Rene Latosa has been studying and teaching the Filipino martial arts for over 30 years. He began his training at the Stockton Escrima Academy in Stockton, CA, in 1968, with Dentoy Revilar (Serrada), Maximo Sarmiento (Kadena de Mano), Leo Giron (Largo Mano), and Angel Cabales (Serrada). However, the most influential Escrimador in his life was his father Juan Latosa.
Martial arts systems, especially the Filipino martial arts system are not developed overnight. The evolution of a system requires time, experience, testing, and a solid foundation. The development of Latosa-Escrima involved more than slapping a traditional name on some techniques, using a few Filipino words, and adding extra twirls to make the system look good. Latosa-Escrima has undergone over two decades of testing and developing by Rene Latosa before he put his name on the system.
The original organization called the Philippine Martial Arts Society began in 1976. Escrima was the initial name used under the flag of the PMAS. The name changed to Combat-Escrima in 1982 as the system became influenced by the concepts of using power and combat reality. Combat-Escrima relied heavily upon a single goal: Winning. This goal produced an aggressive student which was a valuable asset; however, this single focus of winning actually proved limiting in the progression of the system and the future instructor. The PMAS produced many excellent fighters and world champions but failed to produce well-rounded instructors. Realizing this flaw, Rene developed training methods that are now used to help the student understand the reasoning behind the techniques and the concepts of Escrima. Today, the philosophy behind the Latosa-Escrima system is very simple; the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. For example, a technique cannot exploit its full potential unless combined with the concepts of balance, power, speed, focus, timing, and attitude. When combined, these elements cause the outcome or whole to be more effective then the sum of the parts. In this system the number of different techniques mastered by an individual does not increase his level of competence; nevertheless, they are tools used to understand, accept, and retain ideas. Techniques are practiced movements until combined with the proper fighting concepts. The Latosa-Escrima goal is to develop a quality Escrimador who can think creatively and react responsively.
LATOSA FAMILY ESCRIMA-HISTORY
Rene's Great Grandfather, Esteben, was a well-known outlaw and a feared Escrimador. As the story has it, he possessed the Anting-Anting, "the symbol of the supernatural" coupled with his martial arts skills made him an invincible man. As a young boy of seven years, Juan Latosa, Rene's father was the only person his outlaw grandfather Esteben would allow near him. Esteben saw a future Escrimador in the brave eyes of his young grandson Juan. He tried to teach him the finer points of fighting but Juan was too young. One day as Esteben, lay sick in bed dying, he asked his grandson to take the Anting-Anting protruding from his mouth. Even as a young boy, Juan sensed that this object had evil attached to it and refused to take it. Esteben smiled at Juan's wise decision and felt assured that his courageous grandson would be a successful fighter without the Anting-Anting. In his weaken state Esteben left for the mountains never to be seen or heard from again.
Juan Latosa, Rene's father, was a well-respected fighter within the province of Capiz, and in the city of Mambusao. Rene's father was the eldest in his family. As a teenager, relatives reintroduced Juan to the Filipino martial arts. With his interest sparked, Juan asked his mother for money to study in Manila. His mother's perception of study meant academics; whereas, Juan's interpretation was to proceed to the mountains to study Escrima. For over a year he studied in a secret camp where his training extended to weapons of different sizes, shapes (kampilan, staffs, ropes, double swords, etc.), and ending with a weapon completely out of character, the Japanese samurai sword. When he returned to his village, he continued to season his skills in actual fights and by practicing with different vendors and travelers who had martial arts skills. In his village, he was the best; it did not hurt him too much that his athletic skills were at his highest level (Philippine Olympic Track Team).
He departed the Philippines in the 1920s for America seeking fortune, adventure, and a better life. On the ship to America, he confronted a Japanese Bo master because he was causing trouble and bothering the other Filipino passengers. Juan asked him to stop; consequently, the situation escalated to a death match. With the stage set, the match began with stick against staff. The fight ensued with Juan rendering the opponent down and defenseless. Being a death match, the opponent requested that he finish the job; Juan refused. His opponent had to live with the humility and loss of face for the rest of the voyage.
Uncle Pedro was a wonderful source of training and stories. He told Rene fascinating stories of his brother Juan's temperament, fights, and reputation in the Philippines. Pedro learned Escrima from Rene's father. The training he received was for survival rather than learning for learning's sake.
Rene Latosa's initial exposure to the Filipino martial arts came through his ethnic and cultural environment. As a young child, Rene first witnessed martial arts during celebrations (after the crop season was over), cultural events, and hanging around the Filipino Community Center in Stockton, CA. At this community center he would watch the "Old Timers" amuse themselves by hitting their walking sticks together as if they were sword fighters and applying locks to each other.
As a teenager, many of Rene's friends were studying Judo. He asked his father if he could take Judo or Karate lessons. His father offered to teach his young son "jitsu." He didn't believe his father knew anything about martial arts, so he did not pursue that avenue. His mother recommended taking self-defense classes taught by a long time family friend, Angel Cabales, at the Stockton Escrima Academy.
His first visit to the Stockton Escrima Academy was in 1968. Rene was greeted by Angel, holding a cigarette in one hand and a rattan stick in the other. Angel, having known Rene since he was small, told him to grab a stick and Angel proceeded to demonstrated a quick technique. From this point forward, Rene was hooked and he continued to study and eventually taught at the Academy for over five years.
At the Stockton Escrima Academy in 1968, "formal training" did not exist. The method of teaching employed at the academy was strictly on a teacher to student basis. Rene remembers the ambiance at the academy was very casual, Angel was just "Angel." For all the students at the academy, the title "Grandmaster" was inherently Angels, and his alone. To Rene's advantage, during his first five months of training, he was the only one of three students who showed up for lessons. Rene's initial training, with a ratio of four instructors to one student- Angel Cabales, Max Sarmiento, Leo Giron, and Dentoy Revilar- provided plenty of diversity in styles. These four individuals played a definite role in shaping the basic format of the Latosa-Escrima system; however, his greatest influence was his father.
During those early days at the academy, Angel did not have student certificates or rankings. They did not exist. You were an instructor when Angel said you were (Rene did receive an instructors certification from Angel and Max). Angel always said that certificates, belts, and titles meant nothing without the ability to back it up.
Learning from his father was very difficult for Rene. His father was a fighter and every reaction to a situation was combat oriented. When Rene asked to see a movement for a second time, he was shown something else. Because his father did not use techniques, no two movements were ever the same.
Rene's enlarged ego was instrumental in his introduction to his father's prowess in the Filipino martial arts. Rene was practicing for a demonstration when he became concerned that he did not look as flashy and impressive as he should. He asked his father, who was working in his garden, if he would care to be his practice "dummy." The elder Latosa noted for his quick temper remained calm despite this arrogance. He watched as his son practiced his techniques, smiled and said he needed more training. The younger Latosa asks him what he knew since he was only a dummy! He dropped his hoe and walked quietly towards his young egotistical son and picked up a stick. Rene asked his father if he would hit him over the head, but warned him to be careful because of his deadly speed and dangerous skills. Instead, the old man in a calm voice asked his son to strike at him. There was some hesitation on Rene's part; fearing that if he went too fast his father might get hurt. Rene directed a slow hit at the old man. Before he saw what had happened, his father's stick hit him on the head. "This must have been an accident," thought Rene. He again struck at his father but this time faster. Again, Rene's head was the final destination for the end of his father's stick. In a serious fury, Rene went after his father with a strike that was strong, fast, and headed toward its target; as a result, his target moved and a stick landed between Rene's neck and shoulder knocking the young man to the ground. His father walked away laughing and went back to tending his garden. Rene's mother came out of the house, yelled at his father, and consoled her son with the bruised ego. Rene spent some time soul searching, trying to get a grip on what happened. Rene was under the impression that with his speed and technical skills he could not be beat. His father took him aside and told him about his rough and dangerous background and informed him he had much to learn. Rene's attitude towards the Filipino arts changed. The first attribute to be disposed of was his enlarged ego. His father started to train Rene in the finer points of fighting concepts, different weapons, and his philosophy. Rene realized the importance of concepts in relationship to techniques.
Angel Cabales did not realize how many people he had influenced during his life. As one of Rene's first instructor, part of his legacy and influence will continue to live on in the Latosa-Escrima System developed by Rene.
Angel Cabales liked to teach each person individually. This is the way he was taught. He did not believe that a student could learn effectively in a group environment. Angel was a sincere instructor; he showed genuine interest in all his student's progress. He sacrificed his evenings, after working long and hard days at the farms. His drive was the pleasure of teaching. It was Angel's striving and rebellious attitude that inspired Rene. Angel, saddled with the pressure of the community and his peers not to open the art to non-Filipinos, persisted anyway. The Filipino community feared the possibilities of exploitation.
Maximo Sarmiento was Angel's partner in the Stockton Escrima Academy; he was the person responsible for persuading Angel to open the school. Max was proficient in various aspects of the Filipino arts. His specialty was knife fighting, single and double; and Cadena de Mano, empty hands. Rene spent long hours training both at the school and privately with Max. Rene achieved the only certification in Cadena de Mano as well as Serrada by the late Maximo Sarmiento. Max Sarmiento's style is evident in the compact and power structure of Latosa-Escrima.
Dentoy Revilar was Angels most senior student. Dentoy taught Rene multiple hitting, speed, and body positioning. Dentoy was a brilliant role model for all the students at the Academy. While watching Dentoy's workouts, Rene realized that the concept of focus was a major tool of the Filipino arts. Dentoy was effective, smooth, quick and focused. This is a mandatory concept in the Latosa-Escrima system.
Leo Giron influence was more than exposing Rene to the Largo Mano system. Leo demonstrated that the length and the size of the weapon and the ability to work off line were an important and essential phase of the Filipino martial arts. His real life experiences and combative attitude toward what he practiced made his system a prime role model.
Bill Newman was influential in Rene's quest to spread the Filipino martial arts throughout Europe. Because the politics of martial arts seemed to get in the way of teaching, Rene considered abandoning his goals. However, Bill persuaded Rene to continue teaching, spreading the art and sharing his insights and philosophies. Today, Bill is the second in command of the Latosa-Escrima System.
EUROPEAN CONNECTION (1974)
Rene Latosa left Stockton in 1973 for duty in the U.S. Air Force. When he left Stockton, he brought along his culture, his heritage and his martial arts. His first station of duty was Virginia. Rene taught the special "Swat teams" of the local law enforcement agencies. This was the first time that local police on the East Coast used the Filipino martial arts in their training. It was here that Rene tested some of the theories used in developing Latosa-Escrima. With actual situations confronting the SWAT teams or Riot squads, they had to know and believe in what they did because it could cost them their lives. He developed techniques coupled with very strong power and attitude concepts. Being 6 foot and 200 plus pounds, his style had to be adaptable to the various sizes and strengths of different students.
While stationed in Europe, Rene was busy developing a reputation by visiting local martial arts schools and exposing the European community to the Filipino martial arts. As word spread through the community, a local martial arts magazine contacted Rene for an interview. This interview led to other magazine coverage as well as invitations to conduct seminars at different schools. He started a training course at a local jujitsu school. It was there that he met his partner and best friend, Bill Newman. Bill was one of the principal people Rene worked with during the refining of the concepts of the Latosa-Escrima system. Brian Jones, another close friend, and Bill were the first certified instructors under Rene.
The initial exposure to the European market was difficult and challenging for Rene. The Filipino martial art was virtually unknown. Skepticism from veteran martial artists was running high and understandable. Picture a 20-year veteran martial artist standing and listening to a young 21-year-old martial arts "expert" talk about an art no one had ever heard of or seen. As you can well imagine, Rene had to back up, prove and demonstrate everything he stated. Not only was the reputation of the Filipino martial arts at stake, but also his culture and pride. Fortunately, Rene made his point and developed a following.
Through the invitation of Keith Kernspecht, a noted Wing Tsun instructor and head of the EWTO (the largest Wing Tsun and Escrima Organization in the world), Rene and Bill exposed the art to Germany. However, it was with Keith's help and his organization that allowed Escrima to grow into what it is today. It was there that the exposure of the Filipino martial arts started to gain momentum and the idea of the Philippine Martial Arts Society as an organization originated. The following year (1977), EWTO published an Escrima book. Rene and Bill became regulars on the EWTO seminar circuit throughout Europe. Rene, as his tour of military duty ended, returned to sunny California and Bill Newman was responsible for the growth of the Filipino martial arts throughout Europe. As Rene was building up a significant following dedicated to the concepts of Combat-Escrima, under the Philippine Martial Arts Society in the United States, Bill was doing the same in Europe.
In the early stages of developing Latosa-Escrima, the movements or techniques were considered key, and the idea of using concepts was secondary. This early stage of Latosa-Escrima was effective and contributed to the fighting reputation of Rene's students. However effective the system seemed, Latosa-Escrima, was not complete. There was a missing element that distinguishes the Filipino art from the other martial arts. It was not the techniques that set apart the Filipino arts since most systems utilize techniques. It was not the ability to change from empty hand to sticks. What exactly was it? This search for the answer became the driving force in the developing of Latosa-Escrima. The answer was the fighting concepts, and how they play an equal role in the effectiveness of the Filipino martial arts. As the concepts of power hitting, blocking hard, balance, and attitude, became more dominant, the system developed a new focus. Rene restructured his technique drills to impart the importance of concepts.
The basic principals of the system rests within the concepts of movement, balance, speed, power, focus, attitude and encompassing strategy. The bare bone of the systems techniques is known as the box. The box system consists of five interrelated movements, not blocks, but offensive and defensive movements. These movements may seem as if they fall into the definition of blocks, but they actually are interference strikes. The idea is to understand the movements of a technique then relate this to every concept studied in Latosa-Escrima. With only five main movements the approach is simple yet the variety is endless.
A person must understand the various risks in thinking in "perfect world" terms; hit me here and hit me perfectly. Through years of teaching, testing and developing fighting concepts, Rene has always been a firm believer in "using what works" in real life situations. It is very important to feel positive and confident that your knowledge will prove to be an advantage in a real situation
BRINGING UP THE STANDARDS
The responsibilities for keeping up the standards and facilitating the growth of Latosa-Escrima are solely Renes. His insight and command of the Filipino arts truly make him an expert. Rene's constant goal is to find flaws in what he teaches and create new methods for beating his system. Rene, as an instructor, has never been one to hide or refrain from teaching what he has learned or developed. There are no secrets or any hidden agendas in Latosa's Escrima. Rene believes that if one person withholds information, the next person he teaches will lack this new knowledge and eventually, there will be nothing substantial left to teach. The students in Latosa-Escrima strive for creativity, innovation, and working hard. Latosa-Escrima will always be in a constant state of development. As long as students continue to learn quality Latosa-Escrima, the system will continue to develop. It is a progressive, challenging and adaptive system. The simple approach of learning conceptually instead of having to learn a million techniques, will help the Filipino martial arts produce top notch Escrimadors for the future.
The road to developing a system takes time, a long-term commitment, and a vision of the future. In this system there is a need to continually test theories, and to challenge failures. By conquering these issues you will be guided toward the road to success. For Rene, it is personal. Sharing the legacy of his Filipino culture and traditions of the Philippines to people of other cultures has been a dream and life goal.
Rene works for the Federal Government as a manager in the Public Building Services of the General Services Administration. His responsibilities cover four states including Hawaii, California, Nevada and Arizona. His department manages the Federal Building Regional programs in these locations in the areas of mechanical maintenance, concessions, recycling, utilities, custodial, equipment and energy and energy projects. He has over 25 years of experience in this field. He served in the U.S. Air Force for five years and has a B.S. degree from the University of San Francisco. He has taught martial arts to special police tactical units on the East Coast, special combat units within the Air Force, the California Highway Patrol, U.S. Probation Department, and various police and sheriff departments. He has designed self-defense courses for women and children. He has several series of videos out on the market, published several books on the subject, and has been the main theme for several major martial arts magazines as well as television stories both in the U.S. and in foreign countries.
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