The Priest, Prince, Peasant & Pirate

Review of: The Immersion Labs 2018 – The Legacy of the Blade

By Joshua Baier

Huge personal thank you to Prof. Mahipal Lunia: without you, I would not have had this once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Brought to life by the revolutionary vision of Prof. Mahipal Lunia, The Legacy of the Blade marks the first of The Immersion Labs. This one-of-a-kind experiment was an eye-opening experience which, if properly absorbed, is more impactful than decades of training under one system. Coming from a background in firearms, I have sought out the way of the blade as a supplement to my overall training. My experience of the first Immersion Labs: The Legacy of the Blades was life changing, and has been very enlightening!

I have walked away with a unique filter with which to classify and examine some of the very best blade-fighting systems in the world. When I say “very best blade-fighting systems in the world,” I do not exaggerate. What Prof. Mahipal Lunia has done by working with and gathering such a stellar group is unheard of! Whether or not these names ring a bell, take note, for they are the real deal: Guro Ron Saturno, Guro Carlito Bonjoc, Grandmaster Emilio, Henri-Robert Vilaire Shinan, Marco Quarta, Robert Stines Jr., Guro Mark Mikita, Guro Burt Richardson, and Maija Soderholm. Many of the above-mentioned are recognized as the best in the world, and because many of them realize the deadly potential of their arts, they are extremely selective in whom they teach. Now are you starting to see how unique this one of a kind opportunity was?!

The mindset which help me digest and bring certain things into focus was the following: the priest, the prince, the peasant and the pirate. While some of these classifications may seem more moral than others, each has his own positives and negatives, each bringing a set of lessons to be gleaned. The priest is calm, collected, and passive to others, choosing only to display his deadly skill when required by utmost necessity. Although the prince tends towards prideful confidence, flaunting his fine-tuned skills through his demeanor and outward extravagance, a moral prince will also live by a strict code of honor which will manifest itself in all of his choices. Peasants know the hardships of daily survival and are intimate friends with resourceful innovativeness. Pirates are the outcasts, misfits, and criminals who find their temporary pleasures in cheating, stealing and thieving: beware the left hand displaying grandeur and charm, as the right hand picks your pockets clean. (Think of Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: while charming and charismatic, the pirate will always be looking out for himself and use whatever means necessary to ensure he comes out on top.) While some instructors may easily be classed into one of the groups, others may be categorized into several.

The fantastic opening to the first Immersion Labs could not have possibly gone any better! I can only think of three words to summarize: real world practical. Bob Stines started us off with a lot of positive energy and set the tone for the days to come. His seminar was generally focused on “blade on skin” contact: we covered specific scenarios common to mugging and robberies. Firstly, we studied having a knife pressed against your gut; the criminal is not stabbing you, instead, he is using the blade as a threat. After that we went over various techniques for a knife to your neck/throat: he emphasized how to avoid getting your neck cut while countering. Another scenario was having a knife pressed to the palm of your hand: say you give someone cash, and they respond by grabbing your hand and immediately hold a knife to your palm, demanding your wallet. This situation was not an ideal one by any means, as you are likely to get cut; however, there are methods to rolling your hands to prevent serious damage to your palm, while simultaneously disarming your foe. After getting some hands-on experience with Bob Stines’ disarming techniques, I was surprisingly astonished at how practical and effective the movements were. If/when I am in Englewood, Florida I will certainly be training more: I suggest you do the same!

Serrada Eskrima is a powerful Filipino martial art that is as deadly as it is mesmerizing: a true warrior’s art which demands humility due to its fatality. Forged from the threat of imminent battle, this system is an extremely unique art within the FMA family, focusing on the creative weapon combo of Espada y Daga. Guro Ron Saturno and Guro Carlito Bonjoc graced us with their vast knowledge of this treasure. Guro Ron, in all his wisdom, has been able to remove all excess to access the true core; rather than focusing on a multi-step complex answer to an oncoming threat, a simple movement is easy to use effectively in real-world situations. This makes for a streamlined system that is basic and simple, granting one the ability to respond to a threat with confident, violent action. He seems to move faster than lightning: the efficiency and smoothness of his conscious body control and the removal of all unnecessary movement is what gives Ron his edge. Mahipal put it very well: “There is a vast difference between being quick, and being fast.” Guro Ron Saturno owes this rare gem to his mentor and friend Grandmaster Angel Cabales: Guro Ron is the fifth master of only a mere sixteen who trained with Angel Cabales. Many martial arts attempt to scratch the surface of what it means to understand space and position in order to stay out of your opponent’s range while staying within range for you to strike; unfortunately, most fall short. Espada y Daga is a magnificent weapon combination that forces one to focus on your core, granting you control over fluid and rapid movement. This allows one to easily transition in and out of range, for easy dodging and of your opponent’s attacks. Once one grasps the simplicity of the counter, the beauty of Serrada Eskrima begins to show itself in all its glory! Guro Carlito Bonjoc truly dropped my mouth when he then showed how, with one small step-- that’s it: just a step, nothing else-- you go from blocking to essentially beheading your foe. This deceptive nature to the space and positioning of your body was truly mind-opening for me, and I will never look at my surroundings the same again. Due to the simplistic and purposeful nature of his actions, I can honestly say Guro Ron Saturno truly had an everlasting impact on me. This simplicity of action can be applied to so many different areas in life, and for that I am eternally in his debt. Thank you, Ron!

As quite the surprise, Grandmaster Emilio, the ONLY current living grand master of his art, was gracious enough to share with the world the cherished secrets that are only known to a handful of people worldwide. He undoubtedly was one of the most humble and happy individuals to be around: I truly enjoyed the short conversation I had with him. Any doubts one might have entertained as to his power and adeptness were instantaneously dispelled the moment he took the stage. He is one of the most selective teachers, as he truly respects his own art: at this time, he only has three students. A true testimony to the unquestionable reality of his art are his private students, two of whom are already dedicated masters and teachers in their own arts. We all owe Grandmaster Emilio a massive debt of gratitude for allowing this art to be saved for future generations to come, and not lost to history.

While coming from a history rooted in potato farming, Marco Quarta revealed the deep veneration for honor and tradition, fitting of royalty. The Italian martial arts are so very unique in the world of battle and self-defense: the blade sizes vary greatly from two-handed longswords, to Italian daggers (which aren’t all that small), to folding stilettos. These traditional arts are fiercely protected and tend to only be passed down to family members and very select privileged individuals. Part of this is due to the idea that surprising your enemy is always better than an outright competition of skill. Many of these valued techniques are extremely well-documented in 14th century manuscripts and are currently being researched and studied by Marco Quarta and his team. My personal experience with Marco was eye-opening to say the least. Within 10-15 minutes of some one-on-one training with him, he was able to instill in me insights that have forever changed the way I view space, position, intent, and intensity of action. I am enthralled with the “hugging” martial art and will certainly be seeking out many more private lessons in the future. No matter the cost, instruction in this one-of-a-kind system is an absolute must.

Henri Robert Vilaire Shinan, presenting Aiki Jujutsu, was in another league of his own: his ability to convey such precise skill in such a short time-frame is a testimony to the mastery he has of his art. Very similar to Guro Ron Santuro, Grand Master Henri Robert Vilaire only gives you the core techniques, thereby removing all the unnecessary movement. This makes his art one of the cleanest and most efficient blade systems I’ve ever witnessed: love at first sight, if I might be so bold! His seminar was unquestionably one of my favorites. One aspect I found especially fascinating was Henri’s explanation of the traditional Japanese weapons, and how they are used. The way one manipulates the weapon (or weapons) is the same: it does not matter if you have a full sized two-handed sword (katana), a Japanese knife (tanto), or two. Many systems discuss the concept of breaking your opponent’s balance, with some making this a top priority. Henri proved how one can manipulate his adversary’s structure with ease-- but rather than using his body, he uses his blade. This creates a deadly system when powered with intent. The movie The Last Samurai would be a great modern cultural reference for this very unique style.

The art of lost heads! All true martial arts have their foundational root built upon the absolute worst kind of warfare: melee combat. Unfortunately, most modern martial arts have been neutered post-WW2 to such an extent that they are now closer to sports than their gruesome origins. FMA finds itself displayed in modern culture in the Bourne movies (The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum, and The Bourne Legacy); and others such as The Hunted; The Book of Eli; James Bond: Quantum of Solace, etc... Unfortunately, most of these examples are more one on one fighting instead of the melee/group warfare that can been seen in Braveheart. While most traditional arts start with open hand and progress to weapon training; FMA is much more real-world practical. This is born out of the need for all hands on deck when your local village is being attacked: only an idiot goes into battle empty-handed. With this philosophy in mind, FMA training begins with placing a weapon in your hand and teaching you how to effectively use it. Some of my personal favorite ideas and quotes from Guro Mark Mikita that really hit home for me: “By definition, enough actually is enough,” and, “True martial arts mastery is not about physical attributes you will gain and lose, it’s about mastery of distance, time, and position,” and, last but not least, “Real martial arts are not about who is better, it's about who is left. This notion of I’m the best in the world is sort of a child’s fantasy.”

Guro Burton Richardson’s seminar was an absolute pleasure to attend, and for me personally was one of the most valued. I have always been a huge fan of history: ever since I was very little my answer to my favorite things to do was learn history and work on the cars with dad. Guro Burton was kind enough to impart to us the treasured history and absolute insane amount of information that tends to be held secret or lost from generation to generation. His research has lead him all over the world, where he was able to get first-hand experience in a wide variety of FMA cultures. He shared with us the origins and detailed past of many weapons including the Kris and karambit. Later on, he spent some time on some theories which I found extremely practical and useful: 1) One must distinguish the difference between the spectacle vs the functional in any martial art system. This second point hit home for me, and I have made the conscious decision to introduce it into my own life: 2) Burton’s philosophy: “secret to success: PRACTICE CORRECTLY and CONSISTENTLY over TIME.” - My personal twist/interpretation: Practice (train); Consistently (daily); Correctly (with proper form); Purpose (intent). It doesn’t take much: with only 20-30 minutes of daily, intense focus on proper technique, you will see massive improvement! I owe Guro Burton Richardson a big personal thank you for instilling in me such an inspiring philosophy to live by!

The art of deception is an art that many overlook and few appreciate. Maija Soderholm, being personally trained by Sonny Umpad, grasps the importance of getting into your enemy’s mind, and by doing so placing yourself ten steps ahead. The game of chess with swords brings about deadly consequences when you face the reality of a fight. Sonny pushed his limits, with the eternal goal of getting away with NOT being hit: this is another level of skill as many martial arts are comfortable trading blow for blow. Maija has truly dissected Sonny’s art of defense. She summarizes it as follows: “You only have a 1 in 4 chance in a fight: win/win, win/lose, lose/win, lose/lose, - win/win means we both walk away, and if we don’t, 1 in 3 chance to win.” This is what makes real-world battle so consequential, and why edge weapons are so dangerous. The art of deceiving your enemy, minimizing your chances of getting struck while maximizing your advantage, is not an easy art to understand, and, during the seminar, it felt like there was far too much information to process.That being said, once we got the opportunity to practice with a partner and test out the theories, it was immediately apparent how practical this skill is. I was also lucky enough to have a discussion with Maija about the use of deception through angles and movement, but with a firearm in your hand instead of a edged weapon; this was an eye-opening discussion and led me to some very interesting thoughts that need to be tested rigorously!

Joining us from the “upside down world” of the dark and malevolent culture of the Mexican cartels, Ed Calderon bring with him his personal experience. Having encountered the nature of the cartels first-hand, Ed was able to share with us the art of organized crime originating in Mexico. From smuggling, to kidnaping, to folk cult culture, the criminal nature is evil and outright dark at times; yet if properly placed in context, lessons can be learned. Situational awareness is an absolute must: be prepared and do your research BEFORE traveling. Americans find themselves out-of-place when in other areas of the world, and due to this tend to be easy targets for the weathered criminal. From something as simple as the art of bribing, to the invaluable art of listening and learning for reconnaissance, to the common misjudgment of time: these out-of-the-box ideas are a true testament to the deceptive innovativeness of the criminal mind and nature of thinking.

Beware the study of the criminal: it is an alluring and charming path full of woe. Piper, one such “study of the criminal,” was born in Cape Town, South Africa. Mimicking how the criminals moved and stabbed, Lloyd De Jhong put on a show. The movement is culturally inspired, a mut of multiple systems crudely mashed together: from Zulu stick fighting; to siliat; to American boxing. The heart of Piper is deception and assassination: never show your blade; protect it with your body; aim for the left chest cavity and the left side of the neck; strike with fatal intent; quickly move on, and dispose of all evidence. In my opinion, Piper is not a martial art, and can be better summarized by a single word: hunting.

Simplicity is the goal. Simple is good. Simple is efficient. Simple is easy to remember under stress. Simple will keep you alive. The biggest take-away for me, after observing and absorbing these great masters at work, was the realization that true mastery is the removal of movement. Let that sink in. These guros do not rely upon complex martial arts. Instead, they boil down all the excess,and are left with the essence. This essence has taken many decades--if not generations-- to achieve. If I walk away with anything, it is the passion and desire for simplicity, efficiency and control of movement.

While he has vowed to be a man of peace, once pushed to his limits, the priest will strike ferociously. The prince thrives on grandeur, which can be observed by his weapon selection, his movements and attitude of life. The poor peasant survives another day by using whatever is at hand to defend himself and his family. The shadows and secrets, the lack of respect and over-the-top charm, the con-man and liar, the deception and darkness: this is what the pirate flourishes on and where he feels at home. How does one take the classes of the priest, the prince, the peasant and the pirate, and apply it to firearms? This question has been nagging at me and I will be dedicating a lot of time to dissecting this question . . . to be continued.

(Reproduced from