Once again it’s taken me a long time to get back to blogging. A lot has happened, and I hate to catch up, or maybe I should call this ketchup, because it will have about 57 ingredients, like Heinz.
I’ll start where I meant to jump back in, with Cacoy Canete’s seminar at Ron Lew’s “Tiger Eye Claw Center” in San Jose, Ca. back in July. First, last, and just about everything in-between, Cacoy was amazing. There he was, about a month shy of his 90th birthday, actively demonstrating to a packed house ( and I’ll bet that kind of energy keeps him going!) What was astonishing to me was that he looked so much better than when I saw him about two years ago (and perhaps he was just tired that day).
Poor Junior Cautiveria, a senior master in his own right, got to play uke this time. I say poor, because so many of us were struggling to figure out the nuances of Cacoy’s techniques, he finally begged us (half in jest) to hurry up and get it so he wouldn’t have to take too many more of Cacoy’s demonstrations!
Lots of interesting people show up at Cacoy’s events. Tom Meadows made it up from the coastal hinterlands. We met in 1989 as teammates in the Philippines, where we attended Cacoy’s 70th birthday in Cebu, so this had a bit of a reunion feeling to it.
I had a great time working out for awhile with a tough looking guy with the physique and intensity of a pro linebacker. Joe, as he introduced himself simply, was one of the Kajukenbo guys there from Benicia, so I correctly surmised he trained with grandmaster Emil Bautista. Well “Joe”, as it turns out, is Professor Joseph Bautista, a legendary competitor, 8th dan in Kajukenbo and Emil Bautista’s kid! There I was, handing out pointers; sometimes it’s better NOT to know who your partner is …!
My other big summer trip (it kinda feels like pulling out the slideshow here – LOL) was a four day swing down to southern California for the Long Beach Internationals. I was there to help officiate as a judge for the USFMAF. Interestingly, WEKAF had the adjacent ring, so there was a lot of FMA action all weekend in the corner of the auditorium nearest the entrance.
While fighting was separate for the two organizations, forms were combined because there were only about a dozen competitors in those divisions. Some of us on the judges’ panel have been active in both organizations, and basically most of us have gotten to know each other over the years, so it was nice to see how smoothly this went off.
Now here’s two things I’ve observed about these competitions. First, there are 10 year old kids from karate schools who can run rings around most FMA players when it comes to forms, and second, very few non-FMA forms competitors will get in the ring to fight with weapons.
Both of these are the result of training priorities. Most martial arts forms competitors go through their routines hundreds, if not thousands, of times. Many are fast and flashy, opting to demonstrate with things like shiny ultralight aluminum staffs that can’t take a blow. Those are not the attributes for which most FMA’ers train. There certainly are formidable weapons experts out there in many disciplines, but just like the FMA, how many of the top people actually compete in fighting?
The other thing is publicity. The USFMAF has the right idea with the “Cultural Challenge”, opening up the ring to anyone from any style, using a variety of padded weapons representing sticks, swords, staffs, spear, naginata and shield. As this was created in conjunction with the Chanbara association, I was expecting a deluge of Japanese and other stylists to try it out. Unfortunately that didn’t happen, and so a handful of FMA players got to have fun amongst themselves.
The fact seems, however, that most people attending a major competition are doing so under the particular auspices of a home federation and are unlikely to spend time or money once there to step outside of that sanctuary to try something so unfamiliar. This is nothing new, as even Narrie Babao’s legendary precedent had only three competitors!
Participation within larger martial arts competitions is a key to recruitment. It’s how I found my way into the art, meeting GM Angel Cabales at a Max Pallen tournament. To a certain extent, the FMA remain an exclusive “insiders art”, and so I’ve seen some organizations sponsor events in direct competition with each other on the same dates. This is unfortunate because it dilutes participation at both venues, having a threefold effect.:
* First, it promotes division rather than camaraderie between FMA schools and organizations.
* Second, it reduces quantity and quality of competition and officiating.
* Third, smaller turnouts make it harder for small promoters to stay in the game, or to get larger promoters to make room at their venues.
Aside from all that, the fun part of the tournament was seeing some great performances and meeting old and new friends, most memorably Kalimaya Herrera and Eric Lee among the former, and Jose Rogers among the latter.
On the way back from Long Beach I stopped overnight to visit Anthony and Mary Delongis at their ranch up in canyon country. I’ve known Anthony through Tom Meadows’ Latigo y Daga Association but this was the first time I’ve actually met him. Anthony is a professional martial arts coach and actor, having trained Hollywood stars such as Harrison Ford and Halle Berry, plus his cameo appearance as the swordsman facing Jet Lee in the opening fight in Fearless. He’s also been featured on tv programs such as Extreme Marksmen, so a visit to his ranch was quite a treat.
Now I’ve managed to collect a few weapons over the years, which I like to hang on the walls for display, but there are a few places that make me drool with envy. Sid Campbell’s dojo was one such place. Anthony’s is another. It’s funny how one can feel so comfortable when everyone is within reach of something potentially nasty. As Robert Heinlein famously said, “an armed society is a polite society”.
My last lasting impression of this trip was how much I dislike and distrust so many other drivers. The Friday drive to SoCal wasn’t too bad, but the Monday drive heading back north was nightmarish. Why is it, with traffic doing 90 mph and packed like sardines, literally at parallel parking distances, people think they have the right (or sanity) to simply squeeze into places that don’t exist?
There are consequences (I’m surprised there are not more). I got out to stretch my legs and sit down in the fast lane of I-5 at 2 PM, while the CHP blocked the road about 50 yards up so a helicopter could land to take away victims of an ugly wreck. It was 104°; I had to tell the two blonde cougars in front of me to put up the top of their convertible before they roasted from rare to well-done. By the time the freeway opened half an hour later, I’d gone through all the water in the car, clearly both a planning and tactical error to get caught short. When the road re-opened, I was near the front; fast driving, little congestion. Behind me the freeway was stacked for miles. The simple act of pulling off to get more fluids resulted in the nightmare derby for the next five hour marathon drive. I’ve been up and down the state many times before, but without a doubt, this drive was the worst.
Finally, I got some interesting feedbacks through the grapevine about this blog. Twice in the past couple of months I’ve had near-strangers, top martial artists both, tell me Ted Sotelo wanted to thank me for something I wrote on here. Ted, if you get this, thank you in return, and you are most welcome. For the record, I’ve never met Ted. I only hear him spoken of in the highest regard by folks like Tom Meadows. GM Ron Lew laughed when he said Ted turns him into a pretzel (we were discussing Cacoy’s Eskrido) while I simply gulped because that’s what Ron does to me. Clearly these guys are well above my pay grade!
On the serious side, though, the point of resonance is human mortality. In the past 3-4 years I’ve attended more funerals than my entire life prior till then. We say goodbye to those who raised us, even as we start saying goodbye to those with whom we were raised. Generally speaking, most young people have experienced little such loss , but as we get older we are reminded more and more often of the brief time we have here.