Interview with Mandala Uli Weidle
The following interview with Mandala Uli Weidle was made for the potku.net magazine by Marko Ronkainen on the occasion of the first Pekiti-Tirsia workshop with Mandala Uli Weidle in Helsinki, Finland.
Read here the pre-release. Questions by Marko Ronkainen. Answers by Uli Weidle:
Tell us something about your background and how did you get started with the martial arts?
Mandala Uli performing in dynamic Pekiti-Tirsia exhibition with Mandala Rommel Tortals Manila Pitbulls in Mega Mall, Manila, Philippines
I was born 1966 in Reutlingen, a city in the southern part of Germany,
close to Stuttgart. At the age of 8 I started practising Karate
because I was harassed by a bully twice my age. There was a new
Karate school in town and according to what I saw in movies it seemed
to provide the answers for my situation. To keep the story short, in
the following years I trained 3 to 5 times a week, advanced and won a
couple of tournaments. As two times federal state champion I
discovered the hard way, that winning a tournament and successfully
mastering a street conflict are not the same. That experience made me
open my eyes and started my search for a martial art that teaches
practical self-defence skills.
How did you get involved with the Filipino Martial Arts?
Looking back in time my involvement with Filipino Martial Arts was no
accident. I had practised a variety of martial arts including Muay
Thai, Western Boxing and Ving Tsun, which I was actually teaching for
some years. All the time I was looking for a practical self-defence
method. Well, for every martial artist with a focus in self-defence,
the ultimate challenge is how to survive a knife attack. National and
international martial arts magazines agreed that it is the Filipino
Martial Art that offers the most practical answers to the questions
raised in a knife culture. So looking back, it was all the time the
FMA that I was looking for. Though it's easy to see when looking back
in time, it took me many years to realize that.
When I got interested in FMA, at first it was only to learn about the
street reality of knife attacks – i had trained some Chinese
and Japanese arts, that taught weaponry in the advanced phase of
training, but none of them really taught something that I considered
useful for the reality of the streets. So I evaluated and tested many
systems of FMA and when I finally found Pekiti-Tirsia in the USA, it
was the first to satisfy my requirements. How should I know that,
what was originally supposed to be a sideline, it should dramatically
change my understanding of MA.
How do you see your
evolution as a martial artist, if you consider what motivated you
back then and motivates you now, what's different?
I kind of returned to the original motives that got me interested in
Martial Arts in the very beginning. I kind of re-discovered those
after I had forgotten about them being distracted because of
tournament sports and rankings – all those shiny fake goals.
What is different now, is that now I understand better what that original
motives really meant – what self-defence really is and how it
is necessarily linked to a life style and a life philosophy. Now that
I understand that, I realise the true power of it and I won't loose
As a consequence of realising the power and value of the life philosophy
of Pekiti-Tirsia Kali, which is to believe in life, good health and
success and to respect others, who respect life as well, Martial Arts
has become a positive force. Because of Martial Arts I am in the
lucky situation that I live a life in good health conditions, a happy
life I may say, having good friends and being able to focus on what I
enjoy and really appreciate doing. With that life situation, helping
others has become more important to me. Among other projects, I
founded with the support of the PTE instructors a sponsorship program
to help young students in Philippines with their school tuition fee
and using that as a means to help the young Filipino re-discover the
values and value in their own heritage before it is completely lost
to Americanisation. It is a way for us to give back to the Filipinos.
How did you first meet
Grand Tuhon Gaje and what was the impact of that meeting?
At first when I started training in the Pekiti-Tirsia, I learned from a
first generation senior student of Grand Tuhon in the USA. I still
remember my first meeting with him in New York, when I was getting
hands on experience in what the system is all about: We trained empty
hands, stick and knifes in all combinations. In empty hands I liked
the system, because it was all practical and still different enough
to surprise – it didn't do just the ordinary stuff, that
everybody expects and is prepared to neutralise and re-counter.
Powerful and very street smart, the empty hand alone was an
experience sufficient enough to make me study the Pekiti-Tirsia with
genuine interest. The big surprise, though, was in knife: I thought
my skills in empty hands especially Chi Sao would give me a small
chance against the knife – I was so dead wrong! That was the
time, when I realised that in the time before, when sometimes I
handled a conflict situation physically, how lucky I was that never
somebody skilled pulled a knife on me.
That Pekiti-Tirsia had become my primary art i realised, when I was about
to demonstrate a specific counter technique of my prior art. It so
happened that my partner attacked me early and with much more power
and intend that I expected – I responded spontaneously with a
counter that had clearly a Kali flavour. Since then Pekiti-Tirsia had
become my primary fighting art, that never let me down when the
gloves are off and the game is on.
While teaching Pekiti-Tirsia to my students, I got the impression that
something was missing and I was seriously thinking about adding that
missing part. I had a talk about that with my instructor from the
USA. It ended up in a friendly match, after which he agreed that I
start to develop extensions of the curriculum. It was about a year
after that, when I met Grand Tuhon Gaje the first time. It so
happened that Grand Tuhon started the very first training session
with the material that I felt was missing in the curriculum of his
senior student. That was without us having talked about that topic
before hand. Some of what he showed was identical with what I had
developed so far and others was far more sophisticated then I had
ever imagined. That was the time when I understood, that the
Pekiti-Tirsia system as taught by Grand Tuhon Gaje offers all I was
looking for - it's there for me to be discovered and more then that,
the system has all the answers already field and combat tested,
before I am even able to ask the questions.
Is Pekiti-Tirsia your full-time job or do something else as well?
What was a passion has become my life. I teach, train and promote
Pekiti-Tirsia as a professional. Like a pro-musician or a surgeon.
Before it was not like that. I had an IT company in the 80s and made
my living from that. When the martial arts demanded more and more of
my time, I had to make a decision. In the mid-90s I choose to sell my
company and live my dream now and not later.
What's you're view on
this, it is often said that in order to be a skilled martial artist
one has to practise, practise and practise. Does this mean that
things like other career options and family will automatically have
less time in life?
For people with a commitment and dedication to martial art, it is natural
that MA influences all parts of life. That doesn't mean that all life
should be MA only. The natural order of priorities are
family+friends, then business and then the past times. For most, MA
is a past time. For some it is a business, they choose to do it
professionally. For a few it is like part of the family. That is the
highest level of dedication. With that said, I should add, that no
matter what importance martial arts has in your life, one of the
lessons of martial arts is about importance of balance. If you focus
the wrong way, you are in danger of loosing your balance. The
priorities form a triangle and the triangle
is only complete, when you have all three sides.
Filipino Martial Arts are
quite popular in Germany, how many practitioners do you estimate
there are in the whole country? How many Pekiti-Tirsia practitioners
That is a tough to answer question. In the last years, there is a growing
number of people, who for various reasons teach the FMA methods under
different labels. Is that still FMA? According to numbers I've been
told a couple of years ago by a martial arts friend, who cares about
statistics, there should be about 4000 person engaged in FMA. I never
asked him, how he counted the people. According to our members
registrations we have about 300 people training pure PT. With that
said it should be added, that to us „how many“ is a
question of secondary importance. I am more interested in „how
good“. That is one of the first things, I learned from GT.
You yourself spend a lot
of time travelling in the Philippines and other countries, do you
have many instructors besides yourself that train people when you're
not there yourself?
In my local club we have currently seven instructors - that is including
myself. We are six men and one female. When I am in town the majority
of the training is conducted by myself personally. Some of those guys
have now started their own groups in neighbour cities. I support them
in their venture with all means available.
How did Pekiti-Tirsia Europe get started and how has it grown since that?
I started practising PT in the early 90s learning in the USA and then
training with a few friends in Germany. In 1996 Grand Tuhon send me
on the mission to formally organise the PT in Europe. At that time he
gave me guidelines what to do and what not to do. He didn't want us
to bastardise the art by mixing it with other art or to commercialise
it by teaching forms or sets of techniques, that would just distract
the student from what is needed for developing skill and experience.
He wanted to start the Pekiti-Tirsia in Europe on a higher level. No
waste of time - all functional training based on trust, to show the
core and essence of the PT system complete with its philosophy, to
build a fighting force and a friendship across the boundaries of
We started as a dedicated group of friends and now we have
representatives in many European countries. The ties of friendship is
still what is keeping the group together. That is the quality we want
to maintain. It is a quality necessary to really train the art.
Pekiti-Tirsia festivals in Reutlingen, please tell us more about them
The first Kali festival we had in 1997. I patterned the festival after
the experience I had with FMA exhibitions in the Philippines and also
based on my years of actively competing in tournaments where between
the fights I usually experienced the most boring times - no wonder
there was never really a big audience in those tournaments. So based
on that experience we designed the festival not as a tournament or
workshop, but a filipino fiesta showcasing full contact stick fights
with minimal protection, exhibitions of variety of FMA and related
arts and plenty of food, music and good time for everybody.
Swedish and German Pekiti-Tirsia Fighters in a C-Level Fighter League Stickmatch at Kali Festival 2003 in Reutlingen
We usually make it a two days event. First day is for fighters only.
Everybody can experience fights and the atmosphere is great. There is
no need for rules and there is no unnecessary hardship because
nothing to win or loose but experience and friendship. Second day is
open day for everybody with all the excitement of demos and fights,
free food and free entrance.
There's also a big FMA
event in Dortmund bi-annually (I think), have you taken part in that
and will you in the future?
When Alfred Plath invited me to the first one, I think that was in 2003, I
immediately accepted, because I liked the idea of promoting the
values and variety of FMA. To support that event, I agreed to teach
there without any payment, travel expenses only. Unfortunately I
caught a strong fever and was not able to travel there. I am still
feeling sad for that, because I know from internet feedback that a
good number of people where going there because they wanted to meet
me and experience PT. Those who contacted me, I offered them to
attend one of my seminars free of charge.
On the second event Alfred invited me again and I agreed to support the
event and once again teach free of charge - but I didn't like the
format of the very short, less then one hour units. The attendants
would practise a lot of systems, but scratch the surface only, never
really getting into it or feeling the different finer points that
actually make the systems. The seminar attendant will leave the
workshop with the impression that FMA systems are just random
collections of techniques and drills. That would be an injustice to
all systems of FMA, that have a valid identity on their own. I
discussed that with Alfred and we agreed that I would teach 2 session
of 2 hours instead of the suggested 4 sessions of less then 1 hour
each. Short before the Festival Alfred gave me a phone call and
informed me that Dieter Knüttel was not willing to accept that
agreement. According to Alfred, Dieter insisted that I should do 4
times 1 hour, no other option. I declined.
How much co-operation you
generally have with other FMA organizations in Germany and Europe?
What about other martial arts?
Pekiti-Tirsia attracts experienced martial artists from many styles. Boxing, Muay
Thai, various Silat styles, MMA, Taekwondo, Karate, Judo, other FMA,
Sports Fencing, Capoeira, Re-enactment Swordplay,... you name it.
Those people have their friends and contacts and that naturally
becomes part of the Pekiti-Tirsia friendship network. That is not
organised or written down in any way - just friends of friends,
because friends will be friends. According to the PT philosophy we
believe in making friends not enemies.
What about Pekiti-Tirsia
globally, naturally it's popular in USA (like everything seems to
be), but how about the rest of the world?
There is a high demand for Pekiti-Tirsia in many places but we don't have
enough instructors to accommodate all those requests. I have several
pending invitations from Austria, Spain, France outside of Europe in
India, Dom.Rep even from places in Philippines, Thailand and
Indonesia that ask me to teach there. These requests are on queue,
since I don't want to divide my attention on too many places. I still
follow what GT told me in the early days: Quality first! I am already
travelling to support the various Pekiti-Tirsia groups three out of
four weekends and still there are so many open invitations. As you
can see we have demand for good instructors. But we don't want to
sacrifice quality for quantity. That is why we have the Instructor
Candidate Program in Europe and Philippines.
Pic1: Uli is attacked with roundhouse low-kick. He uses the force of the incoming kick to destroy the attacking leg with a counter-knee-attack to the ankle/in-step. At the same time Uli shields and monitors incoming Jab-Cross Combo.
Pic2: Stepping down Uli uses Banga-principle to break the attackers balance and body structure using simultaneous leverage against neck, shoulder, elbow and hip.
Pic3+4: Finishing off with loaded elbow attacks.
A little bit about
Pekiti-Tirsia itself, then. What makes it different from other
martial arts and especially other Filipino Martial Arts?
First I should ask back, distinct from what other martial arts? And then,
to answer your question it would still need a library of books –
and that is precisely what we don't want. But anyway, for your
satisfaction here are some of the major ideas of the system:
Pekiti-Tirsia is a training system that produces good habits of
thought, body mechanics and awareness. All of the system is based on
the principle of movement, adaptability and higher understanding. It
is not based on techniques or drills. Pekiti-Tirsia is taught by
experience and taught to produce experience. Geometrically the system
is based on triangles and circles, as can be observed in nature with
sharks teeth and the movements of the stars in the sky. We use no
blocks, no static stances, but direct counter-attack and offensive
deflections. We don't teach the student by word associating, but by
use of thought provoking process. That is why we don't want books or
videos about PT. It is always in the present and never in the past.
Our philosophy and our fighting methods are those of a blade culture.
Our weapons are whatever is available to us.
Do you see it as evolving
art (testing & applying new techniques,cross-training on other
martial arts) and how has it evolved during your time? Or is it more
a traditional art that has certain repository of techniques and the
will to keep it as such by not changing anything?
Pekiti-Tirsia is by tradition an evolving art. It is so because of our teaching
method. And that is what makes Pekiti-Tirsia a truly indigenous
Filipino Art. Grand Tuhon told me that in the old universities,
before the Spanish came and replaced, or better say destroyed, most
of the indigenous Filipino culture, there was a different school
system. The teacher was not there to give answers and to test if the
student memorized well. Instead the teacher was the one to ask
questions and then to help the student to find valid and maybe new
answers. That is still the way for Pekiti-Tirsia: Each generation of
practitioners is not copying the master by blindly following his way,
but a new practitioner kind of re-discovers the logic of the system
in the training process by his own logic and experience, guided by
the experience of the teacher. That way the system is revalidated by
each new generation of practitioners. By following tradition, the
Pekiti-Tirsia system is always valid and up to date.
As a result of that, Pekiti-Tirsia has been chosen as the official MA of
the PMC (Pilipino Marines Corps). Since 1998 I was involved in
training of the Force Recon, the most reputed commando unit of the
Marines. We are also teaching the SAF (Special Action Force), the CRG
(Crisis Response Group) and other special operations units of the
Philippine National Police. We are involved in training many of the
elite military and police forces in the USA and in Europe. Of course
in this process the Pekiti-Tirsia system is field tested again and
again. In other words, Pekiti-Tirsia is constantly quality controlled
in the real world laboratory. We evaluate mission results and if
there should be any need to improve PT, we are the first one to be
interested in discovering.
Mandala Uli with Cpt Cautiver and Special Action Force (SAF) Commando from Philippine National Police (PNP)
Filipino masters have
historically been very selective of their students and also guarded
their arts very carefully for example by not allowing their students
to train under other masters. Has this changed, what is the situation
In short, it did not change, but there is an additional layer of easy
accessible commercial FMA on top of what has been there always.
Usually this is going along with the adaptation of commercially
successful marketing concepts of Japanese and Korean martial arts,
like for example katas, belt rankings, uniforms, standardized group
instruction and most important teaching by word associating process.
Beneath that commercial surface, in the Philippines there are still some
people who have a knowledge and tremendous experience that can only
be referred to as martial arts treasures. Such people alike Manong
Kolimbo or Manong Basko, I met some of those in the most unlikely
places and in fact more often, I have been found by those men as I
have found them. They usually like to maintain a low profile, to
avoid challenges and to maintain the element of surprise in case they
need to rely on their skills.
In all times, present and past, what was used to fight for real was
always kept as a protected knowledge hidden inside the family circle.
That comes as a natural by-product of the fact, that the life and the
skill that is used to protect that life was and still is a treasured
possession. „Try your best strike“ - that is a common
challenge. Why should somebody disclose his „best strike“
to somebody whom he can not trust?
Let me give you an example: Manong Olavides from the Uno-Dos-Tres De
Campo JDC once told me how Grand Master Cabaleiro was teaching.
Grandmaster Cabaleiro had quite a reputation as a successful
challenge fighter. Many wanted to learn his skills. They would pay
with chocolate or other favours, sometimes with money, so that GM
Cabaleiro would show them a trick or a movement in return. He would
not really explain the intricacies and not really correct the student
if he was doing wrong. If the student got beaten in a fight and would
complain, then the Grand Master would ask, how and with what strike
the student was beaten and then he would show the re-counter or
correct the problem in the movement - of course getting some more
chocolate in return. Manong Olavides was learning that way for many
years and only after Manong Olavides selflessly helped Grand Master
Cabaleiro in a serious family matter, that's when Grand Master
Cabaleiro got convinced that Manong Olavides is a good person, to be
trusted. That was when Grand Master Cabaleiro started to develop an
interest in teaching the full skill to Manong Olavides, showing the
finer movements, correcting the intricacies and making sure that he
Though FMA instruction is widely commercially available, only instruction
based on trust and a personal relationship means an genuine interest
to teach the person to the best possibility. It was true in last
generation and it is still true until today.
Grand Tuhon Gaje is a
living legend among Filipino masters and martial artists in general.
What makes training under him so special?
If that question could be answered that easily, then everybody could
have that quality of Grand Tuhon and be a living legend like him.
Anyway I will give it a shot and answer you based on my personal
One of the many qualities of what makes Grand Tuhon such an unparalleled
trainer is that he is not only teaching physical skills, but he
develops all the personality of the student. According to
Pekiti-Tirsia philosophy, we believe that every person has potential,
ability and skills for success. Still, most people don't even get
close to exploring that potential because they are afraid of failure
and choose to live a boring life without challenge in their own small
cage of security. One of Grand Tuhons most favourite quotes: „the
worst that can happen, is when nothing happens at all.“
In short, what makes GT special, is that he lives Pekiti-Tirsia in a
way, that he really is Pekiti-Tirsia. To know that man is an
experience, that really touches a person and inspires people to grow
to explore their potential, doing great things. It's really that,
what makes Pekiti-Tirsia so valuable. It really is more then
How would characterize him as a person?
He is unique. An original, that many try to copy and exactly by this
they miss the essence. His humour is special, it is based on logic,
that can only be described as a Tuhon logic. It is his humour that is
his best teaching tool. His dedication to Filipino Martial Arts and
the Pekiti-Tirsia especially is the strongest force. It can only be
understood when knowing the man. He expects the highest in dedication
and loyalty but he never demands. In the beginning I was often
confused, why he never uses his authority to command and rule over
others to make things easy by instilling strong discipline. In time I
understood better: What is true, it can not be asked for. If the
person got the message, then it comes naturally. If the person didn't
get the message, it will never be true anyway. So why asking for it?
Manila Pitbulls with Mandala Rommel Tortal and Jasper De Ocampo arrange a have—a—good—trip—and—come—back—real—soon-party for Mandala Uli
You yourself travel to
the Philippines at least once a year for lengthy periods of time for
advancement training. How do you see yourself changing during these
How did I change? Better you should ask others about that, not myself. :)
From the reactions of my friends I can tell, that in the beginning, when I
returned from Philippines, my long time students were suddenly afraid
to train with me. This was not because I would physically hurt them,
but they sensed a change in me that probably is something about
commitment. It may be described as a growing inner force that comes
with the experience of better understanding. Another change: I smile
How does the training in
Philippines differ from the training in Europe?
There are differences in the climate that allows and asks for different
training structures. But more important then that, Filipino and
Western people have typically a different temper and a different
mind-body relation. The training has to consider that. Pekiti-Tirsia
training develops a skill that is based on a balance, the balance
between mind, body and awareness. The effects of this balance can be
described as a spontaneous understanding and the result of that
understanding is, that what used to be reaction becomes spontaneous
action and counter to attack becomes immediate counter-attack.
How would you describe
the Philippines as a country and the Filipino as a people? How does
this affect Filipino Martial Arts and training of them?
The Filipinos are special people, who live a mixture between asian and
western thinking and believes - a mixture that developed over
generations. Life there is appreciated, felt and spontaneously
expressed with a burning intensity and consequence, that is unusual
for western people. This filipino spirit is what makes the Filipino
Martial Art so special and effective.
How does it affect training? As I explained in my last answer, training
Pekiti-Tirsia means developing a balance and that balance is
generated from the fire of enjoying and appreciating the bare
essentials of life. In other words, training FMA the proper way
awakes the Filipino spirit in the European.
Now that Finland has had
it's first official seminar from Pekiti-Tirsia Europe, please
comment that a little, and give us some tips what to work on
especially before we see you next time.
Looking back about the seminar, I would say that I really enjoyed training
with all you guys and I was impressed that everybody was training
well to the very last minute. No weak spirit in the group - that is
special for a first seminar. My compliments to the Finish people.
What to practise? I showed that on the workshop. Develop good
habits, good body mechanics. Make sure the basics are functional and
be sure that you train with an open mind, guided by honesty,
friendship and respect: looking for answers and helping each other to
find the questions that will lead us there.
Jussi and Jarkko were perfect hosts who added to my good experience in Finland.
I am looking forward to return to Helsinki and I will be happy to meet the
same group. With you guys supporting each other then you will have my
support and for sure we can start a quality Pekiti-Tirsia in Finland.
In May 2005 I will be with Grand Tuhon Gaje in Sweden and with the
finish people continuing the way they started, then it won't be long
and we will have Grand Tuhon coming with me to Finland.
Group photo from the Helsinki Pekiti-Tirsia Seminar 2005
Thank you for the interview, Grand Tuhon Gaje will be conducting a seminar
in Stockholm during May, hopefully we will be seeing you in Finland
back soon and maybe one day also Grand Tuhon himself!