Professor Eric has dedicated much of his life to researching Filipino martial arts, in particular,  specializing in the Eskrima De Campo of Grandmaster Jose Caballero. Starting his study of Eskrima as a child with his uncle, Martin Iano Lumacang. He went on to train with Master Billy Baa Aclo of Songkite Abaniko and Maestro Fernando Candawan of Doce Pares. But the main influence on his eskrima was Grandmaster Jose Caballero. Indeed Professor Eric has devoted his life to preserving the legacy handed to him by the Grandmaster.

 Professor Ireneo "Eric" Olavides (second from the right) with Nigel Sutton (centre)

Professor Eric has also studied Karate and Tai Chi Chuan. His philosophy is one of  constant research and study to improve and perfect his art. A committed Christian, Professor Eric also sees his art as a way of practicing and transmitting his values to those who come to study with him. A truly humble man, Professor Eric refuses to accept the title of Master or Grandmaster as, for him, these are the titles of his teacher, Grandmaster Jose. This humility, however, is belied by the mastery he shows in his effortless and natural handling of his weapon.

Today Professor Eric teaches throughout the Philippines and the US. He is a true example of  a man who has dedicated his life to his art and, in so doing, has touched and transformed the lives of many students.

Manong Eric Olavides: His Story in His Own Words

I am Ireneo Olavides, the current head of the Eskrima de Campo system which I learned from my mentor, Manong Jose D. Caballero. Don’t call me master. My students just call me Manong Eric.

I was introduced to eskrima by my uncle, Martiniano Lumacang, in 1957. I was 13 yrs old then. My uncle was a farmer from barrio Buenavista near Oroquita City, Misamis in Mindanao. During my initiation period, my uncle probed if I were virtuous enough to qualify as a student. I had to display humility, courage, endurance, patience, perseverance and other virtues.

Our training was usually at night, inside his house that was lighted by a kerosene lamp. I was his only student. My uncle emphasized “natural” movements. He would simulate an attack and I had to respond with a "natural" reaction. If my counter did not appear natural to him, he would demonstrate how it should have been done. Our training can be described as a series of offensive-defensive maneuvers. It consisted of blocks and strikes, counterblocks and counterstrikes, and evasion techniques. We practiced slowly at first, then gradually built up speed until I began to move instinctively. My uncle called this method “depensa natural”.

I was trained to treat each training session as a simulated combat. His style,  which was blade-oriented, was found in Bohol, Eastern Visayas. I trained with him for three summers. Then he died in 1960 due to an illness. Although I was too young to grasp the full meaning of the art, my experience with uncle opened a door for me to the world of eskrima.

Sometime in 1965, a friend introduced me to Billy Baaclo. I went to his house and asked him to teach me. And he did. We trained inside his house and nobody was allowed to watch. He was an exacting teacher.

He lived in the pier area in Ozamis City. Billy Baaclo was a World War II veteran whose USAFFE unit was attached to the US marine division in Bukidnon. During the Japanese occupation, he was a member of the guerilla force under Colonel Fertig. After the war, he worked in different trades; as a carpenter, police detective, clerk, bodyguard and finally a defense tactics instructor at the College of Criminology, Misamis university. He also gave private lessons in eskrima.

Billy Baaclo was a very humble man. He never talked about his exploits during the war. I only heard stories about him from the others. He was friendly and kind, but when provoked, he would simply say, “Try me if you will.”  He was a good role model for the martial arts. He taught me for more than two years in the blade and stick art. He died about three years ago.

In 1968, a friend told me that I should check out another eskrima expert named Jose Caballero. My friend urged me to learn the man’s style, De Campo 1-2-3 Orihinal. Naturally, I inquired around before I sought him out. I got two conflicting stories about the man. People who knew him well in his younger years said he was an exceptionally skillful eskrimador who had beaten a dozen well-known masters in juego todo matches. However, the feedback from his former students was negative. They advised me to learn from other teachers.

I was intrigued. How could Jose Caballero be so renowned as a fighter but none of his students were? There was only one way to find out. I went to Manong Jose and asked to be accepted as a student. He agreed to teach me the “whole course” for P150.00. I paid, and he immediately brought me to his backyard and started giving me lessons in the basics.

Seven months passed. Then Manong Jose told me that I was done. He told me I was already a De Campo eskrimador. Inwardly, I was bothered. I felt that I had not learned as much as I could have. In a real fight, I thought that my previous lessons from my other teachers would have served me better than the techniques of De Campo. I concluded that Manong Jose was holding back his best fighting techniques from his students. I became determined to ferret out his secrets.

I became a regular visitor of Manong Jose on weekends. I brought bread, tsokolate bars for sikwate and other food to share with Manong Jose and his family. Our conversations inevitably steered towards the subject of eskrima. Manang Amparo, Manong Jose’s wife, would proudly relate his exploits during these times. Sometimes, he would conduct review lessons.

One day, he suddenly told me that he could teach me the “specialization course” of De Campo for P300. This was what I was waiting for. The course lasted six months. In the end, I still felt that Manong Jose kept important techniques from me. When I commented that his strikes seemed different and fast, he simply told me that with practise I would also be able to achieve his skill level. I kept my feelings to myself and never lost hope that one day, I might learn the real secrets. I decided to continue my regular visits to his home.

One early morning in 1974, Manong Jose came to my place asking for help. He needed some money to bail out his son who had been arrested by the police. The amount was substantial but I offered it gladly. The son was released and eventually freed from the charges.

The next time I visited him, he asked me if I was really serious about becoming an eskrimador. He said he considered me like a son and had decided to teach him his secrets, under one condition. I had to be willing to represent De Campo in any juego todo contest in the future. A shiver ran up my spine. It was a frightening condition. It never crossed my mind to participate in any organized jeugo todo competition.

I asked, “Manong, do you really think I can become a good juego todo fighter like you?” Deep within me, I felt I was way out of his league. Manong Jose said, “I will prepare you for that.”

It was a great feeling to learn the closely-guarded techniques of Manong Jose and become a fighter like him, yet at the same time daunting. I just put back negative thoughts about the future behind and plunged into the terrific training of a juego todo fighter.

During training, Manong Jose’s personality transformed like he was in another dimension. I was carried with him into that place where my training felt like I was in actual mortal combat. Every training session was an ordeal lasting two or more hours. Each session took me a little beyond my perceived limits. There were lots of repetitions. Manong Jose’s training motto was: “You train to live, not die. Suffer during training, not during a fight.” After three years of intensive training, he announced that I was already fit and ready to fight.

One day, Manong Jose told me that I had to prepare myself because in two years, we were going to his hometown in Ibo, Toledo, Cebu. He would arrange some of his eskrima comrades to test my skills. He said that if I passed, he was confident that I could face any juego todo fighter anytime, anywhere.

The old dread returned to me. I was in a dilemma. I only agreed to his condition to fight for him because I wanted to learn his secret techniques. I never thought it would actually come to this. Yet, I could not go back on my word. I had to fight I did the only thing I could think of. I prayed for deliverance. It came to pass.

In 1979, I heard that the well-known Doce Pares master, Fernando Candawan had moved to barrio Burgos, Aloran, Misamis Occidental, which was 30 kilometers from my place in Ozamis City. For some undefined reason, I wanted to learn his style too.

I sought the permission of Manong Jose. Immediately, I knew he was displeased. Finally, he responded, “All right, give me a good reason why and maybe I will let you.” I had a ready answer at hand. I told him that my De Campo would be better if I understood how other stylist fought. I gave a brief lecture that was straight out of Sun Tzu’s military classic about knowing yourself.

I trained with the mutli-talented Candawan for over a year. Master Fernando Candawan was awarded the "Eskrimador of the Year" award by the Doce Pares headquarters in 1964. He was an amateur boxer and wrestler, and had black belts in Karate and Judo. Training with him was also arduous and I always was drained at the end of each session.

Fernando Candawan noticed that the way I moved revealed I had prior experience in eskrima. He asked me about my background and I told him about my uncle and Billy Baaclo, but I never revealed my association with Manong Jose. I was very careful not to show the techniques of Manong Jose to anyone. I learned to be courageous and persevering because Master Candawan was very strong. One day, he told me that I was already an eskrimador. I took that as a compliment.

Narrated to:
Mon Rivera
20 September 2005