Floro Villabrille – The Filipino Martial Arts

Floro Villabrille
By Dan Inosanto – The Filipino Martial Arts 1980

In all of the Filipino martial arts, one names keeps surfacing with great reverence and awe.  That name is Floro Villabrille. He is the undefeated champion in countless Escrima and Kali matches in the Philippines and in Hawaii.  Escrima stick fighting matches were full-contact bouts without the aid of armor, which resulted in death or permanent injury to the participants.   They usually used the stick in the right hand and punched with the left hand.  The use of the elbow, knee and head were common at close range combat.  Combat grappling like techniques (standing or on the ground) were applied.  These included throws, trips, sweeps, take down, chokes, strangulation, dislocations and locks on the fingers, wrists, elbows shoulders, ankles and knees.  The feet were used for kicking at the low level.  It was a brutal art and only the swiftest, the strongest and the most courageous survived or remained in practice.  The rounds were two minutes with one minute rests in between.

One instructor said, “I am very good, but Floro Villabrille is way out of my class; but then again, he is way out of everyone’s class.  Floro can beat you with his brain and guts.”

In December of 1977 my Publisher visited Mr. Villabrille at his home on Kauai, Hawaii where he spoke of his special training.  “Before a fight I go to mountains alone.   I pretend my enemy is there.  I imagine being attacked and in my imagination I fight for real.  I keep this up until my mind is ready for the kill.  I can’t lose.  When I enter the ring nobody can beat me already.  I already know that man is beaten.  In 1948 my wife was at the fight.  I tell her ‘no worry, I can’t lose.”  Anything you do, even go to school or find a job…in the morning you make a prayer.   I want to do this, I got to do it.  Walk around and work on your mind.  And you will do it.” Some people feel his life is charmed and that he has the power of Anting-Anting – a magical charm that gives a person super natural strength.

Floro Villabrille started his training at the age of 14.  He traveled the length and width of the Philippines researching the art of Kali and studied under many different instructors.  His favorite instructor was a female; a blind princess named Josephina.  To reach this blind princess, he had to travel many inaccessible trails, finally reaching a village called Gundari on the island of Samar.  He stayed in this village for a long time not learning any Kali but just doing menial tasks as cleaning up.  Finally he was allowed to practice the art.  He states that he doesn’t know how the princess saw the blows, but he contends that she was one of his best instructors.  After training there for some time, he comes down from the village and competes.  While competing in a match and winning, he is approached by a man who asks him where he learned that style.  Villabrille tells him that he learned it in the village Gundari on the Island of Samar.  The man tells him that is impossible for the village is inaccessible to travel and that he couldn’t possibly have reached the village because he was from there.   When Villabrille tells him about the blind princess, he realizes that he is telling the truth and starts to cry and embrace him.

At the age 18, Villabrille was working on a ship when his training partner, Dison, telegrammed him to fight a young Moro stick fighter.  Dison was a great stick fighter in his own right, but had previously lost to the Moro stick fighter.  When Villabrille arrived in the Philippines he was met by his friends.  They told him that the Moro fighter was just too fast and too good and that he should cancel out.  Villabrille stubbornly refused to back out of the match. According to Villabrille, the Moro was much faster than he was and probably the fastest man he ever met.  On sheer guts and determination, Villabrille trades blow for blow and finally wins the match in the fifth round.  For several weeks after the match, Villabrille couldn’t raise his arms above his head because of the blows he had received while trying to block.  Villabrille now feels that if the combat had been with swords, the Moro fighter would have probably won.  He competed in 1933, 34, 35, 36 and then the matches were stopped, until 1948, when his last match took place.

Villabrille pooled all the knowledge from all the sources he came across and developed his own system of combat.  That is the Villabrille System of Kali, which is a composite of all the styles of the Islands.

Villabrille has an award, a certificate and diploma signed by General Frank Murphy, then Governor of the Philippines.  The certificate states that he had won the Grand Championship of the Philippines, thus making him the Grandmaster of that country.  In the Cebu Municipal Museum they have a giant picture of Lapu-Lapu, the man who killed Magellan.  Next in size is the certificate and picture of Grandmaster Floro Villabrille.