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Yaw Yan, a devastating style of Filipino martial art founded by Master Napoleon Fernandez dominated the full-contact martial arts scene in the Philippines during the 1970s and 1980s. Officially established in 1972, the name “Yaw Yan” was derived from the last two syllables of “Sayaw ng Kamatayan,” meaning “Dance of Death.”
Yaw Yan’s hallmark is its flamboyant kicks whose power was derived from the torquing motion of the hips. Fernandez’s art is currently proving its mettle in the mixed martial arts (MMA) arena.
With the popularity that grappling and ground fighting is enjoying in recent years, one veteran yaw yan fighter and coach, Orlando Lapuz believes that it is high time to revive and preserve the original yaw yan way of fighting.
In an interview with fmapulse.com, Lapuz tells anecdotes of his early training at the original Yaw Yan Temple in Quiapo, Manila, his recollections of Fernandez as a teacher and his mission to revitalize and preserve the original yaw yan way of fighting.
Orlando Lapuz as a young yaw yan fighter.
Lapuz narrates that he started training in yaw yan in 1979. “I lived in the Yaw Yan Temple in Quiapo for four years,” he says, continuing, “I remember waking up very early in the morning to train with other students whenever there’s a tournament.”
After the morning workout, Lapuz said that they were required to clean the gym and polish its floors with a bunot [coconut husk used as floor polisher]. “That task conditioned our legs for delivering kicks,” he explains.
Lapuz named Emiliano Zapata as his senior and Henry Kobayashi as his junior. The three men were the most popular yaw yan fighters during the 1980s.
Lapuz recalls Fernandez as a strict and demanding teacher, “You really have to concentrate on what he was teaching,” he says, adding, “If he caught a student that is not paying attention during training, he’d give him a whack of a stick on the back of the knee.”
A yaw yan student has to learn 42 fundamental kicks. Of these kicks, Lapuz opined that the yaw yan back kick is the most effective though the most difficult to master. “It’s a sneaky kick, and the opponent doesn’t know what angle it would come from,” he points out.
The Yaw Yan Temple in Quiapo during the 1970s and 1980s was notorious for one thing – its huge grotesque striking bag resembling a giant beehive. Lapuz said that that training device was not for the faint of heart. “It’s a solid piece of timber wrapped with layers of abaca rope coated with Rugby [a brand of rubber cement], the students hit it with their shins, forearms and fists,” he narrates.
The hand techniques and the kicks of the original yaw yan were patterned after the movements of the arnis stick. Lapuz remembers Fernandez teaching them techniques like pandong and palis-palis, first with a stick in hand and then with just bare hands. The students toughened their forearms into clubs of hardened flesh by hitting the bag repeatedly with it. “Every angle of attack possible with the arnis stick, we can do the same with our kicks,” Lapuz attested.
Lapuz remembers that during his time, a student was required defeat one of his seniors in a match before he was allowed to actively participate in tournaments. He defeated his senior via knock out. “The reason for that is simply because I was training harder than him and I literally lived in the gym,” he explains.
After entering minor competitions, Lapuz fought and won his first significant bout in 1982 at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum in Manila. He defeated in that match Freddie Oblea, a fighter from the Buhawi kickboxing stable. The next two decades see Lapuz actively competing in full-contact tournaments and teaching yaw yan.
Lapuz (left) demonstrating a yaw yan kick.
Lapuz is the incumbent president of the Yaw Yan Sports Association of the Philippines (YSAP). The organization aims to revive and promote the original yaw yan way of fighting as well as to push for the art to be recognized as a national sport. “There are so many yaw yan groups in the country and regardless if they train in ground fighting, they have to do stand-up fighting when they come to YSAP,” Lapuz emphasizes.
Lapuz made clear that though he is the president of YSAP, it is still Fernandez who holds the final say when it comes to important matters. The revered martial arts master, now in his 80s has been bedridden for the past few years.
Lapuz said that they were actively holding annual tournaments to show the Philippine Olympic Committee that yaw yan is renowned all over the country and is worthy to be elevated as a national sport.
Now at 44, Lapuz gives credit to yaw yan for acquiring self-discipline and focus in life. The rigid training of his chosen martial art has taught him to take care of his body and shun vices. He feels that his teaching yaw yan to the youth is his way of giving back. Still a competitor at heart, he encourages the younger generation of yaw yan fighters to use their fighting prowess in the ring and not on the streets, “Fighting in the ring brings honor and recognition not to mention the prize money,” he concluded.