imgresRecently, I used my gift card from the Chapters book store to purchase “Sonny Umpad’s Eskrima: The Life and Teachings of a Filipino Martial Arts Master” by George M. Yore. This book was published by Blue Snake Books (www.bluesnakebooks.com).

For those who are not aware of who Maestro Sonny Umpad is, first see this video. Embedding has been disabled so you will have to click on the link below.

Video of Sonny Umpad

I first heard of Maestro Sonny Umpad when I attended one of Datu Kelly Worden’s seminars several years ago. Since then, I had seen his name mentioned in various places on the Internet. Unfortunately, Maestro Sonny passed away at the age of 58 in August of 2006. He was born in Bogo, Cebu, Philippines and later in his life, settled in Northern California where he taught until his untimely death.

He created the style known as “Visayan Style Corto Kadena/Larga Mano Eskrima” and was best known for his emphasis on emphasizing the sword in the later part of his teaching career. The influences on his system were varied, ranging from Balintawak to Doce Pares, street experiences, training with Master Raymond Tobosa, Angel Cabales, Leo Giron, Max Pallen, and Gilbert Tenio. The book takes pains to point out that Maestro Sonny also drew on his students’ martial arts experiences in order to develop new avenues of research into his system.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part is a biography of Maestro Umpad’s life, beginning in the Philippines and covering his move to California. It discusses the seeds of his system and how he evolved over the years, in particular moving away from structured drills in favor of “random flow training.” The book indicates that there are three distinct phases of Maestro Sonny’s system, reflecting his ongoing research and evolution in the art of Eskrima. This should not be surprising as the great martial artists and teachers often evolve over the years as they refine their techniques, concepts, and philosophies. Two good examples of this are Professor Florendo Visitacion and Professor Remy Presas. One quick look at their careers from beginning to end would reveal considerable evolution in their respective arts.

The second part of this book is a collection of seven well written essays by various students of Maestro Sonny. These essays are reflections on their initial encounters with Maestro Sonny, their long and arduous training under him, their observations of his teaching and research methodology as well as explaining his martial philosophy. Collectively, they give a fascinating window into Maestro Sonny’s deep martial intellect. The essays leave no doubt that he had a tremendous intellect and a probing mind that allowed him to deeply mine the art of Eskrima. As a result, his system “Visayan Style Corto Kadena/Larga Mano Eskrima” is a deep and wide ranging art encompassing the corto, medio, and larga ranges. It incorporated a considerable amount of footwork and, according to the writers, a wide ranging number of weapon and empty hand concepts.

The third part of the book is an attempt to show some pictorial examples of the system starting with the foundational 17 strikes of the system. Other expressions include solo baston vs. solo baston, solo baston vs. larga mano, larga mano vs. doblecada and edged tools. While there is no doubt in my mind that the authors did their best with their step by step pictures, it is my opinion that this section of the book does not do well. It is difficult, at times, to decipher the precise movements from one picture to the next. In this day and age of DVDs and YouTube, photographs of this kind may well be archaic. As noted in the last book review, Tuttle Publishing has apparently gone to a book/DVD format for some of their martial arts books. I recognize that it may be unfair to demand a DVD for a book that focuses less on “how to” than on Maestro Sonny’s martial philosophy. In any case, I think that this section could use considerable improvement.

All in all, if you are into martial philosophy and want insights into Maestro Sonny’s philosophical, research and teaching methodology, I highly recommend this book.  If you are looking forward to the “how to” section, be warned that it is not in depth and the pictures are difficult to decipher. I look forward to re-reading this book several times for its’ great insights but will skip the pictorial section.

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