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About Leo T. Gaje

I met Tuhon Leo T. Gaje in 1976. In searching for an instructor in the Filipino martial arts (FMA). I heard about a group that practiced on the roof of the Philippine consulate in New York City. When I met his group of older, fierce looking fighters swinging sticks and machetes, I was instantly hooked. At this time Tuhon Gaje primarily wanted to teach instructors. He invited me to join his instructor training program and so, several times a week in between classes at college, I would journey out to Rego Park in Queens to train with a small, serious group of people. The first few years we focused on the basics of footwork and striking of The Pekiti-Tirsia system. Then we progressed to partner drills and sparring exercises, gradually working our way through the 64 Attacks. In 1979 I joined Tuhon Gaje in the Philippines and fought in the First National Arnis Tournament. Tuhon Gaje introduced me to Filemon Canete of the famous Doce Pares clan and encouraged me to train with him.

In the years following I taught Pekit-Tirsia at Columbia University and at other locations in NYC, while I continued to study with Tuhon Gaje and work my way through the many methods and techniques of the Pekiti-Tirsia system: single and double baston (stick), espada y daga (stick and dagger), knife and unarmed techniques.  He taught many seminars to my students and I traveled with him to teach in other parts of the country. He also had me participate in several tournaments in the early days of FMA full-contact fighting.

I studied with Tuhon Gaje from 1976-1988. The training always focused on the basics as the building blocks of the other techniques. We practiced thousands of repetitions of the basic strikes and stepping patterns. We also practiced simple partner drills for hours at  time until the body could respond at an unconscious level. Tuhon Gaje emphasized counter and re-counter rather than fixed defenses. Everything was in response to the opponent movements and the situation. He taught me to analyze techniques and defenses so that I could look at other styles and spot their strengths and weaknesses. He also introduced me to other teachers like Suryadi Jafri in Indonesian martial arts and Filemon Canete in San Miguel Eskrima.

Tuhon Gaje made us figure out techniques rather than memorizing them by rote, something which helped me greatly in my later training in the Chinese martial arts. I remember practicing the break-in and break-out drill with him as he ratcheted up the speed notch by notch, taking me to the limits of my control. I also remember his amazing control with the stick – I can’t remember him ever hurting me or hitting me by accident. Although his power and speed were amazing he could stop the stick on your arm with just a touch.

Leo was a very influential teacher. He provided my first very serious and complete training in the martial arts and taught me how to think critically about techniques and training methods. He was generous withhimself, taking time to work with students on the most basic techniques again and again – never seeming to become bored by the repetition. He was the first teacher I had that was literally poetry-in-motion. I remember watching him glide and flow around a pillar in the middle of the room executing only strike #1 and #2, the most basic strikes. It was like watching Fred Astaire.

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