Training with a FMA Grand-master in the Philippines

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This guide relates my experience training with a Grand-Master in the Filipino warrior art of "Kali" (A.K.A "Eskrima" or "Arnis") in the Philippines.

Finding an instructor in the Philippines

Your time and money are finite. What I've learned through studying martial arts is that a good teacher is essential. So how do you find one?

Well, like most things a recommendation from someone you know is a good way of finding a master here in the Philippines. All reputable FMA schools should have links to instructors in the Philippines. It might just be a case of swimming up-stream or perhaps talking to a training partner who has trained here or fought in a WEKAF event.

However, when I arrived in the Philippines it had been some years since I had trained Eskrima so I had an open mind and was itching to get some expert tuition. I performed a lot of internet searches and read articles. What first struck me is that there are A LOT of Masters here and an equally large number of styles. The majority of which I had never heard of. (Like all other martial arts a certain amount of "PR" abounds. A lot of the local Masters are not fluent in English and even when they are it's extremely difficult to obtain a visa to the UK, USA and Europe). If you got to it's possible to see a list of schools and contact numbers in the Philippines.

The method I settled for was to watch lots of videos on-line and look at the techniques and body mechanics of the Eskrimadors. If it was an instructional drill I was watching I was looking at the ease of which information and knowledge was being transferred. It was after watching a video of GM "Yuli" Romo and a student of his Bahad Zubu Kali style that I decided he was the Master for me.

       Meeting a Grand-Master

Although I have been fortunate to meet and train with Grand-Masters before I was still very nervous to meet GM Yuli. My girlfriend (now wife) came with me to help with any translation issues and I brought a Christmas food hamper as a gift. We met in a cemetery which also doubles as GM Yuli's "Classroom". Spacious, carpeted, air-conditioned gyms seem to be at a premium here in the Philippines which suits me fine as I have no need for them.

 Like all great martial arts teachers GM Yuli was extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable about his art. He's also very funny too. When we were discussing western FMA training and Sinawali he laughed and said "Kid's stuff!". He then called one of his teenage daughters over and practiced the drill telling me he taught it to her when she was 11...He explained that although the techniques could be performed with any weapon (such as a bottle or a straw even!) we would mostly be using bladed weapons in our training. This differed from my previous style where to start off with you predominately used a single stick. Here I was given 2 wooden knives on the first day and taught a great "Free" drill which emphasized the footwork of Bahad Zebu and the basic "Aberta" and "Serrado" ("Open" and "Closed") techniques for use with sticks, knives or empty hands.

At the end of the initial meeting we arranged a price for some one-on-one tuition. GM Yuli doesn't like to teach large classes as he wants to dedicate his time to you individually.

The Training


The training is in 3 hours blocks though frequently sessions go over this. GM Yuli is passionate about teaching “Traditional Filipino Fighting Arts” and so there’s a lot of discussion about the theory and origin of the techniques. Martial arts is usually pretty black or white. Question a technique and say “What about this?”. If the answer is right, or the question is wrong you will get hit. Or in this case cut. Let application be your Sifu” is a famous MA quote, but that is no more evident when you’re fighting with bladed weapons!

 So what was the training like? Well, GM Yuli does not like to waste his student’s time or money. He stresses that he can not teach you speed, or power and that you are responsible for the practicing and refining techniques.  To this end he will demonstrate and practice with you a number of techniques and variations using sticks, knives, swords and empty-hands. I must admit it is an information overload and I wish there was some technology where I could instantly transmit my thoughts and observations to paper. Even doing it after training was a struggle!

However, GM Yuli emphasizes the simplicity of the system. Step in, step out, body weight in, body weight out. Clockwise / Anti-Clockwise. They are no 6 or 12 strikes common to other systems. Just forehand and backhand. The numbers of the strikes were not important. Delivering the strike with the correct technique is. These techniques and the footwork for delivering the strikes were the same whether working with a kampilan, bio stick (36” thick rattan) 24” sticks, Knives, swords or empty-handed. So there’s always a foundation / reference point to develop knowledge from.

Also there is not a different set of techniques to learn for each weapon. Just more applications of what you already should know. GM Yuli  also stresses that it becomes intuitive as there’s no time to think during the fight. What struck me about the training is that both your upper body and lower body have to be relaxed.  This differs from my previous experience where the legs were rooted and the torso fluid.

"Without the hands there are no armies"

On relating to my former Escrima classmate that “There is no stick-on-stick contact in Bahad Zubu. Strikes to the hands are emphasized”. He replied “That’s nice if you can get it”. I passed this on to GM Yuli and he looked at me funny and gave an impromptu demo.

Due to the circular nature of the strike if the hand is not there it will carry on through and hit the body or leg. There is no “Hand Hunting” or “Head Hunting” in the style.  GM Yuli is also very open to questions about his training with the legendary Grand-Master Anthony “Tatang” Ilistrisumo.  He showed me a scare on his leg which was a result of his training.

Tatang struck at Yuli’s front leg. Yuli withdrew it. But he didn’t withdraw his rear leg as he was meant to. The strike continued and hit his rear leg near the ankle. The result? 3 months before Yuli could walk again due to tissue and nerve damage.  How did Tatang react to the injury of one of his most senior students? “It’s o.k” said Tatang. “You won’t die..go to the hospital and get some medicine…”

The above example was made not to glorify the hardships of training (though it’s pretty hardcore!) at that time  but to further expand my point about hitting the hand.

Even with your hand pressed flat against your body GM Yuli possess  an unnerving ability to find it (usually prior to or after a flurry of other strikes). One of his core philosophies is that “Without the hands there are no armies”.

GM Yuli Romo describes his training methods and techniques as “Crazy” and “Anti-Clockwise” but to me they make perfect sense. He will discuss and demonstrate his great art with anybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re a master in Kung Fu, Silat, Tai-Chi or a complete beginner. As GM Yuli has trained in other Filipino styles he also welcomes students from other FMA backgrounds.

If you would like further information about training with GM Yuli please contact me through the ebay messaging system.

Many thanks for reading my guide,


Do not try a head lock from this position!

I'm about to lose the use of some digits...

GM Yuli has infectious humour, even when he's carving you up. You can't see it well in this picture but note his fingers are monitoring my right hand and his elbow and knee are close to my body to ensure that I won't be going anywhere fast. Well, with all my vital organs intact anyway...

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