Bill Newman was made for the term grizzled veteran. In a western movie he would play a mountain man, a fearless wanderer surviving by adapting no matter how adverse the conditions. In real-life, as Rene Latosa's close friend and first certified instructor, he is still searching for new frontiers, each day a fresh new learning experience despite a wealth of knowledge amassed over thirty years of training. It is the ability to be both student and Master (Bill's official title) that defines the teaching of Latosa-Escrima, a system that Bill has remained fiercely loyal to.
COMBAT: Bill, you've been doing this a long time haven't you?
BILL NEWMAN: Since the dark ages! It was back in the early sixties that I first became interested in the martial arts, by looking at people like Dave Starbrook, a friend, as were most of the England Judo team. I started in 1967, studying Wing Chun; I didn't know what 1 was doing for a year, I was very busy working (Bill owned a shop) and training seven days a week, no time to myself I was lucky that the guy I trained with lived locally. I studied Wing Chun for seven years and loved it. I lived in North London, still do, in the same house, and found that Rene, a guy who has influenced my whole life, was teaching a hundred yards up the road.
COMBAT: In those early days did you consider yourselves pioneers?
BILL NEWMAN: Without doubt. We were at the cutting edge. We had a great deal of fun and the good thing was nobody had an ulterior motive. We didn't want to be teachers. I never elevated myself to any position. I was given these things, I never asked for them. The only thing that annoys me now, after all these years, is when people phone me up asking if I want to share knowledge with them. What the bloody hell have they got that I want? If I want to share knowledge I go to my teacher Rene Latosa. So many people have made this mistake over the years, they looked at what he's done and bastardised it. If they do Akai, it's Akai Escrima. If they do Jitsu, then it's Jitsu-Escrima, anything you like. They manage to take away it's identity; they never really understood the concepts of Escrima. Rene eventually went back to the States and I said "What am I going to do? He said, "Get on with your life!"
COMBAT: Was that his way of telling you, you were a teacher in your own right?
BILL NEWMAN: I don't know, it's like a marathon this job. I could have given this up so many times but he asked me to spread the word, with the right principles and that's what I've been doing ever since. I had to go to America for my training and I met all these gifted guys. I trained with Angel (Cabales), Dentoy (Revilar), and with many of the old guys. Now, lots of their words are still echoing around in my head. They would ask me why I wanted to learn the Filipino Martial Arts, they couldn't understand it. If I had a few (spare) quid why didn't I buy a car, not travel to some far off country to research Escrima. Didn't I have any Martial Arts of my own (of course I did, I also analysed and researched European Martial Arts)? It was like going to an ethic restaurant and them saying why don't you just have fish and chips, why come here? That has always stayed with me. These guys were teaching their family and authentic Filipino Systems, but many people left their teachers to teach their own so-called systems, that have completely unrelated training methods, they had no trust or loyalty for their teachers and consequently left before they understood the lessons. A mistake that is all too common in the martial art world, regardless of the system. I'm lucky in that I've been doing this long enough and I understand the first grade now, and now I understand it, I can do anything with it. It's like all my years of doing this is like putting money in the bank and now I'm getting my return. The system is working for me now, I'm not working for the system.
COMBAT: So what is it that sets you apart from some other systems?
BILL NEWMAN: Loyalty. We've stuck together through thick and thin. We haven't always agreed. I've gone as far away from Rene as is possible for a student to go away from his Master. Here is a man who is capable of teaching World Champions but I've had to take that to the mass market, otherwise how can I spread the word? I have had to develop training methods, with his approval of course, so some of the things we do now are not Filipino, so it is very difficult to remain traditional. The strange thing is that the European arts have influenced the system due to the fact that if you have a concept system you can use any weapon be it European or Filipino, which proves that the old Filipinos that I had the pleasure to meet had a point. My instructor (Rene) sees weapons, not sticks, knives or swords, he sees weapons, so I' m very fortunate that the guy who taught me is the guy who started it all off in Europe, and by remaining loyal and staying with him I now understand the system.
COMBAT: It's a very combat orientated system.
BILL NEWMAN: You have to remember this is a very serious game. The tougher you are, the better you hit, the better you move, the more self confidence you've got, and the less you have to hit people. People tend to hit other people in panic. Good guys don't have to. Teach these guys to hit hard, on target, with control. We don't teach people to hit people, we teach them not to. You've got all those idiots out there saying this is a death strike and we hit so hard we break walnuts with our eyelids. I don't want to teach that. The more control you've got not to hurt somebody, the more control you've got to hurt them.
COMBAT: How do you teach students that control, that restraint?
BILL NEWMAN: You must tell them the truth, no secrets. I always tell them this, you've got to have good attacks. If you can't do the first five strikes you're a boxer without a punch. What's the point of going out and learning defence, teach them how to hit first. Good fighters always make the best, you get a good teacher and he polishes them up like a rough diamond. You must tell them the truth. Don't do rubbish attacks so that a rubbish defence works. Everybody wants to learn the defence; they're all crazy. They should be learning the attack. If you're doing bad attacks you're throwing half your valuable money away.
COMBAT: You've been plugging away for twenty years, so why is Escrima suddenly so popular now?
BILL NEWMAN: I don't know. We might have had something to do with it. You have to remember we were the first in Europe, Rene was the first to come over and we've been around ever since. People joined and left without understanding it, most people never see the bigger picture, we always did, perhaps we've just got into the psyche of it. I' m very confident now when I take a class. I'm a time-seller. Someone comes to my seminar now and I can teach them in one day what it took me months to learn. The result of my experience can actually save time.
COMBAT: Sadly, like so many arts, there seems to be a lot of politics involved now in the Escrima world.
BILL NEWMAN: I don't really care. People are always asking me what do you think of this man, or that person? I don't care. I don't think about them in the same way I don't think about people who don't like me. If I do a seminar for thirty people and there's one non-believer, do you think I'm going to spend the whole evening trying to convert someone who doesn't want to converted? To hell with them, I' m not a bloody missionary. I'm interested in discovering what I can do with me, for example people know more about their neighbours than they do their own body. Their left hand is a stranger to them. They come and they're looking for magic and there ain't none. It's long, hard years of dedication.
COMBAT: And what about the next twenty years, Bill?
BILL NEWMAN: I've no idea. This is why we teach concepts. I'm at the moment developing certain weapons for the police, we're making a film for the European police forces that I teach we have already started it. I don't know what the next twenty years hold, because I don't know what we're doing tomorrow. We are fortunate in that we have a continual programme. At my seminars I don't set out a stall. I'm not selling apples or oranges. We have twelve student grades and several instructor grades, we have a system, but it's really one continuous grade from start to finish with pauses, so that students understand what they've done. At the moment I feel good I never thought it would happen but I think I'm getting better. I'm hitting harder, moving better and my control is better. Many people talk about the good old days, my good old days are still coming. When I look back, even recently, I have given demonstrations in China, Hong Kong and several European countries with my assistant Steve Tappin, and I gave seminars every month throughout Europe and have done so for twenty years. But when I look at my calendar I am booked up to the year 2000 and so I look forward to the future and enjoy the past, but I never sit on my laurels, I always look to the future, this is how a person or a system grows. This is why Latosa-Escrima works, it's progressive, it has solid foundations, and has the ability to plan ahead. Therefore, I expect the next twenty years to be equally as good, if not better, than the last twenty years.
COMBAT: What is it about Rene Latosa that has kept you so loyal?
BILL NEWMAN: I've been around, you only have to look at me to see that, and make no mistake, if something better had come along I'd have gone to look and questioned my instructor. I'm intensely loyal but I'm not a fool. I've looked at everything and I've seen nothing better. There might be, but I haven't seen it yet. You can't steal our Latosa-Escrima system, people have tried, they've run away with it, like children they've felt they had learnt it all, the twelve student grades etc, so they leave to make money and invent their own system, but they have no depth, they no longer have a teacher and the good knowledge that they had is experimented with and lost. It can take a lifetime to learn one little bit. You see that's why I love this system, it's like a flower opening up for me.
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