Master Henry’s inside stories

H espera

Grandmaster Henry Espera talks about his early days, training under Tatang, and more

He lives in Silang, Cavite so I was surprised when I saw him this morning in the park where Master Cris Pasindo and I train (Quezon Memorial Circle, Quezon City). That’s about 65 kms (40 mi) distance.

He said he was going to meet with someone but came early to get some solo practice.

I was eager to learn more about him, so when he was done, I requested Master Cris to invite him for breakfast. My husband, J-cip, joined us.

For more than two hours, while absent-mindedly eating a Filipino breakfast of tapa (beef jerky), sunny-side up eggs, fried rice, orange juice, and brewed coffee, Master Henry let me inside his fascinating world.


His demeanor was gentle and humble, and he told his stories with fondness. I’m grateful for the privilege.

Early years

  • Born on December 1, 1953 in Sorsogon, Bicol
  • 4th child in a brood of thirteen (yes, 13!)
  • At 7 years old, his father gave Henry his own itak so he could do his daily chore of getting firewood for cooking.
  • At 21 years old, Henry went to Manila and got a job as a laborer at a Gravel and Sand company
  • After a few years he became a jeepney driver plying the Divisoria-Monumento route, driving from 6 PM to 6 AM
  • Every morning, as he went home to Moriones, Tondo, Manila, he would see many people walking towards a certain direction. After some time, he learned that those people were going to Luneta. That’s when he discovered that iconic park.
  • Since then, he would usually cut short his duty, bring back his jeepney to the garage at 3 AM and then by 6 AM he would already be in Luneta, doing some exercises and relaxing.

Training under Antonio “Tatang” Ilustrisimo

Photo credit 
  • Master Henry doesn’t remember exact dates. He knows that he met Tatang in the late 80’s and remembers that he was already training under him when there were airplanes bombing Malacanang “From Luneta, Tatang and I saw the planes but we didn’t know what was happening”.  (Note: I think that’s the 1989 Philippine coup attempt.)
  • They usually met Monday to Saturday, 6-9 AM
  • Robert Morales, also a student of Tatang, once suggested to him not to attend the Sunday trainings anymore since he already was with Tatang Monday to Saturday. So on Sundays, Henry would just sit at the side and watch the group training. “That’s maybe why some are questioning if I really trained under Tatang. But you can ask Maestro Siuox Glaraga. He was then (along with Grandmaster Jose Mena) also in Luneta on weekdays and he saw us.”   
  • Tatang always wore long-sleeves shirt (tucked in), formal pants, and leather shoes.
  • Tatang liked pandesal and coffee.
  • Training would consist of situationers and problem solving.
  • Tatang did not do numbers and counting. He gave no lectures on technique. He’d say, “What if someone hits you like this?” He’d show a move and then you follow him. If you ask him about your move, “Tama ba ito?” (Is this correct?). He’ll answer, “Kung tumama, tama.”  (If it hit, then it’s correct.”) Note: Because of the double meaning of the word “tama”, it sounds more poetic in Tagalog.)
  • Tatang wanted moves to be small but powerful. “Liitan mo lang ang galaw.”  
  • Training was always painful as Tatang did not have qualms of hitting you.
  • In the mid-90’s, Tatang became sick and was confined at the Quezon Institute for about a month. When he got well, he resumed training (although, he was not as strong as before). He continued for about two years more until he died.
  • The morning before his death, Henry still trained with Tatang. Tatang went home at around 9 AM. Around midnight he woke up and talked briefly with his wife. The next morning, he didn’t wake up anymore.
  • It took some time before Tatang was buried. The sad reason: They didn’t have money for burial.
  • Most important lesson from Tatang: Practical fighting.

Training under Alejandro “Andy” Abrian (Moro Moro Orabes Arnis Heneral)

  • Mang Andy worked as a maintenance man in Luneta. He was in charge of the maintenance of the flag poles and saw to it that flag rules were followed.
  • He watched Tatang and Henry practice, and after Tatang left, he would call Henry and comment about their training. He would then teach Henry his own techniques.
  • It was from him that Henry learned a lot. “Matagal nang namatay si Tatang, kasama pa rin ako ni Master Andy.” 

Training under a certain Mang Juan (Automatic Arnis)

  • A friend told Henry that there was very good Arnis Master in Quiapo.
  • They went to meet him and Henry trained under him for about two weeks only. “I already knew the techniques he was teaching so I didn’t see the need to train under him.”

Training under Erning Espinosa (Boxing)

  • In 1992, with already a few years of Arnis training, Henry got into a fist fight versus five men. (They were trying to unjustly tow his jeepney).  Henry eventually chased them away but not before sustaining a lot of cuts and bruises. He went home discouraged and thought “Arnis is not enough to make me win a fight. I have to learn how to grab, hold, and punch also.”
  • Somebody introduced him to a boxing master, Erning Espinosa, based in Balintawak, Quezon City.
  • From him, Henry learned blocks and punches, even trapping, grappling and kicking.
  • He also remembers Master Erning’s favorite siete-siete technique: You make your opponent move forward to attack you… lead him to a corner… and then suddenly move sideways so that you can trap him (forming a “7”, hence the name)

Rapido Realismo Kali

  • Over the years Master Henry developed his own system: Arnis mixed with punches, kicks, grappling, and wrestling.
  • He emphasizes the use of small moves made powerful by footwork, body position, and timing.
  • He differentiates edged from impact weapons.
  • He espouses the repetition of a certain move hundreds or even thousands of time. “Muscle memory is crucial,” he says.
  • He first named his system, Espera Mixed Martial Arts.
  • With the suggestion of his student, Isagani Abon, he later changed it to Rapido Realismo Kali International.
  • He likes to be called Master Henry but his formal title is Punong Guro.

Words of Wisdom

Finally, I asked him for messages he wants to tell others. Here they are:

  • Show humility by being careful with your words. Do not say anything that would provoke.
  • If others insult you, show the strength of your character by keeping your cool.
  • Strive to be a good man. Having martial arts skills is dangerous if you don’t have character.
  • Teach young people to love the country and its national sport, Arnis. If you see an interested young person, teach him well.

Thank you very much Master Henry!

Important Note:

Before our talk, I asked permission if I can write about what he’s going to tell me. He said, “No problem. Go ahead.”

8 pages of notes from the 2 hour talk

After our talk, I said I’m going to write things up and show him before I publish. He said, “No need. You go ahead and publish.”

So here’s my waiver: I’m telling these stories the way I understood them. If I got some information wrong, it’s not Master Henry’s fault, it’s mine.  Please accept my apologies and let me know in the comments below so I can correct things.

Salamat at pugay po.

P. S.  I still have stories about Tatang’s oracion but that will be for another post.

Thank you for taking time to read my blog, The Deadly Dance.


Read more from around the web:

PG Henry Espera / Rapido Realismo Kali

Antonio Ilustrisimo / Kapisanang Mandirigma

Alejandro Abrian / Visayan Arnis Eskrima





















Getting to know some Filipino Martial Arts Maestros


From left: Grandmasters Martin Raganas, Jr., Pepito Robas, Punong Guro Boy Pajo, Grandmasters Henry Espera, Roberto Labaniego, Sensei Jimmy Ibrahim

Most of them are soft-spoken, unassuming, and even slightly shy. If you didn’t know any better, you wouldn’t realize that you’re in the company of men who have contributed so much to Filipino Martial Arts.

During tournaments,  I sometimes cringe when I see young athletes not paying attention when Maestros speak or do exhibitions. This has to change. We’ve got to learn about our own history.

Knowing and respecting the great men (and women) who were before us help us know ourselves better.

I myself don’t know all of them. So during the latest (14th) Arnis Pasindo tournament, in my amateur-interviewer kind of way and amidst my other duties, I got some basic first hand information.

While everyone else is watching the tournament, I get insiders’ information from GM Martin Raganas, Jr. (first generation Ilustrisimo student) and Coach Arnold Narzo, current Chief Instructor of Kalis Ilustrisimo Repeticion Orihinal (KIRO)
From left: Grandmasters Maximo Aldave, Lorenzo Magsico, Dr. Richard Gialogo, Grandmasters Jerry dela Cruz, Cris Pasindo, Henry Espera, Sensei Jimmy Ibrahim, Grandmaster Roger del Valle

Maestros Present (Names alphabetically arranged)

  1. Aldave, Maximo (Aikiyoi International Martial Arts)
  2. Buanjug, Eldie (Buanjug Eskrima / Lapunti Arnis de Abanico)
  3. Del Valle, Roger (Magkakaibang Arnis del Valle)*
  4. Dela Cruz, Jeremias “Jerry” (Arnis Cruzada)*
  5. Espera, Henry (Rapido Realismo Kali)*
  6. Ibrahim, Jimmy (Falcon Consolidated Martial Arts)*
  7. Labaniego, Roberto (Eskrima Labaniego)*
  8. Magsico, Lorenzo (Arnis Reform National)*
  9. Raganas, Martin Jr. (Punta Engano)*
  10. Robas, Pepito (Otsotiros Balintawak / Arnis Robas)*
  11. Valleno, Lemio “Romy” (Valleno Arnis Club /LSAI)*

*brief write up below

From left: Grandmasters Lemio “Romy” Valleno, Maximo Aldave, Roger del Valle, Jerry dela Cruz, Henry Espera

Roger del Valle

  • Born on August 8, 1952 in Labangon, Cebu
  • Trained under Crispulo Atillo (Atillo Balintawak) and Filemon “Momoy” Canete (Doce Pares/ San Miguel Eskrima).
  • Founded Magkakaibang Arnis Ka Roger based in Manila
From left: Grandmasters Jerry dela Cruz, Henry Espera; Sensei Jimmy Ibrahim

Jeremias “Jerry” Dela Cruz 

  • Born on April 21, 1947 in Sta. Rita, Pampanga
  • He initially trained in Karate (in Angeles, Pampanga) and in 1965 started training under Remy Presas (Modern Arnis).  He became head instructor and taught in many schools and even in the American Military Bases in Angeles.
  • In 1995, he founded Arnis Cruzada, based in Pasig City.

Henry Espera

  • Born on December 1, 1953 in Sorsogon, Bicol
  • Trained under Antonio Ilustrisimo (1980’s), Alejandro “Andy” Abrian of the Moromoro Orabis Arnis Heneral, and a certain Mang Juan.  GM Espera cannot remember Mang Juan’s surname but remembers that he headed Automatic Arnis based in Quiapo, Manila
  • Founded Rapido Realismo Kali (RRK), based in Manila

Jimmy Ibrahim

  • A Karate Sensei but very supportive of the Filipino Martial Arts
  • Born on November 5, 1953 in Cotabato City
  • Trained in Kuntao (with an “o” he emphasizes), Karate (under Dansalan Usman and then later, under Roberto Gonzales, the Karate King of the Philippine movies), and Silat under a certain Norodin
  • He is now with the Falcon Consolidated Martial Arts (Shotokan Karate)

Roberto Labaniego

  • Born on June 6, 1940 in Mambusao, Capiz
  • First trained by his grandfather on the use of  sibat (Filipino spear), then by his father on Largo Mano, Dumog, and some boxing. He later trained on Espada Y Daga under Benjamin Lema (Lightning Scientific Arnis)
  • For more information, click here.
From left: Grandmasters Pepito Robas, Crisanto Pasindo, Roberto Labaniego

Lorenzo Magsico

  • National Training Director and Founder
  • Arnis Reform National
From left: Grandmasters Martin Raganas, Jr., Pepito Robas, Eldie Buanjug

Martin Raganas, Jr.

  • Born on January 23, 1952 in Estaca, Minglanilla, Cebu
  • His first Arnis instructor was his father, Martin Raganas Sr., who was a member of Cebu’s Doce Pares. He also trained in Boxing, and in Karate where he became a blackbelt. In the mid 70’s, he met Antonio (Tatang) Ilustrisimo and from then on trained with him. His training-mates were Tony Diego, Yuli Romo, and Romy Macapagal. Sometimes the four of them would stay in Tatang’s house in Tondo, Manila. (Trivia: Tatang’s and Tony Diego’s houses were seperated only by a wall.)
  • Founded his own system, Punta Ingano, based in Manila.

Pepito Robas 

  • Born on May 31, 1952 in Hinigaran, Negros Occidental
  • Trained in Balintawak in the 60’s under Arnulfo Mongcal (a student of the Balintawak founder, Venancio Bacon). Then he also trained in Modern Arnis under Roberto Presas, a relative who lived near them in Hinigaran. Roberto is the younger brother of Remy and Ernesto Presas. Roberto then put up his own system, the Hinigaran Arnis de Mano, of which Robas became a head instructor.
  • Founded the Robas Balintawak System, based in Novaliches, Quezon City.
From left: Grandmasters Roberto Labaniego, Lemio “Romy” Valleno, Punong Guro Boy Pajo

Lemio “Romy” Valleno

  • Born on May 17, 1950 in Monreal Masbate
  • Trained in Lightning Scientific Arnis by the founder himself, Benjamin Lema. Later he also trained under Roberto Labaniego (also LSAI).
  • Founded the Valleno Arnis Club (LSAI), based in Makati City.
From left: Sensei Jimmy Ibrahim, Grandmaster Henry Espera, Dr. Richard Gialogo


These two maestros modestly didn’t want to be put in the same category as the above so I’m writing them as a valuable addendum here:

 Richardson Gialogo 

  • Born on January 17, 1974 in Manila
  • Trained in MoroMoro Orabes Heneral, Modern Arnis, Ilustrisimo, Doce Pares, and Pekiti Tirsia
  • Now the Director of the Loyola Schools Physical Education Program (Ateneo de Manila University) and a Senior Lecturer at the College of Human Kinetics (University of the Philippines, Diliman)
Grandmaster Martin Raganas, Jr., Coach Arnold Narzo

Arnold Narzo

  • Born on June 22, 1970 in Tondo, Manila
  • Trained under Antonio “Tatang”Ilustrisimo and then later with Antonio “Tony” Diego. There was a time when he trained simultaneously with both of them.
  • Now Chief Instructor of Kalis Ilustrisimo Repiticion Orihinal (KIRO), based in Manila

This is basic information. Soon, I hope to get more including how long they trained with each master, their philosophy, and some words of wisdom. What else can I ask them? Please give me suggestions.

Thank you for taking time to read The Deadly Dance.


Chicken, rice, coffee, and Grandmasters

Arnis Grandmasters
From left: GMs Jimmy Ibrahim, Martin Raganas, Jr., Francisco “Boy” Pajo, Henry Espera, Inocencio “Sioux” Glaraga, Roberto Labaniego, Vicente Sanchez

What do you get when you put Arnis Grandmasters together? Well…, a lot of Arnis talk, of course! (I’m corny!)

Anyway, that’s exactly what happened last Sunday, 25 August 2013. Grandmasters who held classes in Luneta were invited to a simple lunch get together.

With the help of some friends, our group’s Master, Cris Pasindo, organized the no-fuss event as a small token of appreciation of the efforts of older Grandmasters.

“They were among the ones who really worked hard for Arnis,” Master Cris said.

He couldn’t invite everyone, of course.  “When we receive more blessings we’ll have more of these,” Master Cris said. For this particular event, seven Grandmasters came and that’s more than good enough!

  1. Jimmy Ibrahim (Founder, Falcon Martial Arts)
  2. Martin Raganas, Jr. (A first generation student of the legendary Antonio Ilustrisimo)
  3. Francisco “Boy” Pajo — (Veteran Arnis tournament official)
  4. Henry Espera (Founder, Rapido Realismo Kali)
  5. Inocencio “Sioux” Glaraga (Founder, Kalaki Arkanis)
  6. Roberto “Bert” Labaniego (Founder, Top Labaniego Arnis Club)
  7. Vicente Sanchez (Founder, Kali Arnis International)

What did they do?

They enjoyed piping hot tamarind soup, ice-cold coke, Filipino-style chicken barbeque, and lots of rice. (The yellow thing on the rice is chicken oil. Not so healthy but oh so delicious!)


They were given a simple gift of black shirts with the generic Philiipine flag and ARNIS logo, so that they can wear them in other events.  (See photos above and below.)

You know, this group of Grandmasters were really fun to be with. They had lots of animated conversations about their earlier days. Lots of laughter there.

Talk became a bit quieter when the topic became the current situation of Arnis in the Philippines. “Learn from the mistakes of your elders. Do not be distracted by too much politics,” they said.

What I liked best was when they discussed different techniques.

“Redonda is the backbone move of arnis”

“Whatever the style, strikes #1 and #5 are always the same.”

And then at coffee time,  they demonstrated some of their favorite moves.

Gm Labaniego showing some Lightning moves to Master Cris
Gm Labaniego showing some Lightning moves to Master Cris

At 3PM, some had to leave but some moved to a nearby McDonalds to have more coffee and conversation.

Beside Master Sioux: Sgt Tolentino Diaz and Guro Mon Mirano
Punong Guro Pajo, What are you saying that Master Cris finds so funny?
Punong Guro Pajo, what are you saying that Master Cris finds so funny?

Of course I had some photo ops. I had a few only because I was shy 🙂

With Master Sioux, so far the most interesting arnis personality I've met. FMA's walking encyclopedia. Eccentric. Unique.
With Master Sioux, so far the most interesting arnis personality I’ve met. FMA’s walking encyclopedia. Eccentric. Unique.
With GMs Ibrahim and Esperas. It would have been a really good warriors' photo had there been no bottles of soy sauce and vinegar in the background, haha!
With GMs Ibrahim and Espera. It would have been a really good warriors’ photo had there been no bottles of soy sauce and vinegar in the background, haha!
with GM Sanchez and his beautiful ind us wife Cora (she has flawless skin, I tell you!) Standing behind us are   my always funny classmate Richard and his son Jude and of course master Sioux
with GM Sanchez and his beautiful wife Cora (she has flawless skin, I tell you!) Standing behind us: my always funny classmate Richard, his son Jude and of course, Master Sioux
with GM Labaniego who always had a ready warm smile and a low voice like a DJ's
with GM Labaniego who always had a ready warm smile, and has a low voice like a DJ’s

A good afternoon with good friends. The older Grandmasters should have more of these.

We’ll see. As the blessings come…

Pugay, Grandmasters. Thank you for all your hardwork for Arnis.

Thank you for taking time to read The Deadly Dance.


Related posts:

Do you know this Maestro?

Photo taken on 10 August 2013 in Luneta, Manila, Philippines
Photo taken on 10 August 2013 in Luneta, Manila, Philippines

“Pugay, Maestro,” we said to a man with fair skin, long wavy hair,  bushy silver beard, wearing an oversize jacket, piles of necklaces and bracelets, and carrying several canes bound together.

I’ve seen some photos of him on Facebook but the first time I saw him in person was a few Sundays ago when our Arnis Master Cris Pasindo brought our group to Rizal Park. Part of the outing’s goal was to meet different grandmasters. (See that post here.)

The Maestro’s get-up was something I don’t usually see among Filipino Martial Artists or anyone for that matter.  The first words that entered my mind: Weird.  Odd.

So I was a bit taken aback when he spoke. One could immediately tell that he was highly-educated. I was impressed right away. Within minutes our group was chuckling at his wit and caught up with what he was saying.

When I asked permission if I could write about him in this blog he said yes, with one condition:

“Spell my name right: S-I-O-U-X.”

Okay I will, Maestro Sioux.

Maestro Inocencio "Sioux" Glaraga

The above photo is actually posed. In reality, about ten of us were gathered around him, much like an informal classroom.

Oh, if I only knew how to take down notes like a news reporter! I’m sure I would have gotten more information. Anyway, here are a few of the points I got. The way I write makes it look serious but Master Sioux was warm, conversational, and witty. Not preachy at all.

About him: (He wasn’t in the mood to talk about himself so this is all I got)

Inocencio Y. Glaraga a.k.a. Maestro Alibatar EMS a.k.a. Maestro Sioux

  • Academic degrees: B.Crim, A.B., B.S. Ed (Major in PE), M.S. Crim
  • Was a certified NBI, Police, and Military Instructor
  • Native of Negros Occidental, Western Visayas, Philippines
  • prefers to be called Maestro because he says that’s what he is, a teacher
  • he plans to go back to teaching FMA soon but only instructors’ level

His thoughts:

  • Who are we to claim that this art is ours?  What we know, we also got from others
  • Be very careful and always acknowledge those who taught you
  • You cannot mix virtues with vices
  • If you are not disciplined yourself, you have no business teaching discipline to your students
  • Guard your tongue. Do not let a temporary irritation bring permanent damage
  • If you are a master, live as a master. It is the duty of the student to care for his master
  • Build character early on. A skilled practitioner without values is very dangerous
  • You cannot be a teacher unless you remain a student
  • Teaching is learning
  • Practice diligently until the moves come naturally to you, like a reflex. Muscle memory is important because in battle, you don’t have the luxury of time to think
  • Cross studies broaden a student’s horizon. But this is how you should go about it: Learn the fundamentals from your own master first. Then when your master says you are ready, you can go and get cross studies

Sure, there were times when Master Sioux made “weird” statements like a certain mysterious Maestro Sto. Nino teaching him and that one time when he healed an injured Arnis player with a dab of his saliva.

I REALLY don’t subscribe to those things and that’s one part of FMA I don’t want to participate in so I was very conscious and careful. But thankfully, those statements were few and far apart .

And here’s the reason why I think he’s one of FMAs gems: He has a profound knowledge of the Filipino Martial Arts. Ask him anything and he knows the answer: history, personalities, styles, etc. He’s like a walking encyclopedia.

Of all the things he said, this is my favorite:

For twelve years I along with several others tried to unify Filipino Martial Artists but we failed. Now, I think the younger Grandmasters have learned from the mistakes of their elders. So, there’s hope.

In the end, I ask these questions:

“Do you know this Maestro? Have you talked to him lately?” Maybe you can join me in getting to know him…again.  I’m sure we can all benefit from FMA’s walking encyclopedia. And if you’re one of those who appreciate him, maybe you can let him know now. I think even maestros need a pat on the back sometimes.

“Is he weird?” Maybe the better term is eccentric. And mostly only in attire. What he really is, is an enthusiastic teacher who wishes Filipino Martial Artists to be united for their own good.

Maestro S-i-o-u-x, you’re my kind of Maestro. I look forward to seeing you again.



Thank you for taing time to read The Deadly Dance.


Interesting reads from around the web:


1. Maestro Sioux doing a demo with Grandmaster Antonio “Tatang” Ilustrisimo

If you have trouble viewing the video, click here.

2. In this video, you can hear Maestro Sioux’s voice explaining the salient points of the Ilustrisimo style while Tatang Illustrisimo demonstrates his moves before his young apprentice now GM Tony Diego, who many call the legitimate heir of Kali Ilustrisimo. Click here.  

3. Again, Maestro Sioux’s voice in this video explaining the movements of Lightning Scientific Arnis as demonstrated by two late Grandmasters–Ben Lema (the founder) and Elmer Ybanez (the worthy apprentice). Click here.


Thank you to Mr. Mio Cusi for telling me about these videos.

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.

Andres Bonifacio, Eskrimador

Tomorrow is Philippine Independence Day and so I’d like to honor one of my most beloved heroes, Andres Bonifacio (1863-1897), leader of the Philippine Revolution.

He founded the Katipunan movement in 1892 and later became its Supremo (supreme leader). The Katipunan‘s radical platform was to secure the independence of the Philippines against Spanish colonizers by use of arms. The official name of his organization was Kataastaasan, Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (The Highest and Most Honorable Society of the Children of the Nation). Acronym K.K.K.

The Katipuneros believed that the only way to be free from tyranny and oppression was through armed conflict. They began to fortify their ranks and prepared to fight using their revolvers and bolos.

Only surviving photograph of Andres Bonifacio, founder of the Philippine revolutionary society Katipunan. Source:
The only surviving photograph of Andres Bonifacio, founder of the Philippine revolutionary society Katipunan.
Photo and Information Credit :

Four years later, the Spanish authorities confirmed the existence of the Katipunan. Hundreds of Filipinos were arrested and imprisoned for treason.

Eluding an intensive manhunt, Bonifacio called thousands of Katipunan members to gather in Caloocan to start their revolt. They marked that moment of valor by the tearing of their cedulas or residence certificates. (In the nineteenth century, a cedula served as an identification card. It meant that the Spaniards have you in their official list.   If one is caught without a cedula, he would be punished and detained.)

On 28 August 1896, Bonifacio called for a nationwide armed revolt against Spain and a simultaneous attack on Manila.

Read his  brave and bold general declaration:

This manifesto is for all of you. It is absolutely necessary for us to stop at the earliest possible time the nameless oppositions being perpetrated on the sons of the country who are now suffering the brutal punishment and tortures in jails, and because of this please let all the brethren know that on Saturday, the 29th of the current month, the revolution shall commence according to our agreement. For this purpose, it is necessary for all towns to rise simultaneously and attack Manila at the same time. Anybody who obstructs this sacred ideal of the people will be considered a traitor and an enemy, except if he is ill; or is not physically fit, in which case he shall be tried according to the regulations we have put in force.

This attack did not prevail but it led other provinces to revolt and continue the Philippine revolution.

A power struggle among the revolutionaries led to Bonifacio’s execution in 1897. He was only 34.  

Although Bonifacio did not prevail, we call him the Father of the Philippine Revolution because his passion and bravery started it all. 

Now, we remember him in many ways:

Postage Stamps, Ten-Peso Coin, Bonifacio Avenue, Bonifacio Gobal City, and monuments in many areas of the country.

Here’s one Andres Bonifacio monument. Look at his revolver and bolo. 

Andres Bonfacio, wielding a revolver and a bolo, with katipuneros.
Supremo Andres Bonifacio leads the Philippine Revolution, armed with his revolver and bolo. By Guillermo Tolentino,1933, cast in bronze. Caloocan City.

Katipuneros were highly-skilled bolo (a.k.a. itak) fighters.

A Katipunan officer’s bolo.
The ornate brass inlays on the blade are remarkable.
The peened tang on the butt end of the hilt points to a Luzon origin of the sword. The leather scabbard further points to the swords Luzon provenance.
Overall length: 22.6 inches.
Blade length. 16.6 inches
Maximum blade thickness3/8 inch
Photo and information credit:  Lorenz Lasco <
A typical Katipunero bolo, commonly called “Luzon matulis”.
A peened tang on the butt end of the hilt points to a Luzon origin.
The leather scabbard points to a Visayan “service” of the sword.
Overall length: 22.2 inches
Blade length: 19.6 inches
Maximum Blade thickness: 5/16 inch
Photo and information: Lorenz Lasco <
The tang's protrusion on the hilt
The tang’s protrusion on the hilt.
Photo and information credit: Lorenz Lasco <
A close up of the leather "throat" exhibiting symbolism yet to be deciphered. Photo and info credit: Lorenz Lasco <
A close up of the leather “throat” exhibiting symbolism yet to be deciphered.
Photo and information credit: Lorenz Lasco <

Andres Bonifacio: A true hero. Brave, Passionate, skilled in armed warfare.

This eskrimador pays tribute to you, Supremo.

Pugay po.


Related post: See how the Katipuneros influenced what Arnisadors wear:  What is the Arnis uniform?

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