Wednesday, October 06, 2010

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.

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