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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.
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.
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.
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 Silo/ 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.
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.”
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.
Photos by morolandhistory.com
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.
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” is characterized by what have been completed even before someone could create it.
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.
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Witness again the creativity and the blooming of artistry among the locals in celebrating the 2018 Panagbenga /Pa-nag-bUH-ngHA/ Festival in Baguio City, Philippines. Here is a story recognizing the Grassroots in the community sustain enthusiasts in for the celebration.
Grassroots’ Advocate is celebrating their first post.
“Fragmented. Diverse. Co-existing. These are three words I would describe my country. Despite fragments which need to connect, we persist to co-exist and break these barriers.”
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.
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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…
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