Cebu:  The Tournament (Part 1)

by Jeff “Stickman” Finder


The tournament in Cebu was different from any tournament I had ever been to in the martial arts.  In fact, it was more like going to a basketball tournament, to compare it to past experiences.  This was due to the large and knowledgeable crowd in attendance.  In the United States, little boys get a ball and learn to play catch.  In the Philippines they get a stick and they chase the chickens and other small domestic animals.  Lots of kids there know at least some basic street stickfighting, even if they never have formal training, so the level of awareness is quite high.  This may vary in different areas, but Cebu seems to be a standout location for these arts.


The Gullias (sp?) gym at the University of the Visayas holds, I was told, 4000 people.  It didn’t look that big, so maybe that’s how many they crammed in there.  At the start of the two-day affair, the seats were half full.  By the end of the first night they were completely filled.  The second day (Sunday) began again with a smaller crowd, but as church and family obligations were fulfilled, it swelled until the building was overflowing.  Although only competitors and officials were supposed to b on the gym floor, the crowd was so strong that it eventually filled the building and even, at times, pressed into the ring!  In the heat and humidity of the tropics, this created an almost overwhelmingly dense atmosphere.  Compounding this were the thundershowers that rolled through.  The brief and meager cooling that they provided was quickly offset by the rise in humidity that quickly drained the strength of those not used to it.  At times the noise in the gym was deafening.  Between the cheers of the crowd and the thunder above, the joint was really rocking!


The lighter weight categories for fighters were larger, with many Filipino national champions vying for a world title.  The heavier classes were dominated by the teams from the U.S., Australia and England, and were much smaller as a result.


I didn’t pay too close attention to most of the fights, as many of them tended to look similar.  It’s hard to tell who’s out there in all the fighting gear.  I tried to find a quiet area to rest and conserve energy.  At one point on the first day, a bit overwhelmed by the heat and noise, I sat for 40 minutes and meditated as deeply as I could to escape.  Evidently it worked, because I had several teammates who came and sat next to me and meditated for 5 minutes at a time, sensing a quiet port in the storm.  I was oblivious to this, but heard about it from them later. 


I did go watch many of my teammates fight.  I remember Reggie Burford’s, from Berkeley Doce Pares, because he was a quick, flashy fighter with great expectations, both from himself and others on the team.  He fought against a defending Filipino champion from Cebu Doce Pares and lost a highly controversial decision.  Another teammate, Leo Fernandez, won accolades as the unofficial most improved fighter” in the tournament.  Coming in with relatively little experience, he dug down to tap unsuspected depths of courage, extending a heavily favored local champion to the only double-overtime fight of this tourney.


Since  the heavier ranks were so small, I had only three fights in this tournament.  The larger Filipino fighters didn’t fare too well, all of them losing early.  My first opponent was one of these guys.  I was so keyed up to finally see some action, I fairly exploded on him from the start.  My wife was watching nervously, and as Richard Bustillo walked by, he looked at her, looked at me in the ring, and told her “Relax.  He’ll have to die to lose.”   


There is one memory that stand out as remarkable for me from this fight.  I remember that my opponent stepped back after a fast exchange of blows, realizing he had a fight on his hands.  He was kind of waving his stick around.  Suddenly, as if on its own volition, my left hand shot out and simply ripped the stick from his hand, in a high-speed application of a disarm I had trained extensively.  First, I had never done it this fast, so it felt different, though it was the same technique.  Second, it was so spontaneous, I didn’t realize I had done it until I saw his eyes, behind the face guard, suddenly grow as large a saucers.  I had never seen this before, thinking it only a figment of cartoonists’ imaginations!  That’s when I realized what I had done, and I quickly threw his stick on the ground.  An official later told me, laughingly, that it’s good I had dropped the stick, earning a disarm point.  If I had held on, the disarm might have been disqualified as “grabbing”. 


Anyway, this fighter was done after this; his confidence was completely shot.  In the next round he tried switching the stick to his left hand, looking for any way to counter what I was doing.  Since my Serrada training includes a lot of numerado (lock and block), the left hand is no problem, just another target, so I went right to work on punishing it.  That experiment on his part ended quickly, and my first fight was pretty close to a blowout.  The others would be far, far harder.