Instructor Gary Gabisan towers over his students. He’s even more intimidating because he’s armed with a two-and-a-half foot long rattan stick. And he’s about to attack.
It’s ok though, his students know what to do. They’re practicing the Filipino martial art of Eskrima, which came to the U.S. decades ago.
"The first entry point for Eskrima was the farmworkers, also known as the 'manongs' who traveled here to work on the farms and to pick. And this was also their pastime,” Gabisan says.
Gabisan's students are located south of Griffith Park in Los Angeles. They're paired off with two sticks a piece and taking turns striking at and blocking each other.
Erwin Mosqueda is an all-around martial arts expert. He owns a Tae Kwon Do school in Redondo, but he’s really a master of Eskrima. He’s trained under the best, he’s won several world championships, he’s the guy to learn from in these parts, and yet he doesn’t have a traditional school to teach in.
For the past six years, he’s been teaching in parks and other public places, and he doesn’t charge for these classes.
"I’m a ninth degree blackbelt. I started this martial art when I am seven years old,” said Mosqueda. "It’s a hobby. It’s my hobby."
Watching drills is nice, but to really experience a stick fight, you’ve got to see the sparring.
It looks like a mess. The combatants launch themselves at each other, just battering at heads, arms, chests — whatever’s available. They’re wearing protective gear, which is the only reason reporter Jed Kim was willing to give it a try.
A nice guy named Epifanio lets Kim borrow his gear. There’s a padded helmet with metal bars protecting the face, large padded gloves cover his wrists and hands, and a thick padded vest shields his core.
After he's fully outfitted, he looks like a Nerf samurai.
His first opponent is Gabisan. Luckily, with all the gear, it doesn't hurt when Gabsian smacks Kim in the ribs with his stick. It's pretty obvious that Gabisan is taking it easy on him.
“It takes time. I’d say if you practice regularly for two years, you should be … good enough,” said Gabisan.
Two years is a long time. Perhaps the best thing for Kim to do the next time a big guy with a stick comes after him is just run away.