In the 70's the opportunity was presented to me to learn Escrima from an Angel Cabales graduate student, his name was Stanley Wells. Stanley eventually became a Master Graduate of Angel cabales and will always be remembered by me as my first real Instructor in Filipino Martial Arts. Stanley was a hand man as well as an accomplished weapon man, he could also box and was a coach at the time of the Sweet Science of boxing. We trained through half of the angles of Angel Cableles's training regimen together and at some point Stanley took me to Manong Angel to complete my training.
Angel Cabales asked me to perform the Serrada Escrima movements that I knew and patiently watched as I strutted my stuff. I was a bonified bad-ass who couldn't hope not to impress the living legend that was patiently watching me perform his beloved art. I really wanted to impress the well known Esdcrima Master. When I was done and he finally spoke to me, you could imagine the suprise on my face when he quietly said, " We will start over, beginning on the first movement, Outside #1". Talking about my little bubble being burst! I was young and impressionable and his starting me over after months of training kind of...well... did knock my pride down several notches. I thought that I was going to impress Manong Angel, but Manong Angel was a meticulous trainer and insisted on his students having a firm basic platform and could and would make students do movements repeatedly until he felt that they understood the movement before moveing on to another new movement.
I saw many students come through Angel Cabales and each and every one was trained the same basics. You would get firm basics from Manong Angel and I can tell the old- timers from those trained by others, there really Isn't much difference in the movements, but I can just tell who Manong Angel trained. It could be the way they move, or how they hold their stick, but if Angel Cabales trained you, you were a lucky man. I was a lucky man.
So one day we looked up and a new student swaggered in. He kind of tilted when he walked, but he had a ready smile and we all knew that he would fit in just fine. No attitude, no bull-shitting or trash talking, he just came to learn Escrima. He had real troubles at times because we just weren't giving him any slack. He fell several times during training, but he never said a word, he just got up and did the movements again and again. We found out after a while that he was born with spinal bifida and that his spine really wasn't well attached and this was why he tilted when he walked and why his balance could be interrupted. I liked the young man and hoped that he would stick with it and he did. We had a lot of fun learning Escrima together and became good stable mates. We had another man who hung in with us and his name is David Mah. The three of us had the opportunity to learn Escrima together and the memories of our training has kept us close and in touch for decades.
These two men have broke my knuckles as I have broken theirs. In fact there was a time when none of us could knock on doors because of our pointing finger being swollen and deformed, we knocked with our palms and couldn't help but laugh when we did. We used to stand at a faucet in the school and let the cold water run over our hands to reduce the swelling in our fingers. How in the hell we would laugh while doing this is now beyond me, but it was somehow funny in a masochistic way and the thought never crossed our minds to quit. We were young and dumb and dedicated Serrada men.
The time eventually came that my friend started having troubles with his leg. Circulation was causing real hardships and at one point became life threatening. He survived, but when the problem returned he had the leg amputated. This never slowed the man down. He now has to travel most times in a wheel chair, but teaches from a chair. He comes and goes to events driving a car that he stops with the parking brake because he doesn't have a foot to press on the brakes. He has never stopped teaching and learning Escrima from the very first day of his training. He now travels the country and the globe spreading Escrima and he does this from a wheel chair.
He has never complained within my earshot in over thirty years of friendship. He has never let anything slow him down or prevent him from achieving what he has hoped to achieve. He has never let his condition be an excuse to not becoming one of the very best and most talented martial artists in the world. He patiently trains and unless you notice, which you hardly ever do, he has somehow overcome tremendous obstacles to become a true fighting Master and not just from a wheel chair, but just a fighting Master with the heart of a lion. He has a ready smile and has to be pushed hard to have a bad word to say about anyone. his students rightfully love him and they are loyal and dedicated to him and his martial art.
I really don't know why I wrote this today. Maybe, I am dwelling on my future and the goals that I have set and how difficult some of my goals will be to achieve. Here is the message in a nut shell. When ever I feel sad and down and think about how hard life can be I think about my friend and how he has never complained and blamed anyone about his problems. He has put his head up and went forward regardless of what was put before him. He is truly one of the most inspiring men that I have ever met and truly consider him one of the most very special people that I have ever met. He has become a well known name in Filipino Martial Arts and is practically synonomous with excellence and well done Escrima. His name is GM Carlito Bonjoc and if you ever have the pleasure to meet him or train with him, make it so. Carlito this was for you my friend, I love you.