Earn Your Keep (the follow up…)

By Njoli Brown

Every summer I spend about a month and a half out in the Northwest.  I’m getting my hiking in, connecting with family and friends, yeah, hard life.  But I also consider this the time where I earn my keep.  I hit my boxing training a bit harder, I work my silat, try to make the rodas and capoeira classes I can and I double up my gym time when I’m not in the mountains.

Back in NYC I have a fantastic group of students and colleagues who’ve been generous over the past few years to work with me as I develop and to dedicate their time to learning what I have to teach.  Now, I’m lucky in having some fantastic teachers who’ve spent years giving me the tools and the kind of support it takes to let me feel confident imparting their gifts.  But all this being said, the worst thing an instructor can possibly do, is rest on his/her laurels.  How many of us have seen the result? Too many.

Now this is obviously taking into account those with debilitating injuries, mental or physical conditions (ie age, disease), etc.  Even so, I recall an event where my capoeira teacher taught his workshop from crutches.  I also know a student who spent her year of physical recovery translating articles and interviews of old mestres from Portuguese to English.  I figure, the least I can do is model the kind of consistent growth I ask of my students.

So, what does that look like.  No, it doesn’t have to mean an extra 4 days a week at the gym or a complete overhaul of your training regimen.  But what it does mean, is taking a good look at the holes in your game and exhibiting the kind of diligence it means to clean them up. Conditioning slipping? Perhaps show up that 20 minutes before class to jump rope (low impact on the knees and high return on the effort).  Be okay with showing your students what it looks like to work before you work.  Feel like you’re losing those fast hand mechanics?  Get yourself to a boxing gym and ask folks who know the science to help you clean up your technique.  Speed is as much muscle elasticity as it is strength. When was the last yoga class you hit.  Local community center… free.  Maybe I’m hurt and out to the physical game for a while but am I innovating in ways to train my mind?And maybe, just maybe, you need a reminder of what it’s like to not be good at something.

Push yourself, find the time and earn your keep.
*Thoughts? Suggestions? Definitely kick them down.

Why Train in Winter? Bodyweight Training for the Uninitiated

By Njoli Brown

I had a couple of moments this Christmas morning and, yes, here I am doing a little writing.  Maybe it’s because I know I’m about to go out and eat all kinds of delicious foods and spend some wonderful quality time with friends.  All that being said, I know this day will pass and I will be back to my process of building and developing my martial practice.

Now, none of this is to say I’ve been taking a break from my regular training, but my thought has been that a little extra diligence always has to happen during the winter months if I really want to take things to another level.  It’s the season where rich foods, nog drinks and all the rest bring us comfort.  I speak all this from a place of familiarity because I’m not one of those who was born with the natural gladiator genetics.  I have to work hard and consistently to put myself at high gear.

At the same time as winter draws us psychologically into a state of comforted hibernation, it is also the prime opportunity to make huge leaps and bounds.  As a general rule, spring ends up being a time of recovery and so, by end of summer, we hopefully reach our prime again.  Imagine if we built all the way through winter, and spring and summer were just continuing parts of the evolutionary process.

It may not be the time for your long outdoor runs (depending on where you’re living) but it’s definitely a great time for exploring the wonderful world of body weight training.  I’m not going to pretend to be a personal trainer or to be the go to source for advice but I did want to include some resources that I’ve found.

All of this being said, though, do your own research and know that your goals are out in front of you.  Winter can be a time for steps back or steps forward.  You choose.

Men’s Fitness article on bodyweight exercises

Just a little starter to remind you that the exercises you need in order to start your practice are well within your grasp and don’t require much, if any, equipment or space.


The Complete Book of Abs by Kurt Brungardt

This book, along with The Complete Book of Shoulders and Arms, is a veritable bible of exercises.  But alongside that, it sets up a huge glossary of routines for you to scroll through, progressing week by week, month by month.  I know most of us don’t have the coin for our own personal trainer but having someone help you to establish a routine and then bouncing it off your doctor or a fitness professional might just be the first steps towards finding your own discipline.


Youtube:  44 Best (Beginner) Bodyweight Exercises Ever!

44 tremendously unpretentious bodyweight exercises.  Maybe you just feel like your exercise vocabulary is lacking or you just know that you’re more of a visual learner.  I found this video online and really enjoyed the fact that there was nothing in this that felt out of reach for the absolute beginner and, at the same time, relevant for adaptation as someone progresses.


5 Questions: Art and Learning with Damon Abraham – Kali, Silat and Martial Mindfulness

It is truly a pleasure to be able to include Damon in this edition of NoPaper.  He has a been a mentor to me in many ways without even realizing it and has wonderful insights to share which can be applied to all of our artistic and cultural practices.

Damon Abraham of Kapatiran Mandirigma  talks back to 5 Questions from Njoli Brown at NoPaper

I first encountered the Southeast Asian martial arts between my Freshman and Sophomore years of college.  I was home for the summer when a friend of mine was telling me all about this “Kali” art that he was studying.  At the time, I had never even heard the term Kali or Arnis / Escrima for that matter.  In any case, I had been interested in martial arts for as long as I could remember and had practiced a couple of different arts by this time.  Like most American kids in my generation, inspired by Ralph Macchio I studied at a “Karate” school which was really Tae Kwon Do.  Later I ended up taking some Hapkido.  But I was certainly interested in something more.  Anyway, through this friend I was introduced to an Indonesian martial artist named Paul Prijatna.  His primary art was Kali, but growing up he had learned Pencak Silat from his uncle.  I was impressed by Paul.  He was very unlike the Westernized artists I had met so far and he embodied more of the internal and spiritual aspects of the art that I was looking for.  We had many conversations about energy (i.e. chi), meditation, and the proper conduct for a martial artist.  There was no ego or machismo that I’ve later come to associate with sport fighting etc.  Paul only charged me $50 for several weeks of training and at our last meeting before I returned to school he pulled out my check and ripped it up.  “I just wanted to make sure you were serious”, he said as he handed me the pieces of ripped paper.  While my training with Paul was very short, he put me on the path towards FMA and Silat that I still follow today.



One thing that I believe to be a personal weakness is not knowing enough about the customs and cultural heritage of the styles that I study.  I am not particularly well-versed in the language and histories of the Philippines and Indonesia, for example.  However, I have visited both countries to study and learn.  And although I have perhaps fallen short in some areas, I have tried to make a sincere effort to know about my teachers, their philosophies, why they move the way that they move, and especially their perspectives on the spiritual aspects of the arts.558465_10201776423876516_283526343_n

For me personally, I feel the best way that I can reflect the art is through embodying it as a personal expression.  Many people try to preserve an art by memorizing techniques and drills and chiseling them into stone, so to speak, as if they were some sort of dogma to follow. To me this makes the art seem dead.  Kind of like Latin, an arguably complete language and yet it is immutable.  It does not live because it is not spoken.  The living art is in constant flux and each practitioner contributes their unique perspective and individualized expression.  Hence, it is through the internalization
of the art that it really remains alive.  And of course, the manner in which the art is transmitted is crucial here as well.  It is my ambition, therefore, to be both a reflection of my teachers and an individualized expression.  At the end of the day, none of us are a source of anything… we are merely channels of that thing.  Training builds that channel within the student, and each student is different.


Lately, with respect to Pencak Silat and FMA, I’ve been contemplating a metaphor of a squirrel trying to climb two trees.  It is, of course, impossible to climb both at the same time.  In the beginning of our practice we tend to see each trunk independently as well as its differences from the other. And yet at the level of the branches, the trees come together and the practitioner can seamlessly traverse between them.  So it becomes a question of how far apart are the trees and how great is their breadth in the understanding of the practitioner. My personal experience in the way that I’ve learned them, Pencak Silat and Arnis/Kali/Escrima are kind of like complimentary opposites.  The movements and the core physical training, to me, do not seem to conflict.  Likewise, many of the principles are common between them. Hence, I would say that these two trees are close together. However, there can be considerable variation in how the information is conceptualized by the teacher and imparted to the student. This can be true even amongst teachers within a single system.  And I have found that when observing the gross movements between different styles, for example, while they may appear to be very similar, when actualizing the movement with the intent and mindset of the respective style they are very different. Hence, for me it has become less of a matter of “how does art A perform movement XYZ?” and more about “how do I move with this art?” I will say that each art has given me an augmented view of the other as I can take a somewhat out-of-the-box perspective by analyzing a technique etc from the vantage point of another style.  I am sure this must be true of anyone who has learned more than one art.  However, we must be cautious.  It is one thing to be able to shift perspectives and it is another to try and interpret one art through the lens of another.  I’ve seen many students who have slowed their progress through this fallacy. You’ll often hear people say things like “Oh yes, we have that in JKD too.” or “In my art we would do it like this.” As an example, 4 years ago I began learning Kalis Ilustrisimo under Kuya Raul Marquez. At that time, I was already a Lakan and senior student in two other styles of FMA (Kombatan Arnis and Kuntaw Kali Kruzada).  And yet, in my first lesson I had to come to terms with the fact that I really didn’t know anything. Raul’s teaching method was completely unlike anything I had experienced.
Nothing was broken down into simple steps.  There was no rote memorization but rather it was fistfuls of 155271_586912464671838_1492586766_ninformation that I had no hope to process… I just had to swallow as much as I could and try to keep up. The movements appeared familiar, and yet I couldn’t apply them in context. My timing was off, my footwork was backwards, and all of my instincts seemed wrong.  After each lesson, I’d ride the subway for an hour from Queens back to Brooklyn and my head would literally ache.  If you were to ask me, “what did you learn today?” I wouldn’t even be able to tell you and yet I could see myself improving. Hence, I was faced with a choice… I could accept returning to the status of a “beginner” or I could let my ego get the better of me.  Fortunately I chose the former. By putting aside my pride and approaching the lessons with the beginner’s mentality, I feel I was not only able to learn the movements much faster, but to understand the underlying principles and philosophy at a deeper level. Ultimately, this experience proved beneficial to my progress in every style that I practice. I think that most arts run much deeper than we tend to recognize.  Although it is not always overtly expressed, my teachers all seem to embody this appreciation.  Despite their accomplishments and recognition, they are still students of their art.  To me, that is one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from them.  If we view ourselves as a rank (black belt, lakan etc), we find ourselves repeatedly disappointed.  We can never really live up to our own expectations of what that rank entails.  However, when we recognize ourselves as beginners, we can only improve. This disposition has not only helped me progress as an artist, but ultimately has allowed me to reap more enjoyment from the arts.

Regarding their differences, perhaps the greatest contrast that I’ve noticed between the style of Silat that I study (Inti Ombak Pencak Silat – IOPS) and the styles of FMA that I practice (Kombatan, Kuntaw Kali Kruzada, and Kalis Ilustrisimo) is that the FMA is very martial focused whereas I would say that IOPS is more holistic.  I mean this in the sense that IOPS is not only external (i.e. martial) but also emphasizes internal aspects (breathing / meditation) as well as spiritual.  Case in point, the Lakutama organization, of which IOPS is a part, has branches dedicated entirely to spiritual and healing practices. I believe that these aspects are still embedded within the FMA, but perhaps due to colonialism are more buried under the surface.  282730_10150246807707161_980330_nYou don’t regularly come across FMA practitioners with a heavy emphasis on internal training, for example, unless they have learned other arts.  Of course, that is a generalization.  For instance, I know practitioners from Mindanao who are very spiritual and have a very holistic approach to their art.  But generally speaking, as it is practiced I feel that IOPS has a more overt emphasis on the entirety of the person going beyond physical and martial applications. I’ve seen IOPS have a profound and lasting positive impact on more people (not only students) than any other art that I’ve encountered. Ironically, while I regret to have had less opportunity to study directly under Guru Daniel Prasetya as I have with my other teachers, I would say that he has had a greater influence over me at a personal level (beyond martial) than almost anyone I’ve ever known. I think that it is unfortunate that more arts don’t incorporate these aspects.


A personal challenge for me has been in the realization that life’s time constraints do not allow me to practice nearly as much as I feel like I should.  This is exasperated when learning more than one style.  And the ego can become particularly threatened when seeing oneself surpassed by your peers.  Time spent “advancing” in one art is time sacrificed in another. But as I’ve matured as an artist, I’ve come to worry less and less about the recognition of certificates, rank, title, or the successes of my peers.  I only strive to be a better artist today than I was yesterday.  And when we are at the level of the tree’s branches, it is not about how many drills we know etc… simply, how well can we connect to the roots of the tree?  Is the root of the style inside of you?

In the years that I’ve been studying Arnis, there has definitely been an upsurge in the popularity of the Filipino Arts.  Several action movies have begun using FMA inspired choreography, new schools and styles are popping up everywhere, and there is a ton of videos, Facebook groups, websites, and equipment suppliers that have popped up.  In general, I see this as a positive change but it certainly has its drawbacks as well.  For instance, I’m happy to see people from all over the world making pilgrimages to the Philippines to pay homage and learn from the originators of the arts. Likewise, with how much Western culture tends to be idolized and idealized in parts of Asia, I think that for Filipinos to see Westerners visiting their homeland to learn their native arts hopefully gives a sense of cultural pride.  It is a shame to think about how many Filipinos (and Indonesians) forego their native arts to pursue TKD or Karate etc due to either a lack of awareness or lack of respect for their indigenous art.  On the other hand, the manner in which FMA tends to be embodied in the US is often less than optimal.  There is a lot of ego and insecurity wrapped up in the arts and veiled behind catch phrases like “combat effective” or “battle tested”.  Not to say that the arts are not incredibly effective, because they are.  However, many practitioners seem to study the arts more for the protection of the ego than protection of the person.  As to the competition between groups and styles, in terms of self-defense, our mindset should not be how does one style defeat another.  I’m not training to fight another style. I’m training to defend my person and to defend others.  Therefore, to me all of the saber rattling that goes with “style-pride” is wasted breath.  It is also easy for us to get caught up in pitfalls involving recognition.  This comes in the form of belts, certificates, logos on T-shirts, and even our posed pictures with the masters.  The only proof of your practice comes in the expression of your art.  Is it part of you?  Any other artifice that represents that, to me, is BS. And it upsets me when I see people visit the masters, paying them a trifle then demanding a lesson and a photo opportunity.  How many masters die poor while the styles of their own creation thrive abroad?  Essentially, the real art is an intangible thing.  It lives in us and is ever changing.  But that is hard for us to accept and we cling to the token instead.  That is also why we are more concerned with the number of techniques we carry in our suitcases rather than how well we understand the principles.  I count myself extremely fortunate for the teachers I have had who have instilled this sense into me.


I think that the most exciting project for me has been my ongoing involvement with the Kapatiran Mandirigma organization which was set up to be a celebration of Indonesian and Filipino martial arts.  We’ve sought to foster a community of sharing amongst styles and artists and have done our best to put a sense of family over politics. This group was created by my teacher, Grandmaster Shelley Millspaugh (Kombatan Arnis), who most certainly has been one of my greatest martial influences.  Shelley believes that as artists we have so much to share and learn from one another, and so this organization serves as a vehicle for us to meet other groups, cross-train between styles, and congregate as a family at our annual camp in Estes Park. I have been extremely fortunate to have fallen under so many teachers with this mentality. Prior to the formation of Kapatiran Mandirigma, I moved to NYC and began learning from Datu Richie Acosta (Kuntaw Kali Kruzada).  To this day I have yet to meet a practitioner with as much uncanny speed, power, and precision as him.  But more importantly, I have yet to meet a more humble person.  Soon after beginning my study of Kuntaw Kali, Shelley to visit NYC and teach a seminar.  Datu also assisted me in hosting Guru Daniel on more than one occasion.  Consequently, Datu became one of the first members we invited to the Kapatiran Mandirigma organization.  I mention this merely because it gives me both a sense of pride about FMA and Silat in the US as well as hope for the future when I see so many artists with various backgrounds come together to foster an environment of mutual respect.  This posture of openness not only serves to minimize conflict, but gives the students an invaluable opportunity to see their own art from many perspectives and to broaden their horizons.  The best teachers are the ones who are forever students.  They are the ones who do not view themselves as “the source” of the teaching, but merely a guidepost for the student. And since the inception of Kapatiran Mandirigma, I’ve seen my teachers grow as much as we have as students. And now the responsibility for hosting the 2015 Kapatiran Mandirigma camp has fallen to me and the other senior members of our organization.  For me, this is an exciting opportunity to bring all of my teachers together in one place.  We hold our camp annually in Estes Park around late June.  The camp is essentially open to anyone, provided they have the right disposition and a willingness to learn.


Damon Abraham 988527_570493692973410_1047714983_n

Damon has studied martial arts since childhood but has been learning various styles of Silat and Arnis since 2000.  His formal study began in 2002 when he met Grandmaster Shelley Millspaugh in Kansas City, MO.  GM Shelley is a direct student of Great Grandmaster Ernesto Presas, the founder of Kombatan Arnis, as well as a student of Kuntaw Silat under Bapak Willem deThouars.  Through GM Shelley’s encouragement, Damon has branched out and learned from several other instructors. In 2004 at a seminar in Arkansas, Damon met Guru Daniel Prasetya and shortly after began his study of Inti Ombak Pencak Silat.  While he had some previous experience with Kuntaw Silat through GM Shelley, this was his first introduction into a formalized internal practice inclusive of breathing and meditation disciplines.  In late 2005, Damon and his family moved to New York City where they lived for 8 years.  Soon after he began learning Kuntaw Kali Kruzada from Datu Richie Acosta.  At GM Shelley’s request, Damon also sought out Kuya Raul Marquez of Kalis Ilustrisimo and has been a student of KI since 2010.  Other notable teachers and influences include Paul Prijatna who first introduced him to Southeast Asian martial arts, Guru Michael Leininger (Init Ombak Pencak Silat) who first introduced him to the internal side of the arts, Mas Sigit (Inti Ombak Pencak Silat) the spiritual leader of IOPS, Master Kurt Graham (Kombatan Arnis), Grandmaster Steve Todd (founder of 5 Way Method), Grandmaster Jeff Sprawls (founder of Maju Bela Diri Pentjak Silat), and Master Style Allah (Combate Eskrima Orehenal) who first introduced Damon to the art of the blade.  In 2009, Damon joined the Kapatiran Mandirigma (KM) organization and is currently a senior member & master instructor of KM.  He is proud to represent the KM organization which serves to support many artists and teachers from various backgrounds and styles.   Damon currently resides in Denver, Colorado.


Titles and Ranks:

Kapatiran Mandirigma – Master Instructor

Kombatan Arnis – Lakan Tatlo (3rd Degree)

Modern Arnis / Kombat-an (MAK) – Full Instructor

Kadena Kruzada Eskrima – Instructor

Kuntaw Kali Kruzada – Associate Instructor

5 Way Method – (1st Degree)

Inti Ombak Pencak Silat – Guru Muda (4th Degree)


At the crossroad: Kruzada Kali’s Guro Wilton

By Njoli Brown

An interview with Guro Wilton Valerio of Kuntaw Kali Kruzada

Njoli:  Yeah man, I just wanted to check in. See what’s going on at the getdown, going on at the Kuntaw.

Guro Wilton:  Yeah, it’s been good.  You know, we’ve got some new black belts in there.

Nj:  So they’re going to start rotating in teaching and that kind of thing?

GW:  Yeah, they’re almost there.  Still in that process of doing that teacher level certification.

Nj:  Oh, okay.  So they’re not really attached to each other?

GW:  No, not really.  I mean, you can get your black belt and not necessarily have worked as much on your teaching tools. There are different certifications for a variety of things.  I think the one who’s making his way through it all is Hubert (Saladino).

It’s one thing to make your way through the the learning process but then going through it all again, thinking about teaching it…

Nj:  So, maybe it recognizes that other feature beyond application that’s more intensely developing your analytical mind.

GW:  Yeah, that’s pretty much what it is in many ways.

Nj:  Yes, I can definitely see that Hubert has an enthusiasm for teaching and that is very apparent in his way.

What about you though?  How long have you been in this?

GW:  15… 14 years? Yeah, I think 14.

Nj:  Wow, so 14 years with Kuntaw… and were you doing something else before that?

GW:  I mean, I did some Tae Kwon Do before, you know, like most New Yorkers did in the 80s and 90s, hahaha.

Nj:  Bro, I’m tellin’ you.  They got it locked down.  Locked down tight.

GW:  Yeah, 80s, 90s, 70s too.

Nj:  So was your first coming into kali with Kuntaw or with some other group?

GW:  No, it was with Datu Rich.

Nj:  So how did you first get in touch with him?

GW:  He used to teach at Fight House.  I don’t know if you know that place.  It used to be called something else. It used to be called Chow’s back then.   Named after Peggy Chow who ran the school.

They had it sectioned off and so you know it provided a lot of individual training spaces, and everybody was there.  I mean, Renzo Gracie was there before he was a huge name.  Man, and you know, we were right after him, right after all those smelly-ass gis and everything, hahaha.

But you know, there was also a Thai Boxing class there as well.  So, I had gone there to check that out but the teacher, he just showed no interest at all.  Kinda blew me off, like “oh, what you see is what you get.  Look around and whatever, whatever, whatever…”  Meanwhile Datu Rich was teaching at the same time and I was like “that looks amazing!”

Right from there I started talking to him. “Hey, is this JKD? Is this this? Is this that?” When he told me it was kali, I mean, I had never really heard of any Filipino martial arts.  I mean, some of my best friends were Filipino. You might have met Guro Alex.

At first I would just come by every week or so and just watch class. They probably thought I was some kind of spy or something, hahaha, trying to steal some secret moves.

Nj:  Were there a lot of other groups operating during that time?

GW:  No, not really. As far as large organizations, you always had Doce Pares,  maybe Doug Pierre.  But I hadn’t really heard of them until later.

Nj:  Crazy thing, on the side a bit, but recently I’ve been doing a lot of reading and researching and realizing there were a lot of old school kats out there in Philadelphia.  I’ve been reading a lot about some huge contingents of classical and modern kali/arnis/escrima practitioners who immigrated and, not only moved out to California but, also took up residence in Philly.

GW:  Hmmm, that’s interesting.  I didn’t really know about that but I do think that you find a lot more long time committed students outside of New York City.  Maybe just because New Yorkers just don’t have a lot of time.  Ya know and because of this along with the high rent, it’s a hard thing to run a school here in New York without selling yourself out.  It’s a balance thing.  Either people go that TS (franchise) route or a much more low key thing.  It’s difficult…

2014-04-21 (3)

At my old Tae Kwon Do school the teacher did a few stick things and that sparked my interest.  He would do some stick drills and what not and if we ever asked him he would be like “Oh, this is Filipino martial arts.”  That really sparked it for me.  I think he had trained some with Remy Presas.  Just seminars and things like that.

Remy was really big with doing seminars, especially in the 70s.  So my teacher Spider, you might know Spider Rodriguez, you’re from New York, anyway, he’d go to these workshops and then come back and teach us some stick stuff.  When I finally ended up find a stick fighting school, I don’t know, I was just like “this is it.”  At that point I kind of segued away from Tae Kwon Do into kali.

Nj:  All of this stands out to me also because of the really interesting role that blacks and Latinos have played in the development of martial arts in New York.  There’s been a really big presence for decades now.

GW:  Yes, really big.  We kind of needed it, on many levels… and the truth is, they were taking it very seriously.  The 70s and 80s were kind of a “golden era” for a generation of martial artists.

Nj:  So what about you and opportunities to head over to the Philippines?

GW:  I’ve been there twice so far, in 2006 for about 2 weeks and again in 2010, and it was really great and I loved it.  The training there was just, just different.  I mean, you’ve trained with us so you know that we’re pretty serious about training the self-defense aspects of the art and I felt like that just wasn’t the focus out there. They’re more about learning the drills and learning the art and there wasn’t any… paranoia about the way they were training. They’re also very into tournaments and demos.  I went out to one with GM (Vic) Sanchez.  Then there’s that really deep level of dedication, like a whole other level.

I mean, you know, at Kuntaw we get maybe 3 hours a week here. That’s what you’re warming up on out there and that’s almost every day.  That felt like one of the biggest jumps.  I felt like my skill level really rocketed, being able to spend up to 30 hours in a week training.

NJ:  So, I’m curious do you see similarities ad contrasts?  One thing that stands out to me is the fact that the knife is by no means an abstract thing to Filipino practitioners and so it’s practiced in that way.  Do you find that cultural perspective plays a role in practice both here and there?

GW:  I don’t know, but it was a big change and definitely an eye opener.

Nj:  Interestingly though, you train with Datu Rich Acosta and he seems to be tremendously open minded stylistically speaking.  He’ll pull things from Aikido, Wing Chun and Jiu Jitsu if he feels like they’re relevant. Even the style uses this cross of Cinco Tieros, Lightening Scientific, Modern Arnis, etc.

So what’s been your experience in terms of diversifying your practice?

GW:  Well, I know that we really like the way the Wing Chun fits in with what we’re doing, especially thinking in terms of the hand trapping.  Practicing that element of Wing Chun really helps out  a lot.  It enhances the knife fighting and the close in stick fighting stuff.

So, yeah, I think I’m definitely interested in using what works, not getting so wrapped in metaphysical restrictions but focusing on what’s practical.  A lot of that also comes from Datu’s brother, Maestro Rico, because he trained at a lot of different schools, the ones you mentioned and so many others.  That’s where the idea of kruzada comes from in the name.

And you start to realize that the body only moves in certain ways and you start seeing the in-common techniques.  You’re cross-referencing between a variety of answers and creating one big hybrid.  We may not like to call to a hybrid art but that’s essentially what it is.

It was a process of  getting rid of the the useless drills and coming at it from a more simplified directions.  It’s not like aikido or karate or some other art where there are thousands of techniques.  We have a few angles and a few techniques and we have to work hard to master them.  A lot of arts have a lot of fluff, a lot of drills that don’t really lead anywhere and maybe they see that as a way to train beginners.

Nj:  It could be.  I mean, a lot of the people might say that the purpose behind certain drills is to teach body mechanics and movement theory so that it can ingrained into the student before they start to move on to more advanced applications.

GW:  It’s harder to teach some aspects of kali to someone who doesn’t have any martial arts experience, especially when you’re talking about things like Lightning or Cinco Tieros.

Nj:  Maybe that’s why you see a lot of the people who take kali have tried or trained something else before and have at least a general sense of their body.

GW:  Sure, I’d say that’s true, particularly if I’m thinking of the ones who really stick with it.  ‘Cause it can take a lot of time to learn those body mechanics, the timing, to train the basics, and you have to come in with the patience to do that kind of work.

I mean, it took me forever just to get my head wrapped around the idea of blocking & checking or sinawali.  All of it was good, but it was a lot of work, learning to use my left hand as well as my right.

I found a lot of the good fighters that I met in the Philippines were left handed and maybe that gave them a leg up because so many of us are used to fighting another right hander.

Nj:  Since you started training kali have you taken any other martial arts and how was that experience?

GW:  Yeah, yeah.  I’ve done a lot of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Nj:  Was there something specific you were looking for in that practice?

GW:  Yeah, definitely.  Although I might not think it’s the most practical of martial arts, it does teach you a lot about body mechanics. It gets you away from trying to muscle through things.  BJJ is all about leverage and that was a real eye opener.  Similar to Wing Chun, there’s this element of energy flow.  You don’t have to be big and strong to take someone twice your weight down to the floor.  And then there’s the conditioning aspect.  We don’t get too much conditioning in the Filipino martial arts.  If anything, it’s very specific to the arms and shoulders and areas needed for manipulating the sticks and knives but in terms of the lower body… I felt like that was something I really got out of doing the BJJ.

Nj:  I wonder if this plays into this aspect that I noticed from your classes.  I’ve seen that it’s not common for every FMA (Filipino Martial Arts) school to spend as much time as you all do with dumog or ground fighting.  I always thought it was a very intelligent thing, you guys recognizing not just these 3 ranges, but this additional fourth that is on the ground.

GW:  Sure, sure and the truth is, when you see it many of these places… how good is it?  If you were to take what you’d learned and throw it into a real BJJ school, would it hold up? That’s a big test.

Going up a really good purple belt or whatever in BJJ, I mean, they’re really good, really fast and it’s hard to lock ’em in or submit them.  So I felt like that was a good reason for me to train with them and to learn their techniques.  I wanted to understand how they move and why they move in the ways they do.

And then we incorporate some of that stuff back into our teaching.  I mean, we’re not big into doing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu ’cause it’s not the most practical thing but there are some aspects that are really fundamental like:  how to move your hips, how to relax, that kind of thing.

Nj:  Yeah, proximity is such a psychological thing and people can really freak out once someone moves into their space or is in contact with them for too long.

GW:  That’s a big problem for a lot of students. We do chi sao, for example, and you’re supposed to be totally relaxed, it’s energy flow, but people freak out. That same thing comes up when we get into all the hand-to-hand stuff, where you have to grab someone or grab their stick or whatever.  

So stuff like Jiu Jitsu and dumog help with stuff like that, especially when you get into a grappling situation.  Knowing if you should be grappling, particularly when someone’s holding a knife or some other weapon.  Jiu Jitsu spends a lot of time getting its students really comfortable with a variety of different guard positions.

These things can be really good for FMA but, of course, we remember that we’re so practicality minded and know that we don’t want to wrestle on the floor for too long.  But you never know.  I mean, most people in this country have done some kind of wrestling, done some kind of mixed martial arts, it’s gotten so big.  So you never know if you’re going to get taken down by surprise and if that happens you don’t want to freak out, you want to be ready to react accordingly.

The truth in all of this though, is that we have to practice to also learn other people’s weaknesses.  We also have to train to be strong enough and have enough stamina for all kinds of situations.

That’s something I think students need to learn more of,how to train themselves.  It’s like a weight lifter who wants to build a certain muscle. He has to work it every day.  We do some angle 1s and 2s in class, you have to work them and perfect them.

When I first started I was really into exercise science and wanted to be a personal trainer.  So I looked at martial arts as another type of body development.  When I set up class I think about how many angle 1s are we gonna do, how many redondas, can we put in a high intensity sparring session? All of this is so people can build a strong core, foundation.

Nj:  Since you’re bringing up teaching I’d love to ask you a bit more about that.  I’d love to hear more of your thoughts about managing a space, dealing with the in and outflow of students, keeping up your enthusiasm when you find yourself constantly returning to the fundamentals, the excitement or feelings you have for the students who’ve been with you for a longer time.  Take it where you will…

GW: Yeah, it’s been six, seven, maybe even 8 years I’ve been teaching now.  The last four or so have been at Shin Budo Kai.  Just before that though, we were almost closed.  Maestro couldn’t teach anymore and Datu Rich was out in Jersey with family, kids.  So basically I was the only one.  I was either, close the school down or I keep teaching.  At that point I really put it on myself to keep the school open.  I didn’t want to see us lose everything we’d worked for over the years prior to that.

But, yeah, now six or seven years later, I’ve seen a lot of beginners come and go.  You start to feel like you can tell who’s going to stay, who’s not going to stay.  And, yes, it’s great seeing people progress, especially when you see them pass that two year mark.  The time flies but you can really see the difference.  That’s really exciting.

For me, a lot of this has been about learning from my own mistakes.  At first I would teach too advanced.  You know Maestro and Datu, they will throw technique after technique at you.  So I decided when I was teaching I really wanted to reinforce the basics so that everyone could keep up with it.  You can tell when certain students just aren’t really grasping something or they’re kind of shaky on this thing or that so… You just have to focus on the basics.

I mean,  a good “1,” I think it’s the best angle ever and if you train it hardcore for a year, it’s the only angle you’ll ever need.  If you have the timing and the strength behind it and the endurance to hold onto the stick, all you need is angle 1.  Angle 1 and angle 2, you could keep it to that.  So, there’s a lot to basics that could seem kind of boring but is so important.

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One thing I learned from GM Sanchez was that there should be at least one thing in your class that you do every time.  You’ve been to my class and have seen that I have some pretty standard warm-ups that I do all the time.  Because all of those body mechanic warm-ups translate into sinawali, into stick and dagger movements, and so on.  We’re trying to develop muscle memory not just work on the moves that make us look cool (’cause there are definitely students who are into that, hahaha).

Nj:  True, true.  Speaking truthfully, I always think of it in terms of a hope that my students will have the opportunity to train with someone far better than me.  I figure, I’m trying to help put together tools so they can reap the most benefit from the chances they encounter.

GW:  Sure, and this is exactly what I meant by saying when they train with Datu and Maestro the pace is fast and I want them to pick up as much as possible.  Because they will be throwing them technique after technique and sometimes it’s just a matter of you learn it or you don’t and we’re moving on. Besides, there’s always something to improve on in the basics.  Change up your training.  Use a tire, get a partner, but stick to working on those basics.

Nj:  Damon (Abraham of Kapatiran Madirigma NYC) is from the same era as you right?  Are there other guys who started out with you who are still in the game?

GW:  From my generation there are not many of them left.  Guro Joe, Alex… Damon came around a little later.  He had been training with Kombatan which comes from Ernesto Presas.  It’s basically almost the same thing that we do.  I mean it’s their own thing and they developed it and I like Komabatan a lot.  But, yeah, Damon was already a black belt by the time he came to us so we were already on the same level, but he stuck around.  He wanted to learn Lightning. 

So, he’s definitely from another generation at Kuntaw, him, (Lakan) Jay (Shin) and then right after Jay, (Guro Lakan) Hubert (Saladino) came.

Nj:  So what about your opportunities to train?  Who did you come up with and how do you get your training in now?

GW:  Well, back then it was pretty decent size, maybe as many as 15 people.  Kind of like when class fills up nowadays.  I’d know Guro Alex since I was a kid.  We grew up together.  Me, him and Randy, we came from the same Tae Kwon Do school.  I went to that school because they went there.  Those guys were friends of my brother and I was always the younger one tagging along with them.

But when they stopped doing TKD I was still wanting to do something.  Finaly , when I found Datu Rich I got Randy and Alex to come train with us.  So we all went over to kali together.  Alex and his brother Randy, me and my brother, Marcus.

That really helped to keep me training ’cause we would finish up with class and then we’d hang around in the gym and practice, or we would meet up in the park to work on things.  That kind of thing helped so much, even though we didn’t know what we were doing, we still got together and played with the angles, worked on bigay tama, free flow, disarms and that kind of thing.

At the time class was only 3 times a week, about an hour and a half per so, what’s that, around 4 hours a week.  That goes by so quick and you could really use an hour each session just for warming up.  If there ended up being a lot of explanation or stuff to talk about you could end up with lke 15 minutes of class.

Me? I don’t like to talk much during class.  I’m like “let’s get to work! We’ve got an hour,” hahaha.  After we left Fight House we cut it down to that hour.  I guess it was easier to schedule and to manage.  You can definitely get stuff done in that time, you just really have to be on track.

Nj:  What that’s really saying is that people have to b motivated to train outside of class.

GW:  We tell ’em that.  They can also take privates or semi-privates. That’s pretty much how my generation of students did it.  We’d go out to Long Island where Maestro was and we’d do black belt class, sometimes we’d call it Fight Camp, hahaha.  We’d go over the stuff but in different ways.  It felt like he was really grooming us for teaching.

Nj:  And what about now? Who do you get to train with now?

GW:  My shadow, haha.  I do a lot of conditioning on my own and sometimes I get together with Guro Alex and we’l go over bigay tama.  We’ll do a lot of grapling because he’s a really good grappler.  But teaching is what’s really helped me clean everything up.

hqdefaultThrough the years I’ve taught so many beginners and having to teach things all those times has really given me the opportunity to work out the details.  You’re able to see your own errors and tweak the formula.  You see the mistakes you make in the students that you teach and then you ask them “Who taught you that? Oh, I taught you that? Hahaha.”  That’s part of why I think teaching is so much a part of your development.  It’s so hard to really look at your own technique otherwise.

Nj: On a separate but related note, I wanted to talk about something that I’ve noticed from your classes that stands out as a thing that many groups struggle with.

You guys seem to have a good number of women in your group. Not only that but,some of them are really solid students who’ve stuck around for quite a while.

GW:  This is actually the most women we’ve had in a long time. It’s always been at least one but usually they don’t go longer then one year or so.  Some stay as long as two years which is a fairly typical.

It helps having one or two committed women in the group ’cause I think it shows something to others when they come to check us out or to try out class.  You also have to understand how to teach some things differently for them.  With some of the guys you can use a more aggressive approach.  In fact, some of them prefer that.  With women, their strengths are different so you have to teach things in…

Nj:  Variations…?

GW:  Yeah, variations.  Lots of that.  You also have to teach that mentality, a mindset that’s focused on self defense.  We usually teach them a lot of knife ’cause it’s most useful for them, that and thinking about applying improvised weapons.  Besides, in kali, knife translates to stick, translates to open hand and on like that.  If you learn the right mechanics, that #1 strike, that hammer fist, that chop, they all come from the same basic idea.

Nj:  I also wanted to ask about your work as an acupuncturist and how that supports or influences your martial practice.

GW:  Well, I was always really interested in healing but I was pretty disillusioned with the conventional medical practice, the doctors would just hand you an antibiotic for anything, like they didn’t really care about you.  So while I was doing Tae Kwon Do I started getting exposed to the idea of oriental medicine and that kind of thing.  The more I kept training martial arts, the more I realized how important it was to learn how to heal myself, especially if I wanted to keep training until I got old.  If my body’s already racked by arthritis when I’m 70 then where do I go from there?

Along with that it’s important to learn the balance between over training and keeping yourself healthy.  I’ve also got to know about how to take care of my students if they get hurt.  So, I feel like these two practices work hand in hand.  So much of both of them is about moving energy, understanding how it flows.

Nj:  Where did you study acupuncture?

GW:  Pacific College f Oriental Medicine, which is here in New York.  There are three branches, here, in Chicago and San Diego.

Nj:  Do you every find opportunities in your kali classes to talk about some of your healing work?  I know, in my capoeira group we have an acupuncturist who has come in a couple of times to hold discussions about general wellness, healing and eating well for active and athletic living, things like that.  It gives people the chance to ask those questions.  How do I take care of my joints? How do I strengthen my bones?  How do I keep my energy up after long work days? How does diet affect my moods and my ability to focus?  People have always been super receptive.

GW:  I try to talk to some of them about that.  Some of them even stop by my office for treatment, but I don’t really get into that stuff so much in class.  I talk to them on more of an individual basis.  I’ll hear “oh, I’ve got this and that problem.” A lot of times it’s diet related or how people are treating their bodies.  On the most base level, keeping chi flowing in the most healthy way possible.

All the same, I don’t want to lecture anybody.  You know, everybody thinks that they’re doing it right and it’s not my place to intervene.  I figure people will come to me if they need help.  Sometimes it can be as simple as modifications to their workout routine.  You see a lot of people who want to hit the weights but they’re not necessarily doing the most functional exercises for the martial art that they’re training.  You don’t need bodybuilding per se for what we do.  It’s okay to be big but, done in the wrong way, it can slow you down or decrease your range of motion.  Truth is, swinging the sticks is the most functional thing.

One day… the dream is to make a way to incorporate everything. Me and Guro Alex want to open up something in the future where we can have a martial arts, health and acupuncture center, all of it under one roof.  We both know a lot of teachers.  We have doctors in the family, psychiatrists and lots of other talented people, even just within the Kuntaw family.  If we all just team up together we could do something really good.

Nj:  Do you feel wed to New York?  ‘Cause, man, you’re talkin’ about some square footage.

GW: I know.  That gets us thinking about all kinds of things.  I’m like “I don’t know if we can do that here.  Maybe we have to move up to Connecticut or something.” Hahaha.  It’s probably going to come down to something like that.  But anything is possible.  Look at gyms like Five Points. They’ve got it all pulled together in one place.

Nowadays, no one owns their own spot and if they do, they’ve probably been in there since like the 70s.  Maybe that’s part of why I like doing stuff in all the outer boroughs, Brooklyn, Queens.

Nj:  Sounds like a lot of stuff is happening

GW:  For sure.

Nj:  Thanks for letting me get at you.  It’s good to get you sitting down for a minute, hahaha.


 Wilton Valerio’s Bio

As a kali practitioner:
Wilton Valerio is a 3rd degree black belt and full instructor under Kuntaw Kali kruzada. For the past 15 years Wilton has trained under Maestro Rico Acosta (Kuntaw Kali Kruzada, Acosta Fighting system) and Datu Richie Acosta (Kuntaw Kali Kruzada). Wilton has also trained in the Philippines with Senior Master Samuel Dulay (Modern Arnis International) and Grandmaster Vicente Sanchez. (Kali Arnis international)

Wilton has over 6 years experience teaching group classes and private lesson in Manhattan and Brooklyn and specializes in coordination drills, timing, reflex, physical fitness and self defense utilizing empty hands or weapons such as single or double stick, knife and improvised weapons.

As an acupuncturist:
Wilton Valerio is a licensed acupuncturist in New York State 2014-04-21
and graduated from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine with a
Master of Science Degree in Traditional Oriental Medicine in 2008 and has  completed over 500 hours of clinical internship at the Pacific College Acupuncture Clinic and Grand Meridian Clinic in New York City.

Trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), he specializes in sports recovery, pain management, digestive support, weight loss, physical fitness/personal training and stress management using acupuncture, tui na (massage), herbal medicine and nutritional counseling. Wilton has been in practice for six years and has helped many patients recover from motor-vehicle accidents, sports related injuries, seasonal allergies/immune support and support clients suffering from anxiety and depression.

Wilton’s practice is located inside the Rutherford Medical Complex on 2nd avenue and 17th street near Gramercy park, Union Square and Peter Cooper Village. Wilton is incredibly friendly, experienced, flexible with appointment scheduling and takes his time with all patents. His rates are very reasonable and believes that healthcare should be safe, affordable and accessible to everyone regardless of their financial situation.