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Senator Miguel Zubiri hopes that the existence of the Arnis Law will change the way Arnis is perceived by many Filipinos. “When some of my friends learn that I’m into arnis, they think I was indulging in something unfashionable,” he revealed.
Zubiri was already an expert in various martial arts before finally devoting himself to arnis.
He was among the first tae kwon do blackbelts in the country. Zubiri was also into wushu and also studied uechi ryu karate under Bob Campbell when the latter taught at the Polo Club.
“But it was with Master Cristopher Ricketts of Bakbakan International that taught open-hand techniques and striking that I stayed the longest,” he told The Manila Times.
It was Zubiri’s childhood fascination with weapons that brought him to arnis, “I liked to become a ninja when I was still a little boy,” he said laughing.
He remembers that it was not until he was 16 that he learned that there is a Filipino martial art dedicated to weapons. “I said to myself then that I don’t have to study a foreign martial art anymore, that I would just learn arnis.”
Zubiri named the late Master Edgar Sulite as his mentor in arnis. Sulite is the founder of the Lameco style.
The name Lameco comes from largo (long), medio (medium) and corto (short), the three most common distances in fighting. Zubiri recalled that Sulite trained him to fight in all three ranges with a stick, a knife or a sword.
He became so close to the late master that he even appeared with him on the cover of his book on the Filipino balisong knife.
Zubiri, who trained for several years under Sulite, eventually became a champion in sport arnis.
“It was Master Sulite who taught me to become a champion,” he said with pride. When Sulite met an untimely death at 39, Zubiri, his most celebrated student, delivered the eulogy.
“He may be fit as an ox but he didn’t watched his diet,” the senator sadly narrates on how Sulite died of stroke.
After Sulite’s death, Zubiri continued his training with Tony Diego, a senior student of Grandmaster Antonio “Tatang” Illustrisimo and later on with the grandmaster himself.
The senator has interesting recollections of the old man, “That fellow was already in his 80s when I met him,” he narrated, continuing, “He’s willing to fight anyone and for every strike you deliver, he will respond with three.”
Zubiri remembers Illustrisimo treating the stick like a sword and avoiding weapon-to-weapon contact. “He will strike direct to the weapon hand or the head as you make your move.”
Zubiri described training with the old man as “hardcore.” Since Illustrisimo could no longer control his strikes efficiently because of old age, it was not uncommon for his students to go home with contusions and bruises.
Zubiri admitted that while Illustrisimo is a proven fighter both with the stick and the blade, it was not very easy to learn from him. “His techniques were spontaneous, and he didn’t memorize them.
So if you asked him to repeat a particular technique, it could come out entirely different.” Illustrisimo’s students tried their best to document the master’s moves with the available technology at that time.
“What we had then was cumbersome betamax cameras, how I wish we already had digital cameras at that time.” Zubiri gave credit to Diego for carefully organizing Illustrisimo’s techniques.
The lasting impression that the legendary master left on him, Zubiri said, was that “He was as sharp as a knife to the day he died.”
Zubiri admires the example of Korea where virtually every citizen knows the rudiments of tae kwon do because it is taught by edict in all Korean schools.
He dreams the same for Filipinos, “Say, you’re an overseas Filipino worker in Saudi Arabia and the Saudis asked if you know arnis, you’ll just pick up a broom and demonstrate your national martial art.”
Beaming with pride for arnis, Zubiri hopes that his fellowmen would also be proud of their native martial art.
“The FMA [Filipino martial arts] is taught as part of the training of many elite military units in the world like the US Special Forces and the British SAS,” the young senator attested. “Arnis is not a pushover martial art.”