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.