Profile: Bert Labaniego, Grandmaster

Photo credit: Arnis Pasindo
Grandmaster Labaniego, fondly called Mang Bert.
Photo credit: Arnis Pasindo 2012

I remember seeing a slight, quiet man with a ready smile, working hard as one of the officials in an Arnis tournament last year.

I never knew that he was a big man in Arnis until I caught him on FMA Talk Live! and  saw a few of his videos on Youtube (see below).

Oh my, I regret that I walked by without giving due courtesy. I’m so sorry GM Labaniego. (I also did that to Grandmaster Henry Espera and I’m sure to not a few other GMs… Because I did not know!) –so sorry because I missed an opportunity to do what I’ve always wanted to do: to acknowledge the heroes of Arnis.

Next time I’ll know better.

GM Roberto "Bert" Labaniego Photo credit : Eskrima Labaniego
Grandmaster Labaniego:
highly skilled, generous, incredibly humble.
Photo credit : Eskrima Labaniego Facebook page

A search around the web (and later, an actual phone interview with him) gave me these information about this Grandmaster fondly called, Mang Bert.

  • born on June 6, 1940 in the municipality of Mambusao in the province of Capiz, Visayas, Philippines
  • his grandfather, Francisco Labaniego Sr.  was skilled in sibat (Filipino spear)
  • at age 12, he began training with his father, Custodio Labaniego, who taught him the basics of Largo Mano (Long Range System), Dumog (Filipino Grappling) and some boxing
  • their family was into rice and corn farming and used their weapon skills in warding off animals
  • in 1979, started training in the traditional Espada y Daga (Sword and Knife) system under Grandmaster Benjamin Luna Lema (founder of the Lightning Scientific Arnis System). For a video of GM Lema, click here.
  • although just 5 feet 5 inches tall, he became very skilled in close-range fighting
  • became a senior associate of Grandmaster Lema
  • founder of Top Labaniego Arnis Club and Eskrima Labaniego
  • now based in Paranaque, Metro Manila, Philippines where he still gives private lessons (For details, click HERE.)
Photo credit: Combat Journal 2005
Photo credit: Combat Journal 2005
Eskrima Labaniego
Photo credit: Roberto Labaniego Facebook account

Mang Bert is a formidable master of the Espada y Daga system. He says he likes it because it

  • is very effective and very hard to counter
  • utilizes two weapons of different lengths
  • emphasizes proper body positioning, footwork, and ranging
  • helps condition his body and mind, and is like a medicine that keeps him young

There was a 3-DVD series made about the Labaniego system. Sadly, it’s currently not available on line. But the DVD review says this about him:

Grand Master Roberto Labaniego is the real deal. Highly skilled, humble, and incredibly generous with his knowledge, the Grand Master is the epitome of the Filipino martial artist. Mang Bert has had to use his highly developed skills in many real-life encounters with the bolo (long working sword), knife, ice pick, and empty hands. Because of his background, Mang Bert has developed a very different approach to the art of fighting with the blade, stick, knife, or empty handed.

Update as of 12 August 2013: I was able to talk to GM Labaniego over the phone this morning. Ever so humble he sounded a little embarrassed when I said that I wrote about his skill and achievements. About the DVD, his one and only copy got lost during that terrible flood in 2009, Ondoy. But he has a friend who still has a copy and he can lend me that provided that I don’t reproduce it because of copyright issues.   (Hmmm, I’m sad that the world cannot see this DVD).  Anyway, we’ll see what happens.

For now, here are the Youtube videos I found:

1. Grandmaster Bert (in red) with Master Mando Arroyo in the 1980’s

If you have trouble viewing the video, click here.

2. The introduction video of his DVD series (2006)

If you have trouble viewing the video, click here.

3. With Grandmaster Rodel Dagooc  (GM Labaniego shows his prowess starting 0:39)

If you have trouble viewing the video, click here.

4. A more recent video of GM Labaniego doing an impromtu demonstration

If you have trouble viewing the video, click here.

Grandmaster Bert Labaniego, you are a Filipino Martial Arts hero. I give you my sincerest Pugay.


Thank you to my sources for this post:

Grandmaster Bert’s response via text message, 15 August 2013, 11:02 AM.

Hi Joy. Thank you sa iyong paglathala sa iyong blog ng tungkol sa akin, kagabi ko lang nabasa … parang sobra naman yata ang papuri hehehe…pero sa kabila ng lahat, salamat. Salamat din sa iyong pagbigay halaga sa ating sariling martial art na Arnis. God bless you and your family. Pugay! (Hi Joy. Thank you very much for writing about me in your blog. I was able to read it only last night. I think the praises may be too much… but even then, thank you. Thank you also for giving importance to our own martial art, Arnis. God bless you and your family. Pugay!)

I’m honored GM Bert. Pugay po.


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