In honor of the upcoming seminar this Thursday with Grandmaster Michael Giron coming to the FMA Academy. I felt that it would be good to share some history and culture of this system. For that though, we must go to the history of his father. The late Grandmaster Leo Giron.
Grandmaster Leo Giron was born in the Philippines on August 20th, 1911. Originally he was trained in the family’s system of the Filipino Martial Art, Grandmaster Leo’s interest grew. At the age of 9 he was given permission by his father to train outside of the family with Master Benito Junio who was known for his expertise in the Estilo Larga Mano and Estilo De Fondo styles. This training lasted for about a year before Grandmaster Leo Giron trained with another master (Master Benito’s uncle), Master Fructuso Junio who was known for his expertise in Estilo Macabebe. Their training would continue for the next 5 – 6 years.
Coming to America:
At the age of 15 Leo’s family decided that he would be chosen to go to America to find success and also provide a path for family members to follow. With only $3.75, he set sail on the USS President Lincoln. In order to pay for passage and food, Leo landed in San Francisco with only 25¢ left to his name. There he met is cousin where he was taken to Stockton, California to start his new life. Leo started in the fields of Terminous harvesting celery for 35¢ an hour. However because he was so young, many felt that Leo shouldn’t get a ‘man’s’ wage and had to settle for 17.5¢ an hour.
Following the migration of the other workers in 1929, Leo eventually ended up on the prune orchards of Meridian, California where he met his next instructor Master Flaviano Vergara. Master Faviano emphasized the importance of having knowledge of close quarter combat styles (Estilo Defondo) as well as long range combative style (Estilo Largo Mano). Master Flaviano advocated being a quiet defensive fighter as not to give up the knowledge of the fighting abilities that one possessed. Most of all, this is where Leo learned the patience in which he practiced in all of his days to follow. Master Flaviano and Leo would train together for the next 4 – 5 years.
World War II:
After the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and Clark Field on December 7th of 1941, many Filipinos in the US like Leo rushed to Army Recruiting Stations to enlist only to be rejected as they were not US citizens. In April of 1942 the Draft opened and that is when Leo successfully volunteered. In September of 1942 Leo got his calling where he was inducted into the United States Army. He was initially assigned to the 2nd Filipino Infantry Regiment and later assigned to the famous “978 Signal Group and The Allied Intelligence Bureau” which was a special ops unit that aided in General MacArthur’s return to the Philippines.
As a part of General MacArthur’s select group of secret operatives/commandos, Leo underwent intense military training at Camp X near Brisbane, Australia. On August 12th of 1944, Leo Giron was moved to Fort Darwin, wehre the US Submarine Sting Ray was waiting for him. This submarine would take Leo Giron and his squad mates back to the shore of Caonayan Beach in Northern Luzon.
While they were unloading supplies and men from the submarine with rubber boats, the submarine was forced to leave before dropping off all of the supplies and men. The captain offered to turn around and pick up the Filipino American troops, because things weren’t going according to plan. But the Filipino-American soldiers said “We are in our homeland now. No thank you. We will stay.”
For almost a full year, Leo Giron and his squad mates moved throughout Luzon, mostly by foot through mountainous terrain and came into close quarters combat with Japanese soldiers on several occasions.
During this time Leo would again meet is friend and Master Faviano and they would continue to train. He was taught more of the two extremes of the “Defendo” and Larga Mano styels. Master Flaviano explained that what he has learned was a gift and to hold it in remembrance of him as he felt this War will be the reason for his death. Master Flaviano explained that there are a lot of unexpected styles out there and Leo needed to learn them in order to bridge the gap between the two extremes. Later in 1944 Leo would find out that Flaviano died during a dynamite explosion.
The fighting would often be hand to hand with bolos (swords) verses the bayonets and Samurai swords of the Japanese. In the dense foilage of the jungles or during night, combat was limited to hand to hand as one wouldn’t be able to shoot for fear of hitting their own team mates.
In one encounter with the Japanese, Giron was with two platoons of soldiers and a few non-combatants whose duty was to protect the trails leading up a hill at Kiangan. They would use a wedge formation of three men on each trail with one man in the front (point man) and one on either side of him but slightly behind.
Giron was point man. He chose the highest trail so that the Japanese would be tired by the time they reached them and so when injured or killed they would roll and slide down the muddy trail and away from them.
It was a rainy night in June and General Yamashita (known as the ‘Tiger of Malaya’ for his strength against the Allied forces in the Pacific) had chosen Kiangan as their last stand. They knew when the Japanese were coming because they would charge positions Bansai style yelling and screaming the whole way.
Giron was attacked simultaneously with a Samurai sword straight in front of him and a bayonet slightly to his left. He parried the bayonet with his left hand and blocked the sword with his bolo, slashed the bayonet man on the hip and cut through the Samurai swordsman’s triceps, as he attacked with a backhand strike.
Giron moved forward and the two men in the back finished them off. Then came another attacker with a Samurai sword. Giron, performed an inside block and slashed the leg, dropping him. They heard a lot of clanking below and the screams of Japanese soldiers. The battle was won and soon, so was the war.
Back to Civilization:
Leo returned to Stockton, California a hero after the war. Like many who came back, Leo suffered from horrific nightmares of WWII. The screams and talking in the middle of the night was not an uncommon event. Sometimes during the night when the nightmares and screams were particularly bad. Leo’s wife and children would go over to their grandparents house and come back the next morning.
Leo was often frustrated with the treatment he and his family received being perceived as foreigners in this country. (Especially after Leo became a Naturalized Citizen of the United States during the war. In order to alleviate the language barrier Leo and some friends would join the Toast Masters Club of America to learn to speak and present them in the manner society accepted. He was constantly looking for ways to make it better for himself and his family. Still the memories of the War lurking in the background Leo returned to the solitude of being a fisherman and at home he would periodically play his violin. He also would become a member of a largest world wide Filipino Fraternal Organization called the Legionarios Del Trabajo. Later to hold one of the highest recognized positions in the fraternal organization. He would also organize a lodge composed of all this town mates from the Province of Bayambang. Between family and all the activities he was trying to make it easier to cope with the bitter past.
The Warrior Returns:
Because of an incident back East, where a maniac killed several nursing students (mostly Filipino) Leo became enraged. Thinking that if they knew the skills of their culture, they might have been able to subdue the attacker.
So in 1968 Leo Giron would open his first licensed Bahala Na club in Tracy, California. He would have the help of the late Grandmaster Vincente Tinga, (Menehune Karate) who would allow him to share his Dojo in return for payment he would have to share his Escrima with Grandmaster Tinga’s students. One of the students was Grandmaster Tinga’s daughter, Elizabeth Tinga and the first female Escrimador within the Giron System. Then, 1970, it was back to Stockton, Ca. and the Bahala Na Giron Arnis Escrima breaks ground on South San Joaquin Street. Due to his military skills, knowledge of combat Escrima, knowledge of fraternal structure, experienced as a Toast Master, Leo’s road of being a legend continues. Under the original logo of the Giron System harvested many students: Dan Inosanto, Dentoy Revilar, Ted Lucaylucay, Jerry Poteet, Elizabeth Tinga and many more to follow.
The Legacy Continues:
Being the son of a Grandmaster you would think that his Filipino martial arts training would have started at an early age. In this case it was not so. Many of the men after WWII (first generation Filipinos) wanted to forget the memories of war and just wanted to start a new life for themselves and their families. It was probably good thinking for that time, but, it caused a lot of Escrimadors to go underground, to never
ever be known and to never share their fighting skills. Grandmaster Giron did not know that his father was one of those bladed warriors until he was 19 in 1968.
He was never pushed into learning the art by his father but others questioned why he never wanted to learn. Grandmaster Giron’s answer was “I wasn’t ready yet,” because he knew he would have to fully commit to learning this art and he did not want to be a disappointment to his father.
Finally, his training started in 1975. It was not easy training under a Grandmaster who is also your father. Perfection was the only option. Grandmaster Giron attended the normal class downstairs and more often than that he did private training upstairs.
Throughout his training, Michael observed many instructors renowned for their own abilities. The instructors were Angel Cabales, Gilbert Tenio, Max Sarmiento, John Eliab and Leo Giron. After learning the 20 styles within the Giron System and the private extensive training Grandmaster Giron passed all the testing and earned the right to be a Certified Graduate of Bahala Na Giron Arnis Escrima in 1980. A year and a half later he received his Instructor’s Certificate. Grandmaster Giron was proud to participate in the first full contact Escrima tournament on the west coast and possibly the USA. This tournament took place in San Jose, CA in 1982, and was sponsored by the organization called the West Coast Eskrima Society which united several Filipino Masters. The Masters were Mike Inay, Jimmy Tascoa, Max Sarmiento, Gilbert Tenio, Narrie Babao, Dan Inosanto, Richard Bustillo and Leo Giron.
Grandmaster Giron discontinued his training to pursued a career as a professional musician. After that was over he was back again training. Then, his father passed on May 21st, 2002. What was different was now the fighting system that he had learned in the 80’s had slowly evolved into what is called a modified version. He did not see the reason for change and the fighting system that was learned from his father in the early years stood alone and was battleground proven. In his eyes it was causing more harm than good to the students and the organization that his father had created, so he did one of the hardest things in his life. He resigned from the Bahala Na Martial Arts Association, relinquished his title as Grand Advisor and his lifetime membership to the organization
He then, created the “Bahala Na” Original Giron Escrima Federation.
By creating “Bahala Na” Original Giron Escrima Federation it allows Grandmaster Michael Giron to maintain the purity of the art that he had learned, and continue to maintain the legacy of his father and this great gift that was given him. By doing this Grandmaster Michael Giron will have fulfilled his personal mission as the son of a legend and in doing this it allows him to do his small part in promoting the Filipino martial arts.
Comments from the author:
The sources of information for this article can be found at the bottom of the page.
To date I have had several opportunities to train with Grandmaster Michael Giron while attending seminars and in private training sessions.
I’ve also had the opportunity to read two very distinct books on the Giron Escrima system. The first being “The Secrets of Giron Arnis Escrima” and the second being “Memories of the Tide Ebb and Flow”. The first book can still be found on many sites, while the second book is extremely rare and is difficult to find.
Book – The Secrets of Giron Arnis Escrima
Book – Memories of the Tide Ebb and Flow
Grandmaster Michael Giron
“Bahal Na” Original Giron Escrima Federation
Guro Chris Thompson
Warrior Arts Alliance