We began our trip to Fresno with the drive from Orange County/Los Angeles where we practice. We took three cars, one with Manny, Jerry and Chris, the other with Patrick Sr., Patrick Jr. and Norm and in my truck was Jay (my newly promoted Black Belt). With the exception of Jay and Norm, my new students had not yet met Grand Master Estalilla. We were all scheduled to meet at Denny’s at the Grapevine at 8:00am for breakfast. Once we arrived, it was apparent that everyone was very excited to meet Grandmaster Estalilla ‘Apo’; I mentioned that it is customary for Apo to greet each individual member of our party with great enthusiasm, and in great sincerity ask them about the details of their lives. It goes to mention that before we ate we said a prayer, which I thought to be very instrumental in bringing us all back as a whole with a clear understanding that this was not only a trip to further our understanding of Kabaroan Escrima, but also a spiritual pilgrimage for a higher calling of the art.
Once we arrived in Fresno, we met up at Apo’s office, and to my great joy there was the regular casts (and characters) of brothers that follow this great man. The Fresno group (my description) is an eclectic group of Martial Artists with the sole purpose of supporting Grand Master Estalilla, and like myself, learn life lessons from him. In any case, we began warming up with jarring exercises. This is a double stick technique of striking your weapons to reinforce the need to have a secure grip, but not a restrictive ‘death’ grip. I was told by another Grand Master that it is like holding onto a bird, you don’t want to let it go, but you don’t want to kill it either. Apo then went into his common overview of the art; i.e. lines of strikes, types of strikes, etc… We closed the morning session with a lesson on the goal of Kabaroan, that though it is a brutal art it is motivated by a cultural objective to humanize the art, civilize the artist and refine the system.
At lunch my group received a chance to further listen and commune into fellowship with Apo. I could see the delight in their attentiveness to his words; it reminded me of myself so long ago, and how I came to the conclusion that I have met a mentor, more than a teacher, for life. Of course the Martial Arts has always played a major part of my desire to learn from APO, (I’ve been able to use it in coordination with Kalirongan Largo Mano to produce a good and respectful system), but it is the grace and stature of the man that brings us together to practice an art that is greater than the whole. My students picked up on how gregarious Apo is and the conversation circled around fellowship.
Lunch ended and we were back in the parking lot practicing. The afternoon was filled with an overview of disarm, otherwise described as D.I.E. Apo love acronyms and in this case disarms are defined as Direct, In-direct and Empty hand; i.e. primary, secondary and tertiary. An example of an in-direct primary disarm is a thumb lock, an in-direct secondary is a puno strip and an in-direct tertiary disarm is a snake hand. We finished the afternoon with a form of twelve strikes know as ‘basic twelve’ and some derivatives off of that form such as ‘Abridge 15’. Apo just kept on going on and on. He worries me sometimes; he will often forget his age and will not stop. His energy comes from his zeal of evangelizing Kabaroan, but I believe there is something more. To have that kind of love of what he is doing must come from God, and that spirit inspires me to learn more about what he shares with us all beyond the art. Apo is just a man though, and he will always finish with his dedication to the Lord and how that is what governs all things in heaven and on earth; if he successfully passes this message onto us he says his life has not been in vain.
[I find I’m compelled to mention that there is a lot of discussion about the Kabaroan system within our community of brothers. Apo has his manuscripts and sincerely worries that it will get into the wrong hands; that somehow the system will be animalize, barbarized and corrupted by well meaning, but perhaps fallen astray brothers in arms. I come from the opinion that no matter what one says they know of the art, or reads from books of Kabaroan Escrima, there is no substitute for meeting the man, learning from him and growing and sustaining a fellowship with him. So in our case, it is a blessing to share the experience of a day with Grandmaster Ramiro Estalilla Jr. and I highly suggest keeping that connection once it has been established.]
Well at the end of the day we were collectively worn out but it didn’t seem so bad since we were filled with Apo’s teaching. Personally, I was very satisfied with the trip because it turned out to be not just a trip for Escrima practice alone, but truly an opportunity to fellowship with a great man driven by the Holy Spirit. Therefore knowing the person and applying that sense of sprit to your Escrima is what is missing from books and videos. If you don’t know the man, make the point to do so, his door is always open. To summarize, one will learn that spending a day with Grand Master Estalilla Jr. and learning his idea of following the Golden Rule, ‘do onto others as you would have them do onto you’, is absolute and will be your inspired life path.
Associate Grand Master Ron Reekers