Ted Lucaylucay: His Final Interview

Interview conducted by Steve Charlson

Ted Lucaylucay was not recognized for his bombastic claims of bravado. Nor was he one to beat his chest to let everyone know how well he could fight. Pure and simple, he was one of the finest, most-respected and well-liked martial artist who ever lived.

Inside Kung-Fu: How long have you been involved in the martial arts?

Ted Lucaylucay: 31-to-33 years.

IKF: What martial arts have you studied?

TL: I started out first in judo. A friend of mine introduced me to the art of judo when I arrived in the States. I was born and raised in Hawaii until I was 13. I didn’t get an official system but studied several different styles. My first karate style was a Hawaiian karate style, I spent a lot of years with that. Then I started experimenting and trying other styles like shitoryu and shorinryu. Then my dad and I started kajukempo with Tony Ramos. When I first came to the states my dad and I helped build a gym in Los Angeles where we trained kajukempo. I stopped for a while and when I started back up I was in praying mantis, then I went to Dan Inosanto’s backyard and that’s when I first started JKD and escrima. I was brought in because of the escrima. My dad knew Richard Bustillo who got me into the backyard sessions. I got in to learn escrima but I really wanted to take jeet kune do first. It was pretty good because I learned to like both of them. It use to be after the JKD class, before everyone would close out, Dan Inosanto would ask those of you who wanted to stay for escrima can do so, and everybody would leave but maybe about three, four, maybe five if we’re lucky. But the escrima class in those days was so brand new nobody ever knew what it was. As it went further down the road, then I got involved in the Filipino arts more. I got three main systems that I studied: serada style by Angel Cabales, largo mano style systems from Leo Giron and Villabralle/kali style from Ben Largusa. This was also my dad’s system that he had learned as a kid from the grandmaster Villabralle. Also under his belt, he had been taught by others a knife fighting system which I think helped him in his boxing years later. My grandfather was a champion boxer on the islands and he didn’t want my dad to fight. As my dad got older and, he stopped the escrima training because, as a kid, everybody was doing basketball or whatever, and he just got tired of doing escrima and kali by himself, which is natural for most kids. My grandfather stopped him from training with grandmaster Villabralle because he was such a ‘hot head,’ but eventually he continued boxing in spite of my grandparents.

IKF: Your grandfather was a grandmaster?

TL: He was known as a boxer in the Hawaiian Islands. When he was in the Philippines he was also known for a kicking art known as sikeran. I never saw any evidence of the sikeran but the boxing part I used to see regularly. My dad used to play around with my grandmother. He would do a kick to her leg and take off running. She would chase him with a frying pan. But I would say he was more of a boxer that’s why he helped the immigrants come on over from the Philippines to settle in the main island. He was one of those who was prominent and they made money in those days from the boxing but he never really kept any because he helped immigrants come over and get settled. That is how grandmaster Villabralle came to Hawaii. But before grandmaster Villabralle there was some Filipino men who would train my father. Some of them were fishermen, some were long shoremen, some were gardeners , and all of these men were escrimadors. They used to be at my grandparent’s house and they would come drop off vegetables, fish, and whatever. What I did not understand was that my grandparents had been instrumental in bringing them in and getting them settled. Like all of the old customs they would give back something. So along with giving back, they would teach my father and since he was my grandfather’s only child, he was one of the chosen ones to be part of the Federation. I pictured him as a little boy in the Federation movement learning from the fishermen and long shoremen escrimadors as escrima was a part of life. They gave back by teaching to my grandfather’s son and my father taught me.

IKF: Your father was closeto Flora Villabralle?

TL: Yes, grandmaster Villabralle is fro mthe Island of Vitayan which is where my grandfather is from. The Island of Vitayan is in the Visayan Islands. Our family helped him get settled, and that’ how they came close. He became my dad’s godfather and later on he trained him. My father taught me boxing when I was a kid but I did not like it. No matter who tried to teach me that, I didn’t like boxing, but it was years later that I went back to pick up the lessons that they were trying to give me.

IKF: When did you start training stick work with him?

TL: The stick work was in my mind from the knife training and escrima we did. He used to practice on me so I learned by being a dummy so to speak, but I really didn’t get involved until after we started training with Dan Inosanto. After we started training with Dan, the escrima and the kali started coming back to him. While I was training with Dan and the escrimadors, my father would show me things and I would take off with him. It all came back to him after a while, so that when he started getting active again, and teaching, he opened up a lot more.

IKF: He had his own studio?

TL: He had a rented studio and he trained his family first, whether it was blood related or associative.

IKF: Why is your dad known as the father of panantucan and pananjacman?

TL: He was coined that because nobody was really teaching those arts. In the old days at the Torrance Philippine Kali Academy, Dan used to bring in instructors but Dad used to come in and teach the boxing exercises and rekate them to the knife. Through his contribution, he was given this title. At the Philippine Kali Academy, the art was given birth through my dad.

IKF: Was your dad the one who was responsible for getting the better grandmasters like Angel Cabales?

TL: No. He was actually more responsible for bringing in the Villabralle groups. At that time they were the only group that was known as kali practitioners. However, it wasn’t even out in the open, it was escrima and arnis that was known. The only group that was known for kali was the Villabralle school. But as it down to the Torrance Academy, it became generic and it improved the other systems who were using arnis on escrima. Today you will see all three: kali, escrima and arnis which are basically in the same family. So, it was good because all of the bickering over the name, what is kali?, what is arnis?, what is escrima?, slowed down a bit. It was a big thing then. The only real kali school at that time was the Villabralle in Hawaii, Largusa kali in San Francisco and Dan Inosanto’s school. Everyone else was studying escrima and arnis.

IKF: What was it like training at the time, can you remember back in those days?

TL: It was an experience, you know. It was an exciting time because everything was brand new then. Bruce Lee had just passed away recently, so from the backyard training, Dan and Richard opened up the Torrance Philipine Kali Academy, a year after Bruce died. It was incredible, because martial arts was influenced by Bruce Lee and jeet kune do so the enrollment was huge. There were people from all walks of life from all over the country. You talk about a waiting list, there was a waiting list that was like, I can give you an example. After they opened up the other half of the school, the enrollment was like 30 people for each class each night and so they had like five classes or so, with 30 people. I used to work the phone and the desk and everything and had hundreds and hundreds of people coming in by themselves. People coming in with their families and leaving their place of residence, from America as well as from other countries. They would come in to be a part of the kali academy because they wanted the JKD training. It was great because it was all kinds of different people and you found huge enrollments starting out. However, you would train for a few months, training with no contact but once contact started, “boom”, maybe half would drop out. But there was no problem because you had a waiting list and class filled up right away. And so it was just phenomenal at how many people enrolled and how many more were waiting. It was the wish of every businessman at the time. But being brand new too, it was also exciting because you had people from all the different styles come in from first degree black belt to fourth, fifth, sixth. And it looks good on paper, but when they got on the floor and started to bang it was amazing to see, especially at that time, before the kickboxing, how much inefficiency was demonstrated on the floor. With all their previous training and knowledge these people with all their belts would be destroyed by simple jabs, crosses and hooks and this would break the mystique. JKD was very simple and these guys with all their experience in the arts had their self esteem broken down. Twenty years ago it was so unique. It was brand new and unique. We would be sparring looking at high level martial artist being dropped to the floor like flies. Dan and I were drumming the conga. I was always assisting him with teaching all the beginners. Dan would tell me, “Hey, take a look on the floor. That’s so and so, the tenth degree from so and so system.” They would be sparring with a senior JKD student or someone who had been there six months. It was so funny to see them get shattered to pieces by the six-month student. Again it was easier in those days because it was 20 years ago and people were not as knowledgeable as they are now. That’s why it was exciting because it was brand new, it pulled down the mystery, the mystique about all of the belts and all the styles. It was neat to see how JKD in the pioneering stage was very superior in those days, It was also, I guess, a privilege to study JKD. There was a lot of heavy sparring and a lot of heavy “banging”. That was the major point at that time to make contact to let your opponent know what we were doing was real. In those days most people didn’t expect that sort of thing, even your hardened martial artist. There was a lot of heavy sparring but it was also a lot of camaraderie. It was nice because the JKD families were close together at that time.

IKF: Who were some of the prominent people you trained with at that time?

TL: Not all of them were well-known because much older guys have been and done their thing, like Moses Torrez, Chris Kent, of course, is teaching. Richard Lee, a Korean guy, he is an engineer. Most of the people have gone and they are not really active in the martial arts scene anymore. Jeff Imada is in the movies choreographing fights for stunt people. A lot of them I can’t remember their names anymore. Steve Martinez is another one. He was a friend of Cliff Stewart. Greg Shannon is another one who taught me how to train with the metronome on the heavy bag. Joe Poe had long legs and long hands. He was like a spider, he moved so quick and he would hit you out of nowhere, you know? The other guys aren’t here anymore, they have gone their way. But at the same time, like I said, there was good camaraderie there, it was great.

IKF: When did you leave the Torrance Academy?

TL: In 1975 I left officially to open up a studio in San Diego. I left the Academy but I went back to visit and train.

IKF: Then you got your certification?

TL: Yes. Jerry Poteet and I were the first to graduate from the academy under Dan Inosanto and grandmaster Leo Giron. It was a privileged moment for us.

IKF: You got an opportunity to work personally with Angel Cabales and grandmaster Leo Giron.

TL: Yes. It was a blessing in disguise. Grandmaster Cabales was in his 60’s. He was shorter than I was but he was like a neverending source of energy. And in serrada, he was very quick with the stick and the empty hand. This short Filipino guy would be just continuously going with a lot of energy and at his own pace. He would be working out and have a cigarette in his mouth at the same time. He was a nice man and he shared a whole lot and I will always have a never ending gratitude towards him and his instructors for helping us. We learned the old way and we spent a lot of hours working on what they showed us. It wasn’t just given to us for a certificate and I thank them all for that. Grandmaster Giron taught us the long stick system; he shared a whole lot with us. He was always genuine, intellectual, articulate and very soft mannered. He was an older gentleman who was supposed to be ill yet he has still outlived the rest. Twenty years have gone by and he is still here. Then, of course, the kali group that are my dad’s family helped us a whole lot in those days. Everything was new and we got to learn from the masters themselves. Serrada was a blessing in disguise to our system because with serrada, you got exposed to the close range. With the kali it brought the concept of the long and short together so you could work inside and you could work outside. I enjoyed doing them all. I still do. But it was much later that I got to appreciate the training I had received as well as the development and awareness of the three different ranges. When the other styles came along, it was easy to pick them up because of the foundation of the three original styles we were taught. You could fit them in with anything else.

IKF: Why did you choose to stay in the background for the last 20 years?

TL: Well, number one I was never one to step into the limelight because I was a good follower. When I did get more public I just got saddened and disillusioned, and I think we can do our share to promote harmony and brotherhood and contribute a little part in this martial arts society.

IKF: What do you think of the present-day JKD controversy?

TL: I think people have too much time on their hands, as the saying goes. I believe in this: If there is a question as far as the combative aspect of JKD, take it to the middle of the floor, bring it to the gym, get in there and just do it. I guess that is what the JKD philosophy was all about. Let’s test the essentials and do away with all this make believe. Let’s find out the truth. That’s the real JKD, so we are not getting into all this hype about concepts or the original JKD. I think controversy sells. If this was like in other countries or if you had to survive in the streets of LA, New York or Chicago, you know people that walk the streets have no time for “BS”. So I think some JKD people today are just trying to sell their politics. The martial arts is no different than anything else. In my opinion it did not seem that the philosophy of the martial arts was being practiced. It was more than just hitting and “banging” and beating up on somebody. There is a whole new life associated with that, and it wasn’t being taught in that manner. But like the rest I enjoyed it in the beginning and learned new things but later on you get tired of that. There had to be something more to be offered. And later you find out what it is like more brotherhood and more harmony within the martial arts family. I just got disillusioned, sad, disappointed and maybe even angry. I hate to say angry but I guess I am still a bit angry. Of course, we can’t control how things have gone, but eventually you start to realize that you have got to face reality, so I’ve changed my views on things now. JKD in its truest sense is streamlining something for the individual. I think this would be a much better practice to present but I think there is a lot of “BS” going on today. There is not going to be much settling until the authentic people take the reins and just try to organize and come together since JKD has become and individualized segment of the arts. So now it’s speaking for itself. Already I have seen the trend go from “okay, you don’t have to do anything, you don’t have to use gis or t-shirts or salute or anything because all we want to do is fight. Now, you do see uniforms, you do see programs, schools and organizations. Like it or not JKD has become a style or system and it is part of the business world, it is not really changing a lot of blood, so there is always time for controversy now. It is just more verbal fighting and comparing going on then actual fight itself. That is what I mean by too much time on your hands.

IKF: What is the philosophy behind Temujin? What does that mean?

TL: Temujin is the name of our organization: Temujin Lucaylucay Kali/JKD. Temujin was the name of Gengis Khan, the Mongolian leader, and it was Temujin who became the great conqueror. I think the Chinese gave him the name Gengis Khan. As far as the philosophy, Temujin was the man who brought all the Mongolian tribes together. I remember talking about all the controversy earlier with all the different JKD factions now. They are all apart and yet they all come from the same family. Like the Mongolian tribes who were scattered living apart for so long and surviving, by stealing and robbing. Temujin come along and brings them all together and makes them into one great conquering nation. He was one of the great conquerors and developers. That’s what we are trying to do since there is bad vibes, politics and controversy going on. We like to use the concept of Temujin to bring all the JKD people together (those who want to come together; and learn how to live, change, share, and grow, with more togetherness and harmony). If primitive Mongolian tribes can do something like that, here we are suppose to be more civilized, educated people or nation, it would seem a little more easier for us. Our direction right now is to bring the people who want to get along together, not to create controversy among each other, and not getting involved in the nasty politics. These are the ones that are most prone to doing and enjoying what we want to do and pushing towards the same goal. And that is to get along.

IKF: What makes your organization any different from any other JKD organization that is “flying its flag?”

TL: Well, here agin I am going to say, if you want to say different that’s good, but I’m just going to say that our goal is to let people see the growth and maturity that we have. We are geared towards more professionalism. We still observe the basic courtesy and the basic ethics. Some organizations feel they don’t have to salute or give respect because they feel they are the best. We do have the basic courtesy. We want to show that we are polite and we observe other traditions and culture, because again JKD had a reputation for downing traditionalists. But not us because most of us come from a traditional system as well as train in an eclectic system. So we show the best of both worlds like yin and yang. We can’t live one without the other because you’ve got to have some foundation like raising a family or a nation, and yes, we want to let people know we have the ability to show it. Our motto is to show and do. The “show” is professionalism and courtesy as I was mentioning. And the “do” part is letting people know we can “do our stuff” with quality. Our direction is not to accumulate but to eliminate (this is the JKD philosophy). When we say eliminate we don’t mean against the traditional stuff. We don’t want to eliminate total respect for our tradition and culture because I myself love it. This is no good. For the fighting part we want to get as much quality in the few things. The things that are going to get you through the fight. What is going to be the proper one at the moment, whether it is a straight direct hit or a complicated one then you just go with it.

IKF: What is your teaching philosophy?

TL: My teaching philosophy is to lay a good foundation and then be open minded enough to build something on it. It’s like building a house. SO if you get a good foundation in a traditional martial art like some kung-fu, karate style or a boxing style, they all share the same principles in terms of balance, centerlines, attitudes, and that sort of thing. Now as far as the method, eventually an individual will go down and change methods such as karate or go to boxing or that or wing chun but I think that using JKD concept; if you are open minded you can see that. All of these principles intertwine. First of all, I think you need to get a good foundation no matter where you get it from and once you have that you can build upon it. You must have an open mind and be able to get along with people and you must be able to observe tradition as well as not limit your infinite growth potential. The fun part of learning is blending all the different systems to help you develop your own style. When I say your own style, your own style as an individual. I am not creating a style on my own, I don’t have one. I combine tradition and JKD concepts to streamline it. But my philosophy is to again be open minded, enjoy having fun at it and shoot always for quality.

IKF: In terms of legacy, is that what you are trying to pass on?

TL: Exactly. I want it to be known that we are a group that is easy to get along with instead of wasting time fighting among each other. So we are growing, we get along, and we develop good quality and hopefully that we always have a win-win situation.

This article was originally published in Inside Kung-Fu in October 1996.