A story of training under the Grandmaster
One of the teachers that influenced me greatly was Grandmaster Jerson "Nene" Tortal, with whom I studied for a decade. Here is a story of training under the Grandmaster. Enjoy!
So there I was training with Grandmaster Jerson “Nene” Tortal, a man who, for very good reasons, had a fearsome reputation as an escrimador. This was my first time training with him one on one and to my shock he had decided to swing a live ginunting sword at me! “Deliver! Move! Get out!”! All were yelled repeatedly at me until I could comprehend the smooth integration of footwork and body mechanic, though he as my teacher would never use such words...
To be quite frank it was a culture shock in many ways for both of us. In the Philippines, learning is a visual process. You are shown once, maybe twice before you are expected to replicate the movement. Here in the United States, the learning is more theoretical and broken down for the student with a heavy emphasis on drills. Also, real blades are almost never displayed, let alone used in actual training. Grandmaster Tortal overemphasized that the training was about fighting and for self preservation. He wasn’t concerned with looking good, only with being good for the sake of possibly saving your life. The blade was a training instrument to improve your awareness (you pay very close attention to detail when a sword is coming at you), as well as allowing you to experience the adrenal dump of the flight or fight response. After all, he reasoned, if you have never experienced any of this you’d better to get it out of the way first and foremost.
After he was satisfied with our ability to do the footwork and ride the adrenal dump which he colorfully called the “fire of the fight”, we would switch to the stick – or as the Grandmaster would say, the “impact weapon”. Now one had the ability to take the fear and channel it into action! However, now we needed to learn how to properly preform not defenses, but “counter-offenses”. We repeatedly counter timed over and over again until it became second nature. Then to my shock any preset attacks would now become something different! Later on when teaching groups, Grandmaster Tortal would teach techniques differently. This was again done not to confuse, but to teach savvy and awareness. After all in a real fight nothing stays the same, so if you cannot pay attention and keep up with these little tricks, there is no need to move further along in instruction. However, if you caught on much more information came your way.
After a training session was over, and we had all retired to have dinner at some restaurant, training did not really cease. Now was the time for stories mixed with questions and answers. Unlike most martial arts where one is told to stick to the traditional way of doing things, FMA is alive now! Grandmaster Tortal did not just teach you techniques because he was taught them or because they were written in a scroll somewhere. He had actually used what he taught! Stories would be told of why he used a particular technique and when a particular technique was not good etc... One particular story ended with the phrase, “lots of blood.” I once asked him: “What about anting-anting”? Grandmaster Tortal scowled at me and replied “anting-anting is not real, if it were how come we did not anting-anting the Japanese when they invaded”! “What about prayers”? I asked, “Say our Father” was his reply “be concerned with what you are doing or what you can do, if not, nothing else will help.” Sometimes the best training comes after the fact.
I trained with Grandmaster Tortal for about a decade. I also trained with other escrima masters as well, some you have heard of some not so well known. I started the Three Treasures School of Arms (Tatlo Pusaka Senjata) in order to honor all that my various teachers had taught me. Grandmaster Tortal included, I preserve what he taught me in our curriculum as both a part of the school and as a stand alone method of swordsmanship.