By Steven K. Dowd
Born June 19, 1915 in San Antonio, Zambales, on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, Manuel Aguillon commenced his training in the fighting arts as a young boy. As a teenager he had a great desire to use his hands with or without the cane, so he turned to boxing. He found that boxing was demanding in using the flowing movements of the body coupled with foot and hand coordination. With his desire of Arnis and boxing he combined the body movements. Going to Manila and various other cities throughout the Philippines his skills as a boxer grew and soon he became known as ‘Kid Balite.’ Winning many bouts and building his career as a boxer. He became a champion in 1938.
However, this was only to last a few years with the occupation of the Philippines by the Japanese. Joining the guerrilla movement, his unit operated out of the hills and jungles of Zambales Province. Becoming a Sergeant in his unit, he believed that his men should know how to defend themselves with or without a weapon and so each trained to become an expert in the art of hand-to-hand combat. It was during this time that Manuel Aguillon also trained with other experts in Filipino stick fighting and added to his own knowledge and skills.
Upon liberation of the Philippines, Aguillon traveled to Guam to work in the shipyards and also continued his boxing career. Returning to the Philippines he entered the field of law enforcement in San Antonio, Zambales. During this time he gained much respect and it came as a usual routine that if a problem arose people would request his assistance in solving the confrontation, this was even if other officers were present. This was a continuing routine whether he was on duty or off. Known for his tactical abilities, people were amazed that he could handle a situation with his dynamic persuasive personality. In the six years that he was in law enforcement he was never known to use his fire arm.
With his experience in law enforcement and his reputation in handling situations Manuel Aguillon became a government official as Barrio Captain of San Nicholas, Zambales, which was a post that one had to be elected. He served two terms in this position. Retiring as a Barangay Official his passion for Arnis and boxing continued for he was constantly teaching and promoting both arts. Sponsoring boxing matches at events from Olongapo to the very northern parts of Zambales.
Even though teaching was his passion, money was needed to support his family so he then went to work at the San Miguel Naval Communication Station, in San Antonio, Zambales working at the base gymnasium. On the Naval base Pundador Aguillon became known for his knowledge in Arnis and boxing, and people would constantly seek him out for instruction. Working during the day, at night his students would come to his home for training.
To be a true student of Pundador Aguillon, learning his family art was an opportunity that only few would get for his standards of trust, conduct, personality, and morality were key factors which would permit one to become a personal student of his. As he would instruct, he would learn your weaknesses and strengths. This was to better instruct the student, building his weaknesses into an equal relationship with ones strengths.
Pundador was always willing to teach a student that was willing to want the knowledge that was being offered, however when sensing that the student was not learning for the betterment of themselves, he would confront the student with his thoughts and if this was the case the student was dismissed. Pundador believed he had the knowledge he was willing to pass on, but only to those who wished to benefit in a betterment of themselves, of their inner being and spirit.
A student that later became a celebrity in Hong Kong and throughout the Philippines in the movies, and used the philosophies, and taught what he learned from Pundador Aguillon, and later established his own organization, was Grandmaster Trovador Ramos of TRACMA [Trovador Ramos Consolidated Martial Arts – of Combat Judo and Karate].
Grandmaster Ramos always has shown the highest respect to Pundador for sharing his knowledge with him. As the years passed Manuel Aguillon became set and guarded in his families’ art. Being selective and discreet in choosing students, he would only teach those who he found had high moral standards. So upon his passing away on January 8, 1991, only a hand full of students are known to exist that has the knowledge of Aguillon Arnis.
Passing away in 1991 Grandmaster Manuel Molina Aguillon Sr. his qualified instructors in the Philippines taught as he did in an informal atmosphere, taking few students and maintaining the high standards which Pundador promulgated and believed in.
Steven K. Dowd is Punong Guro of Arnis Balite and Publisher of the FMA Informative, the leading publication on all things related to Filipino martial arts.