By Harley Elmore
A martial artist puts a great deal of time and energy into making himself more technically proficient and becoming the best he can be. In this busy quest to assimilate information it is easy to forget or even take for granted where and from whom the martial arts we train come from. Stockton California, the origin of so many legendary Filipino martial artists, offers an abundance of Filipino history that many modern day martial artists know very little about.
One man is trying to change this. Grand Master Antonio Somera, heir to the Bahala Na® Organization and Giron®Arnis Escrima, has dedicated his life to teaching and promoting the rich Filipino heritage of Stockton and the martial arts that originated there. For several years now Grand Master Somera has been traveling the world in an effort to fulfill the dreams of his late predecessor the legendary Grand Master Leo Giron. He uses Giron® Arnis Escrima to spread the knowledge and history of not only his own system, but that of so many other Filipino Legends.
Twice a year Grand Master Somera hosts an Affiliate Camp in Stockton. These camps are a way for many of Bahala Na®’s members to come together, train and learn the history of their system. However, they are fast becoming a way for students of other Filipino systems to learn and experience the history behind their own system, particularly those students of LaCosta / Inosanto Kali.
Often students hear stories from Filipino Martial Arts legend, Dan Inosanto, telling tales of Masters who lived and taught in Stockton. The affiliate camps can give these students the opportunity to seek out their roots by visiting the places where these events actually happened, talking to the people who were there and getting a little first hand knowledge about the stories Guro Inosanto tells. Participants meet people who grew up with Guro Inosanto and hear stories from many of the “Old Timers” who smile while remembering him as a young man. They also find these camps help to fill in historical gaps and give them a more personal understanding of the Grand Masters that trained Guro Inosanto.
Imagine visiting the Daguhoy lodge where Master Juan LaCosta was shot and killed after playing a game of cards. What would it be like to sit at the very same card table and feel the spirit and see the history? How about visiting the park and sitting on the very same benches Guro Inosanto used while conducting all the interviews for his book “The Filipino Martial Arts.” The Bahala Na® camps offer participants these rare opportunities along with so much more.
The Bahala Na® camps are packed full with visits to notable Escrimadors like 107 year old Manong Victorino Ton. Participants listen to stories and learn the history these great men have to pass on. They also have the opportunity to try traditional Filipino foods and visit downtown Stockton to see the historical building of Little Manila.
Also included are field trips to the asparagus fields where during the 1930’s thousands of Filipinos were forced to work in labor camps for pennies. Participants will see first hand where these elder Filipinos trained the younger group of workers in Escrima using the long steel asparagus knives as training weapons. They also get the chance to watch and learn how asparagus is cut and packed, gaining a sense of understanding for the harsh physical labor their martial arts forefathers endured.
Each Camp also features visiting speakers. They range from avid collectors of Filipino weaponry to University Professors. They teach a variety of topics covering everything from the making, use and carrying of weapons by Filipino warriors, to migration patterns of Filipinos to America.
Perhaps the most significant opportunity these camps offer is the chance to pay respects to various martial arts legends laid to rest in Stockton. Since Grand Master Giron’s passing it has become a tradition at each Camp to stop and pay respects at the Stockton Cemetery. Each instructor or student quietly remembers the influences that this great man and his system have had on them and their lives. While there the group also stops to pay respects to other Filipino martial arts Grand Masters such as Juan LaCosta and Angel Cabales.
No other place in the world offers such unique experiences. It is a true piece of Filipino Martial Arts history. This is why martial artists travel from all around the world to visit this “Hallowed Ground.” Visitors from across our country, Germany, Spain, Canada and many other countries travel to visit this city to enrich their lives with Filipino history, pay their respects to the living Masters who still call it home and pay silent tributes to those who now rest there forever.
I have been fortunate enough to train with, share stories and learn from these legends. I highly encourage any serious martial artists to experience this “Hallowed Ground” for themselves.
For more information on participating in a Bahala Na® Affiliate Camp
Contact Grand Master Tony Somera