Sunday, April 20, 2008

Lest We Forget...

WARSAW (AFP) - The last commander of the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising, Marek Edelman, on Saturday honoured the memory of his comrades who died fighting Nazi Germany in the doomed Jewish stand against the Holocaust.

Joined by family members, hundreds of bystanders and city officials, Edelman marked the 65th anniversary of the revolt at the imposing monument to the ghetto fighters, unveiled in 1948.

Braving driving rain, the silent participants first laid flowers at the monument.

The frail Edelman, 85, was then pushed in his wheelchair to the site of the bunker where the leader of the revolt, 24-year-old Mordechaj Anielewicz, and 80 comrades had committed suicide as Nazi forces closed in.

The crowd then walked to the site of the "Umschlagplatz", the railway siding from which the Nazis sent more than 300,000 Jews to the Treblinka death camp in northeastern Poland.

Edelman, who took command after Anielewicz's death, rarely attends high-profile official ceremonies, preferring to remember his comrades in a lower-key fashion on April 19, the day the revolt actually began.

This year's official event was held on Tuesday, in the presence of Poland's President Lech Kaczynski and Israel's Shimon Peres.

That ceremony had been brought forward because the actual anniversary fell on a Saturday, which is the Jewish Sabbath.

On the eve of World War II, Poland was Europe's Jewish heartland.

It was home to 3.5 million Jews, and Warsaw alone had a community of around 400,000.

After invading Poland in 1939, Nazi Germany set up ghettos nationwide to isolate the country's Jews and facilitate the "Final Solution" -- half of the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust were Polish.

At its height, more than 450,000 were crammed into the walled Warsaw ghetto.

About 100,000 died inside from starvation, disease and in summary executions. Most of the rest were sent to Treblinka in mass deportations which began in 1942.

In the ghetto, a handful of Jewish paramilitary groups, mostly made up of young people -- Edelman was just 20 -- coalesced into a poorly-armed force of around 1,000.

The banner of one group was a blue Star of David on a white background, which caused Nazi ire when it was hoisted during the revolt. It became the flag of Israel.

On Saturday, youths handed out paper armbands emblazoned with the symbol, which participants wore as they formed a human chain around the monument while sirens wailed and a Polish army honour guard fired a salute.

The ghetto fighters first clashed with the Nazis on January 18-22, 1943, managing to hinder the deportations.

On April 19, 1943, they took up arms again, as the Nazis moved to wipe out the remaining 60,000 ghetto dwellers.

"We knew perfectly well that there was no way we could win," Edelman told AFP in a recent interview.

"It was a symbol of the fight for freedom. A symbol of standing up to Nazism, and of not giving in," he said.

The fighters held out as 3,000 Nazi troops razed the ghetto with explosives and fire.

Following Anielewicz's suicide on May 8, Edelman and several dozen comrades escaped through the sewers. The Nazis marked their "victory over the Jews" by blowing up Warsaw's main synagogue on May 16.

Around 7,000 Jews died in the revolt, most of them burned alive, and more than 50,000 were sent to Treblinka.

Besides denting the Nazis' sense of superiority, the fighters managed to inflict some damage, killing and injuring a combined 300 troops.

Sporadic clashes continued in the ghetto ruin until the autumn.

Edelman and many other survivors later took part in the Warsaw uprising, launched on August 1, 1944 by the Polish underground.

That failed 63-day revolt and the Germans' brutal response cost the lives of 200,000 civilians and 18,000 resistance members, and saw the near-total destruction of Warsaw by the Nazis.

Friday, April 18, 2008

THE SECRET - according to Tuhon

"The highest form includes everything: the techniques, the strategy of combat, awareness, anticipation, and control of one’s mind. All these come together to form the highest level of the Art.
Meditation becomes the natural tool of the trained fighter. It is the control and calmness of the mind that can make one victorious in combat. I do not consider meditation to be the end all of learning or of martial arts. It is a tool, a medium to be used to achieve the highest levels of skill.
One must combine his physical, mental, and spiritual being to become complete and attain the higher levels of learning. Without spiritual strength, mental and physical strength wane and disappear with age without any trace."

From an interview with Grand Tuhon Leo T. Gaje Jr. in Masters of Arnis, Kali, & Eskrima by Edgar G. Sulite

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

For Clarification!

For the past week I have been having a very exciting and informative exchange via email with a Malaysian Silat Kuntau Tekpi Cikgu (teacher) who read my description of SKT in the previous post, and was kind/concerned enough to bring the following points for clarification.

So...everybody take note:

- While Panglima Taib is indeed considered the Pengasas (Founder) of the Art known today as Silat Kuntau Tekpi, it is certain that he did not learn it from Panglima Ismail.

- While it is accepted that three of the main systems comprising ‘Silat Kedah’ - ie Silat Kuntau Tekpi, Silat Kalimah, and Silat Cekak Hanafi - have a common origin, the story varies slightly from school to school. The legend according to Silat Kuntau Tekpi has not been shared with the general public.

- The Senaman Tua that we perform before each class is not part of the traditional Silat Kuntau Tekpi syllabus. It is actually from the Silat Seni Lok Sembilan of Cikgu Azlan Ghanie. Cikgu Azlan taught it to my teacher, Cikgu Omar Hakim, who passed it on to us. We consider it part of our broader Silat Melyu practice.

- Senaman Tekpi refers to striking/parrying/twirling techniques and exercises with single and double tekpi.

- Silat Pulut is a artform unto itself with deep cultural significance. We here in Michigan have “adapted” a method of Silat Pulut that we (like to) think is true to function, if not strictly adhering to the classical form of the traditional method. Plus we have a lot of fun doing it!

I thank my friend for taking the time and energy to share these and other aspects of his noble cultural heritage with us. We are grateful.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Yoruba Martial Arts

My good friend Asis - Blacksmith and Martial Artist

I took a serious interest in the culture of the Yoruba people of Southwest Nigeria in the late 80's. Throughout the 1990's I was fortunate to be able to study under some very knowledgeable Elders such as Medahochi Kofi Omowale Zannu, Chief Adebolu Fatunmise, and Dr. Afolabi Epega. I made my first “pilgrimage” to Yorubaland in 2001, and have returned every year since with a new group of select, intrepid students for continuing education.

The Yoruba have an indigenous martial arts tradition that is largely unknown outside of West Africa. Interestingly enough, their arts appear quite different that the Muslim-influenced martial traditions typically found in the North. A close parallel to the Filipino Martial Arts is that the Yoruba styles are essentially the same theme with variations from village to village. I have observed these fighting styles in Ode Remo, Sagamu, Ile Ife, Ibadan, Abeokuta, as well as in ethnically Yoruba enclaves found “next door” in the Republic of Benin.*

The Yoruba word for warrior is Akin (literally “A Brave Person”). Akin can refer to a prolific military leader or even a distinguished hunter (Ode). In traditional culture, hunters exist on the very fringes of society, and have an extensive awo (secret knowledge) pertaining to fighting and combat, yet are not what we would think of as “martial artists” in our common usage of the word. Some of the terms used to describe martial arts practitioners as we would think of them are: Oniijakadi, Alonilowogba, and Eleeke.

The umbrella term for the martial art of the Yoruba is “Gidigbo”. If this word has an exact translation, I am unaware of it. Gidigbo encompasses various sub-disciplines such as wrestling (catch-as-catch-can), punching, and kicking - similar to the neighboring Hausa martial arts of Dembe, Ishakafa, and Kukawa - as well as fighting with machetes. Gidigbo matches are sometimes organized around important social functions, although regional tournaments just for the sake of sport are also common throughout the year. The bout typically begins with both opponents facing off, hands crossed (Enter the Dragon style) and quickly closes to all-out grappling - with elbows and head-butts added for good measure. When one of the wrestlers is thrown or otherwise knocked to the ground the match is concluded. Its all in good fun, but take it from me they do it with great gusto and it is very easy to be injured. Broken fingers, dislocated elbows/shoulders and torn knees are quite common.

The savvy Oniijakadi does not rely on mere physical strength alone, but brings all manner of strange charms (juju), incantations (awure) and paraphernalia obtained from a trusted Onisegun (medicine man) to the fight in order to gain an edge over the competition. This is very similar the concept of orasion (prayers) and anting-anting (amulets) in Filipino martial culture.

Whenever I go back to Nigeria and Benin, I have a number of teachers and sparring partners that I hook up with to learn new techniques or to rekindle old rivalries (strictly in a friendly way!) Of course, I spring for the refreshments afterwards, and I also reciprocate by teaching them some Kali in return (there is no problem finding sticks). On our most recent trip to Ijebuland, I had the teenagers collect old pillowcases, rags, and sandals and with some duct tape that I had brought we had a perfectly functional outdoor boxing gym - complete with heavy bag and focus mitts - and were soon working on punching drills. Being that I neglected to introduce the concept of a mouthguard, I hope those kids still have their teeth by the time I go back next year.

* I am in the process of editing footage of West African Martial Arts including matches, festivals, interviews with fighters and teachers, and other cool surprises that I have filmed during my travels. Stay tuned.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Al Fatihah

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of, Allahyarhamah Che Puan binti Matdin, the wife of Allahyarham (late) Pak Guru Zainol Abidin Endut and mother of Pak Guru Sani Zainol Abidin of Silat Kuntau Tekpi on March 30, 2008.

She was the pillar that supported two generations of masters and she will continue to be so in our hearts. The Tekpi family will miss her greatly.

The students and members of Silat Kuntau Tekpi Michigan send our most sincere
condolences to our family in Malaysia.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Viva Kali De Leon!

We have just returned from yet another awesome seminar! I rarely write seminar reviews for two reasons. First, there are my own time constraints. Second, if you were present at the seminar, you know how it was…if you were not present, you probably don’t need to know. Besides, we have a private forum to discuss things amongst our students. I am going to make an exception in this case however.

On Friday, March 28th, the Detroit Maphilindo Pitbulls crossed the border into Canada where we joined Kuya Doug Marcaida of Rochester Kali and his students in Toronto for an action packed weekend of training with none other than the great and incomparable Guro Jun De Leon.

The fact that we drove for 6 hours in harsh conditions, and arrived after midnight did not dampen anyone’s spirit. As soon as everyone was checked in, sticks, training blades and all manner of exotic weapons were produced on the 6th floor of the Wyndham Hotel as the groups from Rochester, New York and Detroit, Michigan prepared for the challenge ahead. Sometime around 4am we finally decided to eat dinner and rest up for work in the morning.

Bright and early on Saturday, we joined Guro Jun and his capable assistant instructors. The seminar was a tight ship from beginning to end. From the moment we threw the first angle, each segment of the program was tightly regulated. Fluid single stick combinations segued into double stick patterns, culminating in the strategic free-flow drills that are the mainstay of Kali De Leon. At the end of the day, each participant was called up one-by-one to demonstrate their “integration” of the skills learned throughout the seminar. That was the final exam, as it were.

Following the brief rest periods, Guro Jun and his seniors demonstrated the way the drills should look. What has always impressed me about Kali De Leon is that even the intermediate students seem to be on a very high level. Talk is cheap, but seeing is believing. The key is in their training. By the end of the seminar we were exhilarated as well as exhausted.

Sunday morning, Kuya Doug (as tired as any of us) was gracious enough to conduct a Dumog clinic for my students. His lesson expounded upon some of the techniques that Tuhon Gaje covered with us in August. Believe me when I say that not one of us wanted to leave. Finally, after bidding farewell to our brothers from Rochester, we set out on the road back to Michigan.

When we arrived home, we trained again.

Pekiti-Tirsia and Kali De Leon
You may already know that Grand Tuhon Leo T. Gaje Jr. and Guro Jun De Leon are close compadres. My students and I have always thought of them as two sides of the Kali coin. Tuhon Gaje has the commanding presence of a Field Marshall – Guro Jun is somewhat reserved and soft-spoken. Tuhon Gaje has an incredible flair for promotion, and has gone to great lengths to make his Art available to a large number people all over the world – Guro Jun has gone to equal lengths to keep his hand-picked student base decidedly small.

Even in terms of theory and technique, PTK and KDL seem worlds apart. Pekiti-Tirsia specializes in the subtle body mechanics of extreme close quarter combat – Kali De Leon focuses on devastating power at long range. The signature weapon of Pekiti-Tirsia is the knife – the trademark of Kali De Leon is the double sticks.

There are however, definite similarities. Both Tuhon Gaje and Guro Jun have refined their respective crafts to an elevated (almost dizzying) level. Both Masters cherish Kali and their proud cultural heritage with a burning passion. Both have a wicked sense of humor (often at our expense!) And finally, the end result of dedicated training in both disciplines is the same: a competent, deadly practitioner who possesses a highly refined sense of timing, rhythm, and body mechanics.

Our “Little Secret”
We were first introduced to Guro Jun De Leon about 5 years ago in upstate New York. At that time, he took us through some of the rudimentary elements of his system. Looking back, it was the martial equivalent of rocket science as far as we were concerned. It did however give me a keen insight into the way my own mentor Kuya Doug Marcaida had developed as a Kali practitioner. Kuya Doug’s expression of Pekiti-Tirsia is highly influenced by his training under Guro Jun.

Over the next 5 years we would meet up with him in various locations: Baltimore, Maryland; Buffalo, New York; even while training in the Philippines. Each time, he revealed another small piece of his Art, carefully checking our progress since the last training.

Anyway, at the Brotherhood of the Blade 2006 Gathering in Michigan, Kuya Doug took us through an extensive, tour-de-force teaching block of Kali De Leon drills and theory that left all of us physically and mentally exhausted. At the same time, we took it as the Gauntlet of Challenge. After that seminar, my advanced students and I made an oath to train that material…and train it…and train it…and train it…

In fact, for most of the summer of 2007 a good portion of our closed door advanced classes were devoted to the Kali De Leon drills - for our own development – but also in preparation for our next meeting with Guro Jun.

Part of the Family
Guro Jun is a compassionate and meticulous teacher. He is also brutally honest and you can count on him to give you an honest evaluation if you dare ask. As it happened, we got what I consider to be a stellar compliment following our performance. Guro said directly to me “I have seen some progress with your guys.” That coming from him, I felt like I had climbed Mt. Everest.

So, after careful deliberation by our students, and with the gracious acceptance of Guro Jun we have made the commitment to formally study and support Kali De Leon – not only as a perfect compliment to our Pekiti-Tirsia training – but on it’s own merits as one of the finest systems of Filipino Martial Arts we have seen.

Our thanks first and foremost to our teacher Grand Tuhon Leo T. Gaje Jr. for his blessing, encouragement and support of our Brotherhood;

Thanks also to my mentor Kuya Doug Marcaida for vouching for my students and giving us a foot-in the-door in so many ways;

Thanks to my senior students, who remain relentlessly committed to our mission and goals

And of course, thanks to Guro Jun De Leon, Guro Rommel, Guro Burton, Rafael and Tucker for the opportunity to be a part of your family.