I first met Sir Diony Cañete during one of the tumultous times of arnis in Cebu, when at the height of his feud with then uncle GM Cacoy they issued a death match challenge. I admit, I had a minor role in that, partially because I was naive of the history of arnis.
GM Cacoy had just published a book at the time and during a lull before a press con by GM Diony, one of the guys he was with tipped me to get his reaction regarding the book. Well, as they say now, it quickly escalated.
Thankfully, the feud was finally settled and over the years, I’ve come to know Sir Diony well. A rich source, not only for arnis news, but of basically anything you want to know.
I took up arnis as a PE class in college, but I never really appreciated it. Only the dorks, I guess, look forward to arnis class. But hearing Sir Diony talk about arnis and explain the rationale, you couldn’t help but feel that you were in the presence of a genius.
I had a light bulb moment with him one time. As a regular spy novel reader, I’d normally encounter passages where Israel’s special forces are described as the best in the world. A favorite author, David Morrel, even described two protaganists facing each other, with the other guessing correctly that the other was also trained by Israel by the way he held his knife.
That long forgotten passage popped up in my brain because Sir Diony was talking about a recent visit by members of Israel’s special forces to learn, among other things, how to basically kill someone with a knife.
He was close to 70 by then, but boy, brave is the 25-year-old who’d take him one-on-one. He’d probably beat you with one hand tied behind his back and let out that signature laugh of his as he pins you down to the ground.
One of his biggest dreams for the sport was for it to gain bigger recognition nationally. The biggest problem was because of the previous national sport association. I’ve forgotten the name, and it’s no surprise that when the Philippine Eskrima Kali Federation came to be, one of the biggest factors behind it was the unassuming Sir Diony with son Gerald at his side.
He dreamed of national recognition for the sport because worldwide, arnis or eskrima is a beloved martial art and roving Filipino teachers, not just Sir Diony, command huge crowds.
“You guys don’t know how big this is in our country,” one of the Europeans who traveled all the way to Cebu to learn under GM Diony told me once.
We are impressed by the action scenes of blockbuster movies. They see action scenes based on eskrima.
I guess my first visit to Sir Diony’s headquarters in Sto. Niño sums it up. Then, my knowledge of arnis was based on that forgotten PE class, and I was surprised to see weapons of all sorts, from all sorts of knives, staff and other weapons I only see in martial arts movies.
Sir Diony was also like that. Having associated his name with arnis and eskrima for so long, you’d be surprised to know what a treasure trove of knowledge he had.
And now he is gone and the arnis world has lost an irreplaceable master. To Gerald and the rest of the family, my condolences.