“YES!” His shout was genuine, followed by his infectious laughter. I hear his voice still. Slightly husky, raspy, warm. I had heard it sternly and calmly across wood tables, late into the night. I had heard it call out in hot summer fields and under humid tents and in hotel ballrooms. But that night, over the phone it was as loud and as close as it would ever be.
Just a few years into training in the System, I started nursing school. In my very first semester, distracted and swept up in the attention as one of the few men surrounded by young women in Southern California I nearly destroyed my marriage and relationships with infidelity. I withdrew from school and would spend the next few years reconstructing and rebuilding my marriage. But that first Spring after leaving school I vividly remember sitting on the mats at Integrated Martial Arts in Long Beach, listening to Guro Travis explain the concept of The Frozen Lake. It struck a chord deep in me that resonated so strongly that even now more than ten years later I feel it vibrate. That year my wife and son accompanied me to Sama Sama, and for possibly the first time in our relationship I genuinely tried to merge and align my personal life with Our Tribe. That year I was accepted as an Apprentice and attended my first Instructor Weekend.
I sat around that dark wood table with those that I would soon call brothers and sisters. At one point that first morning, Pamana Tuhon took out his cell phone and called someone. Laughing, he told whomever on the other end that he was looking for “Master Bater” and continued laughing and joking. Then he handed me the phone. It was Mr. Carlos Patalinghug, my very first Eskrima teacher and long time friend and former student of “Master Chris”. From that moment, in that early morning light of the space above the Bunker at the Hollow, I felt welcomed as family. It was in this Family that I learned about personalities, stacks and what a Primary Security Protocol is. In between Tuhon Tom teaching us our live blade protocols and hours and hours of LOT, Pamana Silak cooked Apritada with rice and we ordered Belly Busters.
There are timelines of interaction, of friendship and of brotherhood that parallel my life. Some flow side by side, some helix through and some spiral in and out. The long mentorship and friendship of Guro Dr. Bob. The welcome of Guro Joey to Southern California. The guidance of then-Guro (now Tuhon) Pat, and the leadership in the dark woods of then-Guro (now Tuhon) Brian. The stern reprimands of Guro Travis when I explained what I had done with my family, and the counsel of Tuhon Raf as I grew as an instructor. All of the teachings and lessons and stories from Tuhon Carl. The kindness of Pamana Silak and the hospitality of the kids. But the weaving thread that bound them then, and connects me still, was and always will be Pamana Tuhon.
Jennifer trusted The Tribe immediately, and while she still called Integrated to make sure I was there training rather than messing with another woman, she genuinely and honestly trusted and grew to love my Sayoc and Atienza brothers. They were there for me at my lowest, talking with me during some of the longest and hardest nights, then celebrating during some of our highest joys. The same guys who pushed me hard enough in training to be strong enough to deal with my life’s challenges were the same ones who were there for my kids’ baptisms and birthdays. When I returned to nursing school, The Tribe was my anchor and my source of strength. In every single intimidating situation, I drew on the words and teachings of Pamana Tuhon and the Council for inspiration. And just last year when I took my job now, as a leader of my own tribe I found strength in those same words. I’ve been distant from my physical training, but I truly believe that every day I am training and teaching my mental reps from Pamana Tuhon and our Tribe.
So as soon as I found out, I called him. It was a night in January and it was windy. I had to call the California Board of Nursing to verify I had passed, and as soon as I got confirmation my heart leaped. In thanksgiving, in gratitude and in some small way to share success from the months and years of teaching and Tribe, I called Pamana Tuhon. I remember being nervous, but excited and when he answered I told him. I don’t remember what exactly I said, other than that I had passed my boards and I was a Registered Nurse. “YES!” he shouted, then laughed. “Congratulations!” he exclaimed. We didn’t speak long, but I was grateful to share that celebration with someone who had given me so much. That’s the memory that makes me smile. It’s been hard for me to express it. I’m saddened that I could not thank him one more time. It was truly an honor and privilege to learn from him, directly from the Source. I’ll be unpacking his lessons for the rest of my life.