Grandmaster Benjamin Luna Lema, Founder of Lightning Scientific Arnis International (LSAI). Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A few years ago, I was looking for a sport to replace basketball. I love the game but age had caught up with me and I was already feeling some discomfort in my knee. Then I learned that a friend of mine was into Filipino Martial Arts (FMA). I had always loved to learn martial arts even as a kid, but my desire was cut short one day when my 7-year old self came home from an impromptu karate class at a neighbor’s house, and I told my dad I wanted to join, and he said no.

And that was that.

But then I was around 40 already, and dad could no longer object, so I decided to see what it was all about. At this stage, the only exposure I had to it was seeing a trailer of the Lito Lapid movie, Kamagong, back in high school — and it portrayed two people holding two sticks each in both hands trying to hit each other. So my first thought going in was that FMA was all about using sticks.

I was about to get an education.

I entered the gym to observe the action. My longtime friend and former college roommate, Joepot, met me and explained things as we went along.

Filipino Martial Arts is also called arnis or kali or escrima. Practitioners are called arnisadors or escrimadors. Unlike most other martial arts where beginners learn to fight with bare hands, and are only made to handle weapons at higher levels, novice escrimadors are taught to use sticks right from the start.

The logic is pretty straightforward: As a beginner, if you get into a real fight, you need every advantage you can get. If you went home that night after your first lesson, and found yourself face to face with an intruder inside your house, would you rather face him with your bare hands or armed with a weapon?

In other martial arts, you might spend months or years training before you are prepared to get into a real fight. In arnis, you are taught how to whack someone hard on the head as your first lesson, which is probably as good a defense as any if you find yourself backed to a corner.

As the lessons progress, the weapons become shorter, you move from stick to knife to empty hand. So the assumption is that you only fight with your bare hands when your skill level is high enough, but even then, the basic philosophy is to seize every advantage you can. Any object within reach can be a weapon — a bottle, a vase, even your cellphone. There is no such thing as a fair fight, especially on the street.

My friend then told a story of his law school classmate who approached him one day, after learning that he was an FMA instructor. This classmate said, “So what would you do if I rushed you like this?” And he suddenly rushed headfirst trying to grapple my friend in a bear hug, but he suddenly stopped short when he saw that my friend held a ballpen in his hand aimed towards his attacker’s oncoming head.

“Hey, that’s not fair,” he said.

“Well, you asked me what I would do. That’s exactly what I would do,” my friend replied.

Arnis teaches one to have a healthy respect of weapons, especially knives. The worst thing that a martial art can teach is false confidence — for you to face an armed attacker thinking that you can grapple with him or disarm him with techniques you learned just the other night. Most of the time, the best defense is to run, or to distract or hurt your opponent enough for you to run away.

After that introduction, I was sold.


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Learn Arnis with Mandirigmang Kaliradman YMCA Chapter at the Davao YMCA Gym (near Central Bank/Sutherland Global Services) along Jacinto Ext., Davao City, 6PM to 8PM (T-Th-S).

The Reluctant Leader (Part 2)

Last week, I talked about my participation in a leadership and life-coaching program that I joined seven years ago. As I said, I would like to share the lessons I learned there, coupled with the experience of being in a leadership position in our family corporation.

The first lesson is to STEP UP.

Opportunities abound for leadership. You may not necessarily be a leader by position or by rank, but life always offers many chances for you to show some facet of leadership — whether it is your passion, dedication, creativity, diligence, discipline or commitment. The problem is that most people hesitate to show this side of themselves. They don’t want the attention. They don’t want to stand out, and so they lose out.

The second lesson is to RECOGNIZE THE DOERS.

There are talkers and there are doers, and one who is good at talking is not necessarily good at doing.

One of the key points the seminar facilitators drummed into us was that we should always measure our success or failure based on results. That means if you set a sales target of P10 million within 1 month, and by the end of the month, you only achieved 9.99 million, then you have not accomplished your goal 100%. If you set a personal goal not to be late for work throughout the year, and you missed one day, then you have not achieved that goal.

How eloquently you compose your goal doesn’t matter. The reason or excuse why you missed that one day, or why you lack that 100-peso sale doesn’t matter. Your intent and desire to achieve that goal doesn’t matter. Only the results matter, because results don’t lie.

The talkers have their place. They sometimes generate some bright ideas. But ideas without implementation will merely remain as pretty dreams. It is ultimately the doers who will give you results — and some doers are not what you expect them to be.

If you want your organization to go somewhere, place a high value on your doers.

The third lesson is to EMPOWER THE DOERS.

Our seminar group was divided into several smaller groups and each group had a leader. The leaders of each group formed the council of leaders and we had to meet regularly to update each other and plan how to achieve the group goals. Along the way, I noticed that some of the leaders were not so cooperative, and some were only talkers — they would promise this and that but had little or no results.

My coach’s advice was to open the leadership council to other members of the team. We went through the group’s list of names one by one and he helped me identify and recognize those who had potential. So I opened the invitation to the entire team and began to observe who would respond. Eventually, the person who became my most trusted second-in-command was not even one of the group leaders. But he took the challenge to step up and show his interest and commitment, and I rewarded that by ceding more and more control and authority to him.

The fourth lesson is to UNDERSTAND AND LOVE YOUR TEAM.

That old saying is very true — people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Being a very cerebral person, I had difficulty connecting with some people in my team. Thankfully, my coach and teammates were very supportive in helping me in this regard. I went to the point of personally calling each member of my team just to talk to them and get to know how they are.

Do not always sound high and mighty. Do not act like a know-it-all. Be humble. Show people you are willing to listen and that you care.


* The seminars mentioned are still being offered by OCCI Global. The program trilogy consists of 3 courses – FLEX, ALC and LEAP. You can read more at This is not a paid endorsement.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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The Reluctant Leader (Part 1)

Seven years ago, I joined a series of leadership seminars and a two-month life-coaching program that had a profound impact in my life. During one of the sessions, I was assessed as a reluctant leader — as someone who had the skills but not the willingness to bear the obligations.

I recalled a previous activity when the seminar facilitator had for a volunteer. I wanted to raise my hand, but I hesitated for a moment. When I saw out of the corner of my eye that someone else had raised his hand, I shot up my hand next, knowing full well that other person would be called first — but I had hoped to get noticed as someone who volunteered as well.

I then reflected that this was mostly how I had lived my life. I was never a leader in school — never been class president, vice-president, secretary or treasurer — not even prince charming. I just didn’t find those things appealing and was even slightly puzzled why some of my classmates campaigned actively for student council positions, or wanted desperately to be the leader of this or that organization.

I shied away from the spotlight of leadership, wanting more to be behind-the-scenes as the think-tank and the avid supporter, but I did not want to bear the responsibility and blame in case things went awry. I knew that ultimately it would be the leader, not me, who would bear the brunt of criticism.

So when I heard that assessment, it stung, but I knew it was true.

After that, there was another session with another opportunity for leadership, but this time the stakes were higher as the leadership role was not only for one activity but for the entire team of 88 people, for the next 60 days or so. The hesitation was palpable as this was a huge responsibility, and it would be on top of whatever else one was juggling at the moment — work, family, business, and so on.

A couple of people voiced out what the leader should be and what he or she should do, and how much time would be required, and so on — which I sensed was their way of indirectly saying why they can’t be the leader even if they wanted to — and it was at this moment when I realized I had the chance to redeem myself. I had my own struggles with time and finances just like most of everyone in that group — this was in Manila and my wife and I were running a fledgling business that only had two or three employees at a time so we were doing most of the work. Plus I had three small children and that also demanded a lot of my time as a father.

But I did not want be called a reluctant leader again — to know that I had been given another opportunity to step up but did not — so against all of my fears, and against all of my common sense, I volunteered. I said, “I’ll do it. I’ll be the team leader.”

I would soon find out, that I had no clue what I just got myself into.

At the start of that program, each of us participants had written down three specific goals that we would achieve by the end of 60 days. We were divided into small groups with trained life coaches to work with us to make sure our goals were not too easy nor too difficult. It was my burden as the leader to ensure that my team finished the program with 100% completion in all goals.

There were several important leadership lessons I learned and I will share most of them in next week’s article since I am out of space for this one.

I will, however, share the first lesson today, and that is that leadership opportunities are not rare occurrences. They pop up every now and then. There is always an opportunity to lead, to step up, to try something you’ve never done before, to take responsibility. The question is, are you willing to take the plunge?

Sometimes, all that is needed is for you to swallow your apprehensions and say, “Yes, I’ll do it.”


* The seminars mentioned are still being offered by OCCI Global. The program trilogy consists of 3 courses – FLEX, ALC and LEAP. You can read more at This is not a paid endorsement.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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There Is No Christianity

When I was a Christian, one of the things that bothered me immensely was figuring out what the “Christian response” would be to things happening around me and in society. For example, what is the Christian response to premarital sex, or capital punishment, or the political circus going on in the country?

There would always be different points of view coming from different Christian leaders even if they are all quoting from the same Bible. Sometimes, they would differ in minor points while other times there would be irreconcilable contradictions. Boxing legend and Philippine senator Manny Pacquiao recently tried to prove the rightfulness of the death penalty by using Biblical references.

The only thing he proved was that he should have stayed in the boxing ring instead of muddling things in the political arena.

But I digress.

The point is that it was very difficult to get a Christian response to anything that all Christians would be in agreement about. There would always be someone or some group somewhere with a dissenting opinion. Even when I got out of Christianity and got into arguments and discussions with Christians, I often found out that I had to explain what “flavor” of Christianity I grew up with, and why I believed in certain things. Other Christians grew up believing other things, I found out, and so my arguments with them didn’t quite hit the mark, because they didn’t believe the things I supposed they would believe in.

I read a couple of articles discussing this very phenomenon — the first is by anthropologist Dr. David Eller, who argues that Christianity is not just a religion, not just a set of arguments and beliefs, but an entire culture. It is a “worldview, a way of life, and a learned and shared and produced and reproduced regimen of experience.”

Eller asserts that “Christians are not easily argued out of their religion because, since it is culture, they are not ordinarily argued into it in the first place.”

He also says that there is “no such thing as Christian culture but rather Christian cultures; indeed no such thing as Christianity but rather Christianities.”

Neil Carter, author of the Godless in Dixie blog, seems to agree with this as he writes “There isn’t one single, monolithic thing called ‘Christianity.’  That’s an abstraction, and history bears witness to the fragmentation and differentiation of a thousand different subcultures over the centuries laying claim to that label, each one arguing that a number of the others aren’t even legitimate, and shouldn’t use that label to describe themselves at all…Christians have never spoken with one voice about social issues like slavery, racism, or any number of other complex political problems.”

The plethora of Christianities make it almost impossible to say what Christianity is really all about. In my four decades, I have had conversations with different types of Christians with dissenting opinions on almost any topic you can think of. I have met Christians who believe in reincarnation — there was this one woman vehemently claiming that the original Christians taught it but were suppressed. I have met Christians who believe in a literal heaven and hell (as described in the Bible), while others think those are merely symbolic or metaphorical places. There are even Christians who don’t believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus but rather say that it is (again) symbolic.

And don’t get me started on their other views — political, social, cultural — as the differences become more and more divergent.

So the next time you hear a Christian say, “Oh that’s not really what Christians believe” or “That’s not really what that verse means,” remember that whatever that person says isn’t necessarily what Christians really believe or interpret that bible verse to be. The possibilities are as numerous as the Christianities that spawned them, and most of them claim to be the one, true Christianity, but we won’t be able to tell anyway unless the heavens suddenly open and a divine finger points us to the right path.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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Art and Soul

Three pieces from Victor Secuya’s Music Festival series

Shortly after entering the village, the concrete path ended and we were faced with a dirt road. A wooden sign read “Sanctuario” with an arrow pointing ahead. I checked my cellphone and re-read the directions to the place and thought, “Yep, this is it.”

A few meters after I was faced with a fork in the road. The one on the left looked dubious so I decided to stick to what I thought was the main road and turned right. And then I saw the gate with another “Sanctuario” sign beside it.

Since there didn’t seem to be anyone nearby, I took out my phone and made a call. “Vic, we’re here.”

That was the day I responded to an invitation from Davao-based artist, Victor “Vic” Secuya, who graciously welcomed my wife and I to his home in Maa. It was indeed a sanctuary in the middle of the city with huge grounds surrounded by tall trees. Vic would later inform us that it was also open for bookings for groups or individuals on retreats or trainings or other types of meetings.

Vic led us to a small building and showed us his latest works for his upcoming exhibit (now on show in SM Lanang until March 19 only). We then moved to a three-storey building where he lived on the top floor. He rented out the bottom rooms, he explained.

Although we had been Facebook “friends” for a while, this would be my first real interaction with him. The only other time I had an encounter with him was very briefly at an art exhibit where he recognized me from my photo in Sunstar and we shook hands. He had posted a short video featuring the paintings of Mark Rothko — to my untrained eyes, it looked very simple — a red rectangle on a black background. Orange rectangle on green background, and so on. I remarked that I couldn’t understand or appreciate works like these and that’s when Vic invited me for a chat.

What I thought would be just a short visit — probably an hour at most, I told my wife — turned out to be an entire afternoon’s worth of conversation over coffee, maruya, and Chedeng’s peanuts. Oh and we didn’t just talk about art although Vic gave us a short lecture on Rothko (who eventually ended up taking his own life) that me appreciate the works a bit better but not by that much. I think I need more lectures, coffee and peanuts.

We also spent a few minutes discussing current events and politics. Vic’s politics were clearly emblazoned on his black shirt with the word “Duterte” printed on it. We also talked about Toastmasters, an organization both of us are part of, though we belong to different clubs.

But much to my surprise, the better part of the afternoon was spent discussing business and marketing, which I found an unusual topic to be discussing with an artist. Vic shared that a few years ago, he had been hired as a consultant by one of Davao’s prominent hardware retailers. This firsthand encounter with a seasoned businessman challenged him to read a lot of books on business and marketing, and given his background in sociology, he found the aspect of human behavior in business very interesting.

We swapped stories of business encounters, pitfalls and learnings, and found that we shared many common principles and realizations about what works and doesn’t work in business — that it’s always good to have open communication, standardized systems, and investment in IT and information analysis. We talked about this until it got dark and he had to go pick up his wife and we had to go somewhere too.

It was definitely not a typical afternoon one would expect when spent with an artist. But then again, Vic is not your typical artist either.


If you haven’t seen it yet, visit Vic Secuya’s 24th One Man Show at SM Lanang, Davao City, which will run until March 19 2017.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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