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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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