As history recorded, the Americans came to the Philippines after learning of the presence of the Spanish Armada that had assembled at Manila Bay in apparent support of the beleaguered Spaniards reeling under the relentless offensive of the Filipinos. The US had just declared was against Spain on account of the sinking of the ship “Maine” off the coast of Havana in Cuba. Seeking revenge, a US squadron sailed into Manila Bay one summer morning of 1898. Spain whose global power was crumbling had sensed the helplessness of the situation as its local army was almost in total collapse. Fearful to surrender to the Filipinos and to save face, it offered to sell and cede the Philippines to the US, thus preempting what could have been a sweet victory for the natives. Naturally, the United States, to make sure it had a legal basis for its colonial design for the Filipinos agreed to purchase them and their country for a few thousand dollars under the treaty of Paris signed on April 11, 1898.
Soon after, the Americans under President William McKinley, invoking divine inspiration declared war against the Philippines. The Filipinos were eventually overpowered and subjugated through the superior firepower and technology of the Americans when it saw the surrender of General Emilio Aguinaldo at Palanan, Isabela in Northern Luzon in 1901. Once again the Philippines was dominated by a foreign country after having just freed itself from almost 400 years of Spanish rule. The Americans ruled the country for almost half a century until July 4, 1946, when it granted total independence. This was immediately after the end of World War II which saw the Japanese Army occupying the islands from 1942 to 1945.
The brothers (from eldest to youngest)- Florentino (Tinong), Eulogio (Yoling), Filemon (Momoy), Silvester (Eti), Tirso (Eso), Rufino (Pining), Andres (Dading)
At about the start of the American regime, the Canete siblings began their training in Eskrima. Brothers Florention and Eulogio Canete (later to become the principal organizer and president of Doce Pares) started their initial education from their father Gregorio and uncle Pedro Canete. Thereafter, joined by another brother Felimon, they trained with other well-known masters among them, Tenyente Piano Aranas, Goriong Tagalog, Juanso Takya, Juanso Takya, Andres Suares, Tito de goma and Cesario Aliason. But the Canete’s quest for more Eskrima knowledge brought them to meet the more famous eskrimadors at that time, Lorenzo Saavedra and his nephew Teodoro Saavedra at San Nicolas district in Cebu City where the Canete family moved from their original residence in the town of San Fernando, some thirty kilometers south of the city.
In 1920, the Canetes joined the Saavedras when the latter founded the Labangon Fencing Club, the first ever Eskrima organization in the Philippines. (The group used the word “fencing” because of the influence of the Americans who referred the art as such, is similar to the European sport or art of fighting with the use of saber, foil or epee. The American influence would later become more apparent when Doce Pares used and adopted more English words to identify and describe techniques or forms. During the founding of the two organizations, the Filipinos were proud to learn and be able to speak the English language. Because unlike the Spaniards which did not want the Filipinos to learn their language, the Americans encouraged the natives to learn and to speak English.
“Tatang Ensong” as Lorenzo was fondly called and Teodoro nicknamed “Doring” guided and helped the Canetes in their ardent desire to expand their understanding and knowledge by teaching them advanced techniques of Espada y Daga and close quarter style of fighting (corto). The close association and friendship of the Saavedras and the Canetes further strengthened even after the dissolution of the Labangon Fencing Club in 1931.
On January 11, 1932, the Canetes and the Saavedras together with the other well-known masters founded the Doce Pares Club. The founding of the organization was originally conceptualized by only twelve people but during its inauguration on January 21 of the same year, the membership rose to twenty-four. The name Doce Pares was taken and adopted in reference to the famous twelve bodyguards of Emperor Charlemagne of France (A.D. 768-814). These twelve people all top swordsmen were recorded in history to have fought and killed hundreds of enemies in battles. Doce Pares which means “twelve pairs” in Spanish was also meant to honor the twelve masters who founded the organization, and when the membership rose to twenty-four at the time of its inauguration, it indeed became more significantly fitting.
In the election of officers on that fateful day of January 11, Eulogion “Yoling” Canete was elected as President with Teodoro Saavedra as Vice President. Other officers were: Fortunato Penalosa (Secretay) Marcelo Verano, Diogracias Nadela, Felimon Canete, Federico Saavedra, Strong Tupas, Rodolfo Quijano, Pio Deiparine, Florentino Canete, Juanito Lauron and Magdaleno Cabasan. Composing the advisory board were Lorenzo Saavedra, Lawyer Cecilio dela Victoria, Margarito Revilles and Dr. Anastacio Deiparine. During the next 55 years, Eulogio was re-elected 55 more times as President and served the position until his death on June 26, 1988, at the age of 87 years old.
To encompass a much broader scope and meaning, the name was later changed to Doce Pares Association, and after its incorporation and registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission of the Republic of the Philippines, it acquired its legal name as Doce Pares, Incorporated, a non-stock, non-profit organization aimed to promote and perpetuate the Filipino martial arts. Despite the proliferation of various organizations bearing or using the name Doce Pares, there is only one recognized and duly registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission and that is, Doce Pares, Inc. which was issued Certificate of Registration No. 1373
A couple of years later, more prominent masters joined the group among them were Jesus Cui, Pedro Villaro, Claudio Kalinawan, Venancio Bacon and Pastor Villagracia.
1943 The Saavedras
Served the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) and later the resistance forces, which fought underground the Japanese occupation army during World War II.
During World War II, from 1941 to 1945, most of the Doce officers and masters joined the resistance forces which fought underground the Japanese occupation army. Sometime in 1943, Teodoro Saavedra, its Vice President, and the chief instructor was captured and subsequently executed by the Japanese soldiers. Since the founding of Doce Pares up to the time of his death, he was the undisputed kingpin of Eskrima, who had won a big tournament in Argao, Cebu in September 1939. In 1944, Tatang Ensong Saavedra died of natural cause. He was well over 90 years old.
After the end of the second world war in October 1945, Doce Pares regrouped and resumed its program of promoting the Filipino Martial art. The Saavedras having gone, new names emerged and reverberated in the Eskrima circle, among them were Felimon Canete, Jesus Cui, Venancio Bacon, Ciriaco Canete, Delfin Lopez, Timoteo Maranga, Maximo Canete, Vicente Carin, Lorenzo Lasola and Artemio Paez. Later such names as the brothers Arsenio and Felimon Caburnay (these two were the favorite students of Grandmaster Felimon Canete during the early years of the author’s training with his uncle), Santos Dinampo, Isidro Bardilas, Benjamin Culanag, Arnulfo Mongcal, Benjamin Pahimutang, Jose Villasin, Vicente Atillo, Teofilo Velez and the young Iluminado “Mado” Canete cropped up.
In 1951, Doce Pares was rocked by constant bickerings and intrigues, Jealousies among followers of the different masters notably those of Venancio Bacon and Ciriaco Canete were not contained by the continued mediation of the club’s elders led by its President Eulogio Canete. The feud came to a head in November 1951 when an altercation between Delfin Lopez and Vicente Carin resulted in a gunplay that caused a near fatal injury to the former. Lopez was a known Bacon ally, in fact, was considered his right-hand man, while Carin belonged to the Canete camp. Early in 1952, the 40-year old Bacon, together with Lopez, Timoteo Maranga and others broke away from Doce Pares and formed the Balintawak Self Defense Club. The word Balintawak was adopted in reference to the name of the street where the group’s original headquarters were located at the Balintawak street in downtown Cebu City. On the other hand, Ciriaco Canete together with lawyer Juanito Cabaluna, Vicente Carin, Nicolas Javelosa and Luciano Cabanero among others founded the Cebu Mutual Security Association which was later became popularly known as CEMUSA. Unlike Balintawak, CEMUSA understandably maintained close ties with Doce Pares which remained under the firm control of Eulogio and Felimon Canete both older brothers of Ciriaco. In later years the bitter rivalry became publicly known as between Doce Pares and Balintawak which was personally painful to Eulogio who, some years back was responsible for landing Bacon with a good job at the Cebu Portland Cement Company in Tina-an, Naga, Cebu where the former worked as a department Manager.
The decade following the births of Balintawak and CEMUSA was perhaps the most exciting period in the history of Eskrima. While some dubbed it as the golden years of the art, others regarded it as the most chaotic era in which Eskrima had undergone radical development as the masters competed in introducing, inventing and formulating more fighting techniques designed to beat opponents and reign supreme in “challenge matches”. During this, a number of top masters were involved in “juego todo” but surprisingly none of the big names had faced each other in real fights. While some well-known masters had claimed to have a number of fights, they were all against lesser known opponents. In spite of the numerous attempts to match the big names, no fight had taken place among and between them. Obviously the so-called “balance of Power” had something to do with it, each being wary of the power and skill of the other that none of them had ventured to really push hard for the bout to happen. For there was no denying that Venancio “Ansiong” Bacon and Ciriaco “Cacoy” Canete had hated each other so much that their publicly known mutual hate and dislike had infected their loyal followers, yet, during the span of more than three decades they lived within the same district in Cebu City, they somehow managed to avoid facing each other in “jugo todo”. It would have been a great match to watch how the tiny Bacon, barely five feet and three inches in height and weighing less than 120 pounds would have fared against the much bigger and younger Ciriaco who stands five feet and five inches and packing some 160 pounds weight. Bacon died of natural cause in 1980 at age 67 years old. The deep animosity between Balintawak and Doce Pares notwithstanding, most of their loyal followers had continued to bear respect and reverence to Eskrima patriarch, Eulogio, who almost always played the role of a peacemaker and diplomat patching up conflict and differences among the masters.
Diony Canete instructing some students at an affiliate school in Los Angeles, California.
The tension brought about by the rivalry between these two groups had considerably eased in the beginning of 1970, and it was about this time the Cebu Eskrima Association (CEA) was born. Spearheaded by lawyer Dionisio “Diony” Canete, the youngest son of Eulogio, all the fourteen Eskrima groups/organizations in Cebu joined as members. “Diony” was subsequently elected as charter President with Jose Villasin of Balintawak as Vice President, and event considered by many to have virtually ended the bitter rivalries among the eskrimadors in Cebu. Shortly thereafter Balintawak had split into four different factions. Bacon headed one group called the Balintawak original while Villasin and Teofilo Velez named theirs as Balintawak International Self Defense Club. Timoteo Maranga who then held the rank of Major in the Cebu City Police Force baptized his club as Tres Personas Eskrima. Vicente Atillo and son Crispulo headed another one known as New Arnis confederation of Visayas an Mindanao (NACVAM) and was later changed to Atillo Original Balintawak Eskrima Association. Subsequently, Villasin and Velez also parted ways with Villasin adopting the name Joevil Balintawak and that of Velez, the Teovel Balintawak Eskrima.
In 1975, the National Arnis Association of the Philippines (NARAPHIL) was organized by a group headed by Romeo Mascardo of Bacoor, Cavite, who had as its President, General Fabian Ver, Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines during the administration of President Ferdiand Marcos. Doce Pares and the Cebu Eskrima Association just like most of the Arnis clubs in Metro Manila affiliated with NARAPHIL. Not long after, a decision was reached to hold formally organized tournaments as proposed by Diony Canete who averred that the best and fastest way of promoting Arnis is ” to make its sparring matches into a popular sporting event”, just like some other form of martial arts. Hence, a committee composed of top instructors and masters was formed, tasked to formulate and draft the governing tournament rules. When the group failed to come up with the draft within the specified time, Diony himself volunteered to do the job and, within a couple of weeks, he submitted the proposed rules which were subsequently accepted and approved “en toto” by Doce Pares, Cebu Eskrima Association, and NARAPHIL. This is exactly the same rules that are enforced in tournaments sanctioned by the World Eskrima Kali Arnis Federation (WEKAF) which also adopted it during the First World Arnis Championships held on August 11-13, 1989.
To complement the tournament rules, Diony Canete also designed and devised the various protective gears such as the headgear, body protective jacket, hand gloves, and arm pads. The formulation of the tournament rules and the creation of the protective gears finally made possible the staging of the historic First National Arnis Championships on March 24, 1979, at the Cebu Coliseum in Cebu City. This was immediately followed by the First National Arnis Invitational Tournament on August 19 of the same year held at the Philippine Normal College Gym in Ermita, Manila. These two tournaments were dominated by Doce Pares whose players captured all the titles at stake except one where the judges committed an error in scoring a disarming in favor of the other player when it should have been the other way around. Tournament officials while acknowledging the mistake did not reverse the decision inasmuch as the same had already been announced and the other player’s hand raised in victory. In subsequent tournaments including the national championships in March 1985, Doce Pares consistently showed its class by sweeping all gold medals at stake.
The first National Arnis Championships held on March 24, 1979, in Cebu City.
The formal “organized” tournaments put an end to the traditional “death matches” with the exception of that fight between Ciriaco Canete and Crispulo Atillo on September 17, 1983. This bout had all the trimmings of the traditional “juego todo” except that holding, grabbing, throwing and takedown, as well as punching and kicking, were prohibited as agreed by the protagonists prior to the fight. An inconclusive and riotous ending occurred just seconds into the fight when the fighters found themselves clinching and holding each other forcing the referee, lawyer Luciano Babiera to intervene. Both claiming victory, although neither had scored even a single clean blow, a rematch was arranged to settle the dispute. The rematch scheduled four days later on September 21, however, did not materialize as Atillo was found by the medical team physically unfit to go on with the match. This bout had totally closed the chapter of “death matches” in the history of Eskrima.
The decades 1970 and 1980 saw the emergence of the new breed of masters who benefited from the “multi-style” training program introduced by Diony when he assumed as the Dean of the instructional staff in early 1970. The program provides for the comprehensive teaching of all the component styles of Doce Pares as introduced and taught separately and distinctly by the founding masters. So the Saavedras, Eulogio an Felimon Canete, Jesus Cui, Vicente Carin and, even Ciriaco and Maximo Canete to name a few, had varied and different styles of either corto, media largo, largo mano or Espada y Daga, then so with the training curriculum to comprehend and cover each style separately and, to treat each within the realm of the philosophical and theoretical concept of the principal advocate. It was concluded that the program gave recognition to the founding masters as well as broaden the horizon of knowledge and skill of the students. It also affords them better perspective in understanding the entire system, a conglomeration of the various styles of Eskrima.
When the First World Eskrima Championship was held in Cebu City in August 1989, Doce Pares once again was able to demonstrate the essence of the system and showed the quality of the training program that made possible for the outstanding performance of its players who accounted for a number of gold medals. But amid all these monumental successes, the organization lost its guiding light. One June 26, 1988, Eulogio died of natural cause at the age of 87 years. And on August 12, 1995, Felimon, the last surviving founding master also died. He was 91 years old.
Despite the loss, Doce Pares remains in safe hands and, as wished by the founder Eulogio, his children have taken over the reins of leadership. In December 1989, Eulogio Jr., was unanimously elected as President, while younger brother, Diony, who in 1988 was elevated to the rank of Grandmaster had assumed the position of Chairman, Council of Masters, the post held by Grandmaster Felimon (Momoy) until his death. Sworn in along with them who are tasked to carry on the torch of preserving and perpetuating the honor, dignity, and tradition of Doce Pares are the new generation of Masters, officers, country Directors and heads of chapters and affiliates from the different member countries.