Saturday, October 30, 2010

Batangas Knife Part 3: It's Game Time

Thanks to everyone who was kind enough to email me "Finish the goddamm story already!" Be patient. Jeez, do you think I just sit around and blog all day? I'm doing this in my spare time. Anyway, we only have a few posts left. Now things really start to get interesting.

I led the way out of the main gym, and managed to find a small unused space adjacent to the training area. While I searched for the light switch, Tito Jun crossed to the center of the room. After a minute or two I gave up looking for the switch, and walked over to where he was standing. There was column of light coming in from the hallway, and it was just enough.

I had absolutely no idea what to expect at this point. A private conversation? Tito Jun nodded and said “Ok take out your knife.” I took my wooden training knife from my belt, and then realized that I hadn’t brought another trainer for him to use, but I didn’t want to break the flow of the moment and leave the area. As I scanned the room for anything that could remotely serve as a substitute, I noticed that Tito Jun already had a blade in his hand, and it wasn’t a training knife.

I hadn’t seen him draw it. In retrospect, he most likely had it in his hand the whole time we had been talking. It was not fancy, nor anything that looked like an FMA blade. It was just a slim, sharp, non-reflective steel folder.

“I can’t do all those fancy moves that you and Douglas and Jay are doing, ka Jeff. I don’t know any drills, and I don’t dance with a knife.” And then, there was that look again.

“If I’m coming for you, do you think that I will give you a chance to fight back?”

It was obviously a rhetorical question. As he closed toward me, he invited an attack by leaving his hands down at his sides.

I thought “Oh, it’s game time is it?”

more to come...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Batangas Knife Part 2: An Innocent Question

Knife for Batangas Style - custom made in the PI

The same reckless curiosity that led to my involvement with Filipino martial arts in the first place took hold of me at that point, and I unobtrusively pulled myself away from the seminar and approached Jay Saludo’s Dad there on the sideline.

“Mister Saludo can I get you anything…some water maybe?”

To this day I can neither forget, nor exactly describe the particular feeling that went through me the first time that “Jay’s Dad” addressed me directly – but it made me wonder if I hadn’t just made a very big mistake in walking up on him like that.

“Don’t call me ‘Mister Saludo’ ka Jeff, just ‘Tito Jun’. Thank you, I’m fine.” [very uncomfortable silence]

“Are you enjoying the seminar Mister…er…I mean Tito Jun?”

“It’s okay. It’s nice to see all you boys together.” [I half expected him to pat me on the head…more very uncomfortable silence]

“Do you also study Kali, Mister…er… Tito Jun?” [I swear it was an innocent question]

Some people can communicate an entire range of thoughts and expressions using only their eyes. Right then, Tito Jun was looking at me as if the most ludicrous, most outlandish, most preposterous, and wrong-headed casual assumption that I could ever consider – even for a minute – was the patently outrageous idea that he practiced Kali or even took the slightest interest in it beyond his son’s involvement.

Did I say something wrong? Whoops. Time to get back to the seminar, I thought.

Before I could slither away back to the main group, his expression softened and he said quietly, in a deadpan voice: Ka Jeff, I am not a great martial arts Master like he is [pointing to the featured instructor]. I don’t even practice martial arts.” There was the slightest trace of disdain in his voice.

And then: “The way we used a knife where I come from is a lot different.

I considered that last statement. If a Filipino belonging to the “older generation” just told you that he doesn’t practice or care about ‘martial arts’ yet has his own ‘way’ with a knife – what do you think that might mean? Well…draw your own conclusions. I did, and just like he was reading my mind, Tito Jun slightly nodded as if to confirm that I wasn’t mistaken on that assumption. Then I took a big gamble:

“How…ah…I mean…uh….how do you…uh… do it, Mister…er…Tito Jun?”

For a few more uncomfortable moments, he stayed silent and seemed to be weighing the situation. Finally, he looked around. “Is there a more private room we can go to ka Jeff?”

Stay tuned...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Batangas Knife Part 1: Meeting "Mr. Saludo"

There were close to 70 seminar participants on the floor of the gym, staggering, and panting like a pack of sled dogs. Probably, no one had expected a ‘warm-up’ of over 1000 knife jabs in double time to lead off the morning. The students who had heeded my admonition not to eat a heavy breakfast were pleased – the others not so much. With that finished, all eyes were fixed on the two people in the center of the floor – the seminar host and the featured instructor- as they commenced a very impressive exposition on a knife drill we were about to practice, which incorporated a number of important points from the jabbing exercise. The pace showed no signs of slowing down, and I wondered how some of these folks were going to make it thru the next 6 hours.

While I was catching my breath, I fell into an old habit that an associate of mine, a retired FBI agent had given me: anytime you’re in a crowd, look for the person who “doesn’t belong”. Not that I’m paranoid, it’s just something I’ve learned to do whenever I’m in a large group people. I did my customary scan. Everyone was winded, but energetic and engaged. Most everybody’s attention was focused intently on the center of the floor, trying to learn this new drill, even the seated observers were taking it in.

…except for one unassuming older Filipino gentleman.

This guy was in fact turned away from the group, slowly pacing the floor with the look of a man whose mind was focused elsewhere. I had actually met him at the previous night’s training session. What stood out in my mind then, was not anything he did, but rather what he didn’t do. We had all been together, the night before, enthusiastically sharing technique after technique from our respective disciplines. It had been like a great Kali ‘jam session’ with each new idea/variation eagerly received by the group. Some people had better ideas than others, but hell…we were all very happy to be together sharing knowledge.

Even then, this gentleman had made such a non-impression on me that I didn’t remember his Christian name, I just remembered him as “Jay Saludo’s Dad.” He hadn’t offered anything that night, other than to be supportive…yet with that same look of bored detachment. Every time our senior teacher would awe us with a new combination, this guy just watched – apparently unmoved. He kind of just stayed out of focus that night. In the background, as it were.

Now at the training facility, with the seminar in full swing and all eyes on the instructor, he seemed to be making a point of not being noticed.

To be continued...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Prologue to Batangas Knife

Cumpadres: Tito Jun and Tuhon Gaje at my House

Before I continue my exposition on the Batangas style of knife-fighting, I want to talk about the first time I met Tito Jun, the man who would eventually open my eyes. I'll break that up for you guys in the next few posts.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Heart of a Master

Ama Guro Jun with Detroit Students

My dear students:

You have just witnessed a demonstration of the absolute highest level of skill in the Martial Arts. I’m not only speaking about FMA. I mean that each of these great Masters that you have been privileged to study with this weekend has refined his craft to a level that very few practitioners of any Martial Art will ever reach – although that doesn’t mean you should ever stop trying!

I myself am nowhere near to them. I wouldn’t even presume to demonstrate anything that could even approach what they do, but instead I want to give you some advice - while your eyes are still bulging and your jaws are still on the ground – that may serve you well whenever you remember what you have witnessed here today.

A great Silat teacher who was also a sufi mystic once gave me the following admonition: “To do this Art, you have to do it with your whole Heart”. That was so many years ago, but it has guided me ever since I first heard it. So I ask you students a simple question…

“What is in your Heart?”

There are so many “teachers” and practitioners of the Martial Arts who can kick, punch, throw, stab, and slash with a high degree of proficiency, but if you look into their “hearts” you would maybe also find a great deal of Negativity. We cannot/should not ever presume to judge another person, but the evidence may be clear for you to see. Some of these people are motivated by such things as greed, envy, hatred, bitterness, and the burning desire to be put on a pedestal by others. They will tell you why they are “the Best” or “the Only” or “the Most Deadly” as they denigrate everyone else around them. G-d help you if you fall under their influence.

In the Heart of a true Master – such as these honorable men you are learning from today - you will find powerful, ever-present, and uncompromising Love. Love for their Art; Love for their Elders; Love for their Peers; Love for their Students; Love for their Culture. This Love is so strong that they are unwilling to compromise themselves for anyone or for any reason. People seek them out from all over the world to study with them - and yet they have come here today to you – to share one of their greatest treasures.

Many of you are just beginning your journey, and no doubt you are truly inspired now. But I tell you: if you want to follow in the footsteps of men like these, you will have to make a lot of sacrifices…the most painful of which may be your own Ego.

Anyone can become proficient in fighting. But what is their character? What kinds of people are following them? What do they inspire you to become? Although you may find a few people with the skill of a Master, the Heart of a Master is what you should strive for in a teacher – and in yourselves.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Brotherhood! - part 2

May I have this Dance???

We were delighted to have a rather large group of beginning students present at this year’s event. Following lunch on Saturday afternoon, after a full morning of training under the clear, crisp sky of upstate New York, Kuya Doug arranged for each instructor to give a brief demonstration/overview of their respective discipline(s) for the benefit of the newbies.

It could not have been worse for me…

Imagine! My presentation had to follow behind three virtuosos: Ama Guro Jun de Leon, Tito Jun Saludo, and MM Rommel Tortal. Well, at least I had more time to prepare, right? But no sooner had I centered myself mentally, than Rommel called me up to assist him in his demo. For the next 15 minutes (which seemed like an eternity) I was punched, stomped, thrown, choked, locked, swept, twisted, and handcuffed in every conceivable way, with every weapon that Rommel could put his hands on. I was not quite 100% when my turn came immediately after that, so if you were there I beg your forgiveness if my presentation was somewhat less-than-coherent. I’ll still probably need an MRI sometime this week.

Anyway, if I had another 15 minutes to address the audience, I would speak about what I consider to be an all-to-often overlooked aspect of Martial Arts practice, and it was inspired by a discussion I had with Ama Guro Jun De Leon over a cup of coffee on Sunday morning.

Stay tuned for the next post!


We have just returned safely from Rochester, New York, where the most recent annual gathering of Brotherhood of the Blade took place.

As readers of this blog will already know, the Brotherhood of the Blade was formed in 2003 by Kuya Doug Marcaida of Rochester, Ka Jay Saludo of Saskatchewan, and me here in Detroit – with the full support and blessing of our Grand Teacher Leo T. Gaje Jr. In those early days, it was The Pekiti-Tirsia Brotherhood of the Blade. However, a few years ago we decided it would be proper to ‘amend’ the name of our Organization, because in truth it is bigger than one system. Those whom we humbly consider to be our Mentors include Ama Guro Jun De Leon of Kali De Leon and Manong Leon “Tito Jun’ Saludo of Barako Batanguenio. The Arts that we have dedicated ourselves to studying hail not only from the Philippines, but also Malaysia and Indonesia. Remember, in the distant past, the entire Malay Archipelago was essentially part of the same empire.

Once again, it has been our distinct honor to support our Kuya Doug Marcaida, - who embodies the Spirit and Vision of the Brotherhood. Kuya Doug masterfully outmaneuvered some terrible last-minute obstacles in planning and executing this year’s Gathering, which brought together students and teachers from literally all over the World. We are all proud to call him our Leader. Mabuhay!

This year, we were duly blessed to have as our Special Guest Instructor none other than Mandala Maginoo Rommel Tortal – the esteemed Master of the Pekiti-Tirsia system of Kali, and nephew of Grand Tuhon Gaje. You’ve seen Rommel on the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, the BBC, and in the documentary movie Kali Means to Scrape. A lot of folks from all over the world come to the Philippines to train with him, and we are proud and thankful that he spent so much time with us on his monumental first visit to the United States. Honestly, we know that Tuhon Gaje will probably live forever, but when the time comes for him to retire from teaching his beloved Art, I think there can be no question that the torch will pass to Rommel as the undisputed heir of the Pekiti-Tirsia Kali system.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Serial Knife Posting #2: PTK vs Batangas Knife

Her we will begin our general comparison of the Pekiti-Tirsia and Batangas knife fighting

Pekiti-Tirsia Knife

I have been studying Pekiti-Tirsia Kali (PTK) directly with Tuhon Gaje for 11 years. I studied PTK with other instructors prior to this, and I continue to learn from my own ‘older brothers’ in the Art in various parts of the country. Over the years I have seen many ‘interpretations’ of PTK from various teachers. Some I consider inspired and innovative… some I can’t even stand to look at. That which I like, I embrace. It makes me sad when I see people claiming “official” this or “authentic” that. I just look at how the person moves…either he gets it or he doesn’t.

At this point I cannot say for certain if there is actually something that could be called “Pekiti-Tirsia knife fighting” per se. Of course, there are certain drills which are usually trained with a knife, and given the fact that very few practitioners ever seem to progress beyond merely learning/performing the drills, these exercises have become “fossilized” to the point where folks think that the drills are the system. That’s bad for our Art.

I have said time and again that (at least in my opinion) Pekiti-Tirsia is two things:

1) Body Mechanics

2) Mindset

If you understand these, then (in my opinion) you are doing Pekiti-Tirsia. I have two particular (new) students that both previously trained in Wing Chun. When I watch them perform a certain knife drill, it looks like Wing Chun with a knife. Sure, they are doing the drill – but are they doing Pekiti? Likewise, many new students who come to me with previous training in other martial arts are sometimes thrown for a loop because while we have several techniques which are also found in many different systems, we don’t execute them in nearly the same way. What makes a Pekiti-Tirsia inside-wrist-lock different from a Jujutsu inside-wrist lock? The answer is found in the above two points. Add to this the fact that PTK drills have been co-opted or pirated into just about every FMA school in the United States since the 70’s, and you have a wide variety of people doing our drills while not looking anything like we do. Whether their own interpretation is good or bad, I leave to your own discretion.

The bottom line is that someone who has been trained in Pekiti-Tirsia will move, react, and think in a certain way regardless of what weapon or combination of weapons they are using at the moment. As an example, my student Panday who was already an accomplished handgun expert, has developed an approach to tactical pistol training which is pure Pekiti-Tirsia. If you were to watch him at work with a pistol, and another of my students with a knife, you can clearly see that they are doing the same system.

At the end of the day, we can say this for certain:

- Tuhon Gaje was one of the first to introduce tactical knife into the milieu of FMA and martial arts in general in the United States.

- A lot of people erroneously equate a drill or technique with the “whole system”

- There are certain tactics with a knife that are favored by PTK

- Tuhon Gaje has created “sub-systems” of PTK that teach some specialized aspect of a particular weapon

- The idea of a PTK “knife fighting style” is misleading.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Approaches to Teaching and Learning pt. 6

Further on the Expression Method:

Natural University
Naturally, the advantages include a complete education that shapes and coordinates both aspects of the mind and body. A deepened understanding of the physical and psychological self rids one of muscular and mental inhibition, which could prove disastrous in combat situations.

It makes the adherent a master of himself and a student of none and frees his mind from mental barriers. He thinks in three dimensions and automatically chooses the path of least resistance and most profit.

Most of the students who study this way have an affinity for the esoteric and live their lives by the philosophy that they have been taught/ discovered.

Because of the understanding of his abilities, he is not tied down to one style of fighting, but adapts to the threat, irrespective of whether it comes from man or beast. In silat, this was eventually coded into the form of tari, bunga or kembangan. These flowing forms which have been compared to kata in effect educate the player about himself.

The degree is in Self-Discovery. His core courses are physics, biology, chemistry, biomechanics, balance and percussion while his elective courses are attitude adjustment, psychology, neurolinguistic programming and so on. When he graduates, it is with the ability to control himself. And self-control facilitates the control of others.

Student Appreciation and Announcement...

I have some of the most thoughtful students that a teacher could ask for. I know that everyone appreciates their training, and some students will do those little "extra" things for their instructor that just say "Thank you" in a special way.

For example, Guro Panday is always crafting strange and exciting clubs and blades for me. Guro Bassam is always giving very generous gifts to the school - especially antibiotics during cold/flu season. Ka Dave from time to time will bring me a pouch of my favorite pipe tobacco. Ka Chris will always bring an extra bottle of 0-carb vitamin water on a hot afternoon...etc, etc.

One simple pleasure which I really appreciate is COFFEE (with no sugar). Nothing makes it easier to watch a student botch a technique for the hundreth time - or do a drill I'm absolutely sick of for the 10th time in a day like a nice hot cup of java (with no sugar), and my students know this. In fact, I know that every week without fail, Guro Damon, Ka Jason, Ka Mike (both of them) and Ka Darryl will be walking through the door at class time with a respectful greeting, and a steaming 16 to 20oz cup of black gold (with no sugar) instead of an apple for the teacher. You guys are the best and I am truly grateful for your generosity.

And I'm no snob. I like coffee from Einstein Bros, Dunkin Donuts, 7-11, Tim Horton's, and even from the Fast Track station down the street equally (with no sugar).

At this time of the year, I am especially partial to the seasonal "Pumpkin Spice" varieties. But whatever the flavor - it's all good (with no sugar). And, if you happen to be coming to class on a THURSDAY evening from 7:30pm - 9:00pm and you are so are most welcome to bring that coffee (with no sugar) to the Philippine American Community Center in Southfield, where we will be holding Thursday class until Spring!