Growing up, I hated history.
I remember almost nothing from my US History or European History classes, and I clearly remember feeling very disconnected to the material and my teachers (mostly Jesuit priests) as a teenager. Now I love it. Especially the history as it relates to The Philippines.
As still the case today, almost immediately as a student of Guro Inosanto’s at his Academy in Los Angeles I learned about the various cultures and influences in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. Actually, at that time you could not just enroll in the Advanced Kali class that Guro taught. You had to take beginner classes and then eventually be promoted into the advanced class. But Maphilindo Silat was open to all, and that is actually the class I started in and stayed with for years at the Academy on Manchester Avenue.
I would learn about the vast Majapahit Empire, the Sri Vijayan Empire, the Manila Galleons and Filipinos in Acapulco and the influence of ancient Indian warriors on yoga today. Often in disbelief, I would ask my Lolo (my grandfather, who lived in Glendale) about these things and he would exclaim “of course!” and proceed to repeat all the things I had heard earlier from Guro.
Later, as I became more involved with the Sayoc Kali system, I would learn from Pamana Tuhon Sayoc, Tuhon Rafael Kayanan, Tuhon Carl Atienza and others about our great warrior heritage, martial history and fierce tradition. Pamana Tuhon would speak on the importance of Filipino Americans to learn our martial art. Tuhon Raf would explain methods and weapons of Filipinos throughout history, and Tuhon Tom would give vivid examples of how our martial arts were used. All of my teachers were guides, using examples in our training alongside our own present day society and environment and open my mind’s eye to how the past not only illuminates, but echoes and still moves our lives today.
Over the years this has helped define a deeply meaningful identity as a Filipino American, more than the Tagalog I don’t speak, the Tinikling I barely know and the diniguan (chocolate meat) dish I don’t eat. It has been a wonderful privilege to see my cousin Eliza also grow and evolve in our cultural identity, and take up a role writing, speaking and advocating. So when she asked me if I would be interested in participating in a webinar related to Filipino Martial Arts I was honored and thrilled at the chance.
I focused the presentation on three main themes, central to Filipino identity even if at times only faintly heard in our modern times. The first was the concept of kapwa, our people, our community. The second was that we all have this knowledge, both in our minds as well as in our muscles within us. So my emphasis in the webinar was not to teach, per se, but rather to awaken! Tuhon Rafael used to have this quote from Jose Rizal as a tagline in his signature, which I loved and used the other night. Rizal wrote, “..awaken your consciousness of our past, already effaced from our memory, and rectify what has been falsified and slandered” in his 1889 essay, “To the Filipinos”. The third and last was that our culture and people, reflected in our FMA training exists in a language outside of time, within sacred time and space beyond our physical experience. This taps into the esoteric history of the Philippines that Guro Inosanto often referenced, the stories and narratives and even history that continue to influence our collective belief systems, behaviors and perception of the world around us.
Pamana Tuhon Sayoc talked about the “ten thousand hands” that teach us and move us still, and Tuhon Rafael has written about the “dance” that is always there, should we be granted the privilege, and Professor Guy Chase told me about the belief in the Villabrille-Largusa system of asking the souls to come and bless the training, again in a “bothoan” whether in a literal and tangible place to learn or within the energy that is outside of time. Guro Inosanto has always stressed the critical importance of understanding culture, of recognizing history as our arts are inextricably woven into the fabric of our culture and identity.
I spoke about the many tribes, sometimes now referred to as distinct ethnolinguistic nations that compose The Philippines. I shared the major influences on the history, including the Southeast Asian trading empires, the Buddhist and Muslim and Portugese and Dutch influences that preceded the Spanish, the ancient kingdoms, the mythical continent of Mu, and how all of this information has come from the aforementioned teachers alone. Most had not been found in the history books, and if at all they barely exist now in books written over one hundred years ago. As Guro Inosanto has said, and the Tuhons in the Sayoc system demonstrated, the warriors always protected and preserved the culture. Whether in the tatak (tribal tattoos), the Baybayin or other ancient scripts, the ancient healing practices of hilot, of albolaryo or even the spiritual anting-anting (amulet) or Baybaylan (priestesses). Evidence of this history can be see not only in the Philippine flag, but our own United States flag. The motions can be celebrated today in our cultural dances and festivals, and the vivid imagery of mind can be seen in the T’nalak cloth of the T’boli Dreamweavers.
The familial roles of datu (chief), mandirigma/bagani/bayani (warrior), panday (craftsman, or blacksmith, or artisan) and babaylan (priestess or healer) are not locked in pre-colonial history, but remain alive and drive us from within. In our own personalities and ways we express our lives today. They come from our people, as Potri Ranka Manis explained, “though we are displaced by land, our consciousness is still home.” And I could not do our history enough justice in describing the matriarchal yet still face of our culture. The women’s role as keeper of money, the warrior tradition of Princess Urduja, the Blind Princess Josephine or any of the seven Joan of Arc’s of the Philippines, La Heneral and Gabriela Silang.
For all the commonly popular pork adobo dishes, there are the Muslim piyalam stewed fish, and for the Rondalla melodies that animate Tinikling dancing, there is the kulintang music that drives the steps in the folk dance/play, Singkil. Though vast and diverse, the common themes of our warrior history remained present in the armed resistance of The Katipunan, with their bolos and red bandanas, the Baybayin that remains in the emblems of the Philippine Army, the motion patterns of Kali practitioners that write Baybayin in shadow, or under the moonlight, the combat geometry of footwork, or Kali emblems, the ancient numerology still used, the very souls of our ancestors whose words we still use in our martial arts today.
All this, again, I only know and give great credit and attribution to Pamana Tuhon Sayoc, Tuhon Rafael Kayanan, Guro Dan Inosanto, Tuhon Carl Atienza, Guro Ramon Rubia, Grandmaster Carlos Patalinghug, Jr., Master Maria Patalinghug, Tuhon Tom Kier, and others that have made an indelible impression, not only in my understanding of the art, the knowledge of our culture and history, but the very expression of my identity and soul. It was, and continues to be a privilege to be able to pass on this information that has been so precious to me. And I have an incalculable debt of gratitude for the generosity these true warriors have shared with me.
Maraming salamat po.