Guro Peachie Baron Saguin is one of the foremost practitioners and teachers of Kalis Illustrisimo, having recently done a seminar tour with Guro Arnold Narzo in the United States. Both were long time students of GM Tony Diego. GM Diego Grandmaster Tony Diego was a student of Grandmaster Antonio ‘Tatang’ Ilustrisimo, a legendary eskrimador.

Guro Peachie kindly answered questions via email for this blog post. Thank you, Guro, for taking the time to answer the questions.

Prior martial arts background

I don’t have a lot of martial arts background because when I found the group Bakbakan International, I stayed there. I joined first Hwarang do, saw a JKD group in the Philippines and tried it for a month, then I found Bakbakan. And here’s how I met Master Tony.

Meeting and Training Under Master Tony Diego

I first met Master Tony Diego when I joined Bakbakan International in 1989. He was a friend of the Master of Bakbakan Christopher Ricketts, and was invited frequently in our practice sessions, to share with the students of Bakbakan his style in sword and knife fighting.

When my Master in Bakbakan left for the States for good, I started training with Master Tony on a regular basis with his Binondo group, the Kalis Ilustrisimo. My training then took on a leap. I was showed the proper way to hold the blade, not to grip the handle too tight, to prevent it from being disarmed when struck heavily with another sword. I was then taught the different kinds and forms of striking and blocking, and the footwork and stances that goes for each attack and counter attack.  I was asked to repeatedly execute a particular strike before moving on to the next. Master Tony has always reiterated the importance of a repetitive exercise for one to gain mastery of the form. 

Soon enough Master Tony taught me how to use the stick and knife at the same time. This style is called Punta y Daga. From this style, my interest grew more and more and I always look forward to a sword play with Master Tony, where my speed and accuracy to block and strike are put to test, my distance and movements, checked and corrected. There are moments when Master Tony would attack me when my guard is down to find out how I would react. If I stopped, he would tell me not to think but just to react, otherwise I get hit. The word “sorry” is never used in the gym. If you get hit, it’s your fault.

How many years did you train with Master Tony? How often did you train with him?

I trained with him from 1989 up to the last Sunday that he was at the park.. I used to train with 4 times in a week. Monday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday and then when my husband died in December 2009, I got too busy with work that I get to train with him only every Sunday.

Master Tony passed away two weeks after he stopped going to the park. He was already on and off in the hospital. In fact he had difficulty standing but called me on a Saturday and said, “tomorrow at the park, feed me and I will do all the counters” So I feed him while he was sitting down, because he was having a hard time standing up.

What inspired you to pursue training?

It’s my passion. I feel alive when I’m crossing swords.

Training with a Sword

After considerable drills with a wooden sword, Master Tony gave me as a gift, a real sword to practice on. Again my strikes and counter strikes were checked. Using the real sword, Master Tony would ask me to execute the different strikes and counter strikes. The purpose of this exercise, he said, is to gain better control of the blade and to prevent improper techniques from developing, and thus trains the student to hit at the right angle. My first swordplay using a real sword with Master Tony was really scary, but then I passed with flying colors.

Suffice it to say, I was taught not only to defend and attack on a standing position, but on a sitting and lying down position as well. The exercise of ascending and descending the stairs during a duel is so difficult and tiring. Disarming is also part of the drills.

Training with Master Tony was not easy. I often found myself catching my breath during the swordplay, while Master Tony was laughing and comfortably attacking and parrying my strikes. At the end of each session, I am totally exhausted. My shoulders ache and I could hardly lift my arms. At home before going to bed, I would take a muscle relaxant to relieve the pain so I could train again in the next session.

How often do you train with real swords vs. wooden swords?

I only train with blunt swords.

Do you consider the sword to be an extension of your arm?

Absolutely.

As I continued my training with Master Tony, I learned not only the art of bladed weapons but also, the essence of a good swordsman, the discipline and the commitment that one must have to the art.

Christened as Antonio Ramoneda Diego Maestro, Mang Tony, as he prefers to be called, truly lived up to his name, a “maestro” in bladed weapons… a master by name and by heart. Mang Tony Diego passed away on August 25, 2014.

Guro Peachie was interviewed by the Manila Times and the interview is quite informative. See: http://www.manilatimes.net/the-grand-dame-of-filipino-martial-arts/86238/

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