Fil-Can Guro Jun de Leon: Training Royal Regiment of Canada in Filipino martial arts

Community News & Features May 10, 2019 at 4:13 pm
Ama Guro Jun De Leon and senior student demonstrate empty hand techniques.

Ama Guro Jun De Leon and senior student demonstrate empty hand techniques.

By Michelle Chermaine Ramos
The Philippine Reporter

Under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Nonato, the Royal Regiment of Canada is training soldiers in the Filipino martial art of kali in addition to the army’s close quarter combat program to get them battle ready.

Ama Guro Jun De Leon (Photos: MC Ramos)

Ama Guro Jun De Leon
(Photos: MC Ramos)

Having gone on missions in Afghanistan and Sudan, Nonato has firsthand experience in combat, which is why he feels it is imperative that his soldiers acquire crucial knife-fighting skills. “Those of us who’ve been on deployment realized that the weapon of choice that is ubiquitous around the world is the bolo or the machete. With the close quarter combat styles and whatever like that, you would address certain issues like grappling and punching and kicking, but Kali De Leon and Filipino martial arts (FMA) directly address impact weapons, the machete, the bolo and the bayonet and also the empty hand,” he explains.

Although known for the use of sticks and blades, kali also covers empty hand techniques for close quarter combat

Although known for the use of sticks and blades, kali also covers empty hand techniques for close quarter combat

“One of the weapons that each soldier is issued is the bayonet so therefore they should know how to use that. We want to give them a little bit of extra training for that so that they’re ready for deployment and operations overseas, etc. But, on top of that, it also helps build character and gives an introduction to Filipino culture.”

Deputy Consul General Bernadette Fernandez and officers of the Philippine Consulate General in Toronto visited the Hutcheson Armoury in Etobicoke, Ontario on April 4, 2019 to observe the training session under Ama Guro Jun De Leon of Kali De Leon. Unlike some FMA guros, De Leon prefers to keep a low profile and is very selective when it comes to accepting new students since he prefers to run his school like a close family rather than a commercial martial arts school.

Deputy Consul General Bernadette Fernandez practicing knife defense with Ama Guro Jun De Leon

Deputy Consul General Bernadette Fernandez practicing knife defense with Ama Guro Jun De Leon

FMA has grown in popularity over the years thanks to Hollywood movies and TV shows utilizing kali techniques in fight scenes, which has led to several schools and instructors of various styles of kali springing up with classes and seminars. The options range from children’s classes and community centre cultural activities, which aim to encourage foreign-born Filipinos to reconnect with their roots by learning their native martial arts. These often tend to be more sport oriented training for tournaments.

There are also popular classes geared towards fitness and self-defence, while there are also some specialized seminars teaching a version of kali designed for the screen for stunt actors learning fight choreography. Then there are those who do away with crowd-pleasing flowery techniques and put more emphasis on the martial aspect of the art by teaching the real down and dirty brutal combative skills developed by Filipino warriors of the past that still prove effective in street self-defence and modern warfare.

From left: Lt. Col. Joseph Nonato, Deputy Consul General Bernadette Fernandez, Cultural Officer Cecilia Santos and Ama Guro Jun De Leon

From left: Lt. Col. Joseph Nonato, Deputy Consul General Bernadette Fernandez, Cultural Officer Cecilia Santos and Ama Guro Jun De Leon

Unfortunately, I have also seen the equivalent of McDojos with instructors merely focused on enrolling students while being lax in their approach to teaching so long as students keep pouring in for business. For many Filipinos, the appeal of practicing a style of FMA has an element of Filipino pride in owning and experiencing a part of their culture, while for most non-Filipinos, the main motivation is the combative or self-defence aspect. That said, with the different motives behind studying and teaching FMA, the worldwide FMA community is not without its politics.

So with the wide array of classes and instructors out there, how can potential students find a qualified guro or teacher to guide them on their journey? Also, where do we draw the line between the cultural “art” and the martial aspect of FMA? Ama Guro De Leon shares his opinions on these matters.

The Philippine Reporter: After practicing so many different martial arts like Karate, Judo, Muay Thai and Wing Chun, why did you decide to focus on Filipino martial arts?

JUN DE LEON: Not because I am Filipino, but when you get older these Filipino martial arts will basically help me out. If I’m older, I should be holding a cane hopefully when my knees start to give up and I would use that tool to defend myself. If I’m in a wheelchair, I’m incapacitated. If there’s something wrong with my knee, I could still hide a knife in my chair and still be able to defend myself. That’s why I chose Filipino martial arts.

Sergeant Miles Gidlow, Close Quarter Combat Instructor

Sergeant Miles Gidlow, Close Quarter Combat Instructor

TPR: You are teaching techniques that can cause bodily damage or have fatal consequences. When they say that martial arts is for everybody, do you agree or disagree? Or should there be a selective process when it comes to choosing students?

JDL: I’ve always been selective of my students. I’m very selective of my students simply because I teach weapons and I teach knives. This is very dangerous. Depending on the age of the students if I’m teaching the younger generation, I don’t teach them knives unless otherwise the parents are also training with me. Secondly, if I’m teaching the military, I really go for the go, meaning it’s really combative. There’s no more ‘Filipino martial arts.’ It’s Filipino combative art so it’s for the kill basically. I also educate my students about our culture, respect and how to behave properly. That’s why I always have the screening process in Kali De Leon methodology.

TPR: FMA is on the rise right now. What would you advice people to look for in an instructor when it comes to choosing the right one for them?

JDL: For students who are just beginning to see Filipino martial arts as a whole, they get excited. I think what they should do is do research. Go to this instructor, know him, what’s his experience. Go view the class. Go to another instructor. Ask questions. Asking questions is how you learn. Do not just go there. Don’t get excited and enrol and next thing you know this guy who you’re learning Filipino martial arts from is not qualified to teach. Don’t get sold to people as “masters” and “grandmasters”. There’s a lot of Filipinos at age 30 years old who are “grandmasters.” I’m gonna be 70 years old and I’m still a guro. See, that’s a problem – the title. Do not get sold by enrolling with an instructor who has a title “grandmaster.”

Sergeant Matthew  McDonald, Close Quarter Combat Instructor

Sergeant Matthew
McDonald, Close Quarter Combat Instructor

TPR: So how does one become a grandmaster in the first place? At what point do they earn that title?

JDL: In my own opinion, because I was born in 1949, the Filipino martial arts when I was learning this, there were no “grandmasters.” In the old, old generations, there were no grandmasters. They called them “Mister” or “Professor.” But then I guess they got carried away by the Japanese art- the karate grandmasters. So, that’s why they put the title beside their names. I think this is wrong but who am I to say that? If they want to do these titles and so on, they can do whatever they want. But usually, “Grandmaster” usually is given to people who are almost on the deathbed or when they’re dying. That’s when the grandmaster title is given to you, not when you’re twenty years old, not when you’re young.

TPR: What has your experience been like teaching the soldiers here?

JDR: It’s fun, actually. The thing here is you see the reality of the technique – real Filipino combative art, whereas when you teach in school where there are kids, you cannot teach that. There’s a difference. That’s why I love this. These soldiers, you have to share with them what we have because they’re the ones who are going to protect us in the future.