Monday 18 May 2020

Creativity and Shutdown in a Pandemic

With people confined in their homes during this pandemic, we see more and more evidence of creativity and ingenuity happening in our daily lives. People are finding new ways to stay busy without common forms of entertainment such as shopping malls, social gatherings or gyms. People’s time that would have otherwise been spent in varied activities, is now being spent at home, and most likely on the sofa or bed.

Creativity is not just confined with the arts. There is inventiveness and imagination in sciences, design, sports and cooking. Social media news feeds are inundated with posts of people's creations, whether they are newbies and veterans in these activities: crafts, sewing, knitting, crocheting; performances - singing, playing musical instruments, story telling, video creation (esp. TikTok); podcasts; photography; learning languages; the creative use of 3D printers for PPEs. People are also finding creative ways to celebrate life milestones, i.e. birthdays, graduations, weddings.

Working on something that is challenging but can be addressed by one's skills, people enter a state called flow.  In this state, people are fully absorbed in and focused on the activity, and as a result, they lose track of time. And it is this unlocking of the imagination in reimagining events and activities that provides the amazement factor in this time of the pandemic.


Historically, there are prominent examples of those who found creative inspiration in spending time alone. Isaac Newton, with schooling at Cambridge University halted, retreated to his family home in Lincolnshire, where, in a remarkable burst of creativity, he laid the groundwork for his theories of gravity and optics, and invented calculus. There is also the notion that William Shakespeare wrote some of his best poems and plays while plague forced a closure of London’s theatres.

Arts has been more accessible too with the numerous online workshops, some for free, others subsidized, and some as fundraisers. Performances and films have been made available online - giving us front row seats to Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicals, ballets, operas, landmark films and theatre productions from all over the world. You just need to know where to look. And now, there is the much awaited release of Hamilton in the summer.


Some artists have managed to hold outdoor performances while people stay at home - musicians and singers performing from their balconies or sidewalk, in the rotunda of a housing community, and recently, Keith Urban in a major drive-through concert for first responders. And with most projects being done online, there has also been a noticeable rise of collaborations amongst artists across the globe - first in mind is the Lady Gaga curated tv special Together at Home, in support of the World Health Organization, and Swans for Relief, which featured 32 ballerinas from 22 dance companies from 14 countries, to raise funds for dancers affected by the pandemic all over the world.

Famous museums have offered virtual tours. Many institutions have made educational resources freely available online; IBM made their design courses free, NASA offers many lessons and activities, and a Pandemic University has even been established, offering online courses covering a range of topics including feature writing, true crime, non-fiction book proposals, travel writing, personal essays, food writing.

Corporations have also stepped up to support these online activities. Telecom companies facilitated access by removing internet data caps, relaxing long distance rules to facilitate communication, subsidizing internet rates for low income families and for some, providing free service.

People with a passion for art finally have time to invest in developing their creative side in a more systematic way. While staying abreast of pandemic updates is important, ultimately, a positive mindset and the ability to switch off will help people cope better day-to-day. Art has inadvertently reached a wider audience and range of participants. It has served us well as a means of expression, a coping mechanism, and outlet of pent-up emotions and energies. The hope is that for the long term, access to all these creativity will carry over to sustained support of the arts beyond the days of the pandemic.

Side note: It is stinging that in the midst of all these creativity, collaboration and support between artists, media, corporations and in the government, in the Philippines, ABS-CBN, the largest entertainment and media conglomerate, with a little bit more than 11,000 employees, was shut down on May 5, 2020. It is a perplexing turn of events at these times:
  • when media plays a crucial role in disseminating crucial and credible information on COVID-19, and in ensuring that these information reaches the most number of citizens;
  • when people are already losing their jobs due to COVID-19 and public health concerns, the last thing needed are job losses due to political wrangling;
  • when entertainment is essential for mental health, easing people's anxiety born out of lockdown and quarantine orders;
  • when empathetic conduct from leaders is respected and honoured.
Hopefully, a resolution of this issue is forthcoming.

* This article was published in the May 2020 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Saturday 18 April 2020

Lara Andallo: the Filipino Triple Threat Artist from Down Under

One of the upsides of social media is the opportunity to connect with people and relationships you would otherwise be removed from. It is fun to keep track of relatives, friends, and colleagues, and their movements, i.e. from the Philippines 
to different parts of the globe, and life milestones. 

One such connection kept alive by social media is with an elementary and high school classmate that has allowed me to see the growth and achievements of her young daughter. Now, this daughter is making waves in the Australian music scene, with the release of her debut R&B mixtape. She is no other than up and coming, triple threat artist, Lara Andallo.

Lara’s musical influences go way back, when she started playing musical instruments from the young age of three. She played 10 years of classical violin, along with sax, drums, guitar and piano. At the age of 11, she focused on professional dance - ballet, contemporary, hiphop. She was home-schooled, to complete a Certificate IV in dance, dancing almost 50 hours a week. Her plans for a professional dance career went awry with surgeries on her ankle at the ages of 15 and 17. Faced with learning to walk again and unable to dance, Lara turned to music as a form of expression - writing about her devastation, isolation, of being culturally different, and peer abuse.

At 17-years-old, Lara has signed with Warner Music Australia, independently released three bedroom recordings that were met with praise from likes of Off The Clef, Thank Guard and Complex AU & UK, and released singles ‘Confidential’, ‘180’ and ‘Said & Done’. Early this year, she released her mixtape “For Her” with tracks ‘365’, ‘Proud of Us’ and ‘Trophy’. Lara describes her sound as "R&B at the core, with heavier trap and hip-hop influences”. According to her, the process with “For Her” was like “subconsciously writing the songs to empower myself… and writing affirmations for myself. It is also for young girls specifically who feel like they are outsiders and don’t have a place in this world.”  To celebrate the release, Lara played a headline show and showcased her soaring vocals and virtuosic dance skills.

While she’s at the early stages of her musical career, Lara seems to have already made an indelible mark in the Australian, if not international, music scene. Music reviewer Thomas Bleach has dubbed her as “the R&B princess that Australia deeply needs”. Other praises - “At only 19 and with just two studio singles under belt, Lara Andallo is already one of the most promising R&B artist in Australia”  – The Guardian. “The name Lara Andallo may not be familiar to you, but keep it on you radar” – Artist 1 On 1. “At just 19 years old, this Filipino-Australian artist is an absolute force to be reckoned with. ” and “ of the most addictive R&B songs we’ve heard in a while” – Tone Deaf. “The way she maneuvers the melody of this recalls early Kehlani with a hint of SZA. It’s an exciting step forward and an anomaly for Sydney which hasn’t been known for it’s R&B in the past.” – The Interns. “’s those crisp vocals that take center-stage, soaring high with an intoxicating and utterly convincing hook.” - Life Without Andy.

Young as she is, I love how Lara's story is a story of using her art as a tool for reflection and empowerment, of turning a dark time into a show of force, of overcoming difficulty, and a story of self expression and pursuing one's passion. Lara Andallo is definitely a rising star in her own right.


*Lara’s music is on all streaming platforms. You can also follow her on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Photo credits: Chris Loutfy, ℅ Filterzine; Facebook

** This article was published in the April 2020 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Saturday 18 January 2020

The Edmonton Philippine International Centre (EPIC) Defined

In a multicultural society, it is inevitable to encounter a number of cultural community centres around the city. Top of mind would be: the Polish Canadian Cultural Centre; Sejong Multicultural Centre; Edmonton Korean Community Centre; Ukrainian Cultural Centre; La Cite Francophone; Edmonton Chinatown MultiCultural Centre; Portuguese Cultural Centre; Italian Cultural Centre; Slovenian Canadian Cultural Centre; Hellenic-Canadian Community of Edmonton & Region; German-Canadian Cultural Centre; Dutch Canadian Centre; and Edmonton Japanese Community Association, to name a few. The irony of this is that on some occasions, the reason for my being in these venues, were due to a Filipino community event.

Cultural infrastructures are an integral component of Canadian communities. These centres promote cultural values among the members of its community. They are a reflection of an established community where cultural services are increasingly part of municipal services. Arts and culture is one of the attributes that contribute to the highest quality of life of a community.

With the influx of Filipinos in Alberta, which has the second largest Filipino population in Canada at approximately 175,000, and with a migration history to Canada beginning in the 1930s, it is ideal, and rather imperative, that we Filipinos have a sustained venue, that will serve as a gathering place - a recreational, educational and cultural facility. There is nothing wrong in using another culture’s space, but it’s much more gratifying to have one that reflects your values, and way of life.

Some people may think: What does it mean for me?... I have no personal need for this… or this is only relevant to those who are involved in arts and culture work. Research on the impact of cultural community spaces has shown: that 95% of respondents learned something new, and 88% increased their confidence and pride in culture and traditions by participating in programs; for 85% participation increased their desire to learn, while 83% explored ideas, values and dreams, and 79% made friends; 77% reported a positive impact on their creativity; 65% developed skills; and 64% reported a positive impact on their health and well-being. There is substantial and diverse body of evidence that a wide range of cultural activities positively add value to regeneration initiatives - economic, social and environmental.

The Philippine centre is envisioned to be the architectural definition of our community identity. Yet, it is not just about infrastructure but is about the people, our culture, creative engagement, and social interaction. The planning will include multiple perspectives: disciplines of expression – e.g., visual, performing, literary, media arts, heritage, etc.; functions – e.g., recreation, instruction, training, production, exhibition, preservation;  levels of artistic activity – e.g., recreational arts, amateur arts, emerging and professional/not-for-profit arts, for-profit creative industries, etc.; and community goals. For a community whose people are geographically separated with the 7,100 islands, should we not bond ourselves in our communal experiences of migration, values, and way of life in our adopted country?

In my article on March 2019 on “The Quest for a Philippine Centre in Edmonton”, I posed the challenge on what would it take for us to work together towards this goal. And now, I am elated to report that Filipino community organizations and volunteers are working together towards the establishment of the Edmonton Philippine International Centre (EPIC), which will have its launch and fundraiser on February 1, 2020, Saturday, 1:30-4:30 pm at the Corpus Christi Church Hall at 2707 34 Street, Edmonton. The event aims to disseminate information on the initiative, and show what Filipinos have been doing in, and contributing to, the city of Edmonton. There will be performances, tables featuring businesses and services, door prizes, silent auction and food. It is an opportunity to once again convene, be proud of our personal history, share our culture and participate in this legacy project.

Work towards establishing a centre is long term work requiring dedication, focus, determination and commitment with time, energy and resources. The current group of organizers and volunteers recognize the importance of accountability, trust and transparency and are exerting efforts to uphold these. However, an endeavour of this magnitude will only be made possible by sustained commitment, time, input and vision of MANY supporters - advocates, artists, business leaders, volunteers and community members. I appeal to everyone to lend their support, in whatever capacity, to the various upcoming projects supporting the Edmonton Philippine International Centre initiative. And let us uphold our tagline, The Filipino Spirit Shines Through! 

* This article was published in the January 2020 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Sunday 15 December 2019

Quezon’s Game: the Largely Forgotten True Story of Holocaust Heroism

According to R. G. Collingwood, “History is for human self-knowledge ... the only clue to what man can do is what man has done. The value of history, then, is that 
it teaches us what man has done and thus what man is.” On January 2020, we will have a chance to reflect on this with the North American screening of the film Quezon’s Game. 

How many know of the Filipino Oskar Schindler, who is no less than President Manuel L. Quezon? Director Matthew Rosen rectifies this through his feature film directorial debut Quezon’s Game, which premiered in May 2019 in the Philippines. Manuel Quezon was the President when the country was a Commonwealth under the United States’ jurisdiction. At a time when most countries were reluctant in assisting Jews who were being sent to death camps, Quezon worked to grant asylum in Manila despite various setbacks (his failing health due to tuberculosis, resistance from colleagues, Philippine-US politics), even housing them in his family property in Marikina. Although Quezon’s intent to rescue 10,000 Jews was abruptly curtailed by the Dec. 8, 1941 invasion and three-year occupation of the Philippines by the Japanese, he succeeded in welcoming more than 1,200 refugees.

Quezon’s Game director, Matthew Rosen, is a British national residing in the Philippines, and with Filipino wife Lorena Rosen, co-producer for the film. They first heard about Quezon’s efforts in 2009 from members of the Jewish Association of the Philippines. “I am a Jew who grew up in England and have experienced bigotry,” Matthew Rosen comments, “but after 37 years in the Philippines, to this day, I have never come across prejudice, dislike or distrust because I am White or Jewish. I’m Pinoy at heart and this was truly a passion project for me. The story behind Quezon’s Game remains a reflection of the Filipino people today, a warm and welcoming culture. In a time of war, when the rest of the world was in despair and apathetic, the Filipino people—who were suffering their own hardships—shed a light on justice and morality to lead others. Quezon fought a lonely battle for what was right up until his untimely death. The message of this amazing story, which was largely forgotten, is more important than ever in today’s growing climate of intolerance—and my wife, Lori, and I wanted to tell it. It’s my ‘thank you’ to the Philippines.”

The US/Canada theatrical rollout will mark the 75th anniversary on Jan. 27 of the liberation of Auschwitz, the Nazi’s most-notorious concentration camp.  Quezon’s Game stars Raymond Bagatsing as President Quezon, Rachel Alejandro as his wife Aurora, Kate Alejandrino as their daughter Baby, Billy Ray Gallion as the Jewish cigar maker Alex Frieder, James Paolelli as American diplomat Paul V. McNutt,  and David Bianco as future president Dwight D. Eisenhower who was then the chief aide to General Douglas MacArthur. 

The film is abundant in symbolism and intentional in honouring the people in this tragic moment in history. It’s theme song is performed by Shulem, a rising star of the Jewish music tradition, backed by the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra. The original soundtrack features songs composed by concentration camp prisoners, Karel Švenk and Z. Stryjecki, granted by the Terezín Music Foundation (TMF), a non-profit dedicated to amplifying the musical legacy of the artists imprisoned at the camp, where a group of prisoners composed and performed music that nourished spirits amidst the great suffering around them.

Quezon’s Game has garnered awards at international film festivals for acting, direction, cinematography, original score, lighting, screenplay and design. It is critically acclaimed: “...the scope and enormity of Schindler’s List ... Quezon’s Game delivers the same powerful message against racism, bigotry and discrimination … a very compelling and deeply moving film …” - Esquire Philippines; “the story of Quezon’s Game is nothing short of magnificent.” - Business Mirror; “Gripping performances …” - ScreenRaven.

"The difference between Schindler's List and Quezon's Game is that the former studies the horrors of war and you feel broken about humanity when you leave the theatre, while the latter is about hope and the humaneness of the Filipino people. When you watch Quezon's Game, you'll feel proud as a Filipino," Matthew explained.

When you watch Quezon’s Game, make sure you don’t miss the closing credits which is accompanied by testimonials of now-elderly survivors who emigrated to the Philippines as children, Max Heintz Weissler, Lotte Cassel Hershfield, Margot Pins Kestenbaum, and Margot’s son, Danny Pins, recalling the events that reshaped their lives.

In recognition of Quezon’s moral courage and the consequent deep ties between Israel and the Philippines, Israel instituted an open-door policy with the country, permitting visa-free visitation by Filipino tourists. In 2009, an Open Door monument was erected in Tel Aviv in commemoration of this act of humanity. Today, the Jewish diaspora in the Philippines remains a vibrant and welcoming community, with the descendants of refugees rescued by Quezon numbering around 8,000, according to a 2017 estimate by the Israeli Embassy.

This is the kind of story we need In today’s climate of tenuous, intolerant and cynical humanity and politics. That we be inspired by this story of doing what is right despite astronomical obstacles, of an act so selfless and remarkable, yet makes one ask to his dying day, “Could I have done more?”. Quezon’s Game then is a study of not only history, but of benevolence.

Quezon’s Game is a Star Cinema/ABS-CBN Film Productions production in association with iWant and Kinetek. For further details on the US/Canada screenings, visit

* This article was published in the December 2019 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Friday 15 November 2019

Lyrique: a Filipino Artist in the Flow of Words & Beats

Filipino-Canadian rapper Lyrique (Edward Que) from Calgary has released the video for his latest song Ivory off his EP Saints of the Summer. With four EPs and a few singles to his credit, Lyrique is hard at work on his first full length album, Lust, Art, Liquor.

But who is Lyrique (pronounced Ly-ric)? Lyrique, Edward Que in real life, is from Baguio City, a nursing student and call center agent, who moved to Canada in 2014 under the Temporary Foreign Workers program. Battling with homesickness and a loss of family and emotional support, he turned to music as a form of therapy and an outlet for his feelings of isolation. His initial foray into music was learning to play different kinds of instruments. He always loved writing and composing music, and being a fan of hip hop, eventually found himself into rap. 

Using the moniker Lyrique, his music has a strong focus on lyricism, cadence and flow. “I really put effort into wordplay. I may not be the deepest writer/rapper when it comes to metaphors but I always make sure the songs I write have a story. I try to make sure the punchlines work to the listeners’ appeal. As for the spelling of Lyrique, I added the Que as a reminder of who I am at the end of the day, as Que is my last name.”

In Calgary, he started with open mics at Cafe Koi every Friday. These hip hop open mics were performing and learning opportunities where he studied and learned how to rev up a crowd, do breath control, and make sure words are pronounced correctly. “I always loved performing, and performing your own songs just make it better. I always get this rush when it comes to performances. I also noticed that there weren’t many Filipino rappers in the scene, so I want to be one of those representing my culture, and to establish my own identity in hip hop culture as well.” 

Lyrique’s turning point came when he performed at the 10 at 10 stage in Calgary, a platform that promotes Canadian artists and hip hop culture - whether it be in music, dance and art. It was around this time as well that he received permanent resident status in Canada, which allowed him to focus more on his music, i.e. how to be a better rapper/artist, increase his social media presence, and be a part of Canadian guilds for music artists. “I enjoy the hustle and I find every day is an opportunity for growth. I have people who help me out in amplifying my craft such as videographers, producers, sound engineers and other artists as well. I keep my unit small but tight, but most of the time I do things myself. I book shows myself, do the graphic art and press releases myself. All in all, it’s still an unending process. Art is beautiful but inevitable, just like growth.”

Lyrique has become a staple in the Calgary hip hop scene. He performs solo, in acoustic duets and trios, with a DJ or together with a band. He is a member of the Alberta music collective/label, The Honor Roll Music Collective, along with named artists K-riz, Karimah, Rebecca Janz and Josh Sahunta to name a few.

Lyrique’s latest EP is Saints of Summer. When asked why Saints of Summer, “The title had a nice ring to it but in reality what is a saint? A saint is someone holy and free. In the summer we feel a certain melancholy where we all feel a certain cleanse from the cold. But that being said, we all let loose in our own havens in the summer - be it in parties, festivals or out of town trips.” “The other songs on the EP touch different vibes. On GOD is me rapping about how I will make an impact this summer on God. There are tracks like R.O.Y and Pulp Fiction which are just easy going tracks on living your dreams and at the same time being a product of your environment and having fun with it.” Another single is Marathon. “Marathon is a confidence song. I’m still the shy type, a socially awkward person. Marathon made me confident in who I am. I’ve gone this far so why not take ownership of it.”  The track was produced and engineered by DJ Rocswell.

Ivory, with its recent video release, is also from the same EP. The afro-beats inspired track is produced by Niko and LCS, mixed and mastered by AMAURHI and features backup vocals from K-Riz and Oozela. The video was created and filmed by Oliver Banyard. “Ivory is basically a love song. My girlfriend is a huge fan of afro beats so I gave this vibe a shot. The hook I have for the song is a line I wrote two years ago which I never really used. It just so happened that the hook fit this beat perfect and that set the whole idea of the song. The title came with the beat and it just had a nice ring to it. Ivory, which is a representation of love, is a material on the strongest emotion in the world.” The video has guest appearances by his girlfriend Kirstin Wilson, and some of his close friends DJ C-Sik, Mayowa/Mo’, Amaurhi and Jared Daniel.

Lyrique is now working on a full length album, Lust, Art, Liqour. To know more about Lyrique and his music, check out Instagram and Facebook: iamlyrique, YouTube: Lyrique Music, stream “Ivory” on Spotify and Apple Music, or purchase the EP Saints in the Summer on

Photo credits: Val Parenas (@vparenas), Esther Cho (@estherchophotography), Oliver Banyard (@oliverbanyard)

* This article was published in the November 2019 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Tuesday 15 October 2019

Celebrating Philippine Culture for Canada Culture Days 2019

Every year, a national celebration of arts and culture is commemorated as Culture Days on the last weekend of September (Friday-Sunday). Thousands of events across the country are offered free of charge, highlighting the importance of arts and culture in our communities. The mandate of Culture Days is “to eliminate barriers to access and participation, and stimulate understanding, appreciation and exploration of arts and culture—so that every person in the country has a deeper connection with themselves, their communities, and Canada”.

This year, two events focusing on Philippine culture have been selected as Official Celebration Sites by the Ministry of Culture and Multiculturalism, and Status of Women - Philippine Arts Council’s Kalinangan and Pinoy Roots Rondalla’s Ugnayang Kultura.

Kalinangan, in its many variance of use, is the Tagalog word for culture, way of life, or cultivation of learning. This is Philippine Arts Council’s third offering of Kalinangan and has been selected twice as a featured Celebration Site. This year’s Kalinangan was a two-day event, with the first day held at Lynnwood School and the second at Mill Woods Seniors and Multicultural Centre.

On its second year at Lynnwood School, the students participated in workshops on Philippine dance and martial arts provided by The Lucila Project and Philippine Warrior Arts Society. By dismissal, parents and siblings came to the school and participated or observed the workshops. Former students visited from their junior high schools to dance folk dances they have learned before. It was a fiesta atmosphere with students decorating the school with self-made Philippine flags and posters, and baking cassava cake to serve to guests. Some parents made pancit (noodles), and Loriz Bakery and Golden Bucks Bakeshop provided generous food donations, which were thoroughly enjoyed by the school community. It was heartwarming to see the children enthusiastically embrace Philippine culture. It also empowered and instilled pride in the Filipino students and parents to witness the support and enthusiasm by the school community. Young students were asking us
so many questions about the Philippines, the food, and especially the language. It was amusing and at the same time touching to watch them engage in Tagalog conversations with their Filipino classmates. With their parents’ arrival, students have asked for music to be played so they can be videoed dancing what they have learned. Teachers shared their Filipino experiences too - whether through Filipino friends, food, or information they have read or seen.

At the Mill Woods Seniors and Multicultural Centre, Kalinangan featured workshops on: Parol (Christmas lanterns) Making by the University of the Philippines Alumni Association Edmonton (UPAAE); Learning the Language through Song and Dance, by Koro Filipino; Filipino Martial Arts by Philippine Warrior Arts Society; and Philippine Folk Dance, by Jojo Lucila. Other activities included: colouring of Philippine-themed illustrations by Katrina Cereno, and indigenous designs and patterns of Mindanao from Lumad, a colouring book project by Salupongan Internaitonal; Historya exhibit by the UPAAE; Kwento’t Litrato exhibit by Migrante Alberta; and tables of Philippine products and businesses by Akia Crafts, Love Thy Planet, and
Human Nature Canada. Members of the Legislative Assembly and Parliament also came to give messages of support and fellowship: MLA Christina Gray (Edmonton-Millwoods), MLA Sarah Hoffman (Edmonton-Glenora), MLA Jasvir Deol (Edmonton-Meadows) and MP Amarjeet Sohi (Edmonton-Mill Woods, and federal Minister of Natural Resources).

On the third day of Culture Days, Pinoy Roots Rondalla held Ugnayang Kultura at the West Edmonton Mall with rondalla performances, Philippine folk and Polynesian dances by Pacific Island Dance Troupe, crafts and displays of Filipino instruments and clothing, Zumba by Manny Arban, and dances by the Edmonton Indonesian Community Association. MLA Sarah Hoffman was again there to provide messages, along with MLA Lorne Dach (Edmonton-McClung) and MLA Jon Carson (Edmonton-West Henday).

In summation, it was a good Culture Days year with offerings on Philippine culture provided in every single day of the Culture Days weekend - a result of Philippine Arts Council and Pinoy Roots Rondalla coordinating to avoid any schedule conflict. Because I have found out through the years, that there is a good percentage of people who take advantage of this Culture Days weekend, research on calendar activities and map out an itinerary of events to go to. It is a testament to our society for embracing diversity, an earnest desire to learn more about art and culture, and its importance in our daily lives. It is for this very reason that we are steadfast in featuring Philippine art and culture, and establishing our stamp in this multicultural community.

* This article was published in the October 2019 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal, and written by Ida Beltran Lucila.

Thursday 15 August 2019

GT Leo Gaje Jr: Pekiti-Tirsia’s Law of Self-Protection

Last month, I wrote about my encounter with celebrity Yeng Constantino. This time around, I had the chance to meet another superstar, Grand Tuhon Leo T. Gaje 
Jr. during an intensive camp workshop in Edmonton in the system of Pekiti-Tirsia, last July.

Pekiti Tirsia Kali is a style of Filipino martial arts system founded in 1897 by the Tortal family, whose sole heir and guardian is Leo T. Gaje Jr.. As a combat-oriented system, it is the preferred training program by military and law enforcement units, and for Hollywood movies. GT Leo Gaje Jr. instituted this fighting system at the United States upon his move to New York City in 1972. Since then, he has been at the forefront of promoting Filipino martial arts globally.

At 81 years old, GT Leo Gaje Jr. is an unassuming man, candid in his conversations. He was even singing karaoke over dinner. But behind that modest demeanour is a formidable spirit, still quick in his footwork and steadfast in his determination. The list of his achievements is mind blowing. He has been conferred: the United States Martial Arts Hall of Fame; the Presidential Exemplary Meritorious Award, presented by Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo; United States Police Association Edgar Hoover Meritorious Award; was named Man of the Year by Black Belt Magazine; and the Martial Arts Super Show First Filipino Lifetime Achievement Award. He has been featured on BBC, Discovery Channel, the History Channel, Game Plan, Comparative Style, Surviving Edge Weapon and other broadcasting and multimedia platform.

GT Gaje introduced Filipino martial arts to the New York Police Department and developed a training program on “Safety Baton and Edged Weapon Awareness/Strategic Knife Defense programs – the FIRST Defensive Tactics system based on safety and liability reduction at a time when the accepted methods targeted the vital areas of the body resulting in substantial liability to police officers and departments”. He was subsequently appointed as the National Training Director for the Justice System Training Association and the Technical Advisor for the U.S. Police Defensive Tactics Association. He is also Senior Advisor to the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police.

It was notable that the participants I encountered in the training camp last July were in majority, consisted of non-Filipinos, who came from different provinces in Canada, and even from the US. Why there are less Filipinos engaged in this indigenous Filipino martial arts form was a bit puzzling. Kudos to Tuhon Herald Casaña who has been tireless in promoting this system. It was admirable on how the participants entrusted themselves to the training - not knowing the schedule as everything was spontaneously dictated by GT Gaje. They found themselves training for hours on end without meal breaks, and early morning wake up calls for another round of intense training.

Tim Mercer of Edmonton: “Despite the bruises, blisters, sore muscles, pain and early morning wake up calls I learned valuable skills that will help future my martial arts career. Quite an enjoyable experience and something I look forward to all year.”

Mandala Bryan Stoops of New York: “The training was intense and demanding, but only because GT truly wants all participants to develop at peak capacity. Not only did I train, but because we were in a small group, I had conversations and meals with GT as well. GT wants Kali to flourish and his means to that end is Pekiti Tirsia. He is passionate about helping people develop themselves within PTK. I traveled all the way to Alberta from NYC for my training experience, and it was more than worth it!”

Guro Quent Ferdie Roxas of Calgary: “Wilderness training camp with Grand Tuhon Leo Gaje. J.R was everything I expected and more. I was filled with anticipation and nervousness as I have never embarked on an adventure like this on my own before.  It was almost like entering or enlisting in the military and getting sent off to boot camp for preparation...Promptly at 6am training started with calisthenic training. I was tired as hell but motivation was all around. 2 hrs would pass till breakfast break. At that time already drenched in sweat.
Breakfast was a short hour where we would pick up with Doble Dagga, single stick and firearm retention techniques, all before lunch. I ate and passed out for 20 minutes before the next stage of the day. Double stick and single knife finished off the day shortly after 6. Oh man I was tired. The next day would follow the same routine. This training session was by far an experience that I'll remember. GT even with his hardcore demeanour is a caring man that just wants the very best for his pupils.  He wants the torch carriers to be well versed and prepared with his art of Pekiti Tirsia.  Perfection is what he demands and for good reason as he is the sole Master carrier of his family's art. I left tired, bruised, fulfilled and grateful to be part of such a great brotherhood of warriors. GT is a great teacher, a legend, and his instructors underneath him are just as passionate. Great leaders produce great leaders and that's why I am a PTK practitioner. Will I do this again?
Hell yes!!!”

Pekiti Tirsia Kali is a Filiipino martial art and self-defense system known for its methodology in the use of and protection against weapons, grounded in the philosophy: We believe in success, not failure. We believe in health, not in sickness. We believe in life, not in death.  This is the major artery in the Pekiti Tirsia Kali culture, embedded in the doctrines of survival, discipline, and perfection - values that are not just solely for this martial arts system, but for living a life well-lived. For more information on the Pekiti Tirsia Kali, contact Tuhon Herald Casaña at 780-717-9164,, and

* This article was published in the August 2019 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal, and written by Ida Beltran Lucila.