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.

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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

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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.”

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Life lessons I learned from my burnout

January 3, 2015 marked my second year in Filipino Martial Arts. Unlike the “I breathe-think-talk-do-FMA-all- day-long” first anniversary,  this one was quiet and reflective. As some of you may know, I got tired of FMA. Some months back, I burned out bad and needed a time away.

And so, rest from FMA I did.

And you know what? Along the way I realized that, just like in everything else in life, taking a break is not bad at all. In fact, it has numerous benefits and I learned some valuable life lessons:

1. The world will continue to revolve even without you.

I’m embarrassed to admit it even to myself, but I had that secret pride in my heart and thought that my group wouldn’t be the same without me:  They’d be lonely when I don’t show up for practice. For sure they’ll miss me.

Who was I kidding? They continued to train and enjoy their sessions!

Aside from training, I was also supportive in tournaments.  I was active in the behind the scenes work like documentation, housekeeping, and food preparation. But since I was taking a break, I didn’t help during the latest tournament our group organized. I did go just to watch. And you know what? They still did well and the tournament was a success.

Note to self: Nobody’s indispensable.

2. Sometimes it takes the insight of others to make you realize a truth 

As a substitute for my FMA training, I signed up for a full marathon and joined a running group. I’m deep into training now and I can honestly say that I do like running. But last night, as hubby and I were having our usual after dinner tea, I was a bit surprised when he said “After your marathon, you should go back to FMA. It’s what you love. You were happier when you were in it.” I was a bit taken aback because he said it so bluntly. Really? Did it really show?

After some speechless moments, and feeling sort of weird and relieved at the same time, I finally declared, “You’re right, I was happier when I was in FMA.”

Sometimes you just need to hear it from others.

3. The saying “different strokes for different folks” is true

I met and talked with different athletes – runners, bikers, triathletes, judokas, fencers, archers, and even a few from other FMA styles. All of them are passionate about their sport. One simple question like “Why do you like your sport?” will lead to a long enumeration of all the good things about it. Sure, FMA is good, and I think it is one of the best martial arts/sports in the world.  But that’s for me. What I like at this point in my life, is the best sport for me. That goes for the others also. We cannot be smug and declare that ours is the best and nothing else.

4.  The right words, said at the right time soothe.

When I told my friends that I was tired of FMA, they did not shake their heads and say, “I knew that would happen…”  Instead they were encouraging and kind:

  • It’s ok. Music has intervals between notes
  • Life is a constant flow
  • Taking physical and mental breaks is good
  • Take your time
  • Fall in love with the long walk
  • Come and spend a few days at my family’s place
  • Rest
  • I also felt the same way, many times in the past

5.  Rest gives you the opportunity to go back to the drawing board

Burning out is a harsh way to learn, and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. But sometimes changes in behavior can only happen with strong shocks to the system. Stepping back gives the opportunity to evaluate habits and attitudes and correct what needs correcting. What comes out will be clearer and better.

And that, my friends, is a good thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Private moments before the new year

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A quick post to wish all my FMA friends a Happy New Year!

When my brother-in-law, Jon, gifted hubby and I with an overnight stay in this hotel overlooking Manila Bay, we gratefully accepted because we always like to take these last few days of the year to “think about our lives.”

To some it may be corny or silly but we like this period to contemplate about what had been and what could be, close some issues, and celebrate a lot of joys. We do it individually for the most part.

So now, in the quietness (well not really so quiet as TV chef Gordon Ramsay is cooking steak in the background), I look at photos in my ipad then read select entries in my personal journal as well as this blog. So many wonderful moments of 2014 have already slipped my conscious memory and it’s comforting to call them back for a brief visit.

Some things that are negative, I determine to let go. Go away! Good riddance! (I imagine that with a strong whack from my Arnis stick 🙂

Now, as I sip piping hot, almost-burns-my-tongue black tea,  I ask God to bless me with a new dream for 2015: to realize an aspiration, to discover a new strength, to ignite a new passion, to find new friends, to overcome a new challenge.

Before fun-loving Filipinos set off their firecrackers, I am grateful for these private moments. So nice.

The view of  the pool and the harbor from our 6th floor room
The view of the pool and the harbor from our 6th floor room

May the LORD Jesus Christ, whom I believe in and strive to follow, bless all of us as we face 2015.  Peace and joy to all of you, my friends.

Pugay!

P.S.

I leave you with a photo of our room’s mini bar.

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Of course, I had to check out the “weapons” 🙂

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I’m looking forward to the resumption of my training this January. Yes, I burned out and took a break (check out I’m tired of FMA) but now, in the words of my sister Sandi, I’m “egzoited.”

Thank you very much for taking time to read The Deadly Dance. See you next year!

 

The reason why they do it

Hubby recently joined a 50 km (31.25 mi) run and I went as support. Typhoon Hagupit was expected within the day but the organizer declared that it was a “rain or shine” event so a few minutes from their 4 o’clock gunstart on that chilly, windy morning, sixty-three determined ultramarathoners eagerly listened to instructions.

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“This is a no-fuss run:  No freebies, no media, no gimmicks. Just plain running.” I watched with amusement when the participants cheered to that. “They must really just love running,” I smiled to myself, admiring their passion. And run they did and at the end, they celebrated well, in their own no-fuss kind of way.

Now that’s how I felt when I went to watch an Arnis tournament recently.

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The participants competed fiercely such that one lady who passed by asked how much the cash prize was. When I answered that there was none and that the athletes even paid to participate, she slowly nodded her head and said “Ibig sabihin, mahal lang talaga nila ang Arnis.” (“That means that they just really love Arnis.”)

I think she’s right. How else could you explain the effort that the athletes make just to compete? They train, pay to register, and on tournament day, wake up early, commute, lug their own food and drinks, stay until evening. After the winners get simple medals and trophies, everyone packs up for the tiring commute home. Prestige? Bragging rights? Maybe.  But why FMA when it’s so non-mainstream? There are hundreds of other sports to choose from.

I thought about this a lot and the answer I came up with sounds silly and corny but really, it’s love. L-O-V-E. The athletes do it because they love the sport. That’s what makes all the effort meaningful. Awww! 🙂

Agree?

There is always something there to remind me

“This is not good,” I told myself. “I probably should go back to Filipino Martial Arts training soon.”

You see, I was in a church service tonight, and was only vaguely hearing what the pastor was saying because I was so distracted. First, it was the pen in his shirt pocket.  I thought of the long list of  lethal moves I could do with it. Then his microphone, another long list. And then the mic stand….

I’ve burned out and it’s been almost two months now that I’ve pulled back from FMA training and all other related activities. (Check out my earlier post I’m tired of Filipino Martial Arts.)

During this break, I realized that I can’t completely shut off FMA. Remember that catchy 1960’s song “There is always something there to remind me” by Burt Bacharach and Hal David? It’s true of FMA.

I go to a book store and spot a knife book.

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It’s kitchen book alright but that hold can very well be ours. IMG_20141111_160309

I go to a hardware store

IMG_20141112_132131and find walking sticks

IMG_20141112_131139and knives.IMG_20141112_125920And don’t let me get started on the mall’s kitchen section: weapons are just too many to mention!

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IMG_20141112_123925I sit at a doctor’s waiting room and get mesmerized by the pens and scissors on the secretary’s table. I eat lunch and remember the farmers’ bolos cutting palay.   I see a flag and think of Lapu-lapu, Andres Bonifacio, and Diego Silang.

There’s really no escaping. FMA is and will always be a part of my life and unless I want to think of lethal moves in church again, I better start getting small doses of FMA soon.

We’ll see what happens.

I’m tired of Filipino Martial Arts

Sometimes, even I find it hard to believe  that less than two years ago, I didn’t care a bit about Filipino Martial Arts. I didn’t care because I knew next to nothing about it. Sure, I knew that Arnis (as Filipino Martial Arts is popularly called here) was the Philippines’ “new” national sport replacing sipa, and that it used sticks as weapons. But that was it.

Now if you let me enumerate all the things I love, FMA would be easily included. It has helped me become fit and healthy and confident. It has introduced me to worlds that I never knew existed before.

FMA made me happy.

But somehow these past few weeks have been different. I seem to have lost the spark. The excitement and hunger diminished and the emotions were no longer raw. Whereas before, I looked forward to every training session, reveled in it, and then went home only to read and watch some more, now even my FMA Facebook remain mostly closed.   I’m bored, uninterested, and tired.

My rational mind labels this weariness as burnout.

burn.out

:the condition of someone who has become very physically and emotionally tired after doing a job for a long time (Merriam-Webster)

Well, although my case is probably mild, I know that that’s what I have. And because I know the diagnosis, I also know the cure.

I. need. a. break.

That’s why my sticks and blades quietly rest in their cases now.

In the meantime, I rest, run, and do strengthening exercises. Sometimes though,  when I do arm exercises I long for my weapons…

But the longing is not enough to make me take them out of their cases. Not now, not yet.

I’m on vacation.

A-good-vacation-relieves

I’m sure I’ll eventually come back.

But for now,  I rest.

Karambit

karambit

“What’s that, a can opener?”

“No… it’s a… neck opener, haha!”

That was an exchange between two of my arnis friends when I recently showed them my new karambit training knife.

“Well, it’s a neck opener alright… and an eye gouger, tendon cutter,  etc., etc., “ we said with a chuckle as only martial artists would considering the gory scenario.

Anyway, I got interested with karambits because my blogger friend, Fia posted hers. And then during the latest Arnis Pasindo tournament, KAMAO’s combat demonstration used karambits.

So, I ordered one from Grandmaster Rodel Dagooc. I think it’s a bit large for me but Master Cris said it’s fine for training purposes.

karambit
Full Length: 7 1/2″ Handle: 4″ Long, 3/4″ Thick Blade: 3″ Long 1/4″ Thick Materials: Aluminum ( Blade ) , Kamagong ( Handle )

Anyway, Master Cris said that karambits are similar to the curved and traditionally bigger blade, the sanggot.

He added that when he was still in Davao, they used the sanggot to harvest coconuts, cut palay, and chop banana tree trunks for pig feed.  The curved blade lessened their wrist fatigue. They usually used the foregrip and did not hook their fingers into the finger ring.  The ring was mainly for the cord they tied to the scabbard on their waist.

Anyway, how did my first day of karambit practice go? Totally enjoyable!

Here I am practicing six different grips.

Karambit grips

It felt familiar yet new. Familiar because it’s a blade and I know blades but it’s new because the curve, the two edges, and the ring allowed different technique applications.

Master Cris added a brief warning:“Be careful with the finger ring. It can prevent you from dropping your karambit but if you don’t watch out, it can also fracture your finger.”

Okay.

On with my moves…

SLASH! HOOK! PUNCH! JAB! PUNCTURE! CUT! RIP!  The karambit felt like a claw and brought out my animal instincts! Cat woman, Arnis version!

Grrrrrrrr!

Totally cool, I must say. Oh yeah!! 🙂

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Thank you for taking time to read The Deadly Dance. Pugay!

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