He proudly repeat the story that he was around eight years old when Spain handed over the Philippine Archipelago to the United States – a transfer of “ownership”, which was ceremoniously called Philippine Independence. He said that he was on his father’s shoulders while everyone was celebrating the end of the bloody Katipunan battle. My “lolo” (grandpa) was a katipunero. My father was telling stories on how the katipuneros fought against the Spaniards, and how his father taught him how to handle “itak” (bolo) and use it as a weapon. This was his inspiration why during the early Japanese occupation, he was one of first freedom fighters who gathered small groups of local citizens to fight against Japanese by using only their “itak” (bolo), “balaraw” (knife), “sibat” and “pana” (long and sharp-pointed pole made of bamboo, hard wood, and steel bars. When the Americans put these groups under their leads, they were given inferior rifles, limited ammunition, and young officers to lead them. He said that these officers were too young to battle, and though they knew how to use their guns, they were less experienced to use bolos and effectively stage man-to-man fight against the Japanese who were skilful in using their bayonets and swords. Knowing that there were so many heroic stories that my father often retell over and over again when he was still alive, and these war stories were accounts of how Filipinos were so good at using bolos during the war, as well as settling local disputes against each other.
I saw physical remnants of wars in our home. When I was a kid I used to play with old rifles and short-barrelled guns, different type of ammunitions housed in several military ammo metal boxes, grenades, etc. We also had different types and lengths of “itak” and swords, “sibat” and “pana”, and the most prominent was my father’s favourite “itak”, which is long (around 25”), very sharp, and slim shape similar to the artwork in the Tagaan-Kawala logo. I have witnessed, lived, and grew up with these physical remnants of wars including one formidable person - my father.
According to my father, in fighting there’s only one rule: “kill, or be killed; you must kill for you to live”. This is very extreme! However, this rule may be a driving force why he consistently reminded me that I should only get into a fight if it's a matter of self-defense, and even before going there, I should do everything in my capacity to avoid it. This includes learning how to sense potential or incoming danger and waste no time to evade it. As I grew up I realized the wisdom of this rule, and as I alway teach to my children and my students, it is so easy to get into trouble, but it is so difficult to get out of it. It became one of my principles as I grew up, and it does really worked!
GM Marcial was born during the Katipunan years, grew up and fought in the Second World War, fought many fights that costs lives of his very own families and many others. The scars of violent wars were in my father’s system, which once in a while came out when he became upset. It is still vivid in my memory that when he gets upset (to us boys), his ears and face turns into red, and his first move was to raise his right hand to grab either his “katipunero” bolo, pull a wooden fence stud (bakod na sanga ng kahoy), break a branch of a tree by hand, grab his “tungkod” (cane), or anything that he could use as his “itak”, and swing it to us like fighting a do-or-die battle during his wartime years.
My father started to teach me self-defense when I was around seven years old after one fight where I was severely beaten up. I didn’t know yet how to fight at that time despite knowing that my father was a fierce fighter. All what I did was to bite my opponent, which made him to end the fight. There was a very strict rule from our mother that we should not get into a fight with anybody. That incident led my father to discreetly train me everytime we were together and alone. That was the beginning of my long and painful training, which became the very foundation of the Tagaan Arnis – De Leon system.
In 1988, GGM Marcial De Leon, Sr. passed away of a natural death at the age of 98, but his “arnis” style remains alive, and will remain in the generations to come.
The story of my father is the story of Tagaan Arnis. I know that there are many more noble stories of great FMA masters that remain hidden and many more styles that as of this time are kept secret and reserved only for direct family. I call upon those who are heirs of their respective arts/styles to come out and share it with the younger generation. Coming out and share it to others is a noble way of honouring the person who has granted you this legacy especially if that person is your father, and the art is of your ancestry.
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