Personal hand-to-hand combat is as old as man himself. People giftedwith discerning eyes for talent and skill to preserve life at all costs, learn by sheer necessity how to outthink, outmaneuver and outdo their adversaries in the course of a fight for survival of the fittest.

-- Ciriaco C. Canete

Grandmaster of doce pares

The instructors at Kick Connection Inc. of Pasadena advise their students to run and hide if confronted by an aggressor.

"We tell them, 'If you're not in a corner, you canrun,' " said Leo Patalinghug, an assistant instructor at the 2-year-old academy.

However, if all else fails, he warns, "We'll use anything we can get our hands on."

Such is the philosophy of the martial art of "arnis," referred to in other regions as "doce pares," "kali," "eskrima" or stick fighting. The Filipinos developed this system of self-defense in the 16th century, while suppressed under Spanish rule, by disguising it as dance movements.

"The Spaniards saw them (the Filipinos) practicing but thought, 'Hey, they're only dancing,' " chief instructor Carlos Patalinghug Jr. explained. "Little did theyknow, but the Filipinos were perfecting a martial art."

At Kick Connection, students are taught to defend themselves with and without weapons, which they refer to as "extensions of the hand." Sticks, daggers, fully enclosed helmets and various mementos line the walls of the second-floor facility tucked in the corner of the brick building in Festival Plaza.

The school, which was founded five years ago in the basement of the Patalinghugs' home in Brooklyn, has grown from a class of seven to a student body of nearly 400 now housed in a 3,000-square-foot studio.

Carlos Patalinghug, who recently earned a marketing degree from the University of Baltimore, attributes the growth and overall success of the school to the fact that ethnic martial arts are simply "in vogue."

"Judo was big in the '60s, and televisionand David Carradine made kung fu popular in the '70s," said Patalinghug, whose family moved to the United States 20 years ago from Cebu City in the Philippines. "Karate was big in the '80s with the 'Karate Kid' movies, but ethnic martial arts like arnis are the trend of the '90s."

Making the public aware of the sport of stick fighting and the Philippine culture is something the Patalinghugs have strove for for years.

Rounding out the staff at Kick Connection are Carlos Patalinghug Sr. and his daughter, Maria. The elder Patalinghug, president of the East Coast chapter of the World Eskrima, Kali, Arnis Federation, serves as an instructor at the academy while Maria acts as manager.

A primary reason for Kick Connection's success has been its broad-minded approach to the arts. Rather than focusing on style and technique, students are put through an endurance workout. Carlos Jr. developed a program, dubbed "Health Kick," that is a combination of aerobics and tae kwon do choreographed to jazz.

"I don't want it to be a martial arts school, but a martial arts fitness center," said Patalinghug, who installed a comprehensive set of weights and machines so students could work on building and maintaining strength. "We cater to the needs of our students."

In addition to the training they receive in standard weaponry, including the kawayan, banco and espaday daga, students at Kick Connection also are prepared for mano-y-mano, or hand-to-hand, combat. While most of the motions used in hand-to-hand combat are similar to the motions done with the sticks, students also are taught to kick -- mostly below the waist.

"Low kicks are most effective," Leo Patalinghug said. "It may sound funny, but Filipinos are short and they just decided to kick where they could reach. If I kick someone in the ribs, they can still come at me, but if I kick them in the groin or the knee or stomp on their foot, I should at least have enough time to run."

Even Kick Connection's tournament team of elite stick fighters are trained to run when necessary. However, that's not to say they won't welcome friendly, good-natured competition.

Earlier this month, the 11-member squad traveled to Staten Island, N.Y., for the East Coast championships. The contingent fared well, accumulating 16 trophies and eight regional titles.

The winners qualified for the second annual North American arnis championships Oct. 5 in Baltimore. Victors at that event will move on to January's world tournament in Cebu City.

In the girls 17-and-under division, 11-year-old Michelle Brown of Glendale took first in form and in sparring, followed in both events by teammate Erin McKay, a seventh-grader from Severna Park.

Severn's Joy Bridges, 25, took first place in sparring in the women's 18-and-over division, while Kris Lopezof Bowie captured first in form and second in sparring.

Gordy Laque, 15, of Millersville took second in form and third in combat in the junior division.

In the men's sparring division, David Curtis, a16-year-old student from Chesapeake High, brought home a first-placetrophy in the beginner welterweight. Teammate Hanks Oaks, 16, of Riva earned the title of WEKAF East

Coast supermiddleweight champion.

In addition to a title belt, Oaks also carried home a third-placetrophy for his form. Chris Sawyer, a senior at Chesapeake, placed second, and Terry Allen, 19, of Pasadena took third in form in the men's division.

Leo Patalinghug was crowned East Coast grand champion of Open Forms, while his father, Carlos Sr., emerged as Senior Forms'grand champion at the age of 53.

"Our students have been traininghard for a long time and they deserved what they got," said Leo, whoalso holds the Midwestern title in Open Forms.

"What impressed memore was the way our students won. They didn't boast about their victory, but showed a good attitude. That's something we stress. We teach our students what the art is for and what it is not for. Some martial arts schools are only out there for the money."

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