Paulo “GN” Rubio has built a massive following with his extensive training and knowledge. He takes a broad and diverse look at tactical training through mixed martial arts and self-defense from a law enforcement, military, and responsibly armed civilian perspective. He is a disruptor in the martial arts and tactical worlds by bringing this knowledge to the masses.
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*Due to editorial limitations, parts of this interview may have been abbreviated.
Black Belt+: You have such a unique approach to martial arts training, who or what inspired you?
Paulo: I see my inspirations kind of like a math equation of circumstance. One, I grew up in the Philippines splitting my time between urban jungles and actual jungles. These environments inspired me to explore and it fueled my curiosity. Two, I came from a tight knit family where everyone was involved in each other's business...then at the age of nine, my family immigrated to Canada. This was transformative because all of a sudden, I found myself with no relatives outside of immediate family and a brand new, unfamiliar environment to explore. Three, my father passed away when I was a teenager leaving me the only Rubio male in Canada. If you add up one, two and three, you will find that I was an adventurous and curious kid who, all of a sudden, was thrust in an unfamiliar environment with no tribe or community to answer to. I had to find my own truths. I had to examine these truths meaningfully. And while I grew up in culture, tradition and a tight knit family, I understood what it meant to thrive in relative isolation. These circumstances really forged my approach to martial arts. Also, Jackie Chan. Jackie Chan and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Black Belt+: The pandemic created a world of isolation, what are your expert tips on training solo or remotely?
Paulo: Meaningful solo training must be based on reverse engineering performances. If you have nothing to reverse engineer, any solo training will be a kind of mindless repetition. Repetition is important, but it must be mindful. It must serve a purpose outside of repetition alone. I started my Filipino Martial Arts journey by fighting a world champion in a full contact stick fight in the Philippines. I got smacked a lot. But I smacked him back. This was a revelation and a motivation. I realized that anyone can get hit, even by an untrained opponent, and I became motivated to become harder to hit. I devised solo training based on reverse engineering my performance. The fight was filmed and so I can identify my deficiencies and shortcomings. I created drills that addressed them.
My main training tip for solo training is to subject yourself to an experience that you can learn from. This means competition, pressure testing, sparring or some meaningful challenge in your chosen martial art where you are thrust outside of your comfort zone. Film it. Analyze it. Shed your ego and identify your points of failure with brutal honesty. Then, in isolation, use critical thinking to create drills and solo practice that address your shortcomings. You don't need a Guru or a Master for that. You know yourself better than any Sifu of Grand Master ever could. Fix yourself.
Black Belt+: Oftentimes in our training we hit a wall, what’s your advice for students who lack motivation or want to quit?
Paulo: My advice is to quit. Give it up. Remember that you are an artist and artists need periods of rest. After a musician releases an album, they need downtime. They need to sit under the shade tree and rejuvenate. They need to recharge creativity and find inspiration. A martial artist is no different. Take that time off. Do something else. But not for long. The martial arts will call you back and you cannot resist. Remember that this rest period is not to divorce yourself from the thing you love, but rather a moment of meaningful separation, so that you can love it better.
Black Belt+: Traditionally many martial artists start with one style, what is your approach to introducing styles to a student?
Paulo: While I understand the benefit of building a strong foundation based on one style, this does not reflect my journey. From the beginning I sought commonalities and built my foundation based on an understanding of common or universal principles that pulse through the core of every style. Timing, footwork and mobility, accuracy and precision, power generation, distance and proximity management, interception and control, angles and trajectories and finally, tactics and strategies. Every martial art seeks to introduce, develop, and master these concepts in one way or another. As an instructor, I don't introduce styles to my students. Rather I introduce concepts and principles. For example, when I teach trapping and counter-trapping under the framework of knife use, we discuss the underlying principles that lead to its successes. You can't trap out of range. Your trap is optimized if you have tactically advantageous angles. And those angles are earned through strategic entries via distance and proximity management. And for that, you must have good timing and so on. Through the process of teaching and crafting these principles to my students, I might allude to JKD and Pekiti Tirsia Kali and Boxing and JiuJitsu. Not that I am an expert at any of those styles, but I can certainly recognize their focus and intentions that drive their techniques which reveals the concepts and principles...which are universal. I must also say that not everyone will agree with this approach. And that is perfectly fine. This approach won't work for everyone. And it is certainly possible to explore all of these concepts and principles within the framework of one style. But that's just not my style.
Black Belt+: Much of your training and outreach is done via social media, how has that changed the way of teaching vs the traditional dojo way?
Paulo: Albert Einstein is quoted to have said "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." Social media outreach necessitates simple explanations of complex concepts under a pressurized time constraint to an audience with varying attention spans. It is challenging. The truth is, any good boxing coach will tell you that perfecting the jab is a lifelong pursuit. And any seasoned martial arts instructor will tell you that despite teaching everyone with the same care and consideration for long periods of time, there will be deviation and variety in student skill acquisition and performance. The traditional dojo way offers no guarantees, nor does social media or online training. I've met enough old school hard hitters who in the 80's and 90's learned martial arts from VHS tapes, magazines, books and the odd seminar here and there. These are suboptimal modes of learning. Just as social media and online training are suboptimal modes of learning. But what did these old school dudes do back in the day that allowed them to succeed and to eventually become the masters we know them today? Simple. They took fragments of information, they took it into their back yards and garages with their buddies and they tested, trained and fought with what they gathered. They bridged the gaps. They explored. They asked questions. They connected the dots. And then, when the next opportunity arose, they trained with masters in person. The path of learning from online courses and social media may be new, but the underlying principle behind what could make them effective is not new. A student climbs up the mountain to train with the sage Kung Fu master who gives him one gem and then asks him to leave. What that student does with that gem is ultimately up to him or her. These days it is easy to criticize online learning as not being complete or comprehensive...and therefore ineffective. This is a fallacy based on a sense of entitlement that places the burden of mastery solely on the instructor. This is not traditional. The traditional and ancient path to mastery is driven by the willingness, desire and sacrifice of the student to attain it.
Black Belt+: What is the emphasis of your teaching?
Paulo: The folks I primarily associate with are law enforcement, military and defense professionals. These are people with the ability to extract what is useful and relevant to their task and purpose. Think about it. A cop may interview a suspect who is intent on lying and deceiving and that cop will still be able to gather pertinent information. A military professional or an executive protection agent needs to sift through incredible amounts of data and information, often in real time, and be able to select which elements are relevant to ensure favorable outcomes to the mission. The emphasis of my training is creative problem solving and attribute development with a primary focus on art form and self-expression. This allows me to serve a multitude of intentions simultaneously while staying true to myself. I am not a soldier. I was never a cop. I cannot teach them about "the realities of combat" of which I have no experience in. I cannot teach them tactics derived from missions I was never a part of. That would be disingenuous, dishonest and deceptive. Here's an example: In class, I might teach intercepting incoming high line attacks to the face. This lesson might begin as a solo form using parries and redirections. It might manifest through an artful partner sequence or flow drill. This beautiful sequence might evolve into a competitive game. And this game might evolve into some kind of competition or pressure test. This evolution can serve someone who wants fitness and cardio. It can serve someone who engages in sport. It can serve someone with a self-defense intention. It can certainly serve someone who on duty sworn to protect the public. Each one of these individuals will interpret the lesson based on their immediate needs, goals and intentions.
Black Belt+: What motivates you to stay curious about your art?
Paulo: I am inspired by the community. Being a public figure means I am constantly confronted by intellectual challenges and curiosities. By virtue of my willingness to be authentic and vulnerable on social media, I am subject to criticism and praise that inspire me to think, reflect and improve.