Virgil Mayor Apostol interview. Inner Arts. Eskrima Roots.

In my occupation discovering the essence and  roots of an art as important in my life as Eskrima, I have been able to discover (not surprisingly) that the information shown openly is not always (rather never) the most appropriate. My uneasy character (pilgrim of truth), has made me deepen, without pretending, in paths that most of the time escape from my hands. If a question arises, seek answers, thus the movement is assured.

In order to learn a little more, and after having done with a book that intrigued me very much, one day I got in touch with Mr. Virgil Mayor Apostol,  an expert, one of the most to me, of those “other Filipino Arts“, unknown to many of us, therefore misunderstood by the rest. As the author of the book “Way of the Ancient Healer: Sacred Teachings from the Philippine Ancestral Traditions” and as Eskrimador that he is, I thought he was right at the intersection needed to answer many questions that had been around my heart for some time .

My relationship with inner martial arts is more romantic than real. My inner art is perhaps Ashtanga Yoga, even though I have it somewhat abandoned for the moment. Great friends of mine (some considered almost brothers) do dedicate themselves in body and soul (never better said) to these matters and seeing the existing connections between Eskrima and “inner arts”, i made them accomplices of this interview.

In the end, or at the beginning, it depends on how you look at everything, the question (interview) was more than interesting. I love to be surprised and this interview has succeeded. The Master, artist, healer, writer and a long etc., Virgil, kindly agreed to answer the questions I sent him far exceeding my expectations (if I had them). The magic of social networks played its cards and here we have the result.

We make a journey towards the roots of the inner Eskrima by the hands of a great connoisseur of these transcendental matters. With a clear and concise language that will help us to understand a little more this part so interesting and indissoluble (even though many people dont believe it, at the end all of this is about having information) of the Filipino Fighting Culture. The interview has had a long process, very lively and at a pace that, in my point of view, has involved a mysticism as interesting as the answers offered by the protagonist of the same …

Thanks so much again to the Master from my heart. For his time, answers and patience. Here you have one of the most profound interviews I have ever been able to do. Here you have the entire interview (just one part) in the original english version, so for sure you will enjoy it.

PD: Sorry for my english is not my language, I tried to express my best.


The interview

  • I like to define this part of the Art like “Internal Eskrima”, it would be a correct terminology?

The term “internal” can have many different connotations. When relating to the martial arts, it is usually thought of as a Chinese internal style like Tai Chi Chuan or Liu Ho Pa Fa. It can refer to the inner mechanics that are used for bodily movement. It can also refer to the esoteric, metaphysical, and spiritual teachings (e.g., oracion, anting-anting) that are practiced these days by escrimadors who are fortunate to receive these teachings.

  • It would be possible the external Arts without internal and vice versa?

The external and internal cannot exist without each other. How can we know one if we don’t know the other? If the physical body had no soul, that body would be a mere vegetable. Likewise, a soul without a body cannot fully express itself because of the lack of the five senses that are associated with specific body organs and their interaction with each other within the body and towards external stimuli.

There is an old Ayurvedic saying that states that the environment is an extension of our body. What happens around us also has an internal effect. If we live in an environment full of homicide, crime, and drug abuse, we would constantly be in fear and have a defensive attitude. Our minds would not be at ease and we would be bombarded with excessive stress, which would eventually manifest into the physical body. Our muscles remain tense and impedes blood circulation to the vital organs and the rest of the body. The immune system gets compromised, thus causing the body to become susceptible to disease and illness. Likewise, it is even easy to predict the effects of long term exposure to an environment that is polluted with toxic waste. Just imagine the opposite if the environment around us was void of excessive negativity, filled with healthy minds, lots of love, fresh air, trees, and clean water. All that would also be reflected within and what is put back out into the environment.

When I am in the midst of doing my healing work, I dedicate 101 percent of my attention and intention to what I am doing. For example, although I may apply Ablon joint manipulation to one who has injured his shoulder, I am working on both the external and internal. On the outside, I may be controlling how the joint moves, yet I am also assessing internal restrictions, sensing imbalances to the musculoskeletal system, reading the patient’s fear, pain, and tolerance levels, and applying the necessary skills that will help bring everything into balance. Likewise, in Escrima, if one were to attack me with a weapon, am I going to blindly counter with random strikes? Applying the above scenario, I would dedicate 101 percent of my attention and intention to what I am doing. If I held a stick, I would counter with such external force to inflict internal damage. Perhaps I may whack a muscle or even break a bone. If given the opportunity, I might also apply a joint lock knowing that the manipulation of the joint goes against its natural direction of movement, and that with enough force, cause dislocation. Even when watching martial arts demonstrations, it is possible to read their internal energy through their external movements. One can have great dance moves, but the one who moves with Spirit speaks to your soul.

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In the higher stages of both the healing and martial arts comes the gift of internal vision and communication. When I apply Ablon, I manipulate the various structures on the external, but see its effects internally. In other words, my mind’s eye is on the inside seeing what I am doing on the outside. I already hold the vision of what needs to be done. The same thing goes for the martial arts where one sees beyond the external and into the internal—beyond allusion of what is in front of you, envisioning the penetration of your weapon, and the damage that places a cessation to further attack. Communication is not of the verbal type, but of reading the patient or opponent, assessing what to do when there is a blockage in the flow, directing your movements based on their reaction, and envisioning the desired outcome even before it happens.

  • It is something that is not talked about much, like “something taboo” full of superstitions. Why do you think this happens?

For one thing, anything that is believed to provide a sense of power would normally be guarded from the public eye. It is a way of ensuring that the knowledge is protected, kept intact, and that it does not fall in the wrong hands. For some, it is a way for them to always have an upper hand.

Any associated taboos are the result of our ancestors understanding the forces of nature or what society considers them to be. For example, it would be considered taboo for certain amulets to have any physical contact with women, or even to get near them when they are on their menstrual cycle. The metaphysical charge that is placed on these amulets usually emit a masculine energy, and when they are handled by a woman with feminine qualities and power, that charge is neutralized. This is not to be taken with a negative connotation, but as a way of understanding the forces in nature. In patrilineal societies, however, the feminine aspects are often looked down upon and oppressed because they are considered a threat to their masculinity, and how it has the ability to take away their power, so they believe.

There are other reasons why esoteric practices are not openly talked about. Not everyone holds the same perspective, and any attempt to discuss such knowledge or even try to teach any of this to them would be like casting pearls to swine. Some may be plainly ignorant or be religious fanatics to the point of them accusing those with this knowledge to be going against the doctrines. I, myself, have experienced a woman, who after receiving a healing from me, spread rumors by accusing me of practicing the work of the devil. Her reason was based on my bottle of oil with medicinal roots and how I applied pug-awan, which is the blowing away of negative vibrational frequencies in the auric field.

  • It is curious that in the past most Eskrimadores were Healers or resorted to prayer, amulets, Tattoos… Why do you think these connection happen?

Yes, many escrimadors, especially the older generation, have at least a rudimentary knowledge of how to heal. Injuries are inevitable and the skill is a necessity that come with the territory to heal those who not only were injured during training, but also to serve as the town healer.

We have to look back to a time when our forefathers were in tune with ancestral spirits, elemental beings, and the forces of nature. It was an era when animism (the belief that everything possessed a spirit or soul) was at its purest, untainted by other religions and outside influences. Animism is the foundation of shamanic beliefs and practices. Everything is an abode for a spirit or soul, such as stones, trees, bodies of water, the sun, and the moon. Weapons are no exception and have the potential of possessing a life of its own. Great reverence is expressed through the offering of rituals and ceremonies for these weapons to imbibe power or to house a particular spirit. If one is sensitive, it is possible to feel the energetic vibrations, whether positive or negative, emitting from these weapons.

Before the introduction of Catholicism by the Spanish colonizers, our ancestors were very spiritual. Now that the majority of people in the Philippines are Roman Catholic, that spirituality still strongly flows through. The only difference is that the names of the ancient deities have changed to the Christian god. The indigenous practice of ancestral worship and their associated rituals and ceremonies hardly exist, yet that inclination for worship is directed toward saints and angels. The introduction of the Spanish anting-anting in the form of medallions was naturally accepted, especially now that the associated esoteric oraciones were in line with the Catholic teachings.

  • You’re Eskrimador, how you define the Art of your ancestors?

So many articles and books have already been written about the numerous Escrima styles in the Philippines. However, written material on the Northern Luzon styles are practically nonexistent, and to find practitioners of these arts is even more challenging. Amongst the Ilokanos, the older term used to describe the art of combat is known as Didya. Originally, it did not depict a particular style, but in time, specialization in the bolos or sticks gave way to distinguishing Didya as a style.

Didya is the precursor to the kadaanan (Iluko: daan: old, from the past) and kabaroan (Iluko: baro: new, modern) styles—methods of combat that are commonly expressed through the Cinco Tero that serves as a platform of instruction. In execution, the kadaanan styles have a resemblance to the medium- and short-range styles found elsewhere. Classic kadaanan styles that are blade-oriented have slashes and quick forward snapping strikes with the tip. The weapons are shorter and lighter, thus allowing multiple strokes in one swift motion. To a degree, it is still possible to see the bladed aspects in the kadaanan stick arts.

In contrast, the kabaroan styles are distinct in that the weapons of choice can extend up to three feet in length. One who is accustomed to shorter and lighter weapons will soon realize that it takes different body mechanics and skill-set to manipulate long bladed weapons such as the talunasan and pannabas, or various types of wooden pang-or such as the balila (flat hardwood club). Due to the nature of these weapons, strokes tend to be longer, hence the term larga mano, dictating that the weapon follows through.

One style is not necessarily better than the other, since it boils down to the type and characteristic of the available weapon, and the proficiency of the practitioner to wield those weapons. One weapon may allow for an array of slashes and stabs or pummeling strikes, while another may allow for chopping off limbs or the crushing of bones. It is, therefore, crucial not to be bound to a particular weapon, but to know how to manipulate what is in hand.

Orihinal Eskrima portada Virgil Apostol engish version 2

  • We have made reference to Prayer, anting anting, amulets… many people just believe this is only about superstitions or things form the past. How important, how do you feel the importance of this Arts into the martial arts?

All of these esoteric practices have a foundation in animism, spirituality, and metaphysics. With a deeper connection to spiritual practices, the martial artist can attain a more balanced state of mind. They also acknowledge that there is a higher or other source of power and protection that they can call upon or tap into, whether coming from ancestral spirits, God, deities, angels, or even by understanding quantum physics. Unfortunately, sometimes these powers are abused and used for selfish means. It is for this reason that moral development and spiritual uplifting are important so that one can gain the wisdom that is included in the teachings, which are passed down through the generations from teacher to student.

  • What is Hilot. Your personal definition…

Hilot is the indigenous healing tradition of the Philippines. It is also the native form of midwifery. As a healing art, Hilot can be rightfully classified as a form of manual medicine that is performed using the hands. Unfortunately, it is often mislabeled as massage by those who do not understand the intricacies or differences. It would be similar to calling a chiropractor, physical therapist, or an osteopathic physician as a massage therapist just because they are also using their hands to execute their manipulation skills in order to bring about a healing response.

In my personal practice, what I specialize in is called Ablon, as known among the Ilokanos, Itnegs, and Yapayaos in the Ilocos region of Northern Luzon. It is a specialized from of manual medicine branching from the indigenous medical practices from that region. I gained the skills from my maternal grandmother, Alejandra Melandrez Miguel Mayor (1894-1996) of Laoag, Ilocos Norte, and from my father, Vidal delos Santos Apostol, Sr. (1912-2005) of Camiling, Tarlac. From them, I learned the Ilokano terms and concepts of indigenous science, how they relate to the human body, and methods of manipulation. I particularly enjoy working on cases involving injuries and chronic pain, although I would also help those who come to me for spiritual energetic concerns.

  • From the shamanic point of view, how important is the connection between weapons (the blade) and internal Arts?

Because the people of the Philippines come from a shamanic culture, it only makes sense that weapons would be linked to animistic rituals and ceremonies. The Chinese have their concept of chi energy. However, the people of the Philippines, as with the rest of their Malayo-Polynesian (Austronesian) cousins in the Pacific, view this energy in terms of Spirit. There may be instances when the escrimador would invoke the presence of an ancestral or elemental spirit, the Christian god, and his army of angels through prayer or oracion, and then blow this power onto any weapon in order to charge it with whatever is the intent or desired effect.

Malevolent spirits, or even the effects of sorcery, may sometimes be prevented from doing harm or even neutralized through the earth element. The steel in blades is of the earth element, but is also tempered with the other elements of fire, water, and wind. Ether (space) is the fifth element in which all the other elements and spirits exists. It is one reason why a bolo is sometimes placed under a baby’s crib for protection. The blade was also used in what we call dingpil or dangpil, which is the method of pressing the flat part of the blade against the body of one who has a fever that may have resulted due to an encounter with an elemental or ancestral spirit. It is believed that lower spirits sometimes enter through the feet, and by pressing the blade inch by inch down the body from head to toe, the process drives the intruding entity out from where it entered.

  • You come from a long tradition of healers in your family, What would you highlight of this way of understanding life?

If someone were to sprain their ankle and that person were to go to an allopathic physician that are common in today’s hospitals, they would routinely ask how the injury occurred. The patient would then explain how they twisted their ankle after accidentally walking into a hole in the ground. They would then X-ray the ankle, prescribe pain and inflammatory medicines, perhaps place a cast or issue a brace, hand over a note for sick leave, and have the patient undergo weeks of rehabilitative treatments.

If that same person were to go to an indigenous healer, they would ask how it happened, assess the injury, apply Ablon manual medicine, perhaps apply an herbal poultice, and wrap the ankle if needed. They may then ask why it happened. The patient may reexplain how he accidentally twisted his ankle, but then again, the healer asks why. After a moment of thinking, the patient then remembers that at the time of the accident, his thoughts were occupied with issues that are bothering him and therefore failed to see the hole in the ground. The question may then be directed towards the real reason—the root of why that person tripped in the first place. In the first scenario, care is directed towards the end-result of the physical injury. In the second scenario, however, care is not only directed towards the injury itself, but also towards the mental and emotional aspects of the individual.

When clients or patients come to me complaining of carpal tunnel syndrome, for example, I would ask what line of work they do. If it is office work, I immediately suspect some sort of repetitive strain stemming from computer typing, excessive use of the mouse, or even filing. To remedy this, I may suggest periodic breaks to do forearm and wrist stretches and exercises, adjusting the way that they sit, getting an ergonomic keyboard or rollerball mouse, doing specialized exercises, or even to switch jobs. If a martial artist comes to me and complains about a certain injury or ongoing pain, I may suggest something simple like the need for adequate stretching, or something more complex like the application of Ablon due to bodily imbalances and restrictions.

Instead of just treating the problem that is presented, the healers’ aim is to seek the root of the problem. In other words, there is a holistic perspective in treating the whole person. This perspective of wholeness can be applied to all aspects of our lives. We begin to see an interconnectedness in things, places, people, and events, and how they can influence one another.

  • The doctors of the present moments were the shamans before, it was necessary to know these arts in families right?

Within the community, there was at least one who served as the doctor. Anthropologists and scientists may categorize them as quack doctors, but they fail to understand that oftentimes, their practices not only have an indigenous science to them, but that there is also cultural, societal, and psychological aspects that need to be taken into consideration. It is not uncommon for one to seek the help of a medical doctor, but also find comfort in the methods of the traditional healer. At times, these individuals may believe that their ailment is spiritual, and that a specialist (mangngallag, babaylan, catalonan, mangnganito, espiritista, etc.) would be needed for such cases.

  • The holistic becomes fashionable, we are in a stream to the new age where the traditional seems to stop making sense in favor of “new trends”. How important is right now to rescue these Traditional Filipino Arts?

Our ancient practices may be appropriate in certain settings, but sometimes not in another. In Escrima, the art of withdrawing and swinging bolos may be more applicable in a society where its members are allowed to carry one around their waist, but how about for those who live in the cities? Are stick arts more appropriate where one can utilize anything that can be applied in similar fashion? Likewise, there are many different healing modalities springing up that are seemingly more appealing to the younger generation who scoffs at the old traditional approach. This way of thinking may be the result of trying to fit into society, a colonial mentality, or even an attempt to contemporize certain practices, but does it mean that these ancient practices were only useful during a certain time period?

The more we delve away from our ancient practices that have been tried and tested out in the battle fields or used in the homes of the sick and ailing, the more we detach from the cultural practices of our ancestors, along with the wisdom that accompany these practices. It is crucial to preserve the old traditions because they hold the keys to ways of understanding. There is a time and place for everything, be it ancient or modern. Some of us may not have to use a bolo in our generation, but what about future generations that are suddenly found in hostile conditions that require all sorts of weaponry, including the bolo? How about when all these high-tech machines and drugs do not work or are unavailable?

This is when we have to reassess some of the reasons why we are clinging on to the old traditions. We are “keepers” of these traditions and we have a responsibility to maintain their purity for the future generations to learn, adapt, and apply according to what is appropriate in their society and environment. It would also be important for them to do the same because what may have been appropriate for their generation may not be for the next. The preservation of the arts oftentimes reflect the fundamentals to how and why these arts worked in the first place.

  • You’ve written about it, your book is (one of the first about it): Way of the Ancient Healer: Sacred Teachings from the Philippine Ancestral Traditions. What pushed you to write this book, .

Since a very young age, I have always found a fascination with the healing arts. People would come to our home to see my grandmother for her healing services. I was her assistant, holding her bottles of coconut oil and liniment, observing everything that she did on them. My second fascination was the martial arts, especially after I purchased a copy of Dan Inosanto’s classic, Filipino Martial Arts. It was not only the techniques that interested me, but also all the photos and adventures of the various master practitioners who were presented.

I made countless trips to the library, reading and photocopying pages out of books on various aspects of Philippine culture and society. Because I am a lateral thinker, I can see how things are interconnected and weave them together. The more I read, the more the pieces of the puzzle revealed a broader picture, including those of the healing and martial arts. In time, the books that I came across were not enough by themselves. I also extended my research to interviewing my parents, uncles, and aunts about the old culture. I visited parks and mingled with the elders, asking and receiving any knowledge that they had to impart. I travelled to various provinces in Northern Luzon, searching for those who had knowledge. My notes and photographs expanded to the point that I had more than sufficient information to outline topics for a manuscript. In a large way, I wanted to present a book that touched on various aspects, yet showed how each of them influenced one another. In other words, a book that would help readers understand a part by understanding the whole. I was appointed to write and coauthor the manual Healing Hands of Hilot with Reverend Cornelio Evangelista, a manghihilot in Southern California. As far as I know, this manual that was released in 1998, is the first one specifically written on Hilot and Ablon. Taking on the project gave me the experience that I sought in writing and publishing, which helped pave the way for my second title, Way of the Ancient Healer.

  • You do seminars, traveling the world, showing your art. How welcome is your Art in the West?

I have received favorable response from my Ablon manual medicine workshops. My last one was in Barcelona, Spain and involved teaching a group of martial arts instructors who flew in from various European countries. I was actually invited upon the request of Daniel Lonero to include my workshop portion in his XTMA (Cross Training Martial Arts) Camp in order for them to receive a taste of the healing culture that is an intimate part of the indigenous martial arts of the Philippines. Before that, I was sponsored by the New York Shamanic Circle to conduct a workshop in Manhattan, New York. This group mainly consisted of shamanic and healing arts practitioners. I like to keep the workshops well rounded and even include Didya Mudgara Warrior Club Calisthenics, which is based on Ablon and Kabaroan Cinco Tero Escrima that are taught using the format of wooden club swinging exercises from India. No matter what background the attendees have, they always walk away with practical information and a new perspective.

As for teaching Escrima workshops, I am not into throwing out an array of fancy or complex movements. In my regular classes, my students devote several months practicing singular strokes combined with specific body mechanics before moving on to combinations. I have to admit that it may seem monotonous, therefore boring for many. This segment is what I call “getting over the hump” during the initial phase of my curriculum. Therefore, why would I want to teach the more complex maneuvers to a group of workshop attendees who may never develop the proper foundation that is needed to execute those maneuvers? I understand that workshops are intended to introduce new material, but one of the problems with a lot of people here in the United States is that there are, in this case, martial art technique collectors who take the material that dedicated students have spent months and years studying only for these collectors to turn around and teach what they just learned, minus the proper foundation. Some may feel that I am holding back and I’m really not in it for the money. I am a manursuro—a teacher, and it is my responsibility to present material that helps establish the foundation for the Northern Luzon method of Escrima and Didya Mudgara that I teach, as well as for the healing arts from my ancestral lineages. Those who understand the wisdom of this approach are the ones who I would prefer to share my knowledge with.

  • What would you highlight about your Masters?

First of all, the title “master” is somewhat irrelevant to me, and a lot of times merely feeds the ego. The reason why I say this is because one may have no title, yet have been in situations that required them to successfully defend themselves or protect others. At the same time, one may have been given a title, be it a super duper grandmaster, but have never used the art in a life or death situation.

The way I see it, there are those who have mastered what they do, hence a master in the art of self defense or in sushi preparation. I would rather address these individuals with forms of respect, such as “Sir,” “Ma’am,” “Tatang,” “Nanang,” “Apong,” or even just “Uncle” or “Auntie.” I will, however, address one as “guro,” not just as a teacher as commonly called in the Philippines, but for one who fulfills the criteria of a guru in India, based on its Sanskrit meaning: gu (darkness) and ru (light). Therefore, a guru is “one who removes the darkness” or “one who reveals the light.” A true guru has other criteria including spiritual advancement, specialized diet, devotional practices, and evolved character.

My teachers were both long and short term. Some I spent hours and years at end with just being in their presence, while others were there to pass on a bit of knowledge. Some were, indeed, masters at their craft, while others had rudimentary knowledge, yet I honor all of them because even the most minute bit of knowledge and wisdom that has been passed on to me has opened doors to new ways of understanding. Knowledge of great simplicity can be taken to mastery level.

It is not uncommon to find teachers who are skilled in both the martial and healing arts. As I have mentioned time and time again, the martial and healing arts are like two sides of a coin. If you learn to destroy, you should also learn how to heal. I have been fortunate that some of my teachers were both skilled in combat and in healing. Knowledge of the two brings balance, not only on a physical level, but also mentally, spiritually, and philosophically. It allows one to experience that life is not just about attack and defense, but also about healing and nourishing the soul.

  • What are your projects, ways to contact you, upcoming seminars.

My last book, Way of the Ancient Healer, was originally part of a larger body of unpublished work that also covered Ablon manual medicine and Ilokano Escrima. I have also been playing with the idea of writing a book on Didya Mudgara. Who knows? Maybe in the future, I’ll surprise the world with more books on these topics!

The focus of my workshops is on health and wellbeing, and the cultural aspects of the arts, be it Ablon or Escrima. I am more of a spiritual warrior and tend to attract like-minded individuals to my workshops. At this point, I don’t have any workshop commitments that are set in stone. However, for those who are interested, I can be contacted via email rumsua@mail.com or through my website www.ASIHealing.com or http://rumsua.wixsite.com/asihealing. I can also be found on social media with my Sī Nagabuaya Facebook page and on Instagram.

  • Anything to say to current eskrimadors?

Live long and prosper. Hahaha! Delve deep into the art and experience every aspect that makes it what it is. Then witness how the art broadens your knowledge and wisdom, and touches your heart and soul. A great fighter will gain the awe of the people, but a true warrior exemplifies the qualities and character that others will respect and look up to for eternity.

The End.


Interview by José Díaz of Orihinal Eskrima.

José

José

“Si vis pacem, para bellum”

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