28 April 2017

Guro Christophe Verdot of Pekiti Tirsia Kali (article)

FMA French Connection: Guro Christophe Verdot of Pekiti Tirsia Kali

Written by Jan Dizon - 2/23/14

Christophe Verdot is a difficult man to pin down for an interview.  He will rarely leave his condo on weekdays, preferring email to actual conversation.  He is often corresponding with his clients who are mostly in France and other parts of Europe.  At a restaurant that’s just a stone's throw away from where he lives, he is more engrossed with his smartphone than our interview.  But his demeanour changes when the conversation focuses on Kali, and he opens up to talk about his passion for the martial art.

“Isang mango shake,” Christophe orders in his French-accented Filipino.  He has been taking lessons for several months and is able to order food, speak  phrases, and can tell if people are talking about him.  His mother tongue is French but he also speaks English and Japanese. Christophe says that improving his Filipino is the next logical step for him, after all, he’s been living in Manila for almost five years.

“I teach Filipino martial arts,” he says, “I should know the language.”

Indeed, it is this unique distinction that keeps him tied to the Philippines. Christophe is a Frenchman who holds the rank of “Guro” in the Filipino Martial Art of Pekiti Tirsia Kali.  In November 2012, he established his own club in Bonifacio Global City where he teaches five out of seven nights a week.

Masters in other arnis and escrima systems are commonplace in public parks such as Luneta during weekends. However, it’s a peculiar sight to see a mixed group of expats and Filipinos swinging sticks amidst the joggers, shoppers, and frisbee throwers on Track 30th in the newly developed commercial area that used to be part of Fort Bonifacio.  It’s even more peculiar to see a foreigner leading the group.

His Filipino students take no issue with his background even though it takes them by surprise in the beginning.

“I thought he was half-Filipino, at first,” one of his regular students says, “but it's great to see a non-Filipino dedicated to teaching Pekiti.”

“He always gives 110% at training,” another student observes.

Pekiti Global City at Track 30th

 

Teaching Pekiti to Filipinos in the Philippines has never been an issue for Christophe.  “Sadly, for Filipinos, Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) are not too popular in their own country. It is definitely more popular overseas. Because of that, there are more advance foreigner instructors than Filipino.”

Some of his European students have studied FMA in their home countries under non-Filipino instructors. Christophe himself has taught Pekiti Tirsia Kali in Sofia, Bulgaria.  He will also be one of the featured teachers at the first International PTK Convention in France in May 2014.  Although he has planted the seeds of starting his own group in his hometown of Bordeaux, he has no plans of leaving the Philippines any time soon.

With his students in Bordeaux, France

 

“My main goal, aside from mastering the art myself, is to develop very good Filipino instructors,” Christophe says, “Hopefully, they will be able to take over my school and take back what is theirs,”

The food arrives and Christophe is irritated by the new biodegradable paper straws the restaurant is using.

“What is that? This is useless!” he declares as the straw gets soggy and bits of cardboard start floating in his shake.  He is not fond of impractical things. He hates changing his regular routine.

Part of that routine involves a daily regimen of Kali training that borders on obsession.

“My days are almost always the same. I wake up and do Kali forms before anything else.  After breakfast, I start work.  I take a two hour break in the afternoon to review some Pekiti and prepare my evening class.  Then I go back to work until 6pm then workout at the gym before teaching from 8 to 10 pm.  When I get back home, I have dinner and work then review my Kali again.  I literally train everyday,”

In terms of lineage, no one can dispute the authenticity of Christophe's FMA training.   His first teacher was Master Alex Ercia in 2009, who taught him one-on-one in Kombatan and Balintawak Arnis.  Christophe still beams with pride whenever he talks about his first teacher.

“There are many sharks in the Philippines pretending to be teachers. I could have been an easy target because I was new to the country and knew nothing about martial arts.  But he was honest and serious. He also taught me a very good foundation that is common to all FMA,”

He then met Eric Laulagnet, a practitioner who produced Filipino Martial Arts videos in France.  Eric was working at the French Embassy in Manila and he recommended the Acenas brothers to Christophe who were both teaching at a PTK Club in Quezon City at the time. (All three are now ranked as Mandala in the Pekiti Tirsia Kali system)

In a short span of time, he rose through the ranks and became the assistant teacher at Kali Makati under Kit Acenas.  He earned his “Guro” rank in April 2012, a title given to him personally by Tuhon Rommel Tortal, who is pegged to be the heir to the PTK system after his uncle, Grand Tuhon Leo Gaje Jr.

“I train three to four hours once, sometimes twice a week, with Tuhon Rommel.  He strongly encouraged me to start my own group and he's been very supportive. I owe him a lot,”

Training with Tuhon Rommel Tortal

 

Many martial arts masters have been training since they were in diapers.  Christophe's childhood however, was a world far removed from martial arts.  Growing up in Bordeaux, he took up skateboarding when he was 11.

“Everybody was doing football or tennis.  Skateboarding was not popular and I liked being different.  I also liked that you could be free – you are alone on your board and free to go anywhere and flow as you want,”

He still carries a skateboard in the trunk of his car -- a reminder of days which contributed to the kind of mindset that led to his advancement in Kali.

“Skateboarding taught me a lot. I mean, it's not only a sport, it's definitely a lifestyle. You learn brotherhood but it's still an individual thing. You work a lot alone to progress in skateboard and I believe that's why I'm also like that in Kali now: working alone a lot,” he says.

Christophe Verdot in his skateboarding years

 

He adds: “Skateboard also taught me to never give up, to try until you make it, and not think about the pain.  I guess there is a similarity with Kali. There are tricks that anyone can learn but what makes the real difference is the rider:  how he applies the technique, when he decides to apply, and how he develops his own style,”

Some have criticized Christophe's quick rise, saying it should take years to master a martial art. It’s a statement which he can understand.

“PTK is a huge system.  One lifetime is not enough to master everything.”  But more than the number of years, he considers the number of hours clocked in and dedication and research put into training. These are values Christophe would like to  pass on to his own students.

“I would like grow PTK Global City to a very serious club based on what Pekiti Tirsia was like in the 70's and 80's. Back then, practitioners were very strict on quality control. The training was hard core. It was all about raising the level as much as possible and developing good students who understand the value of hard training.   What I want for my club is no pretending, no showing off or bullshit, no politics. Just training and developing real skills,”

With his students and Grand Tuhon Leo Gaje Jr.

 

After lunch, Christophe returns to his condo where he will works as a freelance web and graphic designer. He will do this until he gets distracted by another Kali video on YouTube or until mastering a form or technique he just learned starts eating at his mind. Christophe will then take his sticks to rehearse until he is happy with its execution.

“For around 15 or more years, I did lot of skateboard non-stop.  I was 200% into it. It’s the same now with Kali. When I do something, it's never half-baked, it rules my life.  It is Pekiti Tirsia now.”

 


About the author: Jan Denise Dizon is a freelance writer and a Pekiti Tirsia Kali practitioner since 2010.  She was promoted to the rank of Lakan Guro in Austin, Texas in September 2013 by Grand Tuhon Leo Gaje Jr. She is currently the assistant teacher at PTK Global City headed by Guro Christophe Verdot in the Philippines. Jan maintains a blog about her PTK journey at kapekalikarma.wordpress.com and her personal writing portfolio/website may also be found at www.jan-dizon.com

 

All photos courtesy of Christophe Verdot.