In Memoriam - World Black Belt

Sonny Umpad

Sonny Umpad

Sonny Umpad Remembered

When I received word two weeks ago that Escrimador Master Sonny Umpad was suffering from terminal cancer and then last week, received word that he had passed, it was a sad moment for me. Although I met Sonny once in the early 90’s briefly during the California State Karate Championships in Oakland, California, and again in the late 90’s at the Bruce Lee Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do Convention in Seattle, Washington, I still felt that I had lost a friend. I was privileged to spend the weekend with Sonny in Seattle. We met for breakfast and spend the entire morning discussing Escrima and the Filipino Martial Arts.

It was in Seattle, he gave me a pair of rubber covered training sticks. It was meant to be used in practicing Escrima, but I choose to use it for developing punching and blocking skills. Because of the sticks, I can free spar with students without risk of serious injuries. It was a simple but very brilliant idea. So simple I asked myself, “Why didn’t I think of that?” The stick is a substitute for focus pad drills, as well as the empty hands. By using the sticks I could keep a safe distance while the student can express his techniques freely without pulling punches. The Umpad training sticks enables my students to develop form, flow, footwork, sensitivity, accuracy and subtle strength.

As recently as yesterday, I used the sticks for one and a half hours of training with private students. I paused to remember Sonny. As I looked and held the sticks in my hands I acknowledged his legacy. It reminded me that the martial arts journey is never a solo act. As the journey continues; you will encounter many great artists like Sonny. Sonny will always have a special place in my heart. Like those masters before him, Angel Cabales, Remy Presas, Bruce Lee, Low Bun, Howard Jackson, Robert Trias, Ed Parker and many others; their spirits will be felt, and as I remember them, they will not be far away. Sonny may you rest in Peace and may your Legacy remain alive through those who had the privilege to share your knowledge.

Leo Fong

Sid Campbell: Tribute to a Warrior and a Martial Arts Innovator

…to my lifelong friend and budo brother Sonny Umpad

August 26, 2006—

Over 20 years ago I had to pleasure of meeting Maestro Sonny Umpad during the filming of a Paul Kyriazi motion picture titled Ninja Busters starring Eric Lee. It was through my friends and martial arts constituents Joe Olivarez and Crystal Suan that I was introduced to Sonny and shortly thereafter I had the opportunity to witness his phenomenal knife fighting skills and I suggested to Paul that he should try to feature his martial arts talents in the movie. Thanks to Paul, we have captured some of the essence of his incredible martial arts acumen on film so it will be preserved for countless generations to come.

I fondly recall one day that Gary Cagaanan---a student of Sonny’s and a practitioner of Jeet Kune Do--- approached me about the possibility of collaborating on a book about the art of Visayan stick and knife-fighting. After witnessing Sonny demonstrate his skills in the movie Ninja Busters, and knowing that he was the best knife fighter that that ever seen in action, this would be a literary endeavor that I would like to pursue. And, consequently, over the course of the next six-months we spend an inordinate amount of time meeting and charting a course that would lead to the publication of Balisong: The Lethal Art of Filipino Knife Fighting. 

It was also during that time that I truly got to know Sonny at many levels. Among these distinguishing qualities were his very articulate demeanor, his quite yet pronounced presence, his depth of martial knowledge, his interesting sense of humor, his enlightening smile, his captivating charisma the moment he demonstrated weapon fighting technique and his subtleness in correcting a student’s combative maneuvers without an overbearing ego standing in the way of conveying the essence of his teachings.

Sonny was truly the consummate friend for those that shared a common interest. He loved his privacy yet he was openly sharing his vast knowledge. He was never one for touting his own abilities buy those that knew the art of stick and knife fighting knew that he knew his capabilities. It was those distinguished guro, sensei, sifu and martial masters that praised him and his uncanny ability to wield a weapon with such artful finesse. This is perhaps what raised many people’s consciousness of who Sonny Umpad was and what he stood for in the final analysis. His actions were a reflection of the great deeds he shared with those that he chose to call friends. I have been proud to call Sonny Umpad a friend, a confidant and comrade-in-arms for the better portion of two decades. 

Over the course of that time, Sonny and I shared much about the martial arts and his innovative Visayan corto kadena system of self-defense and combat. He was the epitome of what I consider to be a consummate martial artist. He was a quite man with a powerful mission to share his art with those that truly were interested in learning. Perhaps what strikes me as most interested is the fact that great and skillful stick and knife-fighters in their own right found Sonny’s knowledge, skill and martial technique uniquely distinct and in his art found some of their art. Sonny never boasted of his skill but anyone that truly knew the art of stick and knife combat knew---especially after one glimpse of this warrior in action---that he was indeed the “real deal”. Many sought out Sonny to learn his art simply because it was not only practical and devoid of superfluous theory, but worked effectively in all combative situations. Anyone that has walked the warrior’s path of the stick and knife for years conceded that they could improve their own fighting skills by learning what Sonny had to offer. And he offered and shared gladly without consequences that reflected that he was a superior warrior. In fact, he always viewed other martial artist that trained with him not so much as students but more so as contemporaries or peers that shared a common interest in the love of stick and knife combat. In my mind, this reflects the true spirit of the warrior to share and teach without an ego involved with the teaching and learning process.

Sonny spoke often about his Visayan culture and the rich traditions that evolved from that are of the Philippine Islands. He was proud of the traditions and gave praise to the great maestros that contributed so much to the art of Visayan corto kadena that he created.

His art was steeped in these traditions and it reflected the love he had for preserving the ancient ways of the knife and stick and he always recognized and honored the ones that had contributed to his craft by praising them for their unique talents and incomparable martial prowess. He was never one to steel other’s thunder or put himself above those that attributed to his greatness. For Sonny would assuredly would have never called himself great or superior in skills but I will proudly stand and deliver a message that he was truly one of the phenominal martial artists of our present era…and perhaps of all times! 

Sonny was a private man that valued and treasured to closeness of family friends and students. In the dedication section of our book Balisong: The Lethal Art of Filipino Knife Fighting his statement perhaps says it best. “I wish to dedicate this book to my family; my children Brian & Jackie; and to my students who have supported all of my efforts.” And I believe that to be the sentiments that I choose to remember my good lifelong friend Sonny Umpad. May he rest in peace for eternity and his knowledge be passed along for millions to share over the many millenniums that will undoubtedly in generations to come

---Sid Campbell

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