An interesting talk with the founder of Escrima in America, the late and most secretive Grandmaster.
STICKS of DEATH
ANGEL CABALES INTERVIEW
by Anthony Davis
Grandmaster Angel Cabales how long have you been teaching escrima in America as well as in The Philippines?
AC: Since 1936 I have taught some of my friends in the Philippines and then in this country I started teaching escrima in 1966. But inofficially I began in America in 1965 before I opened my first academy.
It appears that you were also one of the first martial arts entrepreneurs of this time period because you held a business licence along with a commercial studio as well.
AC: Yes, that’s right.
Has escrima changed that much from the past as far as what you see today?
AC: No, concerning my style it’s the same.
We know some styles of Filipino martial arts have different strikes or different amount of numbers , how many strikes or numbers does your style have?
AC: The Serrada System has only twelve numbers.
The word Serrada means close?
AC: Yes, close.
Is Serrada a style that you learned yourself?
AC: I originally learned escrima from Felicisimo Pizon of the Philippines.
How many numbers or combat-positions did Dizon know?
AC: Twelve, but he also knew an additional twenty-one numbers as well.
So in 1966 you had some pretty famous students didn’t you?
AC: Oh yeah, just like Dan Inosanto and Richard Bustillo, Mike Inay, Jimmy Tacosa and lots of others like Leo Fong.
Leo Fong is a well known Kung Fu expert and was also said to have trained with Bruce Lee?
AC: Yes, that is true.
I understand that some of the material you taught to Dan Inosanto, he in turn taught some of your material to Bruce Lee?
AC: He did, Dan Inosanto taught Bruce Lee to use the sticks.
I also understand that the way Bruce Lee swung the nunchaku’s was more like the way you would spin a single stick in Serrada tscrima, I also understand that one of his ready positions comes from one of your basic stick positions, is this true?
AC: Right, thats why some people think that Bruce Lee was my student, but I don’t claim that.
You seem to be a man of truth?
AC: Especially since I never met Bruce Lee in person, so I don’t want to tell a lie.
But you definitely did have a lot to do with Dan Inosanto’s training and of course Danny and Bruce Lee were very close friends and once again Dan Inosanto taught Bruce Lee the use of the sticks, so I would imagine that Inosanto taught Bruce Lee the Serrada System of escrima?
AC: He did, because before Bruce Lee left for Hong Kong, Dan Inosanto and Richard Bustillo were still training from me,and at that time Bruce Lee still lived in Los Angeles.
What, year was that?
AC: That was in 1970 and 1971.
That was right around the time that Dan Inosanto began to popularize Filipino martial arts wasn’t it?
AC: Right, it was during that time and since that time when I first opened my academy on 136 E. Harding Way in Stockton. Until now I’m still teaching.
I’ve heard people refer to you as the father of escrima in this country?
AC: It is true, and I deserve that title because during the 60’s there were no Filipinos teaching Filipino martial arts to the public, just me.
At that time period escrima was literally unknown then; Judo, Karate and other arts were more popular, but not escrima?
AC: Escrima was taught before the 60’s but not to the public, only in work camps or in the backyards, but never to the public.
Do you look at escrima as more for sport or more for self defense?
AC: See, escrima is more for protecting your life and is really for self defense, but you can convert it into a sport.
Which level of escrima do you prefer the most, the combative level or the sport level?
AC: Well, the combat level because concerning the word self defense, escrima is designed to save your life.
I understand that you have had some actual escrima matches in Stockton?
AC: Right, there are a lot of escrimadors here in Stockton and many of them tried me and they never won because their knowledge is only from numbers one to three or five and my knowledge is from one to twelve.
So you had an upperhand on many of your opponents?
AC: Oh yeah, because their knowledge is different and they did not know all of the targets and especially the (largo mana)· guys or long range stick fighters I had to fight here, I had already tangled with their style in the Philippines, so I was already familiar with their method of fighting.
I understand that your system of Serrada escrima was once a secret system and was an underground system even in the Philippines?
AC: Yes because it was a hidden art and only certain people could learn it like family or close friends. Besides that I was going to at first teach Serrada secretly but a friend of mine Max Sarmiento persuaded me to officially represent Filipino martial arts in America. It took me a long time before I was convinced to teach Serrada publicly.
So essentially since that time Serrada has become very popular and I understand that you have attracted new clebrities to your art such as Graciela Casillas?
AC: Yeah, because when other Filipino stylist see the Serrada style they don’t care about their long stick methods anymore, so people like Casillas see the effectiveness of the close system of Serrada so they convert.
Why do you think or feel that the short stick is more effective than the long stick?
AC: Because it’s short and when the short stick is used in combat it has more power than a long stick.
It seems like the long stick would have more reach than a short stick doesn’t it?
AC:It has more reach but not a lot of power.
So even with a short stick can you counter a long stick effectively?
AC: Even if a person uses a stick one mile long 1 can still counter them with a stick eighteen ·inches long.
That means that Serrada escrima must be a highly effective art?
AC: Well see in my style once again I am very familiar with the long stick tactics.
Now even against any kind of a blade will the Serrada techniques still work the same?
AC: All the Serrada defensive techniques are the same, nothing changes. For instance we have at least nine different counters for a number one strike which is the most basic attack in all styles and whether your opponent strikes you with a weapon or not or even if you have no weapon at all you will still be able to counter your opponent in the same way.
I’ve noticed that the Serrada System is a very tight system of fighting it is almost as if you let or allow your opponent to commit an attack upon you purposely?
AC: Well Serrada’s favorite strategy is that the opponent(s) will hit us first, but once a fight has started and if the opponent doesn’t hit us first, then we hit them.
It appears that most of the people who come to you for training are already experienced in some form of martial arts?
AC: Right, well see the people that are involved in martial arts especially the ones who have been involved for so many years are smart enough to figure out which system of martial arts that they prefer the most. They know what they are looking for.
When you’ve actually been involved in combat like yourself, would you say that you can more readily teach a person what to expect in an actual confrontation.
AC: Yeah , that’s right.
How do you work on honing a persons reflexes in your system in order to make a person react more quicker to ~n attack thrown upon them?
AC: Sparring and a training drill that I call lock and block.
You have other techniques in your system known as “picking”, what is picking?
AC: Picking is the art of faking a person out so that you force them to commit an offensive or defensive maneuver in order to counter-attack them more easily.
Are there things that your master Felicisimo Dizon taught to you that you don’t teach to anyone else?
AC: No, I teach everything what I know.
A lot of people would consider that not to be a wise business strategy, why don’t you see it that way?
AC: Because my reason is, is that if I teach everything that I’ve learned my students will be better prepared to face anykind of an attack, so I teach everything that I know.
Would you say that Serrada is a complete system of martial arts?
AC: Yeah, because all of the other styles can easily be found mixed up within Serrada escrima, so whatevep you’re looking for you can find itwithin Serrada.
I understand that you were one of the first escrima masters to demonstrate escrima in a movie?
AC: Yeah that’s right.
What was the name of the movie that you played in and who produced it?
AC: “Tigers Revenge” and it was produced by leo Fang.
So where do you see Serrada escrima in ten years from now?
AC: I see Serrada escrima expanding all over the world and passed down from generation to generation.
Are there any last words that you would like to leave your readers with before we end this interview?
AC: Yes, I hope that people who practice escrima will not use escrima as an instrument to oppress anyone, but instead will use their craftmanship as a shield for other people’s rights.
The interview was submitted and conducted by GM Davis around 1990.
Further info on Angel Cabales.