Thursday, October 28, 2010

2010 World Series has a Filipino twist

Congratulations to the San Francisco Giants and starting pitcher Tim Lincecum on their victory last night to open the 2010 World Series. What few people know is that Lincecum is half-Filipino on his mother's side.

In 2008 the Giants also became only the second major league baseball team to have a full-blooded Filipino on the roster. Geno Espinelo pitched one season before going back down to Giants' minor league affiliates. The first Filipino to play in the majors was Bobby Balcena, who briefly appeared with the Cincinnati Reds in 1956.

Of the three, Tim Lincecum is by far the most successful. Called up in 2007, he already has two Cy Young awards, in only his second and third seasons! He's known as "The Freak" because he generates so much power and control from a diminutive 160 lb. frame, using a highly unorthodox throwing style taught to him by his father.

Here's more from the Filipino American National Historical Society, documenting Lincecum's family roots in Stockton, California.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

An Odd Premonition

It is with sadness that I learned yesterday of the deaths of two pillars in the Filipino martial arts community, with the passing of grandmaster Ben Largusa and master Christopher "Topher" Ricketts. Ben Largusa, age 83, was head of the Villebrille-Largusa system and one of the early big-name instructors here in northern California. Christopher Ricketts, only age 55, was a protege of Tatang Ilustrisimo and the founder of the Bakbakan association. The following story, which I was already writing, begins some 72 hours prior to getting these messages .....

* * * * * * *

The weekend following Bruce Juchnik's event saw a different kind of gathering, a memorial service in Stockton on Saturday for the late Isidro Javier, a relatively unknown grandmaster from the Stockton area. This was attended by many from Bahalana, with whom he was associated, as well as folks from Serrada, the Kenpo community and more. There were speeches from those who knew him, and a few demos, including Chaz Tibon and Gelmar Cabales (Serrada), Dexter Labanog (Bahalana), Max Pallen (Cinco Teros). Among other notables present were Eric Lee and Glenn Abrescy.

I was pleased to see so many Serrada people in attendance. Virtually all the active teachers from the area were there with students, including grandmaster Vincent Cabales and masters Ron Saturno, Carlito Bonjoc, Darren Tibon and Jerry Preciado.

Again this is one of those things that makes Stockton so unique, that there is such a broad community linked by the Filipino martial arts. It's one thing to learn techniques, but there is something very much alive in meeting people and knowing the stories. Events such as this are markers in the history of the FMA, bringing people together to acknowledge a community that is bigger than the differences we use to define ourselves.

Years ago I read about how Yip Man would bring students along to tea houses, where he'd spend time with old friends. At the time the students did not always appreciate the invitation and were bored. I thought I understood how the "kung-fu life" included such ostensibly "teachable" moments, but one has to live a while to really begin to feel the connection of those roots. The art is a living thing which we experience, through the movement that we embody and through the stories which imprint value upon that knowledge.

The next morning, Sunday, I attended a Kilohana meeting at the invitation of Art Gonzalez, an association member and grandmaster of Decuerdas escrima. Kilohana is planning an FMA festival in 2011 and would like to expand involvement of the FMA community. Professor James Muro was there, and after the meeting I got to hear him share his wealth of knowledge about Decuerdas escrima, in which he holds a rare master's certificate from the late grandmaster Gilbert Tenio. Afterward I walked to lunch with Art Gonzalez and his crew, yet another opportunity to delve deeper into local escrima lore.

* * * * * * *

That night I had an odd dream. I was on an airplane with some top martial artists. Art Gonzalez was to my left, the others were sitting just ahead of us and I couldn't identify them. I knew the plane was going to crash and that I'd be alright, but a voice told me clearly that a couple would die. I awoke thinking "that was odd", and even mentioned it to my wife in the morning. Twenty-four hours later the emails arrived about Ben Largusa and Christopher Ricketts ....

Bruce Juchnik's Sacramento Gathering

The past couple of weeks have had a lot of intense martial arts energy. The weekend before last I went up to Sacramento for Bruce Juchnik's annual martial arts gathering. It's a busy event, with dozens of instructors from nearly as many disciplines and styles.

The FMA were a popular draw, with participants filling the conference room to which we were assigned. That was the first problem; as I looked at all the people crowded together, most clutching double sticks, I knew this was going to be a challenge for all. The second problem was the number of instructors sharing a tight schedule, meaning each one only had 20 minutes to teach.

First up for the morning session was Graciella Casillas, who grasped the issue and immediately told everyone to put down one stick. Watching her perform Serrada was quite interesting. Everyone has their own idiosyncratic personal style, and there's something to be gleaned from seeing that diversity. Graciella still has very fast hands, one of the hallmarks that made her the first fighter to ever hold simultaneous world championships in boxing and kickboxing.

Next up was grandmaster Arthur Gonzalez of Tenio Decuerdas Eskrima. A large man with an intense manner, he projects a commanding air, reflected in techniques honed for the street. He taught a couple of no-nonsense close-quarter self-defense scenarios against a knife that were simple yet quite effective in their details.

Remy Presas Jr. followed, demonstrating disarms and joint locks with the single stick. His ability to flow through techniques impressed the crowd, leaving many wondering how he could make it look so easy!

I taught next, and went back to knife work largely because of the crowded room. I showed how and why to bring an attacker's weapon hand tight to the hip when doing an arm bar, then finished with a basic wrist lock to teach the principle of finding the open direction in any disarm.

After that things became a bit of a blur as I circulated the room helping the familiar instructors, who followed: Mata Sa Bagyo founder and Serrada master Carlito Bonjoc, Serrada grandmaster Vincent Cabales, and Serrada master Ron Saturno.

We broke for lunch after that, and a couple of car loads of folks from Decuerdas and Serrada drove to a Chinese buffet. Listening to Stockton natives reminisce about that town's FMA history is an education in itself. There was a time when Arthur Gonzalez was a teenager and his father had both Angel Cabales and Gilbert Tenio working for him. Arthur was stunned when he discovered their pictures in a martial arts magazine!

Those are the kind of roots that make Stockton such an authentic breeding ground for FMA here in the United States. Just as in the Philippines, there are generations of families and students who have trained over decades. It's a tough town, where the art has not just survived but thrived in response. It's a wonder more students in America don't visit this Mecca to train; it's certainly as real and intense as the Philippines, and a heck of a lot closer!

The afternoon session was largely dedicated to Pentjak Silat with Victor and Paul De Thouars, assisted by Bernard Langan and another whom I don't recall. As always, I love the deadly beauty and sophisticated knowledge of body mechanics found in Silat. Alfredo Bandolan spent his time on Doce Pares sparring. The last person up was Glenn Abrescy, but that segment ended abruptly when he had to go to a different session scheduled at that same time.

I've since heard that there were some teachers at this weekend who were upset at the brevity of time allotted, or felt they should have had more priority billing, but one feature of this gathering is that teachers are introduced by name and style, but not by rank. This is to level the playing field so that participants choose with whom to train based on the art alone. Regardless, the key to my weekend was getting to meet and socialize with some of the best martial artists on the planet.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Return of the longwinded blog

Okaaaaay ... It's been nearly 9 months since I posted on this blog, a new record for letting it slide. A lot has gone on in that time, some events worth noting, many more perhaps now forgotten. Writing, or at least making a stab at good writing, takes time. Unfortunately I've never yet earned a penny at it. It's a bit disillusioning when one's best talent is financially of such little worth, but the illusion of contributing to society makes up for that. Regardless of motivation, when the muse sings, it's time to write again. Signs appear, such as:

I've finally heard from my half-dozen loyal readers, scolding me for having been derelict;
I received a writing award, a bribe if I've ever seen one (and if it is, it's the first) - more on this later;
I met a prospective student who is even more prolific a writer than me; can't have that, y'know!
So here, with no further ado or mea culpas, is a brief update:

Cacoy Canete was scheduled for a seminar this summer at Ron Lew's Tiger Eye Claw school in San Jose, but due to health problems he was unable to leave the Philippines. Instead grandmaster Ron Lew, one of Cacoy's top proteges, filled in for him with an exemplary seminar on Escrido, demonstrating the effortless flow through endless locks that characterizes that form of FMA. Loved it!

My scheduled foray again this year to SoCal to do a seminar and help officiate the FMA part of the Long Beach Internationals was not quite so successful. Injuries had me sidelined, and I'm at the age where the slowdown of the healing process is no longer mere speculation. Despite a place in the seminar lineup, I ended up staying home that weekend. It was probably the right thing to do.

This year has seen interesting developments within the Serrada community. Back in February master Darren Tibon hosted the Legacy FMA tournament in Stockton. The day before the tournament was organized for seminars with participants from Tres Manos, Kombutan, Pakamut and Serrada. This was a particularly significant event for the Serrada participants, especially taking place in Stockton, because many had not seen each other in years. It was the first time since Angel's passing that so many of his students came together to teach and share with such brotherhood.

I won't go into further detail here; anyone interested in a more complete description of the event should refer to the FMA Digest March 2010 Special Edition "Legacy Seminar & Tournament", for which I was the principal contributor. The significance of the seminar has been a renewal of many positive ties within the Serrada community. It's been nearly 20 years since grandmaster Angel Cabales passed away, during which time most of us have gone our own ways and several organizations have sprung up. There's been enough time to now see who is still active in and dedicated to the art. Over these years we've all honed our personal skills, yet still it is clear that we are flowing from the same root source.

Here are a couple of things that have evolved since this event which affect me directly.

On June 21st I received a "Master of the Pen" award (along with Marc Lawrence) from Steven Dowd, publisher of the FMA Digest, for excellence in writing. I personally think of my write-up of the Legacy weekend as my masterpiece. It's certainly the most meaningful thing I think I've ever written, and I'm especially appreciative of this award coming in recognition of that as well as previous submissions to the Digest. Meanwhile, my mom hung around into her late 90's and still managed to miss seeing me get anything like this.

I'd like to put in a plug here: If you are someone who can write about the Filipino martial arts and wants to get published, contact the FMA Digest! Publications always need material to put out, and frankly, a lot of people promise but don't deliver, so here's a chance to contribute to the community and get some recognition for whom or whatever you choose to cover!

The other item of personal significance is that shortly before Labor Day I received a Master's certificate in Escrima. Frankly, it's a bit hard for me to write objectively about this. I take pride in accomplishments but I'm not much into self-aggrandizement; I jokingly refer to this as "my official getting old award", which is far more truthful than I'd like to admit. Still, this is a milestone for a couple of reasons, and important to acknowledge.

Officially the award was presented by grandmaster Anthony Davis through his World Serrada Escrima Federation. Anthony was the instructor to whom Angel Cabales entrusted my basic training, and though I've run my own program independently for the past two decades, we've come together many times at a number of events. Like the writing award, it's a symbolic honor recognizing my growth and contribution within the art over a 25 year period. Both this and the writing award were presented in a spirit of authenticity - no money changed hands, no favors were demanded - for which reason I was happy to accept these honors.

There's a bit more to this story though. There are those who would say (correctly) that this is not an official Cabales Serrada Escrima diploma. I always expected that my Advanced diploma from Angel would be my last promotion, since I've been independent of any formal organizational ties since the death or retirement of all my teachers. While Angel was alive I asked him twice about going for a Master's. The first time I wasn't ready and both of us knew it; the next time he acknowledged the request but was already too ill to proceed.

Forward to now ... Evidently Angel informed some of his master graduates that if three of them agreed to promote someone up to their level, they would have the authority to do so. This was only recently disclosed to me, and as far as I know I'm the first to receive such an upgrade. With the signatures of Angel Cabales' master graduates Ron Saturno, Jerry Preciado and Darren Tibon also affixed to the document, it feels like further validation of the progress I've made through the years. I've known and respected these men since we were all students under Angel. To them I express my humble thanks.

I'd also like to acknowledge promotions awarded by the WSEF to the following:
* Mila Davis received a grandmaster certificate. She has been both training and life partner to GM Anthony Davis for 35 years.
* Tasi Alo received a grandmaster certificate. He has been a close associate and training partner with Anthony Davis for over 30 years and is also currently recognized as grandmaster in the GMT system.
* Darren Tibon received a grandmaster certificate as well. In my mind I've considered Darren a grandmaster for some time. If building a strong school and lineage is what defines the term, Darren is someone who has walked the walk.
* Last but not least, Ronnie Saturno was presented a grandmaster award from the WSEF. Ron was with Angel long before I came on the scene, though it's only recently that I've come to know him better. He's a wellspring of knowledge not just about Serrada or martial arts, but is a deep thinker on many subjects and a hidden treasure whom I feel is fully deserving of such recognition.

I applaud all of them for the hard work they've done for Serrada and Angel's legacy!

For my part, I realize this isn't a retirement award (not quite that old yet anyway) but an incentive to step up and re-energize my own endeavors within the art. The blog is part of it. A training manual, which Angel wanted for new students, and for which I had plans long ago, should get off the shelf. There's other projects, such as the CAD/CAM I'm learning for CNC machining. My "sparring grade" barongs, bolos and knives are showing up in the hands of top instructors on the West Coast, such as Remy Presas Jr., Alex France, Vincent Cabales, Darren Tibon, Anthony Davis and others.

Teaching is still to me the biggest part of it, what keeps my mind active and my body ... well ... still moving (and that's much better than the alternative!) I'd like to thank my students, in particular Jonathan Winter and Josh Newman, for keeping me on my toes and forcing me to always go deeper to find the answers.

Life hands us these moments. Many young men are bemused when they first begin hearing themselves addressed as "Mr." since that was a title previously associated with a father or other adults, but soon it becomes common to the ear. So I presume it will be with the lofty resonance of "master", which now separates me from the young bucks who are working hard to establish their identities. Having heard myself introduced more and more often as "master Finder" at FMA events, I've already given up on correcting those introductions, since it just seemed rude to contradict such politeness. It's also my excuse not to dye my hair dark again, since "silver" is getting me so much more respect.

Organically it's the passing of the torch from generation to generation. Just as Angel Cabales used to call himself the master of Escrima, as many of his students became recognized in their own rights, people began to call him grandmaster until finally he adopted the term. That kind of progression, taking the mantle of responsibility for carrying the art forward, is happening with my generation now. We need to move forward ourselves to create space for those coming up after us. In the end, titles and awards are no more nor less than what we make of them. It is in the sharing of experience that we provide meaning.

As an old saying goes, "Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Stockton Legacy Tournament Feb. 20-21st

The United States FMA Federation is hosting a two-day event this coming February 20-21st in Stockton California. The Saturday portion consists of nine scheduled seminars through the day, followed by a tournament on Sunday.

With five seminar slots scheduled with different graduate students of the late grandmaster Angel Cabales, this event should be of particular interest to Serrada practitioners, bringing together for the first time these instructors, representing over 125 years of collective experience in this system.