Forged in Fire’s Doug Marcaida Cuts to the Bone With Sur­vival, Edged Weapons, and Mar­tial Arts

RECOIL OFFGRID - - Front Page - By Conrad Bui Photos by Liz Leggett Pho­tog­ra­phy

Look­ing at Doug Marcaida, you might think he’s an artist of some sort with a gallery on Rodeo Drive. He’s got that goa­tee, the suave hair, and the el­e­gant de­meanor. He’s ar­tic­u­late and re­fined. So what’s he do­ing swing­ing swords, axes, and knives on the His­tory Chan­nel’s Forged in Fire?

Forged in Fire (in case you’ve just emerged from your un­der­ground bunker) is a com­pe­ti­tion se­ries with three judges (in­clud­ing Doug), one host, and four blade­smith con­tes­tants. Each episode fo­cuses on forg­ing a cut­ting tool or edged weapon from scratch. The win­ner walks away with a cool 10 grand in their pocket, and the episode’s cham­pi­onship ti­tle. How cool is that? Weapons, fire, forg­ing, in­for­ma­tion, and fine edges are all dis­played in full boob-tube bril­liance. That ex­plains why this year marks the fifth sea­son, and even spawned a spin-off se­ries ti­tled Forged in Fire: Knife or Death.

Marcaida’s in­volve­ment in the show in­volves pres­sure test­ing the weapons and eval­u­at­ing each blade for com­bat ef­fec­tive­ness. As a mas­ter of the Filipino art of Kali, he’s a nat­u­ral for han­dling edged weapons. We re­cently caught up with Doug be­tween film­ing episodes and cut straight to the chase with his ob­ser­va­tions of the hit show, what mar­tial arts he se­cretly wants to study, and his at­ti­tude to­ward sur­vival.

RE­COIL OFFGRID: How did you get hooked up with Forged in Fire?

Doug Marcaida: I got a call from their cast­ing pro­ducer who found me through my YouTube videos. They were look­ing for an end user of edged weapons to be a judge on the show.

What’s the film­ing sched­ule like?

DM: It’s taken over my time. We film an av­er­age of 30 to 40 episodes spread out through the year and about a week per episode … so, it’s drawn out.

That’s a lot of work. How long does it take to film one episode of Forged in Fire?

DM: It takes about eight days for each episode to be com­pleted.

Now in the fifth sea­son, why do you think Forged in Fire has be­come such a hit?

DM: I think that our inner de­sire to be able to cre­ate things with our hands is pro­jected when we watch shows like Forged in Fire. From imag­i­na­tion to cre­ation in a com­pe­ti­tion for­mat, but we hap­pen to have fire, sparks, edged weapons, kill tests, strength tests, and sharp­ness tests … and did I men­tion edged weapons?

What’s not to like, right? Han­dling weapons, es­pe­cially sharp, pointy ones is dan­ger­ous. Did you have any dicey sit­u­a­tions where life and limb were threat­ened?

DM: All the time! To wield a weapon with full in­tent to cut or de­cap­i­tate is very dan­ger­ous, es­pe­cially be­cause it’s not a weapon that I have time to “zero in” or be fa­mil­iar with. Ev­ery bladed weapon to me is as dan­ger­ous as a firearm. We can eas­ily take it for granted, when in fact they were cre­ated with one pur­pose, which is to de­stroy life and limb.

Were you ever in­jured while film­ing?

DM: Yes, I was in­jured dur­ing one of our tests. I was test­ing a heavy blade that was not very sharp against a dry, rub­bery bal­lis­tics dummy where the shock of the cut and im­pact in­jured my ro­ta­tor cuff.

What did you do in the mil­i­tary?

DM: I started out in lo­gis­tics, then cross-trained into the car­dio-pul­monary field. It was dur­ing my stint in the Air Force that I dis­cov­ered Filipino mar­tial arts (FMA).

What piqued your in­ter­est in mar­tial arts?

DM: I al­ways liked fight­ing and was a big fan of mar­tial arts movies as a kid, so I had to get my Bruce Lee moves on.

We’re big fans of mar­tial arts movies as well. What are your fa­vorites?

DM: The Last Samu­rai is by far my fa­vorite of all time in terms of story line and that “mar­tial Zen” feel­ing. I am of course a big fan of Bruce Lee and en­joy Tony Jaa for his amaz­ing tim­ing, along with Iko Uwais. I’m also a big Kurosawa fan.

Tell us about your mar­tial arts jour­ney.

DM: I started as a kid with ba­sics of karate, kick­box­ing, and Tae Kwon Do, but it was al­ways a side hobby. It wasn’t un­til I dis­cov­ered Filipino mar­tial arts in my mid 20s that I re­ally be­came se­ri­ous about train­ing. I stud­ied un­der the sev­eral grand­mas­ters and in­struc­tors of Pek­iti Tir­sia Kali, San Miguel Eskrima, and Kali deLeon, along with ex­po­sure to Si­lat and other FMA sys­tems.

Why did you end up choos­ing Eskrima/Kali, or did it choose you?

DM: It chose me. [ Laughs] When I was in­tro­duced to it in my mid 20s I fell madly in love with the art, and I seemed to have a flair for it. But I never learned it in my home­land

as a kid grow­ing up in the Philip­pines. I learned it in the U.S. while I was in the Air force. The irony of it all.

Your English is ex­cel­lent for a kid grow­ing up in the Philip­pines. How old were you when you came to the U.S.? DM: I was 17 when I came to the U.S.

You teach Marcaida Kali, what is that and why is it dif­fer­ent from other sys­tems of FMA?

DM: It is my in­ter­pre­ta­tion of mar­tial arts. The way I am able to ex­plain do­ing what I love to do. It’s a mix of all my lessons learned, but more so, the process. I teach learn­ing meth­ods. And the fi­nal test is to cre­ate your own sys­tem and call it by your name. Marcaida Kali is just a term peo­ple use to as­so­ciate it with me.

In your OFFGRIDweb.com in­ter­view, you stated that with mar­tial arts we should, “seek to de­velop the good at­tributes aside from the phys­i­cal skills and bring back what good qual­i­ties mar­tial train­ing de­vel­ops in a per­son.” What are these good qual­i­ties? DM: Re­spect, honor, and in­tegrity — the ba­sic things that should guide our phys­i­cal, men­tal, and spir­i­tual be­ing. We need to know why we do things and how these things have to be guided with re­spectable and hon­or­able use. Mar­tial arts should make us bet­ter, not bit­ter. What’s the big­gest ben­e­fit of train­ing in mar­tial arts? DM: It’s hard to say what are the most im­por­tant at­tributes, aside from phys­i­cal skills de­vel­oped by the prac­tice of mar­tial arts. Con­cen­tra­tion and aware­ness are prob­a­bly at the top of the list. From a so­cial stand­point, equa­nim­ity is per­haps the most im­por­tant virtue a mar­tial artist can have; that is, to be able to live in the world with­out prej­u­dice or fear.

Ev­ery art has strengths and weak­nesses. What are the weak­nesses of your art?

DM: Though we have an empty-hand com­po­nent in our art, I be­lieve that time spent on any one thing will be­come your strength. So since FMA is weapons-based, I see that the empty-hands por­tions — if not trained of­ten — can be­come the weak­ness. But what wields the weapons? I would also say that in weapons train­ing, the ground is the last place you want to be; then, ground­grap­pling would be the weak­ness. I don’t spend enough time on the ground to make it our strength.

What about the strengths of Kali?

DM: It is a fact of na­ture that all forms of ac­tion are limited by cir­cum­stance. In the case of mar­tial arts — size,

strength, age, ded­i­ca­tion — they all play a fun­da­men­tal role. Kali is sub­ject to these lim­i­ta­tions as are all other mar­tial arts. Its great strength is its abil­ity to weaponize prac­ti­cally every­thing, thus mak­ing the sur­round­ing world a tool — a means of equal­iz­ing most dis­ad­van­tages. The abil­ity to use this re­source with­out abus­ing it dis­tin­guishes the fully ac­com­plished prac­ti­tioner of Kali from those who are merely at­tracted to the most flashy as­pects of the art.

What was your train­ing sched­ule like when you started in mar­tial arts?

DM: When I re­ally was into it (still am), my for­ma­tive years were spent with six-hour-long train­ing ses­sions on Satur­days and an­other two hours, twice a week. I gave up my en­tire Satur­days for the train­ing ses­sions. Three hours of con­di­tion­ing, till burn out. Then three hours of tech­ni­cal drills and specifics. The idea was to be so ex­hausted that the tech­ni­cal were done with only the right mus­cle groups teach­ing us to learn to breathe and stay re­laxed. Not to power through any­thing and to trust the weapon. No won­der you are so good. What is your sched­ule of train­ing now?

DM: Three times a week I train and teach two guys at 5 a.m.

When SHTF, how im­por­tant is train­ing? What about phys­i­cal fit­ness?

DM: You de­fault to what your com­fort level is. This is mus­cle mem­ory, taken from the rep­e­ti­tion of train­ing. Train­ing is ba­sic for ev­ery as­pect of the art. In re­gards to a vi­o­lent at­tack, it em­braces the whole range from pre­vent­ing to sur­viv­ing it. Phys­i­cal fit­ness is as use­ful in mar­tial arts, as it is in the preser­va­tion of a sound car­dio­vas­cu­lar sys­tem. If you do not have the phys­i­cal at­tributes to do what you learned, then it can’t be ex­e­cuted. I guess that is why I like Kali. The weapons act as the ul­ti­mate force mul­ti­plier. You do not have to be su­per strong or flex­i­ble to use an edge or im­pact weapon, yet you can have the same re­sults as one who is younger and stronger.

Do you think a per­son who trains in the mar­tial arts has an ad­van­tage dur­ing a vi­o­lent sit­u­a­tion?

DM: Any­one who trains cor­rectly will be­come aware and then cre­ate pre­ven­tive mea­sures. Train­ing will give you pos­si­ble an­swers to vi­o­lent sit­u­a­tions. Train­ing and prepar­ing for vi­o­lence gives you a bet­ter chance com­pared to some­one who has never even thought of vi­o­lence and sim­ply re­lies on their nat­u­ral in­stincts once it oc­curs. We are all dif­fer­ent, so some are nat­u­ral at deal­ing with vi­o­lence and some are not. Given that you choose to learn some­thing so you can deal with it makes you that much bet­ter at deal­ing with that sit­u­a­tion.

Dur­ing any cri­sis, like a sur­vival sit­u­a­tion, how can mar­tial arts be of help?

DM: If your mar­tial art teaches you cri­sis man­age­ment, and it is trained prop­erly then yes, we are all dif fer­ent and train dif fer­ently. But one thing mar­tial arts dis­ci­pline does teach is a chance to fo­cus on what­ever you are learn­ing. Train­ing the mind to con­trol the body helps you deal with a cri­sis much bet­ter. It’s not just the self­de­fense tech­niques of mar­tial arts that come into play. Breath­ing helps con­trol emo­tions and keeps you fo­cused and re­laxed. You’ll be able to as­sess things bet­ter and make the right choices. The mar­tial prac­tices give con­di­tion­ing, but mind, body, and spirit should work as a whole. This in­creases your chances of sur­viv­ing a cri­sis in my opin­ion.

You teach a lot of sem­i­nars. What is it that peo­ple are look­ing to learn?

DM: My guess is to move and do the things they see me do­ing. I, in turn, try to teach them the method­ol­ogy of how I learned these things and how I train them, as op­posed to mem­o­riz­ing tech­niques.

If some­one wants to pro­tect home and hearth, what should they do?

DM: Ed­u­cate your­self about every­thing that has to do with your home. Learn about en­try and exit points, weapons of op­por­tu­nity around the house, safe rooms, emer­gency plans, and where to meet in case things hap­pen. Make a plan, but make sure you ac­tu­ally train your plans. Knowl­edge with­out the abil­ity to ex­e­cute will limit your ef­fec­tive­ness.

We agree, prac­tic­ing your plan is crit­i­cal. Do you have to spend a lot of time train­ing?

DM: If you know how to in­cor­po­rate train­ing into your daily life then you are train­ing all the time. There is no limit to the amount you should train in some­thing you want to be good at.

How does one go about in­cor­po­rat­ing train­ing into their daily life?

DM: “Train the way you will fight, so you will fight the way you train.” I will take it fur­ther — you should, “Live the way you will fight, so that you will fight the way you live.” Un­less you are in a sport where you are sure the fight will take place in a ring, you need to re­al­ize that the dojo (train­ing hall) is prob­a­bly the safest place to be. Fights hap­pen out­side and mostly while you are just liv­ing your life. So if liv­ing your life is a con­stant; mean­ing how you move, how you do things, how you think all the time, and that is what you want to pro­tect, then train those very same things to be func­tional in a fight. Here’s an ex­am­ple, if I nor­mally swing my hands as I walk, can I turn that swing into strikes? If I nor­mally walk and stomp on an in­sect, can I turn that stomp to be a strike?

If a wrist lock is a turn of a wrist, is that mo­tion sim­i­lar to turn­ing a door knob? If us­ing a spear in com­bat is about cre­at­ing a bar­rier in com­bat, can chairs, ta­bles, or the ob­vi­ous broom be used? These are the same prin­ci­ples that I see in ev­ery­day liv­ing. These are the things that I do ev­ery day, so train­ing is an all the time thing.

With all this train­ing, have you been in an al­ter­ca­tion where you used your skills? If so, what hap­pened and what did you learn?

DM: I plead the 5th. But I did learn that ego is the real en­emy. It gets you into trou­ble where trou­ble could have been avoided and even if you win a fight, you lost at har­mony in life. Could it have been pre­vented? Most of the time the an­swer is yes.

UFC and MMA has a large fol­low­ing now. What are your views of the UFC and MMA?

DM: I am a big fan of the sport. What I love is the idea to be well rounded; that one should learn to cover all bases that just one art can­not pro­vide. What I find dis­ap­point­ing is the way some ath­letes con­duct them­selves in pub­lic. Their ag­gres­sive na­ture is what mar­tial arts tries to con­trol, and they think it’s OK to act this way in pub­lic. Those who are ex­posed to true vi­o­lence, where life and death is a mat­ter of op­por­tu­nity, know that you don’t act this way. No one is bul­let­proof or stab-proof. But as pub­lic fig­ures how they con­duct them­selves af­fects the im­pres­sion­able fans who will take on their per­sona be­cause per­cep­tion is re­al­ity to them. Also, there’s noth­ing wrong in prac­tic­ing mar­tial arts as a sport as long as one un­der­stands the dif­fer­ence be­tween play­ing and fight­ing for one’s life and limb. In­tent is the key.

If you were to learn a new mar­tial arts, what would it be and why?

DM: Brazil­ian Jiu-Jitsu and Rus­sian Sambo. I have al­ways wanted to put a lot of time in to learn, but have not had the plea­sure of do­ing so.

Do you con­sider your­self a “prep­per?”

DM: Yes. I try to pre­pare for things that may or may not hap­pen in my life.

What should the av­er­age prep­per/sur­vival­ist pre­pare for?

DM: Take your­self out of your com­fort zone. What would you do if you do not have the things you de­pend on daily to live? How would you then sur­vive? Your an­swer to that will give you lessons about your­self that you may or may not be aware of. It will show you your strengths and weak­ness. Maybe you’re a tech-savvy per­son, but when tech­nol­ogy is out the win­dow, what then? Can you live with­out cer­tain things? We all say we can do with­out, but how does your mind­set deal with the stress when you are with­out? Some of us can’t han­dle it and go through with­drawals. Try go­ing with­out your smart­phone for even a few hours and watch your re­sponse. There are some who get stressed. [ Laughs] What things are re­ally ne­ces­si­ties over niceties? Once you ex­pose the weak­ness, pre­pare to strengthen it.

What’s been keep­ing you busy lately?

DM: Forged in Fire, knife de­sign­ing, and mar­tial pro­gram writ­ing.

Mar­tial pro­gram writ­ing? What is that?

DM: Ever since I tran­si­tioned into me­dia, I have not been able to con­tinue my work as a mil­i­tary con­trac­tor for my edged and im­pact weapons in­struc­tion. I want to con­tinue this even if it’s in the “train the trainer” ca­pac­ity, which means write the pro­grams so oth­ers can teach them.

Any cool knife de­sign you’re work­ing on now or have com­pleted re­cently?

DM: The Kor­tada Knife and the Kor­tada Dag­ger are two of my cur­rent de­signs that I am re­leas­ing. The kor­tada as the word sounds, means “to cut.” This blade de­sign is based on a gi­n­unt­ing (scis­sor) knife I was ex­posed to when I was train­ing with the Force Re­con Marines. My ver­sion has a more acute edge to al­low for thrust­ing, but keeps the ge­om­e­try to do what it was named to do — to cut.

On the set ofForged in Fire.

Joint U. S. Philip­pine Marines edged im­pact com­bat­ives train­ing.

Clock­wise from top left:Tae Kwon Do days. On the beach, water spar­ring with brother. Pek­iti Tir­sia cer­e­mony with Grand Tuhon LepGaje, 1997. With the Philip­pine Force Re­con Bat­tal­ion edged­weapon train­ing grad­u­a­tion.

Doug Marcaida blade de­signs and col­lab­o­ra­tions with KaBar Knives, Fox Knives Italy, Max Venom, Bastinelli Knives, Rus­sian Blades, and Ja­son Knight.

Le Pi­coeur scalpel and Pika karam­bit de­signs with Bastinelli Knives.

A man in his el­e­ment — Doug look­ing over sev­eral of his knife de­sign col­lab­o­ra­tions.

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