Some of the greatest martial artists in history had one thing in common and that was the ability to “make the connections.” Jigoro Kano connected the concepts of various jiu jitsu styles into Judo. Bruce Lee used his incomplete Wing Chun education and connected the concepts of boxing and fencing to form Jeet Kune Do. Professor Wally Jay studied Danzan Ryu Jiu Jitsu, boxing, judo, and cross trained in other jiu jitsu styles and Chinese martial arts before founding Small Circle Jiu Jitsu.
While Professor Presas was not the first person to “make the connections,” he possessed the genius in seeing the commonalities among different martial arts and connecting concepts and techniques with each other. He was equally as ingenious in teaching us how to make the connections. “See, you can do this, or you can do this, or dat!” In formulating Modern Arnis, Professor connected his family style with Balintawak escrima as well as the Sinawali styles. The concepts of judo and Small Circle Jiu Jitsu are quite prevalent in Modern Arnis as well. All these disparate parts were melded into a seamless whole by Professor Presas.
I confess that, prior to getting into Modern Arnis, I often focused on the differences among various martial arts styles. While I occasionally made the connections and more often than not, it was on an ad hoc basis. My “making the connections” was nothing like what Professor presented. After getting into Modern Arnis and seeing, in a visual way, how he and the others in the art were making the connections, my horizons expanded considerably. There is greater value in finding the connections and commonalities among different martial arts than focusing on the differences. To this day, I take advantage of seeing the connections that the Masters of Tapi Tapi are making. I have taken up Wing Chun and am also studying Yi Quan and can see the connections!
Unfortunately, there are a number of styles and teachers who discourage their students from exploring. I remember visiting a local karate school and picking up a calendar of events from their front desk. On this calendar was a reminder that students were not permitted to attend any martial arts seminars except for the ones approved by the head instructor. I was stunned when I saw that. The implicit message seemed to be “you are not allowed to explore outside of my school.” That just doesn’t cut it with me.
Throughout the 1990s, Professor Presas, Professor Wally Jay and GM George Dillman had a number of “Big Three” seminars where they presented their respective arts. The sight of three Grandmasters teaching at the same seminar sent a powerful message to the attendees. All three, in their own way, made the connections and, by their actions, relayed the message to their students.
In making the connections between techniques, concepts and systems, you expand yourself as a martial artist. And in the process of doing so, you expand yourself as a human being. In meeting with different martial artists and exchanging ideas, you are not only making martial connections, you are also connecting with other people. That, perhaps, is where Professor really shone.