Cebu: Going Into the Tournament
The 1989 1st WEKAF tournament consisted, if memory serves correctly, of 6 international teams and players from a number of different associations in the Philippines, most, if not all, of whom had qualified through their national championships. The foreign teams, in order of size, were from the U.S.A., Australia, Great Britain, Switzerland, New Zealand and India. The U.S. team had 17 players plus three coaches and an extra official (Ed Abinsay). The team photo, taken in the gym at the start of the first day, shows 19 people; Greg Alland and Ricardo Santos were elsewhere in the building and couldn’t be located. I don’t recall the size of the Australian team, but it wasn’t much smaller than ours. Many of it’s members came from tiny Alice Springs. The Escrima program there is quite strong; perhaps there isn’t much distraction. The British team was a handful, the Swiss I believe was 3. New Zealand had two members and India had a solo representative from Bombay. West Germany, Saudi Arabia, Japan and perhaps some other countries that were expected to participate ended up as no-shows.
There were a few women competing in this tournament, something which hadn’t been previously accounted for. There was a formidable female presence on the Australian team by the name of Sheila (forgive me if I’m weak on names, but it’s been awhile and I’m working without notes). Sheila was one of the WEKAF delegates elected by her team. A large woman with a larger smile, she moved with grace and power, a fighter of truly ferocious intent. The Philippines were represented by Eva Canete, a well-known competitor from the family that helped organize this. Greg Henderson’s partner from New Zealand was a Maori princess (“they all are” was her response) who had trained with him for some time. The proposed arrangement was that women would only do forms, an idea that was strongly challenged at the convention. Seeing the caliber of skills these women demonstrated, there is no reason not to have a fighting division for them, and I believe that was to have been opened for the next tournament, then scheduled for 1991.
The basic fighting rules were as follows: There would be 3 1-minute rounds; scoring was a 10-point “must” system, similar to boxing. This means that in every round at least one of the fighters MUST receive 10 points, no matter how the round goes. If it is a draw, both get 10 points. If it is close, the loser of the round gets 9 points. A large difference would net only 8 for the loser, and a blow-out could be scored as low as a 7. Takedowns and disarms were, within certain constraints, allowed, and were worth 1 point. (If both fighters scored this way, these points could offset each other and become irrelevant.) Takedowns were to be “foot to foot”, meaning that only foot-high sweeps (feet touching the ground) were allowed, no high reaping throws. If fighters tied up and grappled (the dreaded Dancing Bear syndrome), the referee was to step in and separate the fighters. Disarms had to be fast. Again, any tug-of -war, or holding the opponent’s stick while striking, were forbidden. The intent of these rules was to allow a more inclusive range of techniques without slowing down the action. Fast-paced sparring was the goal.
Striking was limited in that no more than 3 consecutive identical strikes could be thrown; thrusts, which were allowed to the midsection only, could only be used twice in a row. This restriction was to encourage fighters to use more variety, showing off their skill, rather than standing there bludgeoning each other to death like untrained thugs off the street. There was little to prevent a fighter from throwing more than the allowable limit of strikes. However, any consecutive strikes above the limit would not be counted in the scoring, and repeated warnings could result in a point deduction. You could hit someone in the head 10 times in a row with a #1, but only the first 3 would score, and the referee would probably stop such an obvious violation and issue a warning. There was nothing to stop a fighter from throwing 3 repeated strikes, changing once, then going back to 3 more of the first one. Heck, if it was working, why not?
The biggest difference between this tournament and the ones I’ve been involved with over here in the States was the quality of the officiating. There is no comparison. Over there, the referees were professionals with experience in the ring, and had more experience in these arts than most of the competitors. An example of this came in an early fight, when two fighters refused to break and overran grandmaster Ilustrissimo, who was a corner judge. The referee stepped between the battling fighters and, with a double-handed downward chop, disarmed both of them instantly. This got the attention and respect of every competitor in the tournament, and the referees had few problems thereafter. The scoring officials, as demonstrated in this story, were also of extremely high caliber. While judges here may have as few as 4 or 5 years experience, in these championships they were men with 30 to 80 years in the arts! Their ability to see technique and judge skill was extraordinary, and if my experience was typical, the feedback given post-fight by these observers was an opportunity to learn from masters, constituting coaching of the utmost quality.
Jeff “Stickman” Finder