LSAI & LESKAS the Difference

First of all, let me state that the relationship of LSAI to LESKAS is a paradox. It is both the same and it is not. Before we proceed, a little background is in order.

Lightning Scientific Arnis International (LSAI) was founded in 1937 by the late Grandmaster Benjamin Luna-Lema, also known as Ben Judo or Mang Ben. It was established in Mambusao, Capiz, on the island of Panay in the Philippines. It is a system which stresses speed and power and relies on a combination of techniques and styles namely tercia- a close range fighting style, tercia meaning one-thirds (in referral to the fighting range), cadenilya – which stresses the fluid linking of various attacks resulting in a continuous barrage of blows, serrada- which means to close off (a close range check/jamming approach) and espada y daga- the concurrent use of both a long and short weapon (sword and dagger). Mang Ben learned the art from his father and other masters of the art in the region. LSAI has many chapters, mainly in Metro Manila and Mang Ben has taught the likes of Roland Dantes (former Mister Philippines), Congressman Raffy Recto, and the former Vice-Governor of Capiz province Noede Villareal.

The Lema Scientific Kali-Arnis System (LESKAS) on the other hand was formally established in 1996 in the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City. It was established by the late Maestro Elmer Ybanez. Maestro Ybanez was a long time personal student of Mang Ben and is considered by many to be his foremost protege, that is of course, apart from Mang Bens own sons. Master Elmer has won numerous national titles in arnis sport competition. LESKAS was formally recognized and legitimized by Grandmaster Lema in 1998. Maestro Elmers background is as varied as his mentors (Mang Ben also engaged in Judo and Karate). He studied Modern Arnis under Master Vic Sanchez, as well as Boxing. Maestro Elmer spent almost 20 years studying under Mang Ben. He relocated to the United States in 1998, where he stayed until his unfortunate passing due to cancer.

In that Maestro Elmers bulk of knowledge in Filipino Martial Arts came from Mang Ben, it would be safe to say that LESKAS is basically LSAI. The techniques taught and drills used are the same. However, in closer inspection, the differences become obvious since LESKAS practitioners have a distinct quality of movement when compared to other LSAI practitioners.

The main difference is in the Program of Instruction (POI), teaching methodology and student progression. Mang Bens teaching style was old-school in that although he did have a POI, this POI however only covered the basics. This meant that the more advance aspects of the art was no longer taught in a systematic manner and was dependent more on what Mang Ben wanted to teach. Thus, in the more advanced stages of practice, it was up to the student to make sense of the techniques and principles behind the techniques Mang Ben was showing. Maestro Elmer on the other hand, had a background in Physical Education. He grouped similar techniques, added drills and combinations to the teaching curriculum and articulated specific qualities and characteristics in the execution of techniques. His POI was designed for faster student development, retention, and easier understanding of underlying principles involved. Maestro Elmers background in other arts also made its mark in LESKAS. Due to this, one will find some drills and techniques from Maestro Elmer’s modern arnis days being practiced by LESKAS practitioners (something which is absent in the other LSAI groups). These drills and techniques were added due to their usefulness as far as student skills development were concerned. It is important to note however that these additions were not taken as is, but were modified to suite basic LSAI striking and movement qualities and strategies.

Not all of the techniques Mang Ben taught were brought over to LESKAS. There were some techniques which were peculiar to Mang Bens personal characteristics and physique. Apart from being left-handed, Mang Ben was also an unusually tall individual (by Filipino standards), and had long arms and legs as well as huge hands. Due to this, Maestro Elmer no longer included things which he felt were not applicable to your average typical Filipino (who tended to be shorter in stature and built differently).

As stated earlier, Maestro Elmer had a distinct and articulated standard as far as striking quality and movement were concerned. Due to this, his students tended to move similarly. This is not something one will readily find in the rest of the LSAI community where one would find practitioners who move in sharp snappy movements practicing among others who move in more rhythmic fluid, flowing motions. Maestro Elmer emphasized fast, snappy strikes which were in broken rhythm as well as specific footwork and positioning. Mang Ben’s movement on the other hand had a more fluid, slashing quality to it. Both LSAI and LESKAS however share the same power-oriented striking combinations as well as the basic principles, strategies and techniques of tercia, cadenilya, serrada, and espada y daga.

Another main difference between the two was in their rigidity. Maestro Elmer was a more open individual in that he readily adopted techniques, concepts and drills which in his eyes had value granting these did not contradict the basic principles and strategies of the LSAI system. Thus, as mentioned earlier, LESKAS practitioners practice certain drills which one will not find in other LSAI schools. Mang Ben on the other hand might be what one would consider a purist as far as his style was concerned. He would often frown upon seeing his students practicing or adopting methodologies from other arts. This was understandable considering the fact the he (Mang Ben) came from the old-school and from a time and culture which was a lot more ethno-centric and closed whereas Master Elmer was a thoroughly modern individual.

Due to these similarities and differences, one can say that all LESKAS practitioners are LSAI, however not all LSAI people are LESKAS. Although there are many LSAI Masters and Instructors spanning the six or seven decades in which Mang Ben taught his art, LESKAS has only five certified instructors. These are Felipe Jocano, Nathan Dominguez, Filomeno Buena, Joshua Medroso and Manolo del Rosario. There were no LESKAS instructors who were given Master Ranks in LESKAS although some of them were given Master’s Ranks in LSAI.

Despite the differences, as stated earlier, LSAI and LESKAS are still one and the same art. They are both powerful, graceful and rely on basically the same set of techniques, strategies and principles. Mang Ben was regarded internationally as a legend in the Filipino Martial Arts and was a revered Grandmaster primarily in the Philippines. Maestro Elmer on the other hand was known as Mang Bens protege in the Philippines and gained his own reputation more in the United States where he was considered by practitioners there both as a Grandmaster and legend in his own right. Both individuals are however always mentioned and featured in tandem, back to back as mentor and student, and as outstanding Filipino Martial Arts practitioners and technicians individually in their own right.

Many people today confuse the two. Many consider LESKAS to be the new name for LSAI. Indeed, given the intimate relationship of the two, this is understandable. They are both the same and not. They both share the same essence, and yet, are distinct personalities- sort of like the triune relationship of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. In a way, the LESKAS and LSAI relationship embodies the Filipino concept of Kapwa. They are at once the same and at once different.

Today, the LSAI organization is headed by Mang Ben’s son, Benjamin, Junior who is the recognized heir to the LSAI system. Ben, Jr. is represented in the Philippines by his older sister, Patty Jean Lema-Caballero. LESKAS on the other hand is managed organizationally by the Ybanez family, primarily by Maestro Elmer’s widow, Maribel Padua-Ybanez. This is done in close coordination with three of the original five LESKAS instructors. No heir to the system has been named to date.

We owe a great deal to these two gentlemen who unselfishly shared their art, their knowledge, and their lives for future generations. It is now up to us, the next generation LSAI and LESKAS practitioners, to embody the principles and ideals these two gentlemen once did. It is to these two gentlemen that we pay our homage and utmost gratitude.

Mabuhay ang LSAI at LESKAS!

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