Sunday, June 29, 2008

Reflections on the ESKCOA Tournament

Yesterday I attended the Eskrima Coalition tournament out in Stockton. I was there as a vendor, setting up a table for the first time at such an event.

For me there was a sense of amazement at being there, such as I haven’t felt in some time, because the culture of the Filipino martial arts is so strong in that place. I wonder if the younger generation has any awareness of the tradition that is being passed on to them? Probably not; as the saying goes, youth is wasted on the young. Whether they realize it or not, however, they are being mentored in ways beyond just the physical aspects of the art.

Here in this room were people whom I’ve known mostly through the media, in books and videos, guys who didn’t just train with the old manongs but who grew up in their shadows and were raised by them. What really brought the depth of this home to me, though, wasn’t just the presence of the big names, but discovering that the guy sitting next to me was someone who had trained in the art a decade or more before I ever found the door! In most places here in the West, FMA’s imprint is only as deep as the experience of one’s teacher, but at a gathering such as this in Stockton, the “home of FMA in America”, one feels the weight and presence of generations and the ghosts of many escrimadors who have created such a legacy.

There were three people there, however, whom I had never met, who put their stamp on the day for me. The first was Dentoy Revillar, creator of SLD, a system named in honor of his three teachers by using initial for their method of the art: Angel Cabales (Serrada); Leo Giron (Largo Mano); and Gilbert Tenio (De Cuerdas). Dentoy is one of Angel’s earliest students, captured on film with him in the famous footage from demo at the Long Beach Internationals over 30 years ago.

Though somehow I didn’t introduce myself to him, perhaps a bit in awe, he made an impression because of the speech he gave to the assembled contestants and spectators before the competition began, a talk combining practicality and wisdom of experience, exhorting the players to discover their boundaries in the competition so as to further their training beyond, and to the spectators, urging them to respect the experience of the officiating, and to imagine themselves from that perspective to understand the imperfections and limitations inherent in judging a sport. I could only nod in agreement as he hit these points, recognizing how well his words encapsulated both the highs and lows of competition, but presented with a positive and inspiring authority.

The second person on my list was Art Miraflor, whose association goes by the name “Knights of Eskrima”. Like many of the older practitioners in Stockton, he garnered experience through several of the old manongs who brought forth the art. He and I talked for perhaps half an hour or so, a conversation that ranged from his blend of Serrada and De Fondo to the evolution of point fighting eskrima rules to common experiences we’ve both had as pioneers in the evolution of modern gear for the sport and training. At its roots, the FMA is grounded in people who have worked with their hands, and Art was the first of several whom I met yesterday who have made a living in industrial environments. Though I’ve covered similar ground relative to the products I make, it was a lot of fun hearing how his experimentations in materials mirror mine. I especially got a kick out of his description of FMA competition as one of the most modern sports, because it has improvised by borrowing gear from so many other sources. I look forward to seeing how his next generation of padded sticks works out, as there is always room to improve on these.

The third person on my list is Brady Brazil, whose name is closely associated with Rene Latosa. Though Brady has a fierce reputation, I found him an entertaining and thoughtful conversationalist, willing to both listen and share his unique history as a Filipino growing up in the Bay Area, exposed not only to FMA but to the elders of Chinatown as well. Brady is an historian, particularly regarding martial history, and he had a vendor table that drew me with its antique swords. He generously allowed me to take pictures of a couple that particularly drew me, such as the old-style Chinese butterfly sword, which is much leaner and more agile than the broad ones typical now, and I ended up purchasing a talibong from him (which I've now copied for training), a wicked-looking S-curved short sword. This is the first acquisition I’ve made in a few years, reflecting how picky I am and how few truly interesting pieces I come across, or at least that I can afford!

Interestingly, this piece is 23 inches long, shorter than the newer ones I’ve seen in pictures. This reinforces my impression of many older weapons, that they were designed primarily for close-quarter combat. Though it isn’t a light piece, it has a nice balance to it. Evidently whoever brought it back from the Philippines dulled the edge and had it chromed and polished, making it more of a showpiece for practice and an artifact for display. Nevertheless, it has the feel of a real tool, unlike many fantasy knock-offs that flood the pages of so-called weapon catalogs. This is one I intend to copy for my growing collection of training swords, and I look forward to discovering the qualities of this design.

As for the tournament itself, it was well-attended by participants and spectators, and the presence of over half a dozen vendor tables attested, as Art Miraflor pointed out, to the growing viability of FMA as a cultural sport. Besides Brady Brazil’s antiques, there were at least three tables selling T-shirts, and one other vendor who makes sticks and knives.

I don’t know how well anyone else did, but my assistants and I didn’t notice a lot of money changing hands most of the day. This wasn’t unanticipated, especially in this current economy, and as a friend pointed out many years ago on a visit there, Stockton has the air of a place where money is hard earned. Still, I was pleased with the attention my own products received. Though for most of the day I joked that I’d sold one stick, things got brisk as I was packing up (especially my rebar keychains) so the trip certainly paid for gas, dinner for the crew and such.

More importantly, from the perspective of what I’m doing these days, I was gratified with the attention and feedback I got for my swords, validating my feeling that these are a unique and valuable addition to the training weapons available for the art, as well as being aesthetically pleasing. The barongs in particular seem to strike a chord with many senior instructors. Vincent Cabales left with one, and I’ve just completed a slightly larger pair for Remy Presas Jr. Carlito Bonjoc’s suggestion many months ago was an inspiration to design these, and he seemed quite pleased with the results.

The other pieces that caught a lot of eyes were the knives I modified from one designed by Sonny Umpad. These had the unexpected result of a warm conversation with an old student of his who now lives in Sacramento.

As much as I enjoy the results of my labor, the greater pleasure is seeing them put to good use and knowing they help further the legacy of the arts.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Little Manila: Filipinos in California's Heartland

I just caught Little Manila: Filipinos in California's Heartland tonight, a half hour program on public television. Focusing on Stockton, it covers the immigrant Filipino experience from the early 20th century through the farm labor movement of the 1960's (the United Farm Workers Union would not have existed without Filipino activism).

"In its heyday in the 30s, the lively area of Little Manila in Stockton had the largest population of Filipinos outside of the Philippines. Narrated by famed Filipino-American producer Dean Devlin this documentary tells the immigrant story as Filipinos experienced it."

This webpage includes photos, preview and a transcript of the show. If you want a DVD, you can order it here for $14.95. It's history worth watching!

Sonny Umpad's Birthday

Today is the birthday of the late maestro Sonny Umpad, creator of Visayan Style Corto Kadena Eskrima. Students are invited to drop by the old place to share memories. There will be a gathering for dinner in Alameda around 5:30 this afternoon.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Indiana Jones' whipmaster

I received an email from Anthony de Longis this evening. He's a Hollywood weapons master who's worked behind the scenes training actors to use the whip on films such as "Batman Returns", "The Rundown" and "The Legend of Zorro". He also appeared in his own right as the swordsman facing Jet Li in the opening of Fearless, so you probably have seen him in action.

Anthony studied FMA with Dan Inosanto, and he is a friend of Tom Meadows, connecting us through the Latigo y Daga Association. In the past he sent write-ups to post on the Filipino Fighting Whip blog, which has long been linked on the sidebar of this one. Unfortunately that blog became inactive, and at the moment I cannot access it to submit a new post, so by default I'm forwarding his information here.

Anthony recently worked with Harrison Ford on "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" and he did an extensive write-up for Indy Gear, so click this link and get an inside look at the whip training for this new movie.

Harrison Ford on Good Morning America (with a cameo by Anthony)
Anthony and Mary on Good Morning America
Anthony at the ranch for French tv (long: whips, swords, lances, horses, tomahawks)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Zero Tolerance = Zero Intelligence

If you are an FMA practitioner, the current climate of political correctness about weapons and self-defense should concern you. We've seen attempts to legislate martial arts, bans on knives are gaining in many locales (Britain is leading the crackdown) and this article about a 10 year old elementary school boy suspended for having an empty brass shell casing (from a blank, no less) used in a Memorial Day celebration and given to him by a uniformed veteran, shows the hysteric phobia about even harmless artifacts that are associated with weapons.

Tony Jaa is back in Ong Bak 2!

Tony Jaa is back in Ong Bak 2, his directorial debut, combining Kung-fu and Samurai arts with Muay Thai! Read about it here and watch the trailer!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Stories about Tatang

I came across a blog that has some stories about Tatang Illustrisimo, and some related comments from people who've experienced Tondo. There's some other stuff at the beginning about space exploration and John McCain, but ignore that. For FMA practitioners, the descriptions of Tondo are graphically descriptive insights into the kind of lives led by many of the old manongs.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Hacking away at the truth

One would like to think of martial artists as noble warriors, upholders of honesty and truthfulness. Unfortunately there are as many scoundrels as white knights in the arts, people who are attracted to power to feed their egos. Now it may be a matter of perspective, that a person can do something unethical because they think it’s justified, but the credo of “the end justifies the means” has long been discredited as merely giving oneself permission to do evil.

Now what I’m writing about is pretty petty stuff, but still, annoying at best, and disturbing on a deeper level when suspicion falls on those whom one knows personally and would hope to respect. So what is it that happened?

For starters, one of my favorite personally made training knives came up missing this week. It’s something that was in my bag and now it’s not. I’ve been showing my sticks and blades at classes and seminars lately. To the person who took it, may it give you no pleasure, remaining a hidden symbol of your greed.

While I might have just written it off as an “accident” (and funny how most such “accidents” always seem to happen amongst "friends"), it just happens to coincide with the calendar attached to this blog being hacked sometime this same past week. A July 12 posting for a USFMAF clinic in Hayward for tournament officials and competitors “disappeared”. When I logged in to the administration area, I found an unknown user ID and password. Either the person who hacked in didn’t care to erase their tracks, or left these behind so they could do more mischief in the future.

There are folks I’ve seen lately who have their issues with USFMAF president Darren Tibon. Could one of them be behind this? The missing post seems too specific, too targetted, to be some random transient glitch. I’ve always tried to be neutral by having open lines of communication. That doesn’t mean always being in agreement with anyone, but being respectful when disagreements do arise, giving respect for what is respectful, and moving on when it isn’t reciprocated. Life is too precious to waste tilting at windmills. Sometimes this makes me a messenger, and messages are not always well-received. If that makes one partisan, it only reflects bias elsewhere.

So to you, “Sinbad”, whomever you are (and I do recall someone who has used that ID), yes, you know what you did was indeed a sin, and bad in that it merely demonstrates the cowardice of hiding behind the anonymity of the internet. And since you opted to use a “magical” password, whether consciously or not, that tells me you believe in things that cannot be seen, in which case you know the door has been left open for the law of karma to pay you back accordingly. Arbadacarba to you too!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Recent Grandmaster Seminars

June really kicked off in the San Francisco Bay Area with successive weekends featuring FMA grandmasters doing seminars. The weekend of June 7 saw a gathering of talent at Eddie Solis’ school in Richmond, hosted by Modern Arnis GM Remy Presas Jr. Also on the bill were Max Pallen, Alfredo Bandalan and Vincent Cabales. I dropped by on Saturday morning to pay my respects and say hello to old acquaintances, but due to a scheduling conflict had to leave around noon, during which time I only was able to observe Max Pallen on the floor. This was billed as a two-day seminar, so I went back the next day only to find the place was closed and empty. I’d suspected this might happen, as that was a lot of high-powered talent to assemble in one place for a small event and several had to travel quite a distance to attend. Still, it was unfortunate, and there was no sign or notice posted to explain why. I doubt I was the only one caught off-guard as I’ve heard from one or two others that they’d planned to make it to the second day.

Yesterday was a seminar with GM Cacoy Canete at GM Ron Lew’s Tiger Eye Claw School in San Jose, which was well attended by Doce Pares students from several locations. It was amazing to see Cacoy in action again; here’s a guy who will be 89 on August 8 (birthday bash down south in Van Nuys) who is still traveling and teaching actively! The morning session consisted of double stick drills. Cacoy, seated, would show the drill to Ron Lew, who would then repeat the drill with his assistant for the class to follow. This was a fun format, based on adding the number of strikes with each drill. When I got there the class was doing a six-count, then seven, eight, up to 12. The patterns were similar but not exact repeats because they each had to end in the same position.

After the lunch break Cacoy delved more into tactical aspects of his art, explaining the differences between linear and curved strikes and why his style evolved to use more of the latter, as they are harder to block. He demonstrated a simple pattern combining both curved and linear strikes to the opponent’s left and right sides, showing both high and medium height applications. The latter part of his seminar was disarming, and he showed multiple variations using both Ron Lew and GM Anthony Kleeman, who arrived during the lunch break from L.A., as demonstration partners. The crowd got a kick out of seeing the old grandmaster effortlessly applying his techniques to Anthony, who is twice his size!

One of the highlights of this seminar took place in the overflow room, as the more experienced attendees filtered in to watch Ron Lew demonstrate joint-lock flow with sticks with some of his senior students and associates. Ron is amazingly adept at this form of hubad-lubod, defined in “Cebuano Eskrima: Beyond the Myth” (pg. 53) as “a manual interactive drill in eskrima where two training partners practice trapping and freeing from traps or any routine manual drill.” The speed at which Ron and his partners work is phenomenal, looking more like empty hand Wing Chun chi sao than typical impact-based stick fighting. Their skill is based on the ability to sense and reverse out of traps, often changing grips to exert maximum leverage resulting in throws.

Ron slowed down the action so everyone could see how this was performed, explaining his principle of finding nodes of contact. Every lock is based on the pressure that can be applied at such points, and the more nodes in a lock, the more potential to exploit leverage. For instance, a simple arm-bar might have three points: a wristlock, the stick across the opponent’s arm, and the tip locked against the chest. A more complex figure-4 armlock with a stick might have five or six points, such as: the hand holding the opponent’s wrist; the arm under the opponent’s tricep and the forearm against opponent’s forearm; the punyo (butt) of the stick locking in the opponent’s wrist; the end of the stick across the neck or under the jaw; and perhaps (though not necessary) a foot trap or leg immobilization.

Ron explained that this is learned by going slowly to be able to analyze what is happening at each point of the interaction, allowing both practitioners to see not only the advantage of each position but also the ways these can be reversed and countered. This is similar to how my old Tai Chi teacher, John Wong, would teach interactive technique. It is a common error for people to want to go too fast too quickly, which may allow them to overpower their training partner, but the key to developing skill is in deeper understanding, and that means taking time to see and feel things that are missed at higher speeds.

Cacoy Canete demonstrating disarms on Anthony Kleeman

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Tao of Peace - now published!

Today I received a copy of a new book, The Tao of Peace, by my old friend and training partner of many years, Marc Sabin, a gifted Taijiquan teacher now living in New York. This is a book born out of the ashes of 9/11, which Marc experienced as a resident of lower Manhattan. He began writing a series of insightful and poignant letters from NYC to friends around the country, which I eventually posted for him on my website. These were soon followed by the original manuscript for this book. After it got shelved by a publisher Marc went on to other projects, but I never forgot about it, and finally through the power of the internet it came to fruition and can be purchased at It is a beautiful and meditative book, based in years of practical martial art experience. It's the second book to which I've been godfather this year, and one I'm especially proud to have been a part of along the way.

... and while we're on the subject of books, I'd also like to recommend "ASIAN MIND-BODY TECHNIQUES REVEALED:Secrets For Reducing Stress And Improving Health" by Harve Kurland, also from Harve is a long-time Tai Chi Chuan teacher, exercise physiologist and college teacher and has also produced "Symmetrical Yang Style T'ai-Chi Ch'üan Volume One and Volume Two" DVDs, available through

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Serrada demo video

This is a video of a demo by Frank Lile and Chez Tibon of the Angels Disciples club, posted recently on YouTube. I've always thought these guys do a great job highlighting the art of Serrada Escrima; note the ranging to get inside with the daga against the long stick. This was a hot day (over 100º) and an even hotter performance by maestro Darren Tibon's team!