The History of Pekiti Tirsia Kali: The Grand Tuhon – Part 1


The Grand Tuhon is the supreme grandmaster of Pekiti Tirsia Kali, the Filipino martial art system developed by his family. He is one of the people responsible for introducing and popularizing Filipino Martial Arts to the world. He is a man of distinct peculiarities. This is his story, or at least how I wish to tell it… 

Pekiti Tirsia Kali – A Prelude to War…

The Grand Tuhon was born in 1938, three and a half years before the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. His grandfather was Conrado Tortal, a respected lawman and renowned blade master turned guerrilla commander during the brutal years of Japanese occupation, who along with his four brothers Balbino, Tedoricio, Francisco, and Quirino, had come from the neighboring island of Panay to settle in Negros Occidental in the western Visayas region of the Philippine archipelago.

These rich sugar lands, known for their vast haciendas – great sugar estates that stretched to every horizon – were the Ilongo homeland, the ethnic tribe to which the Tortal clan belonged. They were a potent mix of old Filipino and new Spanish blood. These bloodlines had commingled to create a proud people known for their friendly smiles and fiery temperament. The Ilongos were feared warriors, and the Tortals were keepers of a secret art of war called Pekiti Tirsia Kali.

Pekiti Tirsia Kali – The After-Birth…

Conrado Tortal was the head of the Tortal family and Grandmaster of Pekiti Tirsia Kali; the family fighting system that had been handed down in secret through generations of the Tortal bloodline. He had only one child, a loving daughter named Feliza, who would die on the 5th of May 1938 during childbirth. On that day she gave birth to a baby girl who would succumb to pneumonia.

But Feliza held a secret. As she lay dying she revealed a final gift for her beloved father. Unbeknownst to everyone, Feliza was carrying twins. An heir lay hidden in her womb, waiting to make his grand entrance. The first in a lifetime of grand entrances; a vessel into which Conrado Tortal could pour the totality of Tortal knowledge.

So the story of the Grand Tuhon began in a time that was a prelude to a great war; his birth – concealed in grief and tragedy that gave way to newborn cries of hope and salvation. Then again, peculiar circumstances often accompany the birth of peculiar people.

Pekiti Tirsia Kali – A Daughter’s Gift…

Conrado Tortal realized what a precious gift his daughter had left him. With grief and anger raging through his veins, he chased the newborn’s father and ran him out of town. He blamed him for his daughter’s death and found him unfit and incapable of being a father to the newborn. The boy would inherit the legacy of Pekiti Tirsia Kali and the secrets of the Tortal clan.

And so the Grand Tuhon would be raised by his grandparents. He was the only remnant of their only child. He had lost his mother and sister to his own birth, and his father to the displeasure of his grandfather. His grandmother would provide a home filled with love, comfort, and care. But his grandfather would provide him with something entirely different. To the boy, he would become both father and grandfather; a strict teacher, a stern disciplinarian, an inspiring mentor, and an unforgiving Master.

Pekiti Tirsia Kali – The Empire strikes…

On December 8th, 1941, ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan began its invasion of the Philippines with genocidal viciousness. War had come to the house of Conrado Tortal. And it found him preparing his blade with oil and a white handkerchief as he had done every morning.

He had a unique temperament and proclivity for combat. Conrado was a man who had been continuously preparing for war, in both philosophy and practice, thought and action, long before Emperor Hirohito gave his imperial command to unleash his samurai horde unto the land and people of the Philippines.

He had been trained since he was a boy; in secret places at secret hours by his fearsome forefathers in the secret art of Pekiti Tirsia Kali. Along with his brothers, Balbino especially, he had continued to refine the family art of killing. They had tested it against other family systems. Engaged in duels and death-matches, and used it to protect the Tortal land and family.

Pekiti Tirsia Kali – A Secret Weapon…

Kali was an almost mythical relic from the ancient Srivijaya empire that once ruled South East Asia a millennium ago, and had been brought to the Philippines by the first Malay settlers, who in the 12th century, settled on the island of Panay where the Tortals were originally from.

As clans and families spread throughout the Philippines, it was kept hidden from outsiders and refined against foreign invaders; armored Spanish royalists, leather-necked American capitalists, and sword-wielding Japanese fascists. Pekiti Tirsia Kali, just like Conrado Tortal and his blade, was battle-tested and battle-hardened.

It would prove its invaluable worth and formidable effectiveness as the primary weapon of war used by the Filipino guerrilla insurgents against the occupying Japanese who butchered, raped, and pillaged the Filipino motherland.

Pekiti Tirsia Kali – Close Quarters Combat…

Conrado, his brothers, and other Filipino guerrilla fighters sent the women, children, and elderly into the mountains and engaged the Japanese in close-quarters hand-to-hand blade-to-blade combat, waging a bloody hit-and-run guerrilla campaign; hacking limbs and hunting heads, slitting throats and slashing stomachs, and soaking the ground in ancient samurai blood.

The Japanese were well equipped. But their guns and long swords proved ineffective in the thick jungles and choked urban confines. Stealth, swiftness, and indigenous Filipino blades guided by cunning hands held the advantage. But wars will come and go while the warrior remains eternal.

Pekiti Tirsia Kali – The Execution…

The Japanese surrendered in 1945. A year before, at the age of six, the Grand Tuhon began his training in Pekiti Tirsia Kali under the brutal tutelage of his grandfather Conrado Tortal. There was absolute urgency.

The Japanese had executed Conrado’s brother Balbino during the war. Balbino, who was the closest to Conrado in both skill and temperament, had disarmed a Japanese officer of his sword. He then killed two soldiers who tried to bayonet him. He was later executed by firing squad.

Conrado had hoped that Balbino would be the one to pass down the art of Pekiti Tirsia Kali to his sons. He now had the tremendous responsibility of ensuring the family legacy survived and was passed down to a worthy male heir of the Tortal bloodline as had been done for generations before.

Pekiti Tirsia Kali – Destiny calls…

Perhaps, if not for the great war that decimated families and left the land broken and burnt, the child might have enjoyed the luxury of an innocent childhood filled with friendship, laughter, and play.

Maybe he would have had a run-of-the-mill life. Perhaps he could have grown into an everyday man. He may have become a doctor or some other noble practitioner of some commonplace science. But the Universe had kept him concealed in his mother’s dying womb until it was ready to release him to his destiny.

Eventually, he would be the vessel into which the Tortal legacy would be poured and the chalice out of which the legacy of Pekiti Tirsia Kali would overflow and spread to the world.

Pekiti Tirsia Kali – A Promise to the Old Man…

Years later, as the old Grandmaster lay on his deathbed, Conrado Tortal would give his grandson, his finest student, a final command. He would forbid him from teaching the family art of Pekiti Tirsia Kali to anyone not of the family bloodline. He was to keep it, and protect it, and pass it on to the next generation of Tortals.

The young man would listen dutifully to his grandfather’s dying wish. And so, he promised to honor and protect the great gift and legacy his grandfather had bequeathed to him, and he would care for his beloved grandmother until she too passed, leaving him finally alone to find his way in the wide world.

His grandfather had spent years relentlessly tempering his mind, body, and soul; beating and shaping him like a red-hot blade until he was strong and sharp. Until he was ready for the world and his destiny. The same destiny that had concealed and revealed him as a newborn cloaked in blood and tears, was calling. There were countless grand entrances to be made, and one old promise to be broken…

If you liked this piece, please check out my articles on the myths and realities of Martial Arts, the love affair between America and Donald Trump, the life and legacy of Stan Lee, and the history of Reggae music! Check back weekly for new pieces, and don’t forget to “like” “share” and “follow us” on social media!

Author: Guerilla Mike

Warrior. Poet. Traveler. Unraveler.

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