to myself, “Man, this is just like Choy Lay Fut, it will work right into what I’m already doing.  

I liked that Grand Master Taboada focuses on the body being the weapon and the stick being an extension of that.

How long have you studied? Who was your primary instructor?

My primary instructor has been John Soriano. While I’ve been practicing Eskrima for 15 years, I’ve been practicing Balintawak for 5 years.

Guro Azeem McDaniel with his Balintawak teacher, Guro John Soriano

Guro Azeem McDaniel with his Balintawak teacher, Guro John Soriano

What was the hardest part of learning Balintawak?

To be honest, it wasn’t that it was hard to pick any if it up because I already had a stick background, but I guess the hardest part for me was adapting it to how I move as a person. I’m originally left handed but I had to learn all of this right handed, so when I had to learn all of this right handed it was like patting my head and rubbing my belly at the same time. I had to learn all of it backwards.

Favorite part of Balintawak?

My favorite part is the brute force, speed, and power.

Guro McDaniel being fed by GM Taboada

Guro McDaniel being fed by GM Taboada

Have you/do you study other arts? How have they influenced each other?

Yes, I do a form of Kung Fu called Choy Lay Fut, which is my primary (base) art. I’ve been doing that for an extremely long time, over 20 years. Basically, it’s just like Balintawak. It’s straight to the point, it’s hard hitting and it marries very well with everything I do in Balintawak. I’m at a point now where my Choy Lay Fut and Balintawak are so intertwined that now it’s my own.

Guro McDaniel and Choy Lay Fut Grand Master Poon Shing

Guro McDaniel and Choy Lay Fut Grand Master Poon Shing

I’m at a point now where my Choy Lay Fut and Balintawak are so intertwined that now it’s my own.

What's your day job? Have there been any concepts from that profession that have informed your Balintawak or vice versa?

I’m a network engineer for Microsoft, I’ve been with them for over a decade. To be honest, when it comes to my career and my martial arts I keep them completely separate. But what does help me going form my martial arts to my career is that it helps me not become confrontational with anyone that I work with. So I pretty much do my job and I go home.

What is the main lesson you want your students to take from your instruction in Balintawak?

I want their primary goal to be to become better than me. I want them to be good people. I want them to treat other people the way they want to be treated and to be kind to everyone, no matter race, no matter faith, no matter, orientation, no matter gender. Treat everyone the way you want to be treated. That is what I say to all of my students. Everybody is welcome. I want everyone to have the Brotherhood of the art.  

Guro McDaniel with the Puget Sound crew

Guro McDaniel with the Puget Sound crew

Everybody is welcome. I want everyone to have the Brotherhood of the art.

What do you emphasizes with beginners and what do you emphasizes with your more advanced students?

With the beginners I emphasize Shadow Fighting Form and Releases more than anything else. In my opinion, everything that we do in Balintawak is in that form so I make my students, as beginners, dissect that form. The releases, the power striking, the body torquing, everything in our system is in there. As far as advanced students, I teach them how to clean up everything down to the finest detail. How to control and be able to explode with power at the drop of a hat without even thinking about it.

What does a typical class look like when you teach?

A typical class always starts out with Level 1, I look at that as the warm up, 12 basic strikes, 12 basic strikes full power, shadow fighting form… but I make them do all of level 1 right handed and then I make them do all of Level 1 left handed, and that is a typical warm up. Then we get into level 2, defense and counter in control, defense and counter full power… and then they do that right and left handed. So everything they are doing with their right I make them do it with their left. Then I will change it to a blade and we will do defense and counters with a blade, right and left handed. That's my emphasis, not to just focus on being right hand dominate, I want them to focus on being ambidextrous and being able to fight both ways.

What kind of things were you thinking about when you were developing your 24 techniques?

When I was thinking about my 24 techniques the first thing that came into my mind was multiple people because that goes back to my Kung Fu teacher who always said that when it’s on the street it’s never going to be fair. So there is always going to be more than one person. You have to fight smart.  

When you think of a fight that is mutual, you agree to that.  Two people agree that they are going to go hit it up. I was thinking with my techniques “What if this is an assault?”. I don’t know where it’s coming from so I just have to react, so that is what I based my whole 24 on. I thought about my surroundings. I’m in an urban environment. I’m from the street. I have all this concrete, all these buildings, all these things around me, how can I use this to my advantage to destroy my opponent? So if I’m in this or that kind of area, if I’m in an alley, a very highly populated area like downtown, what am I going to do? Okay, I’m going to use this brick wall and smash his head into it with a stick or I’m going to take my stick and I’m going to concentrate on the 3 vital areas, the breathing, the balance, and the vision. So I’m thinking about those things because I know another guy is coming. How can I finish it fast, efficient, and devastating so when the next guy comes I am ready for him and not off guard?

Guro Azeem McDaniel, GM Bobby Taboada, Josh Farham, Raul Tabile, Guro John Soriano

Guro Azeem McDaniel, GM Bobby Taboada, Josh Farham, Raul Tabile, Guro John Soriano

How can I finish it fast, efficient, and devastating so when the next guy comes I am ready for him and not off guard?

Why did you want to become a Fully Qualified Instructor?

To be honest, I didn’t. I didn’t even want to test. I didn’t want to become a level 1 let alone a level 7. I didn’t want any of it, I just wanted to learn the system because I knew it was effective. I just wanted to try something different. But as I got into it, the more I would do and the higher I ranked the more sauce that I received.  Then there was my son, he really got me into wanting to teach because when I was learning he was always waiting for me at the door saying “Dad, what did you learn? Can you show me?” So as I was learning I was teaching him at the same time. I had to learn the curriculum, and the testing requirements in order to pass it on to my son, and now he’s better than me. He makes me look bad! I think that was the motivation for me wanting to become a Fully Qualified Instructor. If I was able to motivate my son like that, then maybe I can motivate other people, and now I have a pretty good school.

Guro Azeem receiving his FQI with his son receiving his Completion of the Art from GM Taboada in 2015

Guro Azeem receiving his FQI with his son receiving his Completion of the Art from GM Taboada in 2015

Then there was my son, he really got me into wanting to teach because when I was learning he was always waiting for me at the door saying “Dad, what did you learn? Can you show me?”


1 Extra. What are you known for in the Balintawak community?

Two things. Most notably, my son and his Balintawak. I'm incredibly proud of him. If I'm known for anything else it's probably as the “Street Guy”.

On a extra special note we would like to extend our most heart felt congratulations to Guro McDaniel on his induction to the Martial Arts Hall of Fame as part of the 2016 class! We are incredibly proud of you Azeem!