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Philippine Starweek Feature Article: "THE ART OF PTK"

by Melrose Valencia

A three full pages article about Filipino Martial Art, with a special emphasis on the Pekiti-Tirsia Filipino Martial Arts System and its propagation in Europe, was published on August 29, 2004 nationwide in the Philippines »Starweek« Magazine.

»Starweek« is the sunday magazine of »Philippine Star«, the major national daily newspaper in the Philippines.



With the following links you can view (and actually read) the article in higher resolution:

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by Melrose Valencia

Many ordinary Filipinos are familiar with other countries’ indigenous martial arts like Japan’s karate, Korea’s tae kwon do or Brazil’s capoeira but it’s safe (and somewhat sad) to assume that only avid martial arts enthusiasts have heard about the Filipino martial art that is currently the rage in Europe.

That particular martial art is Pekiti-Tirsia Kali (PTK), a combat bladefighting system formulated in 1897 by Grand Tuhon (Grand Master based on the traditional PTK ranking system) Conrado Tortal from Negros.  “Pekiti” and “Tirsia” are old Hiligaynon terms that mean close and quarter, respectively.

The heir and present guardian of the authentically Filipino system is Tortal’s grandson, Grand Tuhon Leo Tortal Gaje, Jr., a multi-awarded and world-famous authority on and a living legend of Filipino martial arts, with special emphasis on edged weapons defensive tactics.

PTK’s popularity in Europe can be attributed to the tireless crusade of a German – but Filipino at heart – who gave up his lucrative IT company to concentrate on teaching the tenets of the martial art that is “based on knowledge, experience and a philosophy of appreciating life, success and good health”.  He is Uli Weidle, the highest-ranked PTK instructor in Europe today with the rank of Maginoo-Mandala (Elder).

Uli’s story on his entry to the world of martial arts is ordinary enough.  He got bullied as a kid so he joined a karate club at the age of 10.  He became a champion for his federal country (Baden Wuttenberg in Southern Germany).  This didn’t prepare him and his fellow blackbelter friend, however, to meet the challenge of a real-life encounter with some bad guys a few years later.

“It wasn’t really that we were physically beaten.  But at that time, we were mentally not prepared to handle the absurd logic of a real-life situation like the one we had,” Uli recalls.  It was a painful realization for him to learn that his training in sports tournaments with its rigid system was actually useless in real life where there are no rules.

That incident made a major impact on his young life.  Recognizing the huge difference between real life self-defense and tournament sports, Uli decided to search for the ultimate martial art.  Along the way, he practiced Western boxing, Thai-boxing and some Judo.  He then stumbled on Ving Tsun (or Wing Chun), a system of kung fu known for its “efficiency and economy of motion”.  Because the Chinese martial art emphasized “the dynamics of fighting more than the techniques on how to fight”, Uli thought he had found what he was looking for.

For 10 years, he studied Ving Tsun in Germany and Hongkong.  Then he heard about PTK from some American instructors who were conducting martial arts workshops in Germany.  He was curious about this indigenous Filipino martial art but couldn’t pursue his interest because it wasn’t being taught in his country.  He later saw an advertisement about it in an American martial arts magazine where he learned about Greg Alland, a first-generation student of Grand Tuhon Gaje. 

At age 24, Uli decided to study PTK under Alland.  He went to New York once or twice a year and also invited Alland once or twice a year to Germany to conduct workshops.  During this time, Uli also started teaching the art to a small group in Germany.  He was learning and teaching PTK at the same time and after six years, Alland felt it was time for Uli to go to the Philippines and learn from the master himself, Grand Tuhon Gaje.

Uli finally met Grand Tuhon when he visited the Philippines in early 1996 to attend a big tournament in Bacolod City.  He was impressed to learn that Grand Tuhon was an exceptionally educated man.  “I remember that first evening after a hard workout.  He came to me and we sat together on a terrace looking at the jungle and the mountains surrounding the place and we talked about politics, life, philosophy, martial arts in Germany and a lot of things.  He has a strong opinion and the confidence of a man who knows what he is capable of doing,“ Uli reminisces.

PTK’s sophistication as well as Grand Tuhon’s method of teaching convinced Uli that he had finally found in PTK what he could not find in other martial arts.  “It is amazing.  Grand Tuhon’s art is based on natural movement, guided by principles and the spontaneous application of strategic and tactical understanding of situations.  His teaching is a well-balanced mixture of targeted long-time development of good habits, good judgment and powerful movement, supported by spontaneous changes of exercises to adapt to the current needs of the students,” Uli explains.

In October 1996, Uli invited Grand Tuhon to Germany to conduct the first training seminar in Europe.  The event also coincided with the establishment of PTK Europe which he organized because “it was Grand Tuhon’s wish that PTK should be taught systematically and properly so that the teaching would be pure and has no mixture of other martial arts, especially non-Filipino.”

Two years after the establishment of PTK Europe and after eight years of practicing the Filipino martial art, Uli was conferred the status Mandatus First Hagdan (Authorized Representative) by Grand Tuhon.  It was around this time that he found his hands full running his own club and overseeing the Europe operations while at the same time managing the IT company he founded with a partner at age 17.  After 15 years of a very profitable business (his monthly earning was equivalent to his yearly income running his club), he made the crucial decision of giving it all up.  “(Teaching PTK) offered less payment but (it gave me) more personal satisfaction, “ Uli admits, with nary a trace of regret.

From renting a 60-square meter space from a dance school in his area, Uli now has his own 400-square meter gym where he has 200 students.  On weekdays, he teaches four classes a day and additional private classes for celebrities.  On weekends, he travels to European cities to oversee the clubs there and help the local police and military in their trainings on close quarter combat and edged weapon survival.

To create and maintain awareness of the martial art and its roots, Uli and Grand Tuhon Gaje also conduct regular training camps and have established a regular tournament they call the European Fighter League where “people compete in (a) no rules fightů done in the setting of a festival which showcases a fiesta with music, cultural exhibitions, martial arts demonstrations, etc.”

This paved the way for the rising popularity of PTK in Germany.  Eventually, the word spread about this exciting Filipino martial art and soon, clubs started sprouting in Italy, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Austria and Switzerland with instructors personally trained by Uli and Grand Tuhon Gaje.

With the success of PTK in Europe, Uli hopes to translate this in the Philippine setting because “this is where the roots of this art came from”, he stresses.  Although he realizes that he cannot recreate here what he did for PTK in Europe, due to the difference in ‘structure and development”, Uli is confident that “people (will) recognize its value and it will prosper for the benefit of the people and the country.”

Uli firmly believes that the first step in promoting the art among Filipinos should be to develop instructors first: “Only good instructors can present the art in the way that it should be presented.” Currently only Rommel Tortal, Grand Tuhon Gaje’s nephew, regularly teaches PTK to a group of enthusiasts called the Manila Pittbulls.

To persuade young people to take interest in and eventually teach PTK, Uli plans to create a program that will allow European PTK practitioners to support the studies of deserving students on condition they learn and teach PTK to fellow Filipinos.  He further expounds, “ We will offer the most gifted of these students opportunity for advancement that will allow them to learn how to teach PTK in an international level, especially in Europe.  We will establish an exchange program in which we will send Filipino instructors to the PTK groups in Europe and US where they can teach and earn good money.  In turn, some percentage of the money generated will be used to keep the sponsorship program running.”

Aside from encouraging would-be PTK instructors, Uli also believes in incorporating PTK in tourism activities.  “The Filipino martial art has the same, if not better, potential to be a cultural ambassador of the Philippines as karate has for Japan, wushu for China or tae kwon do for Korea,” Uli insists.  “Only by getting involved with the Filipino martial art (did) many Europeans actually realize and appreciate the beauty of the Philippines and its culture.  It’s sad but without PTK, many of them probably would have a hard time finding the Philippines on the map!”

With his plans still in the pipeline, Uli is looking forward to settling down permanently in the Philippines within two years.  “Although I am a foreigner by birth, I feel very much at home in the Philippines.  I don’t only want to retire there.  I hope that before I retire, I might be able to do something positive to give back some of the good things that I have received by being able to learn PTK.”

Author: Melrose Valencia, published as three full pages article on August 29, 2004 nationwide in the Philippines »Starweek« Magazine.

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