A Way of Life, a Frame of Mind

8th Dan Karate Master Manuel "Pocholo" Veguillas sharing his talent at the Kuroi Samurai Dojo (now the AAK) in 1964.
 8th Dan Karate Master Manuel "Pocholo" Veguillas sharing his talent at the Kuroi Samurai Dojo (now the AAK) in 1964.

What is Karate-do? From the words kara (empty) te (hand) do (way) or empty hand way, this ancient martial art traces its roots to Okinawa and makes use of “empty” hands with foot and body movement. But the meaning of karate-do goes much deeper than that. Karate-do’s main concern is to strengthen the spirit, mind and body. This can be achieved by training, starting from having good manners and extending respect to people.

Upon entering the dojo (gym), for instance, the student should bow before the Shihan (master),sensei (teacher), and sempai (elder); they in turn should bow back. Each student should also bow to each other and give one final bow upon leaving the gym. Proper and decent social habits are developed through this procedure.

Two major components

But there are two major components in karate-do: the bugei (martial art) and the budo (martial ways). Through the bugei, the practicioner is provided the technical martial skills as well as the right frame of mind for combat. In ancient times, the bushi (warrior) uses the bugei not only to defend oneself but to promote the cause of his superiors as well. To paraphrase this philosophy, karate-do is also learning “to walk in the other man’s shoes”. Budo, on the other hand, elevates the karate-do practitioner physically, spiritually and mentally while in search of self-perfection. Below is a close look at some of the people whose lives were significantly changed by the budo component of karate-do.

 

Chino Veguillas: The value of hard work

At the age of 3, Chino Veguillas was already taking karate lessons. This is not unusual since he comes from a family of professional karate instructors. His father is former PKF (Philippine Karate-do Federation) President Manuel Veguillas.  Most of his uncles too were professional karate instructors, not to mention his brother Ricky and sister Ina who were both Kata champions.

“One of the best things I’ve learned practicing karate-do is hard work and discipline”, says Chino. True enough, when Chino was still with the national team he woke up 4 a.m. to join early morning jogging session. At 8, he was already at All-Asia working as a stockbroker (his work then). After work, he went back to practice with the national team and this usually ended at around 10 in the evening. Hard work has brought Chino places in the karate world. In 1991, he became the captain of the Kata team which captured the silver in the 16th SEA Games. In the 1993 17th SEA Games, he was again captain of the Kata team which won the gold. Four years later, he once more captained the Kata team that won the lone gold medal for the Philippines in the Karate World Cup held at Manila in September, 1997.

Today, Chino is one of the main actors in the successful Broadway-like musical “Theater down South”. He is also a loving family man with two lovely daughters. Despite his “busy” schedule, he still finds time to teach and practice the martial art that taught him the value of hard work, Karate-do.

Cristina Ramos: Strength of Character

Cristina “Cristy”Ramos is fourth among the five daughters of former President Fidel Ramos. Her early exposure to sports started when the former President and former First Lady Ming Ramos brought her and her sisters to events such as swimming, golf and badminton. It was Cristy, however, who usually accompanied her father to jog at dawn or scuba dive in Anilao, Batangas, during weekends. Cristy’s uncanny interest in sports, later earned her the moniker “the son Fidel V. Ramos never had”.

Some of Cristy’s most memorable stint as an athlete was when she became the captain of the national ladies’ (women’s) football team from the years 1980-86.  The team under her leadership won the bronze medal in the 1985 Southeast Asian Games in Bangkok.  In 1992, she shifted to another sport, Karate-do and later became the Project Director of its national sports association, the Philippine Karate-do Federation. “I was reluctant to take the job at first because I did not know anything about karate-do then”, said Cristy. “My impression of karate-do was pretty much the same as everyone else’s. To me, it was a martial art which provided a dazzling display of physical prowess resulting in violent and bloody moves”. In 1993 however, she was finally convinced when she accompanied the Philippine national team while training at the Ultra in preparation for the Southeast Asian Games to be held at Singapore that year. Cristy said “While watching the team practice, I was amazed at the composure, beauty and grace which the athletes exhibited, not to mention their athletic skills. I became more impressed when I accompanied the team in various international tournaments like the 4th World Women’s Karate Cup held in Fukuoka, Japan and the World Gojukai Championships in Chiba, Japan. In these competitions, Cristy saw the Filipino karateka excelling against their foreign counterpart and this prodded her later to take up the martial art, earning her a brown belt.

In 1996, Cristina Ramos was elected as President of the Philippine Olympic Committee and was the first and only woman to date to be elected in the position.  In 1999 she was illegally ousted by sports leaders who were overly eager to take over her job, a year before the normal four-year term should have ended.  Later, a famous sports scribe wrote a column inquiring if she cried after losing her post in the POC. No, she did not. Toughened by years of karate training (Kata and Kumite), this former POC chief is too strong-willed to cry. “I fought my opponents, which included those within the POC who wanted my position so badly that they were not willing to play fair and go by the rules; the sports media; the Philippine Sports Commission; and eventually former President Joseph Estrada.  Realizing that they could not take me down if they played by the rules, my opponents got President Estrada to write to the International Olympic Committee to decide in my opponents’ favor.  That essentially was government intervention, which is prohibited in sport.  But no one had the courage and strength to uphold the truth and the legalities.  It was a long-drawn battle which my opponents made sure I could not win.  But the spirit of karatedo, through the dojokun, kept me strong throughout the fight.  It was a fight for truth and justice”says Cristy.

Today, she works as a committee member in the world body FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) and the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) and serves as a match commissioner for various international football competitions.  In September, FIFA appointed her as the match commissioner for the final match between Germany and Nigeria in the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Germany.  She will also serve as a match commissioner for football in the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China this November.

Katrina Veguillas: Conquering one’s fear

Like Kuya Chino, Katrina “Ina” Veguillas started karate-do at a very young age. At age 4, she was already taking her first ballet lessons and 7, her first karate lessons. “I was the only girl in the family, so initially my mama chose a lady-like activity-classical ballet. At the age of 7, (for reasons I still couldn’t remember), I signed up with Papa’s karate classes. Suddenly, I found myself kicking, punching and at the same time shouting at the top of my voice. “That was afar cry from my former activity” she says.

Despite this, Ina doesn’t regret taking up karate lessons. She swears “karate-do has changed my life, more particularly my attitude!”

She recalls her first karate tournament, “While competing, questions would suddenly pop into my mind, “What if I make a mistake? What if things go wrong? What if I lose? During these tense moments, I would recall my Papa’s favorite saying ‘mizu no kokoru’. This phrase means mind running like water. It is an attitude, a frame of mind attained through the years of training.

“Papa would say, ‘the ultimate fear of man is death. If you overcome this fear through Mizu no kokoru, you can overcome anything that gets in the way of your goals,’”she says.

Ina has conquered her worst fear of losing. In fact, she has won the National Kata Championships for seven consecutive years.

In the 1991 SEA Games (Manila), she captured the gold in the Lady’s Kata event. In the 1993 SEA Games (Singapore), she repeated the same feat.

 

The Martial Arts Today   

Sadly, the bugei component of karate-do is perceived as the “be-all” and “end-all” of the martial art. The rising popularity of martial arts shows like the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championships) on TV is proof of this. Being a believer of the bugei, I have nothing against the UFC. I just hope that it serves as a gauge in measuring the martial skills attained by the martial artist. My admiration for the event stops there. I hope that the budo component of karate-do (which I think is the most important) would someday be given primary attention.

I could still vividly recall what my master taught me during my first day at karate school 32 years ago. He said to me “To defeat one hundred enemies in a hundred battles is not the highest skill; to subdue the enemy without fighting is the highest skill” (Gichin Funakoshi). Today, I still try to live my life according to this quote.

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About George M. Hizon

George M. Hizon was the former Karate-do head instructor of Claret School. This was during his college years at the De La Salle University from 1980-81. He would later become the head instructor of the University of the Philippines from mid 1983 to 1984.