Mind blown. Primitive weapons, cutting edge technology. Bolo, knife. Sticks, Thai pads. Individual skill, group tactics. Close quarters, long range. Bahala Na, Maphilindo Silat. Atienza Eskrima, Sayoc Kali. One Tribe.
This past weekend I had the great pleasure and honor of training with my brothers and sisters in the blade, the AK Tribe at Atienza Sama Sama 2014. I had been looking forward to it all year, moving with skilled Filipino Martial Artists from around the world, seeing great friends and learning from some of the most elite instructors in the world. As long as I have been involved with the AK system (since about 2005) I am continually blown away by the skill demonstrated, skill developed and critical thought put into the teaching methodology and transmission of technology. More impressive than that however, is the strength of this tribe, the community and brotherhood cultivated by the Atienza brothers Tuhons Bong, Carl and Darryl. Atienza Sama Sama is the most visible display of that martial skill, community of brotherhood and family legacy.
The weekend started off with Guro Kevin Estela (Estela Wilderness Education, Sayoc Kali) teaching the Hidden Agenda for this year, covering primitive weapons and survival preparation. In recent years Guro Kevin has become one of the foremost experts on wilderness survival, covering everything from supplies to weaponry to first aid to food and shelter. His session on Friday night included use of the Atl Atl as well as an introduction to wilderness survival.
Saturday morning included our official lineup and salute in, and introduction to our guest instructor for that day Guro Harley Elmore (Warriors Way International, Sayoc Kali, Inosanto Martial Arts, Bahala Na). We got right to work from there, on multiple opponent training using our Stalker Drill. We moved on the uneven grassy hill and eventually into the very steep and rocky slopes above. The mud, leaves and lose slate rock provided treacherous but informative education in footwork and movement, and Tuhon Carl provided instruction in 3-point (Tripod Stance) and 4-point (Quad Stance) stability and movement. This was an education in footwork and mobility through combative application. It was also an incredible leg workout, and a great chance to train with AK instructors that I had only known of previously through social media networks.
From there we went into live cutting. As a blade based system, it is critical that our skills to actually cut is of the highest quality and that we either use the best blades available or know the strengths and limitations of the equipment we have. Tuhon Carl has become one of the premier bladesmiths anywhere, and his blades have been featured in television and used all over the world. He had just finished one of the new AK Machetes for me, and although it isn’t finalized in it’s fit and finish, I was able to test it for myself and see how incredible of a long blade it is. I got to witness both Tuhon Carl and Guro Harley cut with it as well, on both fixed and moving targets and see it slice quickly, cleanly and with ease.
That afternoon Guro Harley brought us all an introduction to Maphilindo Silat, and demonstrated some truly awesome material in entries, body manipulations, where and how to hit, sweeps and breaks. As I told Guro Mike Pana later (Bayani Warrior), it was extremely impressive to see the speed and ferocity that he drummed on Guro Mike’s face and head with! Guro Mike would later describe it as seeing the sky interspersed with the black flashing of his eyes being covered, the sound and feel of drumming on his head and the intermittent high pitched ringing in his ears! His otomotopoeic description however is much more vivid and entertaining (hilarious) than I can write!
The rest of that first day covered our Atienza Bolo Evolution material led by AK Full Instructors Guro Leo and Guro Josh (Urban Jungle), including Evolutions 1 & 2 and knife inserts. Again on the hill in the wind, and into the dark amidst the rain our long blade curriculum stressed range and movement, and was immersed in environmental training and awareness of surroundings.
Those of us who brought bows to Sama Sama were also encouraged to have illuminated nocs on our arrows, and we participated in some team tactics archery training. The highlight video is awesome, and was a inadvertent fitting tribute to Star Wars Day (May 4th)!
The night concluded with Guro Harley providing a great demonstration of Grandmaster Leo Giron’s Bahala Na Martial Arts (Giron Arnis Eskrima). His demonstration of range (Largo Mano), footwork (Coconut Drill) and long sword tactics and history were only matched by his stories of Grandmaster Leo Giron both as a soldier in the Philippines in WWII as well as his years as an instructor in Stockton bringing up the next generation of Filipino Martial Arts masters. Stories and quotes including sharp blades, crunchy throats, challenges, feuds and lifting the feet high in footwork will definitely stay with me. We ended late and were all exhausted but completely enthralled with the training we had, all only in our first full day. The night concluded with Tuhon Carl’s remarks on our AK family and the One Tribe mentality and culture that had brought him and his brothers, Pamana Tuhon Sayoc, Guro Harley and others together.
And Saturday night I crashed with my West Coast brothers, four of us total in two beds.
Sunday morning started with the annual AK Sama Sama Gauntlet. This year was a series of targets, all archery spaced throughout the woods above the hill that included shots from various positions, postures and movements. This timed course on the rocky and wooded terrain had us running, firing from cover, shooting on the move, ducking and finally hitting long range targets from multiple elevations. Congratulations to Nathan from Connecticut and Guro Gerard from California for winning the 1st and 2nd places in the competition, and who received $600 for 1st place and a custom AK blade for 2nd place!
We then moved into the current AK stick pad sets, which are the Atienza Eskrima methods of training movement, developing power and strategy. The beauty of the curriculum is how each of these attributes are combined, so instead of just spending time developing power hitting tires for example, or learning attack combinations or practicing footwork to evade a takedown these pad sets combine them all together in an integrated format. Guro Josh and Guro Stevie (Striker Fight Center, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, Wing Chun) led us through this curriculum, and their combined expertise in both armed and unarmed combat truly informed our learning.
After lunch we had our Melees, which are our group dynamics and team tactics training. Atienza Kali is renown for this type of training and this year definitely didn’t disappoint. Our scenarios included the movie-like large groups clashing with one another, situations where a principle was transported, where items were protected, obtained and as always, with varying conditions, modifiers and changing terrain. There were definitely some memorable strategies and hidden weapons that were employed during these exercises, and while it is very fun, many of Tuhon’s teachings regarding large group fighting really come out. These components of our training develop our teamwork and tactics like no other, and while it may seem like disorganized chaos this particular Sama Sama was an example of tribal camaraderie.
Sunday afternoon we delved into AK Knife material. Tuhon Carl discussed with us carry, concealment, deployment and many of the realities of real bladed confrontations. Starting in close range we also worked arm manipulations, and responses to grabs, controls and opponents taking your back. Despite being the closest range material we worked all weekend, the movement was still as dynamic and physical as anything else we had worked. The training of accessing the knife from various positions was also extremely enlightening. After catching our breath we then segued into the Knife Evolution variations, such as the Knife-on-Knife Evolution and then inserting longer range Bolo (machete) techniques.
I had to leave Sama Sama Sunday evening as we broke for lunch, and despite not being able to stay for that evening or the next day was left with enough material and curriculum to last me many years. But the stories, time spent with my brothers and sisters and memories made with this Brotherhood of the Blade will last far longer. I want to take a moment to thank and acknowledge Tuhon Carl, Tuhon Bong, Tuhon Darryl and Silak Dianne for sharing their family’s art and opening their hopes and selves to us. We are indebted to your willingness to give your time, experiences and energy to make us better students, instructors and people. A huge thank you to Guro Leo, Guro Josh, Guros Stevie, Pete, Clint, Seth, Randy, Eric, Khris and all the other senior instructors that continue to guide us and refine our technique. All of you are examples of fighting skill and a testament to the Atienza family’s training. Thank you also to my longtime brothers and new friends in this family. Each of you made me better in just the two days I had to move with you.