Thursday, August 5, 2010

GM Abraham T. Gubaton: The Grand Patriarch of Oido de Caburata Arnis Group (ODCA) By: James U. Sy Jr.

One of the oldest active Arnis grandmasters in Negros Island had just turned 82 recently. The Core Group of Conceptual Martial Arts Society (CMAS), Inc., had started documenting the art and life of this man way back in 2005. With this write up, it is my hope to make the public aware that this man had kept alive a uniquely Negrosanon system of Arnis which was founded in 1936. He has a lineage that goes back to the Founder of Oido de Caburata.

Abraham Tacio Gubaton was born as the second child of Mateo Bubida Gubaton and Consolacion Tacio on July 6, 1928 in Ma-ao, Bago City. His other siblings (in descending order) are Esther, Napoleon, Nathan, Elojiah “Monina,” the twins Manuel and Emmanuel, Sabas, and George. The elder Gubaton studied Arnis under the professor of Bentong Fejedero. Nathan, Abraham, the twins, and Sabas would later study Arnsi themselves.

Abraham Gubaton started studying Arnis in 1946, when he was 18, under his brother-in-law, Gimeno Tiboso, who taught him the Espada y Daga method. At that time Gubaton was employed as an encargado “caretaker” of Woodrow Araneta in Hda. Marcaban in Bo. Ma-ao, Bago City. He studied under Tiboso for 2 years. Gubaton was obliged to study Arnis because the haciendas were a melting pot of people of different characters and temperament. Conflicts were quite common then and as caretaker he is expected to resolve any situation at hand.

Gubaton went on to study with some other arnisadors, mostly using Espada y Daga method. He also studied Saber Foil from Grandmaster Claro Alvarez, who was a relative to the Yasays and Suarezes, families who are proficient in that particular form of Arnis. He learned from Alvarez sometime in 1952, 1953, or 1954, paying P120.00/month for lessons.

One event that changed his perception of the methodo style of Arnis was when Gubaton had an exchange of blows with another bastonero who was using the Oido style. After the bout he sought out Jose D. Aguilar for instructions in Oido de Caburata Arnis. During their return bout, Gubaton defeated the Arnisador who previously beat him.

Grandmaster Jose D. Aguilar was himself a former Espada y Daga exponent. He had eight or nine professors before he met and exchanged blows with Grandmaster Antonio “Toñing” Tolosa of Minoyan, Murcia, the Founder of Oido de Caburata Arnis. GM Tolosa broke Aguilar’s hand with one strike. Aguilar went on to study under GM Tolosa.

Tolosa started his studies of Espada y Daga with his kumpare Ireneo Dulman of Murcia. After he completed the course, they closed the house and had a bout. They both had welts and bruises afterwards. This made Tolosa think deeply about the efficiency of what he has learned. Then one time, an unnamed friend of his got in a fight with an unruly group of men. His friend used a caburata to fight them off.

Tolosa was impressed by what he saw and borrowed the caburata the next day and practiced with it. When he perfected it, he translated the movements of the caburata into the stick in 1936, thereby giving birth to Oido de Caburata Arnis. Oido is a Spanish word which means “by the ear” and is used in colloquial language to mean “to play without notes“ as in the case of a piano or a guitar. In Arnis parlance, Oido denotes the absence of a numbered pattern which is common with most systems of Arnis/Eskrima now taught. Caburata, of course, refers to the flexible weapon which was once used by the now defunct Philippine Constabulary (PC).

Arnisadors who are not familiar with Oido de Caburata movements find it awkward and ineffective but it is this characteristic that makes it a powerful and formidable fighting system. A caburata, being flexible, can go around blocks and this characteristic has been integrated into the stick.

Aguilar was one of the first few who GM Tolosa taught, the others being Felmo and Welmo Conanan, Jose Dulman, Pakingking, and Salos. A later batch in 1953 included Ricardo Diaz, Abraham Gubaton, Sabas Gubaton, Bonifcaio Tolosa, and Comploso Tolosa

Master Gubaton studied under GM Aguilar for three years. He invited GM Aguilar to live with his family so he had access to uninterrupted instruction. The Gubatons had a small parcel of land and livestock. All Aguilar and Gubaton did all day was practice Arnis. Later, Master Gubaton continued his studies with his uncle, the Founder himself, Grandmaster Antonio “Toñing” Tolosa for seven more years.

Oido de Caburata although founded in 1936 was in constant development. GM Gubaton narrated that since GM Tolosa’s strikes were very powerful, he had to develop effective defenses against those strikes. These defenses were developed later in the evolution of Oido de Caburata and were taught to Grandmaster Abraham T. Gubaton.

GM Gubaton started teaching Oido de Caburata in 1975. In 1977, Federico “Peding” Abendan, an uncle and student of GM Gubaton, developed the long stick fighting style Backhand, which Fr. Jerson Balitor later baptized to Hagbas bugang. The Backhand was another step in the evolution of Oido de Caburata and later also laid the foundation for Original Filipino Tapado, founded by Grandmaster Romeo “Nono” C. Mamar of Brgy. Taloc, Bago City, another powerful long stickfighting art from Bago City.

Most of Oido practitioners can trace their line back to GM Gubaton. Different interpretations and offshoots of Oido de Caburata had surfaced. According to GM Gubaton, he had taught the bunal “strikes” to outsiders but not the defenses, which he maintains for his family. I am thankful for GM Gubaton for making me understand this point during my last visit. Without the explanation it is very hard, if not impossible, to understand what he meant. He cites his brother Grandmaster Sabas T. Gubaton, the Chief Instructor of the Oido de Caburata Arnis Group (ODCA), as an example; he explained the real essence of the art to him only when he was already 65.

GM Gubaton has seven children with his wife Exaltacion, namely Grace, Jonathan, Joseph, Janet, Julius, Ferdinand, and Job. Jonathan, Ferdinand, and Job had dedicated themselves to the study of their father’s art.

The Oido de Caburata Arnis Group (ODCA) was organized in 1985 but it was in 1995 when the group got the big boost it needed when Fr. Jerson Balitor joined. Fr. Balitor, then the Parish Priest in Brgy. Ma-ao, helped the Gubaton grandmasters organize themselves and document their and their art’s history. Fr. Balitor arranged for ODCA to be featured in the documentary The Stickfighters of Buenos Aires by W.G. Productions and Art Vision which was aired over at Negros Progress Channel 17. Fr. Balitor had also helped ODCA to organize its annual General assembly. Starting 2005, the Gubatons were also featured in the local newspapers and in 2009 in Rapid Journal by the Conceptual Martial Arts Society Documentation Team.

GM Abraham Gubaton had taught many Arnisadors in their locality. Even Americans traveled to Ma-ao, just to train with him and GM Sabas. The Americans, led by couple Guro Mike and May Williams of the Martial Arts Research Institute (Boston), train with the Gubaton brothers every other year. May Williams was a native of Ma-ao and is currently the only certified Instructor of Oido de Caburata in the US.

The Gubatons had also taught Arnis to brgy. tanods on April 17-May 8, 2005 for the Brgy. Don Jorge L. Araneta Barangay Public Safety Officers (BPSO) Self Defense Training.