A Blast from the Past, Martial Arts in Colombia

By W. Acevedo

In a previous post we presented a general overview of the introduction of different Asian martial arts to Latin America and the state of martial studies which has continue to evolve as new contributions towards our understanding of these and other fighting practices e.g. machete fighting, have being published in these countries. In this entry I’d like to present publications and authors that set the bases for the spread of martial arts in my native country of Colombia.

Introduction

Colombia is located at the northern tip of the South American continent bordering Central America through Panama, Venezuela on the east, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador on the south. Colombia’s name honours Italian explorer Cristobal Colon/Cristoforo Colombo/Christopher Columbus who landed on the continent in his third and fourth voyages in 1,498 and 1,502. This discovery was followed by many other Europeans attracted to the riches the new land had to offer leading to conflict with locals and the destruction of many cultures.

Some of the native peoples fought to the bitter end to resist this invasion many of which were wiped out, yet surviving European chronicles give us a glimpse of their warrior spirit. When I was in primary school we heard about the Caribes/Caribales who inhabited areas of the Atlantic coast of Colombia, Venezuela and some neighboring islands. These people practiced anthropophagi (cannibalism) and fiercely resisted the invasion of their territories. As the conquistadores pushed inland in their pursue of gold and other treasures they arrived to what is now known as the Departamento del Huila. Sebastian de Belalcazar founder of the Colombian cities of Cali, Pasto and Popayan ordered Pedro de Añasco to found a village as part of a plan to open a trade route through the Magdalena Valley in c.1598. Añasco demanded tribute from all the tribes who inhabited the area and when this was not done expeditiously the conquistador executed the son of the cacica Gaitana the woman who led the Yalcon people. The young man was burned alive which trigger the rage of most of the tribes and as the tale goes the cacica Gaitana led her warriors in a surprise attack capturing Añasco who had his eyes removed and paraded until he died. As was expected the conquistadores retaliated in force and many tribes were destroyed or enslaved. As for martially inspired practices from the native peoples we are left with close to nothing that can give us a real insight on how they prepared for war. In recent years some individuals are trying to reconstruct what in our opinion is close to impossible to do hence giving way to a completely new set of practices based on a romanticized idea of times past.

 

Chi Kung Kung Fu

Grima

During the battle for independence from Spanish rule some individuals in the new continent traveled to the Europe where they pursued their academic and military studies and were exposed to European fencing and other military practices. Similarly, European mercenaries travelled to the Americas to make a living ether fighting for/against the revolutionaries. In Colombia the declaration of independence took place in 1,810 and followed several years of military campaigns to defeat the Spanish armies. One of such battles took place in 1,819 in the Pantano De Vargas (Vargas’ Swamp) where the Colombian troops under Simon Bolivar charged the Spanish ranks with their horses and spears, among the forces opposing the Spanish crown was a detachment of British troops commanded by James Rooke who died in action. It is said the badly wounded Rooke yelled in Spanish “Viva la Patria!” (Long Live the Motherland !), when the doctor assisting him asked which country “Ireland or England” Rooke shook his head and replied: “The Country which will bury me…”. His name is still honoured and remembered to this day in Colombia.

As Colombia transitioned to become an independent and modern nation, the cities saw less and less practices of old such as dueling with pistol and sword. Regardless, some duels were publicised well into the early XXth century, the Colombian penal code stated in 1,936:

Decree 2300 of 1936, chapter V

Article 390: To those who participate in dueling with the intervention of seconds who fix the conditions of the challenge, shall be imposed:

1) Arrest for one to six months if no injury is found.

2) Arrest of two months to two years when personal injury is caused

3) 1 to 5 years ‘ imprisonment in case of death.

Article 391: Those who battle without the intervention of sponsors will be sanctioned up to twice the penalties referred to in the previous article in the respective cases.

Article 392: When a combatant deviates, in damaging his adversary, to the conditions agreed by the seconds, he will be imposed the ordinary sanctions, foreseen in chapters I and II (homicide and murder).

Article 393: The sponsors of a duel that employ against the combatants any disloyal means, such as treachery, insidiousness and others, will be subjected to imprisonment for one to five years.

Article 394: When the sponsors agree to a duel to death or in such conditions that it should result in death they will be repressed with imprisonment of six months to three years.

Despite these regulations the countryside continued to see duels where knives, guns and machetes were used to settle some disputes. I recall stories from classmates who came from small towns outside the capital of Colombia (Bogota) telling me how some local men were famous for their skill with the machete. In the past, countryside people usually had a ruana (poncho-style outer garment typical of the Andes region of Colombia, particularly in the Boyacá department and Antioquia). When fighting a duel with machete or knife the dominant hand would hold the weapon while the other had a ruana wrapped around the forearm acting as a shield.

In the countryside the machete was both a tool, to clear vegetation by those who wanted to colonize the jungles of Colombia or working in the sugar plantations, and a weapon to settle disputes or to fend off animals. There are different machetes styles based on their use, long and skinny or short and wider. Similarly farmers who walked for miles to sell their products would have a short stick used as support when waking. Both machete and stick could be used together for fighting.

In addition the practice of the machete can also be found in the black communities of Colombia where is referred to as Grima (Esgrima/Fencing). Stick fighting in Africa is well known and may have influenced some machete practices in Colombia via African slaves, yet we cannot forget that Spanish fencing was also prevalent in the country during the colonial period. The skills from mercenaries who came from European countries and even Cuba to help in the independence struggle brought some of those practices to Colombia. In recent years study groups have started to codify, collect and teach formal classes to pass on these practices for future generations. Despite these preservation efforts they are not very common as is the case with Asian arts to which we will now turn our attention.

Colombia-las-artes-marciales-y-la-historia-de-la-difusin-con-la-revista-CINTURN-NEGRO-hace-42-aos-baja.jpg

Periodical Magazines

Perhaps one of the oldest of such local publications was Cinturón Negro (Black Belt) starting in January 1975 when it received its circulation licence in the city of Bogota, Colombia. Cinturón Negro was a monthly publication under the direction of Journalist Jorge Muñoz Artunduaga (no information is given whether he was also a martial artist), vol.1 No 7 states the main goal of the magazine:

“Black Belt is a monthly Colombian magazine specialized in Martial Arts with its primary goal being the dissemination and improvement of these disciplines in our country” (Suarez, 2017)

The arts that were included were Judo, Karate Do, Taekwondo and Hapkido with instructors who were at least 1st Dan in their respective disciplines most of which were of Colombian and a few of Asian origin (this is not specified in the list of committee members).

Judo Contributors:

Latin American instructors: 10

Asian Contributors: 2

Others: 1

Karate Do Contributors:

Latin American instructors: 9

Asian Contributors: 2

Taekwondo Contributors:

Latin American instructors: 39

Asian Contributors: 3

Hapkido Contributors:

Asian Contributors: 1

The topics covered included techniques, news and general discussion sections along with advertisements paid by martial arts schools. By the 1980s this publication ceased to exists. About the same period Cinturón Negro stopped another magazine appeared of which I had a few copies, but lost several years ago and I have been unable to find the name of it. This work had a short publication run. Unlike Cinturón Negro, this mystery magazine was smaller in size, included historical sketches of other martial arts and combat sports e.g. Pankration and was less popular than its predecessor. Other periodicals published in other countries such as Budo (Spain/Argentina), El Budoka (Spain), Cinturón Negro (Spain), Dojo (Spain) among the most popular were sold in the major cities of Colombia.

Prat Kung Fu

Books

Publications related to Chinese martial arts were few and far between, one of the oldest I had in my collection was by Wong Ping Pui and Jose Ma Prat published in 1,979 by the Spanish publishing house Editorial Alas based in Barcelona, Spain. Mr. Prat would publish not only other books on Kung Fu but also Japanese and Pilipino arts. His contributions in the form of books and articles opened the door to many people in Spanish speaking countries including Colombia about those arts:

  1. Taburete chino: una introducción a las armas del Kung-Fu. José María Prat, Francisco Girona. Editorial Alas, 1995. ISBN 84-203-0375-5
  2. Chui Pa Hsien: el boxeo de los 8 inmortales borrachos. José María Prat/ Editorial Alas, 1986. ISBN 84-203-0127-2
  3. Chi-Kung: el arte secreto chino de la repiración para la salud física y mental. José María Prat. Editorial Alas, 1985. ISBN 84-203-0176-0
  4. Hung Gar Kung Fu. José María Prat. Editorial Alas, 1985. ISBN 84-303-0100-3
  5. Lama Pai Kung-Fu. José María Prat. Editorial Alas, 1985. ISBN 84-203-0179-5
  6. Tai chi: equilibrio y armonía para todas las edades. Peter Yang, José María Prat. Editorial Alas, 1984. ISBN 84-203-0070-5
  7. Hsing i chuan Kung Fu: boxeo de la forma de la mente. José María Prat. Editorial Alas, 1984. ISBN 84-203-0169-8
  8. Chang chuan Kung Fu: boxeo largo del norte de China. José María Prat, Germán Monzó. Editorial Alas, 1984. ISBN 84-203-0160-4
  9. Shaolin norte. José María Prat, Salvador Reyna. Editorial Alas, 1984. ISBN 84-203-0103-5
  10. Wing Tsun Kuen Kung Fu: aplicaciones prácticas. José María Prat. Editorial Alas, 1984. ISBN 84-203-0165-5
  11. Arnis y escrima: artes marciales de las Islas Filipinas. José María Prat. Editorial Alas, 1983. ISBN 84-203-0162-0
  12. Lung Yin Kuen. Kung-Fu: El arte del boxeo del dragon. José María Prat. Editorial Alas, 1982. ISBN 84-203-0134-5
  13. Método y manejo de las espadas chinas. José María Prat. Editorial Alas, 1982. ISBN 84-203-0139-6
  14. Hung Gar Kung Fu. José María Prat. Editorial Alas, 1981. ISBN 84-300-0100-X
  15. Jackie Chan : la furia de Chicago: su estilo de Kung-Fu. José María Prat. Editorial Alas, 1981. ISBN 84-203-0116-7
  16. Aikijo: el arte del bastón corto japonés. Tomás Sánchez Díaz, José María Prat. Editorial Alas, 1981. ISBN 84-203-0118-3
  17. Kung Fu-Wu Shu: “camino de vida”. José María Prat. Editorial Alas, 1979. ISBN 84-203-0090-X
  18. Kung Fu: historia, filosofía, técnicas, kata. José María Prat, Ping Pui Wong. Editorial Alas, 1979. ISBN 84-203-0061-6

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The 1,980s saw a spike in martial arts publications in Spanish some of which were translated from English or other languages. Among the most famous contributors to Spanish publications was Jose Ma Fraguas who was born in 1,962 in the city of Madrid. Mr. Fraguas went on to study Judo, Taekwondo, Karate, Kung Fu, Kempo, Boxing among others. Both Mr. Prat and Fraguas are two of the most prolific Chinese martial arts authors in the Spanish language at a time when Japanese and Korean Arts dominated the martial arts publications of the 1,980s.

  1. Shito ryu karate do: Katas superiors. José María Fraguas. Madrid : Sanz, 1984. ISBN 84-85977-13-0
  2. 11 estilos de Shao lin. José María Fraguas. Madrid : Sanz, 1985. ISBN 84-85977-19-X
  3. Los grandes maestros del Budo. José María Fraguas. Editorial Alas, 1983. ISBN 84-203-0152-3
  4. La sabiduría de los maestros. José María Fraguas. Madrid : Eyras, D.L. 1995. ISBN 84-85269-79-9
  5. Los secretos del Kung-Fu: Shao Lin. José María Fraguas, Tony Rossell. Madrid : Esteban Sanz, 1988. ISBN 84-85977-47-5
  6. Guía de elasticidad y flexibilidad para las artes marciales. José María Fraguas, Peter Luldjuraj. Editorial Alas, 1985. ISBN 84-203-0161-2
  7. Las armas del Kung-Fu. Tony Rosell, José María Fraguas. Madrid : Esteban Sanz, 1987. ISBN 84-85977-35-1
  8. Hung-gar Kung-Fu: el tigre y la grulla de Sha-Lin. José María Fraguas, Tony Rossell. Madrid : Sanz, 1986. ISBN 84-85977-28-9
  9. El Tao del Jeet Kune Do. Bruce Lee, José María Fraguas. Madrid : Eyras, D.L. 1990. ISBN 84-85269-69-1
  10. Defensa personal para vigilantes jurados. José María Fraguas, José V. Ruano. Madrid : Sanz, 1984. ISBN 84-85977-14-9
  11. Kajukenbo: el arte de defensa personal de las islas Hawai. José María Fraguas, Ángel García Soldado. Madrid : Esteban Sanz, 1987. ISBN 84-85977-34-3

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Other editorial houses in Latin-American started to be attracted to the martial arts market and began publishing their own material. In Mexico the Editorial Olimpo published a series of books about the life of the late Bruce Lee. In one such publication the author under the pseudonym Vera Sho Dan included a high level overview of arts such as: Judo, Karate, Ninjutsu, Kung Fu, Kusarigama etc. The information contained in those pages are not by any extend scholarly, yet it gave some insight to these skills. Mexican Editorial Diana published a translation of Richard Chun’s Taekwondo el Arte Marcial Coreano, richly illustrated with photographs and diagrams in black and white, which in our opinion is the most complete book published about Taekwondo in the 1,980s.

At to this point the publications described above were for the most part dedicated to a single art. It was in 1,981 in Spain when Ediciones Nueva Lente published the Enciclopedia de Artes Marciales the best martial arts encyclopedia in the Spanish language ever published. This publication arrived in Colombia a few years later and was distributed in the form of weekly booklets to be put together and bound at the end of the release. The encyclopedia included color pictures and diagrams and have the following sections:

Judo

Karate Do

Taekwondo

Self Defense

Other Arts e.g. Japanese weapons, ninjutsu, kung fu, kempo etc.

The main sections included the skills required from white belt to in some cases brown or black belt e.g. kicks, punches, kata/poomse, notes on competition etc. Despite the wealth of information any historical references about style origins were based on hearsay and not a thorough discussion with side notes and bibliographical references, despite its pitfalls this publication is set apart from others at the time. Finally in the mid 1,980s translations of Wushu manuals from mainland China began to enter the market thanks to Colombian editorial Shaolin Ediciones. This company published Wushu manuals for staff, simplified Yang Taiji Quan, etc. Nowadays MMA and BJJ are the sports with an increased popularity in Colombia yet they have not fully displaced other traditional practices in the country’s competitive martial arts market.

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