First of all I’d like to apologize to the Editor and Publisher of this magazine. You see, this article is long overdue, way overdue. It has been overdue for sometime now. I began writing this article as a tribute to one of the greatest men I have ever known for his birthday. And now that man is gone. It has been a few months now since he passed away and these things have a way of dampening one’s spirits. When I began this article he was still physically strong for his age, strength that matched his personality. He came from an age where men were gentlemen, where dignity and integrity were valued and extolled. I’ve only really known him for the past few years, I only knew him for a while and I can’t say I knew him enough.
He is, unmistakably, a gentleman. In his manner, his style, his conduct. He is Benjamin P. Luna Lema. Grandmaster and Founder of Lightning Scientific Arnis International.
He is a grand old man with silver-white hair, soft-spoken and easy going. We can only be so lucky to have him as our teacher in the fighting art that is arnis. His technical genius is something we can only hope to strive to achieve.
The Lightning System of arnis which he founded in 1937 is an evolution from methods of what he learned from his teachers. His first teachers were his father and his uncle as a youth growing up on the island that is Panay. He and a group of compatriots, brought together by the same passion in the art, went around the islands of the Philippines testing their skills against other masters and learning from those who had valuable lessons to teach. And as the art progressed through him, he has proven the effectivity of the art and system through his involvement and participation in General Peralta's troop as a freedom fighter who fought using guerrilla tactics during the Japanese Occupation of our Country.
What makes him unique? There are few legitimate grandmasters left, if there are any left, of his caliber and skill. As there are few who can claim that they have tested the effectivity of their technique in the crucible of mortal combat.
"Mang Ben," as he is respectfully called, advocates a multi-skill approach to training martial arts. "Ben Judo," as he was known in Manila was also "sensei" in the art of "karate" and was trained in the gentle art of judo in the famous "Kodokan Judo Institute" in Japan in an exchange program after the 2nd World War where he was also able to compare our Filipino Martial Arts with theirs.
His techniques were so effective as well as efficient that he was given a post teaching the police department during the violent post war era of the late 1940's. As his reputation grew, he was given the task of instructing the U.S. Military Police in Guam. Upon his return to the Philippines he established the first Lightning Clubs. And the members of these clubs are the strength of the organization.
"Lightning Scientific Espada Y Daga Serrada," that's the name and style of the system, when the Grandmaster was asked. But what is this system really? Practitioners would define it as lighting-quick, power-oriented, close-quarters, but the Grandmaster would always define it as, "scientific." And so when we asked him what he meant by that, he simply stated, "may kasiguraduhan." Meaning all the techniques he taught and advocated had a certainty in its execution, in its application and in its effectivity.
Some people would claim that an arnisador is ineffective, powerless without his weapon. When he asked what were his thoughts about such comments, he excitedly tells us to try and hit him whereupon he shows his genius in his empty hand disarming techniques versus club assaults.
Being an “Old School”, gentleman, his teaching methods were very markedly different from current methodologies we now follow. He was systematic in his teachings a veritable technician. He was proof against the saying that “ those who can, fight, and those who can’t, teach.” He was a very exacting teacher and would make you do things over and over and over again… if he liked you. He loved teaching. We strongly suspect that the martial arts is the love of his life. He’d go out of his way for a student interested in the art. He went out of the way for us and for that, we are truly grateful.
He was also an athlete, an avid fitness and health buff and that he was bodybuilder in his youth as he tells us of his 19" circumference biceps!
He loved food as well. He loved fried chicken and would defeat his plate when the dish was served. We enjoyed all our meals with him when we had the opportunity to have them. He would patiently listen to all our stories and gossip, just waiting to interject a smart-allecky remark and a wise-crack which would just take us by surprise. Apparently he was deadly with his wit as well. And in retrospect, we couldn’t beat him at pusoy either.
We could never beat his dress sense. I guess it’s an obvious indicator of the generation gap. While we’d be out in our worn out and faded jeans, he’d be decked out in his pinstripe suit or long sleeved shirt. He was never without his hat. He could be stubborn too! Very stubborn, in fact. Maybe that’s where we get it. You should try getting him to do a demonstration when he wasn’t in the mood. You should also try getting him to drink his medicine.
He was a showman. His act is a tough one to follow. Anyone who has been his partner onstage will tell you that. But he always had us in mind, our interests as well as our welfare, he looked out for us without making it obvious.
We would like to thank his family, particularly his daughter, son-in-law and their children for lending us this grand, old man. He was family to us too.
We, of the younger generation can’t claim to completely know him. We could only experience him and accept him as he accepted us. We love that old man. Knowing him changed us. More than you’ll ever know. We miss him.
He was a man of Action.