MANILA -- For Philippine modern arnis grandmaster Rodel Dagooc, his introduction to the sport came as a surprise.
Born and raised in Iloilo, Dagooc began his journey into the sport as a pastime. At 14, he enjoyed joining his uncles who practiced arnis in the afternoons.
"Ang gusto ko lang noon eh sumama lang 'pag hapon kasi nakikita ko 'yung mga uncle ko na naglalaro," he said.
After finishing an automotive course, Dagooc was inspired by his cousin who studied under Remy Amador Presas, who is considered the father of modern arnis. He went to Manila to find Presas and study under his mentorship.
At the time, Presas was sharing the gym with what is now known as the Modern Arnis Federation of the Philippines. The daily routine of seeing and watching arnis training interested Dagooc to study the sport and, as the cliche goes, the rest was history.
Dagooc lived under Presas's mentorship literally and figuratively.
As a student, he was also tasked to clean and maintain the gym similar to the Japanese style of mentorship.
When Presas left for the United States, the management and leadership of the gym was left to Dagooc who was unsure of his skills to teach arnis.
Starving and struggling
As a teacher, arnis was the bread and butter of Dagooc which he admits was not a very lucrative source of income.
"Hindi kasi interesado ang mga tao noon sa arnis kasi ang gusto nila eh foreign martial arts," Rodel said.
The difficulty of attracting students to study arnis led Dagooc to quit the sport. "I told myself I no longer wanted to learn arnis because we were starving," he said.
He added that his wife also discouraged him from pursuing a career in arnis seeing no future in the sport.
But fate was on Dagooc's side. A close friend who also practiced arnis invited him to an arnis demonstration with pay.
The offer enticed the struggling Dagooc, who immediately took the offer which led to opportunities he cold never have imagined.
'The sport is my ticket'
Because of arnis, Dagooc was able to travel to different countries to give demonstrations and lessons.
"In a year, I would visit around five countries because of arnis.
This sport is my ticket and visa," he said.
He remembered his teenage years and how he could only dream of riding a plane since he grew up in a family of farmers. "Dati 'pag nag-aararo ako tapos may dumaan na eroplano, ititigil ko 'yung kalabaw tapos titingala ako. Ano kaya pakiramdam sumakay dun?"
Arnis also got Dagooc involved with films such as "Dugo ng Panday" starring Bong Revilla, "Kamagong" with Lito Lapid and "Enter Garote" with Chiquito.
The opportunities in arnis allowed him to put up his own arnis school in Batangas called the Dagooc Arnis School which teaches combined knowledge in martial arts.
Despite this, Dagooc is dismayed about the lack of interest among Filipinos with local martial arts like arnis and laments the fact that foreigners are more interested to learn arnis, even going as far as travelling to the Philippines to study.
"Di niyo ba alam na maraming foreigner ang gusto matuto ng arnis? Magkano ang ginagastos nila? Tapos mga Pilipino libreng klase na ino-offer ko ayaw pa rin," he said.
One of his foreign students, Jim Hayden, who hails from Scotland, said: "If the Filipino people are not careful, they're gonna have to come to my country to learn their art because they don't cherish it."
Aside from teaching arnis, Dagooc also manages a shop that makes arnis sticks. The shop is called The Smoking Sticks, an idea he got from an international article that featured his talent, exports Filipino-made arnis to other countries.
"Kasi sabi nila 'pag nag-aarnis ako parang umuusok daw sa bilis at saka pag nagtatama 'yung mga stick parang may usok daw kaya ayun, smoking sticks daw," he explained.
Sadly, the business gets a majority of its orders abroad instead from locals.
Today, Dagooc continues to teach arnis, including his sons.
"Pag matanda na ako tapos gusto ko palakad-lakad na lang ako at ayaw ko na mag-arnis gusto ko andiyan sila (his sons) para magtuloy ng gym," he said.
He is lucky to have sons who have the same passion for the sport. Ultimately, his sons will carry on not only his surname but his legacy in the sport as well.