Giron, Leo

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Großmeister Leovigildo “Leo” Migel Giron

Giron Escrima (1911-2002)

Leovigildo "Leo" Migel Giron was born in Bayambang, a little barrio in the province of Pangasinan, Philippines, onAugust 20, 1911. He began his training in the Filipino arts because of the neighborhood children and bullies who tried to take advantage of him and others. Giron soon learned, however, that if he stood up to them and made one of them cry, the rest would run away and leave him alone.

In 1920, young Giron started his education in arnis escrima. Benito Junio was his first teacher, and was from a little barrio of Inerangan, town of Bayombang, province of Pangasinan, Philippines. Benito Junio was famous for his styles of larga mano (long hand weapon fighting) and fondo fuerte (fighting in a solid position).

From 1921 to 1926, Giron continued his training with Fructuso Junio, uncle to Bentio Junio. Fructuso Junio was from the barrio of Telbang, town of Bayombang, province of Pangasinan, Philippines. Fructuso Junio was well known for hismacabebe or the use of two weapons fighting. Fructuso was the first to share with Giron the importance of distinguishing between the old style (cada-anan) and new style (cabaroan) of the Filipino fighting arts.

On October 29, 1926, at the age of 15, and with only $3.75 in his pocket, Giron set sail on the USS President Lincoln  for America. By the time the ship arrived in California, Giron had only 25 cents left in his pocket. One of his town mates brought Giron to the Star Hotel on El Dorado Street in Stockton, California, where the rooms were 50 cents a night and $3.50 per week. Luckily for Giron, a farmer from Terminus Island needed a few boys to harvest celery. Although the pay was normally 35 cents an hour, because of Giron's age, he only received 17.5 cents an hour. This way of life was typical for most Filipinos who came to America.

Young Giron in Stockton, California in the 1930's

In 1920, Giron met a man by the name of Flaviano Verguara. Verguara was from the town of Santa Cruz in Ilocos Sur Luzon, Philippines. Vergara was the top student of Dalmacio Bergonia who defeated the great champion, Santiago Toledo. Vergara and Giron started their training in the deep in the prune orchards of Meridian California, from 1929 to1932. Vergara and Giron met again directly after the outbreak of World War II. Their lives would cross for the last time in October 1942, when Giron was shipped out to Fort Ord, California. Every spare minute, Vergara and Giron would train, until Giron was shipped out in January, 1943. Vergara was a master in the Bergonia style and very proficient in estilo elastico (rubber band style). Giron had said that Vergara had superhuman abilities. Vergara influenced Giron themost out of all his teachers with his understanding of the relationships between the cada-anan (old style) and cabaroan (new style) of arnis escrima. Vergara was also the teacher who gave Giron the Abanico del Maestro (The Fan of the Master).

GME Leo M. Giron and GM Tony Somera with the Abanico del Maestro

During the outbreak of World War II, Giron was assigned to General Douglas MacArthur's group of secret commandos. During his secret missions in the Philippines, Giron was assigned to a sergeant from the Philippine army by the name of Benigno Ramos. Ramos was from Kongkong, a town of Bayonbang, province of Nueva Vizcaya. Ramos was also an expert in arnis escrima, and fine-tuned Giron's combat skills during combat encounters. Giron and Ramos trained and fought in the jungles of the Philippines for over a year under the most extreme conditions of juingle warfare.Sergeant Leo M. Giron, United States Army, 978th Signal, 1945

From 1956 to 1961 Giron trained with another master escrimador. His name was Julian Bundoc from the barrio of Carangay, town of Bayonbang, province of Pangasinan, Luzon, Philippines. Julian Bundoc was cousin to Benito Junio. Julian Bundoc and Giron played more of the combative larga mano and worked on conditioning the body. Julian Bundoc was also a master of hilot, or massage.During his duty during world War II, Grand Master Giron was awarded a Bronze Star medal and many moreaccommodations. In 1968, Leo Giron opened his first licensed Bahala Na Club in Tracy , California where Giron and his wife, Alberta, resided. Giron was motivated after he heard on the news that a man in Chicago killed eight student nurses, and some of the nurses were Filipina. In 1970, Leo and wife, Alberta moved to Stockton, and so did Giron's Bahala Na Club. Leo Giron teaching at his first club in Tracy, California, 1968 In early 1970, during a wedding of a daughter of a local Filipino family, Mrs. Mary Inosanto (Daniel Inosanto's mother) approached Leo Giron to inquire about Giron's teaching escrima. Giron, being a quiet and humble man, listened to Mary tell how Daniel was looking for someone to teach him the "real escrima," meaning the combative style, or estilo matador. Mrs. Inosanto was a practicing member of Bahala Na Martial Arts.

Giron's first reply was that he knew of no one. Mary would not take no for an answer, and further replied, "Leo, because of your service in the military during World War II, and the jungle warfare you had to endure, I know you must have the real escrima. Mrs. Inosanto was very persistent, and finally Giron gave in and said, "I think I may know of someone who can help you." Giron was thinking of someone else at the time -- another escrimador from Santa Catalina Ilocos Sur, Philippines, named Joe Pacapaco. That night after the wedding, Mary Inosanto called Dan to inform him of her discovery. That same night, Dan called Manong Leo and informed him that he would be driving up the next day to talk, and hopefully train with Giron. The next day, Dan showed up with a magazine writer and photographer. They talked, and Giron performed a few techniques with Dan. Dan found what he was looking for. After that meeting, Dan and Manong Leo became very close friends, and as Dan has said many times, "Manong Leo is like a second father to me."

Following their meeting in the summer of 1970, Dan traveled to Stockton many times, and during the Giron's vacation, they would travel to Los Angeles to visit Family. During their visits, Dan along with Richard Bustillo and Ted Lucaylucay would pick Manong Leo up and bring him to their academy in Carson to train. Several years later in December of 1973,Dan was the first student to graduate from the Grion system. To this Day, Dan and wife, Paula, and Manong Leo remain very close and still communicate. After the first graduation, Grand Master Giron and Guro Dan, December 1973 In 1979, after many years of preparation, the first official meeting of the Bahala Na Marital Arts Association was called to order. The Association is governed by a Constitution and a set of By Laws. Our rule is by majority, and our belief is in the practice of social or economic equality for all the members of the Association. The Association is also dedicated to perpetuate and promote the art of arnis escrima, along with the cluture and history of the Philippines, as taught by Grand Master Giron.

Because of Grand Master Giron's ability to structure the art, and the Association he founded, his master plan is to have his art continue, so the art will live on through all of us forever. On October 3, 1992, Grand Master Leo M. Giron promoted Tony Somera to the rank of Master. Tony Somera is the only practitioner of the Giron arnis escrima system to ever be awarded the title of master. Once again, at that time, Grand Master Giron was looking toward the future of his Giron arnis escrima system, and the Bahala Na Martial Arts Association, to ensure that his art would continue to exist, and that his work would live on and grow. Given Grand Master Giron's health and condition, to ensure that the association would experience little or no transition upon his passing and would grow in the direction he began during his tenure, on December 3, 1992, he promoted Master Tony Somera to the rank and responsibility of Grand Master of the Bahala Na Martial Arts Association. Grand Master Emeritus Leo M. Giron and Grand Master Tony Somera It is the wish of all Bahala Na Martial Arts Association members to continue to carry on in the spirit of Grand Master Emeritus Leo M. Giron. We will share our art, culture and rich Filipino history with all who would like to learn. The structure and teaching curriculum of the Giron arnis escrima system will continue to live and grow through all of us.Grand Master Tony Somera is currently teaching Giron arnis escrima in Stockton, California, and also conducts seminars throughout the United States and Europe.