I first met Grand Tuhon Leo Gaje at the Inosanto Academy in Marina del Rey almost 16 years ago. It was the Fall of 2003 and he came in to visit with Guro Dan. I was sitting close to the main entrance after Silat class, as back then you had to be promoted into the evening Kali class that Guro taught. I had only been a student at the Academy for a few weeks and still constantly star struck at seeing all of these legends in martial arts I had only read about in magazines before. Grand Tuhon was one of them. He came in as Guro was teaching, asked me if I was Filipino and then proceeded in.
I knew of him then only through Black Belt, but through the years would know more of him, his art and system and his students. Guro Inosanto has always held Grand Tuhon in high regard, and much of our knife training in our blended curriculum is influenced by Pekiti Tirsia Kali, as well as some of Grand Tuhon’s mindset in Guro’s teachings.
Through his students, their knowledge and even from Grand Tuhon himself that I have always respected and admired is his insistence on promoting the culture of the Philippines and the philosophy of Kali alongside the physical techniques and movements. As a Filipino American I am fascinated with what Guro Inosanto might call the “esoteric” teachings and oral history of the Philippines and our people that may not exist in the formal writings of the Spanish or Americans.
So it was a tremendous privilege and exceptionally rare opportunity when Tuhon Arlene and Mandala Malcolm invited me into their home to speak with the Grand Tuhon, the Supremo himself. I cannot thank Tuhon and Mandala enough for their generosity, hospitality and passion for Pekiti Tirsia, love for Grand Tuhon and passion for our Filipino Martial Arts. I am indebted for their trust and friendship, and only because of them was I able to glimpse into the figure and leader that they respect so much. Hopefully you are able to hear what I had the honor to see, a very deep and contemplative side of Grand Tuhon who spoke of culture, our people, philosophy and discipline.