A Martial Artist is more than just the fighting art he practices. It's very easy to stereotype people and give them labels like, "Jock", "Geek", "Nerd,", "Princess." It's something that may blind us from seeing beyond the external. Martial artists aren't two- dimensional. Many do beyond "just" the martial arts. Some are painters, poets, doctors, lawyers, accountants, programmers, professors… people who have regular professions and occupations so it shouldn't be surprising that martial arts instructors have other interests.
This is the pilot article for my column in Focal, the Filipino Community Magazine in Israel.
Before anyone gets any misconceptions and makes chismis lets clarify this. Focal is a great magazine and I am happy to have been its designer for I think a little more than two years There are good people in this publication, and I'm glad that it continues to deliver the news as well as important issues to the Filipino community. It's a good job as well as a good experience, but it was about time I moved on.
So what's the story?
Other than working at the magazine, I teach martial arts. I started a Filipino Martial Arts School here in Tel-Aviv with my girlfriend Neta almost 3 years ago. It has been a lot of hard work, informing and educating people about Filipino Martial Arts in general. I find it still surprising that in this day and age of Internet, Hollywood and videogames that there are still people who have no idea of its existence. They talk about Karate, Kung-fu, Jujitsu, all the "nese" martial arts and still leave us out.
I guess, now that I've been living away from our Homeland for a while now, I more keenly feel the desire, or is it the "need", to express myself more assertively as being proudly Filipino. And I do it through our Martial Arts.
Martial arts has always been a part of my life. A part of my identity. I find that it influences many aspects and choices that I make in my life. Everything, from what I wear, to what I watch, to what I read and what I do in my spare time.
I have tried many other martial arts and I have been practicing for many years. Call it cross-training, call it finding the one that best suits you… it doesn't really matter. In the end it was our own martial art that my heart went to. You may also call it Pride, nationalism, whatever. Pride that something so amazing is part of your cultural heritage. That this is the martial art I chose to practice, promote and persevere in. That something so astig and so Filipino is World Class.
This is the "NOW".
It is not easy promoting martial arts in a country with a cultural bias. I have heard some bad jokes made about "Filipino" martial arts in general that I choose not to repeat here. Where some people can underestimate you because of a racial bias. What can we do? Everyone is a little bit racist.
Don't get me wrong, it is a good thing that there are still some open-minded and more internationally aware people out there who look beyond cultural stereotypes. People who determine value not by ones racial credentials, but by their inherent and acquired skills and abilities. If you are good at what you do, it does not matter where you come from. I guess that's why Filipinos survive and prosper abroad.
But some of the awareness must also come from us. It is also up to us to share our culture with our host culture. We do not exist in a vacuum. There should be no shame in sharing who we are. Iwanan ang "hiya" sa Pilipinas.
I'm glad that several of my students accompanied Neta and I on a trip to the Philippines last year. It was a very interesting experience for them. They experienced many things Pinoy. The food, the hospitality and friendliness, the people, many things good and bad. Balut!, Crispy Pata, Kare-kare, Caldereta, the tropical fruits like mangoes and bananas , mangosteens, sampalok, seeing Quiapo, Rizal Park, Fort Santiago, showing them that there is more to us than meets the eye. And that we are people with a history. And in the end, the Philippines was no longer just a shape on the map, but was a part of their lives even for just a while.
Then there's the Future.
So what's in it for me. The move to leave Focal was a very long- thought-out decision. I want to concentrate on the propagation of Filipino Martial Arts here in Israel… and any other place in the world that I can touch. More classes, more seminars, lectures, appearances, for Filipinos, Israelis and other nationalities alike, here and around the world.
It is very satisfying to see, meet, and work with other nationalities who are interested in our cultural heritage. To see them wearing uniforms patterned after our own. To hear them speak our language. It is all very charming and very endearing.
But ultimately, for me, it's not enough. Maybe it's because I'm living abroad. I guess it's made me acutely aware of being different. This time, I'm the foreigner. And I don't want it to change me. I've seen how living out of one's homeland can change people. Make them act like people of the host country, make them forget their roots. It's not necessarily bad. It's just sad that some could or would forget their ties and kinship and pretend to be not Filipino.
So I guess that it's up to us to "maintain to retain" our traditions and culture through our songs and dances, arts and martial arts. It would indeed be sad if the younger generation were to forget, never learn nor acknowledge their roots. Many of us here are just passing through. A transient population, working hard to make a better future for our families and loved ones at home. Though some stay only briefly, know that whatever lives you touch, will be lives that you've changed.
Be an ambassador for what is Filipino.
When you come to think of it… with this column… I never left Focal, did I?