In­tro­duc­ing Black Belt’s 2018 Man of the Year

Black Belt - - FORGED IN FIRE! -

E very tra­di­tional mar­tial art ex­ists in the present be­cause at one time in the past, it was used suc­cess­fully in bat­tle. It would have been il­log­i­cal for war­riors to pass down strate­gies and tech­niques that failed to func­tion in fights. End of story.

In part be­cause of ge­og­ra­phy, most cul­tures and classes were pit­ted against the same ene­mies, of­ten for long pe­ri­ods of time. There­fore, it can be as­sumed that most fight­ing sys­tems de­vel­oped to neu­tral­ize a spe­cific en­emy. Case in point: In Ja­pan, ju­jitsu was cre­ated to com­bat the samu­rai, with their iconic weaponry and their unique way of fight­ing.

Now, the fact that most mem­bers of a given ad­ver­sar­ial group prob­a­bly fought in sim­i­lar ways, one can ar­gue that this could limit the ef­fi­cacy of the art that’s be­ing used against said group if it was pit­ted against a dif­fer­ent group. It fol­lows, then, that any art that was bat­tle-tested against two en­emy cul­tures would be more ef­fec­tive than a style that faced only one. And it fol­lows that if an art was forged in three cru­cibles that re­sulted from pro­longed clashes with three mighty na­tions, it would have the up­per hand.

Such a sys­tem does ex­ist, and it’s called pekiti tir­sia. This form of kali is helmed by Leo T. Gaje Jr., and it’s be­ing used by mil­lions of mil­i­tary men and women around the world for the very rea­sons I just men­tioned.

Cru­cible No. 1

Gaje was born in 1938 on the is­land of Ne­gros in the Philip­pines. When he was just 6, he be­gan train­ing un­der his grand­fa­ther Con­rado Tor­tal. The rea­son the pa­tri­arch put his only grand­son on the mar­tial path so early was em­i­nently prac­ti­cal. “He said, ‘I will train you so you can pro­tect your prop­erty and fam­ily,’” Gaje said. “Ev­ery fam­ily in the Philip­pines had to be able to take care of them­selves.”

His­tor­i­cally, a sig­nif­i­cant part of that mis­sion of pro­tec­tion was to fight against the Span­ish, he added.

You see, in the af­ter­math of Fer­di­nand Mag­el­lan’s ar­rival in 1521, Spain took grad­ual con­trol of the Philip­pines. And the Span­ish, with their blades, ruled with an iron fist. “Of­ten, one mem­ber of a fam­ily would go out to ob­serve how the Spaniards used their swords — they were in­tel­li­gence agents, in a way,” Gaje said. “In my fam­ily, my grand­fa­ther had three brothers, and they ob­served the fight­ing sys­tem of the Spaniards. They would re­port to my grand­fa­ther, then do clin­ics on the type of fight­ing they saw. Most of it was us­ing the blade from long range.”

With the in­tel, Gaje’s grand­fa­ther fo­cused on foot­work — specif­i­cally, how the fam­ily might use close-range meth­ods to de­feat their ene­mies. “My grand­fa­ther and his brothers an­a­lyzed the foot­work of the Spaniards step by step,” Gaje said. “They saw that most of the move­ment was lin­ear, so they de­vel­oped a way to open it up, which is the open tri­an­gle. From that base, they were able to strate­gize their method­ol­ogy. They used di­ag­o­nal lines be­cause a di­ag­o­nal line is a pro­tec­tive line when you slash and thrust. They were look­ing for a way to at­tack up close that was not coun­ter­able, mean­ing to say there was no way to block the tech­nique.”

The brothers de­ter­mined that there are two ways to fight when blades are in­volved: with weapon con­tact and with­out weapon con­tact. “If one blade makes con­tact with

an­other blade while block­ing, it takes time to re­cover,” Gaje said. “So they stud­ied an­gu­la­tion [to avoid that]. If your an­gle is com­ing in this way, I go that way. If you go high, I go low. All this was part of a build­ing process — they did it ev­ery day.

“When­ever they de­vel­oped a new tech­nique, they would go on a test mis­sion. The brothers would go out and fight with the Spaniards. One hun­dred per­cent of the tech­niques we teach now worked then. That’s why we teach them — and it’s why in pekiti tir­sia, we al­ways say that ev­ery tech­nique cost lots of lives.”

Gaje’s grand­fa­ther of­ten talked about the cul­tural dis­ci­pline he and his brothers were adding to what the Span­ish prac­ticed, Gaje said. “He called it the ac­tual ex­pres­sion of com­bat. It was about the counter of mo­tion be­fore at­tack time, which is where [the acro­nym] COM­BAT comes from.

“The sys­tem they cre­ated — pekiti tir­sia — had only 12 meth­ods, one for each month of the year. In one month, you had to learn one method. The first three months were for skill de­vel­op­ment. The next three months were for spe­cial­iza­tion. The next three were for mas­tery. And the fi­nal three were for test­ing and build­ing con­fi­dence. It all had to be done quickly be­cause they were fight­ing the Spaniards.”

To pol­ish their skills for ac­tual use, the brothers would be­gin with hard­wood sticks, Gaje said. “They would hit wa­ter for power de­vel­op­ment and to feel re­sis­tance. They also worked on speed so their ac­tions couldn’t be trapped or eas­ily coun­tered. And, of course, they fo­cused on us­ing foot­work to get in close — pekiti tir­sia means ‘close-quar­ters tech­niques.’ It isn’t de­signed for long range.”

The goal, Gaje re­it­er­ated, is to take ac­tion be­fore the op­po­nent’s strike comes to fruition be­cause then you don’t need to spend time block­ing. “If you give me a slash, I will slash, also,” he said. “Counter of mo­tion be­fore at­tack time means that as soon as there is one mo­tion from your op­po­nent, you’re there. It can be any first move.”

Such com­bat ef­fi­ciency came as a re­sult of three cen­turies of Span­ish con­trol of the Philip­pines, Gaje added. “It en­abled us to de­velop a blade tech­nol­ogy that was su­pe­rior to that of the Spaniards.” Cru­cible No. 2 “Even­tu­ally, eight prov­inces of the Philip­pines re­volted against Spain,” Gaje said. “Af­ter the rev­o­lu­tion ended, Spain ne­go­ti­ated in the Treaty of Paris of 1898 to sell the Filipinos to the Amer­i­cans at $3 per head. Imag­ine that! The Philip­pines was con­sid­ered the prop­erty of Spain, but why did they have to sell the Filipino peo­ple to Amer­ica? Why not the land?”

At first, the Filipinos were elated to have cast off the Span­ish, but they quickly learned that be­ing un­der Amer­i­can rule wasn’t much bet­ter, Gaje said. “We started fight­ing the Amer­i­cans with guer­rilla tac­tics. Our suc­cess caused Gen. [John] ‘Black Jack’ Per­sh­ing, who served in the Philip­pines, to tell the War De­part­ment, ‘We can­not win the war like this. Th­ese Filipinos are so savage.’”

Among other things, Per­sh­ing rec­om­mended that the U.S. mil­i­tary de­velop a hand­gun that was ca­pa­ble of stop­ping the Filipinos, Gaje said. “That’s why they cre­ated the .45-cal­iber. At close range when Filipino fight­ers came at

Marines with their bolo [ knives] raised, a .45 was needed to stop them. The .38 didn’t work.”

The Philip­pine-Amer­i­can War con­tin­ued un­til the com­mon­wealth was formed in 1935. “That was the only way for the Amer­i­cans to say they did not lose in the Philip­pines,” Gaje said. “They said, ‘We’ll give you a com­mon­wealth.’ We said, ‘What are the con­di­tions?’ Among other things, they said, ‘Your men will be in the U.S. Armed Forces un­der Gen. MacArthur.’”

What pre­cip­i­tated was a pe­riod of im­proved re­la­tions be­tween the Amer­i­cans and the Filipinos, he said. “But then in 1941, Ja­pan in­vaded the Philip­pines with a force of 200,000 and battleships and tanks and planes. They started at­tack­ing, and Amer­ica lost the Philip­pines.”

Cru­cible No. 3

The war with Ja­pan was bru­tal and bloody, re­sult­ing in the Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion of the Philip­pines and the in­stal­la­tion of a new govern­ment. “The Filipinos and the Amer­i­cans who were left fought back,” Gaje said, “but there was no sign that we were win­ning be­cause we were out­num­bered — and there was no sup­port from the U.S. be­cause it was re­spond­ing to the Pearl Har­bor at­tack. The Amer­i­cans in the Philip­pines were to­tally de­pen­dent on the Filipinos for sup­port. Many Filipinos sac­ri­ficed their lives in de­fense of the Amer­i­cans.”

Not sur­pris­ingly, the en­su­ing five years brought count­less con­flicts with the Ja­panese, who car­ried firearms and of­ten swords while the Filipinos were forced to rely on their blades. Look­ing back, Gaje now re­gards it as an un­par­al­leled learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Ne­ces­sity, as they say, is the mother of in­ven­tion. And in­no­va­tion.

Modern Ben­e­fi­cia­ries

Fast-for­ward to the 21st cen­tury. All mem­bers of the spe­cial forces of the Philip­pines learn the pekiti tir­sia skills that were honed in those three pe­ri­ods of tur­moil. “It’s man­dated,” Gaje said. “They start with the stick, which is a train­ing tool. As they progress, they learn the knife. Of course, the stick can be used as weapon. If you have a hard­wood stick, which is very strong and heavy, you can be flex­i­ble — you can stop a per­son with­out killing him.”

The Filipino fight­ers aren’t the only ones ben­e­fit­ing from the evo­lu­tion of the art. “More than 1.2 mil­lion peo­ple in the In­dian mil­i­tary do pekiti tir­sia ,” Gaje said. “And there’s an­other 700,000 in Pak­istan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The U.S. Marines learn it, too, as do the mil­i­taries of Ja­pan, Sin­ga­pore, Malaysia, Ko­rea, even China.”

A nat­u­ral ques­tion is, How do all th­ese coun­tries’ de­ci­sion-mak­ers know about an ob­scure art like pekiti tir­sia? Why don’t they pick kenpo or ju­jitsu, for ex­am­ple?

 He’s the in­her­i­tor of a mar­tial art that lit­er­ally is be­ing used by mil­lions of mil­i­tary per­son­nel around the world, but he’s as hum­ble and ap­proach­able as any­one you’ll ever meet. Now he’s in­vest­ing a good por­tion of his time and en­ergy to spread the art of pekiti tir­sia to civil­ians in need of func­tional self-de­fense.

´I de­cided to bring it out be­cause I saw what was hap­pen­ing in the Filipino mar­tial arts, how things were be­ing bas­tardized,” Leo T. Gaje -r. said. ´Some of what peo­ple think is cilipino mar­tial arts is just a com­bi­na­tion of judo and karate and a lot of block­ing tech­niques. It’s very dan­ger­ous be­cause no­body can do that stuff on the street against a knife.

“fn con­trastI my grand­fa­ther and his brothers de­vel­oped pekiti tir­sia so peo­ple could look at their op­po­nent and di­ag­nose, for in­stance, where he will go, what he will do and how he will use his weapon. That’s what we call the counter of mo­tion be­fore at­tack time. Then we don’t have to block. In­stead, we do coun­terof­fense. We de­stroy the func­tion­al­ity of the weapon by go­ing for the clos­est part of the at­tacker that we can cut — the wrist, the el­bow and the shoul­der.”

As you might ex­pect, such no­to­ri­ety with re­spect to ef­fi­cacy leads to re­quests for in­struc­tion from coun­tries whose armed forces likely would use the skills in lessthan-hon­or­able ways. ´When they ask, I don’t say no,” Gaje said. ´I just say I’m oc­cu­pied. We limit our tech­nol­ogy to coun­tries that are al­lied with the pro­vi­sions of the rnited ka­tions.”

Be­cause of all he’s do­ing in the mar­tial arts com­mu­nity and in the mil­i­taries of the world, Black Belt is proud to name ieo q. daje gr. its 20NU jan of the vear.

TRAIN­ING TOOL AS WEAPON: Leo T. Gaje Jr. (left) con­fronts his op­po­nent (1). The man be­gins his at­tack, but Gaje GRHVQ·W ZDLW +H VZLQJV KLV stick from its ready po­si­tion WR WKH RSS­RQHQW·V ZULVW WR LQWHUFHSW WKH EORZ (2). Gaje then places the far end of KLV ZHD­SRQ DORQJVLGH KLV QHFN ZK­LOH XVLQJ KLV OHIW hand to con­trol his arm(3). The pekiti tir­sia mas­ter moves to his left so he can JUDE WKH HQG RI KLV RZQ VWLFN(4) DI­WHU ZKLFK KH SX­OOV WKH man in tight for a choke (5).

FIRST CON­TACT: Leo T. Gaje Jr. (left) adopts an un­con­ven­tional pos­ture in front of his foe (1). When the man ini­ti­ates a GRZQZ­DUG VWULNH Gaje drops and thrusts the tip of KLV ZHD­SRQ LQWR KLV ab­domen (2). Be­fore the op­po­nent can re­cover, Gaje in­serts WKH VWLFN EHWZHHQ WKH PDQ·V OHJV DQG pushes (3) +LV bal­ance bro­ken, the ad­ver­sary falls, and Gaje im­me­di­ately cham­bers his ZHD­SRQ (4) for a VHULHV RI IROORZ XS strikes (5). Note KRZ KH XVHV KLV OHIW hand to im­mo­bi­lize WKH RSS­RQHQW·V ZHD­SRQ EHDULQJ DUP ZK­LOH KH·V RQ his back.

WITH EMPTY HANDS: From an­other un­con­ven­tional ready po­si­tion, Leo T. Gaje -r. ap­pears to wait for his op­po­nent to at­tack with the stick (1), but be­fore he can do so, daje ad­vances and ex­e­cutes a throat strike (2). Us­ing his left hand to con­trol the weapon arm, Gaje seizes the man’s head (3) and ro­tates (4), ma­neu­ver­ing him down and into a head lock (5). daje then takes him to the ground (6) and slips the weapon arm un­der his left leg, which re­moves the threat posed by the stick (7). To fin­ish, Gaje slams an el­bow strike into his head fol­lowed by a ham­mer­fist

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