FINDING AN ANCIENT ART, IS IT REALLY “LOST” ? : A STORY OF REDISCOVERING MY ROOTS
Stories. We are all fascinated by stories, especially those which are untold.
This one, is a story developed from “secrets”. It won’t begin unless it is discovered.
One rare occasion led me to discover a not so often told story of tradition and art persisting in the locale of Baguio city.
Unraveling this story had sparked a sense of urge to tell it. Especially, this is one of those stories which narrate Filipino’s authentic history and culture. These are threads that weave our perception of who we are as people. A strand of identity Filipinos lost from years of consuming imported mentality. Like a treasure when discovered we refuse to lose it again.
In search of knowledge, practices, art and traditions reflecting indigenous ways of pinoys, here I found a not so hidden treasure that would be traced way back from the time even before we got baptized as Philippines. This preserved traditional art, comes in a form of a “fighting art”.
Bahad Zu’Bu, considered by its proponents as a “dying ancient fighting art” of the Filipinos, entails a story of our “ninuno” (forefathers) on how they had fought to protect their families, communities, and their lives during the pre-colonial era.
This was buried in secrets, gasping for revival and now has to resurface among the Filipino consciousness; whether you are into sports or not.
However, Bahad Zu’Bu goes beyond sports. It is an art. Tradition. It demonstrates a way of defending the loved ones of its fore bearers. They developed and employed a way of fighting against the threats loomed during the invasions happened in our country. Their knowledge of fighting was devised from instinct and adaptability of early Filipinos from different regions out of the needs of their time.
BaHad Zu’Bu embodies a vanishing knowledge of Filipinos’ way of fighting. A diminishing heirloom, if not passed down to the next generation would face the threats of extinction.
Authentic Filipino Fighting
Bahad Zu’Bu’s authenticity as a pure Filipino fighting art is credited to its founder and developer, the Master Epifanio ‘Yuli’ Romo, a native of Pilar, Camotes Islands in Cebu.
On August 2017, during a privileged encounter with Master Yuli, he revealed that he learned the art by “observing”.
In this short excerpt from a brief encounter with him, he told of his knowledge and experience of discovering the art and discovering his own art. He spent his time to pass on some of the knowledge he received from his fellow locals back in Camotes Islands, which deserves another account to narrate his personal tales of traditional knowledge and culture.
In this account we would focus on his fighting art, BaHad Zu’Bu. How did Master Yuli found his own journey in Bahad Zu’Bu?
I’ll let him tell you his story.
Starting with, the nature and origin of Bahad Zu’bu:
“Saan nangaling ang kaalaman ko? Where did my knowledge [of fighting] come from?” Master Yuli started when asked of the origin of his art, Bahad Zu’Bu. “You need to go to the place where I come from. From our bloodline, back in our village in Camotes Islands, but it wasn’t called Camotes before.”
The master would not give you the typical answer of how Bahad Zu’bu got its name. The western or conventional way of learning taught individuals to give direct translations and meanings of a “name” or “title”. This is not the case for Master Yuli’s art.
He goes on, “originally we are from a tribe called “Panubiran”(life in the seas or waters), in a village used to be known as, “Kagasangan”/Pu Kagasangan – Island of Corals (Gasang means corals); we are from the “lahi” (language-citizenship/heritage/bloodline) of “Buranon/Boranon”. Our people is called the “Tausug”. Tau means “people” and Sug means “of the current.”
Through oral telling of traditions and knowledge from his family bloodline and the community, the stories of the past warriors were passed on to him.
“As told by tradition, the man who is popularly known today as Lapu-Lapu together with the stories the present generation came to know has been taken out of its origins,” Master Yuli goes. “Traditionally, you were taught in your education that he killed Magellan, but it is not the whole story.”
“Hari Hari Ko Laot Pu. Lapu-lapu or Kulafu is, a man who was originally called as “Bagai-ak” (Bagayhak/Bagaihak). He was a mangbabangka (rower/boatman) and together with other rowers, he devised an attack then they fought and defended against the colonizers of that time.”
The legacy of the warriors during the pre-colonial Philippines who fought against Magellan and his troops, is carried-on within the baHad Zu’Bu and the knowledge immersed in it.
The young Yuli Romo has a natural way of learning from his environment. He may not be able to attend a formal school when he was young but he spent time learning from people, conversing with his neighbors and elders from his community.
He was able to receive knowledge by spoken traditions. This is a one of the most authentic way of educating the young in the Filipino culture. Locals would tell stories as a means to pass their knowledge and the others would interact, listening and remembering what was told to them.
In return they would also pass it to the younger generation in their community; and this is how Master Yuli did when he learned the Filipino fighting arts.
Yuli Romo : Bahad Zu’Bu-Ilustrisimo and other Secrets
One of Master Yuli’s greatest influence is the late Grand Master Antonio ‘Tatang’ Ilustrisimo of the Kalis Ilustrisimo. “I learned from Tatang but, I did not became his student,” he said.
Monetary constraints hindered Master Yuli to be trained by Tatang. “I watched Tatang in his trainings,” Master Yuli revisited his days learning from the grand master. He was allowed to watch Tatang’s training in their community. By watching the demonstrations with Tatang’s students, Master Yuli learned.
Even though he was not able to afford being Tatang’s official student, he pays all respect and tribute to Tatang as one of the major sources of his knowledge, dedicating his Art in its early days as Bahad Zu’Bu:Ilustrisimo
“The man is a genius,” described Guro Norman Adefuin, one of Master Yuli’s students and instructor of Bahad Zu’Bu. Master Yuli has gained his reputation of mastering the art by “learning through dissecting”. He has the innate ability to understand the flow of the movements and the principles behind the fighting art.
On Mandirigma.org’s one-on-one interview, the master revealed that Bahad Zu’bu is a product of his efforts to revive the “traditional Fighting Art” of the Filipinos. He is also recognized for being the sole inheritor of the known traditional fighting system, the Repikada-Pigada passed down to him by his family.
He spent time and effort understanding the way Filipinos had fought. He pursued learning and acquired experience and knowledge of other forms of fighting by other proponents from various sources and background of traditional fighting.
Master Yuli emanates great respect to the Filipino Fighting art and the people and proponents carrying it. While Tatang’s official students carried on with the known Kalis Ilustrisimo, Master Yuli on the other hand, crafted his own.
Training blades hand-crafted by Master Yuli. (Photo owned by Bahad Zu’Bu Global / GM Yuli ROmo. All rights reserved to its creator/s.) -w/permission
Traditional fighting blades hand-smithed by Master Yuli Romo. (Photo owned by Bahad Zu’Bu Global / GM Yuli ROmo. All rights reserved to its creator/s.) -w/permission
(Photo owned by Bahad Zu’Bu Global / Master Yuli ROmo. All rights reserved to its creator/s.) -w/permission
Here, he continues his story of his art.
“When you say BaHad Zu’Bu, it is a samahan (a group of people coming together as family, a brotherhood). It is not a style,” Master Yuli would prefer to be careful with particular terms when referring to his art. “What I consider my style is called “Bali-Alhu”.
“The word “bali” in our traditional language means reverse.”
“Alhu/alho is a wooden pestle used by Filipinos for grinding rice and other grains. It was also the weapon that killed Magellan,” Master Yuli narrates.
“Now, how did the alhu (pestle) killed Magellan you must ask? This is the vanished parts of the story…There was another man. An ordinary rower and one of Bagai-ak’s men in his troop. Using the alhu, he aimed for Magellan’s head, hitting the head with the alhu in a reversing movement. The head was presented to Bagai-ak, the one who devised the overthrowing of colonizers. That was how you came to know Bagai-ak’s or Lapu-Lapu’s story today. Now, what is the other man’s name? He was called “Bali-Alhu.”
The master is careful in sharing his story. He acknowledged the conventions taught among the present learners. However his accounts backup local studies that explained early documents about the country had been lost and destroyed through the years.
“His story is not one of those told to you in schools or universities.” Master Yuli further clarified. “There are a lot of arguments about the truth of the stories, and I myself do not like speculations. But if you go to my community and ask reliable people you will find the same story.”
BaHad Zu’bu would be secretive in nature. In learning the basic “strokes” of this art one would have to figure out and understand the principles from Master Yuli’s lenses. For now, here are some fundamentals which he carried from the masterworks of Tatang: Serrada-Abierta- the basic drill, Redonda, Buklis, and then Reverse-redonda.
“Reverse. In Bahad Zu’bu we use “reversal”, Master Yuli said, shedding a part of his “karunungang lihim”, secret knowledge. My teaching is: last is the beginning, past is future.”
Master Yuli’s original works include Ground Zero then Saylo. The basic drills are practiced with increasing understanding; allowing his students realize the concept of “basic is the most advance.”
The ancient Filipino warriors and the tales of their victory, Yuli Romo’s roots, plus his training and own understanding of the natural way or flow of fighting, baHad Zu’Bu emerged.
Passing the Art & Culture: Is this the Last or Beginning?
At first I thought I was only talking to a known Filipino artist whose works are prevalent designs and logos among famous establishments around Baguio. Then he started telling in a passionate tone about BaHad Zu’Bu.
It was the first time I heard the word and realized that Filipinos had more to be proud of aside from championships won in boxing and beauty pageants.
Guro* Norman Adefuin (though he did not ask to be called “Guro”, I decided I would, since he is), the head of Bahad Zubu in the North region, had shared this another form of art.
He trained under Master Yuli Romo, that aside from traveling and studying graphic arts abroad, the Guro began telling me of his travels around the southern part of the country to meet and get one-on-one training with the master.
“When I trained under Master Yuli, at first it was really hard to understand the art. Your mind will turn upside down,” Guro Norman explained that Bahad Zu’Bu would break any perceptions you had about fighting because people got used to the more popular martial arts like taekwondo or karate.
Learning Bahad Zu’Bu requires the learner to embrace the art more than the techniques. “You need to understand the logic behind the movements and “attacks” before you could say that you have learned or mastered Bahad Zu’Bu.”
Now there is the challenge to pass down the art in its most authentic form and preserve its principles for the next generation. Another is that there are only few instructors in the country. “If not passed, there’s a threat for this art would be lost.”
How Art is Taught: Dissecting the Blades
The general image you could paint when it comes to the FMA’s like arnis, eskrima and kali is, it is practiced to improvise responses to certain situations in a fight.
Furthermore the traditional Filipino fighting arts illustrate fluidity, which the BaHad Zu’Bu and the many forms of combat arts by Filipino origins do.
Considering there are many “forms” of Philippine combat arts, BaHad Zu’Bu is just one among many that was developed from the traditions of its proponents. Master Yuli as the founder of BaHad Zu’Bu represents his art and the knowledge passed on to him. In essence, BaHad Zu’Bu affirms the wide range of combat art groups developed from various traditions all over the country.
Datu Unga, considered a master of the barong. Photo&caption by morolandhistory.com
Leaf blade. The “barong”. One of Master Yuli’s creation. Among the Tausug culture, crafting the traditional fighting blade is known.
Today’s combat art learners and practitioners would recognize that there is no “One Mother Art” for FMA’s. The country’s geographic representation of dispersed and fragmented islands would describe why such diffusion of knowledge existed. Each fragments spread out on the Philippine map explains the dissected or disconnected development of cultural knowledge; but on the bright side they all represent one land, one people – the Filipinos.
The variety of combat arts represented in the country would give one many opportunities to learn the way of Filipino fighting.
Meanwhile, Guro Norman explained that, Bahad Zu’Bu differs from the disciplines applied to the western influenced martial arts with fixed terms and system of practicing drills. In his class, he improvised terms and languages which his students would understand and get the logic behind a movement. Learning is also fluid.
Although like in many other combat arts or self-defense, teaching them would require the use of methods and strategies building up innate skills like speed or strength, Bahad Zu’Bu emphasizes “body mechanics”. “We also encourage to use logic not just skills when you fight,” said Guro Norman candidly.
The principles behind baHad Zu’Bu reveal the innovative character of pinoys. “Like art, you have to be creative. Find the right mix of all the principles and be able to express it,” said Guro Norman.
Though we are influenced by different colonies, like the fighting art, we can keep advancing our own culture and improvise with our original nature.
The Bahad Zu’Bu teaches that, when faced with life and death situation we should learn to get hold on what is available around. For example, early Filipinos used farm knives and/or “bolos”, and rice grinders as weapons.
“It is important to realize that learning Bahad Zu’Bu should teach you embrace the art and your culture, and make you find your identity as a Filipino,” Guro Norman edifies.
Great stories are characterized by what have been completed even before someone could create them.
For the instructors and learners of BaHad Zu’Bu, the art has been practiced, and is being tried and tested. Understanding the baHad Zu’Bu identity, would take ones acceptance of its long-lived science and treasured principles; discovering through authentic knowledge and first-hand learning of the art.
Eternal Student- Plotting the Future for BSU Strawberry Farms (June 17, 2015)
The Strawberry Farm’s crimson crop could lose its cream if potentials will not be given the attention it deserve.
The strawberry farm remains to be one of the main destination for tourists in La Trinidad Benguet where its farmers found an avenue to sell their crop. Local producers and farmers who uses the land provided by the Benguet State University (BSU) gained the opportunity to bring their harvests and other goods to the national market where tourists comprise the large portion as their consumers.
/this article is written for Development Communication Internship Program, by G.Mansilla & J. Caranay DEVC students/
“I came all the way from Cavite just to see the strawberries”, says Nica Torres one of the many tourists who visited the Strawberry Farm to see and buy fresh strawberries and experience first-hand picking from the strawberry patches. This crimson crop of the valley attracts people from different places and have introduce them to Benguet Province’s other attractions as an agri-destination.
The fact that the people themselves are the ones who get to pick the berries straight from their patches keeps people coming from different regions of the country to the Cordillera region. The Strawberry Farm reminds the locals and visitors that Baguio City is not the only source of vacation hotspots in the North. La Trinidad is just among other municipalities in Benguet that offers out of town experience to many travelers and visitors.
There are about 42 farmers who lease farms at the BSU Strawberry Farm. According to Prof. Danilo P. Padua, former director of the BSU Business Affairs Office and Strawberry farming and production research expert, BSU’s priority is to lend the land to the farmers and allow them to develop their own area in the way they want.
BSU rents out the land to farmers at 15 pesos per square meters in a year. “We rent the land but we put up the stalls, and the farmers are in charge of maintaining and improving the land they rent (Nirerent lang namin yung lupa tapos kami na ang gagawa ng stall at yung sa mga farmer yung lupa nila na nirent ay bahala na sila mag ayus o gawin ang gusto nila.), according to Myrna Akilit, a stall owner at the Strawberry Farm for more than ten years now.
According to Dr. Jones Feliciano, Vice President for Business Affairs of Benguet State University in an interview, the main purpose of the Strawberry Farm is to serve as an income generating project (IGP) of BSU.
As cited on the official website of BSU the Strawberry Farm is included in one of the 21 income generating projects of the University that supplement the subsidy it receives from the General Appropriations Acts (GAA). The IGPS include Bakery, Food Processing Center, Souvenir and Gift Shop, Marketing Center, Multi-Vegetable Production, BSU Garments, RSDC Canteen, Strawberry Restaurant, the Gladiola Center, Agricultural Land Use, Commercial Space Use, Sariling Sikap Program, Strawberry Production Project, Guestels (HMEG), and SLS Canteen, among others.
One of the farmers located at the BSU ATIB-IC shared that the area where they are farming is under development. Farmers in located at the front entrance of the Strawberry farm undergoes training and research for improvement. “Kaming mga farmers ang mag-dedevelop ng farm namin. (We are farmers are the ones who would develop our farm.)”, he said.
Top Tourism Spot in La Trinidad
The Strawberry Farm also brings tourism opportunities for the municipality of La Trinidad. Among other strawberry farms in the municipality, the BSU Strawberry Farm has the widest land area and production of strawberries.
“Tourists can see our products, like strawberry taho, from social media. With this they are magnetized to visit Benguet. (Yung mga tinitinda namin nakikita ng mga tao sa social media. Nahahatak nila mga turista dito sa Benguet.)”, says manong Bruce Castillo a taho vendor at the farm for more than ten years.
The Department of Tourism Cordillera Region have been listing the Strawberry Farms as one of the top most visited site in Benguet for many years. Further , it has been included as part of the Baguio City tour itinerary since the city’s tourism boom.
To visit or not to visit again?
Despite the benefits of being a tourist destination, there are few concerns from the vendors around the farm and the visitors.
“The Number one problem here is the lack of parking lots, but because this is the property of BSU their approval should be sought first”, explains manong Bruce. “Lack of trash bins is also a problem…”, he added, “…the trash of the tourists were scattered because they do not know where to throw so it affects the beauty of the place.”
A farmer suggested to pave the pathways along the strawberry farm. He added that tourists complains about the muddy passageways. “This has been, apparently, a plan way, way back but it’s not yet implemented”, he shared.
Lack in advertising is also a problem as observed by the residents. People from different places thought that the farm is located in Baguio City. Also, during strawberry festival, tourists were not as many as during Panagbenga or other famous festivals in the country.
Aside from strawberries, the farm also produces lettuce, broccoli, sweet peas, beans, some varieties of flowers that grows in Benguet. These are the products the tourists see and buy especially during the rainy season when strawberries are not available.
La Trinidad Strawberry Farm overtaken?
Strawberries require a specific climatic condition to grow. However, other provinces like Davao and Bicol have strawberry farms now. Photos of these farms posted in the internet would show that they have wide strawberry farms with green houses. Davao plant the berries in a bamboo stalk to prevent the strawberries lay on the ground also to provide a walkway conducive for visitors exploring the farm. Bicol on the other hand, focused on the aesthetic aspects of their strawberry farm. They have photo booths and good signage and designs in their view deck and entrance.
Dr. Feliciano also believes that BSU’s strawberry farm needs a lot of improvement but the University still needs to seek assistance for funds. “We requested to the accounting office for enough fund for the improvement of the farm. We need to improve it because it is the main tourist attraction of the province of Benguet particularly La Trinidad so by all means we need to develop it.”
“I do not believe that other places can surpass our strawberry farm. If they’ll produce strawberries in the low land, it will be for temporary production since we can only provide the needed climatic condition by nature to grow strawberries. They cannot come up with the kind of quality we produce here in Benguet”, Feliciano added.
Plotting the plans of the farm
For the past few years the Benguet State University and its co-stakeholders are looking out on improving the state of the farm.
Dr. Padua, had headed a group from BSU who wants to improve the farm for tourism purposes. According to him, they passed a draft to the BSU administration for the development plan with the help of a Canadian expert.
The development plan includes producing new varieties of strawberries, installing more trash bins inside the farm for cleaner environment, and having a good source of water. The farm is also in need of green-houses too to produce strawberries even in rainy seasons. CRs, information desk, uniform stalls, good view deck, wider parking lots and establishing a restaurant to improve the tourism is also part of the plan.
“We had the draft but they didn’t give us a go signal to push the development plan”, Dr. Padua said.
Dr. Feliciano also enumerated the things UBA wants to improve for the improvement of the farm. These are: sourcing out a good portable irrigation system, very good view deck, road system, drainage canals, comfortable comfort rooms, restaurant that will cater the needs of the tourist going to the farm, very good parking area, and green houses.
“The plans will be implemented at soonest possible time. We are trying to source out financers because that requires a multi-million cost of project to develop”, Dr. Feliciano answered.
Season of Implementation
UBA and Padua’s team has the same views on what to improve in the farm. The plans were broadcasted during the BSU Kapihan 2013. But as observed, the farm now, two years since the plans were constructed, the aesthetic aspect of the place only got worst.
The La Trinidad Tourism Plan has already been approved since the first quarter of this year, although we understand that BSU have their own plans for the site. “Implementation lang ang hinihintay. (We are only waiting for implementation), says Valred Olsim, Municipal Tourism Officer.
There are four main projects which are included in the Tourism Plan in which BSU’s approval and intervention are paramount. These are, beautification of CR, building of view decks, good parking lots and landscaping of the farm/parking area.
The plan was created through the efforts of several stakeholders which compose the Tourism council of La Trinidad. The council includes representatives from Benguet State University, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Local Government Unit, Barangay councils, Non-Government Organizations and private sectors.
The Street Dance Parade and the Flower Float Parade mark the height of the celebration during Panagbenga Festival in Baguio City inviting tourists or visitors to keep coming back in this town.
Tourism treats local social and economic entrepreneurs with guests from different places to patronize products and services offered by the local people. Sustaining the flow of trade and other activities which help promote home-based potentials and opportunities.
One of the threats of tourism however is pollution to the environment because of neglect to practice keeping the surroundings clean during festivities.
“Alay sa Kalikasan” (A Service to Nature). Holding broomsticks and dustpans, and a banner not to adorn their own group, and joining the parade not to perform but to serve nature by keeping the tail of the performers and street dancers out of trash and mess from the paraders; these are local volunteers from the community committed to give service.
Reminding everyone who participate in the parades- that each one can do their own simple share of awareness in keeping the environment clean. One may not have to bring her own broomstick; it is enough just to carry a selfie-stick and then not leaving any trash behind but properly practice throwing them in the right place.
So everybody may always receive this warm invitation as they go, “Thank you for visiting! Please come again!”
This is how I remember my first lesson about the Philippines when I was a first grader. The first lesson is to describe a picture of small fragments of islands and islets being grouped under what are called Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
Coming to know of the country, which I have to be proud of, is home for a more than a thousand of species many of which are endemic to the country’s abounding wealth and beauty of various forms of natural resources.
These descriptions show how vast are the forms of life living in the Philippines, not only those we can find in nature but most especially are the people in-charge of these possessions as a nation.
Baguio, Benguet has been my home since I started college. I am not a native of Benguet or in any part of the Cordillera, but I had a chance to…