It’ll Make You Want Eskrima

Paul Cooper
February, 2002

My Wednesday nights are usually planned around West Wing, a good book and an early date with my pillow. A call from Patrick Christian of the Inayan School of Eskrima drastically altered last week's "hump day" routine. 

Mr. Christian reached me through a mutual friend of ours, Erin. I'm embarrassed to say that I was a bit scared during our initial contact. I answer the phone, and there's a man on the other end of the line who tells me Erin suggested he give me a call, and that he practices Eskrima. Of course, that begged the question, what the heck is Eskrima? Maybe something Eskimos do when their scared. When he told me it was a weapons-based Filipino Martial Art, my mind immediately began racing at a speed only surpassed by my heart rate. Did Erin ask this guy to rough me up? What did I do to make her angry? How much does it cost to change your phone number? I wonder what it's like in Wyoming? 

A half a pint of sweat and a partially packed suitcase later, my fears were alleviated when Mr. Christian invited me to observe an Eskrima class. After repeated assurances that all I had to do was watch, I agreed to attend a group class. 

Still feeling a bit shaky, I arrived early and made my way inside. I was met by Steve Klement, the chief instructor (Tagaturo) of the Inayan School of Eskrima. To my great relief, he knew who I was and had no plans to hurt me. Another class was wrapping up to music as we spoke. While Katrina and the Waves were "Walking on Sunshine" loud enough to make your ears bleed, I learned that Klement has been practicing Eskrima since 1985. He trained under Mike Inay, for whom the school is named. Klement spent several years traveling across the United States and Europe as a demonstration partner for Inay. They trained Law Enforcement personnel as well as martial artists. Since 1995 he has been teaching Eskrima in the Knoxville area. 

A few minutes later, the Karate class is done and it's time for the Eskrima class to start. Immediately I am struck by the diversity of the class. There is no one characteristic that is common between students. They are men, women, large, small, old and young. I gather from the comments of Klement that this is a bigger class than usual with a few new faces. 

I'm at a loss to describe what I witnessed during the course of the evening. Eskrima is at once deadly and beautiful. Practical and fantastic. At one point in the class, Klement was joined by Brad Hill, assistant instructor (Katalungan Guro), in a demonstration. Hill had a two-foot wooden pole in his hand, Klement a pole and a knife. What ensued was a lightning fast exhibition. The two seemed to flow into one continuous movement until it was impossible to tell which was which. 

Eskrima is a practical art. "We are training to survive", says Christian, but he is careful to point out that it is far better to avoid confrontation, rather than seek it. 

As Klement said during class, "You need to know what is worth fighting over before you are put in the situation. If somebody spits on your truck, is that worth risking your life over?" 

A student who takes Eskrima classes to learn how to beat up people in bar fights, is not going to do well. "It becomes evident pretty quick, and I'm not going to teach a thug", Klement says. He adds that their code of conduct states, "If you are in this class for the wrong reasons, you're not going to feel very comfortable with me, or me you. Either join for the right reasons or walk. There is too much at stake." 

I came away from my first Eskrima experience with a respect for a group that teaches, more than anything else, grace under fire. Klement summed it up perfectly. "If you can withstand the pressure of Eskrima, with the weapons and the potential for injury, it makes a lot of other things seem trivial." 

In spite of my inhibitions, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and didn't even mind breaking my weekly routine (this was especially true when I flipped on the VCR to watch my recording of West Wing and instead found an hours-worth of some Frenchman, decked out in full-body spandex, sliding headfirst down a bobsled run).