Maestro Fernando “Bong” Abenir is among the most dynamic teachers of Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) in the country today. He describes the current system he teaches as a synthesis of the various martial arts he has studied through the years. Abenir sits down with FIGHT Times to reveal his philosophy as a teacher and the salient features of his fighting art.
FIGHT Times: You’ve trained in a number of martial arts for so many years; can you tell us a brief account of your martial arts career?
Fernando Abenir: I started training although informally with my father when I was around eight or nine years old. He was teaching me some of the basics of kuntao, which he learned while working as an overseas worker in Saudi Arabia. I also learned a few things about knife fighting and street fighting from a man called Inyong who was a street fighter that survived a lot of knife attacks.
I have been fortunate enough to train with some of the most well known masters in escrima such as Pedro Reyes and Master Tony Diego. These people are all from Kalis Ilustrisimo and I have learned a lot from them especially with Pedro Reyes who was the very first among the group to teach me the rudiments and principles of the art. He was also responsible for introducing me to “Tatang” [the late escrima Grand Master Antonio Illustrisimo]and to have trained with him for some time before he passed away. It was also through Pete [Pedro Reyes] that I was introduced to Master Tony Diego. It was my hunger for more knowledge that led me to these people and seeks instruction from them. Although I wouldn’t claim to have studied with all of them that long except for Pete with whom I have studied for at least four years since 1996, and with Master Tony (in his gym at Binondo or his Sunday sessions at the Luneta Park) from whom I got my certification to teach Kalis Ilustrisimo.
Then I was also a personal student of Mohamad Hadimulyo from 1997 to 2000 whom I fondly call Pahadi.I spent a lot of afternoons with him at his quarters in the Philippine Sports Commission and at the Philsilat gym where I was taught Nusantara pencak silat and other silat forms before he went back in Indonesia. Pahadi concentrated more on teaching me the self-defense aspect of the art. He taught me the techniques of knife fighting and more of the intricate locking and striking techniques of his art together with its jurus [forms]and his personal philosophies.
He then introduced me to his top student Bapak Oong Maryono, a three time undefeated world champion in pencak silat ohlaraga [sport silat]who taught me a lot about the fighting applications of the art in sport and street fighting. Sadly both of them have already passed away. Master O’ong died just recently.
I also had Orlando Lapuz as my chief instructor in Yaw-Yan (Sayaw ng Kamatayan) He taught me this fighting system developed by Master Napoleon Fernandez. He was also my instructor in muay thai when he first introduced it here way back in 1994.
I also learned from several of the most respected personalities in full contact sport here in the country among them is Francis Pisa, a former national player in pencak silat who now resides in Australia. He once entered the Universal Reality Combat Championship and won. He was dubbed as one of the fastest to have ended the fight during that night. He was also the back-to-back champion in U.S. and in Europe in full contact sport. I learned how to really move fast and apply the leg catching techniques of silat from him.
And last but not least, I also would like to give credit to John Baylon Sensei. Even with just a few months of having me as a student, he gave me a lot of insights and taught me real skills in the grappling aspect of judo. He is a phenomenon in the history of Philippine judo being a consistent gold medalist in the South East Asian Games.
FT: Who do you think is your most influential teacher and how he influenced you as a martial artist and a man?
FA: I have to give credit to Pendekar Mohamad Hadimulyo of Nusantara pencak silat and Master Tony Diego of Kalis Ilustrisimo. Both of them have given me so much knowledge in how to apply the combative aspects, principles and philosophies of the martial arts. It has also greatly influenced me as to how I impart this knowledge to my students. From Master Mohamad I learned a lot about patience and diligence through the practice of jurus. Everything has to be precise or near perfect before we move on to another lesson.
With Master Tony, I learned so much about humility and giving respects to our elders even if they have said something against you just as long as they don’t go beyond the limit of physically hurting you. They are the most influential teachers in my life as a martial artist and as a person.
FT: What is your teaching philosophy and how would you describe the martial arts curriculum you’re teaching today?
The Abenir Kalis System is primarily a blade-based martial art, which derives the bulk of its techniques and fighting principles from Kalis Ilustrisimo, Yaw-Yan, other FMA styles and Pencak Silat. I have combined these systems in order to come up with my own training system and also added techniques and strategies I discovered effective during live sparring. Most of the techniques that were effective during a full sparring session without protective gear were thoroughly observed whether their efficiency was replicated many times.
I believe that during a fight wherein everything is sudden and happening so fast, you may not have time to think but instead must rely on your quick reaction to any attack or situation you are in. Our empty hand fighting system could be applied anytime regardless of the practitioner’s skill level.
The weapons progression is used in conjunction with the empty hand training progression of the system in order for the practitioner to get a complete education in the variables possible with the major techniques and tactics employed in FMA.
The major characteristic of Abenir Kalis is efficiency. It is a very pragmatic and practical. It does not waste time with unnecessary movements but instead goes right through the heart of the problem when dealing with an adversary. We make sure that the practitioner is able to fight or defend himself even with just a few sessions of training in our system.
It does not mean achieving mastery of the skills and techniques of the system in such a short period of time but rather the skill and confidence to handle a street encounter. What we are after is for a student to learn to fight first and then work on the finer points of the art later. That is why we do a lot of dynamic drills during the first sessions and help the student analyze the different strategies and tactics that could be employed during a street fight. It does not matter much how well you execute the techniques during a fight as long as it scores or hits the target. People are not concerned on how beautiful you employ your techniques but rather who is left standing after the encounter. After learning these things, only then comes the formal training for the purpose of mastery of the system.
FT: What are your thoughts on traditional martial arts and Mixed martial arts?
Some people are traditionalist by heart while others are more into combat sport where practical techniques are employed full contact under certain rules and regulations. I find nothing wrong with choosing either paths or embracing both. It’s really up to the person to know what he or she wants. Personally, I practice both.
FT: What are your current projects and future goals?
I would be hosting a Filipino Martial Arts event on November 23, 2013 in Don Bosco Technical College in Mandaluyong where different FMA systems and styles would be given an opportunity to do demonstrations and conduct free lectures to young students. We are also planning to continue our arnis tournaments next year. My future goal is to give seminars and training here and abroad and to be able to help in educating the younger generation here in our country on the richness and beauty of our martial traditions and culture.