Cabales Serrada Escrima : one of the first Filipino martial arts in the West

Angel Cabales

I started Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) 15 years ago with Cabales Serrada Escrima. This martial art allowed me to discover the Filipino culture and the vision of the FMA for weapon fighting. My only experience in this area before had been the practice of Iaido, the learning of which focused on kata to train alone. The contact of the sticks with a partner in the Cabales Serrada Escrima attracted me a lot from the first moments when I practiced it.

Today, I now practice Combate Eskrima Maranga under Maestro Rodrigo Maranga because this system is much more compatible with my way of expressing Wing Chun, my bare-hand system. The concepts, principles and some techniques are similar which allows me to have a good consistency and fluidity in the whole of my martial approach.

However, Cabales Serrada Escrima introduced me to the Filipino approach to martial arts. This art also gave me fundamentals and proven skills with those I could better understand the weapon fighting.

 

A brief history of Cabales Serrada Escrima

You can’t talk about the history of Cabales Serrada Escrima without looking at its founder : Angel Cabales. However, this post is not a biography and I will only mention the main lines of the life of Angel Cabales to expose the development of this Filipino martial art. I plan to create a biography category where I will detail the lives of great martial arts masters.

The Cabales Serrada Escrima originates from an old Filipino style named De Cuerdas Escrima by Master Felicisimo Dizon from Cebu Island, in the Visayas archipelago in the central Philippines. [1]

I should point out that I am using the term Escrima written with a “c” as it is used in the US. Eskrima written with a “k” is used in the Philippines. Moreover, the De Cuerdas Escrima style of Dizon Felicisimo has no connection with the Heyrosa De Cuerdas Eskrima style of Cebu, which originated from the Balintawak of Venancio “Anciong” Bacon.

Regarding De Cuerdas Escrima, it is an obscure style that Felicisimo Dizon would have learned from a hermit in Cebu. Felicisimo Dizon later became a renowned expert who interacted with and exchanged with other great Filipino experts such as Antonio “Tatang” Ilustrisimo and Floro Villabrille. [2]

Angel Cabales (1917-1991) is from Panay Island, in the Visayas. In 1932, being a young teenager, he witnessed a duel between Felicisimo Dizon and another eskrimador. Impressed by Dizon’s technique, Angel Cabales asked him to teach him his art : De Cuerdas Escrima. Cabales is fully involved in this art of stick fighting.

In 1934, Cabales moved to Manila. After several years of odd jobs, he became docker and met again Dizon who was also a docker. Cabales then had the opportunity to perfect his martial art with his master. During this period in Manila, at the end of the 1930s, Dizon and Cabales would have participated in death matches, which would have further increased their reputation [3]. The fame of Angel Cabales was such that he was nicknamed “dimasalang” which means “untouchable[4].

In 1939, Angel Cabales left the Philippines for the United States by being hired as a sailor in a cargo. The journey is tough. Angel Cabales must take up several duels and honor his reputation as a fighter. A famous formula was born from this episode :

“Three strikes and a man will fall” Angel Cabales

In the US, he initially continued to be a sailor and made several missions along the American west coast. Then he moved to Stockton, California and became a foreman. There were other Filipino immigrants practicing FMA. In 1966, Max Sarmiento, a Filipino expert of Cadena de Mano who was a friend and partner of Angel Cabales, suggested him to teach his art to the public. [5]

Angel Cabales and Max Sarmiento training Cabales Serrada Escrima.

From De Cuerdas Escrima to Cabales Serrada Escrima

Cabales is gradually developing his training method to teach his De Cuerdas Escrima. The backbone of its system rests on the 12 fundamental attack angles and the 3 defenses on each attack angle associated with it. He also developed several drills such as lock and block or free flow to develop reflexes and coordination of techniques [6]. In the curriculum of his system, there were several practices with weapons : the simple stick, the simple sword, the two sticks with the sinawali drill, the espada y daga (the sword and the dagger) and the simple knife.

The solo baston, or single stick, is the first tool used. It develops fundamental skills on which advanced techniques and concepts are built [7].

The espada y daga, despite its name, is most often practiced with a stick and a replica of a wooden dagger. It is an old European method that the Spanish settlers brought to the Philippines. Prohibited during the Spanish occupation, the espada y daga survived in hiding. This practice had a great influence in the development of the Angel Cabales system, because all the movements of the stick originate from those of espada and all the movements of the empty hand (the left one) originate from daga.

However, when Angel Cabales practiced with a real sword, he used a pinuti, a weapon from the Viasayas. Pinuti is a type of bolo. Bolo is the main term used in the Philippines to designate traditional blades used mainly as an agricultural tool. The pinuti used as such, became dark on contact with plant and animal fluids. But during periods of unrest, it was sharpened and polished for combat and the blade became white, hence the word pinuti which means “bleached” or “whitened” derived from the word cebuano puti which means “white[8].

In addition to weapon practice, Angel Cabales incorporated empty-hand techniques for a more complete approach to self-defense, with striking, blocking, grappling, locking, takedown and disarmament. The use of bare hands did not exist in its original system. The changes made by Cabales prompted him to change the name of De Cuerdas Escrima. He used to define his style by the term serrada which means “close combat”. A new name imposed itself ; the Cabales Serrada Escrima [9].

 

The development of Cabales Serrada Escrima in the United States and Europe

From 1966, Angel Cabales became one of the pioneers of the FMA in the United States, alongside other Filipino experts such as Max Sarmiento and Leo Giron. He was the first to open a school to the public and created the Cabales Escrima Academy Association [10]. His school welcomed students of all origins, this is an important novelty in the world of the FMA in the United States because until now the Filipino emigrants practiced only among themselves. For more than 20 years, he passed on his art during regular classes in Stockton and also at seminars throughout the US. Several experts attracted by his fame and his agility followed his teaching. Among them : Dan Inosanto, Richard Bustillo, Alfredo Bandalan, Leo Fong and Rene Latosa [11]. Angel Cabales became known as :

Angel Cabales, “the father of Escrima in America”.

Angel Cabales in fighting stance (Tinding Serrada) with Espada y Daga.

Among these experts and students of Angel Cabales, some have also helped to spread Cabales Serrada Escrima in the United States, then in Europe. Most of them were influenced by different styles of FMA, however the Angel Cabales system was part of their curriculum.

Among them, Mike Inay co-founded the West Coast Eskrima Society in 1979, with Max Sarmiento, in order to preserve and promote the Filipino martial arts in the United States. Many American experts from FMA joined this organization afterwards. The Inayan Eskrima created by Mike Inay comes from Cadena de Mano (or Kadena de Mano as it is often spelled in Inayan Eskrima), as well as from Cabales Serrada Escrima. Mike Inay promoted his system in the United States and also in Europe in the 1990s. [12]

Angel Cabales and Mike Inay.

The FMA have also been popularized in Europe through experts in Lacoste Inosanto Kali and Jeet Kune Do, students of Dan Inosanto. However, even if Dan Inosanto was a student of Angel Cabales, his system was more influenced by the teachings of Master Juanito Lacoste, a contemporary of Angel Cabales in Stockton, specializing in Espada y Daga [13].

 

Concretely, the Cabales Serrada Escrima was mainly distributed in Europe by Rene Latosa, one of the first students of Angel Cabales. Rene Latosa also studied with Max Sarmiento in Cadena De Mano, Leo Giron in Larga Mano and Dentoy Revillar [14].

In 1977, Keith Kernspecht, the founder of the European Wing Tsun Organization (EWTO), invited Rene Latosa to come and present his art in Europe. Keith Kernspecht was looking for a pragmatic and efficient martial art, specialized in weapons fighting, in addition to Wing Tsun focused on bare-hand combat, in order to offer a global approach to self-defense [15].

It is the beginning of a great cooperation which allows Rene Latosa to spread his system in Europe : the Latosa Escrima.

Left picture : (from the left to the right) Bill Newman, Keith Kernspecht, Leung Ting, Rene Latosa.
Right picture : Rene Latosa. Source : Escrima, p6 and p77, 1979 [16]
So, the Cabales Serrada Escrima was very widely distributed in Europe through the Latosa Escrima, from the end of the 1970s. More particularly, in so-called Western Europe, because the EWTO was created in 1976, in West Germany, the Republic German Federal (FRG), during the Cold War. The numerous schools of Wing Tsun (Wing Chun of Leung Ting lineage, see my previous post on the different terminologies of 詠春) were a vector of this dissemination since the teaching of Latosa Escrima was very often associated with it.

It is in this context that I discovered the Latosa Escrima in 2004 and that I was able to learn this great system that is the Cabales Serrada Escrima. And even if today I no longer practice it, I am still grateful for what the Cabales Serrada Escrima has brought me because as the Chinese proverb says : yǐn shuǐ sī yuán 饮水 思源, “When you drink the water, think to the source “.


Sources

[1] Filipino Martial Arts, Cabales Serrada Escrima, p24, WILLEY Mark. V, Charles E. , Tuttle Pubilshing Co. , 1994

[2] The Secrets of Kalis Ilustrisimo, The Filipino Fighting Art Explained, DIEGO Antonio et RICKETTS Christopher, Tuttle Publishing, 2002

[3] Filipino Martial Arts, Cabales Serrada Escrima, p26-27, WILLEY Mark. V, Charles E. , Tuttle Pubilshing Co. , 1994

[4] Black Belt, novembre 1996, p122, Rainbow Publications

[5] Filipino Martial Arts, Cabales Serrada Escrima, p27-28, WILLEY Mark. V, Charles E. , Tuttle Pubilshing Co. , 1994

[6] Filipino Martial Arts, Cabales Serrada Escrima, p29, WILLEY Mark. V, Charles E. , Tuttle Pubilshing Co. , 1994

[7] Filipino Martial Arts, Cabales Serrada Escrima, p49, WILLEY Mark. V, Charles E. , Tuttle Pubilshing Co. , 1994

[8] Filipino Martial Arts, Cabales Serrada Escrima, p52 et p53, WILLEY Mark. V, Charles E. , Tuttle Pubilshing Co. , 1994 et atkinson-swords.com

[9] Filipino Martial Arts, Cabales Serrada Escrima, p31, WILLEY Mark. V, Charles E. , Tuttle Pubilshing Co. , 1994

[10] Black Belt, octobre 1991, p45, Rainbow Publications

[11] Filipino Martial Arts, Cabales Serrada Escrima, p31, WILLEY Mark. V, Charles E. , Tuttle Pubilshing Co. , 1994

[12] inayan.com

[13] afamsea.com et Arnis : Reflections on the History and Development of Filipino Martial Arts, WILEY Marc, Tuttle Publishing, 2012

[14] Interview with Grandmaster Rene Latosa of Latosa Escrima, FMA Pulse (youtube.com), 19 aout 2019 et latosa-escrima.com

[15] Black Belt, juin 1983, p56, Rainbow Publications

[16] Escrima, LATOSA Rene et NEWMAN Bill, Wu Shu-Verlag Kernspecht, 1979


 

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