The grand dame of Filipino martial arts

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Kalis Ilustrisimo Maestra Peachie Baron Saguin strikes a pose with espada y daga (sword and dagger).

A woman’s beauty is accentuated by her strength. Living up to the tradition of Filipino women warriors, Peachie Baron Saguin exudes both femininity and ferocity. Saguin is a senior practitioner and teacher of Kalis Illustrisimo, the fighting art created by the late venerable Grand Master Antonio “Tatang” Ilustrisimo and among the original members of the famed Bakbakan International martial arts group. In an interview with FIGHT Times, Saguin shares her vision for the Filipino martial arts (FMA) and how its practice can empower women.

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FIGHT Times: Please tell us about your personal and professional background.

Peachie Baron Saguin: Born in Manila, Philippines and christened Bella Marie Sotto Baron, my first interest in sword play was at an early age, after seeing the cartoon Sinbad. As a child I would play with a stick, swing it and pretend I am a mighty warrior defeating enemies with my magnificent sword, and with my incredible skills in fighting. I made my first weapons, a bow and arrow and a spear made from broomsticks. Later in life I took up Business Administration majoring in Marketing and Advertising at the University of the East, Manila. I was a working student then, studying at night and working full time during the day as a secretary of the general manager of a marketing outfit. At the end of each office hours, I would hurriedly leave the office, where I was sent to La Salle as an exchange student. As a working student, I had little time to read books, thus my answers in my examinations were purely based on my day-to-day experiences in my working environment, interacting with different personalities engaged in the field of marketing and advertising. In 2005, I resigned from the corporate world and devoted my time in promoting the FMA. My goal is for FMA to gain recognition not only in other countries but in the Philippines as well.  In 2010, I joined UNTV37, a public service network and became the executive producer of a healthy cooking show Cook Eat Right and of Rise N Shine, a daily morning show.

Saguin works on a blade technique with Master Antonio Diego.

Saguin works on a blade technique with Master Antonio Diego.

FT: How did you start in the FMA and who are your teachers?

PBS: I started in FMA when I found the group Bakbakan International which was probably the first mixed martial arts group in the Philippines. My mentors in Bakbakan are Master Christopher Ricketts (deceased) and Master Tony Diego. Master Topher handles the training in empty hand combat while Master Tony teaches us sticks/swords and knives, known as the system of Kalis Ilustrisimo.

Being the only lady training then, Master Topher would tell me to think like a man. On other times he would create a scenario to inflame me, to waken he said the “killer instinct.”

He was very strict on forms but very supportive to all his students, meticulously documenting our moves through video from the moment we started training so that we can see our progress. He would lend us films for us to watch, to inspire us and help us hone our skills. He was a friend and a mentor.

With Master Tony, it is almost the same. His teaching method was also based on accuracy and speed. He was also particular in forms and in the correct execution of each strike. He would attack us on our unguarded moments just to see our reaction. Just like Master Topher, Master Tony is a friend and a mentor to all his students.

Master Antonio Diego applies a wristlock on Saguin.

Master Antonio Diego applies a wristlock on Saguin.

The only distinction is, while Master Topher would deal with valor to anyone who dares intimidate any of his students with threats, Master Tony would counter in civility. My two great masters, one of fire, one of water.

FT: What are the main characteristics of your FMA style?

PBS: Kalis means blade and Ilustrisimo is the name of the propagator of the system focusing on two methods, de campo or the long range and de salon, the short range. The orientation of Kalis Ilustrisimo is based on bladed weapons, thus whether we use a stick or a sword, the principle we use when we parry or deflect an attack is base on a bladed weapon. The Ilustrisimo style has a lot of elbow and body movements. We shift our body weight when we are attacked or when we execute an attack.  The body does not crouch, as we stand tall. The Ilustrisimo style put emphasis on the economy of movement, and the use of the thrust.

FT: In your opinion how can FMA training empower women?

PBS: FMA being for me a perfect art would be ideal for women for them to learn how to protect themselves from unexpected attacks. While it is true that we use sticks swords or knives in training, these weapons are just an extension of our hands, our arms. Without the training tools, the movements can be applied even with an empty hand. How do I apply the principles of martial arts to daily living? I consider martial arts as a way of life. It is discipline in its highest form, and knowing that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, just like in every hits and strikes, I have learned to be patient, more enduring more considerate and more cautious in my dealing with people. In martial art if you have not mastered your footwork, one wrong move and you have lost your balance. It is the same with life. Everything should be balance. One false move and the man is ruined.

FT: What advice can you give to women who want to study FMA?

PBS: My only advice to women, who wishes to train in FMA, is to make it a part of their life, because at the end of the day, it is the passion and the dedication that would help them in understanding,     absorbing and internalizing the system.

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