In a martial artist’s path, the most difficult part is to find a good instructor. Someone not only gifted technically but with a great personality, pedagogy, sense of honor and humor as well. Personally, I believe I’ve always been blessed with great instructors, but 2 of them really changed my life. Dakilang Guro Jeff Espinous and Mangisursuro Mike Inay.
Dakilang Guro Jeff Espinous was my very first FMA instructor. I will always remember the first time I saw him, and my first Kali class a few hours later.
In the early ’90s, I was in the French Kung Fu National Team. I came back from Spain with the 1st place World Cup Trophy in my hands and an injured knee. It was time to switch from a “tournament martial art” to a more traditional martial art. After my military service in the French Paratroopers, I went back to Paris where I start looking for a Wing Chun school. One day, I saw a guy in a gym doing what I thought was Wing Chun: trapping hands, the economy of motion, low kicks? Even though it didn’t look Chinese, what else could it be? I approached him, and we started to talk. I found out he was teaching Filipino Kali, and that his next class was in 3 hours, not far from here. His name was Jeff Espinous.
The same night, I tried his class. The variety of sub-systems (empty hands, weapons, kickboxing, ground-fight, etc.) was fascinating. I knew I was going to learn under him after 5 minutes of class. After 1 hour, I knew I was going to practice Kali for the rest of my life. I found a 2nd family that night and I fell in love with FMA.
After a while, I started travelling with Dakilang Guro Jeff, being his partner during international seminars, and one day, in San Jose California, he introduced me to one of his own Instructor and friend: Mangisursuro Mike Inay.
Meeting with Suro was something. Training under him was magic. He was charismatic, impressive, but also funny and had an open heart. I remember living with him and his 2 disciples Emmanuel (Hart) and Jon (Ward) in their house in San Jose. That was one of the best experiences of my life. Suro had transformed his garage into an “FMA-traveler-guest room”, and “practice” was the main word in this house. Filipino weapons, sticks, books, photos were all around. Martial Arts Legends’ pictures like Angel Cabales or Max Sarmiento were “observing” me in my sleep! I was only 24 years old at the time? It was a like dream!
The practice was great, and Jon and Emmanuel were really there for me; training me any free moment they had. When Suro came back from work, it was again more training, sometimes 1 on 1 with me (what an honor). Even when we were resting at the end of the day, there was always some kind of training going on: Suro showing us his antique Krises, Emmanuel playing the drums in the backyard and the rest of us being irresistibly attracted for a Karenza, or the simple game of “draw”, trying to draw our Spiderco knifes the fastest. Of course, I was always last.
Those days were gold. In 1998, I moved to Tahiti, with 100 dollars and a 1-way plane ticket in my pocket. I didn’t know anything about the place, just that I really, really liked the beaches’ pictures. I opened my first Kali school there, on the small island of Moorea; the first Ni Tien Martial Arts school was born; Kali Majapahit was being created. That was the beginning of my personal path, with all the time in the world to digest what my beloved Instructors taught me, and nothing else to do but practice, think and share. After 2 years of training on my own and learning how to teach others, I decided to go to California in late 2000 to train with Suro Mike. This trip never took place. In September 2000, Mangisursuro passed away, doing what he loved most, teaching Inayan Eskrima.
As for Dakilang Guro Jeff Espinous, I still see him regularly if I go to Europe or when he comes to visit us in Singapore. He is still my Master, my Mentor… my Friend!