Weapons Sparring

Discussion in 'Filipino Martial Arts' started by pinoy, Dec 20, 2005.

  1. pinoy

    pinoy Valued Member

    hey just want to share, a friend of mine emailed it to me :p

    By Lynn Farrell (1981)
    Inside Kung Fu

    On July 1, 1978, Kyokoshinkai karate instructor Ben Singleton sponsored a Pro-Am Classic tournament in Vista, California. The featured main event was the weapons kumite, the first of its kind to be held anywhere in the United States. Although kendo practitioners have their own annual tournament, still they are competing against themselves. The Filipinos, meanwhile, have had to be contented with secret and non-heralded matches since the last public competition was banned in Hawaii in 1948. After that final match, which left Francisco Adorno an invalid for the rest of his life, Floro Villabrille remained as the only undefeated Kali champion of Hawaii and the Philippines.

    Singleton, who had been sergeant in the US Marines during the Vietnam conflict, observed that in Japan the did have weapons kumite held every two years. The idea of bringing the event to the United States stuck in his mind for a long time. Singleton had quit the Marine Corps and was a special deputy of the Vista Sheriff's department when he announced in his tournament flyers in 1978 that a weapons kumite would be among the divisions contested. He met outright opposition from local karate instructors who claimed that it was too foolish and too risky to try. The opposition may have been right - nobody was foolish enough to sign up during the morning registration.

    Narrie Babao, an arnis and kali instructor from San Diego, had promised to help Singleton in officiating the event, but there were no entries. None of the ten senior weapons kata competitors remained to try their luck in sparring. Singleton sounded the second and last call and was about ready to wrap up the unused trophies when Babao jokingly told him, "Wait a minute. If I sign up, then I can win the first place trophy by default, right?" The disappointed Singleton agreed, but when Babao came back with the filled-out form entry form. two more people were on their way to sign up. Singleton's face lit up, his cherished dream had finally come true.

    Cautious against possible liabilities, Singleton required that each contestant wear a body protector and steel-grilled head gear. The bouts were to last five minutes, or to five points. The only legal targets were the groin, the front and sides of the body, shoulders, hands, and the top and sides of the head.

    The first match was between Babao, who used two rattan sticks, and Joe Tidwell, a courageous karate black belt from Los Angeles who chose the nunchaku. Like a wild tiger uncaged, Babao pursued Tidwell from one end of the ring to the other, leaving two broken pairs of nunchaku in his path. Tidwell was asked by the referee to give up or secure another weapon. Someone lent him a bo, but Tidwell was way behind in points when the match ended.

    As soon as the protectors were put on the next competitor, Eric Gorham, a kung-fun instructor from El Cajon, Babao was again asked to step inside the ring. This time it was kali sticks against a shinai (bamboo kendo sword). It was a close bout with neither giving an inch as Gorham combined kendo and kung-fu know how. They went into one minute overtime rounds three times, and when Babao managed to land two successive points, the total length of the match went to eight minutes. Eventually, Babao won.

    With the first place trophy in the bag, Babao wearily handed his headgear to Tidwell and sat by the side to watch the fight for second place. Tidwell relied on the extra reach of the bo to win. Patterned after his observations in Japan, Singleton decided that the event would be repeated after two years.
    Promoted Singleton moved the location of his tournament to Mira Costa College gym in Oceanside in 1980 for the next weapons kumite. Once again the special feature was the weapons event, but defending champion Narrie Babao chose not to fight. Five of his senior students at the Kali Academy of San Diego had asked for his blessings to have their skills tried in the ring. Babao made a deal that if none of them won first place, then he would come back in the next tournament.

    The kata events were in full swing when Dan Cepeda, a black in kenpo, arrived to sign up with his younger brother Fred for the weapons kumite. At the conclusion of the black belt weapons kata, Singleton announced. "To see if your weapons form is really effective in fighting, prove it by joining the next event, the weapons kumite." To be sure that this time the crowd witnessed the once-ignored weapons sparring competition, Singleton changed the tournament schedule. Instead of being the final division, the weapons kumite preceded the pee wee division.

    Since none of the black belts who officiated or participated in 1978 were in attendance, Babao volunteered to referee. He introduced the use of a long staff to break up weapons-wielding competitors. This was due to the fact that, with the headgear on, it was difficult to hear the verbal commands of the referee. During the meeting to define the rules, Singleton specified the changes: The hands are no longer legal targets. If disarmed, the unarmed contestant may still score with a punch or kick; the armed contestant, however, can pursue his attacks until the referee sees the first point hit the target. From the original five minutes, each bout was shortened to two minutes, and the contestants sho accumulated the most points wins.

    First to fight were Fred Cepeda and Jay Cabauatan of the Imperial Beach Escrima School. Cabauatan was almost disqualified when two judges saw his stick land on Cepeda's spine. The other two judges scored it as a point, claiming it hit Cepeda's side. Babao overruled both points and the illegal blow, and the fight went on. When the two minutes were up, Cepeda was ahead by a couple of points.

    The second match was between Kali Academy's Bob George and tae kwon do black belt Leo Johnson. Earlier, Johnson had won the weapons kata with a pair of nunchaku but during the kumite he only used one. Using hit-and-run tactics, Johnson won with a score of 4 - 0.
    Escrima instructor Bert Labitan garnered an easy victory against Joe Giron during the third match. All the Filipino stylists used the twin rattan sticks called sinawali.

    With the lack of entries from the other styles, Dan Cepeda had to square off against teammate Gary Fletcher. Cepeda won handily with a 3 - 0 score. Fletcher later confessed that even with the safe headgear, he saw stars when hit in the skull by Cepeda.

    The semi-finals began with Fred Cepeda fighting Leo Johnson and his nunchaku. The latter was warned after stepping out of the ring twice to avoid confrontation. When he did stand his ground, Cepeda managed to slip in a couple of blows and won with a 4 - 0 score.

    The next match featured Dan Cepeda and Siete Pares escrima stylist Bert Labitan. When the dust settled, Cepeda noticed a nasty cut on his right forefinger but was ahead with a 4 - 1 score.
    The heat of the competition was gone when the Cepeda brothers put on the protectors for the final match. It seemed like that for them it was just practicing together at the Kali Academy and at their karate dojo. Dan played the defensive role while the aggressive younger brother kept pressing with unrelenting blows. As Fred attacked, Dan would shift to the side (out of the sibling's sight because of the headgear) and would counter to the head or face. By this time the judges were used to the speed of the double rattan sticks, and most of them felt Dan's strikes landed a fraction of a second ahead of Fred's. The final score was 5 - 2.

    The event proved one thing: When it comes to full-contact weapons sparring the Filipinos are hard to beat. Their way of training with weapons seem to give them an advantage in the fighting.


  2. ryangruhn

    ryangruhn Valued Member

    Interesting read,
    Thank you for the post.

  3. ap Oweyn

    ap Oweyn Ret. Supporter

    Years ago, I competed in a WEKAF tournament in San Francisco. The Cepeda brothers were there and someone told me about this tournament. Of course, whoever it was might have embellished a bit because they told me that some Marine entered with a baseball bat. :)
  4. Jesh

    Jesh Dutch Side Of The Force

    That's a nice article.
  5. dyak_stone

    dyak_stone Valued Member

    Nice ego trip, really makes me beam with pride. hehehe

    But really, no offense to our friends from other martial arts out there, but the only other weapon fighters out there that I admire besides us are the fencers and the kendoka. Most other weapon practitioners I have seen (through videos and a few demos) do not have a good grasp of timing and range. Maybe its just because we (arnisadores, fencers and kendoka) spar more than they do.

    Moreover, I think our footwork and body angling are really big advantages over the way people from other weapon arts move.

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