Leo Giron 

Leo Giron was born in 1911 in the town of Bayambang, province of Pangasinan, Philippines.

During his youth, he was exposed to a variety of local and regional arnis and escrima styles because Pangasinan was a hotbed of activity.

By the end of World War I, escrima challenges were common in the region.

The famous Santiago Toledo was the reigning champion of the area at that time.

After many years, through age and declining activity, Toledo’s reign gave way to Dalmacio Bergonia.

Bergonia became famous for the Macabebe or double-stick style, which is also known as sinawali.

Escrima Beginnings

Leo Giron was 13 years old when he started to learn from Benito Junio.

His interest in the art was sparked by mean, nasty kids that threw rocks at him and those with him when they walked from the barrio to town for school.

Benito Junio and his students trained under a mango tree close to Giron’s house. In fact, the tree belonged to the Giron family. Giron would occasionally sneak out and watch.

One day he decided to play around with some other kids.

Manong Benito saw the kids playing and he decided to include them in a junior class. Occasionally, the junior class was supervised by Julian Bundoc – Giron’s cousin and a top-notch student of Manong Benito.

Leo Giron finished the cabaroan style in 1926.

His Teachers - The Fantastic Five

As you already know, Giron’s first teacher was Benito Junio. From him, Leo Giron learned a mixture of cabaroan and cada-anan or the new and old styles of Luzon.

His second teacher was Fructuso Junio. Fructuso was the one that drew a line between which is an old style and which is a new style. Leo Giron believed Fructuso was the national champion in a tournament in 1957 when he was already old.

His next teacher was Julian Bundoc. Julian was one of the top students of Manong Benito. His training with Julian was interrupted when Julian and his brother went to Hawaii, but resumed two years later when the two met up again the United States.

Julian was also a hilot man. He was known as a healer; specifically as a gifted massage man who successfully helped many people.

Giron’s fourth teacher was Flaviano Vergara. While Flaviano was originally from the town of Santa Cruz, in the Philippines, Leo Giron met him in 1929 when they went to pick prunes in Meridian, California.

Many people wanted to learn from Flaviano, but Giron was the only one that Flaviano wanted to teach. Leo Giron felt that was due to his peaceful demeanor. Flaviano would take Giron deep into the orchard when teaching him because he didn’t want anyone around to try to copy what he was teaching him. If they discovered they were being watched, they’d stop training and go home.

Flaviano learned his escrima from Dalmacio Bergonia. Bergonia was from the town of Aparri, province of Cagayan. He learned from different seafaring people because his father was a bangka chief. A bangka is a sailboat that transports cargo from one boat to another. Thanks to his father, Dalmacio learned from different people that practiced different styles of escrima.

Giron’s fifth and final teacher was Sergeant Beningo Ramos. He was a sergeant in the same bolo unit that Leo Giron served in during World War II. Ramos was actually Giron’s orderly, which was very unusual, but was due to the fact that Giron was part of the United States Army.

Sergeant Ramos had seen Giron get entangled with a Japanese samurai sword one night and nearly get killed because the front face of his fatigue jacket was ripped. The following morning when they were resting from the engagement Sergeant Ramos told Giron that he had seen him move last night and while he could tell that Giron had studied a little escrima he felt that something was missing from his actions. Sergeant Ramos felt that Giron lacked sufficient aggressiveness.

Sergeant Ramos wanted Giron to practice with him so he would develop his “nerve” to face off against another weapon. Leo Giron didn’t feel he needed the practice so he initially resisted. But after some convincing, Giron volunteered to practice with him.

Sergeant Ramos made Giron practice with a bolo knife. Leo Giron was afraid he might make a mistake and cut Ramos. Ramos assured Giron that he would not cut him. In fact, he told Giron that if he ever touched him he would give him his sergeant’s pay for an entire month. Leo Giron was then worried about Sergeant Ramos making a mistake and hitting him by accident. Ramos brushed Giron’s worry aside by telling him that he had been teaching escrima for 15 years and, in fact, earned his living from teaching. He also told him that if he didn’t want to touch him, then he would not touch him. So, they practiced and practiced. Giron confessed that his stomach quivered when the bolo knife passed by his stomach about one inch away.

When Leo Giron was asked if he ever received an entire month of sergeant’s pay from Ramos he replied, “No, because I never touched him. You cannot touch him.” Giron shared that Ramos was pretty slick and pretty fast. And it didn’t hurt that he had an extra-long knife and was always far away.

World War II - The First Encounter

Leo Giron served his country during World War II as a member of the 2nd Filipino infantry that was attached to the United States Army’s 978th Signal outfit.

During the outbreak of World War II, Filipinos rushed to join the military to fight for their new country – the United States of America. The turnout of Filipinos was so great that the first Filipino infantry would grow to the strength of just over 12,000 men. This would be so overwhelming that they would need to form the second Filipino infantry.

Out of these 12,000 men, less than 1,000 were selected to become secret commandos that would go behind enemy lines to be the eyes and ears of General Douglas MacArthur. Those men were dropped off by submarine nearly one year before any American soldier landed on Philippine soil. These commandos went deep behind enemy lines and encountered the Japanese in many hand-to-hand or, more aptly defined, weapon-to-weapon engagements.

Fortunately, the commandos were trained in hand-to-hand combat. Their specialty was a bladed weapon called the bolo. They spent many hours, days, and weeks learning the deadly martial art of their forefathers.

Giron’s unit was taken to the Philippines by submarine. They landed on a small beach on the northern tip of Luzon on August 28, 1944. Not long after, Giron’s unit encountered a Japanese platoon. Giron’s unit attacked the Japanese killing 23. The rest of the Japanese platoon ran away.

World War II - Other Encounters

One Giron encounter saw his adversary swing his sword at him and he swung his bolo at the Japanese soldier. Neither caught the other. As the Japanese solider swung his second blow, Giron tried unsuccessfully to catch him again. Giron recounted that Sergeant Ramos saw that he was getting in trouble so Ramos pushed him out of the way.

The Japanese solider swung at Ramos. Ramos not only ducked the blow, he landed a combat-ending number two strike to the side of the neck.

It was this encounter that prompted Ramos to mention to Giron that he needed to practice more with the bolo knife instead of relying on the stick for his training.

Another encounter involved a big bonsai charge that occurred on a muddy trail with drizzle falling. Given the frenzied nature of the Japanese charge and their poorer movement because they weren’t used to the mud, Sergeant Ramos told Giron that he didn’t need to block. He instructed Giron to simply dodge and cut.

But the chaos of the bonsai charge combined with multiple opponents prevented Giron from following his Sergeant’s advice. First, a bayonet came at him. It cut him on the heel of his left palm. He then blocked a samurai sword that was coming down on him. He cut the hip of a Japanese solider to his left. He struck a number two hit to the triceps of the samurai sword man. As another Japanese soldier attacked, Giron executed an inside block and hit him in the stomach. To Giron’s surprise, the blow did not cut the soldier because he was wearing a wide leather belt.

A third encounter involved firearms. Giron was clearing a jungle trail when suddenly two Japanese soldiers appeared as he opened the path. They prepared to point their rifles at him. Fortunately, he was able to pull his .45 caliber pistol first. He fired three times. He wounded one and killed the other.

Of all the encounters, and there were more, the bonsai charges were the worst. The noise was incredible; as the “calm before the encounter” was shattered by every Japanese soldier yelling. Many bonsai charges occurred at night so nobody dared to fire their rifles for fear of hitting their own men. The charging Japanese had their rifles pointing straight ahead to position their bayonets for attack. So, the Filipino soldiers weren’t concerned with blocking. Their tactic of choice was to evade and chop, chop, chop! Once the bonsai charge began, there was no stopping! The Filipino soldiers kept swinging because there was always something to cut.

Intelligence Gathering

Giron and a Filipino lieutenant from a guerrilla outfit were sent to observe and report on Japanese forces when the American headquarters received information that the Japanese were concentrating on Caraballo mountain - the site of Balete Pass.

Headquarters had been told that the entire Japanese army was already entrenched in Caraballo mountain. Since that didn’t seem likely because the “math” wasn’t adding up, Giron was sent to observe and provide more accurate information.

What Giron observed, that others before had not, was that as one Japanese soldier company moved toward the mountain on one side of the valley, another company moved away on the opposite side of the valley.

So, instead of all the Japanese soldiers going to the mountain, actually the number of forces concentrated on the mountain was only half of what was reported because of the movement on the opposite side of the valley.

When Giron reported this accurate intelligence to the American headquarters, they responded right away by first bombarding the place and then by sending in ground forces.

Bronze Star

All the members of a secret mission that Giron had been a part of were decorated in the camp in the headquarters while still in the Philippines.

Giron, however, was not in camp at that time because he had yet to return from his intelligence gathering mission. By the time her returned, the ceremony had concluded and Bronze Stars had been awarded to everyone except Giron.

Leo Giron didn’t get his Bronze Star until he was already discharged from the Army.

Unbefitting the true Filipino-American hero that he was, Giron received his Bronze Star in the mail.

And he received it only after writing to headquarters in Washington, D. C. claiming his award and identifying myself as Technical Sergeant Leovigildo Giron, a member of the 978th Signal Service Company provisional.

Respite & Return

After the brutal and chaotic events of his service in World War II, Leo Giron took a break from martial arts.

During this two-decade period, he focused on his family and his work. And, occasionally he would enjoy a fishing retreat.

In 1966, however, a tragic event prompted Giron to begin thinking about martial arts again.

That event was the brutal killing of eight nursing students – most of them Filipina – in Chicago. One knife-wielding man killed all eight of the students.

By all accounts, not one attempted to fight back.

Giron felt that a lack of knowledge and training in the arts of their own culture was responsible for the Filipinas inaction.

His feelings led him to reconsider the distinctions that he had made between the martial arts in war and in peace.

So, in 1968, Grandmaster Giron opened his first escrima club – the Bahala Na Filipino Martial Arts Academy – in Tracy, California.

That club later relocated to Stockton, California.

The Bahala Na Martial Arts Club

Grandmaster Giron wanted his organization to be governed by a constitution and by-laws.

He wanted a democratic body of government within his club.

His experience and leadership in the Legionarios del Trabajo – a fraternal order – set the standard and laid the foundation for his desires to become reality.

After years of preparation, the first official meeting of the Bahala Na Martial Arts Club was called to order in 1979.

To this day, the Bahala Na Martial Arts Club continues its dedication to the perpetuation and promotion of the art of escrima and culture of the Philippines, as taught by Grandmaster Giron.

Leo Giron - First Two "Appearances"

The first appearance of Grandmaster Giron in a book was in 1980 when Dan Inosanto, one of Giron’s early students, published, The Filipino Martial Arts as taught by Dan Inosanto.

Inosanto’s book was the culmination of his quest to learn about one of the hidden treasures of his heritage – the low-profile existence of an elite number of Filipino-Americans who were masters in the fighting arts of the Philippines.

Inosanto met, observed and interviewed these masters.

His groundbreaking research revealed the identities and styles of Filipino masters and their fighting arts to the outside world, in some cases for the first time.

Grandmaster Giron was one of the six masters to receive a significant write-up.

The others were Grandmasters Angel Cabales, Regino Ellustrisimo, John LaCoste, Ben Largusa, and Floro Villabrille.  

Giron’s second appearance in a book came in 1997.

This is when Mark Wiley’s book, Filipino Martial Culture, was published.

It featured some history, weapons, systems and masters of the Filipino martial arts in the United States and the Philippines.

Grandmaster Giron was one of the eighteen masters to have an entire chapter of the book dedicated to him and his art – Giron Arnis Escrima.

Parting Shot

It has been written that a popular saying of Grandmaster Giron was, “Peace is not without conflict. It is the ability to cope with conflict.”

A thorough study of the arnis escrima system created by Grandmaster Leo Giron would surely give you the ability to cope with conflict.

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