Archive for June, 2014

A Reintroduction

A Filipino Martial Art demonstration – Lightning Scientific Arnis by Master Jon Escudero, at the RONI based shooting competition, held at “Neshek Hatzafon” shooting range.

Presenting and demonstrating Filipino Martial Arts outside the Philippines is always a bit interesting and challenging at the same time.   Active martial artists already have a general idea or at least some exposure to it, but that’s something you can’t assume for the general public.  So each time we make a presentation we have to always explain the general context for what we do.  FMA is currently enjoying a boom in its exposure in mainstream cinema.  Click here to see a video list.  Hollywood  blockbusters are featuring it in their fight and action choreography finally become something more than just an obscure, exotic fighting system.

I find FMA truly enjoyable to train in and teach. The myriad different lessons embedded in each technique, the depth and breadth of complexity within the simplicity of its movements, and the variety and flexibility of its applications, keep me deeply interested in its study.

I try to make thing interesting, maybe tell a story, a joke or something amusing, but in the end the moves must speak for themselves.

Enjoy the clip!

class party pic 2014

class party pic 2014

25/6/2014 – And so the end of another school year comes along for us and the members of Lightning Scientific Arnis Israel. We mark this closing of the year with a little celebration and presentation by the Junior class and some of the adults. Many have worked hard during the course of the year and have successful accomplished their grading requirements for their next levels.It is satisfying to see the growth of the group Neta and I have put so much work into. We started this school out doors, in the park. An exotic barely known martial art in Israel. We were not the first school of FMA in the counrty but we are the only one who’s teacher comes from it’s country of origin. That’s where things start to get interesting. From a handful of students in the park to finally some indoor space . And introducing youngsters to the art of the stick through our Junior class is pretty fulfilling as they are the seeds of next generation to be practicing the FMA here. A kind of cultural diplomacy if you will.It can be a bit strange teaching a martial art / history / culture all at the same time. Words that seem all at once strange, weird and funny coming from a different language can seem challenging. Explaining the its roots, the reasoning, the old wisdom behind the movements. Painting the picture of how the culture and its history has shaped the art.

I came up with my version of a meme I found online:

if you fight with your body – its technique
if you fight with your body and mind – its skill
if you fight with your body,mind and heart – its art

And so that’s what i try to impart to the members of my school. It’s not just about teaching the techniques or developing  skill, but also about igniting a passion for it.

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Junior LSA showing basics

The Junior Class presented the basics of the system to their families and friends to the delight of the audience. The Adult Class presented some of the more advanced techniques to inspire the future generation and show them whats in store for them. The top 3 placers in the 2 age groups of the Junior Class received the top 3 prizes for their hard work throughout the year while all the kids received smaller presents as a token for all their efforts in class.

We were honored to have our event  graced by the Philippine Ambassador to Israel, Hon. Generoso Calonge who gave a few short words of inspiration and invitation to visit and experience the Philippines as the land where this art comes from before he awarded the certificates to our students.

party 2014

party 2014

The night wouldn’t be complete without a Filipino Buffet of some Pinoy dishes. Neta’s adobo is becoming famous over here.

And so that’s how our year ended. With food, friends, family, and lots of kids running around all over the place hitting each other with foam noodles.

All’s well that ends well.

GM Lema Portrait

I don’t want to bore you with a re-statement of information that you could google or search for on the Internet.  Instead I’d rather talk about the man as I knew him.

He was a quiet man.  Very old-school.  Dressed in long sleeved shirts and pressed pants, he would conduct his lessons at the Marikina Sports Center on Sundays.  These were unforgettable times for me.  Our group would go and train and try to get as much understanding as we could in the limited amount of time we had.  He threw information and knowledge at us like buckets and we often have to split the load just to get it all.  And at the end of the day, we knew we had our work cut out for us during our week in our daily sessions together to study and understand the lessons of the weekend.

It was fun being young, having the energy to run around to “this training”, and “that training.”  I now appreciate the times I had driving him to his personal clients during the week and driving him home from the classes.  These were the times I got to know a little bit more about the man behind the lightning bolt.

I can say he likes fried chicken a lot.  Its like a default.  By this time he couldn’t really eat a lot due to his ulcers, but he still liked ” a little bit of this, a little bit of that.”  I was fortunate enough to accept his invitation to join the Arnis Demo Team that he was bringing to the World Martial Arts Festival in Chungju, South Korea in 2001.  It was an eye-opening experience for me.  It motivated me to push myself more.  Thinking back I realize that I was a very cocky, immodest and sometimes arrogant individual.  Some kind of Maverick-Hotshot-bald-tom cruise.  But after seeing some of the best martial arts teams in the world perform… sometimes you realize you may be a Big-fish… in a small pond.  My world just got a little bigger then.

It was a great feeling to see him awarded and honored internationally, some sort of icing on top of his cake.  It also made us proud to be members and recipients of his legacy.  The legacy of a man who made Arnis his life and life’s work.

It also made us proud to be members and recipients of his legacy. 

 

In the classes he’d sit back watching us like a hawk as he put us through our drills.  He was forgiving about some flaws in technique, he’d let us make mistakes… until he’s had enough of it.  You’d either get a sharp reprimand… if he liked you.  Otherwise you’d be left alone to figure it out.  Lessons with him intimidated me at first.  He spoke softly but firmly and spoke like men of his generation did.  He used the language differently, and used words we don’t use any more.  No one speaks like that anymore.

He was a proud man.  He was always up for a challenge.  His dignity showed in the way he presented himself and the way he dressed.  When he would explain things, it was alway matter of fact, and he’d show you exactly why things worked his way.  Like a chess grandmaster, he could read you 2,3,5,10 moves ahead.  He could tell you by your first move what your options were going to be and whether or not it was a good decision.

He was a strong man.  We hear this from the stories the other old men tell about him.  There are stories about his 19-inch circumference biceps.  His old photos show this.  The power showed through when he’d break thick rattan sticks. When his hand checked, it was like being hit by a sledgehammer.

He was lightning quick.  Even in his old age. We are lucky to have videos of this.  Otherwise people would say that we are telling tall tales.  His timing was impeccable.  Trying to breach his defense was like walking into a blender.

And his repertoire was huge.   His range of techniques covered all ranges of Largo, Media and Corto.  Weapon sets from Solo Baston, Doble Baston, Espada Y Daga.  Deep understanding of the principles of De Salon and De Campo.  A very sophisticated set of Agaw Baston and Defensa Contra Baston.  He was nicknamed Ben Judo for his Trankada (probably also for his time training at the Kodokan in Japan).  And he was also left handed which made for mind boggling complexity in shifting from hand to hand with equal dexterity and skill. What an opportunity for endless, lifelong study!

He had a reputation as a fighter and would not back down to a challenge or to anyone who would disparage his name.  There are stories about matches he’s had in town fiestas and other tournaments.  The details I have are sketchy as they are not first hand and the other old men are better at telling them.  And he would alway be up for a demonstration.  We take for granted our time now with all this recording technology.  Some footage of him survives.  Some of it is on the internet.  But it won’t be the same as the real thing.

He was also a bit of a prankster and he’d put us sometimes in funny, compromising and potentially embarrassing situations and see how we’d react.  I guess being around us younger guys made him feel young again.  Our Korean host  took us to a Korean day-spa where they also had a gym.  Upon hearing that he decided to join us for a bit of pumping iron.

Our respect for Mang Ben is boundless.  And we are thankful for the time we had with him.  Naturally my memories of him are different from the other people who were close to him.  Granted there are a lot of other people with their own personal experiences with the Old Man.  And it often crosses my mind what it would’ve been like to train with him when he was at his prime.  All the trips and stories he could tell.To some he’s a father, grandfather, friend, buddy, mentor, teacher… but for me, he’ll always be the Grandmaster.

More about GM Lema on Lightning Scientific Arnis Israel

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toys, toys, toys

One thing I love about FMA is all the toys we get to play with.  Sticks, swords and other sharp objects appeal to the tool-user in me.  Growing up in the 80’s watching He-Man, Conan, Shaolin and Ninja movies whetted my appetite for the weapon-martial arts.  There was elegance and  the element of danger between the  whirling blades.  There was also the mystery in the mastery of something not part of your body, something you weren’t born with. I saw weapons training as a discipline and a means to shape, hone and sharpen the mind as well as the body.  A means to expand awareness, a tool to enhance attributes.  I also thought it was practical. I was first attracted to Wushu for the weapons.  Yeah they were sexy.  But in the end I gravitated to something more…”primal”.  There’s something about smashing two large heavy sticks into things.  Truly, crushing and smashing things can be a lot of fun and thats what I discovered in the Filipino Martial Arts.  Yes, the art of “cutting with the blade”, does indeed exist in our culture, but hey, I was a beginner and was only starting on my path. Down this path you see all sorts of weapons. Strange, cruel, sexy, exotic and some just plain weird.  This is where I find myself. I’ve found many interesting eye-opening principles over the years, many that were just staring me in the face waiting for me to recognize them.  That’s why I do it.  Each weapon teaches a different lesson, a different mindset, different opportunities a different context. Its endless. And with that thought comes countless possibilities, ideas and a better understanding of   the mind and the many ways it has come up with to either destroy or defend. I’ve gotten pretty good at making excuses to buy all these toys. My wife’s heard it all though… I think.

So I’ve decided to get back to writing again.  I find that its one of the most effective ways for me to get my ideas across and pretty much helps me process information well enough to not confuse me.  My thoughts pretty much race all over the place so fast that that I find that putting them down on “paper” pretty much helps me to see whether they are going over a cliff edge, out to space or slamming into a brick wall.

So, I’m going to use this method to try to organize and explain principles, concepts and ideas that I find interesting in the martial arts including, but not limited to the Filipino Martial Arts for which I am totally biased.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy other martial arts as well, but I’m Filipino and its part of my heritage and culture.  Unfortunately much of this history and culture was passed down orally.  There’s not much left in terms of books, artwork, drawings and other artifacts so we are pretty much left with just the names and the movements, which is a complex codification of the desired behaviors and actions that may seem strange without the proper context to understand it.

That’s pretty much what this blog is going to be about.  I’ll probably also toss in some anecdotes and experiences in training.  It’s a great journey, walking the path of martial arts.  Its something I recommend, but well, to each his own.

We all have our own roads to walk.

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