Friday was devoted to politics. Until I got to Cebu, I hadn’t known about the plan to create WEKAF (World Escrima/Kali/Arnis Federation), but largely due to the energy and vision of Dionisio Canete, a man who had recently been defeated in an election for a senate seat, the forces behind NARAPHIL (the government-sponsored organization overseeing the development of indiginous martial arts) were about to go international.
The day began with a weird twist of luck. I missed the team bus to the convention center because Greg Alland told the driver that everyone was onboard and to leave, while I was standing 20 feet away in the hotel lobby. For this faux pas Greg bought himself a “Kick ME” sign with my footprints on it, which I gleefully exercised at unexpected moments throughout the trip. Meanwhile, I didn’t know where to go or how to get there.
I finally got that information from the hotel manager, and my wife and I caught a taxi to the Cebu convention center, a gleaming white structure across town. Although we left well after the team bus, they apparently made a prolonged stop at the YMCA, so we turned out to be the first members of the American contingent to arrive. This resulted in me getting a personalized introduction to many of the delegates to the convention.
Having my wife along helped, because many Filipinos were curious about American women. Their culture is very family oriented, and this made me a ‘family man’. Whereas most of the other tournament participants were seen, accurately or not, as young studs, I was viewed (accurately or not) as a mature adult, and was brought into conversations and welcomed to homes where other team members were not.
In any event, by the time the ‘official’ Team USA delegation arrived, I was sitting at a table with Gloria Canete and a number of senior Filipino officials, deep in conversation. This earned me my second ‘funny look’ from Richard Bustillo and Fred Degerberg. I decided I had better mend fences and show some loyalty, so I left Angela in the care of Gloria and went to join my teammates. The official start to the WEKAF organizing convention couldn’t begin, however, until all major parties were accounted for, so everyone began walking around the great hall, schmoozing and collecting autographs and phone numbers.
I didn’t know many of the people there, so I just followed the crowds to make my introductions. Some of those in attendance included the Canetes, Eulogio, Cacoy and Dionisio, grandmasters Antonio Ilustrisimo, Benjamin Luna Lema, Hortensio Navales, Jose Mena and Ernesto Presas, and many masters, including Edgar Sulite, Yul Romo, Orlando Sanchez and Sylvestre Abainza. The list of attendees was much longer, as most of the major styles from Manila and the Visayas were represented, and the grandmasters who were there had their proteges alongside. Many of the names elude me now, as my file of business cards from this event was lost in a move a few years ago, but at the time, I felt like a wide-eyed kid in a candy store. This was my reason for going, to meet people like this and get to learn about the state of the arts in the Philippines.
I was momentarily disconcerted when a group of young Filipino escrimadors came up to me and said “Master Finder, could we have your signature?” I had to tell them “I’m no master, just a student”, as I would never want word to get back to my teacher that I was making claim to an unearned title. Still, I signed autographs, so for a little while I got to be a celebrity.
When the convention finally started (much later than scheduled, a trend that would be repeated throughout the visit), it was headed by the official Council of Grandmasters, who sat on the stage. I believe it was Ernesto Presas who was inducted into this elite society at this time, though my recollection is a bit vague. Nevertheless, with only about 8 men on the stage, it was clear that this was the top of the FMA pyramid in the Philippines.
Diony Canete was the master of ceremonies, conducting the proceedings with a deft touch. There were two main agendas to be completed. The first was to create WEKAF as an organizing structure, superceding Naraphil, to reflect the international dimensions of growth in the Filipino arts. This done, each national team caucused to elect its own officers. The U.S. elected Richard Bustillo as president, with Fred Degerberg, Dodong Cuesta and Ed Abinsay as officers for the Central, Eastern and West Coast Regions; there may have been other positions filled, such as secretary (Richard Aterrado), but I don’t recall this clearly.
The other agenda was to set the rules for the upcoming tournament. I was a bit surprised, thinking this wuld have been done, but this made sense since this was a “new” organization and a concensus was necessary. There was much debate on different topics, such as what sweeps and disarms to allow, limitations on repetitive strikes, thrusting, and how these elements would be scored within the framework of a boxing-type 10-point “must” system.
As one might expect, yours truly had his 10 cents worth to put in. I pointed out that all the debate was about offense, but the techniques of the art all contained defense, and that within boxing the concept of ring generalship included defense as a legitimate element of skill in the contest. This point was well taken and became part of the acknowledged scoring criteria in the tournament.
There were two sessions, morning and afternoon, with a lunch break in between. There was pressure to wrap up the conference before too late, because of the motorcade scheduled to run through the city (covered in the first attachment I sent). When everything was finally wrapped up, we all went outside to find a line of cars with banners on them, identifying the different teams. From one conference stressing unity, we would now separate into factions, but the rivalry, for the most part, would be conducted in high spirits. Most of us were having the time of our lives, and we all were aware that, as pioneers, we were setting an example for whatever would follow in the future.
Jeff “Stickman” Finder