Exemplary Escrimador: The Rene Latosa Interview
COMBAT: When you were training with Angel Cabales, he believed that grades and certificates meant nothing. He taught one on one. Is this a philosophy that you prescribe to?
RENE LATOSA: When Angel was teaching at the Academy everyone knew that he was the master. He did give out certificates later on, I have an advanced certificate but it didn't mean anything to me. What meant something was that I had been there for a year and he said now you're going to teach. That's good if you want to keep it in that myopic mode of having one school and a certain amount of people, but when your idea is to spread the art, then there is a need to say you are at this level and then this level. If you don't do that, the structure of an organisation goes down the tubes. The Japanese and Chinese had a good organisational structure in those terms. In the Philippines, with several thousand islands, there was no structure. In order to make an art something that is acceptable, you can't continue to teach one on one, it would be similar to giving an Aerobic class one an one. You won't be able to spread the art.
COMBAT: Was that important to you, to spread the Filipino arts?
RENE LATOSA: Initially to me it was more an ethnic pride thing. It was something that Angel and my dad gave to me, their knowledge, and to me it was the ability to make someone see a culture like the Philipines and be able to relate it to the martial arts , Escrima comes from there. To make it a household word to people that had no knowledge of the Philipines. One of my majors in University was to go back and trace the immigration into America, the story of my heritage. The martial arts gave me a tool to say "I'm Filipino". When I was growing up the pride wasn't there, we were losing our unique diversity.
COMBAT: You credit your Father with so much, and possibly the biggest lesson he taught you was ego management. Is it important to retain a student mentality?
RENE LATOSA: To me it's important to say that my father came to America with absolutely nothing and was a very important man in the community, leaving his identity. I'm only around to see if I could even try to walk in his footsteps. At a young age you always feel you are top of the world and have all the answers without really any substance behind it. My ego kicked in. I was eighteen, doing all the demos and I had a reputation as my father's son. If he dedicated a building as the President of the Filipino community, I was always introduced as his son. Ego management tends to come with maturity Was my cup half-empty or half-full? The questions started to come.
COMBAT: When you were growing up challenges were common amongst the "old guys", are they still relevant today?
RENE LATOSA: I think back then it had come from a violent period when Escrima was used as an actual means of survival. A lot of people had challenges but how these stories escalate, you don't know. I had a lot of challenges when I was very young and arrogant and nobody knew who I was, but with wisdom you don't need that sort of thing. Now, this is what I do and teach, if you like it, fine, if not, that's also fine. I'm not worried about competition because I don't really care about it. I put my time and energy into what I teach, I don't have time to worry about what other people think or do.
COMBAT: You see Escrima as a progressive art, and you are responsible for the standards, so are you still learning and adapting?
RENE LATOSA: My structure of learning always has been and will be the ability to bring students up to my level. My challenge is to always get better for them. If not, you have nothing left to give them. The learning process for me is making sure I can get my concepts across and when they start to learn and understand them, then I can move on.
COMBAT: You mention that mastering techniques does note necessarily increase competence, what do you mean by that?
RENE LATOSA: My belief is that a technique is absolutely nothing on it's own, it's just a car without petrol. If you have a technique and don't utilise balance as an initial concept, you've lost already. If you donít use power alongside balance, the same result. Then you have focus, globally looking at this person, not just at the weapon and the hand, distance, timing-factor or size. If you have a technique with a stick, a small weapon, or a heavy weapon, the concepts should not change, you are still going to need all of the above. The ability of transition using different weapons (remembering that your limbs are weapons too) is what I felt the Filipino arts had to be. With over seven thousand Islands, all with different systems, there has to be a link. Is that link going to be a technique or a concept that makes these techniques work? My training has always involved isolating the concept.
COMBAT: Escrima is very aggressive, is it a combart art or a self-defence system?
RENE LATOSA: Everything we do is based on these main concepts; of speed, power, timing and balance, but having all that in a defensive mode doesn't work for us. Everything we use is basically offensive, we turn the state of defence into offence. Whatever happens is the end result, I cannot guarantee how that is going to come out, nor can anyone else because everything in the school, dojo, or seminar is training for that realistic offence to happen and when it happens nobody has the factors that determines what the outcome is. If a guy can do a thousand high kicks up to the ceiling, it doesn't mean that when he walks out of the door the attack is going to come from that height. In the martial arts there is a middle ground, then there are risk factors here of pluses and a risk factor of minuses, the only thing I can guarantee is that I'll put you at least two steps into the plus but I can't guarantee the outcome, nobody can. That's why we don't sell ourselves short. I can't guarantee that if I taught you lots of techniques and the concepts behind them, that you will be able to use them. I just try to improve your chances of using them successfully.
COMBAT: So are you constantly looking for new techniques for your students?
RENE LATOSA: Through experience you learn, you learn on movement and direction coming at you, not that I'm going to sit around and create a new technique. Someone comes at me and I use the concepts, every movement that comes at me is then a learning experience and I treat it as such. If somebody punched me in the head, what would I do if that was a knife? Would I still do the same thing? I'm not trying to learn new concepts, I'm constantly trying to perfect the concepts that have worked and are working. When you start looking far all these new moves you start becoming a collector with a big jar of techniques. If you shake them all up and run them all out, you'd eventually came up with certain concepts.
COMBAT: So are you saying that you don't need a mass of techniques?
RENE LATOSA: No, what I'm saying is that they can all be productive, any technique can be productive if the student understands the concept. It means we are not limited to saying is this a kali block, ar is this an arnis block, to me it's a movement. I don't care what they call it, with the concept behind it it's going to change to what we do. My system through it's concepts provides the tools for my students to progress by themselves, being a conceptual system gives them the ability to think and analyse for themselves for when I am not there to guide them. Thereby the system is continually progressive and updated from within, without my instructors and students straying from what actually works. This gives me the motivation to test and improve my system for the benefit of everyone concerned, as it has an in-built quality control that stops us destroying what works whilst at the same time allowing us the freedom to analyse and advance the Latosa-Escrima system for future generations.
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