Rene Latosa’s initial exposure to the Filipino Martial Arts came through his ethnic and cultural environment. As a young child, Rene first witnessed martial arts during celebrations (after the crop season was over), cultural events, and hanging around the Filipino Community Center in Stockton, CA. At this community center he would watch the “Old Timers” amuse themselves by hitting their walking sticks together as if they were sword fighters and applying locks to each other.
As a teenager, many of Rene’s friends were studying Judo. He asked his father if he could take Judo or Karate lessons. His father offered to teach his young son “ju-jitsu.” He didn’t believe his father knew anything about martial arts, so he did not pursue that avenue. His mother recommended taking self-defense classes taught by a long time family friend, Angel Cabales, at the Stockton Escrima Academy.
Stockton Escrima Academy
His first visit to the Stockton Escrima Academy was in 1968. Rene was greeted by Angel, holding a cigarette in one hand and a rattan stick in the other. Angel, having known Rene since he was small, told him to grab a stick and Angel proceeded to demonstrate a quick technique. From this point forward, Rene was hooked and he continued to study and eventually was taught at the Academy for over five years.
At the Stockton Escrima Academy in 1968, “formal training” did not exist. The method of teaching employed at the academy was strictly on a teacher to student basis. Rene remembers the ambiance at the academy was very casual, Angel was just “Angel”. For all the students at the academy, the title “Grand Master” was inherently Angel, and him alone. To Rene’s advantage, during his first five months of training, he was the only one of three students who showed up for lessons.
Rene’s initial training, with a ratio of 4 instructors to 1 student: Angel Cabales, Max Sarmiento, Leo Giron, and Dentoy Revilar provided plenty of diversity in styles. These four individuals played a definite role in shaping the basic format of the Escrima Concepts System; however, his greatest influence was his father.
Training with Dad – “Never judge a book by its cover”
Learning from his father was very difficult for Rene. His father was a fighter and every reaction to a situation was combat oriented. When Rene asked to see a movement for a second time, he was shown something else. Because his father did not use techniques, no two movements were ever the same.
Rene’s enlarged ego was instrumental in his introduction to his father’s prowess in the Filipino Martial Arts. Rene was practicing for a demonstration when he became concerned that he did not look as flashy and impressive as he should.
He asked his father, who was working in his garden, if he would care to be his practice “dummy”, the elder Latosa noted for his quick temper remained calm despite this arrogance. He had watched as his son practiced his techniques, smiled and said, “boy, you need more training”, the younger Latosa asks him what he knew since he was only a dummy!
He dropped his hoe and walked quietly towards his young egotistical son and picked up a stick. Rene asked his father if he would hit him over the head, but warned him to be careful because of his deadly speed and dangerous skills. Instead, the old man in a calm voice asked his son to strike at him. There was some hesitation on Rene’s part; fearing that if he went too fast his father might get hurt. Rene directed a slow hit at the old man. Before he saw what had happened, his father’s stick hit him on the head. “This must have been an accident,” thought Rene. He again struck at his father but this time faster. Again, Rene’s head was the final destination for the end of his father’s stick. In a serious fury, Rene went after his father with a strike that was strong, fast, and headed toward its target; as a result, his target moved and a stick landed between Rene’s neck and shoulder knocking the young man to the ground. His father walked away laughing and went back to tending his garden. Rene’s mother came out of the house, yelled at his father, and consoled her son with the bruised ego. Rene spent some time soul searching, trying to get a grip on what happened. Rene was under the impression that with his speed and technical skills he could not be beat. His father took him aside and told him about his rough and dangerous background and informed him he had much to learn. Rene’s attitude towards the Filipino Martial Arts changed. The first attribute to be disposed of was his enlarged ego. His father started to train Rene in the finer points of fighting concepts, different weapons, and his philosophy. Rene realized the importance of concepts in relationship to techniques.
Pioneering the Filipino Martial Arts
Rene Latosa left Stockton in 1973 for a duty in the USA Air Force. When he left Stockton, he brought along his culture, his heritage and his martial arts. His first station of duty was Virginia. Rene taught the special “Swat Team” of the local law enforcement agencies. This was the first time that local police on the East Coast used the Filipino Martial Arts in their trainings. It was here that Rene tested some of the theories used in developing Escrima Concepts. With actual situations confronting the SWAT Teams or Riot Squads, they had to know and believe in what they did because it could cost them their lives. He developed techniques coupled with very strong power and attitude concepts. Being 6 foot and 200 plus pounds, his style had to be adaptable to the various sizes and strengths of different students.
England & Europe
While stationed in Europe, Rene was busy executing pioneering efforts, developing a reputation by visiting local martial arts schools and exposing the Filipino Martial Arts throughout the European community. As word began to spread through the community, a local martial arts magazine contacted Rene for an interview. This interview led to other magazine coverage as well as invitations to conduct seminars at different schools. He started a weekly training course at a local ju-jitsu school. It was there that he met students Bill Newman and Brian Jones.
The initial exposure to the European market was difficult and challenging for Rene. Filipino Martial Arts was virtually unknown. Skepticism from veteran martial artists was running high which was understandable. Picture a group of big, strong and experienced veteran martial artists standing around and listening to a young 21 year old “martial arts expert” talk about a Filipino Martial Art no one had ever heard of or have ever seen…! As you can well imagine, Rene had to back up, prove and demonstrate everything he stated. Not only was the reputation of the Filipino martial arts at stake, but also his culture and pride.
Fortunately, Rene made his point and developed respect and a following. Through the invitation of Keith R. Kernspecht, a noted Wing Tzun instructor, Rene with the help of his student Bill exposed the Filipino Martial Art to Germany. However, it was with Keith’s help and his organization that allowed Escrima to grow. It was there that the exposure of the Filipino Martial Arts started to gain momentum. The following year (1977), his art published as a book.
Rene became a regular giving seminars circuit throughout Europe. Rene, as his tour of military duty ended, returned to sunny California and Bill Newman was responsible for the continued growth of the Filipino Martial Arts throughout Europe. As Rene was building up a significant following dedicated to the concepts of Combat Escrima, under the Filipino Martial Arts Society in USA, Bill was doing the same in Europe. Rene travelled at least once a year to quality control the teachings of his system in Europe.
He served in the USA Air Force for five years and has a B.S. degree from the University of San Francisco. He has taught martial arts to Special Police Tactical Units on The East Coast, West Coast, Special Combat Units within the Air Force, The California Highway Patrol, U.S. Probation Department, Sheriff Departments, Various Security Firms/Bodyguards and various Police & Special Police Units in Europe. He has designed several self-defense courses for women and children. He has several series of videos out on the market, published several books on the subject, and has been the main theme for several major martial arts magazines as well as television stories both in the USA and other countries. He currently conducts Escrima seminars exclusively for the EBMAS in the world. He also teaches special police tactical courses through another business. He acts as a consultant to several kickboxing and martial arts schools in Northern California.
He is married to his wife Coleen, and has three daughters Bianca, Rachel and Jessica…