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My 2000 trip To The Philippines
My first real experience of Kali in the Philippines was in 2000 when, my close friend had started taking it up at his local gym in the UK and asked me to bring him back some sticks from the Philippines. I had asked my mother, if she had any knowledge of the term 'Kali', but she had not, but on mentioning the word 'Arnis' to my Titas (aunties) in the Philippines they immediately realised that I was talking about stick fighting. Popular in the village amongst the old and in the Golden Age of the '70s' (alongside cock fighting as a method of gambling) the practice of Arnis in my family's village has long since declined. Many reasons for the decline of 'Arnis' amongst the old and young in central Philippines is attributed to the popularity of the hand gun and the Filipino youths love of basket ball - which the Americans had introduced during their colonial days. However it is still very popular in the South.
I had asked my mother if their was any 'eskrimadors' in our village and heard that her eldest brother (my late uncle) was good in self defence (having learnt from friends), but had sadly died long before I was born. I then decided to ask my Lolo (grandfather) if he had heard of 'Arnis' but he was not very talkative. He could not speak English and had lost a lot of his memories due to old age and poor health. All he told me in 'tagalog' (which my Tita translated) was that he knew of 'Arnis' and that it was popular among bandits and robbers.
I later heard stories of how my Lolo was a brave guerrilla fighter in World War II because he had fought the Japanese with only an espada. At that time, guerrilla fighters often did not have guns (only those taken from felled Jap soldiers) and thus were forced to fight the Japanese soldiers by hand with the element of surprise as their only advantage. Often wielding no more than machetes, attacks often took place from thick undergrowth under the cover of darkness or in dense jungle. Many Filipino guerrilla fighters (including my Lolo) hid up in mountains and hills to evade capture and even changed their surnames so that the Japs could not identify them.
I knew it was pointless asking my Lolo if he still remembered how to fight with an espada because he had lost his memory long ago so I asked my Tito (uncle), a headmaster of the village school, if he knew anyone whom could teach me. He told that he did and arranged a lesson with the PE teacher (who was teaching 'Arnis' in school as part of the national curriculum).
My friends, who had accompanied me to the Philippines, wished also to receive lessons, but to our shock instead of it being on an individual one-to-one basis (the traditional way) to our embarrassment it was during busy school hours on the playground in front of the whole school - doh!

  My 2001 Trip To The Philippines
When I visited the Philippine in 2001 I decided to visit Ernesto Presas' Gym in Quaipo. After travelling many hours on a Philippine Jeepney (a stretched jeep used as a mini-bus) due to the heavily congested traffic, I finally arrived in Quaipo. Climbing wearily out of the vehicle, I walked around the marketplaces and high street shops in search of treasure (cheap electrical goods and pirated DVDs)... and of course the famous 'Modern Arnis' gym run by Grandmaster Ernesto Presas.
After many hours of searching I finally located the obscurely sign posted gym - situated on the top floor of a large high street building. On arriving, I spotted a beautiful receptionist and we started talking about 'Arnis'. I asked if she practiced and she replied shyly a little. Later I found out that she was not only Grandmaster Ernesto's daughter Richelle, but also a black belt 3rd Dan and an expert with a Balisong!
She later arranged for some private lessons with Michael (one of Ernesto's top students). During the lesson it was like Niagara falls - pools of sweat were running down my face. After 4 hours I collapsed on the edge of the mat exhausted... I must of resembled someone who had nearly drowned - my clothes where drenched and I was breathing heavily. Luckily my Tita (auntie) had brought plenty of Royal Orange to drink, which Richelle had kindly placed in the fridge to cool. I gradually regained my strength and began socialising with the instructors. It was then that they decided to conduct a demonstration for me to show more of Ernesto Presas's style. This demonstration featured self defence against single and multiple attackers - unarmed and armed with a variety of different weapons including sticks, knifes and bolos (machetes). It was all shown amazingly fast to demonstrate the effectiveness in a real life situation... boy was I impressed!
The gym was excellent and fully decked out with mats, glass mirrors and beautiful Filipino weaponry. I thoroughly enjoyed my lesson and found Richelle, the instructors and students to be very humble, hospitable and sincere.

My 2004 Trip to the Philippines
Checked out Ernesto Gym November this year and trained again with Michael (now married to Ernesto's to the lovely Richelle Presas - Ernesto's Daughter). Shook hands with Grandmaster Ernesto himself, though he seem preoccupied with the photo-shoot of his latest book and didn't have time to chat. I watched on as Grandmaster Ernesto demonstrated some moves for the camera with the bankaw (long staff) and we all laughed when Ernesto scolded one of the instructors for smiling in a photo shot being struck by the bankaw!

My cousin Henry Tollentino had taught me some of the Moro empty hands style, earlier in the week (some featured on the fma techniques page) from Mindanao. as well as some balisong techniques including disarms. He told me that before becoming a born again christian, he had been involved in many gang fights in the Philippines that he was not proud of and that in those days all the street kids carried one, often purposeful rusting the blades (to cause blood poisoning), so learning how to use one was a necessity to survive during confrontations. He taught me some moro style takedowns, armlocks, wristlocks and footwork, which mimics the movements of the monkey - low stance, both shoulders squared on, monkey like bobbing and weaving etc.

My 2006-2007 Trip to the Philippines
I had planned to visit my family for a couple of months, but after continual customer requests while on vacation for Filipino martial arts items not stocked, I investigated to see if I could help them out.

I later found a number of suppliers that could manufacture the said items but after delays in receiving the stock it was difficult to believe continuity of supply from those suppliers could be maintained once back in the UK.

It was at this point that I decided to extend my vacation for a year to produce the items inhouse to provide better continuity of supply, quality and cost of these new items to avoid disappointing my valued customers.

I spent the whole year recruiting suitable staff, premise and machinery to make superior quality new products at Europe's lowest prices and I
am immensly proud of the results. Just compare them with what you've bought from the competition and see the difference for yourself!

Some of the new products manufactured include:-

  • Wooden training weapons,
  • Bigger stick bags,
  • A new range of more affordable rattan sticks,
  • Thicker aluminium daggers,
  • More sizes of uniform and lastly inhouse manufactured body armour

It wasn't all business...I did manage to train in the famous Quezon City park park, and witnessed the Lapunti style guys doing a demo. I also trained at the Modern Arnis gym and lastly at the much overhyped Zubu Kali headquarters (a graveyard!)

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