(Author’s Note: The characters found in this article are all fictitious. The exchange of ideas and wit here never happened and very likely, never will. To make it “interactive” the readers are advised to imagine that they were/are around when this short chat occurred. ) This is reprinted from Rapid Journal Vol. 8 No. 1, with the author's permission
It was about 5 in the afternoon, Saturday, when I happened to see Nong Bitoy, our local eskrima legend sitting and drinking beer alone in one of the sari-sari stores in our locality. Taking advantage of the situation, I went straight to him… and our verbal juego todo ensued.
N: Maayong hapon, Nong Bits!
B: O! Ne! beer, inom ‘ta. Where have you been? Look tired.
N: Cebu coliseum. May arnis tournament ditto. Very lousy.
B: Arnis hmmm, you mean eskrima, Ne….why lousy?
N: Men in steroids playing like six-year olds. Game fixing and all that….I just don’t understand why they let that puti win, he’s so awkward.
B: why, is that something new? You know these event organizers, they just want to please these foreign brats to make more money. See, if these foreign contingents don’t make it in the official tournament, then there’s always another event for them the next day just to make them win.So, when they go home they will have things like trophy to brag around.
B: For you kiddo, but for these guys?
N: what is entertaining is the sayaw contest…
B: It is not even part of traditional eskrima you know…
N: Perhaps, but what about the ancient kali, they must have a sayaw a la sinulog war
B: Kali? What’s that?
N: Never heard of kali, eskrima old-timer? Kali is the alleged pre-Hispanic martial art, the precursor of arnis or eskrima.
B: Who said that? I am eighty-eight years old now. I started learning eskrima since sixteen. I traveled a lot in the Visayas and to Mindanao and this is the first time I heard of kali.
N: Nong Bitoy, you are just short-changed of many technical terms, that’s why (I laughed). In fact according to some authorities, Lapulapu was a kali expert himself.
B: That I don’t know because I was born centuries after Lapulapu. All I know is that in eskrima, we use sticks and sometimes blades, we don’t use shields, no kampilan and we don’t include the practice of throwing bagakay.
N: Yeah, if Pigafetta was accurate in his Battle of Mactan report…. Then those kali men in Mactan must be good in javelin throwing too… but is it not so antiquated to include those sharpened bamboo in contemporary kali? What about the use of shields?
B: Antiquated? Why, is stick fighting not primitive? And the use of shield, look at those riot police, what are they carrying?
N: But do you agree that eskrima originated from the ancient Filipinos like Lapulapu and his barkada?
B: Wrong. I disagree! Why? Well, for your information, the earlier Filipinos were the white men, the Spaniards. Shocking , eh? Okay more beer…. (offered me a bottle). You see, the name Filipino was originally reserved only for the Spaniards who were born here in our islands. We brown men were called indios or naturals. So don’t confuise yourself with the Filipinos centuries ago and the Filipinos today. Read history books and you’ll see….truth will set your ignorant mind free.
N: I’ll think about it.
B: You should, otherwise you will end up just like them. Empty slates. When somebody says this is how Lapulapu looked like and this is the way he walked everybody accepts and believes without thinking. Do you think Lapulapu looked like that statue at the Capitol?
N: That statue reminds me of a congressman in….
B: Ne’ you see I prefer to use eskrima instead of arnis, simply because that’s how we describe our martial art here. Arnis, that’s how they named theirs up north.Here in Cebu, arnis of the related words like arnisi or gi-arnisan simply means tripping somebody down.
N: And kali?
B: Only the hard headed ones insist on clinging to that myth. And do you know what’s good for them? Read Proverbs 26:3, it says, “A bride for the horse, a bridle for the ass and a rod for the fool’s back.” (then he laughed).
N: (I laughed and continued) And a bottle of beer for Nong Bitoy…. so eskrima is Spanish? Any proff?
B: Not Spanish, but Spanish legacy, a big difference there Ne’. Do you think it is just an accident that eskrima is found only among the Christianized ethnic groups, from Ilocos to Mindanao? And remember this, even though the Christians were so diversified as to language, but their eskrima shares common Spanish technical terms. Wrestling, on the other hand, is more universal from north to south. Silat is found only among the Muslims, but still not all tribes out there practice it.
N: It seems exkrima shares umbilical cord with Catholicism.
B: Exkrima has no connection with Catholicism. It was only because of its common catalyst—the Spaniards. It the theory about eskrima having pre-Hispanic origin is true, then some native out there can still show us how this supposedly ancient kali looks like. Where are they?
N: Poisoined with cyanide-laden bibingka fed to them by early zealous missionaries?
B: Maybe, maybe…..you seem to be drunk already, but you haven’t drank a bottle yet.
N: Interesting topic, that’s why. I just wonder why didn’t we discuss this in our history classes.
B: Historians, they care? Okay, is eskrima an art form?
N: Yes. It’s a martial art…meaning an art with martial or warlike tendencies. Why what’s the catch Nong Bits?
B: A kind of performing art too…..can you give me names of eskrimadores who were awarded with the coveted National Artist Award?
N: Okay, I get your point… you’re being sarcastic…or is it Edgar Allan Poe in you? But Nong Bits, it’s kinda believable that Lapulapu and his men were kali warriors. They defeated the more superior armed invaders.
B: They exaggerated it and call it a battle…sixty against a thousand or more? How many casualties the Spaniards had? Only eight, including that bongoton Magellan.
N: Had he read Sun Tzu’s Art of War, he would be reminded that knowing one’s enemy and one’s limitation already assures the winning of a hundred battles. On that very day, Magellan had only one battle and he bit the dust.
B: Good for him…imagine how stupid, they were wading through…
N: Nong Bitoy, let me turn to another topic. What are the requirements of becoming a grandmaster in eskrima?
B: Why, do you desire to become a grandmaster? (laughed) Ne’ don’t confuse yourself, we’re talking eskrima here now, not chess. Grandmaster? Are you talking about Eugene Torre? Okay, I know what you mean…to be a master, it’s either you have mastered the details of an art, in and out, or you own a slave. To be a grandmaster is to be one step higher, it also like being a grandfather meaning once mastering the art you teach it to others and make them masters of the same art too. They, once mastered also teach the same to others. How’s that Ne’? you don’t cheat and take advantage of a dying old man, have him sign a certificate you have just printed somewhere, conferring you the title of grandmaster.
N: Why, did it happen?
B: It happened. Now, the question is—is this guy fake? No! He has the certificate to show. Another case is about a group who elevated their teacher’s status to a kinkoy title Omnipotent Grandmaster, who in turn, for a fee, promoted them to grandmasters. Here’s more Ne’, a big promoter threatened to embargo somebody’s grandmaster title because the latter did not report to the former the foreign students he was teaching. This promoter was the same guy, who conferred the same title earlier. I am not sure by what virtue was vested in them…but these people obviously can just give and take away titles of a grandmaster. But Ne’, there’s nobody out there to prevent you from calling yourself a grandmaster, and don’t think PRC does.
N: So if that is how easy it is… would you please give me the title, grandmaster ( I laughed)
B: Why, yes! But nothing is for free…you pay for all these bottles of beer.
N: But what style should I put there in the certificate?
B: Eskrima, what else? I am an eskrimador, not a master ninja.
N: But eskrima sounds vague nowadays. It must have a brand name, say, Eskrima de Campanella sin Atras Combate. And the logo like…
B: A salivating rabid dog, I strongly suggest.
N: You’re really creative…so why don’t we see bahad-type engagements nowadays?
B: Because the prison cells so crowded and the food…
N: I don’t get it..
B: It’s reclusion temporal if you kill somebody in a duel or bahad for that matter, that is imprisonment of 12 years and 1 day to 20 years. If nobody is killed, then both of you will get arresto mayor, 1 month and 1 day to 6 months. It is the Revised Penal Code. Ne’
N: That is why tournaments are a good alternative….
B: No! It should be a fair, no game-fixing tournament…but I don’t think we have it in eskrima. Sa judges pa lang, they are not even trained how to accurately judge.
N: Oh, come on….
B: See it for yourself…see how they hit each other…se how they manipulate the players…champions by default, etc.
N: Do you think eskrima can provide the best self-defense?
B: No, I don’t think so…for me, the best self-defense is good health. And nowadays because of SARS, it’s Vitamin C and disposable masks.
N: There you are again…then?
B: I am just using the literal meaning of self-defense. Defense can be artistic or expressed in not-so-usual a manner, that’s the time a martial art can be considered a self-defense. In a martial art you can be alone and need not interact with somebody. But in self-defense it’s you interacting with somebody or something. To expound further let me add…self-control is also self-defense. See this? This is my eleventh bottle…four more and I have enough (laughed) Want to know more good no-nonsense self defense? Having more money, liquidity is another form of good self-defense. Hiring a good lawyer is another good one, don’t forget. You see, many people are just so naïve limiting their definition of self-defense, as if life itself is that dull and simple, no it’s not.
N: I’m impressed, you’re really good.
B: No, I am just very old.
N: Is drinking good for eskrimadores?
B: Ehem, why yes. Well, actually it depends on what school of thought one is into.
N: So yours is more on the Left-Hand Path?
B: Some contend that eskrimador should never drink during practice sessions. But they forgot that a practice session is a big camaraderie with drinks, sumsuman, singing and all that. Such a gathering is conditioning, a preparation is you will, just in case when you are in a drinking scenario where many a fracas happens. Do you think you can easily kick ass without losing your balance when you are alcohol saturated? From another point of view, this is a mental training too. On the other hand, the opposite camp also has a valid point. But that’s life Ne’, a kaleidoscope of perspectives.
N: and perversion…
B: Noooo… its moderation…moderation when you drink and you don’t drive when you drink. Don’t drive away gentle manners when you drink. Don’t just urinate here and there…there might be a live wire somewhere.
N: Profound. So practicing eskrima or martial arts is good for health?
B: We can know oif one has health if he is healthy. If you got a black eye, lose a tooth because of an activity, then that same activity is not good for your health. Simple. So the answer to your question is no! If eskrima is really good for health and promise longevity, then it will follow that every eskrimador will likely reach 100 years life span to say the least. Look, some even died in their thirties.
N: So it’s not good for health?
B: When a martial artist doesn’t see his broken nose in front of the mirror even if it’s there, he has hallucinations. Then the same martial artist continues to think that he is healthy even with his bleeding broken nose, he has illusions. Believing that broken nose is okay is a delusion.
N: Are you saying that to be healthy, we need to avoid activities like eskrima?
B: What I am saying is –it is not good for your health, if you happen to break your nose. You jog believing it is good for your health, but when you stumble and break your nose.
N: Life’s exciting huh?
B: Glad you’re seeing it that way.
N: Is it not encouraging more violence in this violent world when we promote martial arts, be it eskrima, kung fu or silat?
B: I don’t know but encouraging passive masochism, for me is even hazardous. Even Mr. Gandhi himself was saying that his non-violence does not admit running away from danger and leaving dear ones unprotected, that between violence and cowardly flight, he preferred violence to cowardice.
N: Why is the emphasis nowadays on the sport aspect of eskrima?
B: People don’t go to McDonald’s or Jollibee because they serve nutritious food, people go there with their children because the food there taste good and eating there feels good. This is also true in eskrima today. People don’t practice eskrima primarily to know self-defense, they are there for other reasons. The better strategy for eskrima is to subdivide it, say, sports, cultural activity and for self-defense, just like what they are doing in silat. The current one-track approach will only further dilute eskrima into stupid-looking head hunting.
N: Why didn’t the eskrima bigwigs and their politician patrons think of that?
B: You are asking Ne’? They don’t really love eskrima. They just want to organize events, grandstand and make money the easy way.
N: that’s a sweeping statement.
B: Yes, Sweeping it is…but look at the dirt – a few are not even contented, they are spreading myths.
N: You are referring to the bothoan stuff and the ten Bornean datus and, of course, the kali-silat connection.?
B: Bornean datus’ tale has no historical basis. These unggoys know that! How many Henry Scotts do they need to convince them?
N: One thousande and one, I suppose. But Nong Bits, they say only a handful have access behind the secrets. Deeper research is just not possible for oursiders.
B: Do you understand what is a secret, Ne’? That’s something that even your closest friend and your pet Chihuahua doesn’t know. If this is secret why mention this again and again? Why does this secret society not punish the people who exposed and commercialized their supposed secret? They are just desperate and running out of alibis because they know that they are about to be exposed as charlatans. Butthis is not an isolate case – do you remember the supposed Paleolithic.Tasadays? Secret – do you know who are the illuminati, Ne’? Well, that’s what secret is all about, you don’t even know that it exists. You don’t write about it, you don’t dare to commercialize it like what they are doing to their kali.
N: Why is it that we are full of these lies?
B: It is said, “the people want to be fooled, so let’s fool them.” That’s why Lapulapu is now an eskrimador. A celebrated eskrima event organizer once quoted that it was he who “made Lapulapu a popular eskrimador.” If now nobody knows where MacArthur discarded his kwako, how much more of Lapulapu’s bahag? Get my point? Ne’, I don’t see these as lies or its promoters liars….I think these people are just full of clouded imagination and misguided creativity.
N: But all these bulls will make the world think that we Filipinos are…
N: Is it true that arnis is for Luzon, eskrima is for the Visayas and Kali for Mindanao?
B: Observe closely who are promoting this kali myth: are they from Mindanao themselves? If they are from Mindanao, take note, their ancestors were also Visayans who went to Mindanao decades ago. I traveled around Mindanao for years and found no kali there. Now, who are you going to believe, those people who didn’t even set foot in Mindanao or me? Blades is not exclusive for kali men, since in eskrima or arnis blades are used too. Luzon also use the word eskrima, estoque, estocada, baston and garrote. Technically speaking there’s no difference between eskrima and arnis.
N: They say that bladed weapon training in eskrima is classical while kali is ancient
B: What’s that suppose to mean? So how do we know it’s classical or ancient?
N: Classical style shout, “touche’!” while in ancient stylists, “hala bira!”
B: Crazy, di ba Ne’? They cannot even describe to us the technical difference between classical and ancient. What about modern?
N: Modern—has back-up music, usually the Enter the Dragon or Eye of the Tiger…. So why are a few eskrimadors getting rich while others remain poor?
B: Let me put this bluntly… the rich ones have more brains than pangamut, the poor ones have more skills than pangotok. The rich ones—they organize events and hire the poor ones to impress the foreigners with their skills. Ne’, eskrimadors are not created equal.
N: So there’s really money in eskrima huh?
B: You bet! Do you know how much is the 28-inch rattan costs in the States., Ne’? Where do you think I get the money for my beer? I charge 900 dollars per head for my two-week intensives. But Ne’ I am the kind who doesn’t short change a student. It is just fortunate I can speak straight carabao English – I didn’t need an interpreter or a middleman.
N: How did they get your name?
B: Si Tito, my grandson, he made a website about me…that’s where they get my name and contact number. When your business is not in the Internet, then you’re out of business. This is reality. At least a few souls will have a chance to learn and know the undiluted eskrima. This is my contribution.
N: But Nong Bitoy, it is not fair, we know that two weeks of training is not enough.
B: True, very true…but who among these puti are willing to train longer? They are always in ahurry to go home and open their own school to make money! We know that they’re used to instant gratification…instant coffee, instant certification, picture taking…they are more ready to take video shots than to train physically.
N: It is healthier than to expose their flesh to your olisi…So how do they address you, Master?
B: Some master, yes…some think I am Chinese, so they call me sifu.
N: Datu Bitoy?
B: Lakan, datu, sultan. O, these people made these noble titles appear very cheap. Just imagine, there was one couple, they called me, professor…Ne’, I am just a high school graduate.
N: So when are you going to stop teaching eskrima, so that they can call you professor emeritus?
B: I really don’t understand what you are talking about.
N: Can I interview you next time Rapid Journal, Nong Bits?
B: Ah don’t bother, Ne’, just jot down all the things I said awhile ago…your readers will learn many things. So excuse me kay mangihi ko.