GT: LEO GAJE JR.
- Shad D. de Guzman
How did you start Sir in the field of weaponry arts, and for how long have you been teaching?
I started at the early age of six (6), and I've been teaching since 1970. That means at least thirty-four (34) years by now. The history is that I was the only grandson of my grandfather the Great Grand Tuhon Conrado B. Tortal, and he was the Supreme Grandmaster of Pekiti-Tirsia Kali in Negros Occidental with his four (4) brothers. This system has been kept for sometime, but I was able to bring it out in the early '70s in the US starting in New York City.
Do you also have any knowledge in other weapon arts aside from using the Rattan Stick?
It's purely Pekiti-Tirsia, a Filipino indigenous art, and I have no other involvement in any other martial arts except for Pekiti-Tirsia. Well, actually I don't call it Arnis, it has to be Kali, because Arnis has no part in our Filipino culture, Arnis is Spanish. And there is no reason for it to be called as Arnis or Escrima because it has to be Kali. That is why we are currently thriving to educate everybody that the art is not "Arnis Escrima," but it must be Kali.
First of all there are practitioners of Arnis Escrima who mixed their art with Karate and Judo, and that is not Filipino. When you teach Filipinos, be sure that you are teaching a true Filipino art, the Filipinos doesn't learn Karate or Judo during the early days. They were taught in the art of the blade that is the Kali art, and there is no reason for us to mix it in and try to say ... "Okay yeah, we can use the stick to do the blocking and disarming." There is no such thing as that because our art is a blade art. There is no such thing as you can disarm or try to remove the weapon from the hand of anybody. So our art is a very complete art.
What are your thoughts on Filipinos who doesn't patronize their own heritage?
Well, I think the people just need education, and they need to know more about our culture that is the Filipino art. I cannot blame anybody that the art is not really that very popular in the Philippines, because the government has not sanctioned this. And this has not been sponsored by the government, meaning in the private sector they don't really have this kind of appreciation. Because the coming of the Japanese, and then the Koreans and Chinese, is something that excites the Filipinos, not knowing what is the Filipino art, because it has been kept secret for many centuries. So you cannot blame them for not knowing our own art, because nobody has been teaching it proficiently.
Do you have a particular student that you would say is in your top list?
Well, I have my nephew here Rommel Tortal, he has reached the highest-ranking of "Mandala," and he is now the resident instructor of the Philippine Marine Corps, because our system now is their official training program. We are also training the Special Action Commandos, the Crisis Response Group for the Philippine National Police (PNP), and the Philippine Force Recon Marines. He is the one who is undertaking the training right now, I come here in the Philippines every six (6) months and assist him in the training, but officially he's my number one (1) man.
Have you ever experienced other people challenging you in a weapon battle?
Well, there were some as far as I can recall. One (1) is in New York, and it took me five (5) years to really present the art, but during those times, there were people who come to me and try to challenge. The only good thing is that they don't challenge me with a weapon, because they know they can be defeated, so they challenge me in the empty hands. I told them that the only way for them to survive is that if I don't lock the door, or if I throw them out of the window (laughs) so they know that I mean business. But I have stopped some several guys, because I told them that after I cut their hands and stab them in their legs, I would just go to the bathroom and wash my hands.
Would you happen to have a favorite martial artist?
Well, actually I had very good exposures to different martial artists in the United States. When I was in New York, I was with the famous East Coast martial artist like Richard Chan, Henry Tiu, Moses Powell, Ron Duncan, Stephen Hayes, and many more. Actually, Dan Inosanto has been my student, and until now he is still my student, and he is still learning with the art. I don't give preference to anybody, because each one has his own right to teach the system, and I've respected everybody. As far as favorite is concerned, I ask a professional, because I cannot be biased by pointing somebody that he is better than anybody. All of them are good.
What are your thoughts on politics existing in this industry?
Well, actually sad as it may seem; in any kind of organization, you will find politics.
Do you think our government will ever extend their full support to our own art?
Hopefully, but up to now, there is no full support coming from the government. We are not yet a goodwill game such as Taekwondo, but I do hope that someday our government does extend their full support, so that we can really propagate our art.
Do you have a message Sir for us Filipinos?
My message to the Filipinos, please patronize your own heritage, because only by supporting your own, we can truly propagate Kali in our country.
Thank you very much Sir, it's been an honor.
Oh, you're welcome.