Realities Created, Maintained and Destroyed, WHILE-U-WAIT!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Steve Van Harn gives my Teacher a Gift

I was very lucky, I began learning the Filipino Martial Arts before most people outside the Filipino community even knew they existed.

No one had heard of Bruce Lee or Dan Inosanto, for that matter no one had heard of Kung Fu, which would not enter the American general awareness until 1966. Bruce Lee made his famous "Longstreet" episodes in 1971, and it would be a couple more years before the first Chinese martial arts movie would hit national box offices (I believe it was "Five Fingers of Death in 1973).

To give you a bit more time line perspective, Inosanto's book "Filipino Martial Arts" was first published in 1979 or '80 if I remember correctly.

It was a time when all most people knew of Asian martial arts was Jujitsu, Judo and Karate. Tae Kwan Do had returned with our troops from the Korean war, and with those who had been subsequently stationed there to help guard the 38th parallel, but was still not widely known.

So, you may be asking at this point, "How did a half breed from New Mexico end up studying Filipino martial arts in the early Sixties?"

Well, it's a long story.

I moved to the central coast of California from my home in New Mexico when I was just thirteen.

It was quite the culture shock, though most of that should be saved for another time.

There were a whole new set of social/ethnic groups. There were several different flavors of white folks. We had "Okies" (people who had migrated from Oklahoma to find work. We still had "Okie camps" when I was a kid) We had "Swiss Italians" who had come into the area as farmers and vintners, We had Portuguese, who came as farmers and fishermen as well as your generic "White Eyes". We also had a pretty big Latino population as one would expect for the area. (California having been in the hands of Mexico and Spain before the US grabbed it up).

There was one other important group. At first I thought they were Native Americans. They had an "Asian" cast to their features, but Spanish surnames much like a good number of Native peoples of the South West.

This turned out not to be the case.

They were from the Philippines. The only thing I knew about the Philippines was that a lot of fighting had gone on there during WW2.

The Filipino kids all spoke a language they called Tagalog and pretty much stayed to themselves.

There was one Filipino kid who didn't hang with the group though.

Being as we were both pretty much "out-caste" I suppose it was nearly inevitable that we would end up friends.

It turned out that his family came from a different part of the Philippines than the rest of the kids, different language, different religion, different history. He was born just two days after I was and he had just lost his mother the year before. I had lost my father so we ended up having a lot in common.

His name was Rashid and his family came from the island of Mindanao, over that year we became best friends.

When we were fourteen we began studying Karate together at the local Dojo. By the time we were sixteen we had both earned our Shodan and were taking home some trophies from the tournaments in the area.

That was when Rashid's father decided it was time for him to learn the family martial art. I got to learn as well because Rashid needed a training partner, and I was that already.

What he taught us was a very compact art. A person could learn the whole curriculum in about a year. Of course it might take a bit longer to master it.

Mr. Abdalsalaam became my first true teacher. I trained with him almost every day for about six years. He died when I was twenty two.

I would have to say, that of the many teachers I have had since then, he is the one that mattered the most.

After his death (Rashid had been killed a year before in Viet Nam) I moved far away from that place and never looked back.

A couple of years into my training I made a crest for Mr. Abdalsallam. He didn't have a name for his art, it was just "how we fight". He had talked a bit about the generic names for fighting, but never cared much about that sort of thing.

I once asked him what he should be called, thinking of titles like "Sensei". He gave me an odd look and said "You call me what you have always call me, Mr. Abdsalaam, "Sir" is also good if you want" I didn't even hear the word "Guro" for about another ten years.

Here is an updated version of the crest.

The original didn't have the Sanskrit and was not nearly as fancy looking. I hand painted three tee shirts with it. I still have mine, all faded and ragged, but precious to me.

Over the years I was exposed to other Filipino Martial arts and I was impressed by much of what I saw. My art didn't have any angles, nor much in the way of drills or "structures". It was just a simple set of principals and a few ways to apply them. It seemed to me that there would be very little interest in an art that was so compact and didn't even have a name or big linage of teachers. So I never much talked about it, though I have never stopped practicing it.

Fast forward forty years.

I'm working with my friend and training partner Steve Van Harn, getting him ready to fight in the WEKAF national and world championships. As we sparred, I would occasionally do the odd thing that he was unfamiliar with.

He would ask me about what I had done and I would give him one of the principals I had learned as a kid and how it applied to what we were doing.

Over time he managed to get the story of my first teacher from me and he started advocating for me teaching him the art.

At first I resisted the idea, I was not sure if there was any value in my teaching something that was archaic and quite a bit different than was the norm for FMA.

Steve wore me down though, so something like a year and a half ago I began teaching him my teacher's art.

About for or five months ago Steve suggested that since his son Cole wanted to compete at the WEKAF nationals, that perhaps he, Steve, might compete in forms with something from my teacher's art.

Steve could not fight this year because he is still healing from shoulder surgery, but he thought that he could do a form without too much difficulty.

My teacher's art only has one form really. It is done with Kris and Scabbard and in part it is to train footwork and how to coordinate upper and lower body. The Scabbard is used as both a parrying tool and a secondary weapon. (Being poked in the eye with a scabbard might not kill you, but the blade following right behind just might).

So I began teaching Steve the form.

I had my doubts. The form is not what you see these days, there is no acrobatics, no flipping or leaping about just for the sake of getting a little air time.

Every move of the form is precise, and it occasionally drove Steve to distraction when I insisted that he lower his center in a very exact way while cutting or thrusting to a specific point on his imaginary opponent's body.

I had no idea how people would receive something so far from what is common in forms competition. I thought that Steve might not even place with what I was teaching him.

We had to tweak the form's timing just a bit to make it fit within the WEKAF rules, but nothing was done that changed the substance of the form.

The competition was this Friday.

Steve took the Gold.

All I could think of when he called to tell me was that my teacher would be happy. Happy both that his fellow countrymen and other FMA practitioners found favor with his art, and happy that his art lives with another generation carrying it into the future. I think he would have liked Steve.


Tiel Aisha Ansari said...

Congratulations to all concerned: Steve, yourself, and Mr. Abdalsallam.

AF1 said...

Congratulations Steve!

Any thought of putting Mr. Abdsalaam's system on DVD, Mushtaq?

Mushtaq Ali said...

I don't think so. I want to keep this as a family art with no commercial interest. It is the kind of martial art that needs to be passed from person to person.

Michael B. said...

Salaam Mushtaq..Kudos to you for keeping it close to the heart. I look forward to seeing your work soon..I have a feeling we may have a lot in common Navadisha/Bahad Zubu..peace

Steve Perry said...


Dan Gambiera said...

Congratulations to your team. It must be hard to go to tournaments knowing that Silat doesn't work in a fight :)

Good on all of them, and especially Steve for choosing that previous piece of FMA history to display.

steve vh said...

His approval was all I could hope for.