Friday, June 1, 2012

Futile Search for Kali in the Indigenous Chronicles of Jovito Abellana

Retracing our Past on Pandan Leaves – Pre-colonial Cebu
            Legends and myth have been told about how the ancient name of Cebu City or as some old timers fondly call Sugbo originated.  None of these versions so far have held up to the scrutiny scholars and historians until Jovito Abellana published his book Bisaya Patronymesis Sri Visjaya where he extensively wrote about Aginid, Bayok sa atong Tawarik (Glide on, Odes to our History)[1].  The Aginid a discovery made by Jovito Abellana’s great grandfather is probably the only pre-colonial chronicle of the history of Cebu written in ancient alibata script on pandan leaves and other indigenous materials.  Unfortunately most of the materials were lost in the subsequent upheaval that followed the Spanish defeat by Cebuano guerillas and the ensuing Filipino American War.

                Amidst strong support by some scholars to institutionalize the Aginid, the Cebu Normal University published it in 1998.  Abellana wrote it in alibata (Cebuano hieroglyphic) form with an English translation.    The Aginid tells of the fiery story of pre-colonial Cebu then known as Sugbo – which means scorched earth.  This version on the origins of Sugbo, is important as it establishes the basic hypothesis why eskrima was invented in the first place – in defense against Moro invaders.  And to add credence to the discovery of the Aginid by Jovito Abellana, other cognates of the word Sugbo can be found in the Cebuano lexicon such as: sugba – to grill, subu’ – to forge steel, sug-ang – set a cooking fire, sugnod – to burn. 

                Let us go back to the story of how Sugbo got its name.  In the olden times Sugbo (now present day Cebu City) was part of the island of Pulua Kang Dayang or Kangdaya.  The ancient poem Diyandi tells us that so many hundred years ago natives had burned the town Sugbo as a way to drive away Muslim invaders from Mindanao.  The natives would then flee to the mountains and later launch a counter offensive against the demoralized and exhausted invaders.  The first ruler of Sugbo Sri Lumay who came from Sumatra successfully repulsed the invaders with his scorched earth tactics.  Thus the place became known as Sugbo or scorched town. Jovito Abellana translated the Diyandi which was written in ancient alibata script and probably written during the time of Datu Tupas.  It is a stirring chronicle of the story of the rich culture and colorful history of  pre-colonial Cebu.

Aginid, Bayok sa Atong Tawarik (Glide on, Odes to Our History)

                Extracted from Marivir Montebon’s book Retracing Our Roots – A Journey into Cebu’s Pre-Colonial Past[2] are excerpts of the story of pre-colonial Cebu according to the Aginid,  Bayok sa atong Tawarik (Glide on, Odes to Our History) as translated by Jovito Abellana:
                “Sri Lumay of Sumatra settled in Sugbo with his son, Sri Alho, ruling the south known as Sialo which included Valladolid, Carcar, up to Santander.
                His other son, Sri Ukob, ruled the north known as Nahalin which includes the present towns of Consolacion, Liloan, Compostela, Danao, Carmen, and Bantayan.
                As a ruler, Sri Lumay was known to be strict, merciless, and brave.  He assigned magalamags to teach his people to read and write ancient letterings.  He ordered routinary patrol by boats from Nahalin to Sialo by his mangubats (warriors). 
                Although a strict ruler, Sri Lumay was a loving person that not a single slave ran away from him.
                During his reign, the Magalos (literally destroyers of peace) who came from Southern Mindanao from time to time invaded the island to loot and hunt for slaves.
                Sri Lumay commanded to burn the town each time the southerners came to drive them away empty handed.  Later, they fought these Magalos (Moro raiders) so that they leave the town for good.
                The town was thus permanently called Kang Sri Lumayng Sugbo, or Sri Lumay’s scorched town.
                Trading was vibrantly carried on by Sri Lumay’s people with merchants from China, Japan, India, and Burma in Parian, located at the northeastern part of the city.
                The archipelago was strategically positioned in southeast Asia that it naturally became part of the trade route of the ancient world.
                Agricultural products were bartered for Chinese silk cloths, bells, porcelain wares, iron tools, oil lamps, and medicinal herbs.  From Japan, perfume and glass utensils were usually traded with native goods.  Ivory products, leather, precious and semi-precious stones, and sarkara (sugar) mostly came from the Burmese and Indian traders.
                Sri Lumay was killed in one of the battles against the magalos and was succeeded by his youngest son Sri Bantug who ruled Singhapala (Mabolo district today).
                Bantug carried on his father’s rules throughout his reign.  He organized umalahukans (reporters) to urge people in Nahalin and Sialo to obey his orders, especially on agricultural production and defense.
                During Sri Bantug’s time, Sugbo, Nahalin, and Sialo thrived on subsistence, sel-sufficient economy.  He died in an epidemic which spread in the island and was succeeded by his youngest son Sri Humabon.
                Under Humabon, the sibo or sibu in Parian became more progressive.  Here, the “sinibuayng hingpit” (meaning a place for full trade) was carried on.  The word Cebu is thus coined from the old word sibo, an old word for barter, trade, swap.
                At this time, Lapulapu Dimantag arrived from Borneo and asked Humabon for a place to settle.  Being an orang laut (man of the sea), Humabon offered the Opong island but Lapulapu was later convinced to settle in Mandawili (now Mandaue) and make the land productive because it was impossible to cultivate food crops in Opong because of its rocky terrain.
                Under Lapulapu’s leadership, trading in Parian further flourished because of the goods which he brought from the land and sea in northern Cebu.  It did not take long though that his relationship with Humabon turned hostile.
                Lapulapu eventually became a mangatang (pirate) who ordered his men to loot ships that pass by Opong island.  This had lowered the trading transactions in Parian, thus creating tension between Humabon and Lapulapu.
                Opong island thus earned the ill-reputed name mangatang which later evolved into the word Mactan.
                In 1521, the Spanish conquistadors came to the Visayan shore.  Humabon thought that they came to Cebu to establish ties with his kingdom as did the other traders from Asia.
                The blood compact between him and the Spaniards and later, a mass baptismal, all meant to signify goodwill as far as Humabon was concerned.
                But the Spaniards did not see it that way.  For them, it was the start of the colonization of the island, signified by the planting of the cross.  It was only a little later that Humabon realized this.
                With the baptismal, Humabon’s subjects embraced a religion which they vaguely understood and without knowing that they had been converted at all, or so the Aginid said.
                Known to be a wily man, Humabon encouraged the Spaniards to fight Lapulapu, his enemy.  Thus the battle of Mactan.
                Lapulapu proved to be a true warrior in that battle.  He instructed his men not to waste their spears and bolos on the Spaniards.  Instead, he taught them to strike with pestle or with a club so that when the armor coat of the ugis (white man) is dented, the man inside can never move.  It was when they should hit hard with their keen tools for warfare.
                Humabon’s men merely observed the battle but helped in putting back the wounded white men in their boats.  Lapulapu, who was also wounded, lost 29 men.
                The Aginid narrated that while the battle of Mactan raged on, the Spaniards who remained in Sugbo raped the women.  This angered Humabon but he remained outwardly polite as he carefully planned his revenge.
                The chief prepared a feast for the Spaniards by the beach.  When the white men were drunk enough, the natives began to slaughter them.  A few managed to escape and return to the three ships, the Concepcion, the Trinidad and the Victoria.
                Since the Spaniards were considerably reduced in number, those in the Concepcion transferred to the other two ships.  Later, the natives set the Concepcion on fire off the sea of Bu-ol (Bohol).
                After the Spaniards left, the natives uprooted the cross which Magellan had planted annd returned to their animistic religious practices.
                It was replanted later, upon the plea of Humabon’s wife Juana who, according to the poem, acted on her constant dream of a boy child who asked her to put up the cross again.
                When Humabon’s wife found out that the boy in her dreams had the same image of the infant Jesus Christ the Spaniards gave her during baptismal, Humabon obliged to replant the cross.  Thereafter, the dream no longer recurred.
                In the succeeding years, Humabon and Lapulapu rekindled their friendship.  Lapulapu decided to return to Borneo with three of his wives, 11 of his children and 17 of his men.  Humabon thus ruled a much larger area than before.
                After Humabon, Sri Tupas reigned.  He was the son of Sri Parang, Humabons’ elder brother who could not rule because he was limp.
                During the time of Tupas, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi came to Cebu, and another era of fierce battle ensued.
                With Legazpi at the helm, Cebu and the entire archipelago were subdued by the Spanish crown for more than three hundred years, in the name of Christianity.”

Postscripts on the Battle of Mactan

                This excerpt from the Aginid is presented not to emphasize the battle of Mactan or the so-called “kali” prowess of Lapulapu as what most of the kali advocates would want us to be believe, but rather to highlight the narrative of Magalos (Moro) raids in Cebu and the rest of the coastal villages throughout the archipelago in pre-Hispanic times.  While indeed there is graphic description of strategy deployed by Lapulapu, nonetheless it is not conclusive evidence to prove the existence of kali a highly sophisticated martial art that was supposed to be the mother of modern eskrima, arnis and estokada.  Moreover, of the 60 soldiers that waded ashore on that fateful day only 9 were killed alongside their leader Magellan versus more than 1,000 men of Lapulapu.  Pigafetta probably padded the figures of Lapulapu’s strength to save face in this debacle.  Nonetheless, Magellan’s men whether they were grossly outnumbered or not had to maneuver the sharp coral embedded shores of Mactan, most of them malnourished and sick after several months at sea. The arquebuses they carried were practically unreliable after prolonged exposure to the elements - salt water, humidity, and corrosion; they would not have made an effective equalizer against the primitive warriors of Lapulapu.  To imagine that more than three quarters of them survived the “battle”, is either a testament of the Spaniards’ fighting prowess despite overwhelming odds or a proof of how sloppy Lapulapu’s men were?  Definitely it wasn’t a classic one on one fracas as dramatized in the annual reenactment called Kadaugan sa Mactan (Victory in Mactan) festivities celebrated by the people of Lapulapu City to commemorate this event. 

 Did Lapulapu practice a martial art? Definitely, but not kali, maybe an embryonic and primitive form of weapons combat but absolutely not a fighting art anywhere close to present day eskrima.  Eskrima, arnis and estokada that we know today will not achieve the zenith of its technical development and sophistication until the year 1635 during the administration of Don Sebastian Hurtado de Corcuera.   

Searching for the Kali Connection in Folk Epics

Aside from the Aginid other folk epics exists that left behind a rich legacy of tales that recount the adventures and bravery of tribal heroes, customs and traditions and the practice of an earlier animist religion.   These arduously long epics are expressed in song and poetry and in some cases would take more than a month to perform. These epics remained unwritten because chanting is the mode by which these have been produced and passed on from one generation to the next. They portray tribal society before the coming of the Muslims (1380) and the Christians (1521) and serve as vehicles for the transmission of tribal customs and wisdom. Meaning if one wants to learn things in the past, like kali, these epics may provide information. There is no mention of kali practiced by the hero in Biag ni Lam-ang.  Likewise the hero Aliguyon of the epic Hudhud did not practice kali.  There is also no mention of  kali in Labaw Donggon of the Sulod (in Panay, where kali was supposed to be taught in bothoan schools- already proven a fake by William Henry Scott), the Ulahingan of the Manobos, the Sandayo of the Subanon (Zamboanga peninsula) and the Darangen of the Maranaos. 

Like the Aginid there is no dearth of information if we are to dig deeper into pre-historic myths and legends through these epics, in fact, the Humadapnon, one of the longer of the epics, takes two months to be chanted in its entire length. Thus if kali really existed, then there is a high probability that one can find and read/hear the word kali, in these many epics.  There is none!

However, there is one traditional wedding dance called the Solili in the island of Siquijor (southwest of Cebu) which dates back more than a hundred years and still performed today that incorporates certain elements of stick fighting in its choreography.  But sorry to disappoint the kali believers, the Siquijornons call it eskrima!

Following the battle of Mactan, textbook history later recounts that the vanquished Spaniards returned with one ship the Concepcion with the remnants of Magellan's expedition under Sebastian del Cano, proving for the first time, that the earth is round.

The Second Spanish Invasion – Recruitment of Cebuano warriors

“The second Spanish expedition to the Philippines headed by Miguel Lopez de Legaspi and Andres de Urdaneta reached Cebu on 27 April 1565. As in the earlier experience, the native reception of Legaspi was initially amiable with a blood compact with Sikatuna, chieftain of Bohol. Later, Tupas, son and successor of Humabon, battled with the Spaniards who easily killed some 2,000 warriors, who were equipped merely with wood corselets and rope armor, lances, shields, small cutlasses, arrows, and decorative headgear. Their native boats "built for speed and maneuverability, not for artillery duels" (Scott 1982:26) were no match to Spain's three powerful warships. Legaspi, accompanied by four Agustinians, built the fort of San Miguel on 8 May 1565. This was the first permanent Spanish settlement in the archipelago. Tupas signed a treaty tantamount to submission on 3 Jul 1565 for which he was given 13 m of brown damask. On 21 May 1568, shortly before his death, Tupas was baptized by Fr. Diego de Herrera- an event which propagandized Spanish rule. On 1 Jan 1571, the settlement was renamed the Ciudad del Santissimo Nombre de Jesus (City of the Most Holy Name of Jesus) in honor of the image of the Child Jesus found in an unburned house in the wake of the Spanish invasion of 1565 (the site of the present Augustinian Church). It was believed to be a relic of Magellan's expedition, the same one given to "Queen Juana" upon her baptism. Cebu was the capital of the Spanish colony for six years before its transfer to Panay and then to Manila. Many Cebu warriors were recruited by Legaspi, Goiti, and Salcedo to conquer the rest of the country. ”[3]

The foregoing account by Gwendolyn Ting is self-explanatory if we are to find a direct link of the strong Spanish influence on eskrima among the early Cebuano warriors. When Legaspi moved the capital to Manila, the Moro pirate attacks on Sugbo and outlying coastal villages from Oslob and Moalboal in the south up to the Bantayan group of islands in the north intensified.   The Cebuanos sans the aid of colonial firepower once again had to fend for themselves to protect their coastal villages against the Moros of Mindanao.   It wasn’t until sixty years later under the command of Spanish Captain Juan de Chavez that the Cebuanos turned the tables around as invaders when 1,000 Creole Spanish speaking volunteer warriors set sail for Mindanao to build a permanent fortification in Zamboanga.  Never in the history of Spanish colonization had their been a recruitment of a native warrior class with such high morale motivated by only one thing – revenge!  This was to be the turning point in the innovation and development of the deadly art of eskrima and the introduction of the Chavacano language in Zamboanga.

Jovito Abellana: Cebuano Renaissance Man:

                Jovito Abellana is the quientessential Cebuano a renaissance man who once dabbled in sculpture, painting, was a prolific playright, historian, poet and eskrimador. “His contemporaries were painters Teofilo Abellana, Lucas Perez of Cabancalan, Mandaue and Jose Trinidad Alcoseba, patriarch of the Alcoseba Art clan.”[4] The antiquarian was born of humble background on February 15, 1907 to the large Abellana clan of Mambaling in the district of San Nicolas.

                His early passion for history was inspired by his maternal grandfather Eulogio Sanchez.  The floods and rain that battered their ancestral home in Mambaling destroyed many of the written documents that his grandfather left him.  Fortunately the Aginid was one of those documents that were spared by the floods.  The Aginid written in Cebuano hieroglyphic (alibata) was probably the most priceless inheritance that Abellana acquired from his great grandfather.

Jose Vano a close associate and a resident of Parian one of the earliest commercial hubs of colonial Cebu, gave Abellana documents to attest to the authenticity of the Aginid. 

                Jovito Abellana comes from a pedigree of writers, patriots and politicians and raised by a family with a modest means.  His mother Maria Sanchez was a well-known dressmaker of Cebu’s elite matronas. Jovito’s father Gregorio was also a writer and among his most notable works was Ang Kagubot sa Sugbo batok sa Katsila  in the magazine Bag-ong Kusog where he gave a first-hand account of the anti-Spanish war headed by Pantaleon Villegas a.ka. Leon Kilat and General Arcadio Maxilom.  Gregorio was orphaned at a young age and was adopted by the frailes.  He experienced the harsh cruelty of his foster parents that eventually compelled him to join the rebel movement.[5]

                During the Philippine American war in 1898 Gregorio Abellana served as first lieutenant of the Fifth Company of the First Reserve Battalion under the command of Lt. Col. Nemesio Maxilom.while his brother Andres was Commandant and Chief of Arms in the Second Regular Battalion.   After the war Andres Abellana became municipal councilor in the first American sponsored local elections.[6]

In one of those rare occasions that Mr. Abellana accomodated an interview by members of the Cebu Eskrima Society led by Al Cuizon, the patriarch of Cebuano history and language intimated that he was once an active practitioner of eskrima and even had plans to write a treatise on the indigenous Cebuano Martial Art that was supposed to be entitled Pagpanalipud sa Kaugalingon.  The project was shelved in lieu of other priorities such as the documentation and translation of the classic epic Aginid, Bayok sa atong Tawarik.  He also confirmed what we have always been eager to hear from a man of impeccable integrity and values - there was no kali in Pre-Hispanic Cebu.


[1] Page 15, Retracing our Roots, A Journey into Cebu’s Pre-colonial Past by Marivir Montebon
[2] pages 17,18,19 Retracing our Roots -  A Journey into Cebu’s Pre-Colonial Past by Marivir Montebon
[4] page B1 Local Art Hero, Life & Leisure, Sun Star Daily December 2, 2003 by Ritchie Landis Doner Quijano
[5] pages 20-21 Retracing our Roots – A Journey into Cebu’s Precolonial and Colonial Past by Marivir Montebon
[6] pages 91, 92, 150 The War against the Americans by Resil Mojares

Tachypsychia: A Tale of Fight or Flight (A Rapid Journal Article)

A Tale of Fight or Flight
By: Celestino C. Macachor  

It was 4 o’ clock dawn on September 9, 1982 when I made a final check of my usual provisions consisting of two packs dice hopia, 4 tetra packs of Magnolia Chocolait, an ice bucket and a water jug. A pair of 20K veteran Saucony running shoes was on top of my checklist along with the rest of my survival kit that included a 14-inch pinuti and an heirloom .32 caliber Walther Model PP concealed under the seat cushion of the company car assigned to me. There were only four of us Sales Reps then covering North Mindanao that was then still a part of Cebu Sales Office. Al Santos covered Cagayan de Oro, Cas Jaldo in Iligan / Bukidnon area, the inimitable Vir Yu covered Misamis Occidental/Zamboanga provinces, and I covering the four Agusan / Surigao provinces now known as the Caraga Region.

I started covering the area on May 15, 1981.
This day, I was supposed to work in Surigao City, but since the schedule coincided with the city’s Fiesta celebration I had to divert my route to Tandag, Surigao del Sur. As a security precaution and in order to avoid the hassle and risks of retaining cash collections overnight, I usually defer coverage of towns during local holidays such as Fiestas when all banks are closed.

A five-hour drive to Tandag is grueling and there is always the ever-present danger of traveling roughly 300 kilometers over four provinces with cavernous rain forests, serpentine dirt roads and hundreds of dilapidated bridges. Due to the rough terrain and ages of government neglect, the area is a haven for NPA rebels and is teeming with an assortment of the meanest ugliest bad guys of your worst nightmare - from lost command mercenaries, renegade soldiers, armed fanatical cults to plain bandits.

I hit the road at 4:20 a.m. after a routine engine check of my 5-year old Toyota Land Cruiser. I inherited this trusty four-wheel drive from four previous assignees. A few months earlier, I replaced the corner window on the right rear side when a stray bullet shattered it clean through - barely grazed my right cheek and whizzed through the open driver’s window. This incident took place while I was slowly negotiating the rotunda of Bayugan, Agusan del Sur. A motley group of tipsy armed men at El Estrano Carenderia randomly took pot shots at whoever drove by. Badly shaken during this close call, I quickly pulled over the parking lot of Bayugan William Marketing and requested for a glass of water from Ester Burreros, the owner. Ester was horrified at the sight of the bullet’s entry point on the vehicle’s window. She confirmed that indiscriminate firing by gunmen at the El Estrano Restaurant occurred almost daily and suggested that I report the incident to the local police. But I was more in a hurry to reach my next coverage rather than file a futile complaint to the inept local police and drove on.

I realized that some soul-searching was in order after this near fatal experience. But still single and adventurous at 28 years old, nothing of the “Hallelujah, Praise the Lord” sort of spiritual renewal came to my wits. Yes, I did went to church, thank the Lord and observed the usual rituals, but the “bad-grass don’t die early” mentality was the more comforting explanation for my survival and my fixation for retribution and payback was the overwhelming motivation to keep covering the area despite the potential risks. That explains the Walther Model PP tucked safely under my seat.

It was quarter to five as I winded along the borders of Antongalon and Ampayon, the last two barangays of Butuan City - my home base. Nights are longer than days at the start of the “-ber” months. The dawn mists and thousands of “kamikaze” insects were in head on collision with my headlights. I felt guilty at the senseless carnage of these tiny bugs; I was an intruder in their nocturnal domain and my driving a fast Land Cruiser at this hour disrupted the process of natural selection. Tandag was more than four hours away yet. In this troubled area, such mundane activity as taking a leak is a security concern. I had to wait for the early streaks of sunrise to give me a 200-meter visibility before pulling over and relieving myself on the periphery of a vast rice field. It was a chilly September morning, the fog right in front of my face thickened as I sprinkled the moist carabao grass on the curb. “What a feeling!” I hummed softly Irene Cara’s Flashdance song while scouring my surroundings for anything suspicious. But for one brief moment I put my guards down, as I marveled at the tangerine skies reflecting on the paddies that came straight out of an Amorsolo masterpiece.

Butuan Valley faded from view and the landscape was now dominated by what remained of the majestic Toog trees that dotted the marshlands of Agusan del Sur. The site of the rotunda in Bayugan still gave me the chills; I slowed down at El Estrano to check for any unruly activity. There was none. The time was 5:30 a.m. and not a soul was awake at this early. Personally this town is a jinx. Every time I pass by Barangay Osmena about 2 km from the rotunda, it always reminded of another accident back in March 8, 1978 while I was still a salesman of Pharma Industries. There was a slight drizzle while I was trying to catch up for lunch with Gingging Momongan and Al Quinanola who were waiting for me in San Francisco the next town some 40 kms. away. In one of those accident-prone areas along the highway the Volkswagen car I was driving went out of control and fell on a 20-ft. ravine. The car turned turtle three times then rolled upright again and continued to skid toppling several banana trees before coming to a full stop. Except for a contusion on my thighs caused by my entire bodyweight resting on the steering wheel, I was virtually unscathed. “Bad grass...” well, now I know better with a renewed faith!

At around 6 a.m. I was already in Prosperidad cruising at a top speed of 120 kms. per hour. I pulled out a cold pack of Magnolia Chocolait from the ice bucket and started munching four pieces of dice hopia. That was my breakfast for the day. There was practically no time for a hot breakfast stop and I had to eat early since rough terrain was less than an hour’s drive away. The paved roads end in Barobo the next town after the San Francisco junction. Unlike Bayugan, which is pre-dominantly Boholano/Cebuano in ethnicity, San Francisco is an Ilonggo dominated town. This area gained international notoriety in the March 1982 issue of Newsweek magazine entitled Charlie’s Deadly Angels. Charlie is Col. Carlos Lademora an Ilonggo from Panay Island and leader of a band of former PC regulars and veterans of the Ilaga-Barracuda wars of the 1970s. They are popularly known in the area as the “lost command”. His group once operated around Cotabato provinces and fought fiercely with MNLF separatists. Up until the early eighties Col. Lademora and his “lost command” skirmished with NPA rebels in Agusan - Surigao provinces.

I remember meeting Col. Lademora while on relief assignment in September 1980 at the Esfa Beach Resort in Maasin, Leyte. Bebut Bernades and I have just finished our turnover at around six in the evening. Sales colleagues Jun Sembrano, Al Quinanola, Louie Libarios were also there enjoying the all-time favorite sutokil (sugba-tuwa-kilaw). Moments later, Col. Lademora arrived in a blue Toyota Tamaraw with an entourage of heavily armed men. He seemed to be a well-mannered officer with several strands of gray hair. At that time I guess he was probably in his late fifties. We tried to invite him to share kinilaw with us, he hesitated for a few minutes but joined the fray only after tying around his forehead a white bandana printed with what looked like Latin and Arabic inscriptions. His partly exposed chest was bedecked with an assortment of animal fangs, beads and a large medallion of St. Joseph and the Child Jesus. The colonel ascribed his invulnerability in several encounters to the power of his anting-anting. He packed a 1911 .45 caliber pistol in shiny mother-of-pearl grip. “Ladi” as some people fondly call him was having a fever, right by his side was a lieutenant, his personal doctor who was taking his temperature. We were a little wary of a jittery Commander Jessie seated on another table whose eyes were constantly sizing up all of us. After the customary introductions, he felt comfortable with our presence and continued reading the book Mossad.

The tough and charismatic colonel narrated to us his life story and lectured us on the evils of communism. To our delight he chronicled the Biblical and modern day military history of Israel until late in the evening. I presumed the Mossad (Israeli Intelligence) book commander Jessie was so engrossed with must be the Colonel’s collection. Early dawn the following day they checked out of the resort and we learned later that they took a ferry to Surigao via Liloan and went back to their base in San Francisco. A few days later, the newspapers reported a massacre of an entire barrio in Samar known to be sympathetic to NPA rebels allegedly by Charlie’s Deadly Angels.

Beneath the charisma, many believed that Col. Lademora was a ruthless man who had no qualms dispatching people who stood in his way. His ideology is a distorted mix of communist phobia and esoteric Christian-animist beliefs. Charlie’s Angels provided security to the Malaysian owned Guthrie Palm Oil Company and sowed terror in Agusan del Sur and Surigao del Sur provinces.

At around 6:30 a.m. I was already in Tambis, a gold rich Barangay between San Francisco and Barobo. This little community used to be the hub of gold panning activities by small time operators until the lost command took over the concession through terror, intimidation and murder. I drove slowly trying to single out the tiny hut made of falcata barks where several months ago I witnessed a heart wrenching tug-of-war between a hysterical wife trying to pull his husband. from two armed men who were forcibly dragging the terrified man from his house. Moments after I drove past the fleeting drama as it unfolded from the view of my Land Cruiser, a short burst of automatic fire rang out. As I glimpsed at the rear view mirror, the poor man was already slumped lifeless a few meters from his house. I have seen the worst in man’s inhumanity to man in Mindanao.

I had to slow down near the narrow Barobo junction at around 6:45 am and maintained a horse’s gaze to avoid eye contact with potential hitchhikers. I had a toggle switch installed inconspicuously that I could turn on and off with my left knee to fake engine trouble. It was at this junction that I was once stopped by this ugly Rambo wannabe with bandoliers of M-60 ammo and hand grenades that slung around his body like Rosary beads. The toggle switch “conked out” the engine and to my relief “Sylvester Stallone” got off grumbling and looked for another ride to hitch. I discovered this method to discourage hitchhikers and carjackers. At a checkpoint in Barrio Bayabas another hitchhiker who I mistook for a military man was clever enough to flag me down with his Army boots. When I asked him his unit, “CAT lang ko Sir!” he replied politely. “Oh, really, so you must be very well trained OK, jump you @#$%#&^ ! “ I fumed at the idiot as I slowed down to 30 kph. I looked back at the rear view mirror and saw him dusting off his shirt after rolling like a stone on the curb.

Typical of most towns in Agusan and Surigao provinces, Barobo is reminiscent of an Old West frontier town where armed men roam the streets freely. It is a crossroad where all sorts of characters congregate, some to trade their gold, some to sell goods, some are just plain predators hunting for potential victims to rob. The makeshift flea market stalls clogged the narrow junction. Turning to the right leads to Mangagoy-Davao, I turned to the left and proceeded to Tandag. My alert level was up beyond Barobo; the intervals of towns are few and far between. Skirmishes between the military and the NPA reach fever pitch during this season where the roads are at their worst condition. At this time of the year the monsoon rains are heavier than anywhere else and continues until April. The resulting flooding and erosion batter the roads that slow down travel and worse accelerate deterioration of vehicles. The potholes were bone jarring and the swollen rivers and their tributaries are forever altering the landscape.

I developed good survival instincts in my travels to the hinterlands of Carraga Region. In the war zone I tone down the radio, turn-off the air conditioner and heighten my senses. Keeping all your senses keen could spell the difference between life and death. With windows opened one can smell the toxic burning tires a hundred meters away which serve as an early warning of a fresh ambush. The dead silence after an ambush can be deceiving. A firefight lull could last one or two minutes, and one or two minutes is a lot of time if you happen to be speeding just at the exact moment when all hell breaks loose again between the warring sides - if you get caught in a crossfire, you’re dead meat! Quick reflexes and experience saved Sales Rep Ben Sun and Supervisor Jun Sembrano from being caught in the middle of an ambush on their way to the Iron Mountain one April day in 1989. At a blind curve, Ben barely had time to react to a V-150 APC backing frantically in front of his car while its .50 caliber machine gun was blasting away rebel positions from a hilltop. Ben later joked that he has already driven his Lancer backward at 120 kph. Jun Sembrano swore, “We’ve gone through floods and ambush in just one day! I will never go back again to that God forsaken place!”

Due to government restrictions, logging which used to be the number one industry in the area has been banned. However, illegal logging continues unabated in collusion with corrupt politicians, DNER personnel and military -police officials. Lianga turned like a ghost town when the biggest logging firm an American owned Lianga Bay Logging Company trimmed down its operation of their remaining concessions. Many former employees joined the NPA and some resorted to plain banditry. Passing by Lianga, I remember a fairly upbeat town back in 1977 while I was still a drug salesman. The lodging house that served succulent lobsters for dinner was almost crumbling. The sign of Dr. Aranas clinic just below it is fading and I learned later he died of a heart attack.

After several carefully planned leak and stretch stops I was finally at the junction of Tago and Tandag. I made my first call at the only customer in Tago, which is about 10 kms. from Tandag. It was already 11:35 in the morning at the outskirts of Tandag when I sensed unusual sounds of activity and the heavy traffic of vehicles and people out on the streets. And to my horror, the big streamer across the street confirmed one of my worse fears: “WELCOME TO TANDAG TOWN FIESTA SEPT.8-9, 1982”. How did this occasion skip me? I kept cursing myself for this gaffe. I didn’t believe the capitals of Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur celebrate Fiesta on the same day? Impossible! This meant no banks, cash retention, fully booked lodging houses and hotels, and the risk of getting robbed!

Given the precarious situation I was in, I tried to weigh my other options. To defer Tandag collections the next day was out of the question since I’ve already scheduled it for Surigao City. Besides, there was also the problem of lodging in Tandag. Diverting schedule to Mangagoy and Agusan del Sur would be counter-productive since new deliveries were only a few days old. Well, I consoled myself with the fact that other van salesmen carry more cash and that would make me a less attractive prospect. So I decided to pursue booking and collections and prepared to proceed to Surigao City in the afternoon where I’m assured of a room in Noy Doming’s house for the night. It’s been customary for dealers in the area to be open for business during Fiestas not only because of the opportunities of increased consumer traffic but also to be able to invite suppliers and salesmen that happen to call on their stores. After covering Bright Star and five other dealers, I had lunch at TT and Company another big customer at the invitation of Andy Tan the owner and former college classmate.

My last call was Frank Foodmart at the Tandag Public Market. I raised my alert level several notches higher since Frank the owner usually pays in cash and very often in full view of customers. I also made it a point to make Frank my last call because of his habit of foot dragging a routine transaction that could last more than an hour. This time I had to cut him short and dashed to my Land Cruiser. Out of habit I feinted to turn back to Agusan del Sur to mislead would-be pursuers. I made a looping diversionary route around the town’s perimeter road and drove straight to the highway leading to CARCANMADLAN (acronym for the towns of Carrascal, Cantilan, Madrid and Lanuza). This game plan has always kept me from harm’s way. But what I did not anticipate was the parade where I got stuck at the curve leading to Tandag Bridge. The thought of going to Surigao City via Carcanmadlan / Red Mountain route was not comforting either. But I had no choice, as this was the only shortest route to my next coverage.

The Red Mountain also known, as the Iron Mountain is widely believed to contain the largest untapped iron deposit in the world. Very few salesmen would take this circuitous route or as we fondly call the “Orbit”- meaning with Butuan as a starting point you make the roundabout route from Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Sur, Surigao del Norte then back to Butuan via Agusan del Norte. There is safety in numbers that is why salesmen always cross the Iron Mountain in a three or four vehicle convoy. For us Nestle salesmen, we followed the no rider company policy to the hilt like my predecessor former Sales Rep Al Quinanola. On solo orbit sometime in 1978, he was crazy enough to carve the Nescafe logo on a huge lime rock at the summit of the Iron Mountain. It was still very legible at that time. The dreaded Iron Mountain is a graveyard of hapless robbery victims. Some were unfortunate salesmen - this statistics is unnerving. The zigzagged roads are narrow and steep. The rocks almost razor sharp and deep below the precipitous cliffs is the Pacific Ocean that perpetually pounds powerful white surf on the rocky shores. It takes two hours to complete the climb to Iron Mountain with practically no human habitation. Only then can you take a temporary sigh of relief as it winds down to the fishing village of Hayanggabon where you can get your first glimpse of human beings.

I was still stuck in the traffic that came to a standstill to give way to the Fiesta parade. It was already 1:15 p.m. when I noticed two burly guys in crew cut leaning on the Land Cruiser. My instincts told me that this could be trouble. One guy was leaning at the left side window just behind me while the next guy was peeping inside through the corner-curved window at the left rear side. I saw him eyeing for the black nylon bag where I stashed more than P 200,000 cash collections for the day. I didn’t feel the adrenaline surge until I saw a conspicuous bulge on the first man’s waist. I’ve visualized this scenario several times and played up a variety of threat responses in my subconscious just to be ready. But the reality of a life and death situation staring at you straight in the eye triggered a different fight and flight mechanism. My mind and body chemistry changed.

While trying to assess the situation a strange phenomenon occurred. I sensed all movements around me were in slow motion; the leggy majorette twirling her baton was like a graceful pantomime act. Then my hearing deadened. The next phase I saw something like a video tape cueing fast forward playing my entire life from childhood up to the present with an all star cast ensemble of close friends and relatives. This sensation went on while at the same time I was keenly observing the body language of the two guys to determine the precursors of an assault. Instinctively I felt for the cold butt of the Walther under my seat. Then the visions slowed down when it showed the present situation and played fast again as it gave me options - the future. Scenarios like shooting it out with the two robbers, my escape route, proceeding to Surigao City to report the incident to the provincial commander, or taking the boat that evening to go home to Cebu to report the incident to family connections.

I completely lost any sense of time and space while all this was happening. Then everything froze momentarily for about a few milliseconds. Just as I predicted, they would wait for the parade to thin out before making a move. When I noticed the first guy directly behind my window about to clear the business end of the bulge on his waist I decided it was time to act. Fast! No way am I going to be a victim, I psyched myself. No way will I have to go through the humiliation of a polygraph exam(company SOP in case of robbery). The idea of NBI polygrapher Doy Allego putting those wires all over my body was a loser’s option. No way! Then fear turned to anger then anger to action. I can feel my heartbeat return to normal pace, then like clockwork precision I drew the Walther Model PP under the seat cushion pulled the slide rearwards ejecting a live round from the chamber and feeding a new one. As the slide slammed back into battery, the pistol was already right in front of my face and aimed it at the first guy behind the window. I beat the idiots to the draw! Like my favorite cartoon Roadrunner they scampered in opposite directions. I’ve never seen two guys run faster than the athletes I saw at the Abellana Stadium back in high school and lost track of them in a few seconds. I jackrabbit the Land Cruiser and sped off towards Tandag Bridge on my way to the Iron Mountain.

The Walther Model PP is a double action pistol, meaning the action of rechambering the pistol was unnecessary when I could have just pulled the trigger and shot them on the spot. When I decided to engage the two guys; it happened at a very fast blurring pace. I didn’t have the luxury of checking the miniscule chamber indicator protruding at the slide’s rear. Although I was conscious of habitually chambering the pistol my instincts at that moment was to be extra sure I chambered a fresh hollow-point before training my front sights on them. The sound of the slide slamming back into battery must have caught the frightened desperados by surprise and this gave them enough time to flee.

All these years I’ve mulled over that the slow motion tunnel effect was a unique personal experience until I read an article in 1997 from handgun guru, police officer and head of the Lethal Institute Massad Ayoob that calls this phenomenon - tachypsychia. Tachypsychia as Mas Ayoob explained is a natural defense mechanism, a function of epinephrine (adrenaline) in our body chemistry during a life and death situation. It allows the person to assess, decide and take action in real time while his percepion of time and space is warped in a slow motion effect. The exact opposite of tachypsychia is called cognitive dissonance - when a victim is immobilized and petrified in a life and death encounter. Well, that’s how he described it in scientific jargon, but the better explanation that I will always cling on to after all these years, this may sound cliche, is that Someone up There was with me on that fateful day on September 9, 1982.

Author's Warning:
The Walther Model PP is the twin sister of James Bond's Walther PPK. It is a pocket backup pistol and not appropriate to carry around the badlands of Carraga Region. But chambered with a hollowpoint, it can be deadly at close range.



Thursday, October 11, 2007

Music Dance and the Martial Arts

It was a balmy Saturday afternoon in Tagbilaran City sometime in 1979.  The work area-cum-living room of my boarding house was cramped but spotless. You enter my living room through the main door of a 5 square meter storeroom then to another door going to the living room.  I purposely kept both doors open while making my sales reports to give me a wide vista of the pristine and sparkling waters of Tagbilaran Bay and Panglao Island.  Traversing perpendicular to the boarding house entrance was the promenade of the Knights of Columbus HQ that intersects Gallares St. and leads down to the beach about 70 meters from my boarding house.  On Saturdays like this I usually take a swim crossing Tagbilaran Bay towards the white sandy beach of Panglao Island, take a rest for about half an hour to recover from the 30 minute breaststroke and then swim back again to my starting point at the promenade.  But this Saturday afternoon was different.   I was about to wrap up my paper works and gear up for a swim, when I heard some familiar piano riffs in Deb Santos’s house just next door.

I scampered off my desk and went to Deb’s house to check who the piano player was.  The handsome diminutive fellow was Deb’s uncle Manoy Liloy Cabagnot the younger brother of my landlord Tatay Bandin.  I wasted no time requesting my favorite standards one after another to the delight and Manoy Liloy who obviously enjoyed playing for his newfound admirer and fan.  Excitedly I blurted out a barrage of favorite standards to play:  “Noy which key do you play Laura?...How about I’ll Take Manhattan?...or Satin Doll?, but before he could play more of my requests, Manoy Liloy stopped and turned around and said:  “Ok, Ok, I’ll play Stella by Starlight one more time for you, if you can hit my chin, tan-aw naku murag praktisado man ka. (You look to me like you’ve been working out.)  Sigi dong sumbaga ko diri. (Okay kid, punch me on the chin). 

“What? I don’t want to fight you Manoy, I just want to copy your piano chords”, I protested, a bit perplexed by this sudden intermission.  Is he serious? I asked myself. He was barely 5 feet 4 inches tall and already in his mid-sixties.  But I had no choice, but hesitantly complied with his challenge.  The first punched was intentionally calibrated, telegraphed!  Who would want to hurt an old man anyway? Manoy Liloy laughed and joked:  “You’re not punching me, you’re pinching me, now give me a real strong punch, but don’t worry, I won’t hurt you.”  This time I threw a real good straight punch, but the wily manoy who I earlier thought was only adept at the keyboards toyed with me, locked my arms and spun me around like a ragged doll!   I threw the wildest punches and kicks in my arsenal, but they just “bounced” back and made me look more like a washed-up old man.  My only consolation was that nobody was there to witness the humiliation of a 26-year-old get beat up by a man old enough to be his father.

“You know what that was? Manoy Liloy asked me still dazed from  his swift maneuvers.
 “No, I don’t, what was that   ?” I snapped back.
“Eskrima!  Look, here’s the deal I teach you a few piano chords and you be my student and training partner in eskrima.”

That was the beginning of my first eskrima lesson at the reverse end of the methodology.  Contrary to tradition, I started first with the empty-hand techniques in eskrima.  But honestly, I was more interested with Manoy Liloy’s piano tips than his eskrima.   This former jail warden, who passed away a few years ago, once studied Doce Pares eskrima and piano under the tutelage of Sioux Cabase while they were still residing in Cebu City during the pre-war period.
Some years back in my hometown Cebu City, I’ve grown accustomed to close encounters with martial artists who at the same time were either professional musicians or amateurs who had natural talent and ear for music and song.  Manoy Liloy was just one of the few who I knew intimately.  Manoy Liloy was very sophisticated and avant garde in taste – certainly not your archetypal loudmouthed eskrimador.  His cool touch on the piano was as smooth and crisp as his eskrima. 

In our old neighborhood during the 1960’s, aspiring teenage hotshots and “fashionistas” wanted to move like, talk like, dress like, dance like and play the guitar like Sonny Umpad.  I was one of those “cool-wannabe like Sonny” a skinny 13-year-old who used to sneak behind Sonny hanging around with his guitar buddies at the El Gusto store just to get a glimpse at his Beatles and Gary Lewis covers.  Sonny already an icon in the eskrima world for his innovations in his Visayan Eskrima Corto Cadena system was one of the most sought after bass player in Cebu during the sixties.  Dubbed by former Bruce Lee disciple Jesse Glover as the “Bruce Lee with sticks”, Sonny was once a member of The Continentals band and did gigs together with the legendary Cebuano lead guitarist the late Teddy Vaňo[1].  Sonny who also played the keyboards was one of the most pre-eminent dancers in the San Francisco Bay Area Hustle Dance Club.   Sonny also handcrafted most of his collections of bolos and knives that were exquisitely accentuated by elaborate carvings of ethnic motif on the handles.

When Sonny left for the U.S. with three other brothers, I returned the favor by teaching the chords I ripped-off from him to his younger brother and one-time sparring partner Benjie.  I sort of played the role of surrogate big-brother to Benjie when all of his three brothers left for the U.S. ahead of him.   Benjie a bouncy percussionist and showman and one of the best dancers in our neighborhood studied kenpo when he went to the U.S in 1975.  I only learned last year that Benjie passed away a few years ago when I wrote a short note to Sonny via one of his students Victor Damian who visited me in Lapulapu City.  

Just recently Sonny died of brain tumor in August 24, 2006 in Alameda.   Up to the very end Sonny remained low-key - no flashy website, no email address, no glossy ads on Blackbelt magazine and never peddled his art like a cheap commodity, while at the same time opened his doors wide open to those seeking to enhance not only their martial arts but also their dance steps and their music.  

There were no Jingle chord books and karaoke machines back in the late 60’s and transcribing chords was a tedious time-consuming process as we had to cifra[2] the chord arrangements and licks by ear or “oido” straight out of the vinyl records.  The easiest option is to copy them from some confident and generous “axeman” like Sonny Umpad. Showing off your neat guitar chords and latest licks was a game of one-upmanship in the streets of Cebu City.  Whenever a rival guitar group came snooping around, we either stopped playing or dish out a few bawdy Bisaya novelty songs like Malipajun ang Takna or in most cases reinvent the chord voicing to confuse the mga kawatan ug tapoy (chord plagiarizers). In the process my guitar buddy Paul Melendez (multi-awarded composer of Marco Sison hit Make Believe) and I became chord savvy such that an ordinary EM7 can be altered into a finger-breaking EMajor9th[3] and eventually our repertoire transcended from Herman’s Hermit’s “Busy Line”, The Beatles “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” to Henry Mancini’s “Two for the Road” and Jobim’s “Corcovado”.   

Although, our guitar group never experienced anything nasty against other gangs, in other neighborhoods however, fights often break-out between two rival combos.  I remember a black-belt lead guitarist named Joel of The Harebells combo who tried to cajole either Paul or me to fill-in as rhythm guitarist for a one-year engagement in Saigon.  We didn’t grab the offer and gave the slot to another neighbor and one of my earlier guitar inspirations Junior “Soling” Rentuza.  After his Saigon stint Junior “Soling” had a new moniker - Junior “Saigon”. Junior Soling would later narrate to us their adventures in Saigon during the height of the Vietnam War and some of the “rumbles” Joel and the combo got embroiled with against unruly American G.I.s.
Ernie Martinez was one of the pioneers of Shorin-ryu in the country.  He studied under the tutelage of Latino Gonzalez and appeared in a cameo role in Roberto Gonzalez’s movie “Hari ng Karate”.  Ernie frequented our neighborhood not only to teach karate, but sans karaoke machines at that time, we were the only ones back then who could accompany his rendition of Blood Sweat and Tears songs like “Spinning Wheel”, “You’ve Made me so Very Happy”, “Lucretia McEvil” and other Motown hits.  Of all the “stambays” I’ve accompanied on guitar, until today no one can match the vocal range and power of the ala David Clayton Thomas[4] voice of the late Ernie Martinez. He never sang professionally but with his good looks, lean and tall physique, today he could have breezed through the top 4 in American Idol.   

Other well known eskrimadors in Cebu were professional musicians like the late Filemon Momoy Caňete the patriarch of San Miguel Eskrima  who wrote songs for recording artists like Rosalie Robles.  Momoy also composed and recorded Cebuano songs for balladeer Stax Hugete such as Ako, Gugmang Bakakon and Ako Magpabilin Lang

A true-blue Cebuano musician/martial artists and eskrima protege of Filemon Caňete is Mario Jadraque who composed a total of 270 songs.  Mario is a multi-awarded musician having won third prize in the Metro Cebu Popular music festival on January 18, 2002 for his song Gikan sa Damgo Magpahilayo.  Rosalie Robles recorded most of his songs such as Kung Mahanaw Na and Ayaw Pagpahilayo.  His first recording was the song Unta.   Mario made a total 9 recordings to date and has collaborated in the past with famous singers like Pilita Corrales and Imelda Papin.  Aside from teaching eskrima in his spare time and serving as Vice-President of Lapunti Arnis de Abanico, Mario is a full-time music teacher at the Salonga Music School in Cebu City.

Many of the “fighters” I’ve met, if they weren’t virtuoso instrumentalists or singers were also fine dancers such as Sergio Arcel of Balintawak Eskrima and Johnny F. Chiuten, Jr. founder of Pronus Supinus and principal innovator of Lapunti Arnis de Abanico.  Johnny in his heyday was once the “consort king” during fiesta celebrations in the province of Cebu because of his talent in ballroom dancing.  Johnny taught ballroom dancing to young college girls at the old Blue Danube Dance Studio, much to the chagrin of his mother who eventually “exiled” him to Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro to finish his high school.

During high school I also had the opportunity to exchange karate lessons and guitar transcriptions with a classmate and one of the best karatekas I’ve ever known Anthony “Nitnit” Cabagnot.  Nitnit was a fabulous dancer and sang with a natural raspy voice. Nitnit a relative of Manoy Liloy Cabagnot was also a regular dancer of a local Saturday noontime TV Show Soiree at the old ABS-CBN Studio near our schoolBecause of my early background in Western boxing and seeing my elder brothers easily beat up blackbelt karatistas in street boxing matches, I’ve always had this condescending attitude towards karatekas and other Oriental martial artists, until I witnessed Nitnit dispatch two “intruders” single-handedly just outside the perimeter of our campus.  I was only fourteen then and getting a “front seat view” of this fracas involving Nitnit became the turning point in my initiation into Shorin-ryu Karatedo. Nitnit who was about two to three years older than me was my first karate mentor in a training schedule that took place inside our classroom after dismissal.  In between katas we had our guitar sessions playing the popular tunes by The Bee Gees, Hollies, Herman’s Hermits, Gary Lewis and The Beatles. Nitnit died of natural causes in 1971.  The demise of my high school “big brother” was a devastating personal loss.

One of those who sparred with us in the seventies was a young amateur boxing prodigy named Rudy Jagdon a former Asian Games gold medalist who also gave us some classy lessons in dancing the hustle.  At that time, there were a few boxers who moonlighted as singers like former Philippine featherweight champion Nene Jun.  Today, boxing sensation and national hero Manny Pacquiao is still reaping royalties from his recordings on top of the mega dollars from his last two fights.  Manny like a typical Bisaya[5] plays the guitar and is very passionate about music.

I guess its only fitting to mention two of my biggest influences in combatives and music - my father Celso Macachor a World War II veteran and former PC officer and my uncle Dr. Jesus Macachor.  My father taught me how to play any song in any genre in the Key of C.  A modish city-slicker, he had such a polished cosmopolitan taste in music and gave me a better understanding of chord progression. His passion and love for Brazilian Bossa Nova and Samba has influenced all of us in the family.  He was also my first boxing teacher, and explained to us the nuances and mechanics of the left hooks (his favorite punch) of Floyd Patterson, Sugar Ray Robinson, Sonny Liston, Joe Louis, Francisco Balug and many other boxing heroes.  

Uldarico “Poldeng” Llanos one of the oldest living practitioners of Eskrima de Campo was a former college classmate of my late father and both of them took their active duty training in Camp Floridablanca in the early 1950’s.  When Ned Nepangue and I interviewed him for a forthcoming book, ‘noy Poldeng reminisced that “Celso was a good boxer, he took on all comers in Floridablanca.” 

During martial law, I fondly remember one of his practical jokes while we were having dinner:

“I’ve just been summoned to the DND (Dept. of National Defense), he told all of us with a sullen look on his face.
 “What for?” all of us barked in apprehension.
 “For unexplained poverty!” 

My father epitomized the good old values of duty, bravery, integrity and discipline of his generation - an officer and a gentleman, suave dancer and jazz aficionado.

Tio Jessie a retired neuro-surgeon is a renaissance man who made the biggest impact on me while I was growing up.  He played the accordion, piano, guitar, he could tap dance, mimic a wide range of voices from Elvis, Bobby Darin to Frank Sinatra.  Tio Jessie who once dabbled in sculpture and pencil drawing also augmented what we have learned from our dad and taught us how to punch in combinations.  A natural athlete, I have no doubt he would have been a champion prizefighter if only he pursued boxing instead of a medical profession.  He’s also an avid golfer who averages in the low eighties and recently wrote a book on his favorite sport entitled: Golf Lessons, Not for Monkeys, all these gifts and talent from a man who doesn’t make a big deal out of being the first Cebuano topnotcher in the medical board exams.  

The amalgamation of music and the combative arts is not rare in some individuals and organizations and it cuts across all borders.  For a broad cross-section of martial disciplines and music genre it’s as inseparable as champagne and caviar. Even during the era of the pike and shot warfare drum and bugle corps played music while soldiers fall from the hail of bullets and canon fire. In Capoeira a Brazilian martial art, music sets the rhythm, the style of play, and the energy of a game.    

Van Halen vocalist David Lee Roth showed off his dexterous karate high kicks in the 1984 classic MTV “Jump”.   The legendary Bruce Lee was once cha-cha champion of Hong Kong in 1958.  Drum beat was an essential tool in Bruce Lee’s training regimen and music an integral part of his life that he even picked the songs “Look Around” by Sergio Mendes and “When I Die” by Blood, Sweat and Tears to be played in his funeral.  

Until today, I’m still in awe at these exceptionally skilled martial artists and fighters who at the same time were passionate in their love of music and dance.  I will not attempt to analyze the phenomenon that draws martial artists to music or musicians to the martial arts; I’d rather pass on that burden to the readers.   I’m just one lucky dude to have met and known some these talented musician / warriors in my lifetime, and I will always treasure the memory and the martial and musical legacy of those who are already gone, many still at the prime of their lives when they left like Ernie Martinez, Nitnit Cabagnot, Sonny Umpad, Benjie Umpad, Manoy Liloy Cabagnot and my dad Celso.   See you later.  


[1] Teddy Vano made several gigs and recordings with jazz keyboardist Boy Katindig
[2] common lingo amongst Cebuano musicians derived from Spanish meaning to cipher
[3] John Mayer’s 2002 hit song “No Such Thing” from the “Room for Squares” album starts with alternating Emaj & Emaj9 riff
[4] Lead vocalist of late ‘60’s jazz-rock group Blood, Sweat and Tears.  They set a trend in pop and rock with a new and distinct jazz inspired bouncy horn-section.  Other bands soon followed the trail like Chicago, Chase, Ballin’jack, Ides of March, Earth, Wind & Fire and Tower of Power.
[5] Manny  traces his roots to Pinamungajan west of Cebu province roughly 20 kilometers from Balamban where most of the eskrima pioneers in the U.S. like Jack Santos, Telesporo Subingsubing, Felix Goc-ong, Lucky Lucaylucay and Juanito Lacoste  came from and 10 kms  away from Ibo, Toledo the birthplace of Jose Caballero of De Campo 1-2-3 Orihinal