At a recent Martial Arts Cultural Exchange I hosted at my school in Manteca I had the pleasure of speaking with an instructor from Bahala Na Multi Style about how he got into the Filipino Martial Arts. Turned out when he was younger he lived across the street from GM Leo Giron and at the time he was having trouble in school and his mom suggested he get training from the man across the street in order ot better protect himself, up to this point he had no idea how this older gentlemen could help him defend himself nor did he know he was a martial arts expert. The story goes that he began mowing Leo’s lawn for lessons and eventually over time became a full time student and eventually earned his “Guro” instructor status in his system.
During this same event I also had to opportunity to talk to a participant and student of Master Joel Juanita’s a Mr. Paul Paz , he told me how years ago his brother steered him into the Filipino Martial Arts and explained to him that it was a rare and special treat to be a FMA practitioner, of course Paul asked why this was and his brother responded by telling him to pick up a phone book and try and find an Eskrima school in the book. Not surprising, he didn’t find any; for which his brother explained you get into Eskrima by either knowing someone who practices it, who in turn introduces it to you or you find it by accident.
I can honestly say that I personally had never heard of Eskrima until Master Jorge introduced me over 18 years ago when we were both coworkers at a manufacturing shop. He started working with me in the corner of the warehouse showing me stuff I had never seen before. Eventually his one on one lesson are what got me to train under GM Art of Tenio’s DeCuerdas.
My questions is as follows, is this still the primary way most people get into the FMA’s at least here in the United States? How did you get into the FMA’s was it through some obscure path as well?
I wonder if we pull the thread on this topic if we will reveal at least in some part why the FMA’s are still not as popular as the more traditional arts. Most FMA schools are a close nit group of folks who only share their art with those they find worthy of receiving this gift, in some part I believe it is this culture that keeps us from being better at propagating the art. Even I, as I ponder this question realize that I do little advertisement for the FMA school I operate yet privately I don’t mind it because I don’t want everybody off the street to become my student, I only want the few, the committed, and the grateful. I am greedy with what I have been taught and I don’t want to share it with just everyone, this mentality is the conundrum I find myself in, I want the general public not to say “what is that” when they ask me what martial arts style I practice, yet I am quick to guard what I know to the general public. Anyhow, I would love to hear how you found FMA.
I found Escrima at the back door of the Spanos Center. I had a friend who was a successful Go Ju Ryu student and his instructor (Carlton Crosby) happened to also be an Escrimador. There was a tournament at the Spanos Center ( I think it might have been called something else back then) and I was a little short on entrance fees so my friend took me around the back of the place and we saw a smiling gentleman with crutches guarding the back door to the facility. When we walked up I got to meet Master Carlito Bonjoc Jr. for the first time. He knew my friend Scott through his instructor Carlton Crosby. We explained the situation and Carlito smiled and said Wait a Minute. He peeked in to the facility and he said Okay go quick. See you guys later. That day I got to see Professor Wally Jay do a demo and lots of Escrima and Karate bouts. A short while later I bumped in to Master Carlito again and explained my experience and asked him if he would train me. He asked me some questions and told me to show up at his house the following Wednesday and to bring a stick. I went to a Martial Arts supply house off Cherokee road and bought the only rattan they had because I thought I would need it for the first class, it was a Bo Staff and Carlito helped me cut it down with a hack saw against the curb in front of his house. That was Spring 1992. Angel had died only a year before I believe. I was very blessed to have such a patient, kind and super-knowledgeable instructor. I came with little to no physical ability or patience. I was paid back much more than I put in. I learned a good deal of Serrada and a great deal of respect for Filipino Martial Arts from Carlito. We became friends and Serradador brothers. We worked out, visited other schools and most importantly every Wednesday night or Friday night after class we did Karaoke at local spots. It was awesome. My brother Carlito can sing too! He sang a song called Firecracker better than the original and when he sang the National Anthem at the memorial tournament that he and Ray Munoz helped throw when my sister passed away I knew I would never forget him or meet another guy like him. I have come back to Serrada after many years detour and I have some unfinished business to attend to. I am setting out to pay back all that was invested in me with hard work and get my Guro certificate.
In response to the second part of your topic:
[ Even I, as I ponder this question realize that I do little advertisement for the FMA school I operate yet privately I don’t mind it because I don’t want everybody off the street to become my student, I only want the few, the committed, and the grateful. I am greedy with what I have been taught and I don’t want to share it with just everyone.]
I am not a Guro (yet) but I do feel that protectiveness you speak of. I think in a way though that many people will get filtered out just by attrition. It takes a lot of discipline and rigorous hard work to make it to the advanced levels. As far as preserving the culture and the familiality sadly I don't believe that's possible when you start getting in to large bodies of students and several branch offices. I can't imagine learning in a place that wasn't a garage, a park or a small gym. But then that is just my experience. I hope one day that there will be some explosion in popularity like there was for Aikido when Steven Seagal started making movies because even though it won't be the same it could be possible to steer that explosion in to something that we can be proud of and we need practitioners who love the art to cause it to thrive and survive. No amount of pre-paid contracts or shiny franchise gyms will keep it the effective, cultural experience we love now without teaching that love to someone else through patience and hard work. That is how it is given and how it is received. Look at all the franchise national gyms around that people go sign up for and pay for in advance. Are those places full? Are there large throngs of people who love what they are doing and are willing to teach it to their family at home and in the park? Not in my experience.
I think GM Angel Cabales's School was a prime example of a person who was willing to throw the door open to anyone. I have in years past visited what was already by then Master Vincent's school and did find that there were large groups of students and a seemingly popular school without any apparent advertising. I mean I never heard of Cabales Serrada on KSTN or KWIN or saw a billboard with a mean #3 being delivered. I believe Eskrima will be around as long as there are people who love it and we each should do our part to let others know what a great thing we have been blessed with. In this way we will propgate the art. Also I might add that we are all Ambassadors of Escrima. How we carry ourselves and the character we express in our words and actions are the paint that society will use to depict Escrima. I encourage you all to work on your numbers today and spar your heart out. Stay Sticky. Mabuhay Escrima.
Great story Henry, I agree we are all ambassadors and must do our part to spread the art. I am fortunate enough to have a place to teach and not have it burdened by having to pay exorbitant amount of money for this space. And since I have a full time job that pays the bills I can concentrate on the art and can share it with a select few. Man your story on meeting Carlito is cool, and I can totally see him doing what you described, he is such a cool cat with an infectious smile and loved by all. Cheers Brother!
Just for the record and to show the proper respect I feel is necessary there are a couple of points that need a finer edge put on them:
1. GM Carlito Bonjoc Jr. is the Grand Master of the Mata Sa Bagyo School of Escrima. I referred to him casually as Master.
2. MSB teaches Serrada Concepts as a foundational tool to explore FMA and Talawan and Cadiz Lapu-Lapu concepts. Vincent Cabales is the GM of the Cabales Serrada school the pioneer public FMA school in America. No disrespect intended.
Much respect to all the Stockton Masters. My hometown.
Spokane WA USA
Henry, you're a good man.
Thank you. I appreciate that especially coming from you Guro Lawrence. Are you gonna' post your FMA discovery story?