Bright and early on Saturday mornings, at the bottom of Ohlone Park, a small group of martial arts practitioners can be seen on the lawn, performing the elegantly choreographed moves of their discipline. Members of The Oakland Eskrima Club, they wield the sticks and daggers that are part of the weapons-based martial arts form, practicing the graceful — and potentially lethal — stick and sword fighting that are the heart of Eskrima.
Born in the Philippines, Eskrima (Spanish for “skirmish” or “fencing”) is the umbrella term used to describe the National Martial Art and Sport of the Philippines, a form which emphasizes hand-to-hand combat using sticks, daggers, and other bladed weapons.
Peter Elmedolan, one of The Oakland Eskrima Club’s members, is often part of the Ohlone Park crew and spends most Saturdays at the park practicing. “It’s a good place to train,” he said. “There’s a wide expanse of lawn so we can really spread out and do our thing.” Elmedolan is a loyal advocate of the indigenous martial arts form. “Eskrima was a clandestine art, it was never meant to be practiced openly,” he said. “During the Spanish occupation, people practiced at night, covertly, so as not to get caught.”
Picking up an Eskrima stick, a short rattan staff, Elmedolan begins to spar with his practice buddy, illustrating the clacking, fast-paced, movements that are a part of their use. “There are different methods and styles,” Elmedolan explained, blocking his partner’s stick and continuing their practice as he talked. “You’ll hear it called different things sometimes but it’s about the hand-to-hand combat.”
Elmedolan and the other members of The Oakland Eskrima Club are usually found at Ohlone Park on Saturdays around noon and they encourage people of all ages to come by and check them out. Master Reginald Burford, the head instructor at The Oakland Eskrima Club also invites students of all levels to visit his studio at 5680 San Pablo Avenue.