In the past, challenge matches or duels called Juego
Todo (literally, "anything goes") were very common
place in the Philippines. No holds barred and
without the aid of protective equipment, the winner
was determined either by submission or, in rarer
cases, death. Anyone claiming to be an expert in
eskrima or arnis was fair game and could be
challenged to engage in a duel.
However, since the implementation of the revised
penal code in 1932, the practice of dueling has been
outlawed and over subsequent decades reduced to
the point of becoming a rare sight indeed. Fear of
being challenged to defend one's claim of mastery of
the arts had in the past protected the art from being
overwhelmed by "overnight" experts. Is there still a
need for challenges?
However philosophical their effect on individual
students, it would be wrong to give the impression
that new fighting arts can evolve peacefully.
Techniques need to be tested, and that can only be
done through genuine combat.
Many of the leading masters of the Filipino martial
arts have none of the pacific principles that are
common among the masters of the other Asian arts.
Many would not allow a student to represent them if
that student refused a challenge. This is the genuine
fighting experience that must happen at some time in
a fighting art if it is to have true strength.
It was during these unarmored challenge matches
that the art had its greatest development, and the
es1:nmador realized what was good about his
technique and how to advance his art.
Challenges, leading to duels, came in different forms.
Some were "officially" sanctioned; others occurred
unexpectedly when tempers flared and pride or
reputation was at stake; sometimes eskrimadors
would go to fiestas to fight the "local" champion.
To help further understand why challenges were so
readily made, we need to look at the profile of the
old eskrimador. Many old-time eskrimadors were
"tough guys," who liked to drink, gamble, and
entertain their vices. They were quite often
uneducated, usually due to living in poor slum
conditions. In these conditions, finding work at a
young age and supporting the family tend to be
higUer on the priority list.
Aggressive personalities are generally risk takers,
and if you take a lot of risks, sooner or later you pay
a price. Many of the more famous eskrimadors
became well-known enforcers for local politicians or
Rivalries between clubs and teachers were often
resolved via a bahad. This was an open challenge
and was sometimes made in the form of a press
release. Such an incident occurred in 1954 when the
Balintawak group made a public challenge to the
Doce Pares group.
The following are some examples of various duels
that have occurred in the past, illustrating the diverse
nature of the Filipino duel.
In September 1933, an officially sanctioned match
between Teodoro "Doring" Saavedra and Pablo
Alicante was arranged in Argao (sixty-six kilometers
south of Cebu City). By officially sanctioned, I mean
that the Mayor and other local officials were aware
of the bout.
Prior to the bout the late Eulogio "Yoling" Canete
went to "check out" Pablo Alicante's ability at the
request of Lorenzo Saavedra. Alicante was a
recluse and sustained a living by catching snakes and
monkeys, which he later sold. Upon meeting him,
Alicante asked Yoling to look for a ripe banana tree;
one was found. The story goes that Alicante
delivered one strike to the tree, slowly felling it.
Teodoro Saavedra, however, refused to back out of
the fight, and both fighters signed waivers. Alicante
was reputed to possess an anting-anting (amulet)
that could make his opponents freeze. This is what
happened to Saavedra in the first round, which he
ended up losing. In the second round, Saavedra was
instructed to knock out a stone that was in Alicante's
mouth, which was supposedly his anting-anting.
With the assistance of Filemon "Momoy" Canete's
orascion (prayer) and his own physical skills,
Saavedra was able to do this and go on to win the
next two rounds and thus the fight. As a result of this
fight, Saavedra became acknowledged as the top
eskrimador on the island of Cebu.
The late Antonio "Tatang" Ilustrisimo was well known for
offering and accepting any challenge. On one occasion while
in Calcutta, he received an invitation to go to Singapore to
fight in a special bout against a pencak silat master from
Indonesia. The opponent had a regutation and was regarded
as a seasoned fighter who enjoyed a good fight. As a result,
Ilustrisimo trained hard for the fight. The bout was held in a
stadium, and the number of spectators was in the thousands.
Upon entering the ring, the Indonesian forced the attack and
took the fight to Ilustrisimo. Ilustrisimo responded by moving
off at an angle and severely cut his opponent's arm, thus
terminating the bout.
Amador Chavez, a
top arnisador from
Bacolod City, fought
a famous duel with
the boxer Pedro
Alvarez. The fight
occurred in 1961.
This fight was backed by the well-known and respected
Serafino family, and also had the support of the local police.
As usual in such a fight, both fighters signed waivers and
agreements against revenge acts at a later time.
In addition to being a professional boxer, Alvarez had some
background in arnis, but was not in the class of Chavez.
However, he was reputed to be the favorite in the cash
betting. His strategy was to crash in through the long and
medium range, after which he would "punch out" Chavez. The
fight didn't last long, in fact only seconds. Two hits to the right
arm and one across the left side of the forebead finalized
matters. Alvarez, suffering from a deep head wound, decided
to give up, rejecting Chavez' suggestion to rest for a while and
then try again later.
Abner Pasa, a leading eskrimador from Cebu City,
encountered a situation whereby another eskrimador "visited"
him for a test of skills. Pasa tried to talk the man out of it,
explaining that somebody could get seriously hurt. The
challenger merely smiled and said that was part of the test. He
then proceeded to warm up and asked Pasa to do the same.
Pasa replied that if he warmed up, he would expend all his
energy. The opponent laughed heartily sensing that things
could get out of hand, Pasa decided to end the fight quickly.
Without squaring up Pasa asked the opponent (who was still
warming up) if he was ready upon, the "yes" reply, Pasa hit
his opponent in the hand, breaking it. The opponent cried
foul; Pasa replied by saying that I asked you if you were
ready, and you said "Yes."
In September 1983, Ciriaco "Cacoy" Canete fought Ising
Atillo in the last officially sanctioned duel. The duel, witnessed
by many spectators, did not last long. Two strikes to the
temple and one to the hand brought matters to a close. A
remarch was scheduled for four days later but Atillo's heart
rate was too high, and he was declared physically unfit.
In recent times, a challenge match between Dionisio "Dioney"
Canete and Dennis Canete was expected to materialize.
Dionisio Canete was quoted as saying, "I'll fight him with bare
hands in the first round so he can show his well-publicized
pangamut technique. On the second and third rounds, we will
do bare hands, takedowns, and then sticks." However, the
match never took place, which came as no surprise.
The eskrima duel is now relegated to the annals of the past,
and rightly so. For its proliferation can only assist in restraining
the growth and popularity of the great Filipino martial arts.