Enielo D. Hubac Jr. speaks softly occasionally cracking a coyly smile. If not for the sinewy arms and blackened knuckles, there is no inkling that the man is a battle-scarred fighter that has cheated death so many times. He is a living legend in his home province of Surigao del Norte. Hubac is now promoting “Salapid,” a new Filipino martial art that he developed. “The name means “lock-to-lock” akin to braiding a hair. It connotes the interlocking of all essential combat techniques,” he explained.

The making of a fighting man

A fighting blood courses through Hubac’s veins. He narrates that during the 1950s, his soldier father was tasked by the late President Ramon Magsaysay to arrest the Muslim rebel Kamlon. “Because of that mission, my mother and I went to live with my father in Jolo,” he said. Hubac related that Kamlon at first surrendered to the government but a year later returned to the mountains to resume the fight.

Hubac’s father was again assigned as the leader of the team that was to get Kamlon dead or alive. “My father’s team was ambushed and ran out of ammunition. They were forced to engage the rebels in a close quarter battle using bolos and there my father died,” he narrated.

After the death of his father, Hubac and his mother returned to Surigao where he experienced a harsh childhood. “My surname translated into Tagalog means “asthma,” and the other children used to chant it to ridicule me. I also then developed scabies on my scalp. Whenever I tried to play with them, they would strike me on the head and drive me away telling me that I smell awful,” he recalls with sadness, adding, “I realized then how hard it was to live without a father whom you can depend on.”

Knowing that he was on his own, Hubac decided to get tough. “I approached every escrimador or boxer that I knew then. The deal is they can ask me to do anything – fetch water or gather firewood in exchange for a lesson,” he said. After about six months, Hubac thought he was tough enough to face his tormentors.

The next time the kids in school teased him, he challenged them to a fight. “At first, I was still defeated and they would just run away after beating me up. But at that time, I don’t mind. All I want is to punch back and let go of some of the anger bottled inside me,” he revealed.

Hubac continued training and his perseverance was soon rewarded. “Later on, they can’t beat me in a fight even if there were six of them. After that, nobody bullied me anymore,” he said.

Foundations of a fighting art

The year was 1962 when Hubac decided to relocate to Davao, “It was there that I seriously trained in boxing but I never fought professionally,” he recalled. While working in a furniture shop, Hubac fell in love with a girl who happened to be a girlfriend of a second dan blackbelt karateka. The love triangle eventually led to a fight where Hubac was soundly defeated.

Nursing a bruised ego, he went back to Surigao and furthered his martial arts education, “I met a karate practitioner and studied under him. After that, I met a wrestler and traded my karate knowledge with his skills in wrestling,” he said.

Hubac also met two Japanese during this period; one instructed him judo and the other named Seki taught him the use of the Samurai sword, “I never closed my mind to other martial arts systems, I want to learn as much as I can,” Hubac said.

Master Enielo D. Hubac Jr. (in black shirt), demonstrating sigpang paak (shoot up and bite) technique with his student Melvin Matabilas

Lessons from actual fights

Having experienced oppression as a child, he became a self-proclaimed champion of the weak and the browbeaten, a mission that plunged him into more than 100 actual fights (the majority of which involving weapons and multiple attackers), “I became the enemy of thugs and bandits,” Hubac declared.

A testament to his reputation as a fighter is the fact that the constabulary in the province used to commission him to get fugitives that were giving them a hard time to capture. It was in these real combat situations that Hubac realized that there were still gaps in his fighting skills.

In 1967, he was stabbed on the ribs with a kitchen knife while fighting a boxer, “One of my lungs was punctured,” he narrated, adding, “I was already a karate instructor then.” It was a two-hour drive to the hospital and Hubac remembered trying to maintain a relaxed breathing to slow down the bleeding. It took two years before he regained his former strength.

Hubac, who eventually got tired from the life of violence made two relocation moves: first to Cebu and then to Manila. But troubles seem to follow the man. After a brief stint as a bodyguard of a politician, Hubac found himself working as a dispatcher of passenger jeepneys in Baclaran. There, he again fought against street thugs.

His reputation as a fighter again grew and he soon found himself competing in underground bare-knuckle fights, “We usually boarded three jeepneys and conducted the fights in the reclamation area near Manila Bay,” Hubac revealed. He said that the bets then could go as high as P150, 000. In such contests, he attested that he never lost a fight even against bigger and stronger opponents.

Creatures from the land and sea

Not having found the answer in conventional martial arts, Hubac began solving combative problems in his mind. Epiphany struck him while observing land and sea animals as well as certain insects.

Hubac, who also once worked as a scuba diver looking for antiques in sunken ships discovered potent fighting concepts while watching sea creatures in their habitat. From the octopus, he picked up luring techniques, which he attested is very useful in grappling.

A technique he called “sigpang paak,” which means “shoot up and bite” was something he learned from the barracuda, “ A barracuda would coil its body into an “S” shape while defending and attacking,” explained Hubac. Sigpang paak, he declared is very effective in disarming opponents armed with a club or stick, “It would protect your arm from taking the brunt of the blow while defending,” he added.

Notorious for his knock out punches, Hubac revealed that he learned the secret of power punching from how a mantis shrimp contracts and expands while fighting. In Salapid punching, the practitioner generates his own shock. From a diminutive insect, the wasp, Hubac learned the art of bluffing.

Within Salapid, he designed a unique boxing system he called “tamaraw boxing” whose fighting concept was derived from the movements of the tamaraw, a kind of water buffalo found only in Mindoro, Philippines. The most distinctive feature of tamaraw boxing is it never advocates retreating and its practitioner could predict the placement of his hits.

The former is a dominating concept in Salapid particularly when fighting against multiple opponents. Based on his numerous experiences, Hubac attested that it is always advantageous to move forward, utilizing one of your opponent’s bodies as a shield against your other attackers. Kicks, he said are better off delivered towards the lower body as it is more vulnerable to such attacks.

Hubac attested that by learning his system, professional boxers and mixed martial arts athletes could improve their games. He said that while in Surigao, he once gave fighting tips to boxing champion Manny Pacquiao.

After adapting a formal name in 2006, Salapid today has a formal school in Surigao with its own ranking system. Hubac’s protégé Melvin Matabilas is also in the process of patenting the system’s unique training equipments.

Salapid is a multi-faceted martial art that encompasses training with both weapons and empty hands. Despite his formidable reputation as a fighter, Hubac, with sublime assurance said, “Ordinary people can learn my art.”