Demonstration at Fil-Am Art Live, 2015, in San Diego California - Clockwise from top left: Eskrima Combatives FMA banner; group photo including San Diego Chapter members Lester Laynes, Bernard Garcia, and instructor Ramil Augustin, event host Dr. Marie Zhivago, Magtutudlo Ramon Rubia, and HQ Chapter member Jessica Ritchie and friend, former Ultimate Fighter cast member Steve Magdaleno, (kneeling) San Diego Chapter Instructor Allan Tojino, HQ member and 3x World Champion Dean Mandapat, & Inland Empire Chapter instructor Luis Tuparan; Magtutudlo Ramon demonstrating the movement followed by his explanation with student Luis T.; Lower right - another group photo, and a collection of Filipino blades and sticks on display. Photo courtesy of Allan Tojino.
It’s been a nice, quiet late Fall and early Winter with regular training in the San Miguel System of Eskrima, NMODE--DSG, as well as our continued training in Corto Kurbada using “the principles of,” and Eskrima De Campo 1-2-3 Orihinal. Various areas of training continually interest me, especially separating the unique movements of Nong Banoy from those other, later versions of the San Miguel System and developing them in a more functional way, as taught by his direct student and our instructor, Magtutudlo Ramon Rubia.
Being given an honorary title as an authority in one system of martial arts by someone who openly promotes and favors another system, sounds very fishy. Command, control, dominance, and influence are all words that we associate with the concept of authority. But what really makes a person an authority in martial arts? Authority figures in martial arts organizations enforce obedience, which in turn means that they can kick members out for their misdeeds. They can also dissolve an entire branch of their group on an entire continent, and they can even make formal decisions about themselves in relation to their organization. These situations occur frequently, beyond eskrima and FMA, into other martial arts. We can simply chalk it up to that thing called human nature and taking liberties through a perceived sense of power.
When it comes to eskrima, being recognized as an authority means that an individual has the power to influence others based on their knowledge and their background in the material. So, in essence, having the knowledge is the power, and knowledge can even be taken from stories as told to them by the older eskrimadors. For practitioners who only learn eskrima through random, intermittent visits, seminars, watching videos, distance-training, and occasionally training here-and-there, does the knowledge that they take from these, albeit, brief experiences make them an authority? We must consider these ideas when applying labels like ‘authority’ to someone emphasizing the repetition of movements with no purpose, and instead focus on learning from those who actually used eskrima, and also focus on those who share their knowledge in the application, even through tales and story.
We often hear and read about people who casually attend seminars and collect participation certificates under notable names or styles in the Filipino Martial Arts (FMA), and then turn around and open a class to teach the material they had just learned to others. They may get trolled on YouTube or social media, and even flamed on chat forums like Bullshido, among others. We also hear stories and read about that undying trend of martial arts masters or even casual practitioners and low-level enthusiasts getting certified in a particular FMA and becoming a certified representative of that style after only a few hours, or a couple of days of training. There are even styles that openly promote earning their black belt in eskrima in a record one to three months(!). These newly made ‘authority’-types go back to wherever they came from and show off all the drills that they learned and pawn themselves off as being part of the quality FMA system they were quickly certified in. To me, that hardly sounds authentic in terms of carrying a style when the movements were superficially learned.
After comparing my experiences with our instructor and those that he associates with, I’m of the belief that those short experiences described above only scratch the surface. A person exposed to the material who in turn walks away from the seminar and repeats that same material is only copying and repeating. Was the time really spent afterwards enough to grasp that newly learned movement? In my experience, learning forms, drills, and techniques at a seminar or workshop is only a glimpse into what a whole entire system can entail. Experiences like those are introductions into what some eskrima systems can offer. It's just repeating a drill. Anybody can copy from a video if they watch it enough times and practice repeating it. The question they need to ask is if they had somebody really explain the nuances and what those movements will lead to.
If you take away the photo opportunities, the rank, the reputation and the notoriety, and only focus on the training, you’ll be forced to look at the usefulness and application of what was being taught. Using my own experiences as a reference, I now know exactly what I’m looking for in the training, and it doesn’t take much to realize if an instructor is stuck to the drills and only teaches from that, or if they have a deeper knowledge that I can try to carry on a conversation about. It's always reinforcing if there is a history or tale to be shared during that conversation, and even better when someone can corroborate it outside of the group or system by non-practitioners or rival groups.
I respect those people around me who have been learning about eskrima, because when they share their training experiences and ideas with me, it helps me to visualize what I want to get out of my own experiences.
Of course, I respect our instructor Magtutudlo Ramon and the people that he’s had the opportunity to train with and develop ideas. I also respect other people outside of that training, like those in other systems of FMA that I’ve encountered both through Ramon and outside of his circle. I also respect my older, extended relatives, including my uncles and great-uncles who were alive during World War II in the Philippines - the ones who fought received military burials complete with a full gun salute in honor of their service. While growing up in their presence, decades after the War, I could see that it had affected them greatly. When cousins and I would try to have discussions about fighting against the Japanese army soldiers, they wouldn’t say much, but one could see that they started thinking about it very deeply, because they had a certain stare. They would pat us on the head or back, and send us away to play. I know I can’t really relate to the atrocities against humanity that they personally witnessed, nor relate to the anxiety that one feels when under the constant threat of an invading force during times of war. As we grew into adolescence and early adulthood, we started to learn more.
One particular great-uncle, Mariano Ciubal, now passed away, had a certain tattoo on his arm which dates back to those times of war. He had to use the bolo against Japanese soldiers and adamantly refused to discuss his experiences. He too, had the ‘stare.’ I find him interesting because rather than using a lawnmower, he would take out a bolo and start slashing at the overgrown grass in order to manicure it with a kind of precision. It was also a way for him to stay physically active in his later years leading up to his passing. It was only after his passing that we heard stories here and there about his time as a guerilla, and later as a merchant marine. I only mention him because he had a previous life or death experience using the raw training he received and was forced to apply it to defend himself in the battle-ravaged Ilocos region in northern Luzon. To me, he deserves respect as a person of knowledge to some degree, because he was able to survive during the war and demonstrated having a certain level of proficiency with a bladed weapon to back it up. I only wish he was able to better articulate those experiences as a means to teach others.
I also have a now-elderly, paternal uncle from Bacolod, Negros Occidental in the Visayas region who trained in eskrima. A very devout and religious man, I didn’t get introduced to him until later in adulthood, after years of training eskrima under Ramon. My uncle Nick, whom they call ‘Eking’ describes his style as Tirsia Largo, and mentioned other words and terms relating to his style that have Spanish origins. When he and I sparred, I could see his simple movements that were effective in the fact that he never let me enter his defense and at the same time was using his offense to ‘cut’ me. It was an awesome experience, because I was able to experience his footwork and striking which are representative of that region of the Philippines, first-hand. I asked him why my older cousins never trained when they were younger, and like so many other stories I’ve heard about other older eskrimadors, the sons complained about getting hit, instead preferring boxing, karate, or judo or not training in anything at all.
He later told me about one of two different occasions where he was working at the docks and was challenged to fight by another man using the bolo. Not one to back down from a challenge, he faced off with the much larger opponent. As he was telling his story, he was moving his hands in a motion as if he was holding the weapon and reliving the moment like it was yesterday, describing how was able to disarm the other man of his weapon. At that time, he was already elderly, but he was so animated and was forcing himself to use his energy to share the story with me. He was so tired afterwards. It makes me sad to recall how my uncle Eking told me that he wished we were both younger so that he could share more with me. Even now, while laying in his nursing home hospital bed, he can still make me motion as if to strike him from an open or closed position, and he viciously attacks me with intention. He can still display the purpose in his movement while parrying and checking my arm and explain why.
Ramon calls stories like these ‘Eskrima Tales’ and he has countless stories of his own about the Doce Pares Club members as well as other eskrima styles and groups as told to him through interviews by the older eskrimadors of the Philippines. He shared his own personal tale about his recent trip up to Northern California to attend a funeral. While there, his Uncle Manuel, from Philadelphia, asked him if he still trained in Arnis de Mano, as it is commonly called by many Filipinos of a generation, while in Ilocano, they refer to it as kabaro-an and kada-anan. While standing in the hallway of the mortuary, the uncle was excited to show some footwork and sinawali movement with his hands, which was awkward, given the situation. As the conversation continued, the uncle introduced some rarely discussed family history and genealogy as being part-Chinese, which helped him realize why his extended family members had certain distinguishable facial features and skin color. The uncle from Philadelphia even described another uncle from San Diego who, it turns out, researched the family and wrote a book some decades ago, and knew the late GM Narrie Babao. In this situation, Ramon was able to learn more about himself and his family, as well as open new doors to develop ideas about the history and training.
I love this stuff - learning tidbits of FMA history that goes beyond the recycled tales of eskrima that are, in modern times, popular, trendy, and famous to the digitally connected world, and family history. These experiences cannot be disregarded just because the people they are about aren’t widely known. When I first met him in 2001, he described himself as a historian of eskrima, and it was only later after really training with him that I realized why he would state something like that. His idea is that personal experiences and the sharing of the knowledge is what helps those dedicated to the training to visualize what it was like back then, and how they used it in the fight. So when he goes around, meeting people, following up leads, asking questions, he’s actually putting together the pieces of a puzzle called eskrima, and in turn spending a life's journey by trying to define it based on that particular movement. Those in the know have been awaiting this culmination of his journey in the form of a book that he started writing years before I met him. In my own way, using his example, I’ve started collecting a few eskrima tales of my own, which I will cherish.
All of this other social media hype, like using 15 to 20(really?) #hashtags to glorify silly, small-time tournament footage and allude to being associated with certain eskrima styles is both juvenile and confusing, and really doesn’t show any depth of knowledge in the real subject matter of eskrima. While it may impress people who only know about eskrima from the sportive, superficial level of understanding, those with a deeper knowledge sit back and scratch their heads at why those labels are used when they don’t match the movements, and don’t connect to a real story. The same thing can be said about the Doce Pares Orihinal and mentioning Nong Banoy Borja. If anybody got an idea about that, I think they took it specifically from Ramon because they like what he described about Nong Banoy and they ran with it. In the end, that type of behavior is just name dropping anyway, you know - using somebody else’s ideas, good name, and good intentions to make themselves look like an authority of something - which we look forward to discussing further in the new year.
Some images from the recent Eskrima Combatives FMA Annual Holiday Potluck
Missing: Max Luong, Jessica Christine Ritchie, Alex Dumas, Edward Wedding, Edward Moon, Liza Lauron, Celina T. Duffy, Jesus Suarez, Jose Diaz Jimenez, Jonathan Itchon, Stephen Han, Larry Peralta, Tori Brillantes, Philip Oshiro, Tanimoto Oshiro, Surawit Sae Kang, Dennis Batucal, Chuck Nefkens, Ramil Augustin, and many others from San Diego and the greater Los Angeles area.
L to R: Alan Gonzalez, Luis Tuparan, Eric Jones, Sam Gazmen, Mike Gazmen, San Diego Chapter member Nonie Cruzado, Magtutudlo Ramon Rubia, and Patty.
L to R: Eskrima Combatives FMA students Kevin Keller, Eric Jones, Samuel, Magtutudlo Ramon Rubia, Allan Tojino, Mike Gazmen, Alan Gonzalez, Leo Cabugos; kneeling; Sam Gazmen & Luis Tuparan
Eskrima Combatives FMA, San Diego Chapter member Allan T. explaining the symbolism within the logo inspired by Magtutudlo Ramon, as members look on.
Warming up around the fire. L to R: Eskrima Combatives FMA students Kevin Keller, Dean Mandapat, Allan Tojino, Sam & Sayaka, Alan Gonzalez, Magtutudlo Ramon Rubia, and Tim Suehiro; kneeling: Luis Tuparan
Be on the look out in 2016 for the upcoming blogs from Eskrima Combatives FMA, Inland Empire Chapter, discussing various topics like eskrima and name associations (a.k.a. name-dropping), brainwashing and hypocrisy, and the revival movement in FMA.
Hope you had a Merry Christmas, ho-ho-ho, have a Happy New Year, and all of that good stuff! See you next year!
This is my blog, a collection of thoughts on my journey in eskrima.