Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Beginner's Perspective

A long-time student wrote the following essay a few years ago after completing his first year of training with us. Thank you, sir...sorry it took me so long to put it up!

Reflecting on my First Year of Training in Pekiti-Tirsia

The following is not intended to be a philosophical dissertation or an intellectual exercise. Rather, it is a portrayal of my serendipitous discovery of Pekiti-Tirsia and my thoughts, feelings, and experiences during my first year of training. I felt the need to share this with our Pekiti-Tirsia family with the hope of relating to those who started before me, to remind them of the challenges of a new student, and those who started after me, just incase they are having similar experiences and feel uneasy about it!

It was January 2001, I was continuing my training in taekwondo, TKD, and Aikido, holding a 1st degree black belt in TKD, getting ready to test for my 2nd in a few months, and a 1st degree in Aikido. I was feeling pretty good about it, having put in many years of training and having the black belts to show for it! At the same time, however, I was searching for other arts to help round out what I had learned through Karate (many years earlier), Aikido, and TKD. I felt a strong need to learn “something else”. I thought about and tried a number of options:

  • Karate (Japanese): been there, done that; when I was an undergrad student, too much like TKD, minus the kicks!
  • Wing Chun: had one class with a Chinese practitioner, and thought it could be a good option, provided I could find a good school/instructor.
  • Krav Maga: a few sessions were more than enough! I thought it was good aerobics, but I found it to be dangerous in a number of ways; but that could be subject of a paper by itself!!
  • Tai Chi: Took several classes, I did like the flow and the meditative aspect, but learning the long form after a couple of classes seemed a bit too much. I realized it did have martial priciples behind it, but thought that transition from the stylistic to a combative approach would not be easy, necessary from a self-defense prespective.

Whatever I felt to be missing certainly was not getting discovered through my ever increasing portfolio of TKD Poomses (Korean for kata or form), which I never liked anyway, or the never ending turns, falls, and dives of Aikido, not to mention tripping over my hakama all the time (the traditional baggy Aikido/Samurai skirt-like pants)!

And then I discovered Pekiti-Tirsia, not through extensive research or expert recommendations, but pure chance! It was not that long ago, January 2001, when I noticed a Martial Arts school while driving home from work. I did not manage to catch the full signage as I drove by, but did notice the words “South East Asia”. That was enough to raise my curiosity. Through my training and studies I was aware of many of the major countries relative to martial arts, such as China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, India, and others; but South East Asia? I had heard of Modern Arnis and Escrima, but did not know much about them, however, I had a feeling there was more!

The following week, after I had finished teaching my TKD class on a Saturday afternoon, I stopped by the school to check it out. Unfortunately it was closed, the sign on the window read, “Warrior Arts of South East Asia, -Pekiti-Tirsia, Kali”. I looked through the glass window to see what the school was like. Well, it was unlike any school that I had ever visited or trained at, looking very bare and lacking the usual trappings found in martial arts schools, such as training dummies, BOB, Bully, punching bags, thick cushy floor mats or any other training tools or toys. What I did see was a bare, well-worn thin red carpet, some blades on the wall, as well as blades and sticks resting on the floor. There were also many pictures, flags, masks, other artifacts, and letters/diplomas, which I could not read from behind closed doors, hanging on the walls. I really was at a loss trying to imagine what this school was about, it did not fit the usual mold, but it certainly peeked my curiosity even further. I wrote down the phone number and decided to call the school to find out more.

After a few phone tags, I connected with a Jeff Davidson who offered to give me a free training session. A week later, on a Friday evening, I arrived at the school for my free training. I was greeted by an unassuming individual, introducing himself as Guro Jeff Davidson. As he led me to a backroom for my private lesson, I walked past four students performing some knife drills, moving in unusual ways, and performing stabbing and slashing moves on their partners. The thought going through my mind was “this really looks strange”, but reminded myself to keep an open mind and avoid passing judgment too quickly; knowing other arts can make one judgmental, especially when people possess “black belts”!

OK, I am finally there, one-on-one with Guro. He starts off by asking me what other arts I have studied. He then gives me an opportunity to defend myself against punches and knife attacks using any of the techniques I knew from previous training. Piece of cake, I thought! So he starts coming at me, not necessarily fast, while I attempted to block and counter as they came. There was one minor issue, the attacks were not coming at me in the structured, rehearsed patterns that I was used to while working with my cooperative training partners. After a while I was totally frustrated, and Guro sensing my frustration switched roles. Now I am attacking him; he instructs me to come at him as fast as I like, punch, kick (remember I am a TKD guy) and knife attacks; now I am thinking “time to make my point, let me get a shot on this guy”. Here we go again, I am coming as fast as I can, but not getting to the targets, getting counter-attacked on every attempt, and losing my weapon every time, when I used one!! OK, I get it, he made his point, much of what I have spent years training does not seem to be working very well! Now what? Next, Guro starts to discuss a few of the Pekiti-Tirsia principles, what he explained seemed to contradict most, if not all, the principles I had been taught over the years! Now I am really confused. Somewhere between the confusion and the frustration experienced during a 45-minute session I decided to sign up.

The first few classes felt extremely awkward for many reasons. Over the course of a few classes, I started to see the regulars at the school. Many of them appeared stand-offish towards the new students. Some students would try to instruct during the practice drills, fully recognizing that some of them did not know what they were talking about (I was used to that, having been a TKD instructor myself), but I went with the flow anyway. I felt a number of challenges relative to the different aspects of Pekiti-Tirsia:

Principles - The biggest challenge I was facing was not the techniques, the new ways of fluid movement, the dances (bungas), steps, or the body turns and shifts, rather, it was the constant contradictions against all the principles I was taught over the years, such as blocking and countering, solid/rooted stances, focusing and putting everything into a single powerful technique, fully extended techniques, muscular tension to create power, chambering of techniques, training for fighting through constant practice of poomses, and many more!! Pekiti-Tirsia seemed fluid, I liked it, but I knew it would take a while for me to re-program (de-program) after all those years of poomses and one-steps. It seemed hard, and took some time for Guro to stop me from breaking some old habits, such as chambering my techniques, and starting my punches at the hip!

Sense of Belonging - Another challenge for me was lacking a feeling of belonging and being accepted by the group. I was showing up for classes fairly regularly in the first several months, as my schedule allowed it; but I never felt a true sense of belonging or being part of the group. This was just how it felt. Gradually, it started to feel different, I felt better about being there, felt a better connection with the various instructors and most of the students, and started to have a better sense for what was being taught and what was going on.

Finite vs. Infinite – Another aspect of having trained in other arts is realizing that most arts have fairly limited facets and capabilities, although often being presented as having unlimited potential! I would like to see, e.g., a true Aikidoka show how they would kick (although I hear Ueshiba did practice kicks) or see a traditional TKD practitioner do a knife disarm, although some TKD schools do attempt to incorporate weapon techniques. On the other hand, having been exposed to only what I have seen in my first year of Pekiti-Tirsia training, I fully recognize I have not even scratched the surface. I do understand some of the principles and recognize that they provide infinite possibilities, without necessarily having to document and practice every single one of those possibilities.

Attitude – It took a while for me to realize that Pekiti-Tirsia was not just about knowing the moves and techniques, rather a big part of Pekiti-Tirsia was understanding and developing the necessary attitude, ranging from meditative to pure animal instincts! Not exactly a requirement for doing katas!

There are many other aspects relative to the myths and traditions promoted through most other martial arts, but the points raised here do provide a general outline of the issues and challenges I experienced. But please keep in mind that these were mostly due to my training in other arts, and some of the baggage I brought in with me.

Here I am, a year after I started Pekiti-Tirsia, have learned more concepts, techniques, and principles than I ever did over all the years of training in all other arts combined. I started my Pekiti-Tirsia training because of my frustration with the other arts, which were not providing the necessary challenges and learning opportunities that I was looking for. The variety and range of concepts, principles, and techniques covered in the systems we practice is providing me with everything I was looking for, and more. I have stopped looking for that elusive “next art” needed to help further round out my skills!

Due to my schedule, job and family commitments, I am unable to attend classes as often as I used to, and I miss that. I do, however, look forward to every class that I can attend, and leave every session satisfied that I learn something new, or learn more about something I thought I knew already. What I have learned over the course of my first year of Pekiti-Tirsia training has given me a solid foundation to better understand and deal with new concepts and situations, in very practical ways. By the way, after all those years of training I never did master those jump/flying/spin kicks to the head!!!



Saturday, June 13, 2009

Wisdom of the Ages - Pt. 1

Photo courtesy of Mohd Nadzrin Wahab

Below are some time-honored words of wisdom from the Indo/Malay martial arts tradition. Thanks to Bram, Kris, Nadzrin, Reno, et. al. Read and apply...

"Sepandai-pandai tupai melompat ada saatnya jatuh juga."

As clever as a squirrel jumps, there will be a time that it falls (traditional Malay).

"Alam takambang jadi guru"
Nature unfurls to become teacher (traditional Padang)

"Sura dira jaya ning rad lebur dening pangastuti."
The brave and strong and victorious in this universe disolve before the power of love. (old Jawanese)

"Aja adigang, adigung, adiguna"
Don't flaunt your strength, your size or your intelligence. (Old Jawanese)

"Aja dumeh."
Don't do some thing just because you can. (Old Jawanese)

"Tong kosong nyaring bunyinya"
Empty barrel makes loud noise. (Malay)

"Sadumuk batuk, senyari bumi, dibela tekan pati."
One touch of the forehead, one finger width of land, both must be defended till death. (Jawanese)

"Segenggam itu kepunyaan guru"
"The masters use only few"

"Kecik kecik tak nak mampus, dah besar menyusahkan orang"
"You better off dead while you were little".

*best said when you were doing a kuncian on your enemy *

"Kalau kail panjang sejengkal,dalam lautan jangan diduga"
"know your place"

"Gayung bersambut, kata berjawab"
An attack parried, a word replied; good begets good, evil begets evil.

"Gayung tua, gayung memutus"
Words of the wise are normally the right ones.

"Orang bergayung sama pandai, sama bak kundi atas dulang"
Both highly skilled; both warriors.

"Bersilat kepada si buta"
Performing silat for the blind. (Showing your skills for those who can't appreciate it.)

"Cakak sudah, silat teringat"
Silat recalled after the fight. (After the matter has been settled, then come the complaints.)

"Pendekar elak jauh"
A person who is very careful.

"Tidak ada pendekar yang tak bulus, tak ada juara yang tak kalah"
No pendekar has never missed, no champion has never lost.

"Bagai gembala diberi keris"
As a shepherd given a keris. (A useless gift.)

"Berapa panjang sarung begitulah kerisnya"
Long as the sheath is, so too is the keris. (Doing something within one's own limits.)

"Berkeras tidak berkeris"
Taking tough action but with no strength to defend oneself.

"Hujan emas perak di negeri orang; hujan keris lembing di negeri kita; baik juga di negeri kita"
Though it rains gold and silver in another land; and rains kerises and spears in ours, better be our own land.
(No matter how rich and prosperous another country is, your homeland is where you belong.)

"Jangan menghulurkan hulu keris ke tangan orang"
Never offer the hilt of your keris to another hand
(This is an actual taboo of silat, to avoid giving a keris hilt first, because the blade will naturally point to the giver, allowing a potential foe to draw the weapon and stab him - Never give power to another, he will destroy you.)

"Keris panjang berkeluk, ke mana bawa ke mana olok"
A person who can be used for any purpose.

"Keris pedang tiada tajam, lebih tajam mulut manusia"
Words are sharper than weapons.

"Keris tersisip di dinding, pedang tajam dalam sarungnya"
Keris hanging on the wall, a sharp sword kept in its scabbard. (Foolish actions.)

"Menyisip keris tak bersarung di pinggang"
Keeping an unsheathed keris at your side. (Raising a child without providing knowledge will eventually trouble his parents.)

"Patah lidah alamat 'kan kalah, patah keris alamat 'kan mati"
A broken tongue means loss, a broken keris means death.
(When the tools are gone, the task will never be completed.)

Batangas Blade

Death Be Not Proud...(or Fancy)

At our training hall, this year has seen another cycle of observation, selection, and initiation into the Batangueno-style knife/gun combatives for a select group of new(er) students. As we prepare for our next long-awaited training session with Tito Jun in a few months, here is an article that conveys some of the "historical perspective". - JD

SAY the word barako and immediately three meanings come to mind: the strong-flavored and robust brew of the liberica coffee; the sex-driven adult male boar ready for breeding; and that certain brand of Batangueño, the rough and tough Filipino male from the province of Batangas. All three possess virility, strength, fearlessness — yes, even the coffee, whose flavor practically leaps up from the cup and straight onto one's tongue. All three carry within the pride of the Batangueños, who claim these qualities exclusively as their own.

It is the human barako, however, who is obviously the most fascinating, because he is at once simple and complex. In a province known to produce the export-quality balisong (fan knife), where every Batangueño is expected to be armed and efficient in the uses of the weapon made only in Batangas, the barako prefers the gun to protect himself and his loved ones.

In the old days, before the permit to carry guns was heavily enforced, the barako would never leave home without his .45 sticking out of the waistband of his pants, pulling his karsonsilyo or undershorts down. He must be prepared, even with his undershorts down, to fight back if someone throws a challenge, a balisong, or even a bullet (through a gun barrel of course) at him. This also means that he should be a good shot, a sharp shooter if necessary, because to stay alive and keep his image as a barako or strongman, he would need to keep shooting until his enemy falls or runs away. A true barako also fights his enemy (or enemies) in the open, and face to face.

In the book Batangas Forged in Fire, which features the province's most prominent families, among other things, a blueblood, Teodoro Kalaw (husband of former senator Eva Estrada-Kalaw) is photographed standing straight in the barako pose, ready to fire the revolver on his right hand, even as he totes his coat on his left arm. Such was the way of the elite barako: classy, but still deadly.

Barakos are also found in the pages of the nation's history, such as the known man of action, Gen. Miguel Malvar, the last military leader to surrender to the Americans. Even a Batangueno who couldn't walk showed kabarakuhan (bravery) in his own way. Although disabled by poliomyelitis, Apolinario Mabini was a man of thought who rose to supremacy as the brains behind the revolution and the first Philippine Republic.

Yet despite the show of virility and the stance of masculinity, the feared strongman known for his kills will often soften or tone down when faced with the woman who captured his heart. A barako is not rude toward the woman he loves. He is in fact gentle toward her and will do everything in his power to make his special woman feel important, even if it means carrying her books or pink, flowery handbag in public and ignoring the hoots of hecklers in the streets, although he is sure to confront them later when she is not around.

The barako is also loyal to his family. Although conflicts may arise between barako brothers and fathers, they all unite and fight for each other when trouble from outside forces threaten their family's pride, honor, and existence. In many instances, the barako will ignore tempting offers of dubious fortune in order to make sure his family's name remains untarnished. Indeed, the real barako would rather be poor than live with shame, just as he would rather die fighting than live in fear.

And fight the barakos did during World War II, ambushing and killing many Japanese soldiers. In retaliation, the Japanese massacred the city's population, taking the lives of 18,000 of its 25,000 residents. Lipa City was also razed to the ground, with only five houses out of hundreds of old mansions left standing afterward.

It was probably a sight that could have made anyone cry, but most probably not a barako, who is the sort of male who believes he is never ever supposed to shed a single tear, even during the wake of his own father, even in the face of their own death. The tears from the known strongmen, therefore, could mean only two things: One is that they are crocodile tears, designed to invoke pity. The other is that they belong to a fake barako.

Barakos can be bullheaded. After the peacetime elections of 1949, a group of barakos from wealthy families took to hills at the defeat of their presidential bet, Jose P. Laurel, whom they believed was cheated. Backed by formidable gun power, they were ready to fight the government head on. Only the messengers sent by their fellow blueblood barakos who wanted peace were able to stop the planned bloodbath.

Some towns and cities in the province have more barakos than the others. Among them is the town of San Juan, in the easternmost part of Batangas, that also known for its coconut wine or lambanog.

Batangas City also once had a prominent barako, who by his skill and probably, by luck, was able to live long enough to run for public office and win. This barako made sure the city enjoyed peace and order. When he died, Batangueños praised him for his leadership. Now it is his nephew who sits behind his former desk.

Youngsters who aspire to be barakos or want political clout someday are known as barakitos. These young ones are often seen with the barakos, who take them under their wing as alagang barako (novice barakos). Already quite rowdy, barakitos oftentimes get bolder during election season.

At present, however, Batangueños themselves believe there are only a few barakos left walking the streets of the province. The decrease in the barako population could probably be due to the fact that in their obsession to be supremo de barakos, most of them have killed each other (matira ang matibay or only the bravest remains standing); in worst cases, the killing could have included members of each other's family (ubusan ng lahi). Many barakos, after all, have failed to realize the difference between pride and foolishness. — Mei Magsino