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 .....
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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.
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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 ....