This post is a bit late but, in February, I passed the 10 year anniversary of my involvement in Modern Arnis, starting with Dan McConnell of the Hilliard Martial Arts Center in Columbus, Ohio. I remember the students who were there, in February of 1998, such as Matt Burnett, Roger Predieri, Katy Ray, and Amy Snow, among others.
The seeds for the involvement in Modern Arnis were planted in October of 1989. A Notre Dame friend of mine, Drew Sandler, and I traveled to New York City over fall break of the ND academic year to visit with Professors Robert Cooper and his son (and my instructor), G. Rogers Cooper as well as to visit with Professor Jose Velez. Drew and I worked out in Professor Cooper’s class at the YMCA and hung out with him as well with Professor Velez. During the course of that week, Professor Velez took Drew and me to visit Professor Vee in his apartment. As an aside, during the course of that week, Jose, Drew, and I were actually shot at while driving through one of the nastier neighborhoods of NY City. An armed robber, running out of a restaurant or a grocery store, spotted us and fired. Fortunately, nothing happened. After we got back to Jose’s apartment, we inspected his car for bullet holes and found none. Whew. Anyway, back to the visit with Professor Vee.
We were in his apartment for two hours. At this time, Prof. Vee was approximately 79-80 years old and was still quite a vital man. He introduced us to some basic arnis. Prior to that time, I had only a vague awareness of what arnis was about. We had practiced some basic empty hand against stick techniques but I didn’t really think about them in an organized way. Professor Vee introduced us to the first 5 angles. If I recall correctly, they are the same as Modern Arnis. While I do not remember much of what he taught us, I do remember that he showed us some locking techniques with the cane and they were PAINFUL! He would then stop in mid-lock and, with a mock evil cackle, and ask if there was a camera nearby. We did take a few pictures and they are in storage somewhere. I was fascinated that you could actually lock people up with a cane. Afterward, we had a conversation with Professor Vee. Again, I do not recall much of the conversation (other than the application of music theory to martial arts). But I did ask him some basic questions about Arnis. I told him that I was moving to Columbus, Ohio after graduating from law school the following spring. I specifically asked him what style/system of Arnis he would recommend that I study. He said, “whatever you find in Columbus.”
After graduating from law school and moving to Columbus, that was the first thing I looked for. Remember, in the spring/summer of 1990, the world wide web, as we know it today, did not exist back then. I resorted to the Yellow Pages and school directories of various martial arts magazines. I could not find anyone teaching Filipino Martial Arts. So, on the recommendation of Jim Hoff, an ND friend of mine, I took up Kenpo Karate (Tracy style), which I studied for 7 years.
Over the years. I kept an eye out for any Arnis/Filipino Martial Art possibilities. Brian McCarthy, another ND friend of mine, alerted me to a martial arts e-mail list called the “Escrima Digest.” I subscribed to the Digest sometime in the mid 1990s. Further fueling my desire to learn Arnis was Rick Clark, a pressure point expert. I attended a few of his seminars as well as a couple of camps. Very often, he would bring out the arnis sticks and show us some basic techniques. In addition, over the years, I picked up Black Belt magazine and noticed that there were listings for seminars by a Remy Presas. But I never took advantage of them….figuring that it was too far to drive and there was the practical question of “who would I train with after attending a seminar ?” If I could go back in time and change my mind, knowing what I know now……….anyway…..
In 1996 and 1997, I met with a fella in the Columbus area on an occasional basis to exchange knowledge…..my Vee JJ in exchange for his knowledge of the Advincula arnis system. We met about 10 times total and it was fun. However, the guy had to move away. Instead of being discouraged, this whetted my appetite even further.
Then in late January or early February of 1998, I was alerted by Brian McCarthy to a seminar announcement on the Escrima Digest. I immediately opened the Escrima Digest e-mail and found an announcement by Dan McConnell, later to become my Modern Arnis instructor. He announced the first Remy Presas seminar in Columbus, to be held at the Norwich Elementary School in April of 1998. I said to myself “Norwich Elementary school…mmmm, that sounds familiar.” Being a single guy, I was in the dark but it turns out that it was the local elementary school! Just two minutes from my house! I immediately e-mailed Dan and asked him about the seminar and where and when he taught his arnis classes.
I believe that this was in the first or second week of February of 1998. The rest is history. I had 9 great years with Dan and met a tremendous number of people, through Dan, over the years. It’s safe to say that I just fell in love with the art of Modern Arnis and went to many seminars and camps with Dan over the years, in addition to 9 years of classes at the Hilliard Martial Arts Center. He has done a great job of spreading Modern Arnis in Columbus (starting with one adult class per week and then eventually expanding it to three adult classes and two children’ classes per week) and bringing in folks like Professor Presas, Tony Marcial, Ken Smith, Chuck Gauss, Kelly Worden and a few others. Even though I’ve moved to Canada, here’s to many more years of growth for Master Dan and the HMAC in Columbus. Since I moved here to Canada, I understand that he has big plans for himself and his school. Best of luck!
So that’s the story of how I got involved in Modern Arnis…..it took a lot of patience! I will continue growing in the art by teaching it here in Oshawa, training with Master Chuck Gauss (an unbelievable martial artist) in Detroit whenever I can, and attending IMAF camps and seminars, time and finances permitting.