What Made Juanito Lacoste the Most Venerated Kali Master in Stockton?

To the best of my knowledge, Juanito Lacoste, or John, as he was also known, was born in the Philippines in the late 1800s. As you will see later, there is some speculation that he was from Cebu. 

Manong LaCoste immigrated to the United States before World War II. He first settled in Hawaii. Later he moved to California.

Prior to his death in 1977 or 1978, Manong Juanito Lacoste was Stockton’s oldest and most venerated Escrima master.  

Considering that Stockton, California was teeming with Kali and Escrima masters at the time, it is certainly an accomplishment to be considered the most venerated.  

What was it that made Juanito Lacoste the most venerated Kali master in Stockton?

Was it his incredible fighting skill?

Perhaps it was his unique style?

Maybe it was his profound ability to simplify things?

It was all of these things and much more!

Fighting Skill - The Stuff of Legends

In "The Filipino Martial Arts as taught by Dan Inosanto," three separate confrontations give some insight into Manong LaCoste’s fighting skill.

  1. A knife wielding assailant tried to rob LaCoste.  LaCoste made the man stab himself.

  2. A gun-toting criminal also tried to rob LaCoste.  LaCoste quickly thwarted the attack and secured an armlock.

  3. Three boys attempted to mug an 86-year-old LaCoste. He threw the first kid down and held him there. He disarmed the second, a stick-wielding kid, and threw him down. The other boy – apparently the wise one – decided he better not attack LaCoste for fear of suffering a similar fate.

The Unique Juanito Lacoste Style

It should come as no surprise that Stockton’s most respected Kali master had his own unique style.

LaCoste was familiar with many different styles, but his favorites were Moro Moro, two Cebuano methods, Occidental Negros and one more.

The Moro Moro method was named after a religious sect of people in the southern Philippines.

The two Cebuano methods and Occidental Negros were named after islands.

The “one more” method is unknown.

These methods and others were harmoniously blended into the “LaCoste style” – a style that only this revered Manong could pull off.

Simplicity Personified

Manong LaCoste’s real-world fighting experience and exposure to many different fighting styles gave him the profound ability to get to the root of things.

In other words, he knew where all the principles converged.

It’s common knowledge that most Kali, Escrima and Arnis systems have 12 angles or numbers that represent possible attacks.  

LaCoste felt that if his students learned the first two numbers they could fight and defeat any style.

His feelings were based on his ability to understand and teach simplicity.

His teachings allowed his students to understand all the blocks and counters to the first two angles. This understanding allowed them to adapt their motions to any attack.

In essence, Manong LaCoste was simplicity personified.

Lacoste - The Speed Demon

Having been blessed with an opportunity to see actual footage of LaCoste, thanks to my teacher, Guro Cass Magda, as well as other Inosanto protégés, it’s very easy to understand why he was so respected.

Despite being advanced in years in the videos, LaCoste was a whirlwind of activity. His feet and his hands were moving so fast you couldn’t visually keep up.

Regardless of how well anyone ages, I don’t think many would argue that everyone loses some speed due to aging.

With that in mind and considering what I saw on video, I can only imagine how fast LaCoste was in his prime.

I can sum it up for you in two words …


Beyond Speed

Master LaCoste’s reverence was due to more than just his incredible speed.

He was a seasoned escrimador as well as a World War II combat veteran.  

He possessed a wealth of Filipino Martial Arts and Silat knowledge.

These are the things that led to him being held in such high regard by the northern California Filipino Martial Arts community.  

He was recognized as a truly gifted martial artist.

Lacoste's Beginning

Trying to find information on Manong LaCoste is a very difficult task.  

Therefore, it’s no surprise that his hometown is still a mystery.  

Primo “Tats” Redoble a descendant of the late Benjamin Redoble, Sr. asserts that Manong LaCoste came from Balamban, Cebu – the same hometown as Manongs Julian Goc-ong, Telesporo Subingsubing, Lucky Lucaylucay, and Jack Santos.

Lacoste's System

Manong Juanito LaCoste's system consisted of 12 categories of training. The categories included:

  1. Single olisi – single stick, single sword, single axe

  2. Double olisi – double stick, double sword, double axe

  3. Olisi-baraw – long and short sticks, sword and dagger, axe and dagger, sword and shield

  4. Baraw-baraw – double dagger, double short sticks

  5. Baraw-kamot – dagger and empty hand

  6. Kamot-kamot or pangamut – empty hands

    A. Panatukan – Filipino boxing, including use of elbow
    B. Panadiakan-sikaran – kicking, kneeing, use of shin
    C. Dumog-layug – grappling / wrestling
    D. Higot at hampak-hubud at hampak – tie up and hit / untie and hit
    E. Kinomotie - pinching

  7. Flexible weapons
    A. Lubid - rope
    B. Cadena - chain
    C. Olisi toyok – nunchaku
    D. Latigo – whip
    E. Handkerchief with coins
    F. Stingray tail 

  8. Olisi-Palad – palm or pocket stick

  9. Olisi dalawang kamot – two-handed stick style

  10. Sibat-bangkaw – spear / staff

  11. Tapon-tapon – throwing weapons / darts

  12. Lipad-lipad – blowgun, bow and arrow

Blaise Loong, a Guro Dan disciple, describes the LaCoste system as having some of the most sophisticated – well thought out – and functional empty-hand combatives that he's ever researched. 

According to Loong, the LaCoste system is primarily based on the use of the short knife in combat. The system is a comprehensive one that includes striking and grappling skills.

In terms of striking skills, the system is comprised of standard boxing, which LaCoste called panantukan, and a kick-fighting method, which he called pananjakan. There is also a very efficient method for countering and / or destroying the opponent's attacking limbs.

In terms of grappling skills, the system includes awesome joint manipulations, sweeps and takedowns that come from Silat or Pangamut. By Guro Dan’s own accounts, Manong LaCoste could scoot around faster on his butt (tiger styles) than most fighters could on their two legs.  Also according to Guro Dan, Manong LaCoste's ground fighting skills were awesome.

As you can see, the LaCoste system is a very well-rounded and efficient method that provides techniques for fighting off of or on the ground. The fighting on the ground component is not as easy for many FMA students to grasp, despite familiarity with the terms dumog or buno, which refer to wrestling, because the vast majority of FMA systems are stand-up systems.

Likely Origins

While the exact roots of Manong Juanito LaCoste’s ground fighting skills are unknown, the likely origins are the southern Philippines and interactions with other Malay people. 

Three separate elements support this assertion.

For starters, Manong LaCoste spent a great deal of his life in the southern Philippines and the nearby Indonesian islands. Silat is a term commonly used to describe fighting styles and systems in these regions. Guro Dan Inosanto himself has stated that Manong LaCoste specifically used the term ‘Silat.’

Next, it’s well known that the southern Philippines and Indonesia have a lot of ground fighting. In fact, there are Silat styles and systems that predominately focus on ground fighting skills.

Lastly, there’s a story. Stories comprise the oral traditions of any martial art, and this includes the Filipino Martial Arts. 

One such story recounted by Manong Lucky LucayLucay, tells of his youth when he worked on a boat in the Sulu area of the Philippines. In his story, he speaks of the boat’s Captain being a well-built escrima master. As oral tradition goes, when Manong LaCoste listened to Manong Lucky’s story, he said, “That was me!” 

So, oral tradition supports the idea that Manong LaCoste was in the Sulu area. 

Individually and collectively these elements certainly support the notion that Manong LaCoste had interactions with other Malay people, such as Indonesians and tribal peoples from Borneo.

When these three elements are combined, it’s easy to believe that Manong LaCoste’s ground fighting prowess originated from "Silat" fighters.

Sustaining His Legacy

While Manong Juanito LaCoste has been gone for a long time, many Filipino Martial Arts teachers and students (especially those connected to Guro Dan Inosanto) help to keep his legacy alive. 

As I mentioned earlier, some insiders have actual video footage of Manong LaCoste that they show to students.

Of course, many of these same teachers, pass on stories of LaCoste via the oral traditions of Kali.

Three pages of "The Filipino Martial Arts as taught by Dan Inosanto" are devoted to Juanito Lacoste.

This biographical sketch of Juanito LaCoste is one of the ways that I display my commitment to keep this greatly revered Manong’s legacy alive. 

Additionally, I speak to my students about Manong Juanito Lacoste.

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