The Founder of Modern Arnis and the Early Years:
By: Rich Parsons – All Rights Reserved
Remy Amador Presas was born to Jose B and Lucia (Amador) Presas on December 19th 1936 in the city of Hinigaran, Negros Occidental. The age of when little Remy started to train is in question. Some say that it is 5 and others say it is 6. The Japanese occupied Bacolod City of the same province Negros Occidental, from May of 1942, with the US Military having left in March time frame, it is not hard to see that Hinigaran had also been under occupation by the Japanese during the same time frame. So both ages could be possible for when young Remy started to watch his Father teach the local Bolo Squad in resistance to the Japanese. The point of this though, is that during a time of warfare young Remy was able to see the necessity of learning how to fight. He also had the desire of the young to learn what the elders were doing. As Jose would not allow his son to train, Remy would watch in secret and practice in private around their place in the mountains. Leon asked his Grandson one day why the trees had no leaves. Remy demonstrated his practicing. Leon seeing his desire to learn he began to teach him the arts of Ochoo/Figure 8, Palis-Palis and Crossada. In 1945 the US liberated the PI from Japanese Occupation and worked with the Filipinos to grant them their independence on July 4th, 1946.
At the end of the war Remy was 9 going on 10, about 3 years later he left Negros Occidental on a boat to travel to the local islands nearby. By the time he was 14 Remy was in Cebu City, Cebu. Remy was introduced to Arnulfo Mongcal. GM Mongcal (Balintawak) was a left hander and taught Remy much of his system and interpretation of Balintawak. Arnulfo introduced Remy to Timor Maranga. GM Maranga (Balintawak) had his own school in the Pasil area and would still train with GM Venancio “Anciong” Bacon, the recognized Father and founder of Balintawak. GM Bacon was an old member of the Lebanong Fencing Club prior to WWII and a student of the Saavedras. Remy spent his time training in Balintawak with first, Mongcal and then Maranga and finally with Bacon. Remy trained with Mongcal for over a year before his introduction to Maranga. The exact amount of time Remy spent training with both Maranga and Bacon are not known to the author at this time. But during this time Remy did gain a reputation as a fighter.
Remy would meet up with Anciong and he would even bring gifts of alcohol to train with him at his house. Sometimes he would even go out and tell other students as they arrived that Anciong was not feeling well so he could get more time to train with GM Bacon. Now, of course this did not happen all the time. It is just one of those little stories, one is told and that is shared to help the reader understand Remy’s desire to learn and improve himself.
During this time period in Cebu, there were many challenges, between students of students of Balintawak and also of the Doces Pares club. In one of these fights between students of Balintawak, Remy beat up a nephew of Delfin Lopez (Balintawak). Delfin was a recognized strike buster and known tough guy. After Remy’s fight with Delfin’s nephew, word reached him that Delfin was looking to fight him. Remy had a talk with GM Bacon to see if it was ok to fight, for GM Bacon would give his nod if he thought the fight was possible and would tell you if you asked if you were way outclassed. GM Bacon told him he could fight, but Remy decided not to and left the Cebu area. The reputation of Delfin’s stick fighting and the fact that he also carried a .45 to back up his stick work, was something that Remy did not wish to risk. So with Anciong’s blessing Remy left to continue his training and teaching, the only request Anciong had was not to use the term Balintawak in the name of his new system.
After some travel, Remy ended up back in his home city of Hinigaran, Negros Occidental, where he founded his art Modern Arnis. The year was 1957. His system was not officially incorporated and recognized by the Government of the Philippines until 1958, I believe. Somewhere in this time frame Remy moved from Hinigaran, to Bacolod City another municipality of the Province of Negros Occidental. It is believed that it was in late 1957 or early 1958 that the move occurred. In 1959 he was introduced to his future wife Rosemary Lopez Pascual. The two were married July 27th, 1961. Rosemary is the recognized Mother of Modern Arnis. They had five children. They are Mary Jane P. Presas, Mary Ann P. Presas, Dr. Remy P Presas, Ma. Teresa P. Presas and Demetrio P. Presas. Dr Remy, Mary Ann and Demetrio have all trained in their father’s art and are teaching Modern Arnis as well.
Remy had opened up a Gym in Bacolod and was teaching his Modern Arnis. Part of the reasons for his changes to modernize and or make safe for training, was that he had watched two masters of other systems fights with bolos, and while one, the winner, was crippled for life and could walk/hobble the other could not walk at all. Neither of them could practice or train or teach their arts anymore, this changed Remy’s opinion. As Remy furthered his teachings and modernization the youth joined in training in Arnis by the hundreds. This is important as most were studying Kung Fu or Karate or some other foreign system to the Philippines. Remy’s business prospered and he was also teaching Physical Education with an emphasis on Modern Arnis at the University of Negros Occidental which later became De La Salle College.
In 1968, Remy was giving one of his summer sessions at the Rizal Memorial Sports Arena in Manila. This is when he attracted the attention of three very important and powerful men. The first was Colonel Arsenio De Borja the Director of National College of Physical Education and secretary/treasurer of the Philippine Amateur Athletic Association, Phillip Moncerrat a former president of the Philippine Amateur Athletic Association, and Professor Jose Gregorio. They saw the passion Remy had for teaching and spreading a local art to the citizens of the country. These men asked Remy if he would move to Manila, the center for the government and sports agencies, to try to help spread the Filipino Martial Arts to their own culture.
After some difficult consideration of leaving his business and relocating his family they decided to move to Manila where Remy could not only help educate his fellow Filipino’s but he might get the chance to educate the world on Filipino Martial Arts.
In 1969 Remy established a gym in manila and founded the National Amateur Karate Organization (NAKO). Just like Bacolod, Remy used his Gym to spread his teachings and Modern Arnis. Combined with the gym and his experience at the De La Salle College he was soon teaching Physical Education with an emphasis on Arnis at local Universities in Manila. President Marcos himself noticed Remy at one of his demonstrations and took interest in his teachings and his organizations, including the Modern Arnis Federation of the Philippines.
The city and police department of Itago Japan invited Remy in 1970 to come to Japan to teach and introduce the Itago Police Academy to Arnis. This visit was sponsored in part by Fuji Telecasting where Remy was to give an exhibit on national Japanese Television. After this visit to Japan and with Remy’s continued presence in the public as a Judo and Wrestling coach and his teaching of Karate and Modern Arnis at his gym and the local universities, many people took notice of Remy. Remy’s name was well known in the sports groups. Remy held a 6th Dan in Karate and a Black belt in Judo at this time with his continued thirst for more knowledge and understanding of the arts. Remy first brought Modern Arnis to the US in 1973, when he had received a $160,000 grant to teach the police of California. In 1974, he was asked to return to Japan as a representative of the Ministry of Tourism of the Philippines to the Asian Tourism Fair. This is significant as the government of the Philippines gave him a new Passport with Ambassador status. Remy was also sent to the first International Martial arts Competition in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia which was held 2/26 through 3/5 1974. During both of these visits his daughter Mary Ann traveled with him and helps present the arts even at an early age. Remy published a book titled Modern Arnis Philippine Martial Art “Stick Fighting” (Commonly referred to in the US as the Pink book for its Pink Cover), in 1974. The Movie Pacific Connection which had Roland Dantes and Dean Stockwell in it as actors, (both were black belt practitioners of Modern Arnis at that time) was released. Remy was one of the choreographers of the film. The Philippine Government, in 1975, sponsored a multinational seminar trip for Remy which included the US. This is also the year that Remy Published another book titled – The Practical Art Eskrima.
Later in that year, 1975, during a period of unrest and governmental suppression in the Philippines, there was conflict between President Marcos and Remy Presas. Marcos wanted to take over the organizations that Remy had created and he wanted control of who was promoted and taught. Remy wanted the system for everyone. The government came and took his passport. They took his Ambassador passport, forgetting he had one before they issued this one to him. He went to the Manila Airport and got on the first plane to the USA. While on the plane, there was a delay and he knew they were going to come and get him. As the Police came aboard and searched for a person, they took someone else off the plane at gun point. Remy with a sigh of relief, as the plane took off, came to the US. Remy arrived in the US and staid with Dean Stockwell, and later Max Pollen.
This ends the early days or history of Modern Arnis before the arrival of Remy to North America as his place of residence. Many might still ask:
What is Modern Arnis? ( The author likes the following Quote from Remy )
“Modern Arnis is the modification, blending and patterning of the most effective techniques and principals from traditional Arnis and other martial art styles and systems into an organized and integrated structure within a simple and easy-to-learn format. It is an updated Filipino martial art system that works with traditional weapons and everyday objects such as a book, rolled-up newspaper, broom or umbrella, or with empty hands, and is designed to effectively meet or flow with the needs of people in an evolving society. Modern Arnis adapts with the times, and so grows and improves.” (1)
(1) Mitchell, Rick, “Remy Presas: Risking Life for His Art,” – The Masters’ Fighting Guide p.17.
For further information in either classroom training, seminars, or privates, please contact RichParsonsJr@Yahoo.com . Thank you.
*** This Article first appeared in “The Edge” – 2007