Thursday, November 06, 2008

Fall odds and ends

It’s been a month since I last blogged as a lot has been happening.

First I want to start with a brief memory of master Luther Secrease. It’s been a long time since I last visited Luther’s school, 1989 to be exact, and that was for an escrima seminar by Serrada master Sultan Uddin. Though he’d assisted grandmaster Angel Cabales many times over a number of years, this was Sultan’s first time on his own. Since I was local, Angel called and asked me to drop by in case Sultan needed any assistance, but when I got there, I could see he had things well in hand.

As for Luther’s funeral, it was memorable for a number of reasons. What everyone says about black churches is true; they do have the best music! The church band was a well-seasoned group of three keyboard players (acoustic and electric piano and organ), guitar, bass and drums, plus several professional singers showed up to perform gospel and soul, and a 15 year old kid who did a long jazz saxophone solo that would have made Roland Kirk proud.

In attendance was an all-star gathering of top martial artists from Northern California, including luminaries like grandmaster Byong Yu, Al Reyes, Al Colavito, Sam Montgomery (a champion fighter and former teammate of Luther’s) … the list could go on and on, as the overwhelming majority there shared Luther’s deep passion for the martial arts. Even the minister was a black belt student of Byong Yu!

Later at the graveside service, the minister made a special request for all the black belts to gather to one side. Reflecting how the military gives a 21 gun salute to fallen veterans, he said he’d like to start a new tradition amongst us martial artists, and so he had the black belts (at least 30 went to the cemetery) get into horse stances to give a 21 kiai salute, with a strong punch for each kiai. It was a moving send-off to one of the finest teachers and fighters the Bay Area has known, and I hope this does catch on as a tradition in the martial community, sending off our own in a style that can be appreciated.

Meanwhile, in the last blog I mentioned taking stock of my life and making some changes. With the weeklong hypnotherapy training session a time to be deeply reflective, and framed on either end by the deaths of two influential martial artists, I decided the time had come to act on idea that had been floating around for the past year, so I proposed to the woman to whom I’m now married! Things indeed happened rapidly once we agreed to seal the deal, and within a couple of weeks we held a small ceremony along the Bay Area shoreline at the spot where we first met. Everything fell into place, from old Kenpo compadre Bob Ernst doing the ceremony, to the unexpected appearance of Tom Meadows, my good friend from the U.S. team at the inaugural 1989 WEKAF championships, who just happened to be working nearby in Richmond for three days!

The only snafu was the engraved wedding rings we ordered from Ireland didn’t arrive. Apparently U.S. Customs decided they were a security risk and confiscated them, or so we think. The U.S. Post Office has been typically unhelpful. While the tracking number on the registered package tells us the rings arrived in the U.S. at 2:25pm on October 2, 2008, the post office says that the package can no longer be tracked with the number that provided that information. I was given a Customs number to call, which got a recording saying if I was calling because the Post Office had provided the number, that was a mistake because Customs doesn’t track individual packages it seizes, and a notice would be mailed to the sender in about 30 days (hasn’t happened yet). I contacted my congressman; I even emailed the White House. No rings arrived for our wedding, so we had to use others. Today I got a call from a postal customer service person who gave me a number to call to start a trace on international shipping. I called, and they said they couldn’t do a trace; it had to come from Ireland, where authorities there have already stated that since the package had arrived in the U.S., it was out of their jurisdiction. Aside from this bureaucratic comedy of national security proportions, things have been great.

On the escrima front, I was invited by master Darren Tibon to join a demo for halftime at a Golden State Warrior’s basketball game, but that has now apparently been pushed back to Filipino Culture Week in March. The occasion is the NBA is going to retire the jersey of the first Filipino who played in the NBA to their Hall of Fame. I believe this is Raymond Townsend, a UCLA point guard who was drafted in the second round in 1978 by the Warriors and who played for four years in the league.

I don’t mind this getting pushed back, as I have some young kids (9-14) whom I’d like to bring to the demo, and they can use the extra time to improve. I know Darren has invited some other groups to participate, to put on a strong performance, and I know how hard Darren’s guys train. Tonight I got a call from him that they actually broke one of my sticks! They’ve had it over a year; when Darren said he thought my sticks were unbreakable, I laughed and used my standard line, that the Titanic was supposed to be unsinkable. Still, I continued, how many rattan sticks do you think you would have destroyed instead of using this one? About 50 he replied. That sounds about right to me!

Closing notes: Here is an upcoming event on the blog calendar. In less than two weeks, on November 15, grandmaster Bobby Tabimina will be doing his last Balintawak seminar before returning home to the Philippines. I have tremendous respect for his abilities and style of escrima. If you can train with him, it’s a memorable experience, and a skill set that is a valuable contribution to anyone’s repertoire. This will again be in Hayward, California, and it must be pre-paid by November 11.

Finally, for those who can find it, the January 2009 edition of Inside Kung-Fu has an article by Chris Suboreau and Steve Magness on Sonny Umpad’s escrima system! It’s great to see how Sonny’s students are working to continue his legacy of Visayan Style Corto Kadena.

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