By David E. Gould
The “Sulite Orehenal Group” was the private invitation-only “backyard” group of Punong Guro Edgar G. Sulite located in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles, California. We were his personal Lameco Eskrima group, the ones who spent the most time with Punong Guro Edgar G. Sulite in training in all aspects of the Lameco Eskrima System. Within this group, there were twenty-five students who were specifically chosen by him to train solely for combative effect, as opposed to training for recognition with the intent of teaching one day or seeking certification to that end. Function over form was the intention of the group from the very beginning (see the author’s book for a list of names).
When I think of the Lameco Eskrima System, I think first and foremost of Punong Guro Edgar G. Sulite and then of the founding influences of the system under whom Punong Guro Sulite received his knowledge. Then I think of my brothers of the “Sulite Orehenal Group,“ to me this group epitomizes the very essence of what Lameco Eskrima is and was ever intended to be. If Lameco Eskrima could be characterized as being the beating heart of Punong Guro Edgar G. Sulite, then this group would have to be the blood which aggressively courses through its arteries, keeping that heart beating strongly. We were his identity in the United States, and, based on how we moved and performed in both training and fighting, directly reflected on him as our instructor, which reflected on his instructors in like manner.
Punong Guro Edgar G. Sulite wanted a group of his own, something with only his fingerprints on it, so when people wanted to see what Lameco Eskrima was, no holds barred, they could see it represented within the “Sulite Orehenal Group” Every member was handpicked and selected personally by Edgar himself, and the training within this group was by invitation only. The idea was to have a group which was placed together to represent all that Edgar believed in, taught, and expected from every aspect of fighting adhering solely to combative truth. This group was more about fighting than anything else, and how we performed while fighting was of utmost importance to us as members of this prestigious group and more importantly to Punong Guro Edgar G. Sulite.
In essence, this group was formed with the intention of holding Edgar’s students in Los Angeles, California to the same strict expectations as that of native Filipinos who trained in their ancestral Warrior Arts in the Philippines. Edgar noticed right away, when he relocated to Los Angeles, California in 1989, the vast difference in established training goals between native Filipinos who trained in the Philippines and western students who trained in the United States of America. The differences were quite apparent to him, so he wanted a group which he could hold to the same standards as he was held too when training back home, where all training in the Warrior Arts of the Philippines came heavily laced with discipline and intention. He wanted for us to exemplify the strict and stringent standards as were set and established by his teachers in the Philippines and for us to be role models for his other Lameco Eskrima students in the United States who were not members of this prestigious group.
Punong Guro Sulite felt that his personal “backyard” group represented his teaching better than any other and that we were the epitome of what he taught and stood for. We were trained to fight, and all of us were able to do that very well, and he knew that, if someone would come to his home and disrespect him or disrespect the Lameco Eskrima System, they would have a hard time proving themselves over anyone of us. For, in the backyard, we trained “Pilipino” style, which emphasizes function over form while verifying everything we relied on in fighting; and the more we fought, the better at fighting we became. Even though our training drew heavily on a very diverse curriculum, the emphasis was on using what we were taught in an actual fight and in finding ways to do that with the most efficient results to be gained. What we applied was more of a mindset than a system, and everything relied upon would be made to bear itself out during our frequent hard sparring sessions. Punong Guro Edgar G. Sulite was adamant regarding the necessity of sparring or fighting as it pertained specifically to this group. He felt the blood which courses through the heart of Lameco Eskrima was fighting, and he made sure we did plenty of it. Punong Guro Sulite regarded sparring or fighting as the laboratory where everything that we trained in would either be confirmed or refuted based solely on ability because we were all held firmly accountable to various combative truths that are profoundly anchored in that realm of reality. Punong Guro Sulite would often say of fighting – and I paraphrase – “There are no guarantees in combat, only opportunities, and either we will be able to recognize those opportunities and react with positive effect toward them, if and when they avail themselves to us in real-time, or we simply won’t. The bottom line is that your abilities, only your abilities and nothing else, will dictate how the situation will be allowed to play out while it evolves from second to second in combat. The situation will dictate your most appropriate counter response, and your abilities will determine the overall performance by which to defend yourself.”
Sparring was a very important element of our training in those early days with Punong Guro Sulite, and it still is for me personally, some 22 years, since I began training in the Lameco Eskrima System directly under the astute tutelage of Punong Guro Sulite in 1992. It simply cannot be overlooked when it comes to developing essential real-time problem-solving skills against random attacks from an unpredictable opponent. I strongly feel that sparring is the absolute barometer, or test, if you will, that best sums up one’s true fighting capabilities and will more so determine how you are likely going to perform, under duress in a real situation, than any other mode of training available to us. The fact is you will be able to adapt and adjust your more essential fighting attributes and hone perception and reaction in real-time only when introduced to an arena which will allow those things to come to fruition through trial and error; and that arena is sparring. It’s an integral part of the learning experience and short of actual fighting, it cannot be replaced with anything else. In my opinion, sparring and fighting are of the same creature and should be trained for in a similar manner. Sparring simply yields valuable experience to the collective efforts of your training endeavor and, over many years in the field, I’ve found this type of experience cannot be gained through any other medium of training, which truly makes it valuable to partake in as often as possible, to say the least!
We as a group fought against each other countless times as well as against others who would be brought in from outside of the group to fight with us on our special “fight-day Sundays” or “Sunday gatherings,” as we would call them. When we would fight in the “backyard,” it was no holds barred; you could close range with much aggression hitting with the “punyo” or “butt of the weapon,” punch, kick, head-butt, elbow, knee, or take your opponent to the ground. We would fight “one on one,” “two on one,” “three on one,” and “two on two” using single stick, double stick, single knife, and sword. Most of the fights were very spirited, and, on our special “fight Sundays,” we would start around nine in the morning and fight sometimes until the dark of late afternoon. Then, we would gather as a family, where we would eat, talk, and just enjoy each other’s company. We were a family in every sense of the word and remain as such to this very day.
I remember often that Punong Guro Edgar G. Sulite often told us, when we would spar with single stick or double sticks, to always keep a knife stashed away in the waist band of our sweats, so, if we were forced into extreme close range and found ourselves compromised or going to the ground, we could deploy the knife and gain the advantage of turning a “ground fight” into a “ground fight with a knife.” This always made the sparring sessions interesting. Because of our foot work and understanding of range, most of those who fought against us from outside of the group would not be able to get close enough to take us to the ground, but the few who did got a surprise when a knife would suddenly and repeatedly be thrust heavily into their rib cage while they were fixated on getting an arm bar or choke hold, unaware of the existence of the knife until it was already too late.
Punong Guro Sulite would always videotape our fights in the “backyard,” and he would offer copies to each of us who wanted them. I would use the videos to study, not just my movements, but also to locate and identify some of the things that my fellow Lameco brothers were doing when they fought, so I could analyze their movements from afar, as it were. It is one thing to stand in front of them and fight, but you get a distinctly different perspective from videos which capture things that cannot be perceived when standing in front of one another, all geared up and trying to tear each other’s heads off. During my private training with PG Sulite through the week, Edgar would always demand I spar with him after each private class, and, in those sparring sessions, he always gave me a lot of effective pointers. Afterwards, we would go into his home, and he would break out the footage from the last few fights in the “backyard,” and he would play each fight of mine and critique my performance, giving me pointers about things I could do better, or things I was doing wrong, as well as making me aware of what needed to be done to gain a better result while I fought. He wanted for all of us to be the best fighters that we could become.
Each one of my Lameco Eskrima brothers in the “backyard” had different strengths and weaknesses when they fought, including me. Guro Lowell Pueblos was the most senior member of the Group; he was one of Punong Guro Edgar G. Sulite’s first students and sparring partners from the very founding of the Lameco Eskrima System in 1981 and even before then, when Edgar was still training with his Masters back in Ozamis City, Mindanao, Philippines. Guro Lowell Pueblos was the nephew of Tuhon Leo T. Gaje Jr. of Pekiti-Tirsia Kali and the brother of Master Jun Pueblos, another of Edgar’s most senior students and sparring partners in the Philippines, also going back with Edgar to before the founding of Lameco Eskrima. Guro Lowell Pueblos was the head of our group and was the President of the Lameco Eskrima Headquarters in Los Angeles, California, or what we just called the “backyard.” When Punong Guro Sulite was out of town doing seminars, Guro Lowell Pueblos would conduct the Lameco Eskrima “backyard” classes in his absence.
In the “backyard,” we did so much sparring and fighting that we actually enjoyed it; it was who we were as Punong Guro Edgar G. Sulite’s personal group, and we epitomized all that he stood for. When we would fight, most of us did not want the fights to stop, breathing-in the experience, as it were, and cherishing the lessons learned from each fight. I would have to say that we as a group were at our absolute best when we were sparring or fighting, as strange as that may sound to most. It is truly what defined us in the “backyard: and still does as a group today.
This article was excerpted from the author’s book, Lameco Eskrima: The Legacy of Edgar Sulite (Tambuli Media).